Understanding The Israel vs Palestine Conflict

I admittedly don’t know much about the foreign policy issues surrounding the Israel and Palestinian conflict aside from what I have heard/read from Chomsky and leftists in general. They make some good arguments, but I am suspicious of taking them at face value since these same people make economic arguments – a topic I do claim to have some knowledge about – that suffer from very elementary and erroneous perceptions and facts. So to fill the void, I search for discussions/debates on the topic between two knowledgeable people from each side.

In that aspect, I found this bloggingheads discussion between Peter Beinhart, representing the leftist view, and Eli Lake, representing the center-right view, informative.

5 Responses to “Understanding The Israel vs Palestine Conflict”


  • Thanks for the link. Will check it out.

    You’re right that Beinhart is considered a leftist, but notice what that means in mainstream circles. He supported the invasion of Iraq. I just read a complimentary article from Stephen Walt on Beinhart that says he has excellent pro-Israeli credentials. Considers himself a Zionist and says he’d sooner compromise his liberal convictions than his support for Zionism. This passes for liberalism in the media.

    The New Republic came to regret their support for war. Why? Was it wrong to invade a country that didn’t attack us and without UN approval? Is killing a million innocent people wrong? Nope. It was a “strategic” error. Seriously. Any Nazi general could say the same thing. Opening an eastern front was a “strategic error”. Not that it’s wrong. It was just to costly, beyond our means, etc. This supposedly is liberalism. Beinhart is the perfect mainstream liberal. Well to the right of Americans generally. That serves the propaganda function of implying that to the left of these extremist right wing views is in fact outside the mainstream. People that oppose the war on principle regard themselves as extremists when in fact this is a very mainstream opinion.

    So I’m not expecting Beinhart to make the kind of arguments I would or the kind of arguments a real liberal would make. For that you look to Greenwald, Chomsky, Finkelstein, etc.

  • I just finished this. It was interesting to notice that Beinhart was apparently on the AIPAC lecture circuit. The guy that supposedly represents the left and Palestinian rights was on the AIPAC lecture circuit. He also talks about those “extremist” liberals. Lake calls them the “net left”. Beinhart lumps Chomsky in that category. These are people that actually aren’t just opposed to Israeli policy. They hate Israel and want it destroyed. I would like to see one shred of evidence to justify a claim like that. Chomsky lived in Israel for years and thought about staying permanently. He speaks fluent Hebrew. Regards himself as a friend of Israel because he is doing what he can to stop their moral degeneration. He doesn’t advocate a right of return and supports the two state settlement (and faces significant hostility for this position from some on the left, frankly I’m somewhat sympathetic to those criticisms). Beinhart is just a perfect example of a fake liberal and fake friend to Palestinians.

    Beinhart talks a lot about Netenyahu and how he’s extreme. Kind of like saying Republicans are extremists, so if only we had Democrats running things all these wars would come to an end. Netenyahu expands the settlements and “isn’t committed to Palestinian statehood.” The impression one might get is that if you just fight to get Labor elected things will go better. Of course that’s been done, and like the Democrats don’t differ from the Republicans on these kinds of issues, Labor has not really differed from Likud in any way other than rhetoric. Beinhart is informed enough to know things like this, but the lay listener won’t, so the effect is if anything people that want justice for Palestinians will support Labor, and when Labor wins and nothing changes Beinhart will talk once again how we just barely missed it, like with Barak and Rabin, and if we only elect Labor again maybe then it will work.

    What a real liberal does is actually talk about things the listener could conceivably do to improve things. Netenyahu isn’t committed to a Palestinian state. So what? Neither is the US. We vote against a peaceful settlement every year like we’ve done for 35 years. It doesn’t matter what Netenyahu thinks. He can be compelled to change if pressure was brought by the US. They are so critically dependent on us that all we have to do is vote with the other 164 nations in support of peace and that kind of pressure could create a Palestinian state rapidly. Instead the recent bid to just declare themselves a state without US support is accompanied by threats from the US of withholding food aid, which they depend on critically because of the embargo and the fact that Israel destroys their orchards, chicken coups, and flour mills. Israel is set to destroy a solar array built by Spain that powers 40 homes, a hospital, and a school.

    They talk tons about Hamas and how they are the source of the problem. Hamas has been running Gaza for like 5 years. What was happening before they were on the scene? Same thing happening now. Why is Hamas the problem? When Lake talks about their terrorism Beinhart just accepts that criticism as if Israel’s terrorism wasn’t VASTLY more extensive. He adopts the mainstream media paradigm. Terrorism is when they do it to our side. When we do it to their side it’s not terrorism by definition.

    I keep coming back to this point from Chomsky about how a real moral agent acts. There are some problems in the world where you really can’t do much of anything. N Korea might be an example. What the moral agent does is he says “What can I do to improve things?” In the case of Israel there are tons of things we could do as a country to resolve the problem. You listen to Bienhart and what you come away with is nothing. It’s not like I can get Labor elected. I guess the problem is just too intractable. Status quo is what we get.

    I can’t make Israel elect Labor, but I can call on Obama to support the two state settlement. We can stop giving them $3 billion in military aid annually, which is used in violation of US law to make war on civilians. We can object to the fact that Israel shot a US citizen in the head execution style on the Mavi Marmari. We can talk about how they bulldozed Rachel Corrie as she tried to prevent them from crushing a home of a Palestinian peasant. We can at least attempt to protect US citizens by punishing them for killing us. That’s our government’s job. Protect the citizenry.

    Notice how Greenwald acts. It’s very easy to criticize someone like Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il. Enemies of the state that we have no influence over. But there are others committing atrocities, like Israel, and we send them arms. We can obviously fix that. We send arms to Yemen so President Saleh can just mow down protestors. We do the same in Bahrain. Greenwald only talks about Saleh in the context of how it is the US that makes his atrocities possible. The focus is on Obama. It is Obama that could change this and we are the ones that can change him. We are the only ones. Obama makes these massacres possible. If you can’t talk about that, that is if you can’t talk about what you can do, then you aren’t in the moral universe.

    Beinhart is the opposite of Greenwald. Instead of talking about how the US is the primary obstacle to peace, which is a fact, he talks about how Likud is bad and Labor is good. The listener comes away from this discussion paralyzed with inaction, when in fact there is nobody in a better position to resolve this conflict than the American citizen.

  • Fantasy.

  • Jon,

    I may be wrong here, but I thought it was Eli Lake who made the net liberal comment and “hate Israel” charge. Beinhart was constantly defending “net liberals” – even arguing that AIPAC has considerable sway politically. In other words, from what I have heard of Beinhart and Chomsky, I don’t see that much difference between the two.

    Beinhart supports dialogue with Hamas. Beinhart strongly criticizes Israel – its Prime Minister, cabinets, and previous administrations. Beinhart argues that AIPAC has much more political power than most would admit. In fact, I can’t think of anything in Beinhart’s discussion that Chomsky would disagree with.

    I’m curious – besides disagreeing with Beinhart’s presentation (your only real point is that he should have focused more on the USA’s role) – what did he actually say that you would disagree with? I think he defended the leftist position quite well and cant think of anything more leftist.

  • Yeah, that’s what I said. It is Lake that defines the “net left” but Beinhart lumps Chomsky into the extremist category. He lists several people that fall into the camp of thinking Israel shouldn’t exist. Now, in fairness to Beinhart, since I just re-listened, it sounded to me like he was talking about two different groups. One that thinks Israel doesn’t have a right to exist and those that think it shouldn’t exist “as a Jewish state” but should instead be a state of all of it’s citizens. Chomsky defends Israel’s right to exist but does not agree that they should be a Jewish state just like he doesn’t think Iran should be a Muslim state and the US should be a Christian state. He believes all citizens should be represented by the state. It’s possible Beinhart was suggesting Chomsky was in the latter camp, but not the former, though to me it sounded like he meant both.

    Where do I disagree with Beinhart? I don’t accept the criticism of Hamas as a terrorist organization lying down, where Beinhart does. They do engage in terrorism, but just about every state does, including Norway, France, Canada, and obviously the US. Terrorism is just typical state behavior. Complain about Hamas if you like, but admit that there’s more from Likud.

    Beinhart admits that the Israel lobby has influence. That’s obvious. Who wouldn’t admit that? Where he stopped short is he let slide Lake’s claim that the Mearsheimer/Walt camp is in absurd land. Fake liberals like Andrew Sullivan (watch him excoriate Chomsky with lies on Bill Maher or check his never ending defenses of Obama’s violence) go along with Mearsheimer and Walt (though Chomsky does not. I think Finkelstein is more sympathetic. Finklestein is the real expert in my view, more informed than Chomsky as I’m sure Chomsky would admit).

    Did Beinhart say the wrong thing? Not that I recall. In fact I have to give him credit in that he knows a lot of stuff. But take liberal criticism of the Vietnam War. It was too costly, beyond our means. Is that mistaken criticism? No, it’s possibly true. But it’s beside the point. The real liberal sides with 75% of the American people. The war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. Fake liberals don’t express such sentiments. The real outrage is that the US votes against peace every year and sends chemical weaponry to Israel for them to use in terrorist atrocities. That’s the elephant in the room. Instead Beinhart wants to talk about how Barak was so much better than Netenyahu.

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