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Contentions

The Good, the Bad, and Nicholas Kristof

This is really quite amazing. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof, never much of a fan of Zionist self-affirmation, has published a column so transparent in its underlying philosophy as to qualify almost as a classic. It’s called “In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly,” and it contains all the predictable adulation of the weak, glorified Palestinians and their Israeli advocates (the “noble”) versus the nasty, thuggish settlers (“the ugly”). Leaving aside the question of aesthetics (is no noble person ugly?), the piece winds up and delivers with this zinger of a paragraph showing how wonderful Israel is because it has so many “noble” Israelis:

This “other Israel” extends far beyond Rabbis for Human Rights. The most cogent critiques of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians invariably come from Israel’s own human rights organizations. The most lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology comes from Israeli historians. The deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims come from Israeli archeologists…. This more noble Israel, refusing to retreat from its values even in times of fear and stress, is a model for the world.

So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, their historians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?



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