Thursday, April 03, 2014

Peter Beinart is certainly at home at Haaretz, where stupidity can be masked as serious opinion.

On Wednesday, Beinart made one of those dumb "substitute X for Y" analogies while going after Sheldon Adelson:

Imagine this. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren and multiple lesser Democratic notables travel halfway across the country to kiss the ring of a Palestinian-American billionaire who has shown himself willing to spend tens of millions of dollars subsidizing presidential campaigns.

The billionaire has some provocative views. Six months earlier, he suggested that if Israel does not end its nuclear weapons program, America should drop an “atomic weapon…in the middle of the [Negev] desert that doesn’t hurt a soul.” If that doesn’t work, America should drop “the next one…in the middle of” Tel Aviv.

The billionaire insists that there is no such thing as the Jewish people. It’s a hoax; the Jews “have fooled the world very successfully.” And he declares that “There isn’t a” Jew “alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the” Palestinians.

Change the words “Democrat” to “Republican,” “Israel” to “Iran” and “Palestinian” to “Jewish,” and that’s exactly what just happened. Leading contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination spent last weekend wooing and feting a billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, whose views - if directed at Jews—would put him in the company of Louis Farrakhan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I am not thrilled with an election system that gives great power to any billionaire, whether it is Sheldon Adelson or George Soros, who has wooed Democrats just as Adelson woos Republican politicians.

Some of the stuff Adelson says is wrong. Some of it is even admittedly offensive.

But there is a huge difference between the thought experiment Beinart gives here and what Adelson actually said, a difference that shows that Beinart has fallen for one of the biggest fallacies in the Middle East: the fallacy that there is equal value in the Zionist and anti-Zionist narratives.

I am not a logician and do not know of a formal name for this fallacy, but let's call it the Assumed Symmetry Fallacy: the assumption that two sides - by virtue of their opposition - are falsely assumed to be symmetric.

In 2008, when Tel Aviv University’s Shlomo Sand published a book called “The Invention of the Jewish People,” he was widely called anti-Semitic. When Adelson says the same about Palestinians, he’s a Republican rock star.
The Palestinian Arabs are a recently invented people. They exist today, to be sure, but they were not a "people" before 1948 at the very earliest. Westerners who drew the borders after World War I created what today's Palestinian Arabs laughably call "historic Palestine" - arbitrary lines that surrounded a people who had as much in common with those across those lines as with those within them. Arabs in the Galilee had more in common with those in Damascus than those in Bethlehem. Tribes and families trumped geography (and they often still do.) They became a "people" because of how their Arab brethren refused to allow them to integrate into their countries, forcing them to suffer as a separate group that eventually did turn them into a people. Arabs themselves admit freely that they kept Palestinian Arabs in miserable conditions in order to foster their nascent "unity." (It was for their own good, in Arab logic.)

But any analogy between the brand new people now called Palestinians and the Jewish people is, simply, obscene. There is no comparison in terms of history, in terms of culture, in terms of faith or in terms of the depth of feelings that have been felt towards the land for millennia. (This doesn't negate the fact that some Palestinian Arabs do have ties to the land. But as a people, there is simply no comparison, especially since a majority of Palestinian Arabs do not trace their ancestry to the region but rather from Arabian tribes and elsewhere.)

The nuclear analogy is similarly obscene. While Adelson's suggestion can certainly be considered offensive, Beinart's comparison is sickening. Israel does not threaten other nations with its nuclear arsenal. In fact, Israel apparently has had the bomb since the 1960s and has gone through a few wars without using them. Iran, however, shows videos on its TV about the joys of nuking Israel. Israel's nuclear program is not a danger to the world, Iran's is.

And comparing Adelson with Farrakhan and Ahmadinejad is equally obscene. Adelson  clearly doesn't have a grasp of the nuances of the Middle East as those of us who are immersed in it all day do, but there have been plenty of US politicians and pundits and even "experts" who say stupid and ignorant things every day. Beinart would never compare them to Farrakhan or Ahmadinejad (unless they are Republican), just as he would never compare Adelson with Soros, the closest analogy, because Soros' politics are far more acceptable to Beinart.

Beinart further quotes Adelson:
“There isn’t a Palestinian alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the Jews,” he told the Jewish Press in 2011.
Adelson was not careful with his words the way a journalist would be, but if he would have said "Palestinians are routinely taught to hate Jews" - does Beinart disagree? He is more upset at Adelson's generalization, eagerly branding him as having a "culture of hate," without acknowledging the elephant in the room that Palestinians really do have a culture of hate. Not one person - an entire people. While there is racism on the Jewish side, there is nothing remotely similar to the pervasiveness of hate on the Palestinian Arab side. But Beinart doesn't care about that because an old rich Jewish man is unacceptably generalizing, oh, at least 95% of Palestinian Arabs to include the 5% that Beinart likes to pretend represents reality.

In other words, Beinart proves here with his Assumed Symmetry Fallacy  thought experiments that he is at least as biased as Adelson is.

Recently, Palestinian Arab politicians claimed that their police found a secret Israeli lab that turned marijuana into heroin to give to Palestinian Arab youths. Mahmoud Abbas' aides have said that the Temple never existed. Abbas himself accused Israeli Jews of raising wild boars just to attack Arab farmers.

This is part of the Palestinian Arab "narrative." Zionists (and any sane people) would say that these stories are nonsense.

Do the two sides of "narratives" have equal value? Apparently, in Beinart's universe, the truth is not as important as what people believe the truth to be. Both sides are the same! Feelings trump facts, and fake history is just as valid as real history because favoring truth over lies can make the liars upset.

 Beinart's fallacious thought experiments and use of false analogies are a lazy rhetorical method that good writers and thinkers know to avoid. Beinart is neither a good writer nor a thinker.



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