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Readers' Comments and thinking about the Middle East I


MidEastWeb is supposed to be your Web site, dear readers, so your intelligent comments and articles are always welcome. We have had some excellent discussions here, as well as reader-contributed articles that have enriched our collective understanding.

But "interactive" Web sites always seem to bring out the worst in people as well as the best. Occasionally columnists like Bradley Burston will complain about the level of e-comments. Now it is my turn.

You can see these various bits of wisdom decorating the pages of various journals and informing the world that the Jews or the Arabs or the Muslims or the neo-cons are out to get everyone, and that this or that course of action is the only one that will save the world.

What is important about such intellectual detritus is not the actual content, but the "feel" they give us for the mentality of the audience, and the peculiar relation between what a columnist or blogger may write, and the commentary it may get.

There might be a quiet majority out there who read and understand and agree or disagree. There are probably quite a few of our readers who are far better informed than we are. Usually, those who know, don't comment. They just watch the show. Among the commenters there is a great mass, however, that doesn't bother to read what anyone else writes (except perhaps for one or two phrases) and they probably would not understand it anyhow. It is a bit like lecturing about relativity theory in a lunatic asylum. They applaud or protest in inappropriate places. They have their own opinions about the Middle East and everything else, formed by some mysterious process that is unrelated to examination of reality and certainly not shaped by anything that a columnist might write. They will always reach the same conclusions no matter what the article or the facts imply.

Meanwhile, back in the madhouse, our lecturer is explaining the unity of inductive phenomena, whether the coil or the magnet moves. In "response," a man is saying, "They should never have let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn." He always says that. A lady is saying, "It is a shame how they treated my aunt Sadie." She always says that.

Our lecturer is carefully explaining how relativity did away with the ether as a medium for transmission of light. The madman interrupts and says, "There, I told you. They should never have let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn." The lady says, "Aunt Sadie knew about relativity before Einstein. It is a shame how they treated my aunt Sadie." The lecturer explains tensor mathematics, and a man in the audience says tensor math is a plot to bankrupt him. If it were a play by Ionescu or ee cummings or Samuel Beckett, you would say that it is too absurd and pointless to be funny. And you will tell me that I am surely exaggerating.

There is method in the madness though. These unfortunates are only interested in getting their own message across. The questions of non-Euclidean geometry and field theory that might be associated with relativity are of no interest to them. They want to talk about aunt Sadie and the Dodgers.

Not long ago I wrote about US policy toward Israel. The article did not have an "ulterior motive," other than to present facts in evidence. Therefore, I was not interested in offering conclusions.

Two readers' comments stand on that article, out from all the rest as examples of the evolving art of e-commenting, and as explanations of the despair often evoked by such comments in authors and analysts.

A Mr. Barzetta wrote:

Jews start the majority of wars, and they will one day take a step to far - and be annilated (sic)

Barzetta has presumably done a careful study of all the wars in history, and come to the conclusion that the Jews were behind the Napoleonic wars, the US civil war, the Italian invasion of Abbysinia, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the Barzettas can explain how the Jews started World War I and World War II. Hitler said so, and he must have been right. Mr Barzetta, who cannot even spell "annihilate," wants to "annilate" me based on his theories. He has one vote like everyone else.

Though we usually delete racist comments if we find them, I left this as an egregious examplar, for the edification of those who insist that anti-Semitism is dead. No matter what I had written or anyone had written, if it had the word "Jew," "Zionist" or "Israel" in it, Barzetta would without a doubt have found reason to insert his astute comment.

It is sobering to reflect that the same sort of Barzettaism is really at the root of "analyses" like those of professors Mearsheimer and Walt. "The Jews control the world." "The Jews start all the wars." Mearsheimer and Walt, and their kind, are more dangerous than Barzetta, because they have software that corrects spelling errors, and have the ear of government officials. They can cloak their thesis about Aunt Sadie or the Dodgers or the Jews with the trappings of intellectual legitimacy and authority.

A comment of a different kind was left by Bill Narvey. I had explained, rather carefully I thought, that the US, the greatest power on earth, was opposed to Israeli territorial gains along with the rest of the world. It would seem to follow from that, that the West Bank settlements are a hopeless project. I would have thought that was obvious. However, Mr. Narvey instead reached the following, utterly astounding conclusion:

Surely Ami Isseroff is ready to call for annexation of the West Bank by Israel as is Moishe Feiglin and Ariyeh Eldad or that Israel should play its own game to not concede one more inch to the Palestinians regardless with the ultimate goal of manipulating circumstances to reach a most propitious time to annex the West Bank when it is most likely to succeed.

"Surely???" The idea had never even entered my mind, and it doesn't follow from anything that I wrote. I have less interest in annexing the West Bank than I might have in bringing the Dodgers back to Brooklyn. The latter is probably not opposed by any national governments, but of course one would have to reckon with Arnold Schwartzenegger. Given the opposition of most of the world, the United States included, annexing the West Bank would be a reckless and meaningless gesture, not to mention the moral aspects and the opposition of the Arabs.

Mr. Narvey, had he been straightforward, would have said "Annex the West Bank is what I always say. And bring the Dodgers back to Brooklyn." It is not what I believe. It is what he believes. The art behind such comments is to use someone else's Web site to push your own agenda: Annexing the West Bank, returning Dodgers to Brooklyn, Jews started all the wars, or reminding people about poor old aunt Sadie. Mr. Narvey took this art to new heights, when he tried to make it seem as though it was my idea. At least Barzetta didn't pin his racist thinking on me.

The same sort of "analysis" goes on, unfortunately, at the most rarefied levels of policy making. One suspects that the invasion of Iraq was the result of Narvey-istic or Barzettaistic thinking. Someone in the Bush administration had been saying "invade Iraq" for many years. No matter what was discussed, this person would sum up with (for example) "Thank you for your presentation about tax policy. The facts show we ought to invade Iraq." "Thank you for your presentation about global warming. The facts show we ought to invade Iraq." Like Cato the Elder who wanted to destroy Carthage, and like Barzetta who wants to "annilate" the Jews and Narvey, who wants to annex the West Bank, this person finally found the opportune moment after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. This time, they said "Thank you for your presentation about 9-11 and Islamist extremism. The facts show we ought to invade Iraq." As the issue was at least related to the Middle East, their usual slogan made a bit more sense, and was adopted as policy.

And when the Iraq attack went bad, a different set of "experts" was called in. Those experts say "We have to get Israel to make peace" in response to any question, so that answer, a non-sequitor as irrelevant as all the others, was incorporated in the Iraq Study Group Report.

We have to recognize this sort of pseudo-thought for what it is. It is really too bad about Aunt Sadie and the Dodgers, but they do not explain or solve the problems at hand.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 2 comments

Whether in the world of geopolitics or in the classroom, things said or done to advance one’s position can have unexpected consequences that have become conveniently called blowback.

Such is the case Ami with your clever metaphorical analysis which casts yourself as the learned professor and lecturer and me as the ignorant madman.
You have badly miscalculated for your comparative metaphor blows back on you full bore and fits you to an absolute T.

Ami, you stick with his same lecture that you wrote long ago which gives his full support to the current two state peace paradigm. You say inter alia:

1. The US, the greatest power on earth, was opposed to Israeli territorial gains along with the rest of the world. It would seem to follow from that, that the West Bank settlements are a hopeless project
2. Given the opposition of most of the world, the United States included, annexing the West Bank would be a reckless and meaningless gesture, not to mention the moral aspects and the opposition of the Arabs.

Unquestionably the U.S. has formidable power and influence and she has not hesitated to bring pressure to bear on Israel. It is as if you have thrown in the towel and conformed your views to align with the U.S. policy to the extent you will not even allow yourself to wish things were different.

From wishing springs hope and hope inspires dreams and if the dream is strong enough, it moves people to at least try against seemingly impossible odds to change things.

The likelihood of making a difference that can shift the peace paradigm to advantage Israel even somewhat is small, but what separates you and I is that I believe Israel should try and you believe Israel should not bother, because Israel’s fate is sealed and to try would lead to an even worse fate for Israel.

Ignoring or rationalizing away as irrelevancies, emerging new facts and new wrinkles on older facts that have since come to the fore and changing circumstances, you Ami stick with your very same lecture.

It is quite obvious that you, for so long as you have the adulation of your followers are not going to let go of your lectern at the front of your class and certainly you will not allow anyone to be in his classroom without mocking them should they disagree.

So Ami, just who is the one saying "They should never have let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn.or that "It is a shame how they treated my aunt Sadie." and just who is singing the same old song regardless?

As for annexing the West Bank, while I referred to Feiglin and Eldad, I did so only as a point of reference, but explain further here that while I would endorse such annexation as an end point, I do not endorse the way that is being approached. Further, in my view the old peace paradigm that you so strenuously advocate year after year, is in need of revision if a more secure peace can be had for Israel.

Ami, you are right about one thing however.

I was wrong to think that knowing what you wrote in your article US policy toward Israel, that he would have been moved as I was to feel anger, resentment or at least something that would make him want to at least try to resist America and most of the world playing Israel for their own best interests and at Israel’s expense.

Ami you say: “The article did not have an "ulterior motive," other than to present facts in evidence.

Evidence of what Ami and for what purpose would you present such evidence if it means nothing to you?

You then say: "Therefore, I was not interested in offering conclusions.”,

Well, Ami contrary to what you say, you have offered your conclusion by necessary inference which is that these facts do not matter in the scheme of things as you see it.

For you Ami, Israel has no choice in the matter, but to heed your lecture, submit to the inevitable and that is the end of it.

Well Ami, I disagree.

And one more thing Ami.

For a guy who claims to be such an objective dispassionate recorder of evidence and prides himself on his objective emotionless analyses, your denigrating my views and others who disagree with you, suggesting we are fools and well worthy of your contempt, is riddled sarcasm, arrogance and anger all of which speak to your capacity for emotion, if only the emotion of anger.

With all due respect for your intellect, knowledge and abilities which I have acknowledged many times Ami are considerable, I do not agree with your views and do not see you nearly as the superiorly perfect man, professor, lecturer, political scientist, historian and scholar that you see yourself as.

I wonder whether you are going to let my opinion on your blog or to stay on for others to read in response to your opinion.

Posted by Bill Narvey @ 08/24/2007 06:47 PM CST

Deliver a Messiah: "Mistaken Identity" By Agron Belica--Authorhouse Publishing Co.

Posted by JJ @ 09/05/2007 11:22 AM CST

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