February 21, 2006

Philosophical zionism?

I already linked to the letters in this morning's Guardian but I am reproducing the letter of the philisophy lecturer, Harry Lesser, here in full because of a comment about it in to the original post. Here's the letter in full:
Paul Oestreicher (Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism, February 20) overlooks the facts that the killing at Israel's birth was initiated by Arabs, and there would have been much more if they had won; that Golda Meir's remark denied the existence of a Palestinian nation, not of the people (and there was no such nation before the 1960s); that "zionism" is a term so vague as to be meaningless: let him say which Israeli policies he opposes and this can then be discussed; that the security fence doesn't bring peace, but does save lives; that the occupation would be over if Arafat had opted for negotiation rather than violence - the offer was easily good enough as a basis for negotiation; that Gaza has been evacuated and much of the West Bank has considerable autonomy; that the treaties with Jordan and Egypt have held; that no Israeli wishes to kill all or any Palestinians except in unavoidable self-defence.
Harry Lesser
University of Manchester
Here's the comment:
I think its important to be generous when arguing with people who hold different views, but Harry Lesser (who teaches in the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University) gets just about everything wrong. To be brief I have selected three of this arguments – but you could select almost all of them.

"there was no such nation before the 1960s." Palestinian nationalism and a Palestinian nation could be said to exist from the 1920s. It is true that many Palestinians in early 1920s wanted to be part of Syria - but by the mid 1930s pan-Arabism was dead and almost all Palestinians wanted an independent state. Palestinians considered themselves to be a distinct ethnic group – albeit as Arabs.

His argument that Zionism is so vague that its meaningless is also a poor argument. For a start words without precise meanings are useful (e.g. "many" is not precise but is often more useful than numbers - in describing the number of people in a cinema – as its not practical to count them). "Zionism" obviously has many nuances, but it always includes adherence to claims of the legitimacy of the creation and existence of the state of Israel in more or less its current form.

"no Israeli wishes to kill all or any Palestinians except in unavoidable self-defence." This statement is ludicrously detached from reality. There are countless well documented cases of reckless killings of Palestinians including by soldiers with rifles in orderly non-threatening circumstances as well as reckless aerial bombing in civilians areas. These are not one offs but are extensive and have existed throughout Israel’s history.

I think its worth thinking about why clever people seem to produce such poor arguments. I think its simply that Zionists are blinded by their emotional attachment to Israel and are often subject to psychological process that stops them from thinking straight.
But "blinded" suggests that it's not deliberate. I think it must be deliberate. Some of the bogus arguments advanced by well educated (indeed educating) people must be rehearsed, planned and co-ordinated.


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