Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friedman: Criticism Of Israeli Policy Is Valid, Delegitimization Is Not

In "Steal This Movie," Thomas Friedman makes an important distinction: while criticism of some Israeli policies, such as the West Bank settlements, is legitimate and in its best interests, delegitimizing the country is not. Delegitimization represents an imbalanced perspective that actually prevents Israelis from engaging in a constructive discussion of policy:

...there is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel — to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war...

...I’m not here to defend Israel’s bad behavior. Just the opposite. I’ve long argued that Israel’s colonial settlements in the West Bank are suicidal for Israel as a Jewish democracy. I don’t think Israel’s friends can make that point often enough or loud enough.

But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?


Oren Stern said...

this is an interesting point to make, categorizing the type of criticism on a controversial subject, parsing it out into two groups, essentially a good and a bad group. But it lacks empathy for the side of the coin who cannot see clear past the "bad" side of criticism.

Give you an example---i have friends from palestine, their family were landowners in palestine. as early as 1947 their family had been victims in murders, axe murders by "israeli" people.

there is a sense of injustice stemming back 65 years ago that stings the minds and catches in the throats of the people who are most affected by the israeli state, let alone the actions of that state.

this "destructive criticism" is just another method for discrediting the voice of a people who have been robbed of their land and asked and sometimes forced to take forget and tolerate the murder of their family and friend by israeli people.

if a truthful discussion is to be had, both sides of the table must be allowed to voice their "destructive criticism" especially, letting these voices be heard is the only way to get to the core of the issues that separate both parties. and by hearing these voices, both parties, when willing, can begin to make the necessary amends that will ensure a peaceful coexistence.

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Jeff Tone said...

Oren: On the other hand, what do you say to an Israeli who lost a family member to terrorism? I believe that everyone knows what the core issues are. Both sides have been trading accusations for decades. The voices of destruction have all too often drowned out all others.

It is time to stop thinking that there is a "good and a bad group." Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to a homeland. Most people know what the solution is: two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side. It is time to implement that solution.

Oren Stern said...

Thank you for allowing the comment.

First thing I'd say to that Israeli is, I am truly sorry for your loss, for you and your family. I only hope the outcome of this violence is a peaceful coexistence, one built out of understanding, tolerance and even curiosity for one another's people.

Second thing, if I felt they were able to speak on the matter and allow for an advocate from the other side of the table to voice an opinion is the blankly state,

But let's drop the victim's rhetoric, shall we. Terrorism? You and I both know there is an element of Israel that is at war with Palestine, just as much as it is true vice versa. Its a mutual fight. Calling one side's participation in this fight terrorism is just propaganda.

The next thing I might call attention, which outlines Israel's willingness to play just as unfairly as Palestine's, is Israel's use of white phosphorus explosives---not exactly legal from a World Court perspective---and in use as recently as the December 08/January 09 conflicts. This was confirmed. Do you know what phosphorus does to human flesh? Using such horrible weapons against an "opponent" is unthinkable.

Victim's language by a known aggressor is unbecoming of the aggressor. I'm a middle man in this dispute, I feel for both sides. But I do get annoyed though when the lovely paint comes out to dab a little here and there and round the edges off the ugliness that each side plays in.

Military wise, it hasn't been a fair fight for a long while since Israel has received more aid and sanction to build up armies and air forces by international players, like the U.S.

But back to the criticism---from a psychological perspective, its okay for both sides to be aloud to scream out all their rage at one another, to get it all out, exhaust the emotional aspect...but then to follow up immediately with compromise and future planning.

These two states are very much like children who need an adult moderate their disputes and not necessarily judge them, either side

Jeff Tone said...

You're quite welcome.

My use of the word "terrorism" is related to the intentional killing of non-combatants. That Palestinian groups have used this method is indisputable.

Saying that doesn't mean that all Palestinians are terrorists. It also doesn't justify everything Israel does. I am aware of the use of white phosphorous and condemn it, along with other actions in the Gaza war.

I'm not as optimistic about the therapeutic use of screaming out one's rage. There's been plenty of that, and it's usually led to more screaming. History has often been a zero-sum game in this conflict: "I have all the rights, you have none, it's all mine."

I think the two sides have to put all that aside and move to the compromise and planning phase. I wish I could say that I see that happening soon.

Oren Stern said...

I agree to your points. Non-combatant death tolls rack up on both sides of the line though. "Terrorism" implies the righteousness of one side over the other.

During the Bosnian War, NATO forces, comprised largely of U.S. military, were flying on average 450 sorties a day, dropping ordinance on the regular. Non-combatant death was part of the "action" --- does NATO operate as a terrorist group though? Not in the eyes of media groups that financially benefit from the security it maintains.

When conflict needs to be resolved on a person-to-person basis, it is best to let one party take a deep breath and let out their grievance. What they say may cause an emotional stir, it may be negative, but interrupting them midstream is only going to reset their desire to let it all out again. The most disciplined and successful conflict mediators allow the grievance to be aired.

I consider this when I say that this "destructive criticism" as it is being dubbed, should be allowed. It is part of the discussion, even if it is an ugly part. Disallowing it, or cutting it off mid-stream, only resets the hot desire by those expressing it to voice their opinion. It may be emotive, I'm not convinced though inherently destructive.

I guess the real point I had to make about this is that certainly the moniker "destructive criticism" is more destructive to the cause of peace than the criticism itself, because it undervalues and marginalizes the voice/people this criticism represents.