Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Territorial Addiction' And Academic Debasement

First published in The Jewish Press

The core of the Arab-Israeli problem is Israel's "territorial addiction." So declares a December 3 Haaretz article by one Alex Sinclair.

As to the solution, Sinclair does not quite echo Haaretz's former executive editor David Landau, who urged Condoleezza Rice a year ago to "rape" Israel. Rather, he advocates a friendly but forceful stand by President-elect Obama to break Israel of its addiction - promoting, in the jargon of addiction treatment (although Sinclair doesn't use the term), less violent-sounding "tough love" instead of rape.

Implicit in Sinclair's metaphor is the conviction that Israel has no legitimate or rational claim to any part of the territories and that its seeking to retain a presence there is entirely pathological.Not for him the perspective of the authors of UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in the wake of the 1967 war and subsequently the starting point for all Arab-Israeli negotiations. That document calls for Israel not to return to its pre-1967 lines but rather to negotiate "secure and recognized boundaries" with its neighbors - and Resolution 242's authors explicitly declared their conviction that it would be a grievous error to push Israel back to its former lines.

Lord Caradon, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations at the time and the person who introduced the resolution in the Security Council, observed some years later:

It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places where the soldiers of each side happened to be on the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That's why we didn't demand that the Israelis return to them, and I think we were right not to...

The American ambassador to the UN at the time concurred, noting that "Israel's prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure."

And President Lyndon Johnson, shortly after the 1967 war, declared that Israel's return to its former lines would be "not a prescription for peace but for renewed hostilities." Johnson advocated new "recognized boundaries" that would provide "security against terror, destruction, and war."

A number of subsequent presidents have reiterated Johnson's position on borders and several have done so in even stronger terms regarding Israel's need to retain some of the areas captured in 1967.

Also in the wake of the 1967 war, a memorandum written by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff stated: "From a strictly military point of view, Israel would require the retention of some Arab territory to provide militarily defensible borders."

But Sinclair, in his cavalier attitude toward Israel's security, does not merely take issue with differing views; he doesn't even acknowledge them. On the contrary, he presents no evidence to rebut those views or to bolster his own position. Instead, he offers his "territorial addiction" metaphor as though it were established truth and devotes his entire piece to expanding on the metaphor.

Thus, he lists the recommended interventions that an addict's friends and family can employ to win their loved one from his or her addiction, including interventions which the addict might resist. And he declares that these actions should be a model for Obama's policies toward Israel

"Obama must tell us [after indicting Israel for its 'addiction,' Sinclair inexplicably shifts to referring to Israel as 'us'] in clear terms how harmful our activities and behavior are to ourselves, to our friends, and to those around us. He must tell us what we need to do and what will no longer be tolerated. And he must help us carry out that program."

The absence of argument, the heavy-handed elaboration, the sheer mindlessness of the piece, is even more amazing in that Sinclair is a teacher. He is identified in Haaretz as "a lecturer in Jewish education at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and an adjunct assistant professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America."

There was a time when the essence of pedagogy was training students in how to think and write critically; how to formulate an argument and muster evidence in its defense. It entailed weaning students away from believing it sufficient simply to state one's conviction, perhaps metaphorically, and then expound on the implications of the conviction until reaching some requisite number of words.

Jews are known for often being in the forefront of developments in academia. Recent decades have seen a notable debasement in standards in the social sciences, humanities, and pedagogy. Alex Sinclair's Haaretz piece on Israel's "territorial addiction" suggests that some Jews in the area of Jewish Studies are pioneering new frontiers of academic debasement.