I have thought long and hard about each of the three options in this month’s contest to pick the channel’s next topic. But Israel-Palestine is probably the topic I have thought about the most. As somebody who attempts to cover issues in the Middle East, it is constantly thrown in my face. As someone who used to be an avid follower of conservative media I’ve become familiar with one set of arguments, and as someone who spent 6 years living in Turkey I’ve gotten a good look at the other side as well. It’s a fascinating conversation that I think I can contribute to, which I hope today’s video makes clear.
In some circles in the US today’s video could be seen as a blistering attack on Israel. For many in my old world audience, I imagine it could be seen as so wimpy that it betrays the Palestinian cause… I’m very excited for the comments on this one!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. This month this channel’s audience is deciding what our next big project will be. Voting is already open, and today I will be describing my ideas around one of the options: the conflict between Israel and Palestine. With this topic I think it’s especially important to be clear about where I am coming from.
Over the years I have become familiar with both sides of this conflict, though I am no longer a partisan of either. I grew up in the New York City suburbs, a region that’s probably more pro-Israel than most parts of Israel. After 9-11 my previous unthinking support for Israel became quite conscious and vicious. During the second intifada, all I could see was people that looked like me getting blown up in the streets of Tel Aviv by people who looked like the monsters who blew up my favorite Manhattan lunch spot. I wanted Arabs to suffer. For a couple years in my early 20s, I was basically a racist cliche.
In my 30s I saw the other side of things. After the 2008 financial crisis I was an economic migrant to the Middle East. Living there for six years, chatting with passionate, and occasionally very attractive Europeans and Middle Easterners, gave me a broader perspective. Most importantly I got to know a handful of North American Jews who had dreamt of Israel their whole lives, before moving there and becoming terribly disappointed. I didn’t sign on to all of their ideas, but some of the facts they laid out were indisputable. The Palestinians are infinitely weaker than Israel, and the attempts to portray them as some kind of threat in 2020 are fraudulent. Palestinians are human beings worthy of respect. That shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say, but in some parts of the United States it still kind of is.
Now taking this position can also devolve into a bit of a cliche. Going from a fanatic for one side to a fanatic for the other is a well worn path I have no interest in. The world needs fewer fanatics. If Israel Palestine becomes my next big project i will be able to dive into the claims each side makes in detail. And my growing suspicion is that support for Palestinians and support for Israel are not such different things.
Israel has many justifications, but for me the moral bedrock of supporting the country is the world-wide drive to atone for the Holocaust and World War II’s many other horrors. For many, this history overpowers any concern for the Palestinians or their interests. Some see the holocaust as a weapon to be used against Palestinians. But I dont think that makes sense. Because these horrors are also the main reason the world cares about the Palestinians. The Israeli and Palestinian causes are built on the same foundations. Before Hitler, nobody with power would have much cared about what happened to the Palestinians, or any other persecuted people.
The world’s revulsion at mid-20th century horror is what made Israel possible, and its also the reason we care about the Palestinians. There are some, like the Trump administration for example, who believe that Israel is served by making Palestine more marginal, isolated and abused. I think it’s the complete opposite in fact.
Because if you knock out the foundations of the world’s support for Palestine, you are also knocking out the moral and institutional underpinnings of support for Israel. I guess the bet here is that Israel is now strong and secure enough to do without these foundations, but I don’t think it’s a very good bet.
Viewers of the channel will be aware that I think the Israeli government has been making a number of bad bets recently. My current take is that the politically immortal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is much more about serving US defense companies than he is about serving Israel’s real interests. Now I could be completely wrong about that.
Maybe it’s been the right play to cozy up to the US and Saudi interests that have turned the Middle East into a smoking ruin. But my sense is that Israel is a project designed to stand the test of time. The burn it all down approach to Lebanon in the 1980s produced Hezbollah. What is it going to produce in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and Libya a couple decades from now?
Maybe it’s been the right play to turn Israel into a political football in the United States. But I think Netanyahu’s extraordinarily disrespectful treatment of the first Black US president, followed by his whole hearted embrace of Donald Trump has sent some really unhelpful messages.
Netanyahu’s main legacy seems to be breaking the bipartisan US consensus in favor of Israel, which is a weird accomplishment for an Israeli Prime Minister!. I suppose I should be grateful, I certainly wouldn’t be brave enough to contemplate a project like this without him. And hey, after a year or so of research, maybe I will decide Netanyahu is smarter than he looks.
And of course any series on this topic has to deal with antisemitism. Antisemitism, as with most of the world’s greatest evils is fundamentally about ignorance.
Antisemitism is about focusing on one set of facts, and either not knowing about, or consciously ignoring other sets of facts. I hope to correct this by diving into the history of Israel, and providing some basic comparisons.
The antisemite will tell you that Israel was founded mostly due to the shadowy manipulations of wealthy imperialists working to steal the land of weaker indigenous groups. Well that’s kind of true. You know what else was founded mostly by the manipulations of shadowy groups of rich imperialists in the past couple centuries? The United States of America. Going further back, all countries are founded by shady groups of the privileged, pretending that Israel is unique in this regard is deeply stupid. Antisemites are obsessed by the Israel lobby in the United States. But what they ignore is that there are thousands of lobbies in the United States, and the various Israel lobbies rank somewhere between Mothers Against Drunk Driving and ethanol producers when it comes to influence. And all these lobbies pale in comparison to the true sinister master of the American political system, the American Association of Retired People.
But I digress. I could be wrong about everything I said here. If you guys vote for me to cover Israel and Palestine, I will spend at least a year doing the necessary reading. Maybe I will find out that Netanyahu’s a really swell guy, doing the best he can. Or maybe I’ll come out the other side a full throated supporter of peaceful movements to boycott Israeli goods. I think it will probably be somewhere in between. I honestly don’t know. But I would love to find out.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe. Voting has already started, and Israel and Palestine have some real competition. If you want to vote on this channel’s future you can sign up to do so at the Patreon link here, then click on the link to the poll in this video’s description. Thank you!