Thursday, September 01, 2011

Derfner "explains" and I respond

Larry Derfner writes in The Forward about what he thinks he did wrong:
As an opinion writer, I want to provoke thought, to take arguments as far as they’ll go, to break new ground on every outing. I also have a secondary, political goal, even though I know it’s fanciful to think I can advance it by writing — to change Israel, mainly by ending the occupation. Lots of Israeli opinion writers share that political goal, and we are a very frustrated bunch.

When the eight Israelis were killed near Eilat, I was in Sweden on vacation with my family. I came back a couple of days after and wanted to write a strong blog post. I have a lot of thoughts about the use of terrorism in a good cause — Palestinian independence, Jewish independence, anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid — but I always told myself not to treat this subject in a column because I wouldn’t have the space to fully explain myself, to put in all the caveats, to make a point that covered all the pros and cons and conditions in the right proportions. If I tried to write about something so big and so raw as terrorism in the abbreviated, narrow way a column demands, a lot of people could get the wrong idea, and in Israel that could be a real problem.

God, I wish I hadn’t forgotten that resolution. When I came back from vacation after the Eilat attack, the strongest blog post I thought I could write was to challenge the taboo against suggesting that Israel bore any responsibility at all for Palestinian terrorism.

But how could I make my point in a way I hadn’t before? What could I write that would be new and thought provoking? I was sitting in my workroom at home. I didn’t want to spend too long on it. And I jumped right into the post by taking an extremely large, easily-misunderstood idea — that the stifling of freedom breeds rebellion, which I believe — and expressed it in a way that was so crude that it conveyed something I don’t believe at all. It took me a few days to realize, but what I wrote in that August 21 blog, “The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror,” grossly oversimplified what I think of Palestinian terror in a way that was, as some critics said, “obscene.” It also stood in head-on opposition to my allegiance to Israel....

The blog post was a disaster in every possible way. It deeply offended and outraged many people. The apology I published last Friday, however, softened many people’s feelings, convinced them that I’d at least meant well. To my own reading and that of many other readers, my decent intentions were apparent in the original post. But in Israel and the Diaspora, this view has been drowned out in the uproar.

I’ve read that some of my fellow leftists think this affair may actually help make it easier to talk with Israelis about the connection between the occupation and terror. Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve been talking to Israelis about that connection for many years, and what this affair teaches me is how not to do it. I’ve been taking the argument further and further and further, and now I’ve crashed into the wall. I don’t think my opinions have changed, but I have to find new ways to articulate them, ways that reconcile my principles of justice with my allegiance to Israel, instead of sacrificing one or both out of recklessness.

Derfner understands why people are upset, but he is utterly clueless as to what he did wrong. He thinks it was simply using incorrect terminology, using the words "justified" and"rights" which normally have a positive connotation. But that wasn't it.

I commented there:
The fundamental point that Derfner still cannot understand is that people are responsible for their own actions. Choosing to attack civilians is in no way, shape or form the responsibility of the government of those same civilians. No matter what you think about occupation, it does not cause terror nor make it inevitable.

In 1947 Palestine, the Stern Gang did unfortunately attack some civilians. Those acts of terror were widely criticized by the Zionist leadership, and the precursor to the Jerusalem Post regularly referred to them as "outrages." Does Derfner believe that the group was as justified in perpetrating those attacks as Islamic Jihad is when they kill Israeli civilians? Somehow, I doubt it.

The idea that Palestinian Arab terrorists do not have the ability to take personal responsibility for their actions, and that Israel's actions justify terror, is what is so offensive. In fact, the idea that Arabs cannot control themselves from violent actions (while, presumably, Jews can) is close to racist.

Argue against Israel's actions based on the inherent morality of those very actions, not based on the twisted idea that somehow they force oppressed Arabs to kill Jews.

Everyone has free will, Larry - even Arabs.