Commentary Magazine


Nicholas Kristof Tries Out the Anti-Israel Nakba Day Themes

Let’s keep in mind—as these kinds of media frames start to trickle in—that Nakba Day isn’t about establishing some kind of peaceful Palestinian state outside of Israel’s 1967 borders. It’s a “holiday” that marks and celebrates full-blown Arab rejectionism of any Jewish State anywhere in the Middle East. In 1948 the hope was to eradicate Israel by crushing it with the military power of five Arab armies. In 2011 the hope is to eradicate Israel by overrunning it with 3 million fifth-generation “refugees,” a population drawn from UN camps and routinely identified as the most virulently anti-Israel in the Arab world. This latter scheme, of course, is the famous “right of return,” institutionalized among other places in the Saudi plan.

The meaning of Nakba Day isn’t really up for debate. Elsewhere in Israeli-Arab reality, there’s room for Middle East analysts to insist that the Palestinians don’t actually mean what they say they mean (“sure that Palestinian Authority official just advocated mass genocide of ‘Jewish swine’ and said that the peace process is a two-phase strategy of destroying Israel, but he meant it moderately!”) Nakba Day is impossible to spin. It stands for hysteria about Israel’s creation as such. The giant photojournalism-friendly keys carried around by rioters aren’t allusions to nice villas in Bethlehem. They are references to villages never seen by the refugees’ parents’ parents’ but to which Palestinians still insist they have a right.

And so against that backdrop, here are two initial tweets from Nicholas Kristof. They’ve each been retweeted hundreds of times. Here’s the first:

Do I have this right? Israeli forces fired today on protesters at 3 different borders—Gaza, Syria and Lebanon?

And here’s the second:

Pres. Assad must be so relieved that Israel shot Syrians at the border, distracting from his own shootings of Syrians.

These themes are about to get tangled up into much longer anti-Israel articles—there’s going to be no end to the hand-wringing over Israel defending its own border—so it’s valuable to get them here in distilled form. Rhetorically the first theme works by not providing enough context. In its journalistic headline form it appears as what David Hazony just blogged about, where the first-scan read is that Israel just randomly decided to shoot a bunch of Palestinians.

As analysis it will become a meditation on Israel’s “unforced error,” to take the phrase that anti-Zionist J Street co-founder Daniel Levy used in describing the Mavi Marmara operation. Anti-Israel journalists and analysts generate criticism in the context of predicting and commenting on it. That’s obnoxiously dishonest enough on its own. But in this case it also requires leaving out the implicit and obviously unacceptable alternative, where Israel allows thousands of rioters, with IRGC and Hezbollah operatives undoubtedly among them, to stream across the border.

The second tweet is going to be the pseudo-sophisticated pretext for criticizing Israel. It’s perfect on any number of levels. For generic Israel bashers, it’s a way to stick the Jewish State with regional instability. For Obama defenders, it creates an excuse for why the administration’s Syria policy has spectacularly failed to remove or moderate Assad. Just last week the consensus was that Assad was going to survive intact, as Randa Habib reported:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely to survive his country’s uprising thanks to the army’s loyalty and the world’s muted response to the bloody crackdown on protests, analysts say. “The international community is cautious in its response to the actions of the Syrian regime, which apparently has won the first round of the battle through bloodshed,” a Syrian analyst in Amman told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Now analysts get to pretend that Assad was on the brink of collapse, but for Israeli actions that Syrian pro-democracy don’t seem to care about. Again, perfect. Look for this theme to be making an appearance on NPR, and on Stephen Walt’s Foreign Policy blog, by tomorrow.