Hussein Ibish is a Senior Research Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and Executive Director of the Hala Salaam Maksoud Foundation for Arab-American Leadership. He publishes Ibishblog on an irregular basis.
He is the author, among other works, of The Palestinian Right of Return (with Ali Abunimah) and What’s Wrong with the One-State Agenda? Why Ending the Occupation and Peace with Israel is Still the Palestinian National Goal (ATFP 2009).
According to Jonathan S. Tobin, executive editor of Commentary magazine, Hussein Ibish is also an antisemite, that is, someone who (in Tobin's words) "can never resist blaming the Jews for anything that happens in the world."
Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine . . . can’t seem to resist the impulse to blame Israel for the potential failure of the Arab Spring. Writing today in Foreign Policy, he asserts that the recent upsurge in Palestinian terrorism could derail the Arab Reform movement. According to Ibish, if Israel attempts to suppress Hamas terror attacks such as the fatal bus bombing yesterday in Jerusalem it could lead to Arabs’ being distracted from their campaign for self-rule and allow existing ruling elites to stay in power.
This is so wrong, one hardly knows where to begin. I was writing about the drift towards another conflict in Gaza that is being driven both by Israel and Hamas, and I did not put the blame particularly on either side, and in fact said clearly that it wouldn't be in either of their interests.
Who's right. Well, let's look at Ibish's article.
Ibish begins with the observation that "[t]he spread of conflict and violence across the Middle East is dampening widespread hopes of an 'Arab Spring' that followed the peaceful ousters of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia." He then comments (in the following paragraph):
And now, with escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians -- punctuated on March 23 with the bombing of a Jerusalem bus station that killed one Israeli woman -- another potentially dangerous flashpoint may be emerging that could further push the region away from orderly democratic reform.
Noting that, "[e]ven against their better judgment, Israeli politicians might again feel the need to retaliate for these attacks with a wide-scale assault on Gaza with ground forces -- a replay of Operation Cast Lead, which was launched in December 2008," which "resulted in enormous devastation and loss of life in Gaza," and "also had extremely damaging political effects for Israel," Ibish comments:
A redux of Operation Cast Lead could have a major impact on the popular uprisings and reform movement sweeping the Arab world. The last war in Gaza created a powerful narrative in certain sections of Arab public opinion that cast the region as being the scene of a historic conflict between "the martyrs" (largely Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah and their small but vocal left-nationalist supporters), who were prepared to struggle and die against Israel and Western imperialism, and "the traitors" (pro-Western Arab governments and the Palestine Liberation Organization). Even more dangerously, it implied a corrective corollary: The "martyrs" should defeat the "traitors" and install Islamist governments, which would be supportive of "resistance" movements and take a generally hostile attitude toward the Western presence in the Middle East.
For Ibish, "[o]ne of the most encouraging aspects of the popular revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and many other Arab states is that they have not adopted this narrative or Islamist ideology, but rather have been based on patriotism, social consciousness, and demands for democracy and accountability."
Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ibish observes:
Whatever the reason for Hamas's obvious lack of restraint in recent weeks, it is not helping the party's reputation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Its popularity among Palestinians continues to decline: A mid-March opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research had Hamas support at a mere 33 percent of people in Gaza and 21 percent in the West Bank. Fatah, on the other hand, enjoys 42 percent support in Gaza and 39 percent in the West Bank. Hamas's brutal crackdown on national unity rallies in Gaza on March 15, including the killing of at least one female protester, further discredited the organization. Perhaps Hamas hopes that another confrontation with Israel would bolster its foundering domestic credentials.
What about the current Israeli government? Ibish does not "blame the Jews." Instead, he tries to understand the players and dynamics of Israeli politics:
Israel's own overreaction through its excessive bombing campaign in Gaza may partly be driven by anxieties exacerbated by regional instability, but its right-wing government in Jerusalem may also see advantages to shifting attention to another violent confrontation with Islamists. Israeli leaders have made no secret of their deep distrust of the Arab reform movement and their anxiety about democratic governments in the Arab world. It's no stretch to imagine that Israel has concluded that it is better able to live with autocratic governments than secular, ecumenical, and democratic ones. And, of course, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed any opportunity to focus on security questions and place everything else on the back burner, as happened during the short-lived direct negotiations with the PLO last year. This wouldn't be the first time the Israeli right and Hamas rode to each other's rescue under the guise of conflict.
Ibish concludes his analysis on a hopeful note, at least regarding prospects for the Arab Spring:
The saving grace of the Arab Spring is that the movement for reform is based on domestic considerations -- accountability, good governance, democracy, and human rights. Even another bloody war between Israel and Hamas cannot avert attention from those grievances for long. Arab citizens likely know that agitating for good governance and accountability isn't a panacea for all regional ills and that it can sometimes be a bloody process, as the examples of Libya and Yemen show. Moreover, they realize that Islamism, while it has its constituency, is both divisive and a political dead end.
If Israel and Hamas believe it is in their interests to start -- or find themselves unable to avoid -- another mutually self-destructive conflict, it certainly won't aid the process of Arab reform and democratization, and raises some very troubling concerns about its future. But there's almost no chance a resurgence of the Israel-Hamas conflict can stop the reform movement dead in its tracks either.
Tobin spins this, as follows:
According to Ibish, if Israel attempts to suppress Hamas terror attacks such as the fatal bus bombing yesterday in Jerusalem it could lead to Arabs’ being distracted from their campaign for self-rule and allow existing ruling elites to stay in power. . . . No matter what the situation, it seems that some people can never resist blaming the Jews for anything that happens in the world.
If you've stayed with me this far, you've seen for yourself how wrong, how out-of-bounds Tobin is. I hope you'll also draw a lesson applicable to our own writings here at Daily Kos. We should try to read what others write charitably, especially when we disagree with our understanding of what they've written. Metablog explains:
People are really terrible at arguing. The biggest thing by far that happens, in my experience, is that people see implied assertions (implied positions) in others’ posts that the posters didn’t intend, and attack the others based on those perceptions. (Note: I don’t mean logical implication—it’s valid to attack someone based on that.) Discussions end up being many times as long as they need to be, in the rare cases when they manage to resolve themselves at all.
Here, to prompt self-reflection and (possibly) discussion, are Metablog's suggested rules for debating (which requires reading) charitably: