1) Why is this debate a virtue?

Yesterday, I wrote about Joseph Levine’s outrageous article at the New York Times arguing that Israel is not a legitimate secular democratic state.

At the Daily Beast, Ralph Seliger writes:

I think it’s odd that we should still be arguing the rights and wrongs of “Zionism” nearly 65 years after Israel’s birth. But since anti-Zionists insist, we Zionists should oblige them. Happily, some of their critiques are polite and rational. For example, Joseph Levine wrote this for the New York Times Opinionator; Mira Sucharov responded to Levine’s civilized philosophical critique of Israel’s “right to exist” at Open Zion. And Jerry Haber wrote this, also at Open Zion; like Levine, Haber is an academic philosopher and critic of Zionism.

A debate would be a competition to support or dispute a premise that is unproven.

The critiques of Levine that I quoted yesterday though showed that his argument against Israel was dishonest. Levine didn’t establish a universal set of principles and then show that Israel was in violation of those principles. Rather Levine constructed a specific framework which applied only to Israel and then declared Israel in violation of that framework. But as Gil Troy observed (also at Open Zion):

Obsessed by Israel, Levine indirectly absolved purer forms of these ethnocracies, especially the Arab dictatorships, and instead targeted one of the most porous and progressive ethno-cultural states.

To use a metaphor, Levine didn’t shoot an arrow and hit a bulls-eye. Rather he shot an arrow and drew the target around where the arrow hit. What’s needed here isn’t a debate, but rather exposing the sophistry.

I can’t accept Seliger’s approval of this “debate.” It isn’t odd that we’re still “arguing the rights and wrongs of ‘Zionism’ nearly 65 years after Israel’s birth,” it’s an outrage. The outrage is that Israel’s existence is still being questioned. And it isn’t just being questioned by people like Levine, who, in the scheme of things, can’t affect Israel’s existence at all, but by those who are committed to its destruction. Even if Levine’s argument can’t hurt Israel directly, he provides a justification for those will attempt to attack Jews in Israel.

Palestinians nationalism according to its charter involve the denial of Jewish history. Article 20 states, in part:

Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.

Palestinian nationalism entered the world’s consciousness through the use of terror. Terrorism as a tactic didn’t stop after Arafat signed the Oslo Accords and was called a statesman instead of a terrorist. Even now there are elements among the Palestinians who view terrorism as a legitimate response to Israel. The Palestinian media regularly incites against Israel’s very existence. And yet, none of these deep thinkers who feel that Israel’s legitimacy is a topic for debate, question whether a Palestinian state would be legitimate.

In fact there is only one country whose existence and legitimacy seems to be a question. One might reasonably conclude that this “debate,” rather than being an academic exercise, is simply a cover for bigotry.

2) How Barry Rubin was wrong and why that’s a good thing

Last week Barry Rubin wrote, Good News: War Postponed, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Angry at Hamas, Cuts Off Weapons:

I predicted that — since Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a radical, Islamist group that wants to wipe Israel off the map, and since the ruling Hamas group in the Gaza Strip is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is a radical Islamist group and wants to wipe Israel off the map — the Egyptian regime would cooperate with Hamas in fomenting terrorism against Israel. Also, that the Egyptian government would facilitate the flow of arms, money, and terrorists to the Gaza Strip for that purpose.

Professor Rubin then observed that Egypt’s government has recently started stopping weapons from reaching Gaza and explained what’s going on:

The answer lies in another point I’ve made: many revolutionary Islamists are overconfident. This is partly due to a weak United States; partly due to their ideology that puts the deity, literally, on their side; and partly because of the big gains they are making throughout the region, and even the world.

These groups also bicker and even fight among themselves, most notably but not exclusively due to Sunni-Shia conflicts. So radical Islamist groups overreach, and thus suffer self-inflicted defeats.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s reasons are not benign. It seeks to consolidate control over a highly populated country and fundamentally transform it into a Sharia state under the Brotherhood’s perpetual rule. Hamas, however, by its nature, cannot accept Islamism in one country (to paraphrase Stalin, see end note). Hamas isn’t interested in building up a Sharia state in the Gaza Strip as its main goal because it seeks to conquer Israel and the West Bank.

One reason why the Brotherhood is stopping more aid or encouragement to Hamas is that the Egyptian regime doesn’t want a war — or even a high level of conflict — right now. A second reason is simply that Hamas has become entangled with smaller radical Islamist groups that are waging armed struggle against Egypt and seek to overthrow the Egyptian government and also to stage (without Egyptian permission) attacks against Israel across the Egypt-Israel border.

Hamas isn’t happy right now and Avi Issacharoff reports Egypt and Hamas Waging Media “Cold War”, As Hamas Threatens To Sue Over Attack Accusations:

Hamas spokesman Abu Ubayda said at a Gaza City news conference today that his group was taking Egyptian magazine Al-Ahram to court over a story published this week that linked three members of the Iran-backed terror group — Ayman Nufal, Raed al-Atar, and Mohammed Abu Shamala — to the August 2012 attack. Nufal had once been jailed in Egypt and was one of hundreds of prisoners who broke free in January 2011 amid the chaos of the country’s Arab Spring. Atar, a ground commander in the Gaza Strip, was involved in the 2005 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Abu Shamala is a top figure in Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Al-Ahram had earlier expressed confidence in the accuracy of its report, noting that the information came from inside Hamas and was verified by Egyptian sources.

The Tower spoke with Israeli officials who described the story as part of a media campaign targeting Hamas and driven by Egyptian army officials and the Minister of Defense. The Egyptians are retaliating for vociferous criticism of Egypt that appeared in Hamas outlets after the Egyptian army’s recent campaign to flood smuggling tunnels running between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian army, it seems, has decided to use Egyptian media to push back.

Still Professor Rubin cautions that the long term still presents risks:

But one must also note that things could change in the future, especially with the Brotherhood confident once it has Egypt, the Gaza Strip, and Syria. Remember that the nationalist regime went through a parallel cycle. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s movement seized control over Egypt in 1952, and took 15 years to get around to seeking confrontation with Israel, though within four years such a confrontation seemed possible.