Peres’s Folly

Uri Savir, co-founder of the Peres Center for Peace and the closest confidant of Shimon Peres, related the following incident in a recent encomium to the former president of Israel. “I once asked [Peres] if after thousands of hours of negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, he understood Palestinians better. He replied, ‘No, I understand human beings better.'”

For Savir, of course, that quote represents further proof of Peres’s deep insight. In fact, it is a classic example of one of the most pernicious fallacies of our times: The belief that culture and religion mean nothing, and that just under the skin all people are basically all alike.

Peres’s Oslo adventure crashed on the shoals of that fantasy. He imagined a New Middle East in which peace between Israel and her neighbors would be cemented by flourishing trade and the rapid economic advance of the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states. Thus in the heady early days of Oslo, Peres headed a large delegation to an economic delegation to a conference in Casablanca. His intent was to demonstrate the creativity and reach of Israeli industry and the potential for a win-win situation with Arab partners.

He had no clue of the honor-shame nature of Arab societies. In honor-shame societies there is no win-win: My enemy’s advance must always be at my expense and vice versa. Victory consists of the enemy’s humiliation. Thus the Arab papers the next day, according to Professor Mordecai Kedar, all reported that Israel intended to subjugate the Arabs and put them to work for Jews.

President Obama’s entire Middle East policy, which now lies in shambles, was predicated on the refusal to take seriously Islam and its claims no matter how explicit. Thus the administration could describe the Moslem Brotherhood and even Hezbollah as moderate groups – i.e., their membership even includes doctors and lawyers – and even as largely secular. The only way in which they could be largely secular is if one ignores their charters and professed beliefs and assumes that all religious beliefs are really just a cover for what all men are assumed to value most highly – a larger slice of the economic pie.

With each passing day it becomes clearer that Obama’s central foreign policy goal since coming into office was rapprochement with Iran at almost any cost. The administration chooses to ignore that Iran is a theocracy, with explicit goals dictated by its theology, and treats it instead as just another nation with “interests.”

The fallacy that all people are basically the same may even explain how ostensibly rational people can rant and rave with apparent conviction that Israel is a genocidal apartheid state. They reason backwards from Palestinian suicide bombers. Since they would be unwilling to blow themselves up for the cause absent having been wronged in the most tangible and collective fashion, they reason that the Palestinians must have suffered such a wrong – after all, aren’t all human beings basically the same.

Even ISIS gains sympathy under the same liberal dispensation. Paul Berman writes, “The spectacle of black-uniformed holy warriors conducting human sacrifices gives us the chills, but also makes us sigh. We tell ourselves: Here is what comes of failing to provide adequate social service to young men in blighted neighborhoods.”

Surely, there must be a grievance to justify such barbaric cruelty, for as Berman explains, the first liberal reaction is to believe that if decent people just appeal the decency latent in others, all be ultimately be well.”

Sadly, the world does not work like that.

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10 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Rosenblum writes: “He replied, ‘No, I understand human beings better.’” He continues: “For Savir, of course, that quote represents further proof of Peres’s deep insight. In fact, it is a classic example of one of the most pernicious fallacies of our times: The belief that culture and religion mean nothing, and that just under the skin all people are basically all alike.”

    Peres did not say – culture and religion mean nothing; what he probably meant was that other more basic human needs may mean more. That too may be incorrect, but it is not subject to so elementary an attack. This a classic example of how not to behave. To argue with a POV, restate it in its best possible light, not as an easily attackable restatement.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    In some “others”, decency is so latent as to be entombed. They are brought up to hate from their earliest childhood.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I could, of course, give Peres the benefit of the doubt by interpreting that statement as making a distinction between Arabs and human beings, but I won’t. That would be racist. So I won’t give Perest the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he’ll understand.

  4. DF says:

    Its unlikely Peres didn’t actually realize the stark differences between Jews & Arabs that Rosenblum points out. More likely, he knew it, and simply chose to ignore it. Ego is a powerful thing. Public figures – including politicians, rabbis, and columnists, among others – are more vulnerable to fawning praise than us private citizens in business. Peres reveled in the adoration he received from the media and other left wing centres. Nothing was going to get in the way of his Nobel prize.

    The alternative is that he was simply naïve and deluded. If so, since Peres just finished a term as President, it shows that Israel is very forgiving towards failed ideas, even ideas that result in the loss of thousands of lives. That is why, with the collapse of the “peace process” as a way to solve the Arab problem, the tougher ideas of the right wing must now be given a chance. At worst, they will fail in the same way the left wing ideas failed. At best, the tougher policies, as hard as they are to swallow initially, will prove to be the answer. Never forget that Menachem Begin, once hailed as a madman extremist, is now beloved as one of the great heroes as Israel. In the wake of the Har Nof massacre, there are ideas and proposals in the public forum that are also being labeled as “extremist” (usually by smug outsiders who themselves have no clue how to stop the bloodshed.) It is well past the time for those ideas to be implemented. Peres’s folly led directly to the deaths of thousands of Jews, and he still became President. Let’s try some other ideas, and see if indeed they are the “folly” some claim them to be.

  5. ej says:

    Precisely because the honor- shame cycle is operative must we go out of our way to treat Palestinianss bekavod.Shame leads to rage which is the dominant emotion in the current uprising. Thus laws like the proposed ‘Nation state law’ which emphasize their being less than full citizens will only increase their rage.Similarly outbursts describing Arabs as less than rational whether from Jonathan Rosenbloom or Rabbi Pruzansky is precisely the sort of talk that throws salt on an open wound.

  6. d says:

    I agree with Dr Bill. Peres never said that culture and religion don’t matter.

    And, to his defense, muslims living in Western lands (and wealthier Middle East countries like UAE) are much less likely to engage in violence than those in impoverished areas, given that their socio-economic status is higher and they have more to lose.

    So, yes, there’s a strong cultural/religious component, but it was and still is a good assumption that if you help them achieve a high level of material/social satisfaction, they’re less likely to obsess over the religion of their next door neighbor. That’s the case in Brooklyn, NY, Dubai, and many other places.

    It’s so sad that the frum velt keeps being fed these straw men articles, where statesmen are attacked for doing nothing but being osek betzorchei tzibur (whether it’s Pres. Obama, Peres, or others).

  7. L. Oberstein says:

    I totally agree with you. if so, is there any possibility of peace or will the situation deteriorate andmake life untenable for Israel? What are the options? All the ehads of all the security servicdes of Israel are saying that without a solution to the Palestinian situation, things will go downhill. Are they all wrong?

  8. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    First of all, it is worth restating: It is an honor and a pleasure to comment on this civilized forum, knowing what the rest of the cyberworld is like.

    Dr. Bill: The last part of your comment, another instance of giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when they may not deserve it, is not only right but effective in argument. I will try to remember that in the heat of debate.

    DF: Peres knows there are stark differences but doesn’t know how qualitative and fundamental they are. He still believes they can be manipulated and jiggered for mutual benefit and mainly HIS benefit. Well stated. As for the second alternative, Peres is too old, too experienced and has too much blood on his hands going back to the days of being Ben-Gurion’s poodle. How many buried bones can one know about and still be considered naive. Cross that one off. As for trying out new ideas, how many years did it take Israel to catch up with Menachem Begin? Way too long and too much blood spilled. Then we still have to correct for Begin’s naivete both in the time of Ben-Gurion and Altalena and again in the time of Camp David. Meanwhile there is a military-industrial-academic-judicial complex in Israel and the world which will do everything possible to silence a R. Meir Kahane, a R. Yehuda Glick or a Moshe Feiglin. The alternative to failed ideas only receives tolerance after a quantum of people have died because of them.

  9. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Since Rav Avi Shafran doesn’t allow comments on his posts and since my comment is also germane to this post (failed ideas), I will submit it here with no malice, h”v toward R. Avi for his personal policy.
    Ben-Gurion agreed that there is no room for more than one Judaism in the state of Israel. He meant that not only regarding rabbis performing conversions but also in the ideological control of the state. He enforced that principle with guns (Altalena, Kastner and others). He stated that he wanted the Rabbinate to be a state institution with rabbis receiving state salaries in order to control them, as opposed to separation of church and state in which clergy have complete freedom of conscience. Ben-Gurion didn’t want the Israeli equivalent of a Martin Luther King. I’m not sure it is wise to bring Ben-Gurion’s view of Judaism and the state as an asmachta or support to argue against Reform Rabbi Yoffie.

  10. Shua Cohen says:

    > “…it is a classic example of one of the most pernicious fallacies of our times: the belief that culture and religion mean nothing, and that just under the skin all people are basically all alike.” (R. J. Rosenblum)

    >> I would like to refer to yesterday’s op-ed on Arutz Sheva by Prof. Louis René Beres entitled “Understanding Islamic Terrorism as Religious Sacrifice,” which underscores the refused-to-be-recognized fallacy that all people (Muslim Arabs included) are basically alike, and long for a good-life under a banner of peace. It is a relatively long op-ed, but well worth the effort to read in-full. But, to quote in part:

    “Today, the fight has changed from what had once been a preeminently secular and tactical one, to one that draws insistently upon generally unhidden commitments to religious sacrifice. These viscerally primal commitments are discernibly relentless, persistent, and conspicuous. Speaking on official PA TV, on November 7, 2014, a senior Fatah official literally blessed all Islamic killers of Israelis, stating: ‘Jerusalem needs blood in order to purify itself of Jews.’…

    “The deepest roots of Jihadist terror originate from those cultures that embrace certain religious views of ‘sacrifice.’ In these mostly Arab cultures, the key purpose of sacrifice extends far beyond any presumed expectations of civic necessity…

    “President Obama’s ‘Road Map’ coaxes Israel along a determinately lethal excursion to unending war and terror. By ignoring the core roots of Palestinian terrorism, this twisting cartography can offer Israel only a contrived ‘Two-State Solution.’ Should Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to follow Washington’s simplistic views, he will have misunderstood the deepest, and simultaneously most ineradicable, origins of Palestinian terrorism.

    “For Hamas, Fatah, and other Jihadist fighters, the terror-based struggle against Israel has never been about land compromises or halting ‘settlements.’ Always, it has been about G-d and about immortality…

    “For Jihadists, the ethos of redemption through sacrifice remains an immutably core pillar of both individual and collective Islamic existence. It follows that Israel’s and possibly even our own survival will ultimately be contingent upon understanding this grotesque ethos…”

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