Monthly Archives: December 2014

Some Serious Solution Proposals to the Israel-Palestine Conflict – Pay Attention!

Two states on one land It’s just unconscionable how much time is spent analyzing and criticizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how little time is spent working on positive and productive solution possibilities. There are, of course, lots of solution proposals and options but the force of communicative energy is directed toward critique and justifications for why something cannot be done rather than the hard work of grinding out durable solutions that take into account the “facts on the ground.” True enough, many elements from both sides don’t actually want to work on solutions because their identities are wrapped up in the conflict but this is one of the stages in the conflict process the two sides must overcome. Listen to the sound file here from the “Voice of Israel” and their shallow criticism of the New York Times. They fail to make the distinction between bias and perspective and have slipped into a series of minor perspective differences informed more by defensiveness than serious engagement.

An animated video that you can watch here is a better and more productive presentation of the conflict because it presents the pragmatic issues that must be addressed rather than small matters that do not carry any traction. Here’s an alternative from IPCRI – a serious solution that clearly requires additional difficult conversation but seems “rational” to the extent that it addresses the needs of everyone.

IPCRI (the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information) is a welcome alternative. IPCRI has been working on detailed solutions designed to create “Two States in One Space.” You can access the “Two States in One Space Research Paper” here. The paper tries to balance a separation mentality with a cooperation one that requires somewhat less sacrifice and ameliorates potential trauma. The core idea of the paper is to avoid evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Palestinians by creating different categories of political participation. For example, on that portion of the land that will be Israel one group will be citizens (Israeli Jews) with all the privileges of voting, decision-making, and shaping the national identity. The minority group will be residents, not citizens, but who will have certain guaranteed liberal rights just not the same as citizens. The same will hold for the Palestinian state where Jews (many of them now are settlers) will be a resident minority but not citizens.

This model mitigates demographic fears, responds somewhat to the right of return issues, prevents massive population movement which is rarely easy or successful, and allows for independent nation building. Individuals can move to their own nation state or remain a resident granting the fact that population movement and control will be demanding.

But Most Important!

But most importantly the model sets up the conditions for the development of integrated cooperation and interdependence. The current asymmetrical relationship between Israelis and Palestinians will be softened as the two sides cooperate on security, regional and local governance, and the establishment of necessary shared institutions of government. Israeli Jewish needs for a democratic state devoted to Jewish particularity will be met and there will be no political possibility for the Jewish nature of the state to be challenged. And, Palestinians will have their own state devoted to cultural, political, artistic, and religious matters all in the service of a Palestinian political identity.

Of course, these things remain difficult with lots of work ahead but both sides have to assume that they are not going to get everything they want. This proposal is a matter of entering into a voluntary union that requires a certain amount of cooperation and allows for less sacrifice. And finally, it represents a sensible integration model rather than the separation mentality that characterizes most political solutions. Spend some time reading the documents at IPCRI.













Try Communication, Torture Doesn’t Work

 ... -wont-be-charged-for-post-911-enhanced-interrogation-techniques.jpgIt sounds a little benign, but the issues surrounding torture are very much communication issues. I don’t consider pure torture to be communicative in the proper sense of the term but a decision not to torture is certainly communicative because it means information will be extracted and processed through the communication process. There is nothing wrong with interrogating someone purely through the interactional process with the goal of trying to get information, as long as this process remains fully symbolic. But of course any process that is fully symbolic and “interactive” in the most straightforward sense of the term is subject to wide latitudes of interpretation, pragmatic complexities, and semantic confusions. Prevarication is always part of a pure human symbolic activity not to mention time constraints, speed of information acquisition, and other practical limitations.

People start to justify torture when the information is considered crucial and must be obtained quickly. Moreover, the moral argument is typically overcome by the principle of the “greater good.” In other words, the potential to save lives or do good outweighs the opportunity to maintain moral purity. Security and intelligence specialists feel responsible for protecting the lives of others and thus acquiring information from an enemy is vital. Torture becomes justified by an appeal to a “higher” good.

There remains the question of simply whether or not torture works. In other words if a political system institutes a program of torture is it the case that inputting torture leads to an output of truth. Arrigo posits three potential theoretical suggestions for how torture leads to truth. These are the animal instinct model, the cognitive failure model, and the data processing model. Each has complexities and strengths and weaknesses that are beyond our concern here but all share an “informational” quality in terms of predictions about whether or not the model leads to the truth it seeks.

Briefly, the animal instinct model is simply that in order to avoid pain or death one will meet the demands of the torturer and utter the truth. The problem with this model is that it requires considerable brutality and subjects will say anything to avoid the pain. A second model is the cognitive failure model and it holds that torture creates incompetence in the subject and it is impossible for him to maintain any deceptions. This process is lengthy which makes information less valuable over time of and often the subject can’t distinguish between true statements and erroneous ones. The third model is the data processing model and it poses the theoretical position that extracts bits and pieces of both true and false information from subjects and then uses that with other information to complete a comprehensive analysis. This is the most common model and approximates the way interrogation specialists whether they inflict pain or not actually operate. They defend the information value of their work by defending the notion of accumulating small bits of information that finally amounts to something.

In the end, torture just doesn’t work very well. Of course appeals to morality and democratic liberties are potent arguments that must be respected. But the arguments for enhanced interrogation or torture by any definition always include the pleas for speed and the “ticking bomb” argument that some disaster must be prevented immediately. More than a few studies have reported the ill consequences of coercive interrogation which are serious societal moral objections, false evidence, manipulated evidence, corrosive corruption and secrecy, and even the involvement of organized crime. Arrigo reports that changes in information value when torture is permitted are negligible.

When the public feels threatened it resorts quickly to extreme means to solve problems and identify dangers. The public support for torture varies as a function of its perception of threat. Managing these threats through communicative and political means will eliminate the conditions that nourish the demand for coercive interrogation, and eliminate the time pressure that justifies such interrogations.







How Group Level Conflict Is Changed by Interaction Rituals

interaction ritualsEthnopolitical conflicts are pervasive in a culture and involve a relationship between locally situated parties and larger groups. The conflict is perceived as both an interpersonal problem and a group level problem. Attempts to resolve these conflicts are significantly at the interpersonal level in the form of communicative contact experiences that seek to change relationships in the hope that such changes will find their way to group levels. If intergroup contact of any sort (problem-solving groups, dialogue groups, civil society) is going to claim efficacy then there must be some principled relationship between interpersonal interactions and the larger world of social structure. This calls to mind work by Giddens on the relationship between communicative interactions and the pre-existing structural world (e.g. “culture,” “ethnicity”). Sociologists refer to this as the micro-macro link and the connections between the real-time world of individuals and the larger world of social structure. Conflict resolution experiences rely on interdependence between forms of interpersonal communication and broader group goals. For example, communicative contact between conflicting groups can have multiple goals. One goal can be immediate and concern change or attitude adjustment on the part of those participating in the communicative encounter, while a broader goal is concerned with the relationship between the communicative encounter and the conflict as a whole. Israeli and Palestinian high school students, for example, might interact in order to appreciate each other’s values and culture, and then have mechanisms to return to their home communities to transfer their experiences and widen the impact. A macro category such as “Israeli” or “Palestinian” serves as a shorthand for numerous micro communication and cultural behaviors. This leaves room for definition and change of meaning.

The term interaction ritual from Goffman refers to the motivations, resources, and messages of language users who are parties to conflicts to produce histories, cultural content, and stored memories. Ethnopolitically divided groups distort these processes on the basis of attribution errors, incompatible narratives, interpretive disjunctions, incomplete scripts, biased indexicality, and perceptual biases thereby producing dangerous, damaging, and inaccurate macro categories. Some interaction ritual chains (e.g. mutual victimization claims) are counterproductive and circulate in the larger community thereby perpetuating the conflict. Controlled encounters designed for positive change have new interaction rituals as a goal. A category for the other group such as “violent,” “backward,” “manipulative,” “deceptive,” or “rigid” contain the reality that lives in the network of communicative relationships. By changing the interaction rituals and activating the network of communicative relationships it’s possible to alter the group’s reality and alter the categories of meaning that sustain the intensity of the conflict. Macro categories of meaning (gender, ethnicity, group identification) are enfolded into individuals and displayed in communicative practices. Biased meanings are thus easily foregrounded in the context of ethnopolitical conflicts.

For example, one of the macro meaning categories for intractable conflicts in general, and the Israelis and Palestinians in particular, is “victimhood.” (See Eidelson and Eidelson for more on victimhood.) Victimhood is that state where groups feel a loss or sense of insecurity and diminished self-worth because of aggressive outsiders. Each group feels as though victimhood correctly characterizes their condition. Third person affects and group level perceptions supports the notion that even when individuals do not feel victimized, they believe that victimization characterizes their group. Typically, ethnopolitically divided groups argue about who has suffered more and “compete” for the most victimized status. The macro category “victim” serves as a short hand for a compilation of micro-experiences. Talk in localized contexts produces interaction ritual chains that circulate like capital between micro-and macro levels of reality. By changing the interaction rituals group members can change the nature of the circulating symbolic capital. Just as the label describing someone’s personality (e.g., friendly, aggressive, authoritarian) is an encapsulation of interaction encounters, so too are macro descriptive terms of group experiences. Conflict resolution is about changing communicative relationships in micro-contexts so that the phenomenological reality of the concept changes at the macro level.



A Third Narrative for Israel-Palestine


The Third Narrative


Anyone interested in the Middle East these days will be subjected to a relentless barrage of accusations against Israel on the Web, on campus and in other settings. Some of these attacks come from the far left, from activists trying to appeal to Jews and non-Jews who are committed to human rights and social justice.

Often, these critics are not just attacking specific, objectionable Israeli policies and behavior. They treat Israel as the epitome of evil. They portray the entire Zionist enterprise, from the 19th century to the present, as nothing more than a racist, colonialist and immoral land theft. Many are active in the movement of Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, calling Israel an Apartheid state.

At Ameinu, a North American Jewish organization that supports progressive causes in Israel, the U.S. and Canada, we have often criticized Israeli policies and behavior, including settlement expansion, racism against Arabs and crony capitalism. But we believe too many of Israel’s left-wing critics cross the line that separates legitimate, productive criticism from polemical, inaccurate and unfair attacks.

At the same time, too many voices of those who reflexively support –or passively accept—the Israeli occupation and the morally indefensible status quo in the Palestinian territories are going unanswered.

The Third Narrative initiative is our response to this situation. We hope to engage people on the left who suspect that it is wrong to lay all blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict at the feet of Israeli Jews…but aren’t sure how to respond to Israel’s most vitriolic critics. Some of what these critics say is true, some of their accusations are justified. Some of what Israel’s traditional defenders say is also accurate. When it comes to this conflict, the truth is rarely black or white; it resides in a gray area where advocates on either side typically don’t like to venture. That is where we try to go with The Third Narrative.

We feel a deep connection to the Jewish state and the Jewish people. We are also committed to social justice and human rights for everyone. Some say those commitments are contradictory, that particularist attachments to a state or a people can’t be reconciled with universal values. Our response is that belonging to a people, a community larger than ourselves, is a basic human need –indeed, it is our right. And balancing our communal attachments with a commitment to humanity as a whole is our responsibility.

In fact, our ties to Israel might make us even more disturbed by its current direction than those that have no ties to it. But we are alarmed by the increasingly widespread rhetoric that refuses to recognize any justification whatsoever for Israeli positions or the Jewish state. And we think the American left –Jewish and non-Jewish—could use a third narrative, one that neither reflexively attacks nor reflexively justifies Israeli policies and actions.

For more information, please contact us.



Covering Israel: Western Democratic Traditions and Moral Failings

Times Opinion pageThe Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always here. It continues year after year as populations everywhere grow weary. The other issue that is always with us is the charge of biased news coverage. Large numbers of people will charge, for example, the New York Times with blatant bias and their fury seems to jump from the page. The next day another group will accuse the Times of being the mouthpiece for Israel. You can’t win and you don’t know who to believe. Margaret Sullivan of the New York Times recently expressed similar frustrations in an article called “The Conflict and the Coverage.”

Frustrating and futile as it seems to be, newspapers of quality such as the New York Times must continue to grapple with how they can do better. And they must continue to search for standards that ensure balance, context, and accuracy. Even though we have a tradition of aspiring to objective journalism the public remains ignorant about how journalists actually work, not to mention the difference between “bias” and “perspective.” Moreover it is impossible to write a story from a perspective that matches everyone. But let me suggest to you three good reads on the matter of covering Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first one we mentioned above is Margaret Sullivan who is the public editor for the New York Times. Sullivan concludes that The Times does everything in its power to be fair and does have a basic worldview that Israel has a right to exist. This assumption puts them at odds with radical critics of Israel such that nothing The Times does will be satisfactory. She makes four suggestions: (1) provide more historical and geopolitical context, (2) improve the engagement between the newspaper and the public so that the public can ask questions and learn more about journalists, (3) improve the coverage of Palestinians, and (4) stop straining for equivalencies. In other words, take a stand when defensible and necessary.

If you want a perspective from a blogger strongly supportive of Israel who corrects biases and misunderstandings then go to “How Not to Report on Israel (and How It Can Be Done Correctly”). You will not find detailed data and argument on the site but you will find the perspective of a cultural native who is tapped into the consciousness of Israel. This is a useful perspective because many journalists covering the Middle East have a modest at best working knowledge of history, culture, language. This may not be true of journalists such as Thomas Friedman but he is an exception as well as an editorial writer which allows him to stay above the fray; that is, he is rarely if ever on the ground reporting facts.

A final reading is from Tablet magazine entitled “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth.” In this essay a former AP correspondent explains how so much of the reporting fails to understand Israel. Yet the international media is consistent in its reporting and suggests a narrative or an understanding of Israel that is largely misdirected. First, so many media assumes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than others where more people die and the politics are more contentious. This “magnification” process often associated with the media is truly operational here. The conflict also garners attention because it takes place in the center of the three Abraham religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and this infuses it with significance. Secondly, it is simply policy to favor stories that are about violence more than peace and reconciliation. When a political party is elected to government and it seeks a moderate path and contact with the Palestinians the story goes untold. This is true, according to Matti Friedman the author of the Tablet story, because of the pressure to maintain the consistent narrative that has the Palestinians as the underdog seeking a home and historical justice, but Israel as difficult and unmoving as it drifts rightward.

The coverage of Israel has moved from fair and supportive to unfair and critical. And no fair treatment of Israel can ignore either its strong Western democratic traditions or its moral failings. But it is also true that Israel is not a symbol for everything right or wrong, good or evil, solvable and not. The coverage of Israel requires some critical empathy on the part of all sides.










Strategies for Hate Applied To Islam

imagesMuslims, for a lot of obvious reasons, have been the recipients of hate crimes and this is quite unfortunate. In addition to old-fashioned violent hate fueled by fierce emotions there is the more benign form of hate that simply tries to dispute Islam’s status as a religion. This is usually the territory of the more educated who are able and patient enough to do close analyses that they consider to be insightful with respect to the “true” nature of the religion. One example of this is Bill Warner who has written about Islam and lays out a rather thorough analysis about how Islam is not really a religion but a political system based in force. Warner thoroughly rejects Islam as a religion and describes it as “warlike,” and concerned predominantly with “annihilating civilizations.” You can watch an interesting video of Warner explaining his position here. Warner masks his extreme hostility to Islam in academic images of critical analysis. He refers to Islam as not coming from the tradition of critical thinking but one of authoritative thinking. He states clearly that Islam is nondemocratic the supply and its alien stance toward the West.

Warner’s analysis is really quite skilled in that he denies the concept of the “golden rule” in Islam because Muslims, according to Warner, do not believe in equality for all. Rather, they believe in equality only for a few and how you are treated depends on what groups and social class you belong to. His “golden rule” example is an appealing comparison that the average reader can relate to. Warner goes on to state emphatically that Islam is primarily interested in destroying civilizations and conquering the world. His arguments play nicely into the hands of those prepared to receive them.

Another hate strategy for anti-Muslim groups is to portray them as strange and alien. Prayer and worship are fundamentally different than the Judeo-Christian tradition and are typically associated with negative traits. Muslims are portrayed as aggressive, irrational, and unsympathetic to violence, child marriage, and the roles of women. Clearly Islam is associated with terrorism and understood as a justification for terrorism. A study on the relationship between hate crimes and terrorism found that a crimes or violence against a group like Muslims do not necessarily lead to or predict terrorist activities. Still, anti-Muslim groups believe that Islam is a danger to the United States and typically think of Muslims as a fifth column waiting in the wings to damage American democracy and Western civilization. Their fears are accompanied by paranoia about population growth that will one day overwhelm majorities.

Finally, Muslim hate groups characterize Islam is an evil religion capable of great violence and hate itself. They presume that Islam has no core human values and is inferior to the West. The Southern Poverty Law Center produces the hate map which identifies various hate groups in different states in the United States. The hate map is an important source of information because people can be easily misled by the skilled rhetoric of those who speak for these groups. Additional Muslim hate groups have been identified and had their rhetoric and strategies exposed.

Hate is an extreme emotion capable of great violence. Yet, I recognize that Islam is currently in the grip of a violent force in terms of Jihadis who do have a violent doctrine with vicious capabilities. But clichéish as it sounds this strand of Jihadi violence is not the essence of Islam. We are not in the midst of a battle for the soul of Islam, but perhaps for the influence of a particular path. Anti-Muslim hate groups must not win undue influence.

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