Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sam Harris Shows How Hasbarah Should be Done

Here's a wonderful example of how to promote Israel in a way that is honest, sensible, non racist, non jingoistic and non obnoxious. Hasbarah bloggers should take note.

Why I don't criticize Israel, by Sam Harris >

Read the essay before the discussion below please.

Yesterday I showed this essay  to one of my many, non-racist, non-insane RW friends and he enjoyed it very much. However, he also pointed out that there are three items in this very long essay that hyper-defensive, close readers will find objectionable and "anti-Israel". I don't happen to think ordinary readers will even notice these three points, but those of you who are students of the CAMERA and HonestReporting schools will certainly spot them and get upset. 

So before I address them, let me preempt any effort to use these three items to impeach the article by paraphrasing what my RW friend said:  If you start with those 3 glaring anti-Israel errors and still conclude that Israel is incontrovertibly the moral and just party in this conflict, and that furthermore, all western democracies must support Israeli military action, that is meaningful.  [Read that again]

Here are the three items, that my RW friend (who, remember, still appreciates the essay) found objectionable:

-- Harris does not believe the a secular state should function as a religious homeland. I happen to think Harris is right about that. Religions don't need to be propped up by a state. When religions get propped up by a state they tend to mutate into extremist, and intolerant sects which is what's happening now to Islam, and to Catholicism in pre-Enlightenment Europe.  What religions need is protected room to do their own thing. However, Harris also says that if any religion gets to be wrapped up in a state it should be Judaism, on two grounds (1)  we've had 2000 years of persecution; and (2) as far as religions go, we're very mild. Of our 14 million adherents, maybe 10 percent are Orthodox, and of that number may be another 10 percent are the sort of extremists who would try to shove their particular flavor of Judaism down your throat if they could. Neither Islam nor Christianity can say that and, this Harris believes, makes all the difference. 

-- Harris thinks the Jewish claim to Israel is rooted in the Bible alone, and that he can dismiss the Jewish claim to the land by dismissing the Bible I'm not sure this is qualifies as an anti-Israel claim, and I am not sure that Harris discounts the secular, political claims to the land that Jews have made. However, I happen to agree that bible passages and ancient artifacts can not constitute a modern political claim.

-- Harris talks about Israeli "war crimes" without actually providing any evidence that such crimes have been committed. As you read this section, its important to remember that Harris does not think that these crimes have been committed by Israel qua Israel, but by individual soldiers acting in the heat of war. He's also not talking about major war crimes, such as genocide or massacres, but garden variety war crimes such as forcing a Palestinian to open a suspicious package, or lashing a Palestinian to the trunk of a car to serve as a shield. Finally, Harris has what can only be described as a shoulder-shrugging attitude toward these types of garden variety war crimes. He thinks they are inevitable and impossible to prevent, though he fully concedes that Israel does more than other countries to stop them from happening. By way of analogy, his discussion of Israeli war crimes amounts to saying that the  kid who went to college and drank and hooked up a little doesn't deserve a free pass, but also doesn't deserve abject condemnation because (a) he drank and hooked up less than most and anyway (2)  that's what happens in college so what do you expect? We can disagree about Harris's facts, and his interpretation of those facts, of course, but I don't think there is any doubt that his attitude towards the facts as he happens to understand them is as blase as I've described.

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