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February 02, 2007

Is Israel Bad For The Jews?

MJ Rosenberg's analysis of Benny Morris's column is, as always, quite sound. But this excerpt from Morris seemed a bit weird to me:

"One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.

"The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases….

"With a country the size and shape of Israel (an elongated 20,000 square kilometers), probably four or five hits will suffice: No more Israel. “

Morris takes that as proof that Israel, or America, or Moses, or someone needs to invade, strike, or otherwise neutralize Iran. But isn't the actual point somewhat different? The vulnerability Morris is pointing out is that an extremely large number of Jews are clustered in an extremely small stretch of land is an extremely hostile part of the world. In other words, the very existence of Israel, its placement, and its geographic realities have served to do nothing but heavily concentrate Jews in a vulnerable spot surrounded by enemies. You're never, of course, going to move the entire Arab world to somewhere in Idaho, so it would seem, given Morris's concerns, that the best thing for conscientious Jews to do would be move away. Abandon Israel. Pack up their things and disperse into safer, larger, friendlier lands.

Now, I don't think jews should do that because I don't think anyone is going to nuke Israel. But if hold Morris's opinions, it's clear that Israel's vulnerability is not particularly related to the current situation in Iran, and is instead an enduring product of its placement and neighbors. Thus, if you care about lives, or Jewish safety, you should oppose Israel's existence because it's downright bad for the Jews. Again, I don't hold these opinions, but they are the logical end points of Morris's beliefs.

February 2, 2007 | Permalink


You're as antisemitic as Matt Yglesias.

For shame.

If you're NOT antisemitic, you want to bomb Iran ASAP. It's axiomatic.

Posted by: tweez | Feb 2, 2007 5:54:07 PM

the logical end points of Morris's beliefs.

Well, his own endpoint, about disabling Iran--and every other threat of equal magnitude, I'm sure he means to imply--would be the other possibility. Morris believes that's possible. The endpoint you suggest won't be taken as a serious one by those who sympathize with Israel, so they'll just turn back to Morris's line, or they'll agree with you that Iran isn't such a threat. I agree with the latter.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 2, 2007 5:57:22 PM

I'd suggest a second conclusion: Make friends with the neighbors. We've got a long history of doing it. Only this time it would be from a position of strength, which was ultimately the purpose of the State of Israel. Yes, there are deep-rooted, generational hostilities at play. But we Jews excel at all sorts of things that make life better for people: the practice of medicine and law, scientific research and, yes, commerce. If there were a real commitment, not just to peace, but to regional prosperity, it would happen.

Posted by: Headline Junky | Feb 2, 2007 6:01:31 PM

Wouldn't the natural endpoint be "turn the rest of the Middle East into a radioactive parking lot, since the Muslims are mostly subhuman anyway?"

Wait, that doesn't sound like me. I was just possessed by the spirit of Marty Peretz. Sorry about that.

Posted by: paperwight | Feb 2, 2007 6:34:43 PM

I don't think Ezra is likely to go to work at TNR soon.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2007 7:33:21 PM

I hate to be so simplistic when dealing with such issues as these, but here it is (and H. Junky has a point): until the Israelis and the Arabs learn to live with each other and realize that neither of them will give up Jerusalem, not until then, will anything be resolved. Both of them have a historical claim on the area. Both of them should learn to live with it.

Posted by: AT | Feb 2, 2007 7:34:57 PM

They could have, like, Texas. Lots of land to recover and make fertile. And the 10 tribes of Tejans could be split to the wind (but not in Oregon, thank you. Well, not quite. We'll take Austin's population.)

Those who think that the Islamists will nuke Israel must think those Islamists don't care much for Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina - or for Damascus, and Amman, either - since they would be red-pink for a couple centuries also. The wind doth blow, you know.

It would be fun to know if the scare mongers do their mongering because they think it effective in getting thier way, or if they really BELIEVE their own nightmares. Boo!

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 2, 2007 7:41:53 PM

"Well, not quite. We'll take Austin's population."

Hey, the Lost Tribe of the Ivinists are dispersed throughout the state. Austin's expensive if you don't want to live like a college kid.

Umm, Western Oregon, I hope. Not that I am picky.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 2, 2007 7:52:17 PM

That's a bit of a silly argument. Israel was established where it is for reasons that had nothing to do with security, i.e. Jerusalam, the Holy Land, history, etc. This is the entire purpose of Zionism.

As noted, from a practical perspective it's undeniably true that "an extremely large number of Jews are clustered in an extremely small stretch of land in an extremely hostile part of the world." That's a fact. A single nuclear bomb going off in Tel Aviv (not implausible if current trends continue) would be catastrophic. But again, that doesn't invalidate the existence of Israel, because Israel was founded to give Jews a homeland in a very specific place: their home, which has historical and religious value overriding immediate security concerns.

To put it quite bluntly, the Israelis are never going to give up Israel, unless they are destroyed. It doesn't matter whether Ezra Klein thinks Israel is a good thing for Jews or not. They're not going anywhere.

I'm not particularly sympathetic to Israel myself, but that's the reality of the situation. And if you want Peace In The Middle East, that's the situation you're going to have to work from.

Posted by: Korha | Feb 2, 2007 7:52:56 PM

Korha, Ezra isn't arguing against the existence of Israel; he's arguing that Morris' line of thought, which he doesn't accept, implies that Israel is a bad idea.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 2, 2007 8:40:44 PM

Israel was established where it is for reasons that had nothing to do with security, i.e. Jerusalam, the Holy Land, history, etc. This is the entire purpose of Zionism.

Dude. You're seriously wrong here. There were lots of strands of Zionism that envisioned settling somewhere else.

Also, you don't seem to have read what Ezra wrote: I don't hold these opinions

Posted by: grh | Feb 2, 2007 8:46:35 PM

Bob McM: nope! West of the Cascades is destined for liberal glory: no large masses of GOP Tejans there, please. Permanent resident visas in the west-OR for the progressive Tejans seems fair, doesn't it?

I'll counter with east of the Cascades for the GOP Tejans, (and throw in eastern Washington as a kicker).

So that I'm not misunderstood: I don't Israel should be anywhere except where they are (within the original green line). But no bantustands in the west bank for the Palestinians. Now Israel is also claiming a good part of the Jordan valley west of the River too - for 'security' reasons - this is just plain morally wrong and politically impossible.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Feb 2, 2007 8:47:27 PM

Well, his own endpoint, about disabling Iran--and every other threat of equal magnitude, I'm sure he means to imply--would be the other possibility. Morris believes that's possible.

Right, but I think Ezra addresses this concern:

You're never, of course, going to move the entire Arab world to somewhere in Idaho, so it would seem, given Morris's concerns, that the best thing for conscientious Jews to do would be move away.

The point being, that as things currently stand, most of the Arab world oppose Israel. Iran is hardly the only country in the region which could seek to arm itself in response to Israel's massive military advantages. The vulnerability of Israel is a function of (a) its location and (b) its relationships with its neighbors. The vulnerability to Iranian attack (which I think Morris ludicrously overstates, but here I'm just following his logic) is merely a subset of a larger category of vulnerability which disarming Iran would not and could not solve.

Unless you propose real Israeli-American hegemony in the Middle East, you can't fix the vulnerability issue, and even then they'd be massively vulnerable as a colonialist pseudo-occupation force.

Posted by: DivGuy | Feb 2, 2007 9:25:17 PM

Thank God it's unthinkable that Pakistan would ever nuke Israel.

Posted by: Dick Durata | Feb 2, 2007 9:38:57 PM

Right, but I think Ezra addresses this concern

Right, they have different premises (I think), so they have different endpoints.

Unless you propose real Israeli-American hegemony in the Middle East

This, I assume, is Morris's view of what may be necessary, assuming that similar threats appear throughout the region, except that instead of hegemony he might prefer the concept of adequate defensive power (or whatever). I agree with you, Ezra and others that Morris is probably on the wrong track, because his implicit premise about the ability of military power to defend Israel in the long term is weak.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 2, 2007 9:54:35 PM

If it were really certain that Iran would nuke Israel within 10 years, the obvious response isn't to flee. The obvious response is to nuke Iran first, or at least launch a military attack.

I think that's more likely to be what Morris has in mind than a mass exodus.

Posted by: Ragout | Feb 2, 2007 10:06:29 PM

Ragout -

What Ezra is pointing out is that nuking Iran does not make Israel not-vulnerable. In fact, a first strike nuke against Iran would lead to military build-up from every country in the region, and much increased hostility from, well, everyone. Israel wouldn't be vulnerable to Iranian attack for a time, but they'd still be vulnerable.

Basically, the argument about Israel's vulnerability, as Ezra says, doesn't suggest hawkish solutions, but rather the opposite. It is not a problem that can be solved through nuclear first strikes.

And, of course, your hypothetical is problematic to begin with. No one can ever know that another country will bomb them within a ten-year period. There is no good evidence to suggest that Iran plans to launch a first strike. There is lots of evidence that they don't, because it would be practically suicidal. Working out an obviously counter-factual hypothetical does little for the discussion.

Posted by: DivGuy | Feb 2, 2007 10:24:03 PM

I recommend reading Slate (GAAHHHAAA WHAT?!!?! Please hear me out).

David Plotz has been doing a very interesting Blogging the Bible series. God laid out the boarders that would be Isreal a few times, at one point it streched all the way to Iraq, but eventually it shrank to it`s current boarders, counting the West Bank and Gaza. David`s take is that God says again and again `This land is Holy. This is my land, you are my people.`

5000 years of bloodshed tears and ruin later...

The other interesting thing in that article is the idea that any Muslem would be willing to destroy Jerusalem. When Islam was a very young Religion, they prayed to the Golden Dome in Jerusalem. The Black Rock in Mecca was just a neat rock. It was at the Dome that Mahommed traveled to heaven. It wasn`t until the king of Syria became such a dick about letting non-Syrian Muslems vist Jerusalem that the Immans pretty much had a vote and said, `Screw you Syria, we`ll start praying to Mecca`.

Jerusalem has been the site of more than a few slaughters and wars, but there will always be a Jerusalem, it is in nobody`s interest to destroy it.

Posted by: Profbacon | Feb 3, 2007 12:57:01 AM

I'll counter with east of the Cascades for the GOP Tejans, (and throw in eastern Washington as a kicker).

Excluding the Walla Walla, Yakima, and Columbia valleys, of course.

Posted by: DaveL | Feb 3, 2007 2:02:27 AM

Any nuclear bomb in such a small place is going to wreak havoc, but wouldn't it also create massive health and safety problems for the interleaved and surrounding muslim populations and countries? I just don't see it as that likely or perhaps the technology and containment of nuclear waste and debris is such that is not a problem. But arguing that the iranians would actually bomb a muslim holy city (jerusalem) or even tel aviv (near enough) is like arguing that chicago would drop a bomb on "greater chicagoland"--the maps boundaries are notional, nuclear weapons and nuclear fallout are not.


Posted by: aimai | Feb 3, 2007 7:47:49 AM

One of my late father's favorite jokes had to do with various major religions' reactions to the news of the impending flood of the world. The punch line was the Chief Rabbi saying "o.k., we've got 72 hours to figure out how to live underwater." I don't know what the Hebrew word for feet is, but we may see a growing number of Israeli Jews voting with them, thinking that imposing a diaspora on oneself is better than the alternative. I don't see why Palestinians wouldn't someday welcome back Jews who left to live in peace the same way Jews were a respected and protected minority in ancient Islamic lands. And, if someday, Jews dominate demographically in Palestine...

Posted by: Joel Rutstein | Feb 3, 2007 8:03:42 AM

Would Muslims sanction nuking the Dome of the Rock? If they are willing to sacrifice it, are they willing to risk a retalitory stike on the Kabba in Mecca?

Posted by: Emma Zahn | Feb 3, 2007 8:29:49 AM

I don't know, this is a touchy issue. There are a LOT of displaced peoples across the world who never got a homeland, so on some level it's hard to see why Jews are special and why they deserve a homeland when the Kurds or Native Americans do not. So I don't think the question as to the notion of a divine right to a plot of land is really as clear cut as we all pretend it is. There were people living on that land who were forced out, and that fact is largely overlooked in American discussions of the creation of Israel. Believe me, it is not in discussions of the same in the Arabic world. That, more so than Jerusalem, is the hard part of any agreement between Arabs and Israel. A lot of Israeli's are living on land, both in the settlements and in Israel proper that simple does not belong to them unless you assume that Jews have a divine right to that land. At some point, some Arabs will have to be given back that land and others will have to be granted immense cash settlements far above the value of the land to compensate for 60 years worth of hardship.

No, Muslims will not nuke the dome. They will not nuke Jerusalem. Or at the very least an Islamic nation would be taking a very sizable gamble if it's leaders decided to do so, not merely because of retaliation but because of their own instability. Neither would a smart Israel be willing to preemptively nuke any of it's enemies. They are, after all, in the direct path of the fall out that would result.

On this issue I'm not overly optimistic. Everything I've seen in my lifetime indicates that Israel doesn't want peace so much as it wants bludgeons to hit the arabic people over the head with. They make a number of arguments that simply would not be made by people who are honestly negotiating. They demand peace before they will negotiate a peace settlement. They, through President Clinton, have take it or leave it peace settlements offered that include none of the previously negotiated framworks completed and without allowing counter-offers. They give every random extremist veto power over the peace process.

I simply haven't had an opportunity to observe the Palestinians in an honest environment. They do not dominate the process, America does. America is an Israeli ally and proxy, and as such Israel dominates the negotiation process. This being the fact of the matter, any Arabic movement is a reaction. They have only had the opportunity to react to dishonest maneuvering. I simply am not willing to apply the behaviors of these peoples parents 60-40 years ago to their current generation. Violence is part of any resistance, and theres very little the Palestinians resort to that ALL oppressed peoples haven't resorted to when they had to, including Jewish folks. As such, this behavior is normal. If you think it's not, read up on the revolutionary war and the behavior of our men in the frontier. Or the Zionist movement in Palestine/Israel prior to Israel's establishment. Or The Vietnamese resistance against the French, and then us. The Iraqi resistance against us. What to us, with our comfortable lives, seem like atrocities will, upon further study, reveal itself to be simply human behavior.

Posted by: soullite | Feb 3, 2007 8:54:29 AM

Maybe we should cede the SW US to all them illegals, the reconquistadors or whatever they call themselves, who say that the US stole that land from Mexico. The white Americans down there are surrounded by illegal Mexicans and it has been made clear that these clowns believe they are entitled to the southwest US. The illegals and Mexican reconquistadors have shown from there protests that they have no problem inflicting violence on those who oppose them (kinda like liberals).

Whites Americans are being surrounded by illegal Mexicans who believe whitey is an occupier of their(Mexican) land.

The Southwest United States is bad for Americans. We should just leave.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 3, 2007 9:54:04 AM

Captain Toke, thanks for stopping by and contributing your own unique brand of idiocy.

Posted by: grh | Feb 3, 2007 11:17:07 AM

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