Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

I have just published a “Chirpstory”– that is, a compilation of tweets– about the event I went to today at the New America Foundation, a Washington DC policy research institution (think tank), at which five panelists and a slightly out-of-her-depth moderator were trying to discuss the situation in Gaza. If you’re interested, you can see the archived video of the whole event, and the bios of all the participants, here. It was pretty interesting.

Here, I just want to add one additional comment, in reaction to some things NAF’s own Lisa Goldman said there about the heartfelt and apparently intractable feelings of “fear” that Israeli people have. (In the context, it was very clear she was speaking about Jewish Israelis.) She acknowledged that the Gaza Palestinians were in currently living in a situation of real danger; but she said people should not forget that Israelis live in a constant state of fear. “Any Israeli you talk to, they will tell you about how terrible it was in 2002 and they could not go and enjoy a pizza because of the fear of suicide bombers,” was one of the things she said.

I found this argument interesting, for a number of reasons. Firstly, she seemed to be equating the fear the Israelis feel with the danger the Palestinians are experiencing. In other words, the “feelings” of 6 million Jewish Israelis are just as important (or more important?) than the actual danger of imminent death that currently stalks 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Secondly, she neglected to mention that (gasp!) Palestinians have feelings, too! And one thing all Palestinians in Gaza feel right now– along with many of their close family members and other fellow Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, and around the world– is very intense fear. Thirdly, she seemed completely stymied by the phenomenon of the Jewish Israelis’ fear. She seemed to be saying– though I need to check the video for the exact quote– something like, “Well, because of those Israeli fears, that means there is nothing we can do.” Finally, making this argument to an audience primarily made up of US Americans, she seemed to consider that her invocation of the “fact” of the apparently intractable fears of the Israelis, on its own, constituted some kind of a reasonable and convincing argument. Very bizarre.

Even more bizarre, because earlier both she and Ms. Naomi Paiss of the New Israel Fund had been at pains to tell the audience that “Israeli society” (by which, again, I think they meant Jewish-Israeli society) “encompasses a wide spectrum of views.” They had both really seemed at that point to be working overtime to undercut the analyses made by Max Blumenthal and others, to the effect that Jewish-Israeli society has in recent years undergone a large-scale lurch to the right… But despite that “wide spectrum of views” that Goldman and Paiss both identified, still, there was Lisa Goldman telling us that we have to remain paralyzed in the face of the fear that, she argued, nearly every Israeli feels.

Well okay, as it happens I spent a non-trivial amount of time in Israel in 2002 (June.) I rode the buses, went to the pizza parlors and restaurants. People around me were watchful, and every public place had a security check at the door. (Hullo! That is the case in tens of other countries, too. There’s nothing so special about Israel, it turns out.) Also, I know for a fact that there are a number– okay, currently a small number— of Jewish Israelis who are not themselves “paralyzed” by fear and who do not expect, as a matter of course, that the whole of the rest of the world will join them in their paralysis.

Lisa Goldman seems like an interesting– if slightly parochial– person. She does some good writing at the “+972” online mag which is an important platform for Israeli (and some Palestinian) peaceniks. I had never seen her in person before. She seems like an unlikely candidate to be, as she is, the relatively new head of New America’s “Israel-Palestine Program”. Born in Toronto, she moved to Israel as, it seems, an adult, and took Israeli citizenship; and stayed there to work for around ten years. Including, she wrote this blog. At some point in late 2011, she left Israel and went first to Toronto before she moved to Brooklyn (NY.) She still lives in Brooklyn and told me she commutes down to DC every so often on NAF business. Also, during today’s program she admitted, with an irresponsible laugh, that “I don’t understand US politics.”

So I’m now extremely puzzled as to why NAF, which seeks, I think to contribute policy-useful research and thinking to the discourse here in the United States, should have appointed her.

What goes on in Washington DC is extremely important to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Surely, any US think tank that seeks to be studying this conflict seriously and making good, serious recommendations as to how this policy can be improved, needs to be capable of looking at the US policy-making dimension of the present diplomatic imbroglio/impasse/fiasco in a very serious way? I don’t think it’s enough for someone in this position to be just an Israeli (and Canadian) person of somewhat– or even strongly– pro-peace sympathies. And given the arguments she was making today, about the need for everyone to “understand” (and apparently also be paralyzed by) the fearful feelings of Jewish Israelis, I have more doubt than I did before I saw her today, about the depth and groundedness of Goldman’s pro-peace inclinations.

Okay, there was one other thing. I thought it would have been very appropriate, at the beginning of this gathering, to give some– even minor– acknowledgment of the depth of the human losses of the past eight days. But there was none. So when I stood up to ask my question (at about 1:12:00 in the video), I said it would have been nice to have started the session with, say, a minute of silence for all the victims. Lisa Goldman cut in from the stage (though she was not the moderator of the session, on a number of occasions she tried to act as such; and this was one) and said “We don’t have time for that!” I said, “Not even a moment? 210 people have been killed– ” But she appeared adamant… So I moved right along and asked my question.

This cutting off of any acknowledgment of “feelings” for the victims of the violence seemed a little harsh to me.

Oh well. A pity about that… But still, having a public event at a sizeable Washington DC think tank at which Palestinian-American rock stars Noura Erakat and Samer Badawi got to be part of the panel was a wonderful advance over the way things were in Washington DC even just a few years ago. You can get some flavor of what those two– and all the rest of the panelists– said, from the Chirpstory.

6 thoughts on “Israelis, Palestinians, and “feelings”

  1. escot

    Thanks for the “chirpstory” Helena :-) — AND for honing in on the moral bankruptcy of so much of the inside the beltway political and media discourse….. Therein, we’re commanded to “feel” …. to empathize with the vague fears of Israelis, but rarely if ever are we to mention the very real expectation of arbitrary and imminent death on the part of Palestinians trapped in Gaza. If the latter even comes up, it gets brushed aside as something not worthy of dwelling upon, or as no different than Israeli fears.

    Muzzled too will be the reporters who dare to cover and explain how Gazans view their situation. (to whit, shame, shame on NBC for obviously yanking Ayman Moyheldin….. how telling.)

    As such, the one-sided slaughter goes on…. with willing enablers in the citadels of DC and corporate media power. Yet maybe this time, voices of conscience will yet be heard. To whit, this morning’s David Rothkopf fp lament…. re. the “slaughter of innocents,” remarkable…

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  2. Johnny benson

    Ok….lets go over the fear factor for a minute…there is no question that the palatable fear of jet planes and potential death from bombs and missiles felt by the gazan people is greater then the Israelis fear of getting to the bomb shelter in time without falling or being run over by a car …simply because of the safety of the shelter and the dome defense over the cities,..the question arises ..why did the Hamas not build bomb shelters?…the answer..since Hamas hides and shoots the rockets from civilian sites,they want to see dead and wounded for world opinion…and the people for shields…there is no other answer…

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  3. bevin

    “…why did the Hamas not build bomb shelters?”
    Probably because Gaza has been under siege for more than six years. And Israel has, inter alia, greatly restricted the construction materials entering the Strip. It is all part of the plan to put Gaza on a diet, which also explains the widespread and well reported incidence of malnutrition among children there.
    Gaza is virtually unarmed and undefended which is why the casualty figures are as unbalanced as they are. Blaming Hamas for any of this is really a mug’s game.

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  4. Lawrence Swaim

    I realized a very long time ago that the constant harping on how Israelis–and some American Jews–process their own emotions is at best a form of emotional blackmail, and at worst a highly pathological form of victimology. (In the sense of worshiping victim status as central to one’s identity.) A recent example of this toxic carrying-on occurred at UC Berkeley during the vote on BDS, when an Israeli Consulate officials showed up to give advice to those students opposed to BDS.

    “Tell them that any criticism of Israel makes you feel unsafe,” was his advice. (As though the Cossacks were preparing to ride down Telegraph Avenue attacking Jews.) In reality, I think most Jewish college students are quite capable of discussing their opinions on the Middle East, and need no special appeal to victim status. Furthermore, I have observed that going along with this cheesy tactic makes normal discourse almost impossible.

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  5. Richard Silverstein

    Your analysis of Goldman’s views was dead-on. She is a liberal Zionist in the Peter Beinart-Daniel Levy mold. What you didn’t note is that after Beinart’s Open Zion project folded at The Daily Beast, he helped or arranged for her to be brought to NAF. I don’t know exactly how this happened, but Beinart is a fellow there and Levy a former fellow there. It’s too coincidental that she would move there give the connections she had with Beinart.

    I should add that while reporting from Israel she entered Lebanon on her Canadian passport, did interviews with Lebanese citizens which were then aired on Israeli TV. While in Lebanon, of course, she concealed that she was Israeli. The faces & identities of the interviewees were not masked or disguised. In doing so, she endangered their lives, as Nicholas Noe, a journalist in Lebanon told me.

    She is a flippant lightweight who has been given far too much authority given her very low level of gravitas.

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