Friday, May 18, 2018

West of Eden: We've Captured Brooks

Tear gas at the Gaza border. Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images via Toronto Globe & Mail.

I'm in the unexpected position of being grateful for a David Brooks column, enough to want to not criticize it (very hard), on this week's Gaza demonstrations ("The Gaza Violence: How Extremism Corrupts"):
I see the situation through the “extremism corrupts everybody” narrative. My narrative starts with the idea that the creation of the state of Israel was a historic achievement involving a historic wrong — the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians.
For two generations, in what we can call the Yitzhak Rabin era, the leaders of Israel and of Palestinians tried, sometimes dysfunctionally and bloodily, to address this wrong and find two homelands around the pre-1967 borders.
But sometime in the 1990s, a mental shift occurred. Extremism grew on the Israeli side, exemplified by the ultranationalist who murdered Rabin, but it exploded on the Palestinian side. Palestinian extremism took on many of the shapes recognizable in extremism everywhere.
That's a very remarkable concession in the top paragraph, from someone of his position, and a place where a little bothsiderism is welcome for a change. His critique of the current Israeli government, sort of projected, not wrongly, from his critique of Trumpian conservatism—
By and large, Israel has taken the former path. The shift from the politics of Rabin and Shimon Peres to that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is a move from pluralism to ethnocentrism, from relentless engagement to segregation. It’s a shift from tough realism to the magical thinking that Palestinians are somehow going to go away.
—is well founded, and more accurate (when he's talking about US Republicans, he's evading his own and his friends' responsibility for the disaster, and when he's talking about Likud he's not).

I disagree, obviously, with the specific bothsides balance Brooks finds here—I think failing to recognize the gigantic aymmetry of financial and military power between the sides spoils the analysis, and I think he's specifically wrong about what happened to Palestinians after the 1994 Oslo accord and the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, which was not a march to extremism but a confused variety of reactions of despair, including the shockingly un-Palestinian growth of gloomy religiosity. They were in despair at what we might now realize was an increasing rejection on the Israeli side of the peace process altogether—the growth of Israeli extremism was exemplified not by one assassination but by the slow death of the Labor Party and the successive governments of Netanyahu, Sharon, and Netanyahu abandoning the promise of Oslo and instituting what amounts to an apartheid system, with the difference that South African whites provided jobs to black Africans, and Israeli Jews prefer importing Filipinos.

The way Brooks makes the contrast—
Yasir Arafat was once a terrorist, but at least he used terror to win practical concessions. The actions today — the knife attacks, the manipulation of protesters to rush the border fence — are of little military or strategic value. They are ventures in suicidal theater.
—is wry, but slips over the chronology in an unhelpful way: the "suicidal theater" of the Gaza border rush is an echo of the First Intifada of 1987-91, which is as close as Palestinians ever came to a Ghandian practice of nonviolent resistance, and also the most politically effective strategy they ever employed [update: and as Ten Bears notes in the comments, "manipulation" is bullshit]. What happened on Tuesday, horrible as it was because of the hysterical IDF response, was a look back to that effectiveness—it's even shaken Brooks!

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