Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Mark Kleiman linked to a very interesting interview with Michael Walzer, and discussed Walzer's insights into the third Gulf War. (Yes, believe it or not, it was the third: the first was Iran/Iraq, the second was Bush I/Iraq, and the third was Bush II/Iraq). I don't necessarily agree with what Walzer said about the war (I view multilateral consensus as being more valuable than he does, largely from a "soft power" perspective), but I am very impressed with one section that Kleiman didn't address. It's a summary of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that really resonates with me.

This is a hard question for me to answer with any sort of brevity, given my long involvement in Zionist politics in the Jewish diaspora and in Israeli politics too, as a frequent visitor. I recently published an article in Dissent, 'The Four Wars of Israel/Palestine,' explaining my position, which I will try to summarise here. These are the four wars: there is a Palestinian war to destroy and replace the state of Israel, which is unjust, and a Palestinian war to establish a state alongside Israel, which is just. And there is an Israeli war to defend the state, which is just, and an Israeli war for Greater Israel, which is unjust. When making particular judgements, you always have to ask who is fighting which war, and what means they have adopted, and whether those means are legitimate for these ends, or for any ends. Most of the people attacking Israel or defending it, and most of the people attacking the Palestinians or defending them, don't even begin to do the necessary work.
Highlight mine. Thank you, Mr. Walzer. This is one of the chief reasons why the whole conflict has been so frustrating for me, and he set it out quite well: there isn't just one conflict here, but several. The problem is that those who are pushing the unjust wars will often mask themselves within the rhetoric of the just ones, and jump back and forth whenever convenient. (This is noticably apparent on websites about the conflict, which usually feature top-level pages that use the rhetoric of the just wars, and only get to their real aims and the justifications for same when you burrow down several levels and/or switch languages.)

He employs this criteria quite well, too:

I can't do that work here, but I will suggest some of the judgements that I think it leads to – most crucially these two: Palestinian terrorism, that is, the deliberate targeting of civilians, should always and everywhere be condemned. And Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories has been wrong from the very beginning of the occupation. But this second wrongness doesn't mitigate the first: Palestinian attacks on the occupying army or on paramilitary settler groups are justified – at least they are justified whenever there is an Israeli government unwilling to negotiate; but attacks on settler families or schools are terrorist acts, murder exactly. (I want to insist that this is not special pleading: I am old enough to have made similar arguments at the time of the Algerian war: FLN attacks on French soldiers or on OAS militants were justified; putting a bomb in a cafĂ© or a supermarket in the French section of Algiers was murder.) And similarly, Israeli attacks on Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters are justified; dropping a bomb on an apartment house in Gaza was a criminal act.
This is well put (and the comparison with another conflict is apt). It also provides a useful counter to the absolutist use of the label "terrorist" as well.

Perhaps my favorite quote from the interview that Kleiman didn't address, however, is its closure:

It is hard work trying to sustain an oppositionist politics in the US today – especially when part of what I feel I have to oppose is the idiocy of many of my fellow oppositionists: knee-jerk anti-Americanism, old left dogmatism, and the rejection of any fellowship larger than the sect of the politically correct and the morally pure. I live on the left, but quarrel with some of my neighbours, and in the aftermath of 9/11 the quarrels have gotten more intense. But I would resist the idea that I am 'working' on these quarrels. They are just occasionally necessary engagements.
Not much more to add, here; it echoes my frustration with the "hard left", not the least reason being that it gives those centrists who try to derive their credibility from being close to the right more ammo in their quixotic fight to keep losing debates and elections to their erstwhile rightist comrades.

I like what this guy has to say, though. Don't agree with all of it, especially on Iraq (as I said above), but it's interesting.

Edit: that being said, I still think that "can there be a decent left" article was astoundingly silly and ill-thought-out. I'll put it down to having had a bad week and wanting to get out some frustrations, or wanting to provoke some discussion. Which the article certainly did, although probably not what he had in mind.

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