March 14, 2011

With policies like these, who needs terrorists?

"Aw, Johnny, 40 years old and she's still runnin' your life!" -- Moonstruck.

Too often, politicians claim they're leading when they're really just reacting, and they subordinate their priorities to outside influence rather than really taking charge and asserting national interest. Worst of all, most people seems to go along without noting what should be obvious. Over the past several days, this has been the case in the United States and in Israel.


In the United States, last week's first Congressional hearing on the presumed threat from the radicalization of American Muslims got underway. No hard evidence was presented that American Muslims are inherently a threat or that this discrete topic is useful for Members of the House of Representatives to devote their attention. However, it is only the latest in a long series of public actions since September 11, 2001, where we have allowed our enemies to determine our national agenda.

Al Qaeda has declared their goal of radicalizing American Muslims, so naturally some Members of Congress have now made a big fuss about the radicalization of American Muslims. If this has any real effect, it will be... the radicalization of American Muslims. We have handed a victory to Al Qaeda without the need for any further attacks on U.S. soil. Our real emphasis, and that of the House Homeland Security Committee, should be on preventing the actual terrorists, whoever they may be, based on the best available intelligence forensic analysis. And yet, the hearings are advertised as safeguarding America. Is Rep. Peter King really a better American than those who oppose his hearings?


In Israel, the government has responded to the monstrous massacre of a young family in the West Bank by 
announcing hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank. Evidently, the timing is meant to show that the Netanyahu government will not allow Palestinian terrorism to force Israel into risking its national security. For the past few decades, however, very few settlements have served a security purpose, rather they have compelled a massive military presence to protect each additional residential neighborhood that gets built over the Green Line. If those settlements are a fundamental statement of Zionist fulfillment, then why package them as a response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli settlements?
Most significantly, the purpose of individual terrorist acts is to force Israelis to retaliate in a way that further alienates the majority of Palestinians against Israelis and against the prospect of any peace agreement. Attacking civilian populations and imposing harsh security measures is one way of sowing further resentment among Palestinians in the short run, but settlement construction gives them permanent reminders of their ongoing dispossession. Justified or not, building settlements IN RESPONSE to terrorism incentivizes further attacks and advances the extremist Palestinian agenda. Of course, extremist -- and, increasingly -- mainstream Israelis support more settlement construction regardless, and they see such reactive decision-making as an assertion of Zionist pride.

The Law of Return, which makes every Jew worldwide eligible for Israeli citizenship, is based on the 1936 Nuremberg Laws enacted by Adolf Hitler -- a Jew is anyone with one Jewish grandparent. This may be appropriate and it might have made sense even without the Nazi connection. But it is rarely acknowledged that -- while perhaps denying Hitler a "posthumous victory" -- by using his exact definition to guarantee a Jewish future, that same future is indelibly determined by the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

And whatever the world does going forward, nothing (even a democratic Iraq, we should all be so blessed) will change the fact that Al Qaeda did win a great victory on September 11, and that Hitler did succeed in murdering six million Jews and millions of other unlucky Europeans. So posthumous victories are a matter of interpretation.

At least the Law of Return can be said to help Israel and world Jewry overall. It is much harder to see where the King hearings advance U.S. national interests or American principles. It is also hard to see how more settlers, on land that is understood to be critical to any resolution of the conflict, advance Israel's national interest. Worse, the circumstances behind Israel's latest decision risk letting terrorists drive Israel's national debate.

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