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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Feelings, Theory and Practice

Consider the following anecdote: A manager fires an employee for not following company procedure repeatedly. The manager makes a solid and logical case to support this dismissal and backs it with evidence: A description of the procedure had been distributed in writing to all employees, and this employee had failed to follow it numerous times, thus making the dismissal perfectly justified.

On closer inspection, however, there are two problems: One is that this procedure had not been respected or deemed important for a long while, with many other employees and managers ignoring the procedure. In addition, solely this employee had been singled out. The other problem is that this situation was correctable: The manager could have sat with the employee and explained the importance of the procedure, or issued a warning to follow the procedure or get fired. Instead, he simply dismissed him. 

Note that these problems don't exactly refute the logic and evidence of the manager's argument. After all, the procedure does exist, and he did breach it, and this is cause for dismissal. What then, precisely, are these problematic details doing to his argument, and how do they undermine it? It's not as obvious as it seems; think about it.

You see, the real problem was that the manager disliked the employee personally and wanted him gone. But, visibly, as far as outsiders are concerned, the only reason for this dismissal was the breached company policy. The manager made a case for dismissal which looked perfectly reasonable, and this, fortified by evidence, compelled people to accept the dismissal as valid. However, the theory (his argument), didn't actually match the practice (the dismissal), proving that feelings, not theory, are presiding.

Furthermore, what this anecdote demonstrates, is that logic and law often do not serve as the basis for a decision, but as a rationale ex post facto. In other words, not only did the problems prove that he was acting based on feelings, not law, but that he also used logic to justify his decision, not vice versa. This has repercussions on his case that are strong enough to demand a reversal of the dismissal. Let's expand on these two points:

When logic is used in this way, the laws quoted and the logic used may seem foolproof, but could still be completely wrong in two ways: First, while the argument as it was formulated used solid logic, nevertheless, he excluded some details that undermine the justification for the decision. Company policy was indeed breached, but dismissal was not justified. What happened here is not that his logic was wrong, but his brain used a technique of carefully selecting only the details that provide the argument its force and infallibility. His brain did this because it was told to do this by his feelings, and he is likely not even aware that he did this. His brain did the job it was assigned to do. This fallacy is known by multiple names, including 'selective logic', 'selective attention' or a variation of 'cherry picking'.

'Selective attention' is a particularly apt and precise description because, as you can see from our anecdote, that is exactly what the brain was doing: Noticing and selecting only the specific true facts and details with which a solid argument could be constructed. The scary part is that this is often done unknowingly.

Secondly, in this case, the argument was not only wrong due to missing information in the narrative, but was also not the actual reason for the dismissal. Feelings require a rationale in order to explain and justify themselves to others. The manager merely used the 'company procedure' argument to give his feelings an objective justification, and then latched on to this argument as the primary reason for the dismissal. Whereas, it was actually his feelings that made the decision, which invalidates the decision, since company dismissals should not be performed based on feelings.

Therefore, not only did he use the wrong tools to make the decision (feelings), the argument that he presented (theory) was warped as a result of this, and the dismissal (practice) was done incorrectly. In fact, his practice matched and therefore revealed his feelings, not his theory.

I previously discussed the well-known way in which humans use their brains, where first there is an emotional reaction and bias, and then the brain is employed to justify that feeling. We want, and then we justify what we want with logic, not the other way around. I used the example of hypnotized people that justify their hypnotized actions with logic as scary evidence of this phenomenon. I discussed this in the context of bias in the news and how we absorb the news, whereas in this article I raise the issue in a more generalized context to describe how we perceive our friends and enemies in the world, how we choose the issues for which we fight, and how we shape the narratives that maintain and fortify our personal viewpoints.

We all do this, including myself. We vary only in the degree that we do it, depending on the depth of feelings and personal investment, and we vary also in our self-awareness. The key is to be aware of this and not let feelings take control. The fact that this happens all the time does not mean that we have no choice in the matter. Constant vigilance is required, but it must be directed inward at least as much as it is directed outward, if not more.

Of course, unless we have a healthy level of self-awareness, reading this description of ourselves will likely trigger cognitive dissonance. Your mind will reject what I am saying as largely irrelevant in most cases, applicable to others but not yourself. After all, we use firm logic when we make our decisions. At least that's how it feels to us.

This not only warps our judgement but others' as well. To extend the above anecdote: The problem worsens where outsider witnesses to this event are concerned: If they do not pay attention or investigate carefully and hear only the perfectly logical argument given by the manager, they will obviously reach the wrong conclusion. If they already have feelings on the matter, they could make the same mistakes as the manager based on their feelings (pro or con). But even if feelings are not involved at first, it may seem to them that they reached their conclusion based on logic and law, and any subsequent feelings evoked by this event would be based on the solid argument and evidence provided by the manager. Except that it is all wrong. Therefore, even in the case of objective, dispassionate outsiders, truth and justice can be distorted by (the manager's) feelings and selective logic if the outsider is ignorant and not being careful and vigilant. One is not supposed to reach conclusions on topics one knows barely anything about (try telling that to today's students).

Now, we could apply this to any political issue, whether it is how we judge Biden's, Trump's, or Putin's actions, how we interpret a war, historical narratives, and so on. For example, if we feel Putin is inherently evil, and we read about the death of Navalny, what are the chances that we will select the facts that fit our pre-decided viewpoint? But I am going to use the most emotional topic of them all: Israel-Palestine.

Given the very intense feelings on this subject, what are the chances that all of the aforementioned problems aren't involved, and in great quantities? Obviously, zero percent. In the case of Israel-Palestine, this is further compounded by intense feelings of religious motivations or antisemitism in some people, not to mention one hundred years of death and hatred. But even without such feelings, even calm, reasoned outsiders will be affected by logical arguments made by very impassioned, biased people, as I have described.

Case in point: A pro-Palestine protester, having witnessed truly horrible video proof of wounded and dead children in Gaza, having listened to arguments that Israel is run by extremist murderers, and the claims that they are only opposing 'Zionists', not Jews, may take up the cause with perfectly justified emotions, citing logical arguments and video evidence as the basis for their virtuous activism. Except that what they are actually doing is listening to the 'manager's' arguments and taking them at face value. They claim that their emotions are based on logic and evidence, but are they justified conclusions?

Since such a person has allegedly started from evidence and logic, it would be appropriate to refute this view using counter-evidence and logic, and this is what I have been doing in previous articles. If this is what you are looking for, I suggest reading my previous posts where I logically refute claims of genocide by Israel, and murderous intentions by Zionists, etc. This time, however, I am pointing out the mechanisms behind many of our viewpoints and describing the chain of events for how such a seemingly solid, logical viewpoint could be based on, and therefore warped by, severely biased feelings. Once again, if the practice does not match the theory, then feelings are presiding.

It is important to understand that such viewpoints, despite their biased core, feel righteous and logically sound to their bearer. This is what we do. After our enslaved brains have given our feelings the objective rationale we needed, we latch on to this argument provided by our brains. In the absence of self-awareness, this argument will instantly take over and we will be convinced that it is our primary motivation, similar to the hypnotized people justifying their irrational actions with logic. We think we are acting based on theory, not on feelings. But this hypnotized person only has to step back and study his action objectively to see that it makes no sense from a bigger perspective, and that logic has been enslaved. We select the arguments and evidence that we want to see, in order to feel better about the decisions we have already made.

Therefore, instead of attacking these viewpoints head-on yet again, this time I will point out some interesting clues and hints lurking on the outskirts of this behavior. We will look at the practice and see whether it matches the 'theory':

  • Let us start with a simple one: Many protesters claim they only target the Israeli government, extremist Zionists, or all Zionists, but not Jews in general. If this is the case, then why do they harass all Jews (unless the Jew wears a keffiyeh and chants with them)? Here is one example of hundreds. To match practice with theory, the protesters would have to quiz every single Jew to determine whether he is a Zionist first before harassing him. Barring this, their actions demonstrate that they are based on feelings of hate, and this nonsense about Zionists is an ex-post-facto justification at best, or a deliberately false front at worst. The fact that some self-hating Jews protest with them does not change that this is based on hate. Similarly, many protesters are demanding divestment and boycotts of all Israeli products without discriminating between Zionist-supporting products and neutral Israeli products.

  • If only extremist governments and Zionists are the problem, why are protesters not chanting for regime change in Israel instead of the elimination of Israel? This simple obvious alternate solution is not even considered because the goal is to eliminate a Jewish homeland, or to eliminate Jews, not to eliminate violence. They chant 'from the river to the sea Palestine will be free' not 'make Israel moral again'. Other alternatives include government reform, or even de-radicalization of Israel. They could even theoretically chant death to Israeli leaders so that Israeli citizens can live in peace, the same way the world separates between Hamas and Palestinian civilians but still supports a Palestinian state. All of these solutions would not require the elimination of Israel. And what about the non-Zionist Jews living in Israel? Instead, they chant for the end of Israel. It's not 'let's remove the cancer from Israel', but 'Israel is the cancer of the Middle-East'. This is a crucial differentiation that marks the difference between political protest and antisemitism. (This is without mentioning the more blatantly obvious genocidal chants and banners saying: "by any means necessary", or simply: 'f*** the Jews').

  • To use a similar example which reveals further intentions, Iran frequently makes speeches about the destruction of Israel, and even has a famous clock in a major city square that counts down the days until the 'destruction of Israel'. As with the protesters, Iran doesn't demand regime change in Israel or a better Israel, but destruction. At the same time, Iran claims that it is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jew. Furthermore, there is still a handful of Jews living in Iran (although they are subjected to apartheid Sharia laws). As far as I'm concerned they are not lying; they really do not want to kill all Jews. The solution to this riddle, and scholars of Islam should concur, is that they interpret 'Zionist' to mean any Jew that wants to have their own homeland and army, especially in the Middle East where Arabs have taken over. A good Jew is a submissive Jew who submits to apartheid Sharia law, and who bows his head when angry Arabs massacre them. All other Jews (AKA "Zionists") must die or be repressed. Given this, they are obviously antisemites, just like white men in South Africa before apartheid was abolished were racists. Of course, in order to achieve Sharia law in the Middle East they are going to have to be genocidal as well.

  • If protesters claim Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land, but then support Palestinians bombing Tel Aviv, or support Hamas killing peaceful civilians living in land legally given to Jews by the UN in 1947, then what they want is the destruction of Israel, not an end to illegal occupation.

  • This one is used often in debates: If dead Arab Palestinian children are the cause of this furor, why are the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Arab children in Syria, Yemen, the plight of millions of stateless Arabs in Iran (Khuzestan/Arabistan) fighting for their own state for one-hundred years, and the forced deportation of 750,000 Afghans from Pakistan, all not protested with equal fervor? In fact, where are the protests at all? Answer: The problem is only when Jews hurt Arabs, not when Arabs hurt Arabs. It's not about dead Arabs (theory), but about Jew-hatred (feelings).

  • When a civilian or child is killed in a war there are three possibilities: 1. He was deliberately targeted and this is a war crime. 2. He wasn't targeted but is a casualty, which is a tragedy but not a crime. 3. The civilian (or teenage child) was actively participating in the terrorist war and is therefore a valid military target, in which case his killing is just. Any protester who screams that Israel is committing war crimes without first collecting evidence that we are dealing with the first option and not the other two options, is revealing their feelings of hatred. They are revealing that they see Jews as inherently evil and therefore did not even consider the other two options. The same goes for any political leader and news outlet that jumps to conclusions about events in a war before an investigation takes place and the evidence comes in. Their feelings are prejudging the case and selecting only the conclusion that matches their hate. All other possibilities are invisible when the brain is enslaved in this way.

You may have noticed that all of these arguments, in addition to sharing the theme I explained in this article, also have a weakness in the context of a debate. Although this family of arguments is used often in today's debates, these arguments are easily ignored, because of what they aim to do and how they work. I hope it is now clear why they are both weak and strong, depending on who is listening. The person on the other side of this argument can easily ignore it because they may feel that their logical argument has been overlooked in favor of ad-hominem attacks: "If Israel is committing genocide, then why are my intentions relevant? That is bad form on your part. Not only that, but my evidence and logic on Israeli crimes remain standing. You have not addressed my claims and, instead, spew propaganda since you have no response to my arguments. Furthermore, what you say is untrue, since I have logic on my side backing my claims. My brain told me so."

Despite this, what these arguments are saying is that the person has collected his evidence in bad faith, and with a clear, demonstrated bias. His arguments may not even be worth debating for this reason because if the person is clearly biased and thinking with an enslaved brain, then: 1. His evidence will most likely be distorted by selective attention, and 2. His real reasons for arguing have been exposed which have nothing to do with what he is saying. As I have demonstrated, this fact alone may disqualify a claim in some cases, even in a logical and legal sense. The dismissal is not legally and morally justified if the motive is hate.

To be honest, this is an approach I would try to avoid when debating, especially if there is an audience that is listening to the evidence being presented. Based on my deconstruction, you should see why these arguments would probably work only with people that are not emotionally biased against you. In other words, you would be preaching only to the converted, and it will bounce off the rest ineffectually. Nevertheless, by deconstructing this class of arguments, I hope I have shown how they could work in other circumstances, what they actually do achieve, what they expose, and how they undermine  arguments even if they don't refute them. Most importantly, however, this is not an article about debating tactics, but about how perfectly good arguments can actually be distorted, and how we have let feelings take over and thus destroyed the world.

Incidentally, one reason why Palestinians see all Jews as evil murderers is because 75% of them want to see the destruction of Israel and 90% of them support terrorists. This is a clear case of the mote in another's eye, projecting our own thoughts on others... and so on. This is another thing that feelings do: They overflow and color our perception of others. If we hate, then others look like they hate us.

Lastly, there are several additional significant and subtle observations related to feelings that are pertinent to our topic: Although we have portrayed feelings in a negative light in this article, we should clarify that feelings are not only important and beneficial, they are critical, providing us with the drive with which we take action based on our beliefs and plans. Without feelings we could probably achieve nothing. But they have a defined place in our internal hierarchy. When feelings are the boss of us, they not only enslave and distort the mind as I have explained, they eclipse everything else, including other feelings. This is because, when they are placed above our minds and souls in the hierarchy of things, thoughts need to serve the current feeling we are experiencing, and there is no longer such a thing as a larger truth. However, when we serve something bigger than ourselves and our feelings serve as tools under that larger truth, we then have the possibility of seeing a truth that conforms with a larger reality rather than merely an ephemeral subjective reality that helps us validate our feelings. This is also what enables us to experience mixed emotions that do not conflict with each other, and to hold nuanced viewpoints with subtle layers and aspects. If emotions serve a bigger truth, we can feel happy about one derivative of that truth, and distress over another, both at the same time, because they both serve one truth. Whereas, if truth serves a feeling, there can be only one simple feeling. This is why, if you see someone who views the world in black and white terms, or someone who rates all books and films as either ten or zero, or who truly loves you one day and truly hates you the next, it is possible that they are simply being overwhelmed with a single emotion. This is how subtlety, nuance and loyalty are lost. How can we stay loyal when every day brings a new bossy emotion in its whimsical wake? We can like one aspect about an issue and dislike another, but only if we serve a higher truth, a truth that remains steadfastly anchored above our feelings. But all of this is lost in an age where emotions are kings. When every subject is a king, there is no possibility for kingdoms, states and societies to survive. Everything, including reality, has to bend to the ever-changing will of our feelings. This is when protests become dangerous tantrums instead of expressions of democracy, and kingdoms crumble.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Rationalism, Context, and Blaming Israel

When debating the Israel-Palestine issue, it is essential to first establish with whom you are debating. Your arguments will likely be irrelevant unless you know where you share, or don't share, common ground. For example, if one side privately holds that Israel has no right to exist, there is no sense in the other side arguing that Israel is defending itself. An "invading colonialist aggressor" has no right to self-defense, therefore arguing over what qualifies or doesn't qualify as defense is pointless. The goal would be to bring this viewpoint into the open so that the debate can shift towards the actual point of contention.

Establishing common ground and context is basic debating 101, yet it is no longer done in most debates that I've seen nowadays. Assuming both sides are being rational, this can make all the difference towards understanding exactly where you agree and disagree. More importantly, it's like trying to build the second floor of a building before the first floor is ready. This is absolute futility. If we break down the above example, self defense assumes that you have a right to exist because there is no justification for protecting something that shouldn't be there in the first place. If this foundation is skipped, one side will keep arguing that Israel is protecting its citizens from evil terrorists, while the other side will accuse Israel of doing evil things to resistance fighters, while, in actuality, the problem in this debate is Israel's existence. Aggression is only evil if it is unjustified and it is therefore the justification that must be debated, not the outcome and its interpretation. These two sides are not talking the same language; each is based on a different ground floor and assumption, and they are not arguing the assumptions but their consequences. Therefore, as is common today with many debates, matters could rapidly devolve to mudslinging and yelling, each side accusing each other of being evil, due to both sides living on different planets.

This is not always as obvious at it seems until the logical foundation of an argument is explicitly exposed. To reiterate using my example, "Israel is defending itself" versus "Israel is the aggressor committing crimes against Palestinians" may initially seem to be two statements that directly relate to each other, interpreting the same events in opposing ways. However, if you think about it, you should notice that there is no way to prove which side is correct. This is because they are simple statements, not arguments; they are based on underlying assumptions and it is these assumptions that must be attacked, which will also provide a possible coup de grâce with which to conclude the debate.

Of course, Israel's right to exist may depend on further underlying assumptions on which you disagree, which will force you to shift the argument further down the premise chain.

Similarly, the question of whether the war in Gaza involves evil often revolves around the foundation of whether Gaza was being occupied unjustly. If Gaza was free, then any attack from Gazans is an act of war and Israel is defending itself. If Gaza is occupied, or at least occupied unjustly, then a Gazan attack is an act of resistance. Once again, the debate must shift to underlying assumptions and only then the debate could potentially reach conclusions. Otherwise, people would only be throwing the words 'resistance' and 'defense' at each other with no hope of resolution, and no thoughtful material is provided over which an audience can deliberate.

Therefore, a few basic questions and definitions should precede any debate on specific issues: Does Israel/Palestine have a right to exist? When you say that Palestine will be free, which part of the territory are you talking about? Precisely what does this freedom look like for Jews currently living there? Are you willing to share land and equal rights with peaceful Jews/Arabs? What about non-peaceful ones? When you say 'war crime' does this mean any killing of a woman or child, or are you referring to international law and its precise definitions? What is your definition of 'apartheid'? 'Occupation'? What are the minimum requirements for genocide? And so on.

Further down below, I will be presenting what I think is the most common and definitive context missing from rational debates on Israel.

Of course, all this assumes that your opponent is being rational, is listening and not driven by blind hate, not dismissing you as a propagandist before you even open your mouth, and there is an actual chance that your words will reach their intended target, even if they don't convince. Otherwise, why are you wasting breath on such a debate? The first question should be: "Since I am pro-Israel, is there any chance that I will speak the truth, or am I pure evil?". Then again, this would start the debate on awkward footing.

While it is perfectly possible that the other side is indeed a propagandist and knowingly lying through their teeth, the more important question is whether you are listening carefully to what they are saying, as well as to what they are not saying. Understanding the foundation upon which an argument is based is the key to dismantling it, as I explained. If you wish to undermine their argument, you have to find their ground floor.

On top of all this, online debates may be even worse if the debaters are talking to the audience instead of each other. When this happens, they merely heave random inflammatory statements designed to provoke emotions instead of searching for the ground floor or even exchanging words that actually relate to each other.

I've dealt with some of these inflammatory, over-the-top accusations in some of my previous articles, and the truth is, they are generally easier to dismantle and undermine because of their extremism. For example, in the case of genocide, as I argued, the primary challenge when using that word is that even war crimes and millions of horrible war tragedies still do not qualify as genocide, therefore proof of genocide would have to be equally extreme or deal with the elusive proof of intent. I've also argued easily against the claim that Zionism is racism, and dismantled many of the contradictory claims against Israel's right to exist and Israel's alleged evil actions. On the other hand, the more subtle claim that Israel is going too far in the Gaza war was more difficult. All arguments of this type would be a waste of time if the intention is not to discuss but to destroy Israel with the help of inflammatory remarks. The problem, however, is that even rational people may be swept away by irrational, hateful people and their passionate accusations, and then one has to argue these points logically and systematically. When millions of irrational Palestinians around the world accuse Israel of deliberately killing their children, rational people tend to listen. Emotional conviction is contagious, and latches on to rationalizations.

Even with extreme, irrational arguments, however, the ground floor is important: When I watch online debates, no matter how rabid one side may be, I listen very carefully to every word. If I hear an argument or fact I have not encountered before, I will always perform research. Even if I don't agree with their conclusions (in most cases, they wildly exaggerate or distort actual facts, extracting whatever their biases dictate), I do learn many new things and discover problems with my side of the debate. More importantly, I learn how to dismantle their arguments; but this is only possible by listening carefully. In a rational debate, I would expect my opponent to do the same.

But let us return to sanity and rational arguments. Since this article is one-sided and not a debate, I am going to define my own opponent based on a viewpoint I've seen countless times: You believe Jews do have a valid claim for the land of Israel, and you do oppose Palestinian terrorism, but see Israel as the culpable aggressor throughout much of history, and wish it had a different government and mentality. You think that if only Palestinians had gotten their state, things would be different, and extremism wouldn't be rampant. You disagree with extremist Palestinians and condemn Palestinian terrorism, but blame Israel, or at least its controlling political elements, for fermenting and provoking these extremists. Like me, you listen carefully to what people say, but always remind yourself of this historical context of Israel the aggressor and obstacle to peace. Whenever Palestinian atrocities are mentioned, you think of aggressive actions by Israel that preceded these, especially failed or blocked peace agreements for which you blame Israel and/or the USA. You understandably, firmly believe that all this defines you as rational, humanist and fair.

Allow me to attempt to undermine your ground floor; I am going to tell you a true story:

Once upon a time, there lived a country that was brutally invaded by powerful countries much bigger than itself. This extreme war lasted six years, resulting in between four and five million military deaths, and almost half a million civilian deaths within this invaded country. If we use a rough estimate of 20% for children, this means roughly one hundred thousand children were killed by the invaders. Obviously there were also countless wounded. Even after the war, hardship continued for several years with millions of refugees not only within the invaded country, but also for its people in other countries, resulting in an additional estimated 0.5-2 million deaths. This country was not only invaded but occupied for 45 years after the invasion, controlled with military force as well as foreign governance and management, the invaders not allowing the country to self-determine for decades.

Those of you with basic historical knowledge may have realized that I am referring to Germany in WWII and may think I am playing a dirty trick. (The post-war German refugee problem causing 1-2 million deaths is a lesser known aspect of WWII). Nevertheless, the point I am making is worth contemplating at length because it is more subtle than it seems. In this story we see a horrifying number of dead children and civilians, brutal bombing campaigns by the Allies, some of which are debated until today as to whether they constituted war crimes, an incredible number of dead civilians due to expulsions, and an occupation that lasted 45 years. There were also many cases of civilian deaths caused by US/UK/Soviet soldiers, and many reports of rape. After the war, even Germans that had lived in foreign countries for centuries were expelled, and some were subjected to violence, forced marches, and confiscation of property. Germans were even used for forced labor by all of the Allies as reparations. Some of these actions could be seen by some as war crimes today, and indeed, the Geneva Convention was established based on events in WWII. 

Although the East/West German Republics and their governments were established in 1949 with some German sovereignty, the occupation continued for 40 more years until 1991. Allied forces retained military control over key strategic areas and infrastructure. While the Allied Control Council didn't function properly after 1949 due to the Cold War, the ACC continued to claim its rights and powers over Germany even in 1971, and the individual occupying countries continued to make key decisions affecting Germany's political, economic, and social spheres. Moreover, they imposed the Cold War on Germany, often raising tensions and clashes, making the local population suffer, and building the famous Berlin Wall in 1961. Germany's foreign policy was controlled and restricted, requiring approval by its occupying powers. All this should leave no doubt that Germany was occupied for 45 years.

And yet, despite all of this, despite the hundred-thousand dead children, expulsions, wall-building, and the decades-long occupation, nobody in their right mind sees the Allies during WWII as the aggressors. In fact, the occupation is seen as legal and morally justified.

While this may seem obvious, it firmly demonstrates the pivotal importance of context versus numbers. Even proven war crimes do not turn a country into the aggressor, nor does it prove intent to commit genocide, etc. based on the context. If, on the other hand, the UK were seen as the aggressor in WWII, how would the bombing in Dresden be interpreted in terms of intentions? Indeed, even thousands of military mistakes or war crimes can be put away in a box and dealt with as excusable or at least incidental and ancillary errors in judgements, mistakes or exceptions, thanks to context and the perceived intent of its perpetrators.

I'm sure by now you see where this is going, although you may be still adhering to your views that Israel is the aggressor. Before we get back to Israel, however, let us expand the story of Germany with an alternate imaginary history and thought experiment. After the end of WWII, German resistance against the Allies was very minimal. Although a resistance movement such as Werwolf was formed, its threat and attacks were largely insignificant and unsuccessful. But what would have happened if German resistance had continued fighting ferociously for decades after 1945 in the form of guerilla warfare and IRA-style terrorist bombings? What if German resistance not only continued to fight the occupying forces, but also escalated over the years, and even gathered support amongst the occupied German civilians?

Although this is speculation, it would be easy to imagine the realistic reaction by the Allies and Germans in this scenario: Attacks would continue year after year, Allied responses would consist of attempts at diplomacy and agreements as well as violent repression, raids, punctuated battles and incursions into belligerent locations in Germany. The occupation would become increasingly restrictive, intrusive and repressive as counter-insurgency policies were implemented. The occupation would not only last beyond 1991 until today, it would become increasingly violent and repressive. Many German children would die as casualties over many decades from these continuing bouts of violence, children that would die from bullets of its occupiers. And the occupying forces would be unable to withdraw from Germany for fear of a Fourth Reich taking control of Germany and eventually starting WWIII given the Nazi mentality of its insurgents.

Let us add a new character to our imaginary story: A university student from Europe, currently studying in Austria, exposed to a movement of pro-German students that inform her of the many dead children dying from UK/US/French guns for decades, and a never-ending occupation of Germans that only desire to be free and achieve self-determination. She learns of the atrocities in WWII committed by the Allies and the mass expulsions, she sees the faces of crying wounded children in German hospitals, the pictures of dead babies shot by French soldiers, etc. What would her inevitable conclusion be if she didn't study history properly or adequately observe the intentions of these neo-Nazi insurgents?

Never-ending occupations and dead children do not prove aggression. Neither do stronger powers bullying smaller countries; not if the country being occupied started the war, and continues to demonstrate aspirations for genocidal intent continuously over decades. The fact that dead civilians are innocent victims does not alter this equation. In our scenario, the stronger super-power Allies should and must continue to occupy a long-suffering Germany to stop the Nazis from rising for as long as Germans do not give up their murderous intentions and actions. This would be extremely justified if a large chunk of the civilians supported these 'insurgents' and no leader emerged that condemned them and fought the Nazis.

If pro-Palestinian students and rationalists only studied history, they would see and understand similar important facts that completely alter the context and therefore also their interpretation of Israeli actions.

Israel is not an outside colonial aggressor. Jews owned the land for centuries before Islam even existed, and have maintained a presence in Israel for 2000 years since then. The only reason Jews have not had a majority in Israel since then is because of occupying empires banning or massacring Jews. If Palestinian grandchildren of refugees deserve a Right of Return after 75 years, then why does this right not apply to Jewish refugees?

Additionally, those arguing that most Jews were immigrants conveniently forget that 80% of Arabs in Palestine in 1948 were also new immigrants from the previous century.

Therefore, the picture of Israeli colonialists expelling an ancient indigenous people is blatantly wrong on several levels, as proven by basic history. And this is a history that is easily verified for those seeking the truth.

In addition, one must not forget the historical context that Palestine was temporarily managed, new territory administered by the British after the defeat of Ottomans in WWI, a territory that was not even called Palestine by its locals or by the Ottomans. The partition of the area into Jordan/Syria/Lebanon/Israel/Palestine was a brand new venture that attempted to take into account all locals and claims to the land, including Jews. It was not a violent replacement of one state with another, but an establishment of new states in territory that had been occupied by outsiders for centuries.

As I have previously argued, some Zionists indeed had expansionist aspirations and plans for population transfer, but attempted to implement this non-violently through land purchases and agreements. Even today, population transfers could be legal if done properly, and, at the beginning of the 20th century, they were seen by several countries as necessary hard solutions to hard problems, just like the India-Pakistan transfer of 1947. The violence, however, during the first few decades, was initiated exclusively by Arabs. This Arab violence happened mostly in the period between 1920-1948, but there were pogroms before then, and all of this happened before Israel existed as a state and before the war. Even when the war started, it took several stages before Jews shifted from defense to offense. The argument that Arabs reacted with violence due to Israeli aggression does not hold water due to all this context. There is not a single attempt by Jews to expel Arabs using force until 1948 (and even then the context is a war of self-defense). Arabs, on the other hand, regularly attacked Jews for decades. Additionally, Arabs started both the civil war in 1947 and the inter-state war in 1948. Later, both the PLO and Hamas charters called for the destruction of Israel. In the case of the PLO, their charter did this even before Israel occupied the territories of 1967. And finally, Palestinian polls regularly prove that a majority of civilians support terrorism and the destruction of Israel until today. This is all verifiable history.

As we demonstrated in the story of Germany, any subsequent Israeli war crimes, mistakes, questionable tactics and plans, expulsions, dead Palestinian children, necessary occupations, and even refusal to allow Palestinians their self-determination and sovereignty in their current state of mind, absolutely must be placed within this context. The primary aggressor must first be established, as proven by history. Once this is done, debates have a chance of sharing a ground floor. Once this uncontested history is known and clarified, we can then discuss whether Israel is making questionable judgements and war crimes, or whether Israel is merely defending itself. If this is not established, however, debates will be futile, as they will not be based on history and context.

To clarify, I am not claiming that this larger context excuses any crimes committed by Jews, nor am I denying that some Jewish actions were questionable or even criminal. What I am saying is that this context changes how these actions are perceived and whether they denote a top-down systematic policy and overall aggressive intentions. I am comparing this to the difference in the way we perceive a war crime committed by a German soldier following orders in WWII versus an identical war crime committed by a war-crazed UK soldier in WWII. One is a genocidal act, the other is not, even though they both targeted a civilian.

The UN, and various world diplomats continue to harp on about context when it comes to the Gaza war. Ironically, it is they who are ignoring the larger context. If the context starts with the Nakba of 1948, this is equivalent to studying WWII starting from the bombing of Germany. If the Allied occupation of Germany is taken out of the context of WWII while ignoring Nazi intentions, that would not be merely ignorance, but willful distortion. An endless occupation may not only be legal under such circumstances, but even a moral imperative if placed within proper context, as we saw in Germany. 

One must always start from the ground floor, and the ground floor consists of Arab aggression and refusal to accept Israel, not only in 1920 and 1948, but until today in 2024. Once this is kept in mind, the simple motivation behind Israeli political leaders that block a harmful peace process due to Arab ulterior motives will be understood. The occupation will be seen as the necessary evil that it is. And so on. All the 'cycles of violence' in Israel-Palestine originate from this context. Even circles originate somewhere; it only requires that you go further back in time. This is the context most overlooked or ignored by humanist rationalists. Whether they ignore this due to ignorance or wilful hatred and bigotry is another question.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Is Zionism Racism?

Frankly, I never understood the claim that 'Zionism is racism' since it is almost never backed by solid explanations or definitions, let alone evidence. On the part of the accusers, it is assumed that a people with aspirations for a return to their homeland is somehow racist, and on the other side, the counter-argument is that this claim is antisemitism. Neither side presents any logic or rationale worth debating. There's not much one can say or discuss when it comes to mudslinging.

What could possibly be racist about a people wanting a homeland or being proud of their homeland? Are Tibetans racist for wanting Tibet to be free and a safe home for Tibetans? Under these qualifications, most of the planet would be classified as racist. Tibetans would only be racist if they desired to implement specific racist ideologies and laws in their future state of Tibet, and accusers would have to provide evidence of this. Similarly, waging war for one's homeland against hostile foreigners is not racist in itself; there has to be evidence of racism. (If you are thinking that a 'Tibetan' is not the same type of classification as a 'Jew', then see below). Anyone that thinks otherwise seemingly doesn't understand what Zionism is all about.

The consensus is that this claim emerged from PLO propaganda in the 60s when Palestinians accused Zionism of being a colonialist and racist ideology. It gained traction and popularity, however, thanks to the Soviet-backed UN resolution 3379 in 1975 which received 72 votes in favor. Sixteen years later this resolution was revoked (seemingly the only UN GA resolution to ever be revoked) in resolution 46/86 with 111 votes in favor of revocation. The notion, however, survived the revocation, and is chanted until today. I looked at the original (very short) resolution for a justification, and all it said can be summed up as: "We agree that racism is bad, and since some people said Zionism is racism, we condemn Zionism". This absurd resolution with absolutely no explanation and justification, and the fact that they inexplicably changed their minds after sixteen years, only bolster my argument that this whole issue is illogical mud flinging.

If it were only antisemitic mud used as propaganda without an ounce of demonstrable truth, then this article would end here. But one nagging matter remains: Is a 'State for Jews' a racist idea? Aren't Jews a race and if so, isn't this a racist state? Furthermore, some people back this claim with accusations of exclusionist ideologies and plans by early Zionists, armed with a list of incriminating quotes from Zionists especially regarding population transfer, and accuse Israel of systematically expelling and killing Arabs during the 1947-1948 wars (and thenceforth). What could I possibly say about all of this?

First, a disclaimer: I am actually an anti-Zionist defending Zionism from very different anti-Zionists. I definitely do not condone everything Zionists did and their ideologies; all I am doing here is arguing against these specific accusations.

Many pro-Israelis use the demonstrably flagrant reality in Israel since 1949 until today to disprove this claim that Zionism is racism. All one has to do is visit Israel for a few hours and look around to invalidate this absurd claim. The growing population of millions of Arabs living both in Israel and in Palestinian territories for the past 75 years easily demonstrates that Israel is not only not expelling or killing other races, but that Israeli Arabs also enjoy full citizenship and equal rights. Israeli Arabs have their own government parties, work alongside Jews in everyday life and in close neighborhoods, and share all of the same state benefits. If there is racism, it is only at the level of racist individuals, not at the level of state laws, akin to most other free countries in the world. 

Note that this very effectively dismantles the related accusations of 'apartheid' in Israel as well. The only arguments I saw that justify this claim specifically use the occupied territories as evidence of different laws applied to Jews and Arabs. This is what most people see on the internet when it comes to claims of apartheid and racism: The walls, the raids, the checkpoints and barriers between Israel and occupied territories. But these are temporarily and legally occupied for reasons of self-defense, and are not part of Israel proper; obviously there would be different laws and barriers there, just like Germans in Germany were occupied legally by many countries between 1945-1989 and had different laws applied to them apart from the occupying countries and their citizens. Did Germans in 1950 have the same rights and laws as a citizen in New York and London? Was the occupation of Germany apartheid because Germans had different laws applied to them and couldn't vote in the UK?

While this simple and straightforward counter-argument is valid, there are some leftovers that aren't covered: The ideology of Zionism (even if it hasn't been implemented), those aforementioned incriminating Zionist quotes, as well as the Nakba in 1947-1948.

I previously discussed Zionism in the context of Israeli politics and demographics and what it means to Israelis in this article. One relevant point is that most Israelis (not all) view Zionism as merely nationalism and patriotism, and that even historical Zionism rose amidst a wave of many other nationalist movements. And, as I argued above, nationalism is only racism if it has demonstrable racist elements.

Another relevant point from that article is that aspirations for a homeland and state do not automatically correlate with aggression and violent means by which to attain these aspirations. Some Zionists are aggressive to different degrees, most are not. If Tibetans dream of not only gaining independence but also of one day owning every inch of their ancestral land, this does not make them aggressive, let alone racist. Other methods are also possible through diplomacy, and a dream of a 'grand return' may or may not involve violent aggression. One does not necessarily follow the other, and extremist individuals or sub-groups do not reclassify the whole stream.

War of Self-Defense

Zionists, ideally, wanted to establish a state through diplomacy and agreements and did not want to displace Arabs living in Palestine unless it was necessary. This is preposterous, I hear you say; what about the many quotes from Zionists about population transfers and actions by the army cleansing villages and expelling Arabs?

The key word in my statement is 'necessary'. There is an obvious distinction between self-defense and ethnic cleansing. Consider the following harsh realities: 1. Arabs attacked, shot at, and massacred Jews regularly for many years between 1920-1948. They also started the civil war in 1947 by killing civilians in buses, and started the inter-state war in 1948. 2. Arab leaders declared their intentions many times of destroying Israel, and rejected multiple British or UN partition plans. 3. They constituted a majority in Palestine. This last point means they could instantly overrun the state and support anti-Jewish laws and massacres if they were included in a single democratic state, because of their majority. A hostile majority is what caused East Timor to break away from Indonesia after many massacres, and in our case, Palestine didn't even exist as a state yet. (A majority does not mean they have a right to prevent 'Palestinian Jews' from establishing their own state since Jews were native to the land as well, or have a historical claim, and Palestine/Israel did not yet exist and were in the process of being partitioned and created).

Given these unambiguous and harsh realities, the only possibility of Jews ever re-establishing a state in the region without being destroyed instantly was if: 1. They kept Arabs and Arab villages that were proven murderous or dangerous out of the state. 2. They had a majority of Jews and maintained this majority. These requirements are not only basic and compulsory elements for establishing any nation for its nationals, they also involve basic survival and self-defense. Also note that the Geneva Convention allows for legal expulsions due to military reasons for as long as hostilities exist.

How is this different from ethnic cleansing and racism, you ask? Very simple: Note that we are talking about majority not purity, and we are also talking about ejecting dangerous elements, not all Arabs. In addition, the intent and goals are different. The goal is self-determination and self-preservation, not purity of race and ethnic cleansing, and the results on the ground speak for themselves. Just as a single example of many: not all villages were attacked or expelled during the war. Why? Because they were peaceful and non-threatening villages, and Israel had no problem with peaceful Arabs living inside Israel, QED.

To continue our comparison: if Tibet, after gaining independence, subsequently expelled some specific Chinese residents due to their belligerent behavior, this would be classified as self-defense, not racism. As long as they don't implement laws to expel every single Chinese resident from their land regardless of security. Likewise, this is the case in Israel: Some Arabs were expelled due to exigent reasons of war started by Arabs, but plenty of Arabs remain until today.

Compare this with the Jewish population in many Arab states which has been reduced to virtually zero since 1948. Now that is racism and ethnic cleansing. Israel, in comparison, currently has 2 million Arab Israelis.

If one approaches Israel with prejudice or antisemitic views, it would be easy to interpret what happened in 1947-8 as ethnic cleansing instead of what it actually was: Practical solutions for a survival emergency. Ironically, many pro-Palestinians selectively use quotes from a 'new historian' such as Benny Morris to argue their case for ethnic cleansing, yet Morris himself concluded that all the mountains of evidence he gathered about expulsions or bad behavior from some IDF soldiers don't prove a plan for systematic ethnic cleansing. (Morris compiled a definitive study with comprehensive detail of the Palestinian refugee problem which is used and criticized by both sides; always a good sign). 

Morris also provided mountains of evidence to the contrary: Israeli military leaders that ordered soldiers not to touch civilians in some areas and villages, and leaders that wanted and even begged Arabs to stay. He also meticulously documented each and every lost Arab village and the specific cause of its downfall during the war, many of which were emptied due to Arabs fleeing in fear of the war, and others due to Israeli evictions after attacks from Arabs or due to security reasons. For example, at first, Israeli soldiers were only acting in defense mode, then they switched to counter-offense and conquered belligerent villages while reducing civilian casualties as much as possible, but every time they left a village standing, the militants came back repeatedly and killed more Jews, leading them to the conclusion that strategically dangerous villages had to be cleared/destroyed and its citizens expelled. This happened in stages, with strategic decisions such as these made based on fatal experiences and repeated losses. In addition, they had to contend with dangers from a looming massive invasion that would take place in a couple of months where such villages would become an even bigger problem. As mentioned, many villages were left untouched because they were not dangerous. All this is why Morris reached his nuanced conclusion that there were a variety of people with different goals, as well as a variety of stages and areas with different military goals that only sometimes demanded expulsions, but no general plan to expel all Arabs. His nuance was lost on critics and propagandists, but the results of millions of Israeli Arabs thriving in Israel speak for themselves.

With the 1947-8 war, similar to Israeli behavior today when launching wars in self-defense, one could find cases where Israel could be accused of overreaction, not enough caution, or even cruelty, but there is a very large qualitative gap between recklessness and ethnic cleansing. Antisemites do not care about this gap; if Jews are evil, then everything they do or say points towards evil intentions.

To further buttress this view that expulsions and attacks were based on each specific village's hostility and not on racism, most Christian and Druze communities surrendered and cooperated with Jews, and even welcomed Jews, and accordingly were allowed to stay.

Population Transfer

What about the quotes from Zionists about general mass population transfers even before the war, you ask? As opposed to some pro-Israelis, I don't deny these exist in great numbers and the evidence is undeniable that Zionists did pursue and desire a population transfer. But consider the following points in defense of this policy:

  • The transfer was for basic self-preservation; without it, Israel could not exist, as I have argued.  This is an incontrovertible fact due to murderous intentions and actions of many Arabs, combined with their majority.

  • A population transfer is not a war crime if it is based on general agreement on both sides and covers basic humanitarian concerns. In addition, this was before these international laws were ratified. Diplomatic ventures were launched to achieve this goal with British and Arab leaders. At some stage, there were talks with leaders for making it compulsory due to intransigent civilians, but with financial compensation.

  • This didn't only originate with Jews but also with the British. In their first attempt at a partition plan, the Peel Commission in 1937 proposed giving Jews only 20% of the territory, and in order to ensure survival, included a plan for population transfer of Arabs out of this tiny territory. The British, too, recognized that a partition plan without a population transfer would not be viable, having witnessed the many pogroms first-hand. (The Arabs rejected this plan despite getting 80% of the land.)

  • The transfer would have involved transferring Arabs from Palestine to Palestine. In some early instances of the idea, this meant transferring them to Syria or Jordan which were also part of Palestine before they were partitioned. In other cases such as the Peel partition plan, this meant transferring them to their own partition within the leftover British Mandate territory. The transfer would also involve moving a minority of Jews from Arab territory into Jewish territory.

  • There have been several population transfers during this period due to similar practical and security reasons. One example is the India-Pakistan massive transfer of civilians in the same period in 1947 due to insurmountable and intractable violence between the two peoples. Another one is the Greece-Turkey exchange in 1923, also implemented in order to solve problems with mass killings and security. Therefore, population transfer was seen at the time as a hard but practical solution to hard problems. And it could still be a practical solution to the killings today if both sides agreed.

  • Israeli leaders gave up on the idea of a complete population transfer since 1949, and stopped talking about it (there are no quotes after this period). Arabs, on the other hand, never gave up on the idea of destroying Israel and never stopped talking about it.

As Benny Morris argues and demonstrates using historical documentation, given this state of mind at the time, it would be safe to conclude that it had an effect on decisions made during the wars of 1947-8. Arabs that didn't already leave due to fear of the war were often encouraged or pressured to leave and move elsewhere in Palestine, and Israelis had strong security-based motivations to not take any actions that would allow them to return. It's one thing to allow the return of refugees, but quite another to allow many thousands of hostile militant 'civilians' mixed amongst the peaceful ones. After much debate, Israel allowed for exceptions to return, subject to security screening, or alternatively, as part of a wide peace agreement. All of this is why it does not qualify as ethnic cleansing as it was fueled by exigent survival needs, and, in addition, was very inconsistent and dependent on the commander in charge, the military imperatives specific to a village, and the number of attacks from that village. In other words, there was no plan to cleanse everything during the war, only to reduce the danger as much as possible by taking advantage of the situation and encourage or even force a 'transfer' of hostile or strategically dangerous villages. Finally, some Israeli leaders spoke of peace agreements with the Palestinians after the war in return for a number of returning refugees, but, once again, Arabs wanted nothing to do with a peace plan with Israel.

Naturally, one could criticize Israel for some of these decisions made during the war, and I have big questions and issues with some of these decisions myself, with some actions involving unnecessary cruelty even if they were justified, while others seemingly were not justified. However, one would have to provide an alternate solution to the serious problems at hand in order to criticize fairly. We must not forget that Israel tried other, more conventional solutions first (such as surgically clearing villages of only the militants), and these failed to solve the problem. In addition, this was a fledgling army facing insurmountable odds and dangers from surrounding Arab states, as well as from hundreds of hostile villages within. The key point, however, is that none of this would have happened if the Arabs had not started the war and killed Jews continuously for decades before the war. If there are no bad neighbors, then there is no reason to evacuate them, and evacuating hostile neighbors, even when involving questionable tactics, doesn't even begin to qualify as racism. The fact is that many peaceful communities that cooperated with Jews were left alone, and a large minority of 150,000 Arabs were allowed to stay within Israel, proving definitively that this had nothing to do with racism.

If one denies Israel's right to exist and sees Jews as aggressive colonizers rather than natives with an ancient claim to the land, then any actions taken by Jews would be seen as aggressive crimes rather than acts of self-defense and self-preservation. This is why Palestinians describe all of Israel's actions as crimes, since they view all land as theirs. Once one views all Jews as evil colonizers, actual crimes could be interpreted as genocidal rather than actions made by overly aggressive individuals or objectionable battle decisions. Except that the state of Israel does have a right to exist, and the only chance it has to exist requires an immediate solution to the problem of being surrounded by hostile Arabs intent on destroying Israel; therefore any aggressive actions, whether justified or objectionable, must be analyzed within this context. In other words, any military action will be strongly colored by one's bias against that soldier.

Ideology & Jewishness

This leaves the question of Zionism as an ideology and the concept of a 'state for Jews', as well as the Law of Return to Israel, a law which singles out Jews. This raises the question of the precise definition of a Jew, and why Zionists established a new state based on Jewishness. Obviously, for a nation that has been persecuted and massacred for over 2000 years, the primary goal was to establish a state that would protect Jews, but this was not the only reason, as I will explain below.

We have used Tibet as an example of a nation wanting to re-establish its homeland, but surely a country such as Tibet consists of many races amongst its citizens, whereas Jews are a single race? Think again:

  • Although Jewishness is inherited based on the mother, which seemingly makes this a biological and racial category, the father can originate from any other race. Add to this the twelve tribes of Israel and the fact that Jews have lived and intermarried for many centuries in many countries around the world, and you will understand why one sees a wide variety of Jews in Israel with many ethnicities, skin colors and cultures, from Ethiopian Jews to Russian Jews. In contrast to this definition of a Jew, did racist Nazis identify people as Aryan if their mother was German and their father was Jewish?

  • In case you think the mother rule still makes it racial, do not forget that anyone can also convert into Judaism, as long as one performs the correct ritual and accepts one's new responsibilities (and accepts that one will be hated by the world). Did Nazis allow any Jew to convert and become a protected German as long as they dipped in a ritualistic pool?

It is ironic that antisemites, including Hitler, made the Jewish question a racial issue and waged a racial war based on racial theory. But in view of this distinction, hatred of Jews is a special category of religious discrimination that may or may not be associated with racism. At best, Jewishness is a spiritual 'race', which means that people converting to Judaism receive a new category of soul. This would mean antisemitism is arguably a supernatural hatred, if you believe in souls, that is. Nevertheless, this type of discrimination is not racism since it is not biological and does not qualify as racial under its most common definition which makes use of heredity or physical characteristics. One could argue that Jewishness is a culture and religion and therefore it is religious and cultural discrimination, but the word 'racism' is the key here which is based on race. Moreover, Jews assimilated many cultures and practices, including Arabic culture.

Just to be clear, a Jew can be racist and espouse racial theories, and Zionism could be racist for other reasons. However, my argument here only concerns the concept of a 'state for Jews', which is not racial for the reasons I demonstrated.

Even if one would persist in arguing that religious discrimination is still democratically immoral despite difficulties in classifying it as racism, then consider the following pivotal and overlooked point concerning Zionism (which I briefly mentioned in a previous article): How does a nation that is trying to re-establish its homeland decide who gets to be a citizen of the new-old state? If the state in question was lost only recently, then the answer is simple: Collect all citizens with papers proving their citizenship. In the majority of cases, these people would still be living in the same area that used to constitute this nation. However, expatriates could also be collected with this simple paper proof. As examples, take Latvia, Estonia and Serbia which re-established independence; collecting their citizens must have been a relatively simple job.

But what if the homeland hasn't existed for centuries? Conducting ancestral research or demanding papers that prove citizenship becomes increasingly impossible the further back we go. Which raises the question: How can Israel collect all of its refugees that have been wandering the world for 1900 years?

Obviously, the only viable solution is Jewishness. Looking at it this way, Jewishness is equivalent to citizenship papers, as it was the only possible avenue to solve this problem. When Israel says all Jews have a right to return if they are Jewish, it is the same as Latvia saying all Latvians can return, and be given immigration priority over non-Latvians, if they have citizenship papers. Even if Jewishness were a racial category, and it isn't, it is being used in this case as the only possible criterion for citizenship. Which brings us right back to the same conclusion that Zionism is merely nationalism.

This does not mean that existing locals could not and should not be given citizenship as well in addition to a nation's refugees, as long as they agree to live in peace with the new state. Latvia most probably gave citizenship to Russians living in Latvia at the time of its renewed independence, as long as they were willing to be loyal citizens. It is the same with Israel, hence the two million Arabs living in Israel today. It is the hostile locals that were ejected, not their race.

 

In summary, there is no trace of racism in Zionism, not at the level of its ideology nor in its practices. Of course, at the level of individuals, some do entertain racist views; there are extremists in every group. But only a mudslinger could claim Zionism is racism.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

A Letter to Putin

Dear President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

I am certain that you are too busy to read a critical letter from a nobody in a foreign country, but I hope my viewpoint will be useful and unique enough to warrant your attention. I write from a place of respect, though I am alarmed at the turn your policies are taking recently. There is much that I respect about your leadership of Russia and your foreign policies in general, however, there are a couple of problematic areas that I think could use your attention and deliberation: Specifically, how you are waging war in Ukraine since the negotiations in Istanbul, and your criticism of Israel. I believe that both of these issues stem from the same problem: That you are too soft. I realize how preposterous and brazen this sounds, not only to you but also to the Western world. Please allow me to explain:

When you launched your special military operation in Ukraine in February of 2022, like many others, I was surprised at this turn of events due to my ignorance of what had been going on in the area. I listened to your stated reasons and goals when you said you intend to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine, and saw how the Western world declared you a lunatic for describing an imaginary Nazi problem in Ukraine, accusing you of using this claim to mask expansionist goals. Knowing that you are an intelligent man and not prone to lunacy, I looked it up for myself, and very easily and quickly found information regarding your claim.

Let us summarize the necessary background of which you are obviously well aware. I include this here only because I know you are a stickler for historical context: I found documentary after documentary, article after article, all clearly describing the Nazi and ultra-nationalist problem in Ukraine, and these reports came from distinguished Western news outlets, not from Russian sources. Some examples follow: Andriy Biletsky said Ukraine’s national purpose was to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen" and he was elected to Ukrainian parliament in 2014. I also read about Stepan Bandera, and the many dozens of monuments erected in Ukraine for this Nazi collaborator, as well as many other commemorations, and the granting of hero status to Bandera by the government itself.

I read about NATO's aggressive military expansion on Russia's borders for many decades. I studied the violent coup d'état of 2014 in Ukraine, read about the rejection of this violent coup by eight million Russians in Ukraine, about the new 2014 Ukrainian law forbidding use of the Russian language in many public spheres, the ensuing Donbas War, where Russians decided to fight back against this oppressive illegal government, a war where 14,000 people died over eight years. I saw ultra-nationalists train Ukrainian children to see Russians as less than human, and to shoot to kill all Russians. I saw a Western reporter document eight years of Ukraine bombing its Russian civilians in Eastern Ukraine. And so on.

All this and more led me to the inevitable conclusion that, even if ultra-nationalists are a minority in Ukraine, they are in power. As opposed to the common Nazi problem in every other country, Ukraine was erecting monuments and naming streets after Nazis, establishing numerous training camps for children around the country with women wearing "White Pride" tattoos on their thighs and training children. Ultra-nationalists had established their own military with the approval of and incorporation into the Ukrainian government, as a reward for their success in fighting Russian separatists. This is why, as we see in the above documentaries, neo-Nazis from around the world flocked to Ukraine to join this movement which was government-sponsored and growing in power. Ukraine was obviously offering something different to these Nazis, and it was not only affecting Ukraine, but was spreading throughout the world (in 2018, four white supremacists trained by the Azov Battalion were arrested in California).

While the vast majority of Ukrainians probably saw this as a harmless nationalist movement, much like in Germany, the citizens were probably not fully exposed to the war crimes happening in eastern Ukraine and the battalions' actual attitude towards Russians and Jews. I heard that Ukrainian oligarchs funded these Nazi brigades merely because they didn't want Russians to take over and compromise their power. The claim by the Western world that the ultra-nationalists in Ukraine are an unimportant minority does not correspond with all of this evidence. How could they achieve all of this without extensive control? It's about who is in power, who controls the military and police, and who influences government policies, not who is the majority. The fact that the vast majority of Ukrainians are innocent does not contradict this, nor does it solve the Nazi problem.

(We both know that anyone that has not done their research or already subscribed to this viewpoint will dismiss me as a Russian propagandist, but these people may find my case slightly difficult since I am also criticizing you.)

All this took a while for me to absorb, but, eventually, I not only saw your invasion of Ukraine as inevitable and justified, but saw how you tried to solve the problem through non-violent means repeatedly, and used war as a last resort. This included numerous attempts at negotiating cease-fires for eight years, repeated attempts at implementing the Minsk Agreements, and even a last ditch attempt to force Ukrainians to the negotiating table at Istanbul in 2022 after the invasion. I was flabbergasted at the media's portrayal of the Ukraine war, contradicting their own narratives about Nazis in Ukraine while portraying what was actually a coup in 2014 as a triumph of democracy.

I now hold that the West owes you and Russia a debt of gratitude for this operation to denazify Ukraine. This is a crucial task to perform now before the problem grows to perilous proportions. If someone had done this in the 1930s in Germany, who knows how the world may have turned out. Once again, as with WWII, Russia is the primary bastion against Nazism.

So far so good. Since Istanbul, however, I have growing concerns about your strategies in Ukraine. On the one hand, your extensive efforts to reduce civilian casualties as much as is practically possible, and your open-door policies in terms of negotiations for agreements are admirable. On the other hand, your slow, careful war has caused suffering for two long years with no end in sight and, despite your careful approach, it has taken a very heavy toll of an estimated half a million dead Ukrainian soldiers.

Let me put it this way to drive the point home: Imagine Yuri and Anna, two civilians living in Kiev. In 2022, you restricted your bombings to military infrastructure, sent a show of force with many tanks but tried to come in soft (militarily speaking), tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid fighting in civilian areas, warned civilians to stay out of the war, pressured Ukraine to an agreement and retreated from Kiev,  then, when they broke this agreement, proceeded to wage a very slow, careful war in Eastern Ukraine where civilians were evacuated from cities before the cities were razed to the ground. All this spared the lives of Yuri and Anna. But, now in 2024, Yuri and Anna were forced into the army by aggressive Ukrainian conscription, pushed to the battlefield in uniform after minimal training, and promptly shot to pieces by the Russian army.

My point is that a long, careful war does not necessarily mean less suffering and death. Like the proverbial band-aid, sometimes it is necessary to pull it off in one go, causing damage and intense pain, but also reducing damage and suffering in the long-term. Your slow war has given Ukrainians too much time to regroup repeatedly, given time to the West to repeatedly re-arm Ukrainians, every slow victory has merely allowed a new fierce battle to start a few kilometers further down, and increasing numbers of Ukrainian civilians have not only suffered for a longer time due to the war, but have also been killed due to the fact that Ukraine constantly needs new soldiers to fuel this slow war and has been given ample time to do this.

So, while killing 'Anna the soldier' is legal according to international law in contrast to killing 'Anna the civilian', it is no less tragic. Some may have willingly chosen to join the army to fight Russians and are facing the consequences of their own choices, others did not join voluntarily, or were misled by propaganda. Each and every soldier was a civilian once and has a family. This call for humanitarian consideration also includes the many Russian soldiers that died during this war. Therefore, as we see, attempting to reduce civilian deaths does not always result in a reduction of civilian deaths.

What would have happened had you gone in strong, caused much more damage to civilians and cities, but gotten it over and done with in months rather than years? Wouldn't the amount of suffering and deaths been lower in the long run? I would agree that this is a debatable point and would depend on military realities, but it is something to consider depending on the nature of the war.

In addition, Ukrainian-Russian civilians in Donetsk are continuously being bombed during this war and, for two years, the war has failed to protect them because it is moving too slow.

Granted, much of this criticism derives from hindsight and is therefore unfair. I admit that this would have been hard to predict earlier on. The amount of support that Ukraine received from the West was unprecedented, and this alone extended the war until today. Similarly, the scale of Ukrainian resistance and stubbornness was unexpected, as was the extreme effectiveness of propaganda. But this does not mean that lessons could not have been learned a year ago, and it is not too late to change course.

Which brings us to Israel and the war in Gaza...

Once again, I see your sincere concern for avoiding civilian death and suffering both before and after the Gaza operation was launched. As opposed to others that thought you were comparing Israel to Nazis in Leningrad, I presumed you merely meant that the siege of 2 million civilians in a dense area would be similar in its catastrophic outcome, not in its intention. I see and admire your open-door policy of always preferring negotiations over war and doing everything possible to reach a practical agreement. Your demands for a ceasefire stem from this approach, and I respect that. As opposed to criticisms from the government of Israel, I also understand that you approached Hamas for negotiating hostage release and ceasefire, not in order to condone terrorism.

However, you are making the same mistakes with Israel as you made with Ukraine. Your utmost concern for civilians, and your naiveté that the other side will eventually follow the law and fulfill agreements, both have a dark side and severe consequences, as I will further expand.

You have repeatedly emphasized Israel's right to defend itself and a right to demand security as part of any agreement, but how is Israel supposed to do this if you refuse to accept civilian casualties? Obviously you don't mean that a war should magically result in zero casualties, but that all avenues for peace should be explored beforehand.

Therefore, from your words, I hear your general support for Israel but see two separate criticisms: 1. That earlier peace attempts in the Middle-East were not serious or well thought through by either the USA or Israel, and: 2. That Israel is using 'cruel methods' to defend itself in Gaza, presumably methods that you have not used in Ukraine.

I considered that you may be criticizing Israel as revenge for Israel not fully supporting you in your Ukraine war. Although somewhat petty, this is something I could understand. If one criticizes a country diplomatically, then one should be prepared to receive in kind. However, my feeling from your consistent speeches is that this isn't merely a diplomatic facade on your part, but a criticism to which you lend your rational and moral support. Therefore, I will be countering your criticisms:

Regarding the first point: Your repeated criticism of the US and its attempts at peace in the Middle-East indicates that you think you could have done better. I can understand this impulse, but have you considered that perhaps, like Ukraine, Palestinians have broken their agreements repeatedly and it wasn't the agreement that was bad but the people that have bad intentions? Was Minsk a bad agreement? Or, perhaps, Ukraine and the USA had no intention to keep their agreements and only had militant intentions towards Russia? You have said so yourself. In which case, have you considered that your repeated endeavors for peace agreements with an uncompromisingly belligerent people, after a while, can only cause more death and destruction, as they did in Ukraine? At some point, one must conclude that one's potential peace partners are not honest or reliable and have evil intentions, and that one must fight them accordingly. This requires a harder approach, rather than more damaging calls for ceasefires, QED.

If this is the case in Ukraine, and you have argued yourself that this is the case, then it is arguably even more extreme in Israel-Palestine: This would be an appropriate place to point out one critical difference between Ukraine and Gaza: While most Ukrainians want peace, most Palestinians do not. In polls, 90% support terrorism and 75% want Israel to be destroyed. In addition, the PLO have officially declared their intention not to honor agreements and to use them as a basis for destroying Israel, repeatedly. And this is the PLO, not Hamas. Hamas, officially, have always declared their intention never to negotiate with Israel, and the majority of Palestinians support them. This effectively destroys your idea that peace is possible in the Middle-East if we only appeased their demands for self-determination. Do you think a peace plan would work when 75% of the civilian population want Israel destroyed and have wanted this for the past 100 years? Or is it possible that the US-brokered peace plans failed because of this reality and not because the US is incompetent (at least in this case)? 

If you failed to achieve peace in Ukraine several times despite the fact that it has peaceful citizens, is it so hard to believe that peace would fail with Palestine which has belligerent citizens? I realize you think you can do better and you think the reason it has failed was because Palestinians didn't get what they needed. But you forget your history: Palestinians had an opportunity to build a state in 1947 and attacked Israel instead. Israel did not occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1948-1967 and still, Palestinians attacked Israel. Israel did not exist before 1947 and still Palestinians massacred Jews repeatedly between 1920-1947. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Palestinians still voted for Hamas. I submit that your idealism is misplaced and projected unto an incompatible and belligerent people. Your well-meaning attempts at peace would not only have failed, they would have caused more death and destruction (as the catastrophic Oslo peace attempts have demonstrated).

Sergey Lavrov at Doha criticized the US for 'canceling' the context of the Gazan and Ukrainian wars, ignoring the history that led to these wars. But aren't you doing the same by canceling the above historical facts?

Under such circumstances, as with Ukraine, once all reasonable attempts at brokering agreements have failed, I'm sure you would agree that war is necessary. You have proven this to be true by invading Ukraine in 2022. Similarly, this is why Israel had no choice but to invade Gaza. Eventually, all well-meaning calls for ceasefire can only cause more death.

Regarding your second criticism that Israel is using unwarranted cruel methods while waging war on Hamas:

First, please consider the many parallels that exist between the two wars:

  • Ukraine and Gaza have both been firing missiles at civilians for years.
  • In Ukraine, at least during the first few months, Ukrainians have also used civilians as human shields.
  • Both you and Netanyahu have been accused of being war-hungry, expansionist, cruel monsters.
  • Both Russia and Israel have been accused of multiple war crimes by enemies as part of a  propaganda war. (The ICC has even issued a warrant for your arrest).
  • Both Russia and Israel are involved in a case at the ICJ involving genocide (though the details are different).
  • Russia, too, has claimed self-defense in the case against it and this has been ridiculed. But ICJ has gone further in the case of Russia and ruled that Russia must "immediately suspend the military operations in Ukraine", a ruling that Russia has dismissed as invalid.

Considering all of this experience with aggressive 'lawfare' and propaganda against Russia due to Russophobia, I find it very surprising that you would not be more understanding and discerning when the same is applied to Israel as part of an antisemitic war. Your ambassador at the UN even accused Israel of intending to wipe out the population of Gaza, assuming the ability to read Israeli minds, and using a wild and completely unsubstantiated claim that has also been directed at you several times. I understand that you have strong allies in the Arab world, but surely you have considered that the information they are showing you may be greatly biased and exaggerated just like the West did to Russia? How can you be oblivious to the distortions caused by propaganda after everything you saw in Ukraine?

After several branches of the UN have been used against you for propaganda purposes and you have declared their rulings invalid and ignored their arrest warrant, and Lavrov has accused the UN of being bribed or pressured into their decisions, how can you still criticize Israel based on UN rulings without being deeply hypocritical? For example:

  • You use the UN resolution against settlements as proof that Israel is an obstacle to peace despite the fact that this is a highly contested ruling disputed by legal experts around the world.

  • Your ambassador at the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, notwithstanding repeatedly saying that Israel has the right to protect its own citizens and ensure its security, infamously used a UN ruling from 2004 to claim that Israel has no right to self-defense as an occupier (1:32). However, this ruling was made only in the context of building a wall, and even the UN said in that same ruling that despite legal problems with Palestine not being a State, and problems with building a wall, as long as Israel acts in conformity with the law: "The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens.". Nebenzia, therefore, has not only invoked a ruling by an organization that you regularly delegitimize, he has even applied the ruling wrongly.

On the other hand, I understand that the images coming out of Gaza are disturbing and of great concern. Truly, I take your point seriously when you say that the suffering in Gaza does not compare to Ukraine. I take this to mean that the number of dead civilians including children within a short amount of time, especially when considering the size and density of Gaza, are not comparable to Ukraine. However, consider the following counter-points:

  • During the first few months of the special military operation in Ukraine, Russia found itself fighting within civilian areas with numerous civilian casualties, and many accusations of war crimes and brutality were directed against Russia. Must I remind you of Bucha? How, exactly, is the Israeli war in Gaza any different? You may claim that the number of deaths still aren't comparable even after taking into account this early stage of the war. To this I add three critical differences between the wars that offset and explain the harsher images coming out of Gaza:

  • The first difference is that Hamas uses populated civilian buildings much more extensively than Ukraine did, launching missiles and attacks from civilian homes and populated areas. Not only this, but Hamas has repeatedly used hospitals, ambulances and schools for storing weapons, for building tunnels, and for launching RPG rockets and missiles. If Russia had to defend itself by attacking thousands of homes, hospitals and schools, do you really think the casualty rate would have been lower than the rate in Gaza? And how would the optics of the war look then?

  • The second difference is that, eventually in 2023, Ukraine started evacuating its own civilians from cities where battles were taking place, leaving Russia free to destroy that city as necessary while taking control. Hamas, on the other hand, not only does not evacuate its own civilians, it keeps them in the city by using propaganda and force, even with guns at checkpoints. How many women and children would have died in your battles for the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka if those cities had hundreds of thousands of civilians? Wouldn't the images coming out of the war in Ukraine been as bad or worse than the images coming out of Gaza if Ukraine's government had behaved like Hamas?

  • Another difference is that you have yet to attack most of the major cities in Ukraine. How many casualties and displacements would occur when and if you try to take Kiev?

  • Finally, my primary contention in this letter, as I have said, is that you are waging war too softly, causing more damage in the long run. In some cases, increased civilian deaths in the short term could actually mean fewer deaths in the long run. If, as I have argued, we were to count soldiers as civilians (which they are/were), and if we took half a million dead Ukrainians as our number, that would constitute 1+% of Ukraine's population. In Gaza, the number of deaths (both soldiers and civilian) relative to the population of Gaza also stands at around 1+%. So how is Gaza worse than Ukraine?

In summary, I repeat my criticism that are you applying soft tactics in specific cases where harder ones are required. If you were a harder man and knew your history of the Middle-East, you wouldn't be criticizing Israel and should concede that the more aggressive war in Gaza may be the correct solution in this specific case. Granted, adjustments can be made and it's possible that some actions taken by Israel may have been a tad aggressive, but, overall, given your concern for civilians, surely you wouldn't want Gaza and Israel to suffer the same consequences as the ten-year war in Ukraine?