Don’t Conflate Columnists and Countries

By William K. Black

Well the inevitable remains inevitable. Talk about Israel and Egypt and some folks will become enraged and cast dark aspersions – there must be some evil reason why he discusses the topic. One reader responded to Mr. Rosner’s JPost column about me by remarking that I must be a professor of “traitors.” The readers who post comments on JPost columns tend to have strident views. Sadly, I have distressed at least one reader of our UMKC blog. “Anonymous” writes:
I think terror ranks right up there with fraud and corruption, but let’s grant your point for the moment. Were you turning a blind eye to PLO corruption? Can you point to posts or articles you wrote in the PLO era? If not, I think these posts are more anti-Israel than anti-corruption.
The context is that Anonymous is responding to my reply to his inquiry about why I was “obsessed” with JPost columnists. I explained that I was so interested because the JPost columnists were implicitly criticizing President Obama for not successfully bribing the Egyptian army to launch a wave of terror against the Egyptian people for the purposes of keeping Mubarak in power and keeping the Camp David Peace Accords in force. I explained why Israel refused to follow this strategy for moral and pragmatic reasons – and expressed the view that it was obscene to denounce the U.S. for refusing to adopt a strategy that Israel rightly refused to follow.

So let me go through Anonymous’ complaint. First, he thinks terror is as important as fraud and corruption. I said nothing about their relative “ranks.” Indeed, I pointed out that the suggested corruption was designed to produce a wave of terror by the Egyptian army against its citizens.

Second, he asks “were you turning a blind eye to PLO corruption?” PLO corruption is irrelevant to the strategy that the JPost columnists were implicitly advocating of the U.S. bribing Egyptian generals in order to induce them to murder and maim Egyptian civilians. No one was implying that Israelis were uniquely corrupt. The corruption at issue was Egyptian corruption.

Third, Anonymous thinks my posts are “anti-Israel” unless I can produce multiple posts attacking PLO corruption. Putting aside the fact that the “PLO era” (if I understand how Anon. is using that phrase) ended before I began making posts a bit over two years ago, the writer misses a more fundamental point. None of my columns are about Israel — they are about particular JPost columnists. My columns are distinctly pro-Israel (without being anti-Muslim). I stress that Israel has, despite its military dominance, refused for moral and pragmatic reasons to employ “Hama Rules.” I stress that Israel has refused to attempt to bribe Egyptian generals to induce them to launch a wave of terror against their citizens for the purpose of keeping Mubarak in power. Anonymous makes the error of conflating specific JPost columnists with Israel. Again, I stress that Israel refused to follow their strategy suggestions – Israel returned the Sinai to the nation from which it was taken by force of arms – Egypt. Israel refused to employ the bribery/terror strategy. I believe that the policies the columnists have recommended would have been anti-Israel, anti-Egypt, and anti-U.S. I think President Carter’s successful shepherding of the Peace Accords was pro-Israel, pro-Egypt, and pro-U.S. I think that if President Obama had employed the bribery/terror strategy that the JPost columnists advocate it would have been anti-Israel, anti-Egypt, and anti-U.S.

While I did not blog until fairly recently, I did write a letter to the editor of Al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading English-language paper, nearly a decade ago. I’ve set out the full text below.

Words in Bin Laden’s mouth
Sir- Several of your opinion writers this week share the same flaw — the desire to claim that Bin Laden revels in the mass murder of innocents because of the cause that is dear to the writer’s (but not Bin Laden’s) heart. Thus, we are told that thousands were massacred on 11 September because of global income disparities, or because the US is arrogant, or because the US does not put enough pressure on Israel to make peace.
In fact, none of those things motivated Bin Laden. Even his most recent video, which for the first time tries to highlight the Palestinians, makes that clear. Bin Laden has made it abundantly clear that what lit his fuse was the presence of “infidels” “defiling” “holy Arabia” (i.e., American troops risking their lives to defend his native country from imminent invasion by Saddam).
Now, as I recall the position of Arab and Islamic states at Durban, any state that discriminated against others on the basis of their religion was “racist” and engaged in “apartheid.” I trust you will show some minimal consistency and agree that Saudi Arabia already does discriminate against other faiths (e.g., displaying a crucifix can be a crime) and that Bin Laden wants the total exclusion of “infidels.” The US should not accede to such bigotry, our soldiers do not “defile” a country by defending it, and it is a Wahabi/House of Saud “creation myth” to call all of Saudi Arabia “holy.” Moreover, in a desire to respect local sensibilities (even bigoted ones), US troops are kept hundreds of miles from Mecca and Medina. Further, the US did a very good thing in defeating Iraq, defending Saudi Arabia and liberating Kuwait. The world would be much worse off but for these US actions. Therefore, whatever policies we followed with regard to Israel, Bin Laden would still have wished to engage in the mass murder of Jewish and Christian civilians (“Crusaders” in his argot).
The claim that Bin Laden massacred American civilians out of global poverty is absurd. He’s rich and his principal lieutenants, like Atta, were well-to-do. The US could increase foreign aid a hundred times over and he would still seek our blood.
Nor can the US possibly, morally, accede to Bin Laden’s demands about Israel. He wants the restoration of the universal caliphate, the recovery of all lands ever ruled by Muslims, and the mass murder of those who stand in the way of this restoration — including women and children. We will not accede to the destruction of Israel or further terrorist attacks. No reputable American will. So, Bin Laden will still seek to murder us even if our efforts to aid the peace process succeed. You know full well that Bin Laden hates the peace process and wishes it to fail. You know full well that he planned these attacks at the very time that US carrots and sticks led to an Israeli offer for return of land that came very close to producing a final peace agreement.
One of your opinion writers says the critical question Americans should ask is why 19 Arabs were willing to sacrifice their lives to massacre thousands of innocents. I’ll address that question, but I’ll start with a question of my own. What caused five or six unarmed Americans to be willing to give up their lives attacking four armed terrorists in order to save the lives of people they didn’t even know? I am talking, of course, about the hijacked plane that crashed in Philadelphia. It was love. What caused the terrorists to act as they did? It was hate.
That hate was very carefully taught. The death of thousands has become a mere statistic to your opinion writers, so try this one instead: the terrorists took female flight attendants, bound their hands behind their backs, and slit their throats. As I write, thousands (not a handful) of Palestinians are rioting to show their support of these heroic murderers of defenceless American women. Arafat is repeating the strategy he used when many Palestinians celebrated the 11 September massacres, by seeking to suppress television reporting of the pro-Bin Laden riots in Gaza.
If you are truly concerned about global poverty, consider the effects of Bin Laden’s massacres on the world economy and who will be the worst losers from the coming global recession — the poor. Consider also what oil shocks do to the poorest of the poor. Sub-Saharan Africa has never recovered from OPEC’s successful foray as a cartel. Saddam came very close to controlling Iraq, Iran’s primary oil-producing region, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Want to hazard a guess as to the oil shock he would have engineered and the impact on the (net oil importing) Third World?
William K. Black
Assistant professor
University of Texas at Austin
LBJ School of Public Affairs
But I add a caution. What if I didn’t have this letter to the editor? Would it be appropriate to write that I was a “traitor” or imply that I was “obsessed” about Israel for bigoted reasons? Why not respond to the substance of our arguments rather than our imagined motives?

2 responses to “Don’t Conflate Columnists and Countries

  1. Dr. Black,Maybe you should brush up on the historical roots of militant muslim fundamentalism. Middle East expert Robert Dreyfus might be a good place to start. Turmoil in the Middle East has been the result of cynical manipulation and encouragement of militant fundamentalism by playing off various sects with another with the ultimate goal of inhibiting creation of secular democratic states. The process of "balkanizing" is as old as the British Empire & continues with Pax Americana.What motivates bin laden? Who knows exactly? But he has harnessed the sympathies of millions of poverty stricken angry Muslims. He was created by a combination of misguided foreign policy starting with the Carter administration by "Giving the Soviets their Vietnam" .. The incredible wealth transfer to Saudi Arabia was partly the brainchild of Henry Kissenger & Secretary of Treasury William Simon..wasnt it under his tutelege secret agreements were struck with SAMA to keep trading dollars in oil & via petro recycling. Striking deals to sell US treasuries at discounted rates.. all of which funded US budget deficits?? Also joint Economic agreements which built the Saudi Military Infrastructure. Hmm..did not bin Laden construction enterpises grow from all of this as well? To blame the Third world debt/Sub Sahara Africa crisis on OPEC is a stretcher. It was the Mulinational banks & the World Bank/IMF acting as debt collecters which created the abject poverty/debt crisis

  2. "Now, as I recall the position of Arab and Islamic states at Durban, any state that discriminated against others on the basis of their religion was "racist" and engaged in "apartheid.""Since when has religious discrimination become 'racist'? Apartheid refers to the separation of races. Doesn't this reflect a kind of laziness of thought? By the same token, is one who is pro-Palestinian, or for the establishment of a democratic state that is not based upon religion, that is not a theocracy, that accepts the existence of both semitic peoples, both Jews and Muslims, often times labelled as anti-semitic? This seems to me to be a laziness or carelessness in the use of language, which I see often in the realm of economics: many seem to mistakenly use the term exploitation, when what is really meant is oppression. For example, I've heard many people say that pornography exploits women. But pornography is mostly aimed at and bought mostly by men. Exploitation is an economic category that often gets misused by well-meaning people, just as it seems 'racist' and 'anti-semite' are.