Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Israel obsession

Two pieces of context needed for this post.

First, Bret Stephens is a prominent opinion writer for the Wall Street Journal. He recently, ostentatiously, picked a fight with pro-Trump blatherers in general and Sean Hannity in particular, which allowed him to position himself as one of those smart conservatives horrified by Trumpism.

Second, the New York Times Sunday Magazine did an issue-length feature on the Arab Spring, its precursors, immediate events, and mostly disastrous outcomes. It's a superb read (written by Scott Anderson) with accompanying superb photography (by Paolo Pellegrin).

Now here's the point: Bret Stephens is very angry about the New York Times magazine feature. Why? Because --

hatred of Israel is treated like sand in Arabia—a given of the landscape.

Indeed, Bret Stephens is very angry about all writing on the economic and political troubles of the Arab World. Why? Because --

[Hatred of Israel] is [not] much mentioned in the wide literature about the legacy of colonialism in the Middle East, or the oil curse, governance gap, democracy deficit, youth bulge, sectarian divide, legitimacy crisis and every other explanation for Arab decline.

His opportunity to pursue what is clear a long-standing complaint comes from the Olympic judo, where Egypt's Islam El Shehaby declined to shake hands with Israel's Or Sasson. From that, Stephens pursues the thesis -- with Paul Johnson as his primary source -- that the Arab world has been in decline predominantly because its countries exiled their local Jewish populations from the 1930s onwards.

A few comments on this.  Not that there's ever a good time to pursue a flawed thesis, but these days are especially bad with Venezuela showing how a non-Arab resource-rich country can self-destruct due to disastrous policies, without any help from an all-consuming hatred of another.

Anyway, let's go back to the first observation above, the Stephens-Hannity feud. Zach Beauchamp at Vox brings out the flimsiness of Stephens' posture as a pre-Trump sensible conservative, noting in particular his hyperbolic position on the Iran nuclear deal ("worse than Munich").

But more importantly, Stephens has two incendiary sentences in his article that should give pause to those who might have lowered their guard because of his opposition to Trump:

The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism.

No qualifiers on that statement: it applies to all Arabs. And in case there's any doubt, it's backed up by a later reference to the "disease of the Arab mind."

But there's more; he closes --

For Israel, this is a pity. For the Arabs, it’s a calamity. The hater always suffers more than the object of his hatred.

The Nazis suffered more than the Holocaust victims?

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