Slater’s in Tikkun again – alas

Slater’s in Tikkun again – alas

SUNY/Buffalo emeritus professor of political science, Jerome Slater, has apparently learned nothing new regarding Israeli in recent years and Tikkun magazine is mistaken in continuing to showcase his views. Tikkun editor Michael Lerner admits that Slater is one-sided but Lerner contends a need to counterbalance the overly soft treatment of Israel that he sees prevailing in our society.

This was true 40 years ago (pre-1967) but not today. Consider the recent big sellers on Israel: Jimmy Carter and Mearsheimer-Walt (and Tony Judt, in terms of the big splash he’s made among intellectuals). Even most books and articles by liberal Zionists nowadays contain a healthy dose of criticism of Israeli policies (as they should). Few major analysts nowadays are uncritically pro-Israel. The best way to be fair to the legitimate concerns of both peoples is to publish material that is fair-minded toward both.

My critique of a Tikkun article by Slater about two years ago was met with derision and insults from the author when we exchanged emails. Slater’s latest pronouncement again denies that the Yishuv and nascent State of Israel faced a serious threat to survival during the 1948 war – a struggle that cost Palestine’s Jews 6,000 deaths (one percent of their total population at the time), 15,000 wounded, plus control over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the kibbutzim of the nearby Etzion Bloc.

The main focus of Slater’s ire here is a retrospective reading of the columns of Thomas Friedman of the NY Times. Why Slater resuscitates the issue of who was more at fault in the breakdown of the peace process in 2000 is beyond me, but assessing blame for 2000 is both complicated and besides the point.

My read is that then Prime Minister Barak, Yasir Arafat and Bill Clinton can all be faulted: I wish that Barak had been more sensitive to Palestinian sensibilities and been willing to go further in his peace proposals, that Arafat had been capable of swallowing his sense of wounded pride and had totally rejected the option of violence which he apparently embraced after their failed summit, and that Bill Clinton had been a more balanced mediator. But Slater denies that Barak made any concrete proposals and that Arafat made no counter-proposals.

Slater admits that Friedman has consistently criticized Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories. What he can neither forget nor forgive about Friedman is his view that Arafat should have found a way to come to an agreement with Barak rather than opening the door to violence.
The onset of the Intifada and Arafat’s unwillingness to move to shut it down, obscured the fact that negotiations were continuing behind the scenes; the Taba conference in Jan. 2001 might otherwise have ended triumphantly with a workable peace agreement.

By | 2008-12-17T16:57:00-05:00 December 17th, 2008|Blog|5 Comments


  1. Jerome Slater December 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    For many years I was a member of and contributor to Meretz USA. However, I couldn’t abide the contributions to Ralph Seliger to the newsletter and elsewhere. He seemed to me to be a fool–and this was long before we personally clashed.

    I wrote to Meretz saying that someone with his choleric and misguided views had no business being in Meretz, let alone being an official. When my protests were disregarded, I resigned.

    Needless to say, nothing has happened since to change my opinion.

  2. Anonymous December 18, 2008 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    There are definitely reasons to reopen the discussion of Camp David and its aftermath, among them the continued obscuring of facts by people like you. If, as you wrote, “Almost every major work written on Israeli policy in recent years is either extremely critical or of a balanced nature”, then one would expect that you would no longer be recycling disproven myths. But alas, that is not the case.

    Ralph, you continue to perpetuate the completely one-sided narrative that Arafat “apparently embraced [violence] after their failed summit [Camp David]”, and that Arafat opened “the door to violence”, while evidently Israel and Barak did nothing of the sort. In your description and blame for the failure of the peace process here, there is no mention of Israel’s massive use of violence against Palestinians, most of whom were unarmed, at the beginning of the Intifada, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.

    By the end of October 2000, 117 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli soldiers abd settlers and 11 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians (5 Israeli soldiers and 6 Israeli settlers, all within the Occupied Territories), according to B’Tselem’s intifada casualty statistics.

    By the end of November, 227 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers, and 29 Israelis had been killed (16 soldiers and 13 civilians, 4 of whom were killed in Israel). Many observers described Israel’s overwhelming reaction to what started as an unarmed Palestinian uprising as vastly disproportionate, and even as provocative in itself.

    On top of the very legitimate questions of whether Arafat could have controlled Palestinian anger during that period, why do you not say in your “balanced” manner that Barak turned to violence or embraced violence after Camp David?

    The answer seems to be that you share similar blinders to those worn by Friedman. And it is for this very reason, because people like you simply ignore the facts and statistics, that critiques like Slater’s remain so necessary.


  3. Ralph Seliger December 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Ted is correct that the Israeli response under Barak to the initial Palestinian violence was overly lethal. In my response to Slater two years ago, I make note of this: “While both sides share blame for the breakdown of the peace talks of 2000-2001, the Palestinian turn toward violence in 2000 (although “enabled” by an overly lethal initial Israeli response) insured that the Israeli peace camp was routed from power.”

    My insistence on not letting Arafat off the hook is based upon his lack of response to a delegation of dovish MKs who visited with him in October, 2000, imploring him to move against the violence. He certainly did not control all of the Intifada, but he did control his own rhetoric — which included his own incitement in chanting “Jihad, jihad.”

  4. Diana December 18, 2008 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    I don’t think it’s mythology that the Arab armies were disorganized and rudderless. The Arab Legion, run by Glubb Pasha, was the only credible fighting force. And it won most (all?) of its engagements with the Yishuv’s armed forces. That said, I think Slater gets himself into a muddle here:

    “in fact, the Israeli armies outnumbered and outgunned a small coalition of half-hearted Arab armies, whose primary purpose was to prevent each other from grabbing off pieces of Palestine, rather than to “drive the Jews into the sea.” “

    If the Arab armies’ primary purpose was to “prevent each other from grabbing off pieces of Palestine” then logically would it not have been the case that their primary purpose was to gobble Palestine whole, or divide it amongst the victors?

    Also, the phrase “drive the Jews into the sea” is admittedly melodramtic, but not wholly inaccurate. The Arab armies purpose was to extinguish Israel. The fact that were utterly incapable of doing this doesn’t alter the reality that smothering Israel at birth was their goal. And their real goal was never to set up an independent Palestine – as Slater admits.

    None of this excuses Israeli crimes against Palestinians, or the Zionist lobby’s bullshit. But I think it’s really a canard to accuse Israel of depriving the Palestinians of their nationhood. In fact they helped to create it.

  5. Anonymous December 19, 2008 at 4:47 am - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    If you really believe that “both sides were to blame”, why do you see only “a Palestinian turn to violence?” Why is Israel only responding, enabling and overly lethal, as opposed to “turning to violence?”

    And why do you only mention dovish MKs imploring Arafat “to move against the violence”? Did they not meet with Barak and implore him to stop the army from shooting live ammunition at Palestinian civilians (isnide Israel as well)? If they, why did you fail find it worth mentioning?

    So much for “balance.”


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