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Commentary: American ‘liberals’ supporting Palestine miss the point

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM –Two items came to my mailbox this morning. One is another demand from a well-intentioned innocent in Olympia that I butt out of the issue about the Food Coop’s boycott of Israel. This friend is a political maven who seems to be operating according to the Introduction to Political Science he learned many years ago. He thinks that concession and compromise are the routes to conflict resolution.

Okay as a general tip, but not always applicable.
He would engage the know-nothings of Olympia in a dialog by conceding Palestinian suffering, which he links with Israel rather than with Palestinian behavior. His acceptance of “Arab land” is to sign on to an incredible narrative as historical truth. In that mode, he might think about Indian land (God knows which tribe), and move somewhere else. If, that is, he can find a place that isn’t claimed by someone insisting on their priority.
Another note came from an American student of urban architecture who visited with me as part of a class project about Jerusalem. He sent me the typescript of his interview with me, along with interviews with nine other people he found throughout Jerusalem and asked for their views of the city.
The link between the notes was the portrayal of the Palestinian narrative that appears strongly in the student’s interviews with Arabs, similar to that adopted by boycott advocates in Olympia.
We all know the components of the narrative: Israeli conquest, occupation, discrimination and persecution; police and soldiers who use deadly force against individuals who are innocent of any wrongdoing, and most likely were set up by someone wanting to kill an Arab..
The lessons of Introduction to Political Science do not work in a context where there is a religious infrastructure that produces, justifies, and reinforces the narrative. Truth and reasoned argument cannot compete with belief of this depth. 
One does not have to insist that all Israelis are angels to demand the right of defense against those motivated by  such a narrative. Here the divide between civilized democracy and Islamic extremism is not across the ocean but across the street. 
Conceding debating points might work in Olympia when the issue is where to build a new school or locate a site for solid waste disposal. When it comes to the justice of a conflict affected by a century of history and religious doctrine that is hateful of others, concession of things like Israeli oppression and Arab land is pathetically naive. 
You don’t think that all Muslims are hateful? 
Neither do I. The Muslims I encounter on a daily basis do not raise my hackles or my fears.
But turn to for samples of preachings from the mosques of Gaza and Jerusalem, and the madness from religious leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Their hatred is what moves a substantial incidence of our neighbors. Reasoned argument has its limits. Occasionally it is necessary to use force. That is seldom pretty, and it is likely to upset people who live far away, and express nothing but hatred for hate. For some of those people, reasoned argument has no more chance than with the mad mullahs of the Middle East.
Israel will survive whatever decision comes from the Olympia Food Coop. One can predict that some will scream at one another, and some will pose as politically sophisticated compromisers and negotiators. Whether they win or lose, individuals may gain a feeling of victory, a sense of having contributed to a major event, and betrayal. 
I will let them wonder if the good life of Olympia is worth the effort.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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