James B. Rule Replies

Click here to read James B. Rule’s initial essay, “Israel: The Great Disconnect,” and here to read Michael Walzer’s response.

Michael Walzer is a desperate man. When people this smart start making arguments this bad, you know that their worldview is failing, but that they can’t bear to admit it.

Walzer has made it his mission to promote a vision of a kinder, gentler Israel—egalitarian, tolerant, and peaceful. Despite his best efforts, that Israel increasingly exists only in his imagination. Meanwhile, the real Israel grows more unequal, more authoritarian, more ethnocratic in its domestic life, and more chauvinistic and expansionist internationally.

So how does he respond to these disappointments? By recalibrating his full-throttle support for Israel? No. He joins forces with figures such as Martin Peretz (see, “9/11 Symposium: Response to Jim Rule,” September 9, 2011, online) to place responsibility for Israel’s rightward turn on dark forces external to Israel—above all Islam, and secondarily on certain retrograde “leftist circles,” of which I am deemed representative. Walzer claims a clairvoyant access to my inner motives and attitudes that would be the envy of any psychoanalyst or fortune teller. What he discerns there is so dark that I don’t even want to think about it.

And what grave flaw underlies my failure to meet his standards of support for Israel? It is my “radically particularist” attitude—meaning, I think, that I criticize Israel not because of its principles and policies, but because of some unstated animus felt only toward that country. The evidence for this, Walzer holds, is my failure adequately to criticize other countries with similar (or worse) shortcomings.

Well, OK, I do level such criticisms about quite a number of countries in the article above. But that doesn’t count, Walzer writes, because he knows—he just knows—that I don’t really mean what I say. Why not? Because I haven’t said it often enough—at least to his knowledge and satisfaction.

By this standard, no criticism of Israel is permissible except from those whose credentials have been vetted and approved, in light of the critics’ more vociferous complaints against other countries. This remarkable requirement recalls cold-war-era put-downs of civil rights agitation in America: people shouldn’t complain about Jim Crow unless they have established their bona fides by affirming, over and over, that the evils of Godless communism are far, far worse.

I reject this thinking with particular disdain. But here it is just a distraction. Let the reader assume that my character and attitudes are every bit as deplorable as Walzer suggests. The central question that I’ve sought to highlight would remain no less urgent: what views and positions should Americans of liberal sensibilities adopt toward Israel? Shouldn’t we be pressin...

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.