February 28, 2009

I just got back to Oklahoma after three amazing weeks in California visiting old friends and making a few new ones. I also gave a talk about Palestine at four different venues. The version I gave at Google was videotaped and posted on Youtube.

Feel free to check it out and pass it on. The first half-hour is pictures and stories about the good life in the beautiful West Bank (which two people told me made them want to travel there!) while the second half-hour is about the devastating effects of the occupation on ordinary Palestinians and how to end the occupation realistically. There are also twenty minutes of questions at the end.

Surprisingly, in all the venues where I gave the talk, and in the emails I’ve received from people who’ve watched it on Youtube, the reactions have been overwhelmingly thoughtful and positive. (Note for the uninitiated: Talks and events that even mention the word ‘Palestine’ are often met with harassment, vitriol, and sometimes outright censorship.) Only during my talk at Stanford was I confronted by two Ziobots, which I define as people who claim to support the Israeli side but have no rational arguments or thoughtful comments to make — only talking points, most of them already debunked, and classic debating fallacies used as obstructionist techniques. These folks can really waste a lot of time, when you’re trying to get useful information across, by monologuing for minutes at a time, arguing heatedly about an unrelated point, insulting the speaker (or, in one particularly egregious case, the speaker’s deceased daughter), and making bizarre demands. It’s incredibly irritating.

I finally came up with the idea of making up some index cards with a different debating fallacy written on each one — “Red herring,” “Ad hominem,” “Straw man,” “Argument from authority,” etc. (A partial list and explanation of debating fallacies can be found here.) Then I can just hold up the index card that corresponds to each obstructionist technique or fallacy they use so I don’t have to try to talk over them. Then I can politely say, “Next,” because it’s a waste of time to argue with people who have no real argument to make. Of course, even if I totally disagree with someone, if they have a substantive and intellectually honest question, I’ll appreciate it and do my best to answer.

Here’s an article on Salon.com that comments on a trend I’ve been noticing lately. Some people fear that Israel’s voting in of a far-right-wing government, and the increasing shrillness of far-right-wing Israel-supporters in America, are signals that things are increasingly hopeless. I see it as more of the dying gasp of an ideological system that knows, deep in the cockles of its heart, that its days are numbered. They have nothing left up their sleeve. Their techniques (mostly violence and repression, which wouldn’t be possible without gross and systematic dehumanization) don’t work, their arguments make no sense, and their last trump card — their ability to define the debate in America — is slipping away. I just hope they don’t do too much (more) damage on their way down and out. An excerpt:

“Whereas these smear tactics [chiefly calling anyone who criticizes Israel’s policies an anti-Semite, up to and including Jimmy Carter, which not only stifles legitimate debate but ultimately waters down the ability of people to protest genuine anti-Semitism] once inspired fear in many people, now they just inspire pity. They no longer work. Very few Americans are going to refrain from expressing their views on American policy towards Israel out of fear that the Jeffrey Goldbergs of the world are going to screech “anti-Semitism” at them. Neocons are far too discredited and their policies far too self-evidently destructive for them to intimidate anyone out of questioning their orthodoxies. Now, watching neocons [most of whom are Israel hawks] recklessly spew their bitter little epithets in lieu of (and in order to suppress) debate is like watching an old, dying dragon sadly trying to breathe mighty fire from its mouth but collapsing in a debilitating coughing fit instead — or is like watching a disgraced, post-censure Joe McCarthy in 1956 stand in an empty Senate chamber and rail against hidden Communists. Nobody cares.”

Here’s hoping. The tide certainly seems to be turning, slowly but surely, in the direction of a little more common sense in this country. As Israeli journalist Amir Oren said recently, Israel must accept its loss of influence in the U.S. Luckily, despite what the propagandists say, this is not some kind of end-of-days catastrophe for Israel. Israel will just have to grow and adapt to its new role, not as a regional colonialist state and military hegemon, but as a relatively ordinary nation among nations — which I think will be a massive change for the better for everyone involved. I just hope things don’t get too much uglier before Israel finally wakes up to this increasingly undeniable reality. If they don’t start showing some modicum of good will soon (at the VERY least stopping settlement expansion and letting the people of Gaza eat), the Arab Peace Initiative could very well expire. (All this is explained in the Google talk linked to above.)

As one Haaretz reader commented:

“After the Gold Rush, the good people in the Wild West had to adapt to the new situation and look out for new jobs. After Israel’s (political) “Gold Rush” in Washington D.C. over the past decades, the Israeli people will also have to adapt to the new situation and look out for new friends in this world. And as with all adjustments, that will require some (painful) sacrifices/concessions. [But also a lot of new opportunities.] The Israeli people know very well what is expected from them now [fair, negotiated peace based on international law — in other words, the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab East Jerusalem for a sovereign Palestinian state]… And I don’t think that it is too much.”

If anyone has any thoughtful counterarguments to this, I’ll be happy to hear them.

As for my book, Fast Times in Palestine, I’m still working on the final revisions of Chapters 1-8 (out of 12). My time in California and the feedback of several thoughtful friends have filled me with new ideas about how to round them out. Hopefully I can finish them by mid-March, send them off to my agent, and then to the two publishers who’ve expressed interest in reading them, plus a new round of publishers we haven’t hit up yet. Wish me luck landing a sweet book deal!