When ordinary people and professional intellectuals have limited understanding of an issue, it is tempting for them to express what has become the conventional wisdom. If lots of people are saying it, it must be all right.
By professional intellectuals I mean professors and media commentators, expected to know, and viewed as at least minimally authoritative. Some of these people move in and out of governmental positions, or communicate frequently with officials, and this adds to their aura of understanding.
As an American who has become also an Israeli, lived and worked here for more than 30 years, I may be unusually sensitive to elements of conventional wisdom that come largely from professional intellectuals in the United States, and concern the region that I now call home.
I am aware that the conventional wisdom is not all the same. There are different perspectives. The West is intellectually free. There is room in the universities, government, and the media for widely different points of view. Remembering the diversity is the best defense against paranoia, or even worry. Nonetheless, there are elements of the conventional wisdom that invite a response.
Landmarks are Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby. Both were widely panned as bad books, but sold enough copies to be called best sellers. Both reflected and added to the conventional wisdom that Israel was a significant part of the world's problems. Do away with the cruel policies toward Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, reduce the influence of Israel's supporters in American politics, and all will be better.
Alfred de Grazia had a distinguished career as professor of political science. Now, at the age of 89, he has produced CANAAN STATE, USA: ISRAEL-PALESTINE as the 51ST AMERICAN STATE. Perhaps because no main-line publisher was willing to produce it, de Grazia is distributing it free over the internet. http://canaan-state51.us/canaan_state51.pdf
I admit to not having the patience to do more than page through the book. Its message is clear: solve the problems of the Middle East by combining Israel and Palestinian areas into one entity. Call it Canaan and accept it as the 51st American state.
I received de Grazia's e-mail, with the book attached on the 9th of Av. It was not the wisest move to send it to Israelis on the date that memorializes the destruction of the Temples and Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE, and again by the Romans in the first century CE.
The timing added to the content to make clear that de Grazia wants to destroy the Jewish homeland once again.
Yet another indication of Israel's demonized role in the conventional wisdom appears somewhere down in a negative New York Times review of Kenneth M. Pollack's A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East. The reviewer chastises Pollack for what he does not write: that Palestinians' "agony of military defeat or the humiliation of life under Israeli occupation" is an important element in the problems of the Middle East. The reviewer bolsters his case by accepting a claim of Osama bin Laden. "What converted him from dreamer to murderous activist was Israeli bombs falling on Beirut in 1982."
The people of Israel have survived worse in our long history. However, I must ask my colleagues among the professional intellectuals to look at some details. Of the 100 or so countries that came on the scene after World War II Israel is, arguably, the most successful. Its democracy is the most vibrant, and its economy the healthiest. Israel's Arab minority does better on measures of income and health (absolutely or in relation to the Jewish majority) than the prominent ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. If Israel imposes restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, the reasons should be clear to anyone with an open mind. Israelis cannot rely on the Palestinians to control those among them who aspire to violence against Israelis.
Is this a country that should be erased via a merger with not-so-successful Palestine? Canaan is ancient history. From what we know of it from a few sources, its name would not add to what Israel has achieved in the most recent 60 years.
I would not defend every action of personnel in the Israeli military or police, just as I would not expect people of other countries to defend all that their security people do by intention or accident. I would urge comparisons of civilians killed by Israeli forces to those killed by Americans and their allies in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
There are also Israelis in the media and the universities who express the same conventional wisdom as their colleagues overseas. They all make me itch, as with poison ivy. It can be annoying in the extreme, but is not likely to be fatal.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325