Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Whole Bunch of Inconvenient Truths

Conventional wisdom did not have a good week--at least not in my neighborhood.

This disconnect between what people like (or need) to believe and the facts is not just annoying.  It has actually become pathological since so many seem to feel so angry and out of control about so many things in their lives that it is both convenient and sometimes necessary for them to demonize other individuals and groups and blame them for everything that is wrong with our world.

The problem, of course, is that while their designated villains do have bad qualities and do some nasty things, they are not the pure devils we'd like them to be. Every now and then we get hit in the face with inconvenient truths that should pop the mythical bubbles.

Unfortunately, the need for villains and demons is so pervasive that these facts no longer seem to matter.

Take the self-serving myths that exist regarding the challenges in the Middle East and Israel.  Please.

Early in the week, President Obama had his fifth meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu--more than he has had with any other foreign head of state. As he has since before becoming president, Obama made a statement after the meeting (as did Netanyahu) emphasizing the close and unshakeable bonds between our two countries and how the U.S. maintains a firm commitment to Israel's security and right to self defense.

Many of the self proclaimed "pro-Israel"  leaders have been ranting for months that our current president is no friend of the Jewish people and our homeland. But annoying facts keep popping up and getting in the way of a good rant. How inconvenient.

Forget about the fact that it was Obama's appointees and staff  who led the successful push in both the U.N. and out Congress to get tough economic sanctions passed against Iran

And the fact that Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. (who has been present for every minute of every meeting between Obama and Netanyahu) claims that there has never been a crisis or unproductive interaction between the two leaders.

Instead of thanking Oren for the insight and praising the American president as a true friend of Israel, the ideologues prefer to shoot the messenger and bash Oren as a liar.  Typical of the pro-Israel Right is Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post who has simply decided that Oren has turned traitor to Israeli interests and has become a liar and Obama cheerleader.

After all, if you've boxed yourself into an ideological position that is THE TRUTH, competing inconvient truths must be ignored or discredited.

Many of these same people have been complaining for months that the Goldstone Report (that suggested that members of the Israeli army behaved badly during the Gaza invasion) was the latest in a long chain of unfair assessments prepared for the U.N. by Israel-hating anti-Semites. Virtually every Jewish and pro-Israel group in the world has condemned Goldstone and his report and AIPAC has succeeded in getting most of the U.S. Congress to join the chorus.

After reading Goldstone, I tend to agree with the critics that the report unfairly suggested that the Israeli government attacked Gaza in an effort to systematically punish innocent Gazan citizens.  It also didn't acknowledge the fact that nearby Israeli towns were suffering frequent missile attacks from inside Gaza and that the Israelis had to do something to make it stop. 

But the emerging inconvenient truth is that the Israeli government and  courts have been issuing a number of indictments and charges against soldiers that suggest that parts of the Goldstone Report seems to actually be true.

Orthodox Israeli rabbis encouraged soldiers to be particularly ruthless to Gazans during Operation Cast Lead--reportedly encouraging them to show no mercy to innocent Gazan citizens, women, and children. There is an increasing amount of solid evidence that shows many of those soldiers followed those instructions and behaved very badly--perhaps criminally.

The response of most "pro-Israel" Jews to this has been  "why did they have to print that in the paper?" Not a single one has said, "Thank God we found out the disturbing truth." Again, it's a case of the pesky truth getting in the way of a clear cut good guys--bad guys situation.

How inconvenient.

Another simplictic view that is promoted in "pro-Israel" emails is that all Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslim are essentially the same. They are all bad and are either terrorists or condone terror.

But I just attended a lunch here at the Aspen Ideas Festival where the ambassador to the U.S. from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made it clear that he and his people live daily in mortal fear of Iran--not Israel.
He went on to say that he would applaud a decision by the U.S. or Israel to bomb Iran in order to take out that country's nuclear capability.

"If the U.S. bombed Iran it would be a disaster," said ambassador Yousef al Otaiba--an attractive, sharply clad young man who my wife described as "hot" (pictures available upon request). "But if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it would be a bigger disaster."

He added that he would personally be grateful to Israel if it was the country that took out Iran's nukes although he acknowledged that Israel would face severe criticism from the Arab "street" if that happened.

"Israel gets blamed no matter what it does," said the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates.

He went on to say that the day that the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, 22 moderate Arab nations would immediately recognize Israel and its status as a legitimate nation. He suggested clearly that most Arab states fear the rogue nations among themselves far more than they fear Israel.

He made so much sense and talked so rationally that for a brief second I forgot where I was. I actually believed that there are a lot of Arabs in the Middle East who are just as worried about threats from other rogue Arab nations as we are. That they want peace and a better life for themselves and their families as much as we do--even enough that they would applaud and support actions that would make that outcome more likely.

But then I checked my Blackberry and slipped back into the fact-free zone of simplistic explanations and widespread demonization. I had just received an email from one of my Jewish friends explaining to me how Koran is chock full of lines commanding good Muslims to kill infidels so it is foolish and naive to suggest that we can trust any of them.  This friend would not know a Koran if it hit him between the eyes, but he knows THE TRUTH.

At the end of the day, many of us must need villains more than we need hope, real solutions and intellectual honesty.

How inconvenient.


Mark Rubin said...

Not sure people need villains, so much as they need to be "on a team" and need for their team "to win." Right now wealthy, older Jews are on the Republican team--the team they like because it promises tax cuts and easy answers for very difficult problems, many of which do not directly affect wealthy, older Jews--and it's the team that has to be opposed to Obama because he's the captain of the other team, the one that must actually try to solve the difficult problems.

Larry Gellman said...

I'm not sure that is the fault line. I think it is a conflict between ideology-based reality and fact-based reality. For those who identify with an ideological group (the Left, the Right, etc.) then THE TRUTH is known in advance and facts have to either fit the model or be ignored or distorted to fit. That's why so many people get their "news" only from sources where they know it will be slanted to reinforce what they already believe.

People or facts that who disagree or call into question the basic beliefs have to be ignored, marginalized, or demonized.