In the latest round of my continuing email debate with Prof. Werner Cohn, he has asserted that I’m committing the “Tu Quoque” logical fallacy by deflecting the problem of widespread Arab antisemitism with Israeli transgressions against the Palestinians. The following is an online explanation:
Tu Quoque is a very common fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself or another from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser. This is a classic Red Herring since whether the accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. However, as a diversionary tactic, Tu Quoque can be very effective, since the accuser is put on the defensive, and frequently feels compelled to defend against the accusation.
We sort of get into a chicken or egg argument here, because–by invoking the issue of Arab antisemitism–Werner is deflecting from criticisms of Israeli policies on settlements, housing demolitions and other discriminatory practices brought up by our pro-Israel/pro-peace camp. He accuses me of doing what old Stalinists did in the 1930s, when they would fend off revelations of the murderous purges and other crimes of the Soviet regime by denouncing the lynchings of Blacks in the US South.
Werner indicates from data compiled by the Pew polling firm that about 95% of Arab public opinion is antisemitic, and that Arab school texts preach hatred. My rejoinder was that Israeli schools don’t teach about the Palestinian-Arab experience, that new Palestinian Authority texts are better (although still insufficient) than the old ones in use– ironically, while under Israel’s control before Oslo–and that Jewish anti-Arab prejudice is on the rise. He responded as follows:
a. … “Jewish prejudices against Arabs” do not, generally, have the same form as Arab anti-Semitism. Whatever unjustified feelings that some Jews may have in this regard, these are not taught, generally, in the mainstream of Jewish schools. They do not, generally, condone a religious war against Arabs.
b. Jews make up a tiny minority in the Middle East. There is no realistic possibility that the Jews are about to exterminate the Arabs, but there is a very realistic threat of the reverse.
c. Hatred of Jews has been expressed by more than 95% of Arabs in public opinion polls. I do not know of a corresponding figure for Jewish public opinion, but I do not think it is anything like 95%. Moreover, there are many organized Jewish groups specifically dedicated to reduce Jewish prejudices. Have you ever, ever heard of an Arab group that will come out against anti-Semitism ? There are individuals here and there, but not many. One little data point here: during Mubarak’s reign in Egypt, many of the “civil society” groups, like the journalists’ organization for example, would not tolerate any sort of “normalization” or relations with Israel.
d. no, the fact of the well-nigh universal anti- Semitism in organized Arab life should not lead to a cessation of peace-making efforts. Hakabi thought it was worthwhile, and so do I. I don’t think that the anti- Semitism of the Arabs is unchangeable. I think that it can be changed, perhaps, in the long run, but the tacit toleration that it gets from the Jewish sonim and Jewish fencers make any change that much more difficult.
e. what I advocate is that the self-styled “peace” groups PAY ATTENTION to Arab anti-Semitism; that they study it, work on it, get involved with it. And yes, any “peace” group that finds interminable fault with Israel and its institutions while ignoring this central fact of Arab life has no legitimacy whatever. Any group like that is not at all for “peace.” It stands, by its actions, for the elimination of Israel from the map. …
Part of my response is that within the confines of Israel, it is the Arabs who are a discriminated-against minority and that, as illustrated by the Gaza war, Israel has the conventional power (although hopefully not the inclination) to wipe out the Palestinians. I also mentioned Israel’s nuclear arsenal, designed as a deterrent to bring wholesale destruction down upon hostile countries in the terrible event of a doomsday scenario.
Yet I’m not saying that what Israel does is worse than what the Arabs do, nor that one nullifies or excuses the other. I acknowledge–as do J Street, Meretz USA and the entire pro-Israel/pro-peace camp–that both are problems. To an extent, however, there is a causal connection. There is a cycle of mutual wrongs and recriminations.
We see the latest instance of this mutual cycle in the brutal murder of a Jewish family in the settlement of Itamar a couple of days ago and Israel’s response in announcing 500 new housing units in the West Bank. Terrorism provokes a predictable hardline response, which in itself will likely be a provocation for more violence in the future.
As for polling data, Prof. Shibley Telhami, the University of Maryland scholar who polls Arab public opinion extensively, speaking at last month’s J Street conference, indicated that in the wake of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, Arabs and especially Egyptians are “very angry with Israel.” But his data also show that “two thirds of Arabs” would accept two states along the 1967 lines. And he now sees the Arab League peace initiative of 2002, pledging normalized relations with Israel if an agreement is reached with the Palestinians to end the occupation and solve the refugee problem, is now worth “three fold” what it was before, now that Arab publics may be able to buy into peace agreements in more democratic societies.
Mona Eltahawy, a journalist from Egypt, also had something to say along these lines at the J Street conference. By the way, she’s a charming individual; she lit up when I mentioned being a colleague of Lilly Rivlin at Meretz USA. When I asked her, she told me that she lived in Israel for 13 months in the late 1990s and has been living in New York for eight and a half years now.
She’s overjoyed by the overthrow of Mubarak and the promise of a democratic Egypt. She said in a plenary session that in meeting with young Egyptians recently, their message for Israelis is: “We will hate them until they end the occupation and treat the Palestinians with dignity.” And she quotes a Tunisian Islamist as saying, “We will support anything the Palestinians accept.”
This is not to say that it’s unreasonable for Israel to be concerned about the repercussions of Mubarak’s fall for Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. But Eltahawy also mentioned that Mubarak himself often used Israel and Jews for scapegoating purposes (in his state-controlled media) and very consciously kept person-to-person relations at a frigid and stagnant level. Eltahawy’s advice to Israel and Jews regarding their fears: “Be happy it’s not about you. Stop being so narcissistic.”