Ta-Nehisi Coates's Appreciation of Teena Marie
Concision And The Public Intellectual

Does Jeffrey Goldberg Really Not Know What Binyamin Netanyahu's Plan Is? UPDATE: Yes He Does!

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

Israel's Self-Delegitimization Movement: I would like someone in the Netanyahu government to please explain the plan here.... Is the plan to continue settling Judea and Samaria so that there is no chance whatsoever of creating a Palestinian state? And if this is the plan, then what happens to those Palestinians who are being denied a state?... [A]re they going to be denied democratic rights[?]... Or is there some other plan? Or -- maybe -- there is no plan. Maybe these things just happen.... Why would Israel's government acquiesce to the building of settlements that serve only to hurt Israel's reputation among people who are on the fence?.... Even right-wingers agree that Israel's reputation in the world is the lowest it has ever been. Why drive it even lower?  So, again: What is the plan?

You know, it would be nice if Jeffrey Goldberg would just stand up and say: "For my entire career I have been making excuses for Likud. And I am sorry. That conveyed to my readers a false idea of what was going on. That was a very bad thing to do."

UPDATE: And Goldberg finally comes through:

What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?: Is it actually possible that one day Israelis -- Jewish Israelis -- would choose to give up democracy in order to maintain Israel's Jewish voting majority?... I believe it is premature to talk about the end of Israel as a democratic state -- mainly because the disposition of the West Bank is still undecided --  but I can't say that the thought hasn't crossed my mind.... [T]here's very little Israel's right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state -- and the absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? If it grants them the vote, this will be the end of Israel as a Jewish state; if it denies them the vote in perpetuity, it will cease to be a democratic state.

I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven't, it seems), will choose democracy.... But I've had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society... haredim... working-class religious Sephardim... represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of... Shas... the settler movement... the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister and leader of the "Israel is Our Home" party.

Let's just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister Lieberman's government (don't laugh, it's not funny) proposes a bill... to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs... annexes swaths of the West Bank... announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there.... What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I'm not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel's abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment. 

Am I being apocalyptic? Yes. Am I exaggerating the depth of the problem? I certainly hope so. Israel is still a remarkably vibrant democracy, with a free press and an independent judiciary.  But on the other hand, the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago...


Meanwhile, Benjamin Wallace-Wells may have the best piece on Martin Peretz ever written. a short passage:

Peretz in Exile: The part of Israel that remains perfect to Martin Peretz is vanishingly small. But it does still exist, tangibly enough that you could trace its perimeter on a map of Tel Aviv: the ethnically mixed neighborhoods of Jaffa, the impeccably preserved Bauhaus downtown, the symphony halls and dance theaters, the intersections that still hold traffic, tense and honking, at 2:30 in the morning, the cosmopolitan sidewalk cafés that make real the old liberal dream. Peretz, the longtime owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has been living here since October, and he reported recently that he has seen performances by the progressive dance company Pilobolus, the Cape Town Opera, and a Malian jazz group, which drew “a very hip crowd.” The sections of Tel Aviv he inhabits are so secular, Peretz says with relish, that in his first six weeks he saw exactly “eleven guys with Orthodox clothes. That’s it.”

Peretz is a fervent believer in Israel, but he always found the country a little small and so has often kept his trips short. Now he is here for seven months, teaching English writing to a class of eight 15-year-olds—immigrants, many of them, and poor. Peretz’s curriculum begins with autobiography, a kind of first enrollment in the intellectual traditions of the West: Amos Oz, full of the fractious heat of family life, then Charles Darwin, circumspect, exacting. Peretz has been particularly taken with a young girl from Congo, who spoke of her homeland’s “undisciplined” tyranny. The word caught Peretz’s attention, and he asked her what she meant. A disciplined tyranny, she said, would never have permitted the rapes and the wanton violence. Her father, a Christian pastor, brought the family to the Holy Land, an escape to something better. “That was kind of touching,” Peretz says, adding wonderingly: “She has younger siblings whose first language is Hebrew.” Peretz has this capacity for awe. He saw in her a more modern Israel; he saw something to defend....

“There are very many ways,” [Martin] Peretz admits, “in which Israel is getting worse.” The early leaders of Israel, he says, were all kibbutzniks and ascetics; now he sees a gaudy oligarchy, with twenty business groups, many of them built from single families, that control a quarter of the country’s large companies. When he visits Jerusalem—“a very poor city”—he notices ultra-Orthodox boys running everywhere, and he disdains the sanctimony of the very religious and the “superpatriotism” of the Russian immigrants. And yet set against these growing groups is only a tiny liberal society. Peretz participates now and then in a vigil in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah, in solidarity with Palestinians threatened with eviction. The demonstration has drawn great attention in Israel, but there are at best 120 people there, he says. “Take away my friends, and there would be 115.”

But Peretz isn’t just defending a state, with its flaws. He is defending an idea, of Israel and of himself. “Marty regards himself as a watchman,” says Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary editor of The New Republic, “one of the people who stands on the wall and makes sure nobody who intends to harm what he loves is approaching.”

On Israel, the watchtower has become a very lonely place—TheAtlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg is on it with him, Peretz says, but there aren’t too many others. Even at The New Republic, there are only four people who Peretz believes really understand what is at stake in Israel: Franklin Foer, who has just departed as editor; Richard Just, who is now the magazine’s editor; Peretz; and Wieseltier. (“John Judis”—another, more left-wing writer—“knows zero”.) Among this small group, Peretz is closest to Wieseltier (“one of my two or three closest friends”), but he finds he no longer calls to talk to Wieseltier about Israel. “It always has to be more complicated with Leon,” Peretz says. “He always has to have this extra piece”...

The total crash of the communist and the new left projects pushed him, I think, in a very Burkean direction. I think he believes--not completely unreasonably--that the Enlightenment values of free debate, of fundamental equality, and of government as the servant of the general will of the people work only under the right historically-contingent circumstances. They work if they are underpinned by the appropriate cultural foundation. They don't if they are not.

What is this appropriate cultural foundation? You need to have a strong work ethic--so that the accepted mode of wealth acquisition is through diligence and industry rather than through politics. You need to have an almost-rabbinical tolerance of intellectual disagreement. You need to have on the one hand the willingness to accept the loss of a political argument. You need to have on the other hand the willingness to accept a less-than-total victory--the understanding that your defeated adversaries have the right to regroup, reorganize, rethink, reargue, and contest the points at issue again.

With that underlying foundation, the Enlightenment values of free speech and debate, of fundamental equality, and of government as the servant of the general will produce something precious, noble, and greatly to the benefit of humanity. Without that foundation, revolutionary, transformational, or even normal politics becomes too dangerous to be risked: you could wind up with a Josef Stalin, a Mao Zedong, or an Adolf Hitler; and the best you can hope for is an Anwar Sadat, or perhaps a Silvio Berlusconi. Without that foundation, you need either an enlightened despot--an "Akbar or a Charlemagne," as John Stuart Mill put it--or an enlightened oligarchy, each of which has a great deal to lose from chaos and is content with what it holds in the normal order of things. The attainable aim is then to attain Ibn Khaldun's government--the organization that prevents all injustice save that which it commits itself--and to hope that that government is satisfied so that it commits few injustices itself. Such a government will not be tolerant or democratic. But it will maintain order under the shelter of which people can cultivate their gardens.

Now this--which I take to be Marty Peretz's underlying world view--is not a crazy reading of the lessons of history.

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