Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inventing Netanyahu's Past

The storm caused by the Peter Beinart article in the New York Review of Books blows on, generating lots of excitement in corners of the blogosphere that get excited by such things. I responded once, and decided not to engage any further. Beinart and most of his respondents are arguing vehemently about an Israel which doesn't exist, or at most exists in the feverish minds of a tiny number of Israelis so far to the left that they can't even be seen from where normal people live.

I'm re-engaging here to point out how fabrications about Israel become incontestable truths. Jeffrey Goldberg and Beinart are already into their third round of discussing the issues, and at one point Beinart throws in a false comment which is so deep in the general narrative that Goldberg doesn't call him on it, and may well not even have noticed it.
...after all, Israeli governments haven't respected all past agreements--Netanyahu said explicitly that he rejected Oslo when he was elected in 1996...
Black and white, simple and clear. Netanyahu said explicitly that he rejected Oslo when he was elected in 1996. No ifs or buts, no weasel words. Netanyahu rejected Oslo.

I recognize that 1996 was a very long time ago. Hillary lived in the White House; Elvis was recently dead (19 years); and Digital Equipment Corporation was a household name. Twitter hadn't been invented, nor Facebook, the iPhone, the blogosphere nor even Google. It was a truly benighted era. On the other hand, the Internet and even the World Wide Web already existed, as did the PC; people drove cars, not horses and buggies, and most homes in the developed lands had plumbing.Why, some of us old codgers even have (faint) memories of those far-off days in 1996.

Enough to know that Beinart's assertion is factually challenged. As a matter of fact, it's the opposite of the truth, not vaguely off mark.

Here's a short version of the story of those days.

In September 1993 Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo agreement. Rabin's popularity skyrocketed, and the agreement basked in the warm glow of 70% support in the polls, which is very high in Israeli terms. Almost immediately, however, Palestinians terrorism began to climb, contradicting what many of us had said would happen. Over the next two years, until the Fall of 1995, Israel made a string of further concessions to the Palestinians, terrorism got worse, Rabin resorted to ever harsher words to describe his opposition, and the opposition felt ever more secure they would win the next elections, scheduled for November 1996.

In October 1995 the beleaguered government launched a campaign to retake public support from the opposition; one of the central acts of this campaign was the very large demonstration of support in Tel Aviv on the night of November 5th at which Rabin was assassinated.

In the second half of November 1995, when we slowly started to climb out of our communal shock and look around us, it was clear that Netanyahu's career was over, and that Labour would win the next elections hands down. Netanyahu's role in the demonstrations against Rabin ensured that.

Early 1996 (February, if I remember correctly), Shimon Peres decided to cash in the automatic popularity he had inherited at Rabin's funeral, and moved the elections forward to May. Netanyahu didn't cave in, and set out to reposition the Likud so as to fight for the election. The centerpiece of this was to convene a series of meeting of the Likud leadership and discuss the party's position regarding the Oslo process. The meetings were closed to the media, but they were heavily covered and watched by us all.

Benny Begin was stridently against the Oslo process. Netanyahu initially stated the party had to have an answer to what it would do if it won the elections: would it do what Beinart says it did, namely reject the Oslo process, or would it do something else. I don't remember how many meetings there were. Four, perhaps, or six. The process took weeks, not days. At the end of it Netanyahu had forced the leadership of his party to formulate an acceptance of the Oslo process. It was conditional, demanding for example that Palestinian terror subside and incitement end, but it was an unequivocal acceptance of the fundamental structure of the Oslo process.

When we went to the polls in May 1996, there were parties that were campaigning on platforms of rejection of the Oslo process,but the Likud wasn't one of them. Since Netanyahu won the elections by less than one percent of the vote, it's safe to say that had he not repositioned his party, he'd have lost.

Once he won he never (never: not once) rejected the Oslo process. He slowed it down, he added conditions, he did all sorts of things. But the leader of Likud was elected in 1996 on a platform that explicitly accepted the principle of partition.

14 years later - that's all - a noticeable voice in American Jewry can glibly invent a story about Israel that contradicts the facts, and no-one calls him out on it because no-one knows any better, or if they do they join him in preferring to imagine a fantasy world rather than face reality.

One of the crucial differences between American Jews and Israelis is that Israelis have to get their decisions right; when they don't people die. Read the facts wrong, and more people will die. For American Jews it's just a subject that you talk about sometimes; facts can be a prop for a good argument.

PS. Just to be clear: I voted against Netanyahu in 1996, 1999, and again in 2009. But I try to keep my facts in good order.

Update: I originally wrote as if Elvis died in 1987. It was 1977.


Saul Lieberman said...

Good to set the record straight.
But it seems that Goldberg is just asking the questions and letting Beinart's responses speak for themselves, including:
"a settler movement that controls chunks of the Israeli bureaucracy, no matter what the public or elected officials want"
"Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, while not perfect, are the most reputable human rights organizations in the world"

Anonymous said...

"Netanyahu's role in the demonstrations against Rabin ensured that."

I didn't know that but now I get it why I seem to be the only one around here being favourably impressed by the man.

"Netanyahu had forced the leadership of his party to formulate an acceptance of the Oslo process"

but in the Goldberg-exchanges my feeble mind is struck again and again that for Mr. Beinart nothing what Netanyahu ever says or does can be taken for the truth.

As to the Beinart piece I caved and read it and I am baffled. The most friendly thing I can say about it is that the emperor has no clothes but everybody seems to treat him like he were a brillant intellectual (something similar btw happened after M&W first appeared - initially everybody seemed to respect their status etc. while I had gotten shivers on my spine during my first unaided reading - they were terrible but it took till Schoenfeld in Commentary until I got confirmation from a better informed and educated voice)

That said in my book the Beinart piece is lousy, he jumps from argument to insinuation to implication and back, round and round with no link from one to the other, sometimes he is outright insulting, sometimes it reads like he is applying for a job with AI or HRW and lots of other stuff like that.

But what angers me most is this talking as if Israel were a colony and they had a right to give direction to its people.

I can't imagine them talking about Kosovo like that and even now when everybody dislikes Merkel's decision I read nothing which makes me feel that I live in a colony - and then in the Goldberg-exchange No. 3 Beinart states that Kaschmir is another territory occupied by a democracy - last time I read something about it the status was disputed, but I guess AI and HRW have already decided the outcome of that dispute and know the perfect solution as the word intractable is missing in their vocabulary.


Marc R said...

I enjoy your postings tremendously and I am very hesitant to correct someone of your wisdom and talent.

That said, Elvis had died nearly two decades prior to 1996.

Anonymous said...

Nick Cohen asked in his book "What is Left?" if the British Left was suffering from a kind of minority complex because they had had no Spanish Civil War like event.

Can it be that the American Beinarts have a kind of minority complex because there is nothing equivalent to the Civil Rights/anti-Vietnam movements on the horizon?

and so both in need of something big to get them into the history books try to impose Utopia on real people instead of enjoying real life here and now?

sorry, I shouldn't have read the dreck

Anonymous said...

Marc and Yaacov

sorry to say you are both wrong



Joe in Australia said...

But what angers me most is this talking as if Israel were a colony and they had a right to give direction to its people.

I have read a huge number of declarations by various people, not all of whom are antisemites, that yes, in fact the rest of the world does have the right to give directions to Israel. The rationale is sometimes that Israel was created by a vote of the UN; and sometimes that Israel receives a great deal of foreign aid from the USA. I don't agree with these arguments, but they are in fact being explicitly made.

Bryan said...

The argument that "since Israel receives US aid, it is effectively a US protectorate to which US has every right to issue binding orders" is everywhere in liberal discourse.

Of course, the irony is that, were they to apply this standard to everyone and not just to Israel, they would have to argue that China and Japan have every right to issue binding orders to the United States. (And some of them probably would agree to this as long as it kept Israel lowly, such is their hatred of Jews/Israel/Zionists.)

Sylvia said...

An organization such as HRW that conducts its fundraising in Saud Arabia, is EXPECTED to support Muslim causes. And Kashmir is a Muslim cause.

Pakistan was also founded by a U.N vote the same year as Israel - but I never hear a word about it.
Pakistan has a nuclear bomb but it's OK.

Pakistan receives huge sums of money from the US but who's counting? Pakistan is truly a colony, in the narrowest sense of the term, with no previous history on that territory.Yet, who will dare contest the Pakistanis their place in the sun (or in the hell they made for themselves in the past 62 years?)
But it is a Muslim country and so it is given a pass.

The millions of words all these people produce reflect in reality one single idea:
"Zionist-bad-Palestinian-good" or its Silverstein variant "Jew-bad-Muslim-good"
That's the thrust of ALL those arguments and all lies are permitted to force that message out.

What's missing from those debates that renders them futile and empty of meaning is simple honesty.

AKUS said...

A mythical, demonized Israel has been invented in the world's media, led by some like the UK Guardian, increasingly the New York Times, and, of course, who else but Ha'aretz, whose every anti-Israeli column is triumphantly referenced by all those who would like to think the worst of Israel.

So the Netanyahu comment (and, for the record, when i lived in Israel I voted Meretz) invented that you referenced does not surprise me. After all, we've had the Jenin "massacre:, the Goldstone report - what's one more fabrication on top of all that?

NormanF said...

I believe all the Land Of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. The Arabs had their chance. Oslo should be cast into the dustbin of history.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere I learned that Christian pilgrims had a hard time before Jerusalem was back in Israeli hands

- do they, any of them, make any noises now, do they do some quiet lobbyind or are they willing to be "happy" with whatever result the lets-divide-them-into-peace crowds come up ?


Dimitry Papkov said...

Netanyahu very famously stated in his first stint as PM, "yitnu, yekablu, lo yitnu, lo yekablu." This means, "if they give they'll receive, if they don't give, they won't receive." Hardly repudiation of Oslo, not to mention the fact that he continued the negotiations, relinquished Hebron and signed Wye. Then again, Beinart parrots the same lines as our far left about the campaign to silence them. I wrote to Goldberg on a number of issues, no response.

Menachem Mendel said...

Add to the list Beinart's claim here that

"The prime minister of Israel has repeatedly compared the establishment of a Palestinian state to the Holocaust."

or from here

"In fact, he repeatedly equates the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. An Israel that withdraws from the West Bank, he has declared, would be a “ghetto-state” with “Auschwitz borders.” And the effort “to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel” resembles Hitler’s bid to wrench the German-speaking “Sudeten district” from Czechoslovakia in 1938."

I guess that if you go back seventeen years to Bibi's book, which Beinart admits these ideas are from, you might find many other things which he no longer believes in. As a fellow blogger said, it's ironic that Beinart wrote a book with "hubris" in the title.

Matt said...


If you're interested in the history of this falsehood, it probably stems from this April article from Noam Chomsky at HuffPost. And, whenever I mention Chomsky's failures as a historian, I always recommend Michael Berube's The Left at War.

Matt said...

Nope, sorry, I take that back. For all the howlers in Chomsky's piece, it was my faulty memory that put Beinart's claim in there. (Still a good book, though.)

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Goldberg posted most of Yaacov's response on this topic.


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I am going to proudly confess that I was disappointed that Netanyahu did not simply denounce the Oslo accords for the sinister fraud that they were in 1996. Of course, Ya`aqov is right about what Netanyahu said. I was at the meeting of the Israel World Affairs Council in late May or early June 1996, in Jerusalem, when Netanyahu stated that if elected, he would honor existing international agreements. Of course, that leaves the loophole of rejecting Oslo if it could be argued publicly that Oslo was not a real international agreement. But Bibi could not argue the point publicly at that time because he was afraid to go against the Great Powers, those powers that the "Left" used to call "imperialists."

That said, Beinart is factually and morally wrong on so many points that one doesn't know where to begin. An honest and informed man would have written that both the PLO/Fatah and Hamas have shown that they don't want peace with Israel in any borders. Hamas is just franker on this point. Hamas is also more frankly genocidal [Article 7 of the Hamas charter]. Beinart could be considered morally as well as factually challenged.

Anonymous said...

here is a another Beinart - this time going after Obama for not being hawkish enough - in his Jewish establishment piece or with Goldberg he proudly told that two doves had a kind of coming out at his orthodox synagogue due to his piece

- the man is a confusenik

but the commentariat insists on telling me that he is a brillant intellectual ...

it's a tough world ;-)