Israel, Part 2

by Russ Roberts on May 19, 2011

in Foreign Aid, Uncategorized

My recent post on Israel generated over 225 comments. I understand there is a lot of anger on both sides and surely both sides have much to be angry about. But the level of vitriol was discouraging. I was called a bigot, prejudiced, and the author of a “stupid lament.” I had betrayed my principles and disappointed my fans.

In my post I said it was strange that Obama pressures the Israelis rather than Israel’s political enemies. I still find the political stakes for Obama interesting but I will leave that for another day. But the comments did not stick to this issue. (They rarely do.) So we went on a whirlwind tour of history and morality. A number of issues were raised and various accusations were made. I’d like to at least clear up my viewpoint and then we’ll get back to economics.

For what it is worth, I do not think it is inherently immoral to allow your citizens to live on land and create new cities on that land that was taken in a defensive war, especially when those who want the land for themselves have vowed not just to retake that land but the entire state of Israel. I do not see that as expropriation. You can disagree with me. I understand there is another side.

Under US and international pressure, Israel gave Gaza away. Israel forced those who had settled there to abandon their homes and the greenhouses and other structures they had built. Nothing changed except that some people found it easier to launch rockets into Israel. Israel reacted by invading Gaza. All invasions are horrible. So is seeing your citizens attacked every day. There are few choices in that situation that leave you with a clean conscience. Of course some wars are conducted in more moral ways than others. Goldstone has repudiated the Goldstone report. But of course plenty of horrible things happened in Gaza.

I do not think the US government should give money to Israel. I think it is bad for the United States and bad for Israel. Nor should the US give money to Egypt or Pakistan or the Palestinians. I think the US should get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and stop bombing Libya.

I’m a Jew. Not all Jews are sympathetic to Israel. I am. I have friends and family there. I’ve visited three times and will be going for a fourth visit in a few days. I’m glad there is one Jewish state in the world and I believe it has the right to defend its borders and its people as all nations do. So yes, I read the data and historical evidence in a particular way. That does not ┬ámean I am wrong simply because I have a viewpoint. Nor does it allow me to denigrate Arabs or Muslims. I don’t.

When I wrote about Israel’s “enemies” or the “other side” I certainly did not mean all Arabs or all Muslims. When I spoke about the “other side” in the original post, I was talking about the political entities, Hamas and Fatah, that Obama might pressure instead of Israel. That’s all. I assume that many (most?) everyday Arabs and Palestinians simply want to raise their families and live decently. I wrote about the difficulties of separating public statements by citizens and their actual attitudes, here.

I am aware that the Israeli government and individual Israelis and Jews have done many shameful things. Most Jews and Israelis condemn those acts and protest them. Israelis make movies highlighting Israel’s flaws. I would never suggest that Israel should be above condemnation for despicable acts done by its government or its citizens.

Israel was created by the British. It is a very small piece of land. Most Israelis (and I presume many Israeli leaders and politicians) would be happy to coexist with a Palestinian state if the leaders of such a state would be happy coexisting with Israel. I think many individual Palestinians would be happy with such an outcome. Their leaders have never agreed to such an outcome. That is the world we live in. I don’t think it needs to last forever. But that is the world we live in. I don’t think President Obama’s pressure on Israel is helping us get to a better place. As an American, I think he should leave the issue alone. His (and his predecessors’) relentless focus on that very small piece of land must have domestic political benefits. Does it curry favor with the oil-producing nations in the Middle East? They too spend a lot of time worrying about the Palestinians for domestic political reasons.

I want to thank those who made thoughtful comments about the tension between having a refuge for Jews that is a nation state, and being a libertarian. Those are interesting issues.

I have closed comments on this post and the previous one. If you want to have ┬ácivil dialogue with me about these issues or to help educate me about aspects of this issue that I am missing or where my understanding is incomplete, you can do it via email–my address is russroberts at gmail dot com.

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