"We're All Israelis Now"?
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These words, or some approximation of them, have been uttered by numerous rabbis and written by scores of pundits in the last three days, and will no doubt become ubiquitous with the onset of the Jewish New Year Monday evening. Catchy they are; and indeed, the enormity of the tragedy and the death of any sense of ordinary security Americans have always taken for granted does give us a keener sense of what the average Israeli has lived with for decades.
But as I watch coverage of the events of this week and listen to the arguments and analyses of the vast majority of American officials, policy makers and commentators I fear we are more like Israelis than we realize, because even after extreme violence has been perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have supported and even enforced, we refuse to engage in the honest introspection of what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into cruise missiles.
In Israel the violence and terrorism of the latest intifada cannot be understood except as emerging out of decades of occupation, discrimination and dispossession. Yet Israel continues and even intensifies these practices, safe in the knowledge that they have the power and support to ignore the roots of the conflict with Palestinians and avenge the casualties it produces daily. Forgotten in the process is the prophetic injunction to fight oppression and correct injustice, or the warning that "those who sow injustice will reap calamity." American tax dollars have overruled both.
Similarly, the fact is that there are very good reasons why much of the Muslim world regards the United States as hostile and bent on its continued subjugation. Fifty years of U.S. support for ever more oppressive and intolerant regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan, the overthrow of elected governments as in Iran, turning a blind eye to Sadam's chemical warfare against Kurds or Asad's massacre of Muslim Brothers, the selling of weapons of mass destruction to anyone with money to burn (F-16s and M-16s in great quantity will do as much damage as a nuclear bomb), even aiding the Taliban (most recently with $43 million) as long as they joined our other "war," on drugs -- all these activities have done little to endear ordinary Muslim or Arab citizens to America and its purported values of freedom and democracy.
So when politicians and pundits opine that our new enemies "hate democracy and freedom," one reason "they" do is that we seem to hate democracy and freedom, at least when it comes to helping them achieve a real measure of either. They watch our senior politicians publicly argue that democracy is not right for the Middle East, even if we do not; they know the hypocrisy of doing everything possible to oppose genuine peace and democracy, and then going to war.
Yet are we really like Israelis? At least most Israelis know the truth about their history and policies -- it's out there in their textbooks, op-eds, debates and in the faces of the Palestinians, including their own citizens, whose oppression they daily enforce. At least a genuine (if not large enough) segment of Israeli society is willing to make painful changes in their society and culture to reach some accommodation with Palestinians, and real debate continues along with the violence. (How many Americans are willing to make painful changes to our political economy and culture of hyper-consumption in order to lay the groundwork for genuine peace and justice with and in the Global South?)
Indeed, the very scholars that are shunned by the mainstream media here -- figures like Noam Chomsky or Edward Said -- were long regular fixtures on Israeli television. When was the last time a voice like theirs was on the NewsHour or Nightline? Where will Americ's "unity" -- read self-censorship and herd instinct -- lead us now?
I fear that the violence unleashed by the terrorist acts this week is only the beginning of a long and destructive war, where ignorance, arrogance and moral silence (if not duplicity) on all sides will lead millions to ruin. Certainly our refusal, even now, to look honestly at the U.S.'s sad and dishonorable relationship with the Middle East makes such an outcome all the more likely. This will be a great insult to the thousands lost in the rubble of Tuesday.
Mark LeVine is an associate professor of history at University of California, Irvine and a contributing editor to Tikkun magazine.