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Among the Literati

Some days, I can't help thinking back 25 years to my high-school French course, which is where I first encountered the concept of the juste milieu—the happy medium—and the difficulty of achieving it.  Why is the happy medium so elusive?  Why do I more often feel caught betwixt and between or, even among my fellow Jewish-American writers, alone?

Relevant Links
Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine  Ben Lorber, Palestine Chronicle. The writer complains that as “pro-Palestinian discourse begins to make itself heard” in the OWS movement, “right-wing organizations” are denouncing it as anti-Semitic.
Write On for Israel The advocacy journalism program that trains high school students in pro-Israel writing, speaking, and broadcasting.
Liberalism and Literary Criticism  Seth Mandel, Contentions. Jewish pro-Israel leftists are viscerally unwanted by their peers, who try desperately to strip figures like Leon Wieseltier and David Grossman of their identities.

When I read something about the new generation of Jewish immigrant writers from the former Soviet Union, I become acutely conscious of my privileges as a native-born American.  But when I read interviews with certain American-born Jewish writers my age, I am keenly aware of my closeness to the immigrant experience—to my maternal grandmother, who escaped East European persecution, and my paternal grandparents, who escaped Nazi Germany.  I remember that I am merely a second-generation college graduate and that my parents would likely not have been able to attend college were it not for what was then a largely free public university system.  And when I hear other Jewish writers my age talk about how anti-Semitism is irrelevant to "our generation," I am astonished.  When I moved from Brooklyn at the age of nine to a non-Jewish neighborhood in a New Jersey suburb, I discovered country clubs and social dancing lessons—and the fact that they excluded me as a Jew.

But these issues don't get to the heart of the patterns of politics and outlook that separate me most from my ostensible peers. That heart is Israel.

In a 2009 column in the Forward titled "How I'm Losing My Love for Israel," author Jay Michaelson reported, "It has become simply exhausting to maintain the ambivalence, the hugging and the wrestling, the endless fence sitting.  My love of Israel has turned into a series of equivocations: 'I do not support the expansion of settlements, but the Palestinians bear primary responsibility for the collapse of the peace process in 1999.'  'The Israelis acted overzealously in Gaza, but they must be entitled to defend themselves against rocket attacks.'"  The "complexity and ambiguity," he summed up, "wear one out."  Michaelson went on: "I admit that my exhaustion is exacerbated because, in my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid or worse."  But, he explained, "I don't think advocates of Israel understand exactly how bad the situation is on college campuses, in Europe, and in liberal or leftist social-political circles." 

I have more than a passing acquaintance with the contemporary writing scene that forms part of Michaelson's "liberal or leftist social-political circles," and he is right. The situation there is bad.  In defending Israel, you risk alienating friends, editors, and critics.  As open-minded as these "liberal or leftist" circles claim to be, they are as quick as their analogues at the other end of the spectrum to judge and scorn.  There is no place for centrists.  Like Jay Michaelson, I find it all exhausting. 

But unlike Michaelson, when forced to choose sides, I choose Israel.  Unfortunately, for me, choosing Israel often means the opposite of engaging. Because I cannot find a juste milieu, I bow out. I exit.

In 2006 I resigned from the National Book Critics Circle, whose leadership had made the organization's blog a mouthpiece for criticizing Israel, promoting works like Jimmy Carter's book on Palestine and the Walt-Mearsheimer treatise on the "Israel Lobby."  In 2009 I unsubscribed from a popular women's poetry listserv because it had become a reliable source of condemnation for Operation Cast Lead.  In each case I made my choice after speaking up—and becoming a target of abuse, online and off.  Rarely, another writer defended me.  Slightly more often, I received appreciative private e-mails.

It wasn't enough.  It still isn't.

These days, my objections are even quieter—for example, unfollowing writers who devote their Tweets and Facebook posts to applauding the various flotillas and condemning Israel for enforcing the Gaza blockade (which even the UN deems legal).  Though not about to launch any boycott campaigns, I won't support anti-Israel writers by buying or promoting their books.  Recently I declined to join the 2,000 writers, many of them Jewish, who signed an "Occupy Writers" manifesto supporting "the Occupy movement around the world."  I cannot join a blanket endorsement of a movement that may well grow to include more episodes like "Occupy Boston Occupies the Israeli Consulate" (you can find it on YouTube).

What troubles me most is that too many Jewish writers, particularly those with whom I am naturally linked by age and education, not only haven't objected to their friends' routine demonization of Israel—not only have they decided that if they must choose between Israel and their literary friends, Israel must go—but they go out of their way to broadcast their criticisms.

There was a time earlier this year when you could barely spend five minutes on Twitter or Facebook without encountering pieces like Allison Benedikt's "Life After Zionist Summer Camp" or Kiera Feldman's "The Romance of Birthright Israel."  Gil Troy described these essays for the Jerusalem Post as resembling 17th-century "captivity narratives": After being "force-fed diets of Zionist folk tunes" and dazzled by "hunkalicious Israeli soldiers," the writers "courageously flee their brainwashing into the welcoming bosom of the New York intelligentsia, rejecting Israel while embracing Palestinians, about whom they claim they never were taught."

But I'll bet a year's worth of book sales that most of my literary acquaintances haven't read Gil Troy: They consider the Jerusalem Post more "biased" than, say, The Nation (which published Feldman's article) or The New York Review of Books.  To suggest that anything the Jerusalem Post or Commentary has to say may merit attention is tantamount to recommending Fox News over MSNBC.  (On the other hand, it doesn't help when Commentary's chief literary blogger, a smart man, derides the Occupy Writers petition as a "useful list of useful idiots.")

I know Israel isn't perfect.  I will listen to criticisms arising from a sincere concern for Israel's health and security.  I absorb critiques like Peter Beinart's "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," which raised a ruckus in The New York Review of Books.  I pause whenever journalist Jeffrey Goldberg warns against misguided Israeli policy; I am convinced that he writes about Israel with all his heart, soul, and might.

I wish I could do the same.  I believe that with a little training and lot more study, I could do a better job of making a case for Israel, even gaining the ability to acknowledge its flaws publicly.  My responses might not remain so visceral.  I wouldn't have to resign, unsubscribe, and unfollow so often.  Since I am too old to be of interest to most programs that provide Israel advocacy training, you can imagine my delight when I saw in my local Jewish newspaper that a version of Write On for Israel would be offered for those of us on the far side of college graduation—and my disappointment when I received a more recent email notifying me that the program has been delayed at least a year.

But I'll keep looking.  There has to be a place where I can be an American writer and a Zionist, a place between the diatribes on the National Book Critics Circle blog and the sometimes equally inflammatory responses from the other end of the spectrum.  There has to be a juste milieu.

Erika Dreifus is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories. This essay is adapted from a talk  she delivered at Temple B'nai Jeshurun (Short Hills, N.J.), in partnership with the Jewish Book Network.

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David Fisher on January 12, 2012 at 8:13 am (Reply)
I am an American Jew living in Australia. I used to be a Zionist. However, in the United States and Australia I have tried to promote the ideas that a country should not discriminate among its citizens on the basis of ethnicity or religion, there should be a public school system in which children of different backgrounds learn, socialize, and grow up together, and there should be separation of religion and state, with freedom of religion and no government subsidies or support to any religious bodies. The foregoing is generally not true in Israel, and I can no longer support in Israel what I do not support where I live.
Independent Patriot on January 12, 2012 at 8:41 am (Reply)
None of this is unusual. The women's movement suffers from the same anti-Semitism. And have no doubt that it is anti-Semitism. The fact that so many Jews have chosen self-hatred over their own right to exist is interesting but not unusual. Why have so many Jews continued to support the leftist progressive political agenda of denying only Israel the right to defend herself? That is the question you should be asking. The next question is, why do those literati Jews who support Israel (including the author of this article) need others' approval? Why don't they start their own organization, as Jews used to do in immigrant days? Why do these Jews need the approval of the "establishment" of writers? Writers are supposed to be the watchmen of society, and that includes exposing the racism and anti-Semitism in the literati circles themselves. As far as those two articles that made headlines this past year, that was their purpose--to garner discussion and bring readers to these failing magazines. I fail to see how they speak for anyone but themselves. Go to any college campus today and you will see active pro-Israel advocates who have had enough and are standing up for themselves. These young people are the future of the Jewish people, not those spineless useful idiots. Birthright is terrific, and I would lay odds that the vast majority of those that attend actually come back with a lifelong attachment to the Jewish people and Israel.

You may think that Beinart cares about Israel, but he doesn't. He is merely a pompous blowhard who decides, while viewing the world from a McMansion, how other Jews are allowed to defend themselves. Beinart is no different from the author's leftist friends who have abandoned Israel full-time. Goldberg, in his own way, cares about Israel, but his loyalty is first and foremost to the leftist agenda. While he is not as bad as Beinart, the fact that he doesn't see a nuclear armed Iran as a threat to Israel's existence says more about his myopic view of reality than anything else. For him and his posse it's all Obama and Obama's view of the world. There comes a time in life when you need to chose a side. Now is the time. Choose, then do something about it.
Janis Kelly on January 12, 2012 at 10:14 am (Reply)
Brava, Erika! You capture precisely the atmosphere among most of my neighbors in this college town. Janis C. Kelly
Gita Segal Rotenberg on January 12, 2012 at 11:21 am (Reply)
Erika, your "Among the Literati" was powerful, and you are not alone.
PJW5552 on January 12, 2012 at 11:48 am (Reply)
Yes, a balance is hard to find, but it can be found in the truth if you are willing to seek it. You wish to embrace Israel, but you find it hard to do so in the presence of strong criticism. I embrace what I love about the United States even though I found it hard to justify our invasion of Iraq. Political behavior often conflicts with our fundamental beliefs. It is not an either/or situation, but rather one of finding the proper perspective and balance. Each person must decide whether he or she agrees with the political actions of a specific leadership. If you disagree, it does not mean that you are against Israel. If you believe in what Israel and its leadership are doing, you have your answer. If not, you should engage the system and attempt to change the political dialogue.
Marc Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 12:05 pm (Reply)
Are we supposed to feel sorry for you for being immune to facts and logic? Because you are forced to read accurate criticisms of massacres (Gaza) or want to believe in self-serving nationalist fairy tales (the legality of the Gaza blockade, let alone its justice)? Is this the new Zionist chic, to pose as an anguished victim of some ominous anti-Israeli whispering campaign? At least the South Africans didn't publish such tripe in mainstream media outlets in the 1980s and 1990s, when the world justly condemned apartheid. Maybe you should actually considerthe merits of the criticisms of Israeli apartheid rather than lamenting about how badly they impinge on your social life.
Zachary on January 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm (Reply)
Erika, find other friends. They are there, and you are definitely not alone.
Mannie Sherberg on January 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm (Reply)
Ms. Dreifus, you write that "there has to be a juste milieu." Don't be so sure. Throughout history, it has been the case that for Jews there is often no juste milieu. If we could ask them, the victims of the Holocaust would confirm that. If your choice is between being an American writer or a Zionist, be a Zionist. The world will endure without another American writer but will not endure in anything like its present form without a State of Israel. Nor, for that matter, will the Jewish people. Your choice is, unhappily, an existential one, which could mean, for the Israelis and the rest of us Jews, life or death. The Torah tells us, as clearly as anything can be told, to "choose life." Make the right choice. It's that simple.
D G Myers on January 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm (Reply)
Commentary’s chief literary blogger” replies here.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus on January 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm (Reply)
Really nicely written, and poignant. I've walked in your shoes, Erika; and although I am also on the far side of graduation from college (and grad school and law school), I made it my business to read all I could about Israel and her Arab neighbors from historical, political, and geographic perspectives--on a daily basis, from the far right to the far left, in the Israeli, Arab, European, Far Eastern, and U.S. media. I agree with Independent Patriot's assessment of Beinart and Goldberg, although I do read both, and realize that people like Marc Rosenberg and David Fisher will always be with us. But I no longer feel so isolated, because I have found a large online universe of like-minded, knowledgeable people. Thanks for expressing yourself, and welcome to a different community where you won't have to feel so lonely.
Sam Schulman on January 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm (Reply)
A glance at shows that her stories (which I have not seen) are about Jews in uncomfortable moral situations in which there is no escape from confrontation. Yet, when she finds herself in a much milder version of the same kind of predicament, "I bow out. I exit." My own generation and my own friends, are just as dishonest and chic-seeking as hers. James Atlas, biographer of Bellow and Schwartz, signed the Occupy petition. Jonathan Galassi, a fine poet and the translator of Montale, is the publisher of the anti-Semitic tract "The Israel Lobby." I don't criticize Ms. Dreifus' views, actions, or reactions; but her attitude and bearing--hurt, surprise, and betrayal--are at odds with what she teaches the rest of us to expect in the world.
PJW5552 on January 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm (Reply)
The problem with Zionism is the same as with Catholicism or Islam. All religions tend to assume that beliefs equal facts. This creates conflict when those with different beliefs embrace different facts. When people live in different realities, they cannot agree or resolve problems. Beliefs are fine for spiritual and personal guidance. They get in the way of compromise, cooperation, tolerance, and understanding when applied to politics. Don't believe me? Look at the Middle East today.
David Fisher on January 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm (Reply)
Mannie Sherberg presumes to speak for the dead. Many of my family perished in the Holocaust. I know that they were Jews. I don't know that they were Zionists. The Mormons make the Jewish dead into Mormons. Sherberg makes them into Zionists. We Jews have survived millennia without a State of Israel. Now our survival has become somehow dependent on the survival of that state. I don't believe it. I think we have survived precisely because we were not all associated with a particular nation state and because we were scattered. Rather than survive through ethnic nationalism, I think it better to try to work for democratic societies that do not discriminate among their citizens on the basis of ethnicity or religion.
Sam Schulman on January 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm (Reply)
I don't see that it's appropriate to debate Zionism here. Ms. Dreifus is a Zionist. She is talking not about the arguments you make but about the cruelty of the people who make them.
Mannie Sherberg on January 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm (Reply)
I did not say the victims of the Holocaust were Zionists; many were not. I said every Jew who perished in the Holocaust could, if alive, affirm the fact that for Jews there has not always been a juste milieu. Hitler did not grant a happy medium to the Jews , nor did any of their other persecutors over the centuries.
david fisher on January 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm (Reply)
I agree, of course, that Jews have in general not lived in a juste milieu. The lesson I derive from that is to work for a juste milieu, not set up an ethnic nationalist enclave. The United States, with all its flaws, is working for a juste milieu. The franchise has expanded. In 2000 an orthodox Jew was on the presidential ticket of a major party. In 2008 the United States elected a dark-skinned president. We have integrated our public schools. In Israel, secular Jews, modern orthodox, Muslim, and Christian children go to separate schools. Segregation by religion is no healthier than segregation by race. There is more hope for Jews in the United States than in Israel. Israel is a step backward into ethnic nationalism.
babawawa on January 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm (Reply)
The fact that schools are nominally integrated doesn't mean that they are better--or that discrimination doesn't happen or that racism has disappeared. People have the right to choose where their children should be schooled. When Walmart's founder offered grants for school choice to poor families in Los Angeles, the response was overwhelming. The same response has occurred in many places in America. There is no long-term hope for Jews in America unless you feel that all Jews should marry non-Jews and die out.
lev lou on January 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm (Reply)
The writer suffers from not just a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. She's literally hanging around too much in left-wing, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel circles where intellectuals have wound themselves up in the illogic of demanding better of Israel than global reality and history could bear. I fled the left when it abandoned Israel in the 1990s. I now read writers who have remained pro-Israel and pro-Zionist. I no longer vote left and left-liberal; I vote centre and centre-left in Canada and France, nations where I hold citizenships.

I'm not blind to Israel's challenges and faults but I'm committed to its existence, period. Anyone who doesn't like my stance can go to hell.
Rachel Golem on January 12, 2012 at 7:15 pm (Reply)
They always say, "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism. Tell them, " Laughing when Syrian people kill each other is not anti-Semitism."
Lori Lowenthal Marcus on January 12, 2012 at 7:17 pm (Reply)
Children in Israel don't have to go to segregated schools. Arabs can choose to go to Arab schools--or to regular Israeli schools, to which Jewish and other kids go. Jewish kids can choose to go to religious Jewish schools--or to regular schools that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students attend. Same choices for Christians. There are Arab Muslim students who do go to regular "Jewish" schools and even to Christian schools.
David Fisher on January 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm (Reply)
Babawawa has put a finger on an important point. Herzl advocated a Jewish state so that Jews could be free of the disabilities imposed on them by czarist Russia and other tyrannies. Jews should have the same rights as anybody else. In free societies, some Jews intermarry and assimilate. Why not? If Judaism needs oppression to survive and can't survive in a free society, is there a point in our survival? I completely reject Zionism to prevent assimilation.
lev lou on January 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Reply)
Whoops: I meant to write that I now vote centre and centre-RIGHT, where I can support pro-Israel public policies. I urge the writer to look for ideas and support to people other than the crowd she's been with since university days. "Commentary" isn't a four-letter word.
Karl on January 13, 2012 at 6:18 am (Reply)
Aren't there some "minor" differences between Australia and the United States, on one hand, and Israel on the other? Also, I had a Muslim Arab Israeli sitting near me in high school (Kiriat Haim 1976): What segregation are you talking about? There are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious school in Australia. Do you want to dismantle them, too?
pschieber on January 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm (Reply)
Kol hakavod, Erika. a No country is perfect, since countries are made up of people and we are all imperfect. The self-hating Jews have sold out their brethren over and over throughout our history. The young Jews who believe it can never happen here have not learned from history. The Germans were the most educated and "civilized" people in the world. Jews there believed they were Germans first, so their Judaism was just an afterthought. Israel is the lynchpin of our survival. Being right has never been easy.
Jerry Blaz on January 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm (Reply)
I am at least as old as Ms. Dreifus. I am a Zionist who lived in Israel and fought in at least one of Israel's wars, and I spend more time each and every day reading and corresponding about Israel. It is precious to me. Nevertheless, not every Israeli or Israeli politician (particularly Israeli politicians) do the right thing. When I criticized Shamir as prime minister, I was admonished that we must not criticize Israel if the Israeli government or prime minister does something we do not agree with, and we should be quiet. When Rabin became prime minister, the same people who had admonished me now criticized Rabin. (They eventually murdered him, but that is besides the point.) Criticism is nothing to be ashamed of when the motley bunch comprising the current Israeli cabinet and their minions in the Knesset have offered foolish and anti-democratic laws (which have not yet been finalized) that could diminish the openness of Israeli society and its democracy. There is a severe problem with the encroaching exploitation of Israel by ultra-Orthodox forces, which are attempting to foist their anti-feminist rules on the general public. There is a serious rejection of law and order by young Jewish men, which recently reached a peak when they actually attacked an army base, inflicting damage on equipment and injuring the commanding officer. Am I to be "schveig?" These are only examples of what every good Jew and Zionist should condemn. As an informed Jew, I know what is right and what is wrong, and no shadows of the past will keep me from doing and saying what is right whenever I can.
PJW5552 on January 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm (Reply)
Jerry Blaz, well stated. Here are some thoughts to guide the decision between right and wrong and when to stand up and speak out. Intolerance is a form of violence and an obstacle to a truly democratic society. Peace requires respect for all people, religions and human rights as a fundamental right of all, not some. A better world instead of a more bitter one encourages truth in place of beliefs, equality in place of inequality, tolerance in place of intolerance and trust in place of distrust. Treat all nations and all people as you wish them to treat you. You will know peace when you care about others as much as they care about themselves. Hatred is not defined by who you are. Hatred is defined but what you do, or sometimes fail to do.
SW on January 15, 2012 at 5:46 am (Reply)
Is there a "juste milieu" between Israel and Hamas's vow to destroy Israel? Probably not; and if not, then Ms. Dreifus's anxiety is part of the American left's concern that everyone should be happy. Sometimes one's happiness is another's misery; sometimes one's misery is, also pathologically, one's happiness. C'est dommage, mais c'est vrai. Is there always a "juste milieu" between life and death, the killing of Jews and their rescue from killing? This is a quandary for the modern mind, which tries hard to avoid hard questions in favor of the middle road of avoiding them while hoping someone will absolve them of their limp sort of cultural relativism.
Jerry Blaz on January 16, 2012 at 4:40 am (Reply)
At one time, we were concerned over the PLO pledge, which corresponds fairly well to the Hamas pledge concerning Israel. But times and movements change. This is politics, as it is practiced the world over. They change with time and conditions. I don't believe that the left is concerned with any mindless happiness. It is our sages who said, "Who is the wealthy person? The one who is happy with his lot in life." If we want to define the left as wanting people to be happy, let it be the happiness of our sages. It is not mindless but is built on "justice, justice thou shalt pursue."
SW on January 16, 2012 at 11:30 am (Reply)
From Elad Benan, Arutz Sheva, 16 January 2012, PA Religious Official Publicly Calls for Genocide of Jews: "The principal Palestinian Authority’s religious leader, the Mufti Muhammad Hussein, speaking last week, presented the killing of Jews by Muslims as a religious Islamic goal. Hussein made the comments at an event celebrating the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement . . . . He cited the Hadith (Islamic tradition attributed to Muhammad) saying that 'the Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'" Whatever "juste milieu" might be found as regards such consistent Muslim rhetoric? Mr. Blaz writes that "times and movements change." And this explains the continued references across centuries to killing Jews? I do not define his Left as wanting happiness, but I begin to define the Western Left as believing that such as Mufti Muhammad Hussein's remarks are "just politics." In this "juste milieu" I prefer not to be caught up. The same rabbis and sages said of seeking justice that one seeks justice even as one prepares for the coming of war.
David Fisher on January 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm (Reply)
In Australia, religious schools receive government subsidies. I would eliminate those subsidies. Government should neither promote nor interfere with religion. Subsidies to religious schools promote religion, and that should not be the business of government.
responding to SW on January 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm (Reply)
See the excellent Palestinian Media Watch for details of the speech that SW cites:

In response to yesterday's PMW video-bulletin which showed the PA Mufti's speech that Muslims' destiny is to kill Jews, YouTube has frozen PMW's account. We have uploaded the video to a different server and it can now again be viewed from PMW's website.

The video that YouTube is calling "inappropriate" exposed the Palestinian Authority Mufti citing the Islamic tradition (Hadith) that anticipates Muslims' killing Jews as a precursor to the Hour of Resurrection. The Jews are also called the "descendants of the apes and pigs" by a Fatah moderator at the event. The following is the text of the video.

Moderator at Fatah ceremony:
"Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs (i.e., Jews)
is a war of religion and faith.
Long Live Fatah! [I invite you,] our honorable Sheikh."

PA Mufti Muhammad Hussein comes to the podium and says:
"47 years ago the [Fatah] revolution started. Which revolution? The modern revolution of the Palestinian people's history. In fact, Palestine in its entirety is a revolution, since [Caliph] Umar came [to conquer Jerusalem, 637 CE], and continuing today, and until the End of Days. The reliable Hadith (tradition attributed to Muhammad), [found] in the two reliable collections, Bukhari and Muslim, says:
"The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews.
The Jew will hide behind stones or trees.
Then the stones or trees will call:
'Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'
Except the Gharqad tree [which will keep silent]."
Therefore it is no wonder that you see Gharqad [trees]
surrounding the [Israeli] settlements and colonies.."
[PA TV (Fatah), Jan. 9, 2012]
SW on January 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm (Reply)
Thank you for posting the additional information about Muhammad Hussein's very clear speech. Now, all that is required to end this comment thread is for someone enamored of the "juste milieu" to explain, if this is one pole of the argument, what the "middle way" is. For me, there is no "milieu juste"--whether in French, English, German, or Hebrew. Apparently there is none in Arabic, to judge by this speech, which comes to us direct from the seventh century. "Juste milieu?" The literati are become illiterate.
PJW5552 on January 17, 2012 at 10:31 am (Reply)
When you embrace what you wish to believe instead of what you wish to change, you end up with strong beliefs that change nothing. Change comes from seeking the truth and understanding it. You are not ready for change until you are ready to replace beliefs with an acceptance of what is. The truth doesn't care about beliefs, for beliefs are not truths. Beliefs are about what you wish or think something ought to be, not what it is.
SW on January 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm (Reply)
Regarding "beliefs are about what you wish or think something ought to be, not what it is:" "What is" is clear in Muhammad Hussein's statement. It is Jew hatred, fired by the passions of more than one mufti. Now what? How will the writer change this truth, and into what will he change it?
PJW5552 on January 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm (Reply)
Do not worry about the beliefs of one representing the beliefs of all. The goal is not to change the one but to ensure that those not interested in the truth do not dominate the dialogue. Avigdor Lieberman is a person more strongly motivated by beliefs than by truth. Such people exist in all societies but seldom dominate the dialogue. When they do dominate it, such individuals polarize the political process and prevent change. The more you listen, embrace, and accept their beliefs in place of the truth, the more you embrace what is instead of what could be. When beliefs determine our actions, it is more likely that the beliefs of others will define theirs , and nothing changes. When the truth determines your actions, the change it produces encourages change elsewhere. Gandhi once said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world." If not, the change caused by the actions of others may not be the change you really wanted.
SW on January 18, 2012 at 4:09 am (Reply)
I look forward to an idealist's convincing Muhammad Hussein to live in peace next to Israel. The article and its responses have generally discussed whether the "juste milieu" is somehow possible, impractical, or impossible. Citing French lessons and Gandhi are not exactly a bolstering of Jewish themes. Who "dominates the dialogue" containing the kind of vitriol of a mufti such as the above? Certainly not "truth," for his truth is not the truth of the American literati. "Change you really wanted" is not always the change others want, and that is a truth of life.
PJW5552 on January 19, 2012 at 10:18 am (Reply)
The people of India asked the same question in the 1930s and 1940s. Gandhi did not worry about changing the minds of vitriolic British rulers; he changed the minds of ordinary British citizens, and the rulers followed suit.
SW on January 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm (Reply)
The "people" under Hamas and Fatah are like the ordinary British citizens? And who is the Gandhi vis-a-vis Muhammad Hussein?
PJW5552 on January 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm (Reply)
There are many in Israel who want change and support peace. There are many Palestinians who feel the same way. So long as those who embrace fear, intolerance, and distrust of the other dictate the conversation on both sides, these other voices will not be heard. Only when you are ready to embrace change,is it possible to hear those who clamor for it.
Jerry Blaz on January 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm (Reply)
Mahatma Ghandi, whom we regard with admiration, was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. An acquaintance who served in the Peace Corps in India several decades ago told me that he expected to see the Mahatma's picture everywhere; but in most of the vilage homes he visited, there were pictures of Nathuram Godse. Mahatma Ghandi's assassin was a public hero. Go figure.
PJW5552 on January 20, 2012 at 8:58 am (Reply)
Gandhi knew THAT spiritual beliefs and politics were separate. He was a major barrier to those who would rather they were not. Gandhi's death removed the barrier that prevented religious beliefs from serving as an excuse for political separation. Those who favor belief over truth may well have viewed his death as an answer to their prayers rather than a victim of their ignorance.
SW on January 20, 2012 at 11:34 am (Reply)
How easy it seems to divide the world into "truth" and "ignorance." Those who espouse their belief and stake out their high moral ground, while so easily identifying those they deem "ignorant," are incapable of a "juste milieu." The literati stumble on their own arguments again and again. They are usually are part of the great world religion of "I am right and you are wrong (or ignorant, or both)." This perfectly demonstrates why the "juste milieu" is a fantasy.
PJW5552 on January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm (Reply)
Believe what you wish, but beliefs do not solve problems. Facts and truths are required to understand issues and find solutions. If there is no embrace of the such truths, regardless of beliefs, there can be no juste milieu. It will be a fantasy for Israel and Palestine as it remains for Pakistan and India.
SW on January 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm (Reply)
Believe what I wish? One reads this evening that the "Gaza leadership's position was bolstered by the realization that Meshal was trying to change Hamas' struggle strategy and lead it to an historic reconciliation with Fatah, while concentrating its energies on an Arab Spring-type struggle. Haniyeh, meanwhile, is sticking to his former stance, demanding to close ranks with Islamic Jihad." (Haaretz, 21 January.) Some may "believe" in "truth" and Gandhi, but others "believe" something quite antithetical. Various forms of idealist "Kumbaya" are beliefs, not facts.
Jerry Blaz on January 22, 2012 at 12:49 am (Reply)
Not too long ago, Mashaal was considered the hardliner. Things change. We don't get too intimate a picture of Hamas's internal discussions; this would be a matter of sitting down and talking it out, which some seem afraid to do. I recall that Mashaal was the intended target of an assassination; a Mossad agent pricked him with a poisoned umbrella stick in Amman, Jordan. For a few days Mashaal hovered between life and death. The agent was caught; and Israel, in a deal with Jordan, had to provide an antidote that would save Mashaal in order to get its agent back. Mashaal lives, and I'm certain he doesn't recall the episode with affection for Israel.
PJW5552 on January 22, 2012 at 9:48 am (Reply)
If you embrace what is instead of what can be, you are no different from those on the opposite side of the "security barrier" who do the same. A true juste milieu cannot be found when the blind follow the blind.
SW on January 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm (Reply)
"What can be" is neither truth nor fact but a statement of belief. Those who believe in peace as defined by the two state solution are facing those who believe, as the quote from Hussein Muhammad shows, that peace will come from killing Jews. The phrase "what can be" can mean as much to a murderous imam as to a peacenik from the West. A true juste milieu cannot be found when one side is willing to be blind, or blinded, as to the other side's willingness to kill.
Karl on January 22, 2012 at 10:25 pm (Reply)
Why do we need to care about Meshaal's feelings about the Mossad and Israel any more than, say, Eichman's? The two individuals' characters and ideologies are very similar; the major difference is the unfortunate failure of the Mashaal operation. Consider the Nazi War criminal Haj Amin Al-Husseini, hero of Hamas. Should the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto have talked and negotiated with the Nazis instead of using "violence" and "assassination" against them, so that the Nazis' views about the Jews would change, given enough time?
SW on January 23, 2012 at 10:45 am (Reply)
This is exactly what our literati wish us to do with their belief in the middle ground, the third way, the juste milieu: Talk until the last Jews are hunted down in accordance with Islamist paasions to kill Jews. In this way, our literati will be able to show how high their moral ground actually is--higher by far than that of plebians who would rather not wait for enemies to change their minds as they pour across the battlefield.
PJW5552 on January 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm (Reply)
If you seek to end and resolve the conflict, do not contribute to it by mimicking the actions of those who feed it. Who lives in the walled-off ghetto today, Palestinians or Jews? Whose economy is controlled by the other, Palestinians or Jews? Who has the stronger military and the ability to impose its will on the other, Palestinians or Jews? Before comparing your adversary to a Nazi, ask first who has the power to change things on the ground and who does not.
SW on January 24, 2012 at 6:30 am (Reply)
"Before comparing your adversary to a Nazi?" From which left field did that straw man erupt? As to the "walled-off ghetto," the West Bank areas border Jordan, a Muslim land; and Gaza borders Egypt, a Muslim land. The notion that these are "wall-off ghettos" is specious. Israel is walling itself off from attackers, and one who argues for a "juste milieu" compares this tiny Jewish nation to someone who would wall off a ghetto. That is no seeking of a middle ground but an accusation laid against Israel. Is this the middle way of the modern left?
PJW5552 on January 24, 2012 at 9:31 am (Reply)
Israel is not my adversary, ignorance is. A comment attempted to relate Palestinian Hamas leaders to Nazis. The question is, then, "Who is in charge of the ghetto?" Gaza and the West Bank were walled off by Israel. Nearly all economic activity between Gaza and the West Bank and places outside those areas is controlled by Israel. Israel does not allow Gaza fisherman more than three miles from shore. Israel, not the Palestinians, controls the Jordanian border. Israel patrols and controls most of the West Bank and imposes military law on Palestinians under its direct control. Israel controls the air space over both regions. This is hardly a case in which Israel has walled itself in and hunkered behind its walls to avoid being attacked.
SW on January 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm (Reply)
It is amazing that in this ghetto, with Israel as ghetto master, armaments are continually being brought in, commerce continues, the national leadership of the "ghetto inhabitants" is allowed to travel and make hajj, and much more. The "wall" is mainly a fence--some of whose operators are called Egyptians. This thread was a discussion about the imagined "juste milieu," but this itemization of the grievances of the Palestinians against Israel is not exactly a synthesis of ideas. Rather it is open advocacy, belonging rather nicely in the "I'm right, you're wrong" category. Adieu, il n'y a pas de milieu.
PJW5552 on January 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Reply)
Is it advocacy to state known information? Or is it blind faith that refuses to recognize it for what it is? Adieu indeed, for when belief and truth cannot be distinguished, there is no chance that a juste milieu will be found.
Karl on January 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm (Reply)
Some people consider themselves well informed and logical but, when presented with easily verifiable facts that go against their fiercely held beliefs and dogma, refuse to acknowledge the facts and instead use some convoluted logic and speculative "facts" to support their views. Most of those people will try hard to stop Israel's side from being heard and understood in the media, on campuses, an din other places, while at the same time claiming they strongly support freedom of speech and are tolerant of other people's views.
PJW5552 on January 25, 2012 at 11:17 am (Reply)
No one has denied Hamas has radical leadership, that is a fact. As is the fact you feed their voices by addressing your own lack of understanding through power and force. Peace has four basic pillars -- trust, equality, tolerance and justice. War and conflict have the opposite pillars, distrust, inequality, injustice and intolerance. The path to war and the path to peace lie in opposite directions. The failure to understand that has consequences.
SW on January 25, 2012 at 11:52 am (Reply)
But on an amusing note, "there is no chance that a juste milieu will be found" concludes with exactly what I argued. There is no chance that a juste milieu will be found," though also amusing (one notes) in French "Le Milieu" is jargon for gangsters, gangs and the underworld of crime. Languages can be so interesting, used and misused, as I noted in my lecture at class today, sparked by this set of exchanges.
baba wawa on January 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm (Reply)
Hamas has carried on a long tradition among the Arabs of not accepting Israel and denying Jewish history. There are consequences for failing to understand this.
SW on January 31, 2012 at 12:23 am (Reply)
While Hamas does take this stance, and there are "consequences for failing to understand this," our literati want us to know that it is our fault--for they state that we "feed their voices" with our assumed "lack of understanding." This was the goal of the early Frankfurt School and the creation of cultural relativism some generations back, and now the fruit hangs low and ripe from that Marxist bough.
PJW5552 on January 31, 2012 at 5:21 am (Reply)
But remember that "security by force does not produce peace by default." One does not find a "happy medium" by imposing one's views, any more than other people will by trying to impose theirs. A "happy medium" is found by encouraging less radical views and solutions to problems, not by convincing others to embrace the opposite.
SW on February 1, 2012 at 5:49 am (Reply)
"A 'happy medium' is found by...." brings the discussion full circle, proving that no synthesis between thesis and antithesis has been found in this round robin discussion. The Hegelian-Frankfurt School's progeny bumbles yet again: "There is no chance that a juste milieu will be found."
PJW5552 on February 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm (Reply)
The problem rests squarely with both sides, who refuse to see anything but what they wish to believe.
SW on February 2, 2012 at 7:50 am (Reply)
"The problem rests squarely with both sides?" Is it one side, or the other, or neither? The idealized "juste milieu" is like a magic dragon: It's lovely in storytelling, but don't go shopping at the pet store to buy one.

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