another unbearable "discussion"

When we arrived at our new lodgings, a girl named Tamar (who was Bat Sherut on a different Birthright trip) asked me how my trip was going. When I said that Birthright had met my expectations, some of them negative, she challenged me to come up with my reasons. Immediately I was thinking "well, here we go again." I talked about what the Birthright trip had left out of our experience: namely the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the chapters of Israeli history that are not so flattering.

She instantly got defensive, and I kept trying to pile words in there, but I could sense from her body language that it wasn't working. She was most offended when I said that the leadership of our group was trying to present their interpretations as absolute truth (what I should have said was "facts").
"So, you're trying to say that the leaders are not presenting the Truth?" she replied.

There's a subtle distinction (but important) that she clearly did not get. The last thing I told her was "you're twisting my words" but she had to take some cell phone call and left. I never got to resume the conversation.

I wasn't claiming that there is one Truth in the world and that I know it. I was only trying to say that the picture being presented by our leaders omits and distorts information that has agreement outside of Israeli apologist circles.

There are ways to engage in conversation to discover facts, but there are also ways to obfuscate them. When speaking about the "situation in the Middle East," where some of the most basic facts are still contested, it's important not to muddle them or pretend to be vexed about Truth. In doing just that, supporters can create controversy where none exists.

That's why Norman Finkelstein, in the introduction to his work Beyond Chutzpah, draws a distinction between, "those controversies that are real and those that are contrived." People can agree on an historical record and come to different political conclusions, but it's clearly dishonest to come to your conclusions first, then omit, distort, or create facts out of thin air to support them. He goes on to write, "One can speak of, basically three sources of artificial disagreement [in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict]: (1) mystification of the conflict's roots (2) invocation of antisemitism and the Holocaust (3) on a different plane, the vast proliferation of sheer fraud on the subject [as long as the conclusions are politically suitable]"

The Birthright trip contained all three kinds of artificial controversy. From attempts to present the Palestinians as recent immigrants to the area, insinuations that Iran would commit a second Holocaust (an image incessantly invoked by John McCain and Sarah Palin), to the faulty assertion mentioned earlier in my blog that all IDF soldiers who commit criminal acts always get punished justly. I'll delve more into the meat of this in additional, better researched posts.

UPDATE: One of the better researched posts can be found directly below this one


Flushy McBucketpants said...

blarrrrg. good stuff here. i'm actually surprised there was even an official political discussion. also, apologies it took me so long to get to this. as blogs go it's somewhat intimidating length-wise. but i think there's a benefit to reading it in one shot.

w/r/t artificial disagreement, it seems to me that it's very much in israel's favor to obfuscate facts. i don't see much of a benefit to palestinians.

also, if you haven't read Palestine by Joe Sacco, i recommend it. it was originally collected in 1991, i believe, so it's a bit out of date. but the journalism is compelling— lots of anecdotes—and the illustrations really give you a feel for the living conditions (which i imagine actually haven't improved that much since).

Anonymous said...

This has been great to read. I recently returned from a Birthright trip and really appreciate your posts. I had a similar trip experience to what you've described. I would say regret going except that at least it has encouraged me to ask difficult questions of myself -- How do I know when/how much I am effected by propaganda? Why am I in such a minority for having doubts about what I'm being told?

United_Partisan said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm hoping to press on and write at least 8 more posts. Then maybe I'll call it a day.

Jewish Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf