Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Have I Empathy for the Intellectually Autistic Simon Baron-Cohen?

Simon Baron-Cohen has published an op-ed.

Empathy, he asserts, or suggests, is "a vital first step in conflicts where both sides have dehumanised each other".

And reading that halted my empathy for Baron-Cohen's orientation. After all, the Arabs' dehumanization of Jews and their anti-Semitism is institutional, based on religious texts and propagated through official media outlets of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention everywhere else in the Arab world and for decades.

But I continued to read. And I almost gave up coming across this:

I am not an expert in that dispute nor so naive to believe that there is a single, simple solution to it. But I do believe empathy can help.

But I plodded on. And I discovered he doesn't know history that well. Starting off the Jewish historical record so:

So what are the two different perspectives? If you ask Jewish Israelis why their families came to Palestine before 1948, they’ll likely refer to two major waves of antisemitism. The first included the horrific pogroms of eastern Europe in the 1880s and 90s. In the second wave in the 1930s and 40s, two out of every three European Jews were killed by the Nazis. Jonathan Freedland’s reflection on the life of Amos Oz, Israel’s greatest novelist, who died last month, mentions Oz’s metaphor: the Jews were drowning, looking for a piece of wood they could cling on to. Palestine, which for two millennia they had thought of as their ancient homeland, was that piece of wood.

Jews have been returning to the Land of Israel ever since they were forced to leave by conquests and foreign oppressors. One could start around 586 BCE with the Babylons. Then on to the Greek rule. The Roman rule. And then on through the Persians, Byzantines, invading Muslim Arabs, Crusaders, Mameluks and Ottomans.

It's called the "Return to Zion". No persecution required. Longing for one's homeland. Reading the Prophets. The poets. The religious law decidors. It's all in our literature: theological, cultural and historical.

To help out Baron-Cohen, the modern political movement of Zionism was founded on the backdrop of persecution but its foundational elements belonged not to the "push" phenomenon but the "pull" of Zion, to live in the national homeland, "land of the Patriarchs", the "holy land" and other terms deeply embedded in the Jewish soul.

By the way, that quote from Oz? Nope. A.B. Yehoshua, in this book, although Oz quotes/steals the imagery in a New Yorker interview.

As for the other side of his interpretive history, he writes

But what if you ask Palestinians for their perspective? They would probably refer to the fact that in 1897, there were more than half a million Arabs, Bedouins and Druze living in Palestine. They would say that the 30,000 Jews who arrived were really guests in their land. They might remind you that by 1935, the Jewish population comprised a quarter of the population of Palestine, and each year the number of Jews in Palestine rose by more than 10%. Arabs in Palestine felt, and were, displaced.

In 1897, the year the First Zionist Congress convened, 16 years after the so-called First Aliyah from Russia, 120 years after the first mass Aliyah of Chassidic Jews and 630 years after the immigration of Nahmanides to the Land of Israel, the country was not exactly Palestine, at least not for Arabs. They considered it part of Syria and referred to themselves as Souther Syrians. Moreover, the makeup of the Muslims there included those from North Africa and Egypt, many arriving in 1832 with Muhammed Ali, and from other Muslim lands. In fact, by 1897, thousands of the non-Jewish residents had emigrated to South America, especially, as well as other countries.

As for being guests, they knew full well that they had conquered the territory and regained it through force of arms and that, according to the Quran, it was the land of the Children of Israel. Of course, in their theology, since Jews had sinned, twice (by the way, that's an admission to the destructions of the two temples), Muslims could supersede them, sort of like Christian supercessionism. But that shouldn't count for any empathy, correct?

When Israel declared its independence on 14 May 1948 – following a UN vote to create two states, Jewish and Arab, six months earlier – there was a reason why, the very next day, five Arab armies invaded. Although this is the war that Israel celebrates as the war of independence, Palestinians have a different name for it: the Nakba, or the catastrophe. They never agreed to the creation of Israel.

Correct. They never agreed. They didn't agree to a compromise on November 29, 1947 when that war really began, nor in 1937 when the British proposed an earlier partition,, what we call today territorial compromise, nor was losing most of the original Jewish National Home area in 1922 when the League of Nations postponed application of the Mandate decision to Transjordan.  

Why is there no empathy for that?

Next, Baron-Cohen, speaking in the Arab voice, 

They would point to acts of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli Jews against the Arabs during that war, as documented in Ari Shavit’s book My Promised Land and elsewhere. 

And what about Jews being ethnically cleansed from, in many cases, centuries' old homes during 1920-1948, specifically in Judea and Samaria?

And as for

Their view will have been further shaped by Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands since 1967. 

does he not know that there is no illegality involved?

Writing about

the violation of their human rights, which is now well-documented in accounts of the suffering of ordinary Palestinians living under occupation.

does he not know or cannot he not mention the human rights violations of Israelis?

Baron-Cohen's championing and promotion of this "empathic approach to conflict resolution" fails because his retinue of recognitions is incomplete and biased.

It is he who loses empathy for Israel and dehumanises the history of the conflict.

Reading Baron-Cohen, one could be tempted to wonder if some autism, the intellectual variety, has not overtaken his psyche.

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