Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tom Segev on the Jewish Lobby, Jimmy Carter, and Berkeley

"Ugly Fountain," Berkeley (May 2007)

In the question and answer session at a lecture that Jimmy Carter gave here in Berkeley on May 2, the moderator [thanks, Yaman] of the Q&A session mentioned a conversation that he had had with Tom Segev earlier that day. He quoted the Israeli journalist and historian as having told him that "it's a very healthy thing for friends of Israel not to feel as if they can't criticize the occupation."

Segev repeated these remarks during the question and answer session of his own lecture on May 8. In response to the question, "In this century, how much do you think the Israeli lobby in the U.S. has succeeded in influencing [indistinct], particularly the Republican right," which to me seemed like a total non sequitur given the subject of the lecture, Segev first asked for clarification of the term, and - unless I misinterpreted the exchange that followed - accepted the redefinition of "Israeli lobby" as "Jewish lobby," without flinching. He then said that
One relatively new development in American society is that for first time I hear an argument about that. This is a new subject [applause from the audience]. This is what I found interesting about Carter’s speech and his book. You have to rethink the meaning of friendship. You will no longer believe that friendship with Israel means supporting the Israeli government, but rather make a distinction between the government and the country. This tendency to reformulate what it means to be friends with Israel is very interesting and encouraging.
As you can see, Segev did not really engage the question. Maybe he didn't understand it or perhaps he simply chose to ignore its ugly tone. In either case, I am stunned by the indifference to American Jewish concerns and debates that his non-response betrayed. I am not in principle about what Segev said here; I am simply amazed that he failed to connect this question to some of the ugly tendencies that we saw in the wake of the Mearsheimer and Walt article as well as the Jimmy Carter book. This kind of myopia and lack of interest in the concerns of American Jewry are, however, quite typical of people on the Israeli left.

The next question was equally astounding: "What do you propose Israel do with Jerusalem, in light of Carter’s speech?"

Segev's response: "I don't think there is anything that we need to do in light of Carter's speech." He then went on to share his own impressions of Carter's book and the man himself:
Carter doesn’t really say much. What he says in his book, is that if Israelis and Palestinians are nice to each other there will be no war. The story is very complicated. Jerusalem has been a problem without a solution for 3,000 years. It may remain a problem like this. The challenge is managing this problem. Barak was once caught reading a book on “300 solutions to the problem of Jerusalem.” If a problem has that many "solutions," this might mean that there is no real solution. I was struck by how a former president of the United States could come up with a plan ... that the best thing you can say about it is that it is so naïve. It is only one of many other plans. I actually had a chance to tell him that – this is one of the great Berkeley moments that I was thinking of earlier. I was introduced to him, and I told him this.
For Segev, one of the other highlights of spending the semester at Berkeley was the "absolutely thrilling experience" of teaching his seminar on "1967." He said that it was clear to him that he was meeting some of America's brightest students, who were extremely passionate about what they believed should happen to Israel, "even though most of them know almost nothing about the country." He also spoke fondly of his meetings with Salim Tamari from Birzeit University, a visiting professor in Berkeley's Department of History, whose lecture was the subject of an earlier post.

Another view of the I-House

Assorted Other Remarks

Segev on differences between his generation and young Israelis today:
The main difference between us and the younger generation is that the latter no longer believes in peace. The geopolitical situation has changed. The conflict has become deeper, more violent, more difficult to solve. My generation, including the Israeli peace movement, deserves very little praise. The new generation is a more realistic generation, less idealistic. They don’t believe in grand solutions but in conflict management. Peace may not be attained in the foreseeable future. But perhaps this generation will manage conflict in a more rational manner – this is the most optimistic thought I can share with you.
Segev on the conflict between memory and historiography:
Everything that happened in the region since the 6-day war has occurred in its shadow. This puts 1967 somewhere between history and memory. There is always someone in the audience who tells me, “why do you even bother going to the archives, I can tell you all about the war.” Of course, a soldier in a tank never knows anything about the general picture of the war. I would not be able to convince him that anything was different from how he remembers it. Documents will always be trumped by memory. 1967, furthermore, is not quite easy to document.
On sources:
Israel has a relatively liberal policy on opening archives. But there are some things that we just don’t know. We don’t know if Israel in 1967 already had an atomic bomb. This makes a big difference – did any cabinet minister know? Did it play a role? Much of Israel’s foreign policy was conducted by the Mossad, which doesn’t open its archives. Much of what was done in the territories was conducted by the Shin Bet, which also doesn’t open its archives.
Fortunately, Israeli officials have the commendable habit of taking home documents and not bringing them back. Much of the more significant information comes from records that are “private papers.” An important factor in the success of Israeli historians is their ability to talk to widows of important politicians. I spent many days in the kitchen of Miri Eshkol ...
In response to the question, "Is there any truth to the rumor about plans to trade villages inhabited by Israeli Arabs in Israel proper for settlements in the W. Bank?"
This is an idea that even voicing it should be made illegal. These people are Israeli citizens, they enjoy every right, and they have no wish to be anything else. If you want an indication of how far Israel has come from its original values that it once cherished - it’s possible to say things today that a few years ago no one would have dared to say. Everything is in the open today. I think this is a very dangerous idea. Fortunately very few Israeli Jews and Arabs would go for it.


Anonymous said...

TS represents what may be called Schocken Zionism. He can be compared to others of this kind which the Schoken family grew and supported, one example, probably a role model for TS, is Amos Eilon, once Schocken protegee, an Israeli reporter - historian who is now playing at being a Toscana gentry. Schocken Zionism positions are neither left nor right, you can not call a strict dogmatic unti-unionist or a avid supperter of Milton Friedman "left". So the term "Israel Left" does not say a thing about a given person in the labor-capital issue. The writer has rightly relized that one of the best marks of Schocken Zionizm is a disengagement from any kind of even "normal" univesially acceptable, far from jingoism, national feelings such as mild signs of Jewish Solidarity. See for example the reactions of the Schoken establishment to H Arnedt and other "famous", i.e. Nobel prize winners, so called Jews, in what way are these Jews? hair color? nose length? dress ? food? keeping religious commands? only by self acclaimed Jewish national-psudo genetic feeling, but then they themselves say (if not scream) that there is no such thing, go figure. It is interesting that the non Jewish left often mildly or more nationalistic, was always very aware of this extreme anti-nationalism position of some Jews on the left. Hence Stalin invented the crime of being a cosmopolitican for which Jews of the left were shot. As for the villages exchange, I am against it, in the same way as I was against Bshara becomming another Pal. refugee. But this subject brings out the problematic fact that the Is. Arab loyalty to Israel is bought by economical benefits which realy also set the monetary price and the value of their pure, evelasting, till death loyalty to the Pal. national interests and causes. When the economy will be the same in Pal. and Is. the border will be switched like nothing as the border in the Shaba farms and south of Aqaba. The world is full of absurdes.

Amos said...

Very interesting insights. I actually have some fondness for the Schocken family, but you do have a point. I also don't know exactly what their take was on Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, which I suspect is what you were referring to. I happen to think that Gershom Scholem might have been justified in his criticism of her, at least partially. BTW, do you think of him also as a Schocken Zionist?
I'm not sure about your question regarding how "these [are] Jews."
As for your last point - I agree. I just don't see it as such a problem. The loyalty of many citizens is bought, in part, by economic benefits that the state bestows on them.
What do you mean by Amos Elon playing at being "Toscana gentry"? That's funny. What exactly is he doing now? I have no idea what he's up to these days; I didn't think his recent book on German-Jewish history was so great personally, although I understand that it was written for a popular audience.
Curious to hear more from you.

Jeha said...

This is an excellent post, and a real eye-opener.

Coincidentally, I read this post just after I finished reading "The End of Faith", which has an interesting view of things. "Problems" such as Jerusalem need not be problems in a solidly secular view of the world.

However, I think the problems today are not quite the same as they were 3,000 years ago. It has much to do with a simple question; will Abrahimic religions evolve and focus on less "worldly concerns"? Islam may be more focused on the temporal than Judaism and Christianity, but the latter also have this unfortunate "feature".

As long as they remain focused on achieving aims in "this world", "issues" like Jerusalem will remain intractable.

Lisa said...

Hazbani is very well informed. :)

Amos Elon is indeed living in Tuscany these days, in a lovely, old renovated farmhouse, together with his American-born wife, Beth. His daughter Danae recently made a fascinating and intensely moving documentary about her family, called Another Road Home. It's a rather astonishing story - check out the synopsis to see what I mean.

Anonymous said...

As for Amos E. I understand, hopefully I am not mistaken, that he left Israel with some ideological declaration about failed causes and that he now lives in Italy, more as a gentry, I hope for him, and less as the Jewish natives of Rome.
Sholem was a scholar no merchant ideologist as the Schocken people. So he must be treated differntly. Also like Buber and unlike the Schokens he felt a strong "spiritual" bond with the east-Jews.
It was always my wish to see an "if" "distopia" book about a Nazi Germany who treats the Jews Like the USA does, they are writing books about the opposit, a USA who treat its Jew like Naz. Germ. I Wonder what a role would the Schocken family have taken in such a purely imaginational composition. I also think that Hanna A. would have, in such fictional case, continued her philosophycal relations with Hideger and would have found the proper explantion for that. I think this is what Sholem thought about her but I may be wrong.
As for "Jew". Many people on the left, Chomski is an architype, are bolstering their "Ani" position by stating or slyly hinting that they are Jews. but ! they do not observ; they do not speak any Jewish languge(The Bund spoke Yidish; so it was in Byrobidjan); also they do not belong to any formal orgenized Jewish community. So their Jewishness is genetic =racial, or normal national. Which is OK by me, but generally not by them. Many of these left Jew or Jews on the left vehemently object to the idea that Jews are a nation like the Roma, Kurds, Sammi(=Lapps), Aborigins of Australia or Albanians of Kosovo (there were no Albanians there when the Portugese settled in Angola, or in Brasil for example). So go figure.
As for Hanna A., I think that by bringing Sholem up you got my point.
I am sorry to say that as far as I know, and with me it is a sad case of accumulating inexperience, J. is some what off the track. The present problems in Jerusalem have something to do with the evolution Abrahimic religions ( Evolution + Religion, that will make some people in the US of A realy sick)but the situation in Jeru. has more with more general traits of the human conditions, check: greed; cruelty; bigotry; stupidity; avarice and the effect of political power on the hormones, brain and muscles.