While I respect MJ Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, and see us as being in the same dovish pro-Israel camp, I have a little bone to pick with his most recent weekly column, “Try a Little Empathy,” of 4/13/07.
Although it’s perhaps surprising that American Enterprise Institute neoconservatives would have a dialogue with Arab thinkers at all, I thought that the tone and substance of Brooks’ column was exactly right. Brooks is more than a cut above the average neocon for perception and sensitivity (even “empathy,” as Rosenberg put it) and is actually dovish regarding peace with the Palestinians.
This is what I wrote in Jan. ’06 about a column by Brooks that had especially impressed me:
In his New York Times column of November 17, 2005, Brooks argued poignantly for a negotiated peace with the Palestinians and against a continuation of Israeli “disengagement.” Among the cogent, even liberal, observations made by Brooks: “…unilateral disengagement is no option because the Israelis will never do it well. Driven by normal self-interest and by the bitterness of war, Israelis will grab too much land, and impose too much pain. … Unilateral action is bound to be unjust and thus unstable.”
I very much fear that Brooks is correct when he sums up his disappointment with the conference he attended in Jordan, co-sponsored by AEI, in “A War Of Narratives,” April 8, 2007:
I just attended a conference that was both illuminating and depressing. … the idea was to get Americans and moderate Arab reformers together to talk about Iraq, Iran, and any remaining prospects for democracy in the Middle East.
As it happened, though, the Arab speakers mainly wanted to talk about the Israel lobby. … Speaker after speaker triumphantly cited the work of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter as proof that even Americans were coming to admit that the Israel lobby controls their government.
The problems between America and the Arab world have nothing to do with religious fundamentalism or ideological extremism, several Arab speakers argued. They have to do with American policies toward Israel, and the forces controlling those policies.
As for problems in the Middle East itself, these speakers added, they have a common source, Israel. One elderly statesman noted that the four most pressing issues in the Middle East are the Arab-Israeli dispute, instability in Lebanon, chaos in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran. They are all interconnected, he said, and Israel is at the root of each of them.
We Americans tried to press our Arab friends to talk more about the Sunni-Shiite split, the Iraqi civil war and the rise of Iran, but they seemed uninterested. … It was all Israel, all the time. …
The Arabs will nurture this Zionist-centric mythology, which is as self-flattering as it is self-destructive. They will demand that the U.S. and Israel adopt their narrative and admit historical guilt. Failing politically, militarily and economically, they will fight a battle for moral superiority, the kind of battle that does not allow for compromises or truces. …
What we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a gap between civilizations, increasingly without common narratives, common goals or means of communication.
What is the bone that Seliger is picking here? He has completely ignored the gravamen of Rosenberg’s quarrel with Brooks: the moral and political obtuseness of Brooks’ failure or inability to understand why the Arab world at all levels, and Muslims in general, are so fixated on the plight of the Palestinians.
They see it not only as a tragedy that has befallen their kinsmen and co-religionists, but also as a metaphor for the marginalization of Muslim civilization on the world stage. Rosenberg’s analogy is totally apt. If Jews can be so deeply moved by the plight of Soviet Jews, or even of Ethiopian Jews from whom we are light-years removed, both culturally and historically, how does one explain Jews’ unwillingness to credit Arab/Muslim solidarity with the Palestinians. I believe the answer is national narcissism, Jewish exceptionalism, and the fear that conceding authenticity to Arab/Muslim preoccupation with Palestine will somehow undermine the legitimacy and coherence of the case for Israel.
Gil Krulick is missing my point. Brooks is NOT the arrogant, unempathic boor we expect of neoconservatives. His disappointment has to do with this reemergence of an Arab “national narcissism,” which sees Israel and the “Israel Lobby” as the root of all their problems — including the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq and elsewhere.
It’s a question of having a balanced analysis, which must include the same ability to look in the mirror to accept a share of responsiblity for regional problems that we ask of our fellow Jews. Instead, it appears that the Arab world is engaging in scapegoating. I have enough “empathy” to understand that this is not a total surprise, but it is a concern, and the fact that it’s Jews who are again the scapegoats, should alarm Gil as much as me.