Burston on Gaza War as Root of All Israeli Evil
Brad Burston, Haaretz’s columnist can be a helluva fine writer. I’ve written at least one laudatory post about him. After doing so, I read pieces by Burston which seemed almost to be written by a different person. They were churlish pieces attacking Israel’s Jewish critics. I chalked it up to a journalist feeling that it was his duty to show he could criticize both the right and left. I thought I would never find a reason to write about his work again, till tonight.
Burston has written one of the most powerful, cogent and hard-hitting critiques–not only of the Gaza war, but of the current mess in which Israel finds itself in–I’ve ever read. Seemingly every Israeli NGO or peace activist is under savage attack. At the present moment, Israel faces a civil liberties crisis as dire as the U.S. faced during the McCarthy era. The New Israel Fund, a classical Zionist NGO if there ever was one, is under mortal threat. Its leader, Naomi Hazan has been publicly and graphically attacked in terms that would’ve made Goebbels proud. Richard Goldstone has been called a traitor to his people. Alan Dershowitz as much as put a price on his head. Jewish women have been arrested for trying to leyn Torah at the Wall.
So it is like a balm in Gilead to read such graceful, soaring language from Burston:
This is about fear of the dark. Of the monstrous. In this case, the terror of finally uncovering what we ourselves are really made of.
This is about the lengths we will go, and the depths, in order to protect what we so desperately need to believe about ourselves. This is about how many others we will need to blame, vilify, assault, scapegoat and smear, before we actually take one wholly honest long look in the mirror.
This is about the war we made in Gaza, and what it did to Israel. This is about how Israel’s conduct of the war has done more damage to the Jewish state than all the thousands and thousands of Palestinian rockets and mortar shells put together. It has been a year and more since a truce was called in Gaza, and – thanks in no small part to Israel’s freely admitted policy of hamstringing and stonewalling UN investigators – the world is still at war with Israel.
The result is only now becoming felt. In a thousand ways, in new ways every single day, we have brought the war home.
Israel’s battle plan, which effectively called for bludgeoning Hamas and the whole of Gaza into a state of shock, had the further effect, intentional or not, of inducing shock in Israel itself.
Here Burston presents a daring thesis for an Israeli audience–that Goldstone was right:
In some cases, shock expresses itself in combativeness. A lashing out even at those who are trying to help.
In our state of shock, we were unable to see that Richard Goldstone was trying to save us. And that the Goldstone Report is exactly what Israel needs. We fought him every step of the way, convincing ourselves – just as in Gaza – that the unfolding catastrophe was the best of the available scenarios.
Had Israel cooperated with the panel, it might have begun to learn how to prevent another war like this one, and how to fight future wars entirely differently. Only now, with the shock beginning to subside, have Israeli military and legal officials begun publicly to concede that battling the Goldstone panel was a colossal blunder.
Burston here also propounds an unpopular idea in Israeli circles, that the Gaza siege is as much a blunder as the war itself was. And this argument segues into the most important point of his column–that the war has led inexorably to the current attack on Israeli democracy and the peace movement:
And it is this Israeli government, in continuing its siege of Gaza, in denying Gazans access to concrete and other materials needed to rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli fire during Cast Lead, that lends further credence to the Goldstone Report’s suspicions that Israel’s policy has been and continues to be one of collective punishment of a civilian population.
Despite the nightmarish numbers of civilians killed in Gaza, the right has argued again and again that the problem with the war was that it was not pursued aggressively enough. Now, at home, they are getting their way. Finally, the war is being pressed to the full – with peace activists and human rights workers as the primary targets.
The Dahiya Doctrine of overkill and unimaginable, unremitting force, is being applied against the elements of Israeli society most strongly defending democracy and elemental rights. Finally, the war at home is being run the way the right wants. No holds barred. A fresh new onslaught on democracy every single day.
And if his thundering column had ended with the following passage I would’ve called it a masterwork of decency and humanity:
The Goldstone Report is, indeed, deeply flawed. But it is exactly what Israel needs. A deeply flawed report for a deeply flawed country. A country which will not, and cannot, begin to heal itself, repair itself, right itself, unless it faces with honesty and courage the issues and allegations raised by the report.
As long as Israel ducks the report, and keeps buried the whole truth about Cast Lead, it will not recover from this state of shock. Israel will be more vulnerable than ever to destruction from within.
But alas, he didn’t. And this goes to my criticism of Burston, where he seems to lose the courage of his convictions and lapses into standard anti-Palestinian rhetoric:
Gaza, ruled by a Hamas which wants to see Israel exterminated – and which has only grown richer, better armed, and more popular as a result of the Israeli embargo – will continue to hold the whole of Israel in a crippling, withering, ultimately destructive state of siege.
The notion that Hamas wants Israel exterminated is a beloved trope of the very Israeli right Burston has spent this entire column deriding. I have no problem with criticizing Hamas. But if you want to do that you have a responsibility to do it accurately and precisely. And this anti-Hamas slur is neither accurate nor fair. But I do very much like Burston’s closing image of a Hamas which, by the very nature of Israel’s siege of Gaza, holds Israel under siege as well.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Bradley Burston: Besieged by Gaza, Dreading the Truth, Israel Needs Goldstone (huffingtonpost.com)
36 thoughts on “Burston on Gaza War as Root of All Israeli Evil – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.
Burston’s sin on Hamas is in referring to what it “wants”. It is a similar sin to dissenters speaking of what Israel “wants”.
1. An organization is not a person, but a political entity, containing multiple wants.
2. Being psychological, a want is impossible to know coherently or completely.
Burston is a committed moderate.
He recently wrote a similarly inspiring post, though a little vaguer, “No one is my enemy”.
The appealing elements of his work are similar to lessons learned from the old Billy Crystal routine “You look marvelous. You are unhappy, ill, but you look marvelous”. Wanting to look good rather than actually being good.
Like a 50 year old woman that doesn’t yet know that what makes her beautiful is her smile and the light that pours from her eyes when she does.
Whatever Burston is, in this particular post he seems to be awarding Israel its proper share of the blame for the situation in Gaza. He condemns the blockade and correctly points out it supports the charge that the Israeli government was targeting civilian infrastructure in the war. He doesn’t make excuses for them. That’s much more forthright than you are on this subject, Richard, determined as you are to reduce it to the usual inaccurate trope of “Palestinians initiated violence and Israel over-reacted”.
As for Hamas and Israel both being complex political entities with multiple wants, that’s true enough. It’s probably even true of individuals on both sides who might be war criminals. I don’t know enough about individual Hamas leaders to say much about them, but on the Israeli side Olmert and others seem a bit schizoid in their attitudes. I don’t doubt that at some level they understand that a two state solution along the 67 borders is desirable from their perspective, but they engage in cruel policies which make that goal almost impossible to reach.
“than you are on this subject, Richard,”
Richard Witty, I mean, not our blog host.
It seems inevitable in almost any Israeli-written piece, no matter how critical of Israel and its policies, there there is always the caveat that the writer must deflect at least a portion of the disaster which is Gaza onto Hamas. It is always conveniently forgotten that Hamas would not exist were there no occupation and siege. It is quite true that you reap what you sow, and Hamas is a product of the seeds planted by Israel. Also it seems that the old canard about the dreaded boogeyman-terrorist named Hamas must endure, even though this reinforcement prevents any meaningful understanding of the situation in Gaza. The horror of Gaza is something the Israeli people are completely responsible for, yet they always refuse this responsibility and prefer to transfer it to the victims. Burston does no differently in this piece, which makes all of his words not much more than demagoguery.
And Richard Witty, I was taken a little aback by your remark about 50 year old women. “Like a 50 year old woman that doesn’t yet know that what makes her beautiful is her smile and the light that pours from her eyes when she does.” I am sorry that you seem to think of us as wizened old crones.
Mary, you’re being a bit-hyper sensitive here. Mr. Witty wasn’t denigrating you, nor did he call you a wizened old crone. He was paying a compliment to the enduring beauty of women, even if they don’t recognize it in themselves.
Nah. Imagine being a 50 year old woman reading that. It’s like being told you have nothing left on the outside, so smile and you’ll still be beautiful. Rather a backhanded compliment.
Your critique of Burston, on the other hand, is something I agree very much with. If Goldstone’s report was flawed at all, I feel it was not critical enough of Israel and not extensive enough. Many incidents involving the IDF’s tactics were not addressed and should have been.
The essential problem is that the Palestinians are so dehumanized, the racism so deep, that it is impossible for many Israelis to understand and empathize with the suffering that is a part of everyday life for Palestinians. They cannot even look honestly at photos from Cast Lead and recognize them as real, even when they portray burned children with their feet eaten away by dogs. The level of denial shows up everywhere in Israeli journalism, it seems. “Yes,” they seem to say, “bad things happened in Gaza, but it’s because of Hamas, not because of our own barbarity.” And Burston seems to think that if Israel cooperated with Goldstone, somehow the little girl with no feet, and the other horrors, would simply be put in their “proper perspective.” The ever-reliable PR machine would make everything OK.
Yes, it was actually one of Richard W.’s nicer comments I thought though plenty of 50 yr old women are quite beautiful physically as well as spiritually.
We could say the same about 50 year old men, couldn’t we? some look great, some less so, just like 25 year olds. But witty’s is the mind that never ages….or grows.
Give Richard Witty a break.
Oh come on Dana. I know what Richard meant; my original comment was made in haste and I apologized. Please don’t attack him.
Mary, my comment was made in jest, entirely so. In the context of the awful conflict we all care about here, looks, ages, genders, wealth and ancestry should count little, IMO. People from all walks of life, all appearances, all colors, all talents and all genders are welcome in whatever capacity they can contribute. The hierarchy in the battle we engage in (which is one for the soul of the western world, not just judaism, not just Israel) is set strictly by the meaning and impact of the contribution. In this community where most of us will never know or meet each other, with annointed preachers are people like Howard Zinn and Tony Judt, reliable emissaries like amira hass, gideon levy, abunimah, barghoutti , W&M, moyers, klein, baltzer and many many other excellent and beyond excellent people, all supported by a small armada of dedicated bloggers like Richard here and Phil there, not to forget greenwald and karon and haber, all of whom will, in the life of the mind live forever, and be forever young, because we will keep them so.
I was merely having a little fun (clowning is [one of] my talents). Apologies to anyone who took offense. Certainly none was meant.
What a beautiful sentiment & thanks so much for it. One of the things I do periodically is wonder about my legacy, what I will leave my children when I go. This would be a beautiful epitaph (don’t worry–I ain’t goin’ nowhere).
No offense taken, Dana. Kisses for you, for the lovely things you said.
And hey, when you become an activist, you will be surprised at how many of these people you mention are so accessible. Some have become my personal friends – and this is so great because I was a bit in awe of many of them. I am honored that they have included me in their busy lives and are interested in my opinions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to any of them; you will be surprised at the friendly responses you will get. They care about what they do, and they are happy to know their kindred spirits.
Mary, maybe we ought to cut Richard Witty a bit of slack for that remark. Yeah, I know how it sounded, but I didn’t take it that way only. I thought I detected some love there. Maybe he was referring to a particular 50 year old woman, and not 50 year old women in general? Anyway, I didn’t hear it quite the way you did.
I guess I was being oversensitive. I am glad Richard W recognizes inner beauty and the eyes being the windows of the soul. I may have reacted the way I did because he could have said it a little more clearly. Apologies to Richard W.
Indeed, for all his attack on Israel’s attitude to the Goldstone report and his alleged criticism of the war and Gaza siege, Burston fails to convince that Israel is guilty of anything. He is an apologist for the right. He blames them not for what they have done, but for the IMAGE of what they have done. In other words, they handled the PR wrong, not the war.
Frankly, I don’t see in which way the Goldstone report is flawed, except in the eyes of Dersh and Wiesel the weasel.
So long as this right wing administration holds power, and colludes with the US agenda in the Middle East, there will be no change in Israeli policies.
That’s not what Burston wrote. It’s of course a right-wing trope, repeated ad nauseam, that Gazans brought it all upon themselves, that by voting Hamas they have everything coming that Israel sends their way. But for the quote to be read that way, the entire article would make no sense at all, being grounded on the premise that Hamas’ transgressions precisely do not justify Israel’s siege and conduct of the war.
I’d prefer to read that paragraph to mean that it’s not literally Gaza or Hamas, but the way Israel treats Gaza that puts Israel under siege. A wall that locks someone else out inevitably locks yourself in as well.
The way you put it makes it look like you believe that Israel’s actions followed from those of Hamas in a deterministic fashion.
Yes, you are right. I didn’t mean Hamas specifically, but rather Gaza & the suffering Israel is causing there that holds Israel under siege. Thanks for helping to clarify that.
Hamas does not hold Israel under siege. Israel holds Israel under siege, and has done since before day one.
I have to disagree with Richard about Burston’s piece. It is just another self-serving piece reflective of Israel’s pathological narcissism. I was infuriated after I read it because not a word was said about the suffering Israel inflicted on its victims but instead shifts the “responsibility” on to Hamas (as always). It’s always, always about Israel, and never about the people they have been tormenting for 62 years.
This piece is just more of the same old typical Israeli completely self-referential, “look what they’re making us do to ourselves” stuff we have seen for decades. It is little more than a variation on “shoot and cry”, and is nauseatingly reminiscent of that sickening statement of Golda Meir’s (which one of her many sickening statements, you might ask) blaming the Palestinians for forcing the Israelis to kill their – that is, the Palestinians’ – sons. Just another take on the Waltz with Bashir theme.
It’s always all about “me, me, MEEEEE” with the Israelis. Better than looking in the mirror, how about once, just once, looking at their victims – men, women, children, elderly, and infants – really taking in what they have done to other human beings, and realizing the real reasons for their own behaviour, and the fact that Israelis, and no one else, are the cause of their own problems.
They can’t look at what you call “their victims.” Because victimhood has been co-opted to themselves. The Israelis are, and always will be victims in their own perception. The Palestinians have been reduced to untermenschen, just as the Jews were under the Nazis. They don’t deserve to be treated as human beings. According to dear Golda, they didn’t (don’t) even exist. That idea has been drilled into the psyche of Israel. It will be as difficult to uproot as anti-semitism has been. Only with great political will and education will this psychological barrier be overcome. I must dmit, I am not very sanguine about that happening any time soon. Alas.
Neither am I. And it’s so pervasive, beyond Israel and within the psyche of the western societies. The complete inability of Israel to recognize its deeds as atrocities comes hand in hand with their complete inability to recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people. (And I fear this mentality has spread to many Americans and Europeans as well.) They’re nothing more than a faceless, nameless, soulless “other,” the “enemy” whose pain and torment are beyond Israeli perception. I recall the Israeli soldier who was quoted as saying that killing Gazans was like burning up ants with a magnifying glass. And as Gene said, even when the Israelis kill, they are the victims; it’s always all about them. So it’s not about regaining human decency by acknowledging the horrors perpetrated upon the Palestinian people; it’s merely about making Israel feel better about itself.
Mary wrote: “(And I fear this mentality has spread to many Americans and Europeans as well.)”
The mentality is enforced on many Americans and Europeans, and (tho Richard may wax roth that I raise the topic again) even encased in law, Public Law 108-332, The Global Antisemitism Review Act thomas. dot loc dot gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:S.+2292.+ENR:: — criticizing Israel or a Jew or Jewish people, anywhere in the world, is sanctioned by US legislative action.
The mentality is also enforced by “pervasive” psychological pressure, as Karin Friedemann explains in an essay titled, The Emotional Violence of Jewish Advocacy karinfriedemann.blogspot.com/2009/02/emotional-abuse-of-israel-advocacy.html
Citing the analyses of Avigail Abarbenal, Friedemann writes: “… Israel advocacy [uses] techniques [of emotional violence] to shut down discussion about Jewish destructive behavior patterns or the State of Israel. This method is used against Gentiles primarily. Sometimes there is even a good cop-bad cop routine, with groups ganging up on someone to try and make the person feel ashamed for their alleged anti-semitism.
A Gentile in America, even a child, is raised to accept a very heavy sense of personal responsibility that far exceeds anyone else’s normal sense of personal responsibility. It creates a neurotic personality who is always feeling guilty and thus is too weak to stand up to Zionist criminal behavior and the comical, obviously non-factual Zionist ideology. “
Wow, Bessan, thanks for an excellent posting. The best I’ve seen in ages.
The fear of seeming to be anti-Semitic goes back to childhood. I was warned to never, ever say anything against Jews because they suffered so badly in the Holocaust.
Why can’t we separate the Holocaust from Israel?????
Burston has a long, long way to go to be in the same extolled league as Gideon Levy or Amira Haas. I used to read all three, but when one does this Burston stands out as far weaker and compromised for humanity and justice. I shut him out……. he smiles and puts his arm around your shoulder and says a few things you like to hear, before he thrusts the knife. Haas and Levy are committed and uncompromised humanitarians.
People like Burston are in the same league with the nice, liberal American Zionists who use “Jewish-Arab dialog” to quiet their consciences. It’s still all about making them look better, at least in their own eyes, just like shoot and cry. See? Every time we shoot, we cry. Look how human we are. What a shame we have to keep on shooting no matter how much it makes us cry. Our hands may be red with blood, but our eyes are red with crying over the blood we have been forced to spill.
Israel IS troubled by what it refers to as “Delegitimization” which it concedes is in part the result of the attack on Gaza. However, as usual there is no self-criticism of Israel’s actions, but only of the reaction of others to them. Israel’s response is to urge its representative around the world to step up appearances on college campuses as a means to deny and deflect. Last week Michael Oren spoke at UC Irvine, and eleven students who each spoke a single sentence of criticism and then quietly left the room were arrested and are being threatened with criminal charges and other punishment. The same day I was at UCLA where another of Israel’s mouthpieces, Daniel Taub, was defending Cast Lead and condemning the Goldstone report. A dozen of us stood holding signs reading: TURN YOUR BACK ON WA CRIMES. We were told if we didn’t leave we would be arrested. So much for free speech.
Eroding Israel’s Legitimacy in the International Arena
One noteworthy thing about UC Irvine is that it is not normal procedure to arrest protesting students there, but merely to disperse them. The “thugs” (as they were referred to in another thread on Richard’s blog recently), after they each spoke in turn, left quietly under security escort and were later arrested, although they were not violent and did not resist being made to leave. This is a serious matter as it reflects on a loss of civil liberties and criminalization of the right to speak freely in a public forum.
I hope the obstruction of “brand Israel” speakers gains momentum to the point where it becomes near impossible for these hasbarists to be heard. Have no illusions about “free speech” though. Wilful disruption of an organized event is of dubious technical legality – speech protection is an issue of all three of content, context and form – not just content alone. So, the protesters are probably engaged in “civil disobedience” – all the more credit to them for their courage. They shold hope to be arrested – that’s how a real public impact is made.
And it was. Muslim organizations have mobilized to their defense and to question whether these arrests were as a result of racial, religious or ethnic profiling. The students were from a campus Muslim group and this is why it is being questioned by the Islamic organizations. It is very unusual that these arrests occurred and it needs to be looked at more closely.
Several times I have come close to being arrested for my activism, but I try to stay beneath the radar. I am 76 years old, a naturalized American, and I travel quite a bit worldwide. I already have had trouble getting into Palestine (I know it’s Israel where I have the trouble, but it is Palestine I always aim to visit) and I don’t want to get on any no-fly lists, particularly after learning that Israeli security operates at so many U.S. airports. I know it’s unlikely my U.S. citizenship of over 40 years would be revoked, but I can’t afford to take on the U.S. government.
Incidentally, at UCLA a week ago, when we were surrounded by police, and people were screaming for our arrest, there was one man who cheered us, warning us we could be tasered (as happened to a UCLA student not long ago when he was studying in the library)
Mary, if you want to go to Palestine, let me know, we’ll go together, OK?
Not sure If I’m up for those security guys at Ben Gurion again (which is why my last trip was by boat to Gaza)
But email me if you want to stay in touch, just in case. email@example.com
Thanks, Mary. I will do. InshaAllah will go in spring to the West Bank but I think we should go by way of Jordan and Allenby Bridge. I have been told this is better than Ben-Gurion and better than going alone. I will e-mail you.