What We Won’t Talk About in the Israel-Lebanon Conflict

What We Won’t Talk About in the Israel-Lebanon Conflict — New York Magazine
Richard Cohen wrote in his Washington Post column last week,

“Israel itself is a mistake . . . an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable [but which] has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now.”

Sixty years on, there can be no revising or reversing that mistake—and when the choice is Israel versus unaccommodating Islamist fanatics, we must be for Israel. Is there any more inconvenient truth?

So it was no surprise that as Israel waged its retaliatory war against Hezbollah and Hamas (zealots, Fascists, nihilists, pawns of Iran and Syria, all of the above), the blogospheric liberals, usually promiscuous with opinions, were averting their eyes, changing the subject, punting—like Republicans are inclined to do about global warming.

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the Democratic power broker known as Kos, was quite open about his willful disengagement: In a post titled “Why I won’t write about Israel/Lebanon/Palestine fighting,” he said that he “sure as heck ha[s] no desire to get sucked into that no-win situation.” “I wish I had had something brilliant to say about Israel and Lebanon, et al.,” Eric Alterman blogged, then went on to use the crisis as a pretext for his 10,000th easy shot at Bush and the war in Iraq.

But who can entirely blame him? Last year, a writer in the Boston Globe called Alterman a self-hating Jew after he had written that the Palestinians “lost their homeland” as a result of the Holocaust and the 1947 partition, and that he and other supporters of Israel—us—are partly responsible for the Palestinians’ present suffering.

Thus another of the inconvenient truths: It’s essentially impossible to conduct a frank, good-faith public debate in the U.S. about U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians—just as it’s probably impossible to have frank, good-faith public debates in Muslim countries about policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. In the four months since two eminent American political scientists (Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago) published an article called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” they have been both strenuously ignored and unjustly besmirched as anti-Semites. I don’t buy Walt and Mearsheimer’s argument that the U.S. invaded Iraq primarily to indulge the Israel lobby. However, the attempt to thrash out our specific U.S. interests in the Middle East as distinct from the interests of our great Middle Eastern ally is important and difficult—an inconvenient truth that our politics and even our discourse are practically incapable of considering.

And so we consume the latest news with only a deepening hopelessness and edge-of-Armageddon dread and a sense, looking at the pictures of fresh rubble, of how quickly the nightmare can descend. Wallpaper last month ran a column saying that Beirut was “healing beautifully,” with new buildings by Steven Holl and Philippe Starck. “Boom time is now.” A few weeks ago, two New York friends of mine were in Beirut trying to decide whether to accept positions at the American University. Potential danger didn’t figure much in their considerations. Another family friend just moved to Israel, where her boyfriend is an army officer who (according to her mother’s e-mail) “thinks that Israel is acting out of proportion, but it must defend itself. The insane ongoing duality of this complicated situation.”

One thought on “What We Won’t Talk About in the Israel-Lebanon Conflict”

  1. Although “accused” by many of being a “liberal” myself – a charge I categorically reject, because like most people who actually think, my views are issue-specific (that is, I’m liberal on some subjects, conservative on others, and somewhere in-between on many, and I feel that the troglodyte-mentality of labeling complex people and issues with such simplistic generalizations – whether by Ann Coulter or Michael Moore – is one of our biggest and most destructive problems) I actually agree with much of this article.

    To be clear, the “Israel itself was a mistake” albeit a well-intentioned one, is the notion that I agree with. I can’t help but think that a better relocation solution could have been found then this one that essentially guaranteed endless hostility between the transplanted and those who were evicted in order to effect that movement.

    Not that I have any idea what “solution” might be possible now, other than one side completely eradicating the other. Every violent death of every person on either side will only continue to feed the cycle. And no compromise seems possible of pleasing everyone. Clint Eastwood, of all people, portrayed this insoluble dilemma pretty well in the format of his classic western, “The Unforgiven.”

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