My intention was to write a general response to the criticisms of my essays on this site. However, I will limit myself—enough is enough—to responding to David Samel’s “Zionism’s History, Real and Imagined.”
This may be my swan song to Mondoweiss. Samel considers me to be too sensitive to criticism, but far too much of what passes for “criticism” among the Mondoweiss regulars is some combination of incoherence, inability or unwillingness to read what I actually say and characterize it correctly, and just pure venom. However, in the final analysis what drives me to the reluctant conclusion that this is probably not the place for me is not so much the calumny, hatred, and insults of so many, but that Samel, who knows far better, has written such a disingenuous caricature of my argument.
David Samel is a lawyer, if I’m not mistaken, a trial lawyer--I’m willing to bet he’s a damned good one, too. So is Alan Dershowitz, who wins a lot of cases through trial-lawyer tactics. The problem is that when lawyers draw up briefs for their clients—in Samel’s case, the anti-Zionists—they have no interest in subtlety, balance, distinctions, or—to put it directly-- truth. Indeed, truth is often their enemy, for it may undermine their arguments and cause them to lose their cases.
So what Samel has written is not a serious, good faith effort to rebut an argument he disagrees with, as he has every right to do. What he has written, rather, is a demagogic summation of a brief, delivered to a jury whose predilections he has only too correctly understood. Before elaborating on Samel’s distortions , though, I will first address the issue, raised in good faith by many of you, of why I thought my consideration of alternative histories was relevant.
The larger question I’m trying to get at is whether Zionism and a Jewish state was ever justifiable, and even if it was in the past, is it today? It is therefore relevant to examine the question of whether Zionism was intrinsically unjust--as opposed to having been corrupted by the actual but avoidable actions of the Israelis. If it was true that a Jewish state in Palestine could have been established only by murderous ethnic cleansing, then—as I explicitly said-- Israel should have not been established in the first place, and nor should it continue exist as a Zionist state, at least so long as it refuses to end its occupation and repression of the Palestinians, and grant full rights to the Israeli Palestinians.
My argument is that Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state could have been done with far less injustice to the Palestinians—notice, I don’t claim no injustice, but so much less injustice, especially if remediated in a variety of ways, as to be outweighed by the historical need for security—and often life—for Jews endangered by murderous anti-Semitism. I argued this at some length in my essay, though you wouldn’t know it from Samel, who doesn’t address any of my specific arguments.
The same reasoning process must be gone through to get at the question of whether it is legitimate for Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish state. And my answer is the same: a conditional yes, but only provided the Palestinians also get the only kind or degree of justice that is feasible in the foreseeable future.
Many of you (not Samel, if memory serves, at least not so blatantly), have fulminated this argument demonstrates that “Slater believes Might Makes Right,” that I confuse power with morality and legality, that it is wrong to “allow” Israel to get away with its crimes, and so on. It is a preposterous charge, as even a casual reading of my argument, let alone my entire history, should have made obvious. What I do argue is that since no one is capable or willing to force Israel to end the occupation, it follows that the Israelis must willingly accept a settlement. Yes, all kinds of economic and political sanctions should be brought to bear on Israel—I have been arguing precisely that, in writing, for years. In particular, for many years I have been arguing that the U.S. should make all of its aid to Israel conditional on the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, the U.S. government refuses to listen to me.
In short, my position is that Might Makes Might, not Right—and this has consequences, no matter how much we deplore them. But the criticisms have convinced me: from now on I refuse to “allow” Israel to do anything I disapprove of. Poof, I disallow the Israeli occupation, so from now on the proper address for legitimate complaints against the weakness of the US and Western response to the occupation is to the governments of those countries, not to me.
Now, my specific comments on Samel. There are many more examples of his distortions, but I’ll limit my comments to the following:
1. Samel characterizes my argument about compulsory relocation in an essentially nonviolent manner as boiling down to requiring the Palestinians to leave “with bribe money stuffed in their pockets.” He means to cast contempt on my argument—as all good lawyers do—by characterizing it in the most unfriendly manner he can think of; worse, he doesn’t mention my full argument, namely that the Palestinians who would have to be relocated “could choose where they wanted to go, and would still get generous compensation for the loss of their homes and then also get financial assistance in picking up their lives wherever they chose to go.” Actually, reducing my argument to Palestinians leaving “with bribe money stuffed in their pockets” would be even more contemptuous of any Palestinians who felt they had no choice but to accept generously compensated removal.
2. Samel goes on: “Ethnic cleansing most definitely was not part of the UN partition plan. He [Slater] estimates that 50,000 Palestinians would have refused the bribes; how would they have been expelled “essentially nonviolently”?
Many historical conflicts have been resolved on the basis of forced relocations, none of them on anything like the generous terms I proposed. Moreover, democratic states also often seize the property of their citizens, requiring them to leave, involuntarily if necessary, but with some compensation. What happens if they refuse to leave? I imagine they receive a court order, and if they still refuse, I suppose the police would remove them, with minimal violence.
That’s what I had in mind. No different than what Israel actually did? Only if you are incapable of making any distinctions whatever. It gets worse: Samel asks, “Why is Jerry bothering to conjure up a vision of a kinder and gentler nakhba? (emphasis added)
So, compulsory but well compensated relocation of say, 50,000 Palestinians as opposed to terrorism, massacres and the murderous expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians is merely a kinder and gentler Nakba.
3. Samel: “Where we go from here depends on what happened, not flights of imagination. Palestinians and the rest of the world have been living with the consequences of what really did happen, and the future must be guided by those realities”
Yes, indeed, but how? I argue for a two state solution; Samel argues that we should forget about two states, but he doesn’t contest my extended argument about why the one state argument is certainly unrealistic and quite possibly undesirable. Rather, Samel ends up with the lame and unelaborated notion that we should just concentrate on improving the civil rights of the Palestinians. Aside from the vagueness of what that means and how it might be accomplished, if you reject two-states but can’t refute the argument against one-state, by default what you are left with, to use Samel’s language, is a kinder and gentler occupation and colonialism.
That may be good enough for Samel (as well as a number of others who have made similarly vague proposals), but it isn’t good enough for me—and, of infinitely greater importance, to the Palestinians.
4. Samel claims I make the case for the creation of Israel “with virtually no analysis at all.” You would not know from that statement that I made an extended argument that the history of the Jews, ancient but especially modern history--not limited to the Holocaust-- makes the Zionist case “essentially irrefutable.” True, the Palestinians didn’t think so, for perfectly understandable reasons, but almost all of the Western and Christian world did. Of course, that doesn’t prove my argument, but it certainly shifts the burden of proof—morally, as well as factually-- to those who say, in effect, forget about history and the problem of murderous anti-Semitism.
5. Relatedly, Samel continues: “At most, he can argue that Jews required special protection at that time, and still require the promise of such protection should there be another outbreak of virulent anti-Semitism (a point much more debatable than irrefutable).” Exactly what is “debatable?” I didn’t say there would be another outbreak, I said it couldn’t be ruled out, in light of history, and that is one of the reasons—not the only one, he ignores my other reasons—that the continuation of Israel as a Jewish state is reasonable.
6. Samel: “He claims that people who advocate for one truly democratic state are consigning Palestinians to perpetual misery in the current status quo. In his view, preference for one state implies “giving up” on two, and “condemn[ing Palestinians] to live indefinitely under Israeli occupation and repression…..Once again, he offers no analysis to support this logical leap.”
No analysis? I wrote 15 paragraphs in support of that argument. It doesn’t mean you have to be convinced by the argument, but it would be a good idea to at least mention it, even if you can’t be bothered to rebut it.
7. Samel: “Who is presuming to insist that the Palestinians take any particular position?” For starters, not a few members of the radical left, both Jews and Palestinians, such as those who cast contempt on the PA negotiators, including Abbas, who are prepared to drop the demand for the right of return on the condition that they get a limited but genuinely viable and secure Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
8. Samel continues: “Who is insisting on a choice between one state or a continuation of the occupation? “ I didn’t say that anyone was so “insisting;” I said that abandoning the two-state solution for an impossible one-state solution could have that consequence.
9. Now comes this: “Jerry is insisting that Palestinian citizens of Israel accept permanent second-class status.” This is worse than standard-issue lawyering; it comes close to being an outright lie. Take Samel’s word for it, and you wouldn’t know that I wrote that “Israel has the right to remain a Jewish state if--but only if--it finally lives up to its commitment to treat its minorities with full equality” and that “the Palestinians should have at least the moral if not the legal right to insist that the Palestinians remaining inside Israel must be given full political, civil, societal and economic rights.”
Samel will be indignant that I say he is here “coming close” to lying. He will observe that I did argue for one exception to total Jewish-Palestinian equality within a Jewish state--I wrote that it was legitimate for a Jewish state to continue allowing Jews, but not Palestinians, an unlimited right of immigration into Israel. I went on to elaborate on and to defend that exception. You don’t have to accept that argument, but that single exception—as Samel well knows--is not what is normally implied by the term “second-class citizens.”
10. Samel: “Why should those of us who feel that a Jewish State, especially one with Israel’s awful history rather than the alternative history Jerry has imagined, is an anachronism whose continued existence cannot be ethically defended, refrain from voicing our opinion?”
Dear me. I didn’t insist that you refrain from voicing your opinion—for example, by stating my argument in a fair and accurate manner and then refuting it, point by point. I only insist that you refrain from distortions, emotive language, deliberate omissions of key points—and worse.
11. Samel: “Finally, Jerry has the good sense to direct his ire not at Palestinians themselves but at their supporters who enjoy comfort and security, but his reasoning is equally applicable to Palestinians who advocate for one democratic state, who must be committing the same grave errors. “
Agreed—except that there are hardly any Palestinians who are genuinely arguing for a single binational state. An occasional “threat” by a Palestinian official--that if Israel keeps blocking a two-state solution, they’ll just have to demand a single democratic state-- doesn’t count. Not only does Israel not take that “threat” seriously, neither do the Palestinians. How do I know that? Well, common sense will take you quite far, but no need to rely on it: the Palestinian leaders who have occasionally made that threat are the very same ones willing to make major concessions to get a state of their own.
12. Samel: “Jerry is fond of making points with old jokes, so let me give it a try - please excuse the morbid taste. The Nazis catch two Jews hiding in the forest and bring them before a firing squad. One starts crying and begging for his life. “On your mark!” More sobbing, more begging. “Get set!” The other Jew turns and says, “Shh! Don’t make trouble.”
No, I don’t excuse it. It’s not the morbidity that is unforgivable, but both the implied analogy—the Israelis are the Nazis—and the explicit charge that I am the Jew who says “shh, don’t make trouble.”
What a disgraceful way for Samel to end his “critique.” First, here’s a good rule of thumb when discussing these issues: forget about analogies to Nazi Germany. Second, you will find nothing in my writing, ever, that equates to my telling the Palestinians or their supporters—of whom I am one--to be quiet and stop making trouble. What I am arguing is that the demand for a two state solution has a far greater chance of being eventually realized (however dim the current prospects) than one state, and moreover if somehow a one state solution were forced on the Israelis, it would be far more likely to be a disaster for both peoples than a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perhaps I am being too “thin-skinned,” too hard on Samel? After all he does dissociate himself from some of the more intemperate comments, but I don’t think that is good enough. In some ways, what he has done here is worse, precisely because Samel is intelligent, writes well, and likes to appear as moderate. Consequently, his clever demagoguery is more destructive of serious debate than the incoherent rants of others.
Leave this kind of stuff to Alan Dershowitz.