War in the Middle East

Intractable Foes, Warring Narratives

The conflict in the Middle East is about warring narratives, each making its own claim to land and history. But in the United States, it is mostly the Israeli perspective that gets attention.
Tragedy has struck once again in the Israeli city of Netanya, killing at last count 20 innocents and wounding more than 130 people, as the Arab League meets amidst controversy and confusion in Beirut, with Yasser Arafat still trapped in Ramallah, and President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan staying home in protest.

Only the most optimistic among us can muster much hope for an end to the murderous cycle currently underway in the Holy Land.

Stepping back from the horrific headlines of the day, it is clear that the conflict over Israel/Palestine is all about competing narratives. Both sides inflict inhuman cruelties on one another. Both sides blame the other for forcing them to do so. The Israelis kill far more Palestinians than vice-versa, with far more deadly and effective weapons; but the Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, deliberately target innocents for murder. The Israelis say the conflict will end when the Palestinians renounce their commitment to terrorism and accept Israel’s “right to existence.” The Palestinians claim it will end when Israel ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and compensates the millions of refugees it created, either by returning them to their homes or giving them the funds necessary to build new ones.

A Tale Of Two Stories

In most of the world, it is the Palestinian narrative of a dispossessed people that dominates. In the United States, however, the narrative that dominates is Israel’s: a democracy under constant siege. Europeans and other Palestinian partisans point to the fact that the Israel lobby in America is one of the strongest anywhere, and Jewish individuals and organizations give millions of dollars to political candidates in order to reward pro-Israel policies and punish those who support the Palestinians. Another reason, however, is the near-complete domination by pro-Israel partisans of the punditocracy discourse. Some Jewish groups in America like to harass news organizations like The Washington Post or National Public Radio for what they believe to be coverage insufficiently sympathetic to Israel’s plight. But even Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to complain about the level of support their actions typically receive from the members of the punditocracy.

For reasons of religion, politics, history and genuine conviction the punditocracy debate of the Middle East in America is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel. The value of this legion to the Jewish state is, for better or worse, literally incalculable, particularly when push — as it inevitably does in the Middle East — comes to shove. Here’s a list I made in trying to measure the immeasurable.

COLUMNISTS AND COMMENTATORS WHO CAN BE COUNTED UPON TO SUPPORT ISRAEL REFLEXIVELY AND WITHOUT QUALIFICATION:

George Will, The Washington Post, Newsweek and ABC News
William Safire, The New York Times
A.M. Rosenthal, The New York Daily News, formerly Executive Editor of and later columnist for, The New York Times
Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, PBS, Time, and The Weekly Standard, formerly of the New Republic
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, National Journal, and MSNBC.com, formerly of The New Republic and The New Yorker
Lally Weymouth, The Washington Post
Newsweek Martin Peretz, The New Republic
Daniel Pipes, The New York Post
Andrea Peyser, The New York Post
Dick Morris, The New York Post
Lawrence Kaplan, The New Republic
William Bennett, CNN
William Kristol, The Washington Post, the Weekly Standard, Fox News, formerly of ABC News
Robert Kagan, The Washington Post and The Weekly Standard
Mortimer Zuckerman, US News and World Report (Zuckerman is also Chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations )
David Gelertner, The Weekly Standard
John Podhoretz, The New York Post and The Weekly Standard
Mona Charen, The Washington Times
Morton Kondracke, Roll Call, Fox News formerly of The McLaughlin Group, The New Republic and PBS
Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard, Fox News, formerly of The New Republic, The McLaughlin Group, and The Baltimore Sun
Sid Zion, The New York Post, The New York Daily News
Yossi Klein Halevi The New Republic
Sidney Zion, The New York Post, formerly of The New York Daily News
Norman Podhoretz, Commentary, Jonah Goldberg, National Review
CNN Laura Ingraham, CNN, formerly of MSNBC and CBS News
Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe
Rich Lowry, National Review
Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic
Seth Lipsky, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Sun, formerly of the Jewish Forward
Irving Kristol, The Public Interest, The National Interest and The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page
Allan Keyes, MSNBC, WorldNetDaily.com
Brit Hume, Fox News John Leo, US News and World Report
Robert Bartley, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page John Fund, The Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal, formerly of The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page
Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page,
Ben Wattenberg, The Washington Times, PBS Tony Snow, Washington Times and Fox News
Lawrence Kudlow, National Review and CNBC
Alan Dershowitz, Boston Herald, Washington Times
David Horowitz, Frontpage.com
Jacob Heilbrun, The Los Angeles Times
Thomas Sowell, Washington Times
Frank Gaffney Jr, Washington Times
Emmett Tyrell, American Spectator and New York Sun
Cal Thomas, Washington Times
Oliver North, Washington Times and Fox News, formerly of MSNBC
Michael Ledeen, Jewish World Review
William F. Buckley, National Review
Bill O’Reilly, Fox News
Paul Greenberg, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
L. Brent Bozell, Washington Times
Todd Lindberg, Washington Times
Michael Barone, US News and World Report and The McLaughlin Group
Ann Coulter, Human Events
Linda Chavez, Creators Syndicate
Cathy Young, Reason Magazine
Uri Dan, New York Post
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, morality maven
Rush Limbaugh, radio host

PUBLICATIONS THAT, FOR REASONS OF OWNER OR EDITORSHIP CAN BE COUNTED UPON TO SUPPORT ISRAEL REFLEXIVELY AND WITHOUT QUALIFICATION:
The New Republic (Martin Peretz, Michael Steinhardt, Roger Hertog, Owners
Commentary (American Jewish Committee, Owner)
US News and World Report (Mortimer Zuckerman, Owner)
The New York Daily News (Mortimer Zuckerman, Owner)
The New York Post (Rupert Murdoch, Owner)
The Weekly Standard (Rupert Murdoch, Owner)
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page (Peter Kann, Editor)
The Atlantic Monthly (Michael Kelly, Editor)

COLUMNISTS LIKELY TO CRITICIZE BOTH ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS, BUT VIEW THEMSELVES TO BE CRITICALLY SUPPORTERS OF ISRAEL, AND ULTIMATELY, WOULD SUPPORT ISRAELI SECURITY OVER PALESTINIAN RIGHTS:
Thomas Friedman, The New York Times
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post and New York Daily News
Avishai Margolit, The New York Review of Books
David Remnick, The New Yorker
Eric Alterman, The Nation and MSNBC.com
The New York Times Editorial Board
The Washington Post Editorial Board

COLUMNISTS LIKELY TO BE REFLEXIVELY ANTI-ISRAEL AND/OR PRO-PALESTINIAN REGARDLESS OF CIRCUMSTANCE:
Robert Novak, The Washington Post
Pat Buchanan, WorldNetDaily.com, formerly of The Washington Times and CNN
Alexander Cockburn, The Nation and New York Press
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation and Vanity Fair
Edward Said, The Nation

HOW FRIENDS CAN BEST HELP

As can be seen from this list of lists, the entire anti-Israel contingent of the punditocracy does not add up to a single George Will or William Safire, much less a Wall Street Journal or US News. It remains to be seen whether unqualified support for all of Israel’s actions is really in that tortured nation’s best interest in the long run. Sometimes the bravest and most valuable advice a trusted friend can give is: “STOP.” Someone is going to have to stop first if this unending catastrophe is ever to end.

Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.
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