Friday, December 13, 2013

The Narrative of Perpetual Palestinian Victimhood. By Shelby Steele.

The Narrative of Perpetual Palestinian Victimhood. By Shelby Steele. PJ Media, November 14, 2011. Also at the Gatestone Institute.

Do the Palestinians Really Want a State? By Robert D. Kaplan. The Atlantic, April 21, 2009.

Why the Palestinians Don’t Want a State. By David Gutmann. The American Spectator, March 5, 2010.

What if the Palestinians Don’t Want a State? By David Bernstein. The Volokh Conspiracy, April 14, 2010. Part 2.


The Arab-Israeli conflict, is not really a conflict, it is a war – a war of the Arabs against the Jews. In many ways, this conflict has been a conflict between narratives. We who strongly support Israel have done a poor job in formulating a narrative which will combat the story spun by the other side. We can do better.
The Durban conferences, the request for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and the general animus in the Middle East and elsewhere toward Israel and toward the Jews, what are they really about? Is the Durban conference and the claim that Israel is a racist nation really about reforming the people of Israel and curing them of their racism?
I think their real interest is to situate the Palestinian people within a narrative of victimization. This is their ulterior goal: to see themselves and to have others see them as victims of colonialism, as victims of white supremacy.
Listen to their language; it is the language of colonial oppression. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas claims that Palestinians have been occupied for 63 years. The word oppressed is constant, exploited. In this, there is a poetic truth; like poetic license, in a poetic truth a writer will bend the rules in order to be more effective.

I will give you one example of a poetic truth that comes from my group, black Americans. We make the following claims: America is a deeply, intractably racist society. It may not be as conspicuous today as it was before. Nevertheless, it is still there today structurally and systemically, and it still holds us back and keeps us from achieving the American dream.
To contradict this claim, one can come forward with evidence to suggest that racism in America today is about 25th on the list of problems facing black Americans. One can recount one of the great untold stories of America, namely, the moral growth and evolution away from that problem. This is not to say that racism is completely extinguished, but that it no longer prevents the forward progress of any black in the United States. There is no evidence to suggest that it does. Yet, this claim is still the centerpiece of black American identity – this idea that we are victimized by a fundamentally, incurably racist society.
Poetic truths like that are marvelous because no facts and no reason can ever penetrate. Supporters of Israel are up against a poetic truth. We keep hitting it with all the facts. We keep hitting it with obvious logic and reason. And we are so obvious and conspicuously right that we assume it is going to have an impact and it never does.
Why not? These narratives, these poetic truths, are the source of their power. Focusing on the case of the Palestinians, who would they be if they were not victims of white supremacy? They would just be poor people in the Middle East. They would be backwards. They would be behind Israel in every way. So this narrative is the source of their power. It is the source of their money. Money comes from around the world. It is the source of their self-esteem. Without it, would they be able to compete with Israeli society? They would have to confront in themselves a certain inferiority with regard to Israel – as most other Arab nations would have to confront an inferiority in themselves and be responsible for it.
The idea that the problem is Israel, that the problem is the Jews, protects Palestinians from having to confront that inferiority or do anything about it or overcome it. The idea among Palestinians that they are victims means more to them than anything else. It is everything. It is the centerpiece of their very identity and it is the way they define themselves as human beings in the world. It is not an idle thing. Our facts and our reason are not going to penetrate easily that definition or make any progress.
The question is, how do they get away with a poetic truth, based on such an obvious series of falsehoods? One reason why they get away with it in the Middle East is that the Western world lacks the moral authority to call them on it. The Western world has not said “your real problem is inferiority. Your real problem is underdevelopment.” That has not been said, nor will ever be said – because the Western world was once colonial, was once racist, did practice white supremacy, and is so ashamed of itself and so vulnerable to those charges, that they are not going to say a word. They are not going to say what they really think and feel about what is so obvious about the circumstances among the Palestinians. So the poetic truth that Palestinians live by carries on.
International media also do not feel that they have the moral authority to report what they see. On the contrary, they feed this poetic truth and give it a kind of gravitas that it would never otherwise have.
Consequently, we need to develop a narrative that is not poetic, but literal and that is based on the truth. What would such a narrative look like?
It would begin with the presumption that the problem in the Middle East is not white supremacy but the end of white supremacy. After World War II, the empires began to contract, Britain went home, France went home, and the Arab world was left almost abandoned, and in a state of much greater freedom than they had ever known before.
Freedom is, however, a dicey thing to experience. When you come into freedom, you see yourself more accurately in the world. This is not unique to the Middle East. It was also the black American experience, when the Civil Rights bill was passed in 1964 and we came into much greater freedom. If you were a janitor in 1963 and you are still a janitor in 1965, you have all these freedoms and they are supported by the rule of law, then your actual experience of freedom is one of humiliation and one of shame. You see how far you have to go, how far behind you are, how little social capital you have with which to struggle forward. Even in freedom you see you are likely to be behind for a long time. In light of your inability to compete and your underdevelopment, freedom becomes something that you are very likely going to hate – because it carries this humiliation.
At that point formerly oppressed groups develop what I call bad faith. Bad faith is when you come into freedom, you are humiliated and you say, “Well you know the real truth is I am not free. Racism still exists. Zionism is my problem. The State of Israel is my problem. That is why I am so far behind and that is why I cannot get ahead.”
You develop a culture grounded in bad faith where you insist that you are less free than you really are. Islamic extremism is the stunning example of this phenomenon. “I have to go on jihad because I am fighting for my freedom.” Well you already have your freedom. You could stay home and study. You could do something constructive. But “No, I cannot do that because that makes me feel bad about myself.” So I live in a world of extremism and dictators.
This is not unique to the Middle East. In black America we had exactly the same thing. After we got the civil rights bill and this greater degree of freedom, then all of a sudden we hear the words "black power." Then all of a sudden we have the Black Panthers. Then we have this militancy, this picking up of the gun because we feel bad about ourselves. We feel uncompetitive and this becomes our compensation. It is a common pattern among groups that felt abandoned when they became free.
This is the real story of the Palestinians and of the Middle East. They will never be reached by reason until they are somehow able to get beyond bad faith, to get beyond this sort of poetic truth that they are the perennial victims of an aggressive and racist Israeli nation.
Challenging their narrative with this explanation will enable us to be more effective. Until now, we have constantly used facts and reason and have not progressed.
Durban is a perfect example of bad faith because Durban is way of saying Israelis are racist and they are our problem. Durban really is a way of saying I am not free. I am still a victim. That is the real purpose of Durban. The Palestinian unilateral claim for recognition from the UN is also a perfect example of bad faith. If Palestinians proceed to the Security Council, they will very likely be turned down, and will respond by saying: “I told you we were victims. I told you the West is racist,” and so on. It refuels the same sad identity.
The irony and the tragedy of all this is that it keeps these groups in a bubble where they never encounter or deal with the truth. This becomes a second oppression for all these groups. They have been oppressed once, now they are free and yet they create a poetic truth that then oppresses them all over again.
How are you going to have good faith if you are raised being told that the society in which you are trying to compete is against you, is racist? It is always the Palestinians who suffer, and will continue to suffer, because all of their energy is going into the avoidance of their situation rather than into being challenged by it and facing into it.
The strength of our argument is that it gives the Palestinians a way out. Development is the way out. The West can help you to compete. It may take a little while. But the alternative is a cycle of violence and hatred and poetic truths about constant victimhood.
The pattern of bad faith in certain places comes to embrace a kind of ethic of death. As Osama bin Laden claimed: in the West, you are all afraid of death, but we love death. Why would you love death? If you are not afraid of death then you are aggrandized; all of a sudden you are a big man. You are not a little, recently freed, inferior. Instead, you are somebody who manages, who conquers his world, who has power. For terrorism is power, the power of the gun. This poetic truth leads to a terrible, inconceivable fascination with death and violence and guns and bombs. It consumes a whole part of the world every single day – rather than the boring things that good faith requires, like going to school, raising your children, inventing software for instance, making money.
This is the way the narrative must be retold.

Israel and the Surrender of the West. By Shelby Steele.

Israel and the Surrender of the West. By Shelby Steele. Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2010. Also at the Hoover Institution. Also here.


One of the world’s oldest stories is playing out before our eyes: The Jews are being scapegoated again. 

The most interesting voice in all the fallout surrounding the Gaza flotilla incident is that sanctimonious and meddling voice known as “world opinion.” At every turn “world opinion,” like a school marm, takes offense and condemns Israel for yet another infraction of the world’s moral sensibility. And this voice has achieved an international political legitimacy so that even the silliest condemnation of Israel is an opportunity for self-congratulation.
Rock bands now find moral imprimatur in canceling their summer tour stops in Israel (Elvis Costello, the Pixies, the Gorillaz, the Klaxons). A demonstrator at an anti-Israel rally in New York carries a sign depicting the skull and crossbones drawn over the word “Israel.” White House correspondent Helen Thomas, in one of the ugliest incarnations of this voice, calls on Jews to move back to Poland. And of course the United Nations and other international organizations smugly pass one condemnatory resolution after another against Israel while the Obama administration either joins in or demurs with a wink.
This is something new in the world, this almost complete segregation of Israel in the community of nations. And if Helen Thomas’s remarks were pathetic and ugly, didn’t they also point to the end game of this isolation effort: the nullification of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation? There is a chilling familiarity in all this. One of the world’s oldest stories is playing out before our eyes: The Jews are being scapegoated again.
“World opinion” labors mightily to make Israel look like South Africa looked in its apartheid era—a nation beyond the moral pale. And it projects onto Israel the same sin that made apartheid South Africa so untouchable: white supremacy. Somehow “world opinion” has moved away from the old 20th century view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated territorial dispute between two long-suffering peoples. Today the world puts its thumb on the scale for the Palestinians by demonizing the stronger and whiter Israel as essentially a colonial power committed to the “occupation” of a beleaguered Third World people.
This is now—figuratively in some quarters and literally in others—the moral template through which Israel is seen. It doesn’t matter that much of the world may actually know better. This template has become propriety itself, a form of good manners, a political correctness. Thus it is good manners to be outraged at Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and it is bad manners to be outraged at Hamas’s recent attack on a school because it educated girls, or at the thousands of rockets Hamas has fired into Israeli towns—or even at the fact that Hamas is armed and funded by Iran. The world wants independent investigations of Israel, not of Hamas.
One reason for this is that the entire Western world has suffered from a deficit of moral authority for decades now. Today we in the West are reluctant to use our full military might in war lest we seem imperialistic; we hesitate to enforce our borders lest we seem racist; we are reluctant to ask for assimilation from new immigrants lest we seem xenophobic; and we are pained to give Western Civilization primacy in our educational curricula lest we seem supremacist. Today the West lives on the defensive, the very legitimacy of our modern societies requiring constant dissociation from the sins of the Western past—racism, economic exploitation, imperialism and so on.
When the Israeli commandos boarded that last boat in the flotilla and, after being attacked with metal rods, killed nine of their attackers, they were acting in a world without the moral authority to give them the benefit of the doubt. By appearances they were shock troopers from a largely white First World nation willing to slaughter even “peace activists” in order to enforce a blockade against the impoverished brown people of Gaza. Thus the irony: In the eyes of a morally compromised Western world, the Israelis looked like the Gestapo.
This, of course, is not the reality of modern Israel. Israel does not seek to oppress or occupy—and certainly not to annihilate—the Palestinians in the pursuit of some atavistic Jewish supremacy. But the merest echo of the shameful Western past is enough to chill support for Israel in the West.
The West also lacks the self-assurance to see the Palestinians accurately. Here again it is safer in the white West to see the Palestinians as they advertise themselves—as an “occupied” people denied sovereignty and simple human dignity by a white Western colonizer. The West is simply too vulnerable to the racist stigma to object to this “neo-colonial” characterization.
Our problem in the West is understandable. We don’t want to lose more moral authority than we already have. So we choose not to see certain things that are right in front of us. For example, we ignore that the Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority. If the Palestinians got everything they want—a sovereign nation and even, let’s say, a nuclear weapon—they would wake the next morning still hounded by a sense of inferiority. For better or for worse, modernity is now the measure of man.
And the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims. I may be poor but my hands are clean. Even my backwardness and poverty only reflect a moral superiority, while my enemy’s wealth proves his inhumanity.
In other words, my hatred is my self-esteem. This must have much to do with why Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s famous Camp David offer of 2000 in which Israel offered more than 90% of what the Palestinians had demanded. To have accepted that offer would have been to forgo hatred as consolation and meaning. Thus it would have plunged the Palestinians—and by implication the broader Muslim world—into a confrontation with their inferiority relative to modernity. Arafat knew that without the Jews to hate an all-defining cohesion would leave the Muslim world. So he said no to peace.
And this recalcitrance in the Muslim world, this attraction to the consolations of hatred, is one of the world’s great problems today—whether in the suburbs of Paris and London, or in Kabul and Karachi, or in Queens, N.Y., and Gaza. The fervor for hatred as deliverance may not define the Muslim world, but it has become a drug that consoles elements of that world in the larger competition with the West. This is the problem we in the West have no easy solution to, and we scapegoat Israel—admonish it to behave better—so as not to feel helpless. We see our own vulnerability there.

White Guilt and the American Way of War. By Shelby Steele.

White Guilt and the American Way of War. By Shelby Steele. Hoover Digest, July 30, 2006. Originally published in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2006.


There is something rather odd in the way America has come to fight its wars since World War II.

For one thing, it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight. And this seems only reasonable given the relative weakness of our Third World enemies in Vietnam and the Middle East. But the fact is that we lost in Vietnam, and today, despite our vast power, we are only slogging along—if admirably—in Iraq against a hit-and-run insurgency that cannot stop us even as we seem unable to stop it. Yet no one—including, very likely, the insurgents themselves—believes that America lacks the raw power to defeat this insurgency if it wants to. So clearly it is America that determines the scale of this war. It is America, in fact, that fights so as to make a little room for an insurgency.

Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

How War Becomes Social Work

Why this new minimalism in war?

It began, I believe, in a late-twentieth-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the worldwide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy, and even sovereignty. This idea had organized the entire world, divided up its resources, imposed the nation-state system across the globe, and delivered the majority of the world’s population into servitude and oppression. After World War II, revolutions across the globe, from India to Algeria and from Indonesia to the American civil rights revolution, defeated the authority inherent in white supremacy, if not the idea itself. And this defeat exacted a price: The West was left stigmatized by its sins. Today, the white West—like Germany after the Nazi defeat—lives in a kind of secular penitence in which the slightest echo of past sins brings down withering condemnation. There is now a cloud over white skin where there once was unquestioned authority.

I call this white guilt not because it is a guilt of conscience but because people stigmatized with moral crimes—here racism and imperialism—lack moral authority and so act guiltily whether they feel guilt or not.

They struggle, above all else, to dissociate themselves from their so-called past sins. When their behavior invokes the memory of those sins, they must labor to prove that they have not relapsed into their group’s former sinfulness. So when America—the greatest embodiment of Western power—goes to war in Third World Iraq, it must also labor to dissociate that action from the great Western sin of imperialism. Thus, in Iraq we are in two wars, one against an insurgency and another against the past—two fronts, two victories to win: one military, the other a victory of dissociation.

The collapse of white supremacy—and the resulting white guilt—introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is powerful because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal. If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation’s legitimacy. Europe’s halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.

Because dissociation from the racist and imperialist stigma is so tied to legitimacy in this age of white guilt, America’s act of going to war can have legitimacy only if it seems to be an act of social work—something that uplifts and transforms the poor brown nation (thus dissociating us from the white exploitations of old). So our war effort in Iraq is shrouded in a new language of social work in which democracy is cast as an instrument of social transformation, bringing new institutions, new relations between men and women, new ideas of individual autonomy, new and more open forms of education, new ways of overcoming poverty: war as the Great Society.

This does not mean that President Bush is insincere in his desire to bring democracy to Iraq, nor is it to say that democracy won’t ultimately be socially transformative in Iraq. It’s just that today the United States cannot go to war in the Third World simply to defeat a dangerous enemy.

Third World Victimology

White guilt makes our Third World enemies into colored victims, people whose problems—even the tyrannies they live under—were created by the historical disruptions and injustices of the white West. We must “understand” and pity our enemy even as we fight him. And, though Islamic extremism is one of the most pernicious forms of evil opportunism that has ever existed, we have felt compelled to fight it with an almost managerial minimalism that shows us to be beyond the passions of war—and thus well dissociated from the avariciousness of the white supremacist past.

Anti-Americanism, whether in Europe or on the American Left, works by the mechanism of white guilt. It stigmatizes America with all the imperialistic and racist ugliness of the white Western past so that America becomes a kind of straw man, a construct of Western sin. (The Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons were the focus of such stigmatization campaigns.) Once the stigma is in place, one need only be anti-American in order to be “good,” in order to have an automatic moral legitimacy and power in relation to America. (People as seemingly disparate as French president Jacques Chirac and the Reverend Al Sharpton are devoted pursuers of the moral high ground to be had in anti-Americanism.) This formula is the most dependable source of power for today’s international Left: virtue and power by mere anti-Americanism. And it is all the more appealing because, unlike real virtues, it requires no sacrifice or effort—only outrage at every slight echo of the imperialist past.

Today words like power and victory are so stigmatized with Western sin that, in many quarters, it is politically incorrect even to utter them. For the West, “might” can never be right. And victory, when won by the West against a Third World enemy, is always oppression. But, in reality, military victory is also the victory of one idea and the defeat of another. Only an American victory in Iraq can defeat the idea of Islamic extremism. But in today’s atmosphere of Western contrition, it is impolitic to say so.

Minimalism and Legitimacy

America and the broader West are now going through a rather tender era, a time when Western societies have very little defense against the moral accusations that come from their own left wings and from those vast stretches of nonwhite humanity that were once disregarded.

Europeans are utterly confounded by the swelling Muslim populations in their midst. America has run from its own mounting immigration problem for decades, and even today, after finally taking up the issue, our government seems entirely flummoxed. White guilt is a vacuum of moral authority visited on the present by the shames of the past. In the abstract it seems a slight thing, almost irrelevant, an unconvincing proposition. Yet a society as enormously powerful as America lacks the authority to ask its most brilliant, wealthy, and superbly educated minority students to compete freely for college admission with poor whites who lack all these things. Just can’t do it.

Whether the problem is race relations, education, immigration, or war, white guilt imposes so much minimalism and restraint that our worst problems tend to linger and deepen. Our leaders work within a double bind. If they do what is truly necessary to solve a problem—win a war, fix immigration—they lose legitimacy.

To maintain their legitimacy, they practice the minimalism that makes problems linger. What but minimalism is left when you are running from stigmatization as a “unilateralist cowboy”? And where is the will to truly regulate the southern border when those who ask for this are slimed as bigots? This is how white guilt defines what is possible in America. You go at a problem until you meet stigmatization, then you retreat into minimalism.

Possibly white guilt’s worst effect is that it does not permit whites—or nonwhites—to appreciate something extraordinary: the fact that whites in America, and even elsewhere in the West, have achieved a truly remarkable moral transformation. One is forbidden to speak thus, but it is simply true. There are no serious advocates of white supremacy in America today, because whites see this idea as morally repugnant. If there is still the odd white bigot out there surviving past his time, there are millions of whites who feel only goodwill toward minorities.

This is a fact that must be integrated into our public life—absorbed as new history—so that America can once again feel the moral authority to seriously tackle its most profound problems. Then, if we decide to go to war, it can be with enough ferocity to win.

Why the Tea Party’s Hold Persists. By Theda Skocpol.

Why the Tea Party’s Hold Persists. By Theda Skocpol. Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, No. 31 (Winter 2014). Also at The Atlantic.

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. By Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 9, No. 1 (March 2011).

Only Hard-Working Americans Need Apply. By Chrystia Freeland. NJBR, January 2, 2013. Originally in Reuters, July 8, 2011.

Scenes from the Tea Party. By Peter Rudegeair. NJBR, January 2, 2013. Reuters, July 11, 2011.

Is Beijing About to Boot the New York Times? By Isaac Stone Fish.

Is Beijing about to Boot the New York Times? By Isaac Stone Fish. Foreign Policy, December 11, 2013. Also here.

The 13 Things Mentally Strong People Avoid. By Cheryl Snapp Conner.

Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid. By Cheryl Snapp Conner. Forbes, November 18, 2013. Also at

5 Powerful Exercises to Increase Your Mental Strength. By Amy Morin. Forbes, December 3, 2013.

How to Become a Mentally Strong Person: A Video Chat With Amy Morin. By Cheryl Snapp Conner. Forbes, December 6, 2013.

13 Things Mentally Tough People (Like Me) Avoid. By Rush Limbaugh., December 13, 2013.

Israel-Bashers Let the Bedouin Rot. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Israel-Bashers Let the Bedouin Rot. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, December 13, 2013.


The Israeli government has waved the white flag. After trying to put through a rational plan for the Negev that would bring some aid and infrastructure to their nation’s most impoverished population, Jerusalem has given up. The announcement was greeted as a victory for Israel-bashers that painted the plan created by the government’s director of planning Ehud Prawer and former Cabinet minister Benny Begin as a racist land grab that stole land from the Bedouin. After violent demonstrations supported by a minority of Bedouin and international protests supported by the cast of usual suspects involved in efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, the Netanyahu government has understandably cut its losses. With so much else to deal with in terms of the Iranian nuclear threat and the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, what was the point of sticking their necks out on an issue where they were getting killed by both the left and the right?
The demise of the Prawer-Begin plan will be celebrated by the left as setback to Israeli control of the Negev and by the right as the collapse of a plan they saw as a dangerous giveaway of state land since it would have allocated vast tracts of desert territory to the nomads. But the only real losers here are the Bedouin. They are the poorest members of Israeli society and many live in ramshackle shantytowns with no infrastructure or state services. In exchange for giving up some of the area that they claimed, albeit without legal proof of ownership, many would have been left in place and a minority would have been moved to new towns where they could have joined the 21st century. While leftist foes of Israel denounced this as paternalism or colonialism, their victory leaves the Bedouin in the same desperate condition. But then again, like those who pose as friends of the Palestinians, the point of the exercise isn’t to help the Arabs; it’s to hurt Israel.
Israeli planners will now go back to the drawing boards to try to do something for the Bedouin whose isolation and pre-modern style of life may seem romantic to those in the West but which, in reality, condemns them to lives of grinding poverty and deprivation. It’s possible that the government will now craft an even more generous plan that will give the Bedouin more land as well as the services they need. But the problem here is that virtually any attempt to give them what they require will run afoul of the notion that any attempt to create infrastructure in the Negev will be misinterpreted as a Zionist plot.
Let there be no mistake about the fact that Israel’s leftist foes don’t give a damn about the Bedouin. Bringing water, sewage, electricity and educational services to camps that can stretch out for miles in places throughout the desert is impossible. While most of the existing Bedouin towns can be left in place, the most far-flung need to be consolidated if the people who live there are not going to be left in shacks with no connections to the country’s first-world economy. Connecting them to the grid means some have to move.
Much like the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, the Bedouin only serve a purpose to Israel-bashers if they can be portrayed as victims of the Zionists. They don’t care that the main purpose of the Prawer-Begin plan was to help the Bedouin. Those who claim to demonstrate on their behalf have done nothing for either group. Indeed, the more miserable their existence, the better they like it. Any deprivation faced by this population is fine, so long as it serves to make the Israelis look like exploiters. The crocodile tears they shed for the Bedouin will be swiftly forgotten as they move on to other issues and Israelis who argued about it will similarly push them to the back of the national agenda.
Just like the Palestinian refugees who have been kept homeless for generations in order to serve as a standing argument against Israel—while an equal number of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands were resettled in Israel or the West—the leftist foes of Israel are content to let the Bedouin rot in ramshackle tents. That’s where they will remain until Israel finally puts forward a new idea that will be, no matter how generous, denounced just as furiously by Israel’s enemies. Those who think the demise of the Prawer-Begin plan is good for the Bedouin are lying.

What’s Next for Bedouin in a Post-Prawer Israel? By Haggai Matar.

What’s next for Bedouin in a post-Prawer Israel? By Haggai Matar. +972, December 12, 2013.


The cancellation of the Prawer Plan is a victory for committed protestors. But how did this happen, and what does it mean for the Bedouin living in unrecognized villages who will wake up to a new reality?

The “Stop Prawer Plan” campaigners can take this evening off and celebrate their enormous success in halting the Prawer Plan. Up until two weeks ago, all bets were on a lengthy struggle: a bill that would pass in the Knesset, followed by a long and complicated appeals process to the High Court of Justice, with a simultaneous escalation in violent confrontations between new police forces (mandated by the plan) and the Bedouin residents in the Negev’s unrecognized villages.
But the tide turned two weeks ago as clashes between demonstrators and police in Hura and Haifa rattled the country. The blind eye turned by the Israeli media to Prawer and the resistance to it on the ground (as long as that resistance was peaceful) was torn asunder after stones and rubber bullets began flying. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the Bedouin and house demolitions.
Reactions to the “day of rage” took place on several levels: on the ground, police used excessive violence, while the courts have repeatedly prolonged the detention of anti-Prawer demonstrators in ways that can only be described as a state of emergency (13 of them are still behind bars). Activism on the ground encouraged the opposition in Knesset to be more assertive, to demand answers about the proposed bill and warn of the dangers that may await the country if it was to go forward as planned. While government officials were trying to portray the protests as marginal, claiming that the vast majority of the Bedouin support the plan, one of its primary promoters—Minister Benny Begin—was forced earlier in the week to admit that he had never really shown the plan in detail to Bedouin, and thus could not have obtained their support. This enlarged the already existing rift within the right wing, as Liberman, Bennett and parts of the Likud rushed to attack the plan for allocating too much land to the Bedouin. Attacked on all sides, the government was eventually forced to scrap the plan altogether.
But what does all this mean for the tens of thousands of Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Negev, without basic infrastructure and in constant fear of demolitions? Broadly speaking there are three possible outcomes to the end of Prawer. First, and in my mind most likely, the government may completely retreat from its visions of “cleansing” the Negev and settle for a continuation of the current state of affairs (with a possibility of yet another committee that could take years to reach any kind of decision). This is definitely better for Bedouin than the Prawer Plan itself, but it still means a life of poverty and fear, demolition orders, court appeals and the occasional destruction of homes—as is the case in Al-Araqib and now Umm al-Hiran.
The second option is that the hawks in power, rather than the Bedouin and leftists, will take credit for scrapping Prawer, and will try to push forward a new, more radical plan of uprooting with little or no compensation. However, such an initiative might be harder to promote among the more pragmatic people in the government, and would be much harder to explain to the High Court (which would already be aware of concessions made as part of Prawer). One can even imagine the media, now awake to the entire issue, being more critical of such a move.
The third and least likely option is for the government to start a process of dialogue with the Bedouin, review the plans made by local leaders and NGOs and consider recognizing villages and developing the Negev for all its inhabitants. While unrealistic under the current administration, this is what Bedouin and left-wing activists will continue fighting for. Maybe in the future it will not seem as absurd as it does now. After all, just two weeks ago no one would have believed Prawer would be scrapped.

Vladimir Putin: Russia Is the Moral Compass of the World. By Damien McElroy.

Vladimir Putin claims Russia is moral compass of the world. By Damien McElroy. The Telegraph, December 12, 2013.

The Mideast Is America’s New Wild West. By Ira Chernus.

The Mideast Is America’s New Wild West. By Ira Chernus. History News Network, December 4, 2013.

Exodus as a Zionist Melodrama. By Rachel Weissbrod. Israel Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 1999).

Canaanites in a Promised Land: The American Indian and the Providential Theory of Empire. By Alfred A. Cave. American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Autumn, 1988).

The Right to Expel: The Bible and Ethnic Cleansing. By Michael Prior. Chapter 1 of Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return. Edited by Naseer Aruri. London: Pluto Press, 2001.

Demystifying the Quest for Canaan: Observations on Mimesis in the New World and the Holy Land. By Steven Salaita. Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Fall 2002).

Frontier Myths and Their Applications in America and Israel: A Transnational Perspective. By S. Ilan Troen. Israel Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2000).


The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel rests on an old myth of “civilization” versus “savages.”

Why the enduring “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel? Cultural historians, who look at symbols and stories more than politics and policies, say a big part of it goes back to the late 1950s, when Leon Uris’ novel Exodus reached the top of the bestseller list and was then turned into a blockbuster film, with an all-star cast headed by Paul Newman.
Scholar Rachel Weissbrod called it a “Zionist melodrama.” M.M. Silver devoted a whole book to the phenomenon: Our Exodus, with the subtitle, The Americanization of Israel’s Founding Story.
A preeminent historian of American Judaism, Jonathan Sarna, came closest to the truth in his blurb for Silver’s book: Exodus “consciously linked brawny Zionist pioneers with the heroes of traditional American westerns.” The protagonist, Ari ben Canaan (“lion, son of Canaan”), is the Jewish Shane, the cowboy of impeccable virtue who kills only because he must to save decent people – especially the gentile woman he loves – and civilize a savage land.
Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (in his first outing after years of being blacklisted) did add a penultimate scene missing from the novel: Ari swears that someday Jews and Arabs will live together and share the land in peace. But then he heads off to fight those very Arabs. Who could resist rooting for Paul Newman, no matter how bad guys he was forced to wipe out?
Just a year later the Israelis kidnapped, tried, and executed Nazi bureaucrat Adolph Eichmann. Who could resist seeing fiction come to life, with the increasingly common equation, Arabs = Nazis? 

Thus cultural myth combined with historical event to set the stage for widespread support of the Johnson and Nixon administration's sharp pro-Israel tilt, when Israel went to war with its neighbors in 1967 and 1973.
I’m writing about this history now because it still lives, today (December 4), in our flagship newspaper, the New York Times.
The influential columnist Thomas Friedman tells us that the Middle East is a “merciless, hard-bitten region” where everyone is out to get everyone, and “it is vital to never let the other side think they can ‘outcrazy’ you” – because the craziest people will be the most violent and thus the winners, one assumes. Apparently those Middle Easterners don’t settle their differences politely and rationally, as we do here in “civilized” America.
Are you beginning to see the melodrama of old-fashioned Westerns yet? Wait, there's plenty more:
The Jews and the Kurds are among the few minorities that have managed to carve out autonomous spaces in the Arab-Muslim world because, at the end of the day, they would never let any of their foes outcrazy them; they did whatever they had to in order to survive, and sometimes it was really ugly, but they survived to tell the tale. 
Today, just as in the days of Exodus, Israelis must be threatened, Friedman assumes, and they must be willing to be crazy killers to survive. In fact, it’s this old mythic narrative that must survive.
Now the plot has been updated to make the Iranian part of  “the Arab-Muslim world” the peril to Israel’s very existence. (Friedman must have missed the episode of Homeland where Dana Brody informs her high-school classmates that Iranians are not Arabs, so there is no monolithic “Arab-Muslim world.”)
Friedman is sure that all the reports of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei supporting the moderate president Hassani (even in the Times itself) are not to be trusted. As evidence, he cites three acts of mass killing attributed to “Iran and Hezbollah” two or three decades ago. For him, this is proof enough that “the Iranians will go all the way” in irrational slaughter and that “the dark core of this Iranian regime has not gone away. It’s just out of sight, and it does need to believe that all options really are on the table for negotiations to succeed.”
How to show with “the dark core” at the heart of the “Arab-Muslim world” that we can be violently crazy too? Friedman nominates Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to do the job, to continue being “crazy” with “his Dr. Strangelove stuff and the occasional missile test.” How else can we tame the savagery in the Wild West that we call the Middle East?
Well, that’s the view from the authoritative moderate voice not only of our flagship newspaper but of the liberal foreign policy establishment here in the U.S.
What about the moderate view in Israel? The Times’ website is now giving us that view from Shmuel Rosner, a veteran centrist Israel journalist who specializes in “the special relationship” between his nation and the U.S.
In his Dec. 4 column, Rosner writes about the controversy between the Israeli government and the “thousands of Israeli Bedouins and Arabs [who] staged demonstrations, some of them violent, against a government plan to resettle the Bedouins of the Negev desert.” By the third paragraph of the column, you can’t help feeling you are back in America’s Wild West – this time with the decent folk facing not crazy gunslingers but primitive “Injuns.”
Rosner hastens to tell us of the dreadful poverty of the Bedouins and shows his sympathy by asserting that their “community needs help to advance” – help that can come, apparently, only from the civilized Israeli government. Bedouin communities are “more clusters of huts than real villages.” Theirs is
a historically nomadic society[,] and its relationship to land clashes with the state’s notion of ownership and its need for planned development. . . . They claim the land as their own, based on a long history as its residents. They have no legal documents proving ownership, and the country has been reluctant to formalize their claims. 
Why that reminds me of the early Puritan minister who opined that the natives’ “land is spacious and void, and they are few and do but run over the grass, as do also the foxes and wild beasts.” And the Jamestown settler who described the natives as “only an idle, improvident, scattered people, ignorant of the knowledge of gold, or silver, or any commodities.”
John Winthrop, head of the Puritans’ Massachusetts Bay Colony, explained that since the natives “inclose noe Land, neither have any settled habitation, nor any tame Cattle to improve the Land,” the whites could take pretty much as much land as they wanted, leaving the natives just what his government deemed “sufficient for their use” – which wasn’t much at all, of course. No doubt he agreed with another Jamestown settler who said, “Our intrusion into their possession shall tend to their great good, and no way to their hurt, unlesse as unbridled beastes, they procure it to themselves.”
Yes, America's Wild West myth started way back when all the whites lived in towns hugging the East coast, wanting only to do “great good” for all those native “beasts.”
In today’s Israel, under the so-called Prawer Plan, “the government is ready to give the Bedouins title to some land.” Their “clusters of huts” will be replaced with houses with running water and electricity and officially recognized as settlements.
There’s just one catch: “Between 30,000 and 40,000 Bedouins will have to relocate to existing or new towns in the same area.” That’s why Bedouins and their supporters are protesting.
But, hey, Rosner urges us to believe, that will be in no way to their hurt (unless as unbridled beasts, they procure it to themselves, I suppose). And “Israel will also have to pay a high price.” Not only will it give Bedouins land. “It will also spend considerable taxpayer money — about $2 billion for the entire effort, including over $330 million on economic development — to improve their living conditions . . . bringing much-needed help to one of the country’s most disfavored groups.”
The link will take you to the Israeli government's website, describing its “comprehensive policy aimed at improving [Bedouins’] economic, social and living conditions, as well as resolving long-standing land issues. . . .  a major step forward towards integrating the Bedouin more fully into Israel’s multicultural society, while still preserving their unique culture and heritage.”
You might hear Ulysses S. Grant murmuring approval from the grave – Grant being the president who did more than any other to promote the idea of putting native Americans on reservations to “improve their conditions.” Maybe “The Great White Father” is now Jewish.
To be fair, the parallel is far from complete. The Israelis are not talking about “reservations” in the sense that Americans know them. And not even the most Orthodox Jews in Israel are talking about converting the Bedouins to Judaism. They don’t have anyone like the Puritan missionary John Eliot, who created “praying towns” to bring Christian civilization to the indigenous people – who were doomed, he said, if they continued to live “so unfixed, confused, and ungoverned a life, uncivilized and unsubdued to labor and order.”
In fact many Orthodox Israelis reject the Prawer Plan as a giveaway to the indigenous people. One of their icons, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, called the situation simply “a battle for the land. . . .We are fighting for the national lands of the Jewish people.” You might hear Andrew Jackson murmuring approval from the grave; after all, his USA was still “the New Israel.”
Of course Jackson got huge resistance from whites for his Indian removal program. So does Liberman. Just as Americans long debated, sometimes fiercely, about “the Indian problem,” Israelis now debate fiercely about “the Arab problem.” Yet in the U.S. that debate gets little media attention. The media are more likely to oversimplify the issue, casting it through the lens of a centuries-old American mythology.
That’s why I’ve gone into such detail about these two Times columns – not because there’s anything extraordinary about them, but precisely because that they are so ordinary. It’s just another typical day in American journalism’s coverage of “our friend Israel versus the Arab-Muslim world.” From the Times, the pinnacle of our journalism, these old Wild West stereotypes trickle down to all the rest of the media and thus to the public at large.
The particulars of Israeli policy toward Arabs are quite different from the specific ways the U.S. has dealt with its indigenous peoples. But the myths that shaped U.S. whites’ attitudes toward native Americans for four centuries or more (and to some extent still do) are strikingly similar to the myths that shape American public attitudes toward Israel and “the Arab-Muslim” world.
Especially the conservative public. The old idea that “the Jews” are responsible for the U.S. government’s pro-Israel tilt has been put to rest by recent polling data from CNN, the Huffington Post, and Pew. All show that, in the U.S., the strongest support for Israel’s right-wing policies now comes not from Jews but from Republicans.
That’s especially true for white evangelical Christians. In one recent poll, 46% of those evangelicals said the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel, while only 31% of Jews held that view. Half of the evangelicals said Israel could never coexist with an independent Palestinian state while only a third of Jews doubted it.
But the conservative pressure on any U.S. president to tilt toward Israel – a pressure Barack Obama feels every day – is not primarily a matter of religion. It’s much more about a cultural affinity Americans have long felt for the story of Israel that they learned so long ago – especially conservatives, who are most likely to love that story of the innocent good guys, who just want to civilize the wilderness, constantly threatened by "the dark core" of savage evildoers.
That’s the story at the heart of the myth of insecurity so fundamental to political culture in both Israel and America. But in America the media rarely cast the native people as savages any more, at least not explicitly.
So perhaps many Americans are clinging to their old familiar myth vicariously by projecting it onto what Friedman calls the “merciless, hard-bitten” Middle East, where most everyone seems crazy – if you accept the mass media’s story as the truth. As I’m finishing this piece, the Times’ website is featuring yet another in the endless string of frightening headlines, which all sound so much the same: “Jihadist Groups Gain in Turmoil Across Middle East.” Meet the new news, same as the old news.
The only good news is that myths do change. For years the best historians have been describing a native American culture, going back to pre-contact days, that was fully as rational and advanced a civilization as the whites’, and deserves to be understood on its own terms.
Indeed there’s a persuasive theory that the British colonies of North America created pejorative myths about the native peoples to negate the lure of native ways, since so many immigrants found the natives’ life more civilized – and comfortable – than the European life they’d brought across the sea.
That more accurate story of the American past is beginning to filter into history textbooks that millions of students will read in the coming years. Some of them will become journalists who will eventually control and revise the story line in the mass media. So there’s hope that, some day, a more accurate story of Arabs and other Muslim peoples will also find its way into our mass media, too.
Meanwhile, let’s be aware of the old story that still prevails about “the Arab-Muslim world” and recognize how it appeals to many Americans, letting them hold on to a new version of an old narrative that they kind of hate to give up. And let’s be aware that the appeal of this narrative plays a huge role in the public demand for a pro-Israel tilt from Washington. At a time when the Obama administration is immersed in potentially world-changing negotiations, both with Iran and at the Israel-Palestine table, the role of myth in political life is too important to ignore.