A quick dissent

I read Susan Jacoby’s Spirited Atheist column in the Washington Post every week. Two of the best books I read last year were Jacoby’s, Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason. I look forward to seeing her name in print because it means one of our most well-informed, courageous voices is taking the stage against the almost endless stream of idiocy clogging our newspapers and television sets. So it is with slight displeasure that I feel the need to dissent from her on her reading of the Gaza flotilla raid.

In an otherwise well-balanced column on the dangers of religious extremism (she rightly slots radical Islam at the top of her list), Jacoby falls into the Israel Derangement Trap. She feels – I suppose – that to be even-handed she must say something about Israel while going through the list of religious fanaticisms plaguing our world. Instead of honing in on actual Jewish fundamentalists, both ultra-Zionist and anti-Zionist, she rides the wave of international condemnation of the IDF for its bungled operation on the Mavi Marmara ship in which nine people died and various soldiers were wounded. Here’s Jacoby:

The combination of religious and tribal entitlement is constantly on display in the Middle East, most recently by Israel in its crude attack on the relief flotilla headed for Gaza.

You could call the incident almost anything, even a complete failure, but “religious and tribal entitlement” doesn’t sound right to me. That would apply to the settlers on the West Bank, who definitely fit the bill. That would apply to Hamas, who wish to turn present-day Israel into an Islamic waqf. The IDF was, rightly or wrongly, enforcing a naval blockade designed to protect Israel from further attacks on its civilian population. That Jacoby should make no reference to the actual intent of the Marmara ship and its “peace activists”, and their brutal attacks on the Israeli commandoes, seems lazy. This was not a religious intervention, but a military one. That some of the passengers of the Mavi Marmara appear to have envisioned the confrontation as a religious one, and some were even filmed desiring to die as martyrs, goes unchecked. If the intent of the IDF was “religious and tribal entitlement,” then why did the other five ships go to port without incident, including the Rachel Corrie just days later?

That sounds like a military operation gone wrong, not Jewish fundamentalism, to me.

4 thoughts on “A quick dissent

  1. This is the first suggestion I’ve seen that Susan Jacoby might be worth reading, so thanks for the tip 🙂 Seriously though, can you explain to me how the Gaza blockade is protecting Israeli citizens by preventing consumer goods and materials that can’t be used to make weapons from getting into Gaza?

  2. I’m just pulling your leg on Jacoby. I haven’t read much of her stuff, and haven’t formed an opinion. You’re on to something with regards to this particular piece of hers, though. Like Jacoby, I think tribalism and land and religion are all at the root of the Israel/Palestine conflict,. But I don’t think they’re particularly germane to the Mavi Marmara incident. And while you and i have different views of the Gaza blockade, which she doesn’t mention, the question of its justness is a matter of what you should or shouldn’t do in the name of security. I think she just wanted to hop on the flotilla incident to make some sort of quick ‘religion poisons everything’ type of comment. But not only do I not believe that in general, I also think that its role in this conflict is overstated. I still think it’s a land dispute first. Tribalism is certainly a major factor with how the Jewish diaspora talk about Israel. But it’s not really relevant to this individual action taken by the Israeli miliary. And she just kind of throws out the Mavi Marmara at the end of that first paragraph after making some broad statements about the whole situation. So yeah, a sloppy bit of writing on her part.

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