No, Mort, that’s not quite right…

I wanted to take issue with Mort Zuckeman’s recent piece in the WSJ, “Obama Doesn’t Get Jerusalem.” He’s got a bit more detail than the Elie Wiesel ad, so I feel like it warrants a bit more of a substantive response (plus, there have been a number of well thought-out responses to Wiesel, the best among them from the Sheikh Jarrah activists).

Zuckerman writes:

Objecting to any building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final status talks with the Palestinians even begin.
From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term—”settlements”—to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this administration really understands the issue.

“Settlements,” according to international law and almost everyone other than the US and Israel for the past 40-some years, is not a question of size or function. The illegality of these settlements is based on location and location alone – whether or not they are built on land occupied in 1967. It’s not “ambiguous use of [a] loaded word,” it’s specific and correct application of a technical term. On this basis, I also find the economic/ideological settlement distinction to be a deterrent from the real conversation. To paraphrase something I once heard George Rishmawi, one of the Palestinian founders of the ISM, say – all settlers are engaged in structural violence against the Palestinian people, whether they’re the extremists of Yitzhar, or the suburb-dwellers of Maaleh Adumim, who may have only moved there for purely financial reasons.

Israel’s claim over Jerusalem does not spring from 1948 or 1967. Rather, it signifies the revival of historic rights stemming from biblical times.

While ultimately I agree with Douglas Rushkoff, who writes that the “need to interpret Torah in a literal fashion reduces covenant to a real estate contract. It conflates the sacred space created by divinely inspired allegory into the flat, mundane time line of political history,” Mort is continuing to try to find frames for his argument that are removed from international law and the modern political conversation as a whole, as well as the consensus of most of the worlds’ governments. The US government is finally coming around to realize things that most of the rest of the world has known for 40 years, and while I see it as a small step in the right directions, I don’t feel the need to jump up and down with joy over President Obama arriving at what has been consensus amongst almost everyone else for such a long time. I also don’t see the Torah as a legitimate modern political document. Are we going to go back to “an eye for an eye” in its literal sense? Stoning rebellious children? Polygamy? Ethnic cleansing? If we’re basing our claim to Israel totally on the Torah, what’s the significance of Yom HaAtzmaut? Does it not matter at all that the same UN that is saying these settlements are illegal also once decided that we should have a country at all?

Freedom of religion in Jerusalem should not be compromised by American policy.

Here’s my problem with this – I can’t abide an argument that freedom of religion at the kotel is the reason Jews should have control, when Jews who demonstrate for freedom of religion, even within different streams of Judaism, get arrested and assaulted for simply trying to practice their religion at the kotel. I also have Christian friends who live in Bethlehem who may or may not be able to reach their holy sites in Jerusalem depending on the whim of the Israeli permit-granting authority on any given day. To say that there is freedom of religion in Jerusalem now seems a selective read – to say that freedom of religion means freedom of religion only for us (and a very limited us at that), is like saying never again means never again only to us.

Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and rockets a few miles from Israel’s Parliament. And Jewish neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.

I am not in favor of Palestinian violence. Those voices I support within the Palestinian community are against this kind of violence. That being said, Gilo is one of the best examples of what I cited above – dividing settlements into various categories in ways that are not supported by international law. The illegal settlement of Gilo is built on the land of the families of Beit Jala. There are those who would argue that those families have a right to defend their land.

The official Palestinian position is that the ’48 borders are here to stay. I’ve heard many Palestinians recognize that the Jewish state isn’t going anywhere, not to mention having heard directly from the Negotiations Support Unit that the negotiations are based on international law, and therefore the ’67 line, not all of historic Palestine. IMHO, removing the occupation (and, according to international human rights law, recognizing the right of return of those Palestinians who were forced from their homes), the desire on the part of the Palestinian population to launch attacks on Israel would be severely diminished. And Gaza is still by definition occupied, based on the fact that Israel controls everything that goes into or out of Gaza, so the whole “we left Gaza, and look what we got” argument rings false to me.

The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared—not divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords, said in 1995: “There are not two Jerusalems; there is only one Jerusalem.”

I live in Jerusalem. The city appears to me to be pretty divided. Very few of the Jews I know ever venture into Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (thankfully, some attend the Sheikh Jarrah protests, but it’s a very small percentage). There are two seperate bus systems. If you stand at the Tayelet, you can see the dividing line between Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinian neighborhoods by the color of the water tanks on the houses (the Palestinian needs additional water storage for those times when the Israelis decide to cut off their water supply).
In acknowledging that which has been clear to much of the world and to the major bodies which decide issues of international law, President Obama has not, as I see it “given the Palestinians every reason not to negotiate.” He isn’t doing anything other than acknowledging the reality of the situation, and calling a spade a spade. Outpost building and building in Ramat Shlomo are equally illegal according to the fourth Geneva convention. I give president Obama credit for finally bringing some common sense to the situation, and in doing so, I hope he’s going to give Israel the push it needs to save itself.

27 Responses to “No, Mort, that’s not quite right…”

  1. I can’t abide an arguement that freedom of religion at the kotel is the reason Jews should have control, when Jews who demonstrate for freedom of religion, even within different streams of Judaism, get arrested and assaulted for simply trying to practice their religion at the kotel.

    Good point.

    The official Palestinian position is that the ‘48 borders are here to stay

    Really? Does that explain Yasser Arafat’s behavior in 2000-2001?

    and, according to international human rights law, recognizing the right of return of those Palestinians who were forced from their homes

    Agreed that Israel will have to go at least to the ’49 lines, if not beyond, in any agreement . . . but any Israeli PM who signs a document agreeing to a right of return would be signing the death certificate of the Zionist project–many here might support that, which is fair enough.

    The US government is finally coming around to realize things that most of the rest of the world has known for 40 years

    And if the “rest of the world” decided that the Jewish community in Hebron should stay put, as is, would that somehow make it ok that those Jews live there like they do today?

    Does justice equate to whatever the majority of the world thinks?

    Outpost building and building in Ramat Shlomo are equally illegal according to the fourth Geneva convention

    Except that there also are plenty of good arguments as to why they don’t violate the 4th Geneva Convention, but it doesn’t matter anyway . . . because “International Law” doesn’t really exist to begin with.

    ((I also think the settlments were a huge blunder, which will cost us Israel, just to put in the required disclaimer.))

    Does it not matter at all that the same UN that is saying these settlements are illegal also once decided that we should have a country at all?

    Agreed. It’s the same thing. We were going to declare a state in ’48, with or without the U.N. vote, and we should end this farce that that vote grants the country some kind of legitimacy.


    Jonathan1 · May 2nd, 2010 at 2:02 pm
  2. LastTrumpet,

    Excellent refutation of Zuckeman’s handwaving. One small point you glossed over though; while US politicians have generally avoid the term settlements, our government has long used it regularly. You can find it and variations of it by the dozens in the 2008 State Department human rights report alone, and similarly in the <a href=http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/1999/417.htm1999 version.

    Jonathan,

    Yes, Israel’s refusal to respect the Green Line explains much of Yasser Arafat’s behavior, in 2000-2001 and otherwise. In regard to the right of return, Israel only needs to stop ignoring it and offer reasonable compensation in exchange for it. As for your other arguments, they can’t rightly be dispelled as long as you insist on denying the existence of international law.


    kyleb · May 2nd, 2010 at 3:27 pm
  3. Doh, “…and similarly in the 1999 version” that is.


    kyleb · May 2nd, 2010 at 3:30 pm
  4. Bah, the 1999 version. My bad.


    kyleb · May 2nd, 2010 at 3:31 pm
  5. @kyleb.

    Ok. Reasonable compensation is a viable option–not a right of return, though.

    As for your other arguments, they can’t rightly be dispelled as long as you insist on denying the existence of international law

    Ok. I could provide you with a bunch of legal articles about the topic (it’s a dispute in the legal community,) but what would be the point, really?

    It’s been well established that whatever kyleb thinks is automatically objective truth (or maybe natural law) and anyone who disagrees with him is blind to the truth, and any theory to which kyleb disagrees is simply handwaving.


    Jonathan1 · May 2nd, 2010 at 3:39 pm
  6. Jonathan,

    International law exists regardless of whether or not I’d ever bothered to think about it, and you’ve done nothing more than wave your hands in denial of it here. Again, you are only further deluding yourself by projecting your compulsion to favor your beliefs over reality on me, as I prefer to do exactly the opposite.


    kyleb · May 2nd, 2010 at 7:02 pm
  7. @kyleb.

    Ok. I’ve provided a few links to abstracts on relevant papers. (Excuse me for not providing the full papers, but I’m on a budget and, obviously, there is a vast amount out there written on this vast subject.)

    The first three links are to papers written by academics, and the last is to a debate between Justice Breyer and Justice Scalia the Handwaver.

    God willing, someday soon, somebody will point out to these deranged people that they are only further deluding themselves by projecting their (my?) compulsion to favor their (my?) beliefs over reality, for after all the final arbiter as to what is “objective reality” is obvious to us all: kyleb.

    heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/ajil34&div=25&id=&page=

    ejil.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/13/2/401

    www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/8/2/8/9/p82898_index.html

    www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1352357/posts


    Jonathan1 · May 2nd, 2010 at 8:25 pm
  8. Again, you are only further deluding yourself by projecting your compulsion to favor your beliefs over reality on me

    This isn’t true at all. Like I said, I now see the truth. Reality is whatever kyleb happens to think is a good idea in this world, and anybody who disagrees with kyleb is waving their hand away from objective reality.

    That’s why, in the past, on the topic of the Geneva Conventions and the settlements, I’ve made the argument from both sides, to show that International Law is a very flawed concept, IMHO (I certainly might be wrong) and kyleb responding by writing that those arguments that the settlements don’t violate the Geneva Conventions are handwaving distractions away from objective reality . . . for reality is obviously however kyleb happens to interpret the Geneva Conventions, vis-a-vis the settlements.

    That kyleb determines objective reality should be evident to us all.


    Jonathan1 · May 2nd, 2010 at 8:35 pm
  9. Jonathan, I’m don’t think there is a need for personal attacks.


    Chorus of Apes · May 2nd, 2010 at 9:22 pm
  10. Again, objective reality exists regardless of my own existence, and in that regard, all of your links acknowledge the existence of international law.


    kyleb · May 2nd, 2010 at 9:27 pm
  11. @COA. Point taken. My apologies.

    @kyleb. Let’s just agree to disagree.


    Jonathan1 · May 2nd, 2010 at 9:33 pm
  12. While ultimately I agree with Douglas Rushkoff, who writes that the “need to interpret Torah in a literal fashion reduces covenant to a real estate contract.

    I also don’t see the Torah as a legitimate modern political document. Are we going to go back to “an eye for an eye” in its literal sense? Stoning rebellious children? Polygamy? Ethnic cleansing?

    This is a straw man hidden within a reductio ad absurdum. Even right-wing branches of Judaism—often erroneously called “fundamentalist” by people who don’t know any better—do not practice as the Torah literally describes. The first possibility you list (“eye for an eye”) is not considered by rabbinic law to advocate physical violence in any way; it is, rather, a foundational precept of Jewish tort law. Rabbinic legislation so thoroughly limits the conditions under which one could stone a rebellious child that there’s a dispute as to whether the punishment was ever carried out historically. A takana from the early 11th century C.E. bans polygamy, and the nations that the Torah commands us to eradicate in Eretz Kana’an/Yisra’el no longer exist as defined cultural or political entities.

    None of this matters, of course, since the Torah never says anything explicitly about Jews living in Jerusalem, nor does it even name the city. You’ve effectively created a false assertion as to the motivations of Religious Zionists (a group to which I don’t belong, just so we’re clear), and then attempted, but failed, to overturn your own invention through applied logic. What was the point of this exercise?


    Pāħām · May 2nd, 2010 at 11:33 pm
  13. It’s not my argument – Zuckerman states that the claim of the Jewish people to Israel is a claim of a biblical nature.

    The gemara also forbids settling Eretz Yisrael en masse by force.

    Truthfully, I think we should separate discussions of religious texts from discussions of modern politics, in which case, I take your point. To my mind, the relevant issues here are ’48 and ’67, and what the Torah does or does not say about Abraham’s purchase of a cave in Hebron should be irrelevant.


    LastTrumpet · May 3rd, 2010 at 1:05 am
  14. [...] I wrote yesterday, liberal Jews already have less religious freedom than the Orthodox in Israel (why the Reform [...]


    I prefer the first amendment | Jewschool · May 3rd, 2010 at 4:04 am
  15. We were going to declare a state in ‘48, with or without the U.N. vote, and we should end this farce that that vote grants the country some kind of legitimacy.
    We were? Proof please!


    Amit · May 3rd, 2010 at 9:50 am
  16. @Amit

    I read about conversations between the top Zionists leaders on the matter–but I can’t find it–so, indeed you have caught me on that.
    Hat tip to you.

    Overall, though, do you think the Zionists wouldn’t have declared a state when the British left–had the U.N. vote gone the other way in ’47?

    Maybe so, but they would have been idiots not to have declared a state under those circumstances.

    So, let’s put it this way: IMHO, the 1947 U.N. vote grants Israel no legitimacy at all

    … because, IMHO, International Law is a worthless, impotent concept.

    (@kyleb. I would love to read any criticisms of the theory that International Law is worthless, but if you’re going to just write that I’m a handwaver who is divorced from objective reality, then I think we’ve hashed it out on that matter, already.)


    Jonathan1 · May 3rd, 2010 at 10:49 am
  17. Jonathan,

    You didn’t just claim international law as worthless, but rather outright denied its existence. That was a claim utterly divorced from reality, and I can’t rightly expect to have a reasonable discussion on matters of international law with someone who argues from such fanciful positions. I’m curious though; do you deny the existence and/or value of national laws too, or are you just an anarchist on the international scale?


    kyleb · May 3rd, 2010 at 3:44 pm
  18. Fine. By writing that “International Law does not exist,” I meant that it is worthless–it’s the same thing to me–but maybe I wasn’t obvious about the matter.

    I’m not sure why you can’t have a reasonable discussion on this, though.

    National laws have values, because societies function according to those laws–for instance, the U.S. functions according to American law.

    For example, what’s the most controversial moral issue of our time in the U.S.? Abortion.

    What is American law on abortion? It’s legal during the first trimester. How do I know that? Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. And, because American society functions according to American law and respects the USSC’s rulings, American society lives by Roe v. Wade. We can argue about whether Roe v. Wade was a mistaken ruling, or whether the 14th Amendment grants a substantive due process right to privacy, vis-a-vis abortion, but I think we all agree that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land in the U.S.

    In contrast, how do we define “International Law?” Under what authority does it exist? What is its enforcement mechanism? Who determines its final arbiters?

    For example, Last Trumpet writes above that Israeli settlements violate International Law. Under what basis does he/she write that? I’m sure we can all provide excellent applications of the Geneva Conventions to the issue, to show that settlements violate the Geneva Conventions but, I’m sorry, there are plenty of intelligent arguments as to why settlements don’t violate the Geneva Conventions too. So, who decides which argument has the most legal weight? Where is the court of authority on this matter? There isn’t one. We all just pick and choose whichever legal theory happens to help our argument, and then say that “International Law is on my side.” It’s almost a dirty way to fight.

    Further, LasTrumpet writes that the vast majority of the world opposes the settlements, so the settlements are wrong. So, klyeb and LastTrumpet, does that mean that the settlements would be acceptable were the vast majority of the world’s nations to support that endeavor?

    I’d say no, but perhaps you would disagree.


    Jonathan1 · May 3rd, 2010 at 4:01 pm
  19. …there are plenty of intelligent arguments as to why settlements don’t violate the Geneva Conventions too.

    Rather, there are handwaving arguments from people bent on international anarchy, and such people can’t rightly have a rational discussion on the details of internal law, so please stop hounding me to waste my time trying.


    kyleb · May 3rd, 2010 at 4:41 pm
  20. @kyleb. I’m just not interested in dealing with you anymore. Best of luck to you.


    Jonathan1 · May 3rd, 2010 at 4:53 pm
  21. Jonathan1, in your funny little world, International law is incumbent on those nations which subscribe to it. Which Israel does. It is a signatory of the fourth Geneva Convention. So there.


    Amit · May 3rd, 2010 at 6:43 pm
  22. @Amit.

    Israel is a signatory to the fourth Geneva Convention. And, which court of law–with any authority–decided that the settlements were illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention? Here’s the answer: none. Even if you point to the ICJ, Israel is not a signatory to that treaty. Even if you point to some ambiguously-worded U.N. Resolution, those have no enforcement mechanism.

    And, btw., I provided, above various articles that deal with this topic. There are plenty more, from both sides of the argument, as to the validity of International Law, but of course Amit won’t even acknowledge those articles.

    (And as I’ve said, I too am opposed to the settlements, but for other reasons, but of course I have to throw in that disclaimer.)

    Nobody is answering the question: What would happen if the majority of the world supported the settlements. I would still oppose the settlements, apparently others here would not.

    in your funny little world

    @Amit and kyleb. Do you two talk this way to people in real life? (I promise you that neither of you would talk this way to my face in real life, trust me–but I guess that’s the name of the game in this forum.)

    Ok. Obviously, I need to take a vacation, because it’s getting old to read this kind of stuff.


    Jonathan1 · May 3rd, 2010 at 7:26 pm
  23. What would happen if the majority of the world supported the settlements.

    Then the world would probably change the laws which currently make the settlements illegal, at which point I’d freely acknowledge the fact that they had become legal, though I’d still oppose the situation on both moral and practical grounds.

    Also, yes I’m just as forthright face to face, and despite your fantasies, I’m not one to let anyone intimidate me into being anything but.


    kyleb · May 3rd, 2010 at 8:50 pm
  24. Jonathan1, you keep doing this to yourself every six months. I remember the first discussion you had with kyleb that I witnessed. I don’t know if you remember, but I commented back then that you’re trying to have a dialogue, and he’s trying to win. In two years, nothing has changed. If he has to reject the premise for your right to breathe in order to win the argument, he will do so. You have to know that by now. By taking the most extreme, maximalist, rejectionist position, he forces you into concessions to advance the discussion. As you reward his intransigence, thinking the hurdle is now behind you, he is only emboldened to stuff another concession in your throat.

    Your nature, upbringing and experience have led you to believe that there can be an intellectually honest exchange between people, a mutual, empathic search for common meaning and truth. What if another is not interested or appreciative of this philosophy, but in fact is willing to utilize your empathic nature against you? You seem just resigned to accept failure.

    I encourage you to read Augean Stables; particularly his Israel-related material. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Arab-Israeli Conflict
    Palestinian Suffering
    Why Israel’s Existence Prevents Arab Democracy


    Anonymouse · May 4th, 2010 at 4:53 pm
  25. @Anonymouse.

    I don’t know if I’m the “tragic” figure who you take me for (although I understand that you mean the adjective as a compliment, so that’s kind of you.)

    Nobody puts a gun to my head and makes me post comments here. I am a longtime Jewschool fan–and a fan of many of the posters. And I certainly enjoy all of the debates. ((Between you and me, I think that sometimes I just make pretty strong arguments, so my interlocutors–out of impotence–simply resort to calling me things like “morally spineless,” living in my own “funny little world,” a “handwaver,” etc.–it’s always the same usual suspects.))

    On the other hand, there are some really intelligent people in this forum (miri, BZ, and renassianceboy, just to name a few.)

    When I engage in a debate with kyleb, it’s for others–although it’s probably really just for me to read my own writing, because I would never assume that anybody else cares about my opinions.

    The fact the kyleb insists on making a fool of himself in these arguments won’t dissuade me from trying to make my point.


    Jonathan1 · May 4th, 2010 at 5:36 pm
  26. [...] Here’s him insisting that Jews who want to reverse Jordan’s gleeful 1948 ethnic cleansing of [...]


    J Street’s Israel Campus Organizer Drew Cohen – Israel Is “Unjust And Even Criminal,” Uncomfortable With “People Who Espouse Zionism” | Mere Rhetoric · November 28th, 2010 at 5:15 am
  27. [...] * Here’s him insisting that Jews who want to reverse Jordan’s gleeful 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter “are engaged in structural violence against the Palestinian people.” [...]


    J Street’s Israel Campus Organizer Drew Cohen – Israel Is “Unjust And Even Criminal,” He’s Uncomfortable With “People Who Espouse Zionism” · March 4th, 2011 at 2:10 am

Leave a Reply

If your comment does not immediately appear, do not freak out and repost your message a dozen times. Please note that all new visitors must have their first comment approved by the editor, and you must provide a legitimate e-mail address and use the same username for the system to "remember" you. The editor maintains the right to refuse comments deemed inappropriate or unhelpful. Users who repeatedly delve into ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behavior will be banned.

Trackback (Right-click & 'Copy Link...') | Comments RSS

"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik