MAY AN AMERICAN COMMENT ON ISRAEL?
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Yoram Schweitzer wants me not to judge decisions made by the Israeli government.
I recently criticized the Israeli government for its exchange with Hizbullah in "Samir Kuntar and the Last Laugh" (Jerusalem Post, July 21, 2008); to this, the eminent counterterrorism expert at Tel Aviv University, Yoram Schweitzer challenged the appropriateness of my offering views on this subject. In "Not That Bad a Deal" (July 24, 2008) he explained to Jerusalem Post readers how the "contents and tone" of my analysis are "patronizing and insulting, overlooking as they do the fact that the government and public have the right to decide for themselves …, and to shoulder the resulting price." He also criticizes me for offering an opinion on Israeli issues from my "secure haven thousands of miles away."
Schweitzer does not spell out the logic behind his resentment, but it rings familiar: Unless a person lives in Israel, the argument goes, pays its taxes, puts himself at risk in its streets, and has children in its armed forces, he should not second-guess Israeli decision-making. This approach, broadly speaking, stands behind the positions taken by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other prominent Jewish institutions.
I respect that position without accepting its discipline. Responding to what foreign governments do is my meat and potatoes as a U.S. foreign policy analyst who spent time in the U.S. State and Defense Departments and as a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and who, as a columnist, has for nearly a decade unburdened himself of opinions. A quick bibliographic review finds me judging many governments, including the British, Canadian, Danish, French, German, Iranian, Nepalese, Saudi, South Korean, Syrian, and Turkish.
Obviously, I do not have children serving in the armed forces of all these countries, but I assess their developments to help guide my readers' thinking. No one from these other countries, it bears noting, ever asked me to withhold comment on their internal affairs. And Schweitzer himself proffers advice to others; in July, 2005, for example, he instructed Muslim leaders in Europe to be "more forceful in their rejection of the radical Islamic element." Independent analysts all do this.
So, Schweitzer and I may comment on developments around the world, but, when it comes to Israel, my mind should be empty of thoughts, my tongue fall silent, and my keyboard go still? Hardly.
On a more profound level, I protest the whole concept of privileged information – the notion that one's location, age, ethnicity, academic degrees, experience, or some other quality validates one's views. The recent book by Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky -- I Wish I Hadn't Said That: The Experts Speak, and Get it Wrong! humorously memorializes and exposes this conceit. Living in a country does not necessarily make one wiser about it.
Ehud Barak, the most highly decorated soldier in Israeli history, made mistakes.
During the Camp David II summit meeting of 2000, when Ehud Barak headed the government of Israel and I disagreed with his policies, more than once, my critique was answered with a how-dare-you indignation: "Barak is the most decorated soldier in Israeli history, and who are you?" Yet, analysts now generally agree that Camp David II had disastrous results for Israel, precipitating the Palestinian violence that began two months later.
It is a mistake to reject information, ideas, or analysis on the basis of credentials. Correct and important thoughts can come from any provenance – even from thousands of miles away.
In that spirit, here are two responses concerning Schweitzer's take on the Samir al-Kuntar incident. Schweitzer argues that "to fail to do the utmost to rescue any citizen or soldier who falls into enemy hands would shatter one of the basic precepts of Israeli society." I agree that rescuing soldiers or their remains is an operationally useful and morally noble priority, but "utmost" has it has limits. For example, a government should not hand live citizens to terrorists in return for soldiers' corpses. In like manner, the Ehud Olmert government's actions last week went much too far.
Another specific. Schweitzer claims:
If that deal was cheap, I dread to imagine how an expensive one would look. And, with Kuntar's arrival in Lebanon shutting down the government in giddy national celebration, denying Hizbullah a victory amounts to willful blindness.
© Daniel Pipes 2008
Originally Published in the Jerusalem Post, July 28, 2008
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, July 28, 2008
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/5801
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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