To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Historian And CNN Commentator Michael Oren Defends Israel Against Kerry 'Apartheid' Slam By Channelling Warsaw Ghetto Nazis

John Kerry’s off the record warning in late April that Israel could be on the road to becoming an “apartheid” state if it didn’t embrace a two state solution with the Palestinians prompted an outcry from Israeli officials and pro Israel groups here, whose indignant objections were filled with Zionist sanctimony, moral preening and portentous reminders of Jewish historical victimization. CNN on-air commentator Michael Oren, who renounced his American citizenship to become Israel’s ambassador to Washington in 2009 after a career as a historian, Likud party minister and spokesman for the IDF, took the cake, affirming the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.  Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Oren said that the word “apartheid" was “synonymous with undiluted racism” and was “second only in hatefulness to Nazism.” He then went on to say that the word was being wielded as a weapon in a “campaign to isolate, delegitimize and sanction Israel into extinction.”

We Jews remember how each attempt to obliterate us, whether in the Inquisition or during the Holocaust, was preceded by a campaign to delegitimize us. People who practice apartheid are easily considered illegitimate.

As per conditions on the West Bank, which is not apartheid in the offing, but apartheid in the here and now at least in the "occupied territories,", as figures as varied as Jeffrey Goldberg and Desmond Tutu have acknowledged, Oren said that “the separation between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank, separate Israeli and Palestinian roads, and separate schools, hospitals and legal systems” did not “remotely resemble apartheid.” In fact, Oren declared, “The vast majority of settlers and Palestinians choose to live apart because of cultural and historical differences, not segregation, though thousands of them do work side by side.” The Israeli separation barrier, which pens Palestinians into official restricted zones, limits freedom of movement and in many places along its course alienates landowning Palestinians from their private property, “is no more an apartheid wall than the fence between the United States and Mexico.”

After a career in the uppermost echelons of Israeli politics, Oren knows that Palestinians cannot choose to live near or apart from Jewish settlers, who insist on the legal right to residential exclusion. And as a former spokesman for the IDF, he also undoubtedly knows that West Bank Palestinians live under the rules and regulations of military occupation, now nearing its 50th year, constrained by a dense web of restrictions and penalties.

But what’s most fascinating ---and irritating ---about Oren’s contention that there is a choice involved in Palestinian “apartness,”from settler Jews is that he is actually echoing the same kind of ludicrous claims that Nazis made about Polish Jews “choosing” to live in the Warsaw Ghetto when they created it in 1939 several months after Hitler’s invasion. 

As described in archives maintained by Kenyon College, the San Francisco Chronicle carried a November 1939 report about the Ghetto’s creation, describing it as “Forbidden City completely cut off from the teeming life around it.” A high ranking German officer cited in the report explained that “Jews preferred to live in the ghetto rather than be dispersed all over the city,” a claim that was confirmed "by Jews who lived before last November in comfortable surroundings and had been free to circulate anywhere in the city [who] now live in a crowded room and can leave only on those rare occasions when they obtain special permission." For those who did not get the author’s sarcasm, an editor’s note was appended, explaining that “only the conquerors can speak freely to a reporter" and that therefore it was necessary “to read between the lines."

I generally think pro Palestinian analogies likening Israelis to Nazis are both overwrought and offensive, both to history and to Jews (even if, as Salon reported a couple of years ago, Jewish settlers do have a triumphalist penchant for painting Stars of David on Palestinian property in the same way that Nazis plastered swastikas on Jewish shops and homes.)

But it’s kind of hard to ignore the Nazi echoes in Oren’s protest about Kerry’s use of the “A” word, especially when Oren himself said that apartheid was a term “second only in hatefulness to Nazism” in its “undiluted racism.” As an on-air commentator for CNN, you would think Oren would feel some obligation to the truth of the conditions he is writing about in his the op-eds. And as a historian, you would expect him to be aware of the abjection of Nazi denial---and to avoid echoing it in making claims that are as transparent as they are insulting. 

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