HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 13, 2007
Mideast Apologetics:
How to Lie (Perhaps Accidentally) with Statistics and Maps

James Adler


A prefatory underscoring: I love the Jewish people of Israel, and I believe firmly that they deserve immediate and enduring ironclad safety and security and peace.

And, for that matter, since I think they, like all civilians, have the ironclad right to live in peace and security, I support the temporary Israeli security fence and other Israeli security measures; and this helps also illustrate the diversity within many progressive groups, as many members may disagree.

But I would still like to tick off, one by one, a number of fallacies of conservative Israeli apologetics.

I hope that instead of "identifying" or "labeling" these arguments as this or that, I hope any critics will simply try to offer rational responses. Even though I don't think there can be any.  

So I would like to emphasize that there is a distinction between the fact that I am about to enumerate some of the most popularly cited and believed fallacious apologetics, and my deep love for the Jewish people -- and for the safety and security of the Jewish people -- of Israel.


1.  The "18 Arab states" fallacy.

The "18 Arab states" or whatever is a classic Zionist fallacy: Can a foreign group come and steal one of the 50 states of the US and toss out its people because there`d be 49 left? Or even steal 2 or 3 US states and expel the Texans and Californians, because there`d still be 47 or 48 left? I can hear them now:

"The US still has 49 states.  We've only stolen one and deprived the few remaining un-expelled Californians of many of their rights.  If we let the Californians come back, and gave them equal rights, then the US would have 50 states again and we wouldn't have any."   So which foreign group shall we let come in and take over which state and throw all the Americans out of it because "the US still would have 49 states left".  Doesn't make much sense, does it?  But conservative Israeli apologetics would appear to thrive on such fallacies.


2. "Israel is only the size of New Jersey" fallacy.

This is a related fallacy -- essentially the same one using different words.

It shows equal condescension toward Palestine and the state of New Jersey. Would we expel the New Jerseyites and avow that they could never return to it?  Would we substitute for "New Jersey" our own state or county or "Israel-sized" area surrounding our own homes, and say that it would be justice to cleanse everyone including us and our families--and our parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles--from our and their homes and businesses and livelihoods and schools and neighborhoods and communities and farms and churches--forever ?


3.  "Israel is only one tiny dot on the map of the immense Middle East" fallacy.

It's a third version of the same fallacy.  The refutations of it have already been presented-- twice. But here we go again for the third time.

Usually this version of this same fallacy is presented visually -- with a map of the "whole Middle East," from Morocco to Saudi Arabia (or even to Pakistan), and Israel a tiny dot somewhere in the middle.

It's always been one of the most effective apologetics tools.

Of course it is profoundly deceptive for the same reason that if you live in New Jersey it doesn't matter that you live in a state "the size of New  Jersey" -- in fact, a small town or neighborhood which itself a dot on a map of New Jersey -- which gets ethnically cleansed, or if you live in California or Texas or New Jersey or any other one two to three states; it doesn't matter  hat it's "only the one state" of California that has been cleansed, and that the US "still has" 47 or 48 or 49 states.

To the people of New Jersey -- or California, or Texas, or all three, and their town that is a dot, neighborhood that is another dot, block that is dot, house that is a dot -- each within the other like Chinese boxes -- it is their universe, from which they have been ethnically cleansed.

A person doesn't inhabit an entire abstract land from Morocco to Pakistan. A person, a family, a neighborhood, a community, inhabits precisely a "dot," in fact one even far smaller than "New Jersey," in this case Palestine.

If you live there it is not a dot.  It is a whole world from which you have been cleansed.

It is the very universe from which you have been expelled. 

So that just as one can (accidentally) "lie with statistics," one can "lie with maps."  If a faraway people comes and steals Hungary, then just because it occupies an extremely low percentage of the landmass of Europe, a "dot" on the map of Europe, doesn't mean it is not the very universe itself to the Hungarians.

And other overtakers, if they had overtaken, say, Hungary in Eastern Europe, if they said what conservative Israelis said to defend the takeover of Palestine, they would present to the world a map of the whole of Europe, from Portugal to the Ural Mountains out in the Caucasus, and say, "See, we just took a tiny dot on the map of Europe!"

This is how to lie with maps.  It may be a dot if the map is of Europe, but for Hungarians, the only relevant map is that of Hungary, Hungary is a universe for the expelled Hungarians.


4.  The Fallacy that "the Arabs want it all. But we have a right to just a little bit of it."

But consider: I cannot barge into your home and take one of your bedrooms, and evict the inhabitant or inhabitants of that bedroom, and say, "but you want it all, and I want just one bedroom, and you can't have every bedroom, and that shows how unfair you are."

Again, it's exactly like the first version of the fallacy at the top; it's like saying:  "Americans want all 50 states. But we have a right to just one-- or two, or three! They'll still have 49 -- or 47, or 48 states left.  Why do they want it all?  Why do they want all 50?  Why cannot we ethnically cleanse one or two of the American states for ourselves? "They don't have a right to it all!"

But it makes as little sense in the case of your bedroom as it would in the case of the stealing of one or two American states because "we would still have 48 or 49 left." It simply makes no sense.


5.  More on the "Israel is just a dot in the Middle East" fallacy.  And the related fallacy, the deprecatory question: "Why does the whole Middle East care about little Palestine.  It's just a dot a dot on their map.  Why do they care about just a dot?" So allegedly it must be either greed or scapegoating or a diversion from other lands' domestic problems or anti-Semitism."

But why shouldn't the whole region of the Middle East care? It's the same fallacy again, and the same fallacy with maps, and the same fallacy about how to lie with maps.

How small a dot on the map of the United States was the map of the Virginia Tech University campus, shortly after last Spring's massacre?  Infinitesimally tiny.  Did we care? Of course.

How small a dot on the map of the United States is the map of Hawaii? Still  smaller, Oahu? Still smaller, Pearl Harbor?  In 1942, did we care and should we  have? Of course.

How small a dot on the map of the United States is Manhattan Island, where 9/11 took place? Should we have cared?

How even smaller would be a map of Lower Manhattan? How much smaller a map of the Financial District on a map of the United States?

How much smaller a map still, a map of the World Trade Center-- the "ground zero" of 9/11 itself?  But did we care? All fifty giant states of us care?

Of course. Consider how infinitesimally tiny Ground Zero was in the immense expanse, from sea to shining sea, of the United States, and North America, and, for that  matter, the globe of the world?

But did we care? Should we have cared?  Of course.

And if you or your family is subjected to the terror of a home invasion and the seizure of your, how small a dot it is even on a map of your hometown? Much less on a map of your state.  But wouldn't you hope that your hometown and community would care? Would care, however small a dot your home on a map of the United States? Or, if you live in Europe, on a map of Europe?  Or how small are the dots of you're grown children's homes? And the homes of your young grandchildren?  On a map of the United States?

Just like Ground Zero is only the barest of specks on a map of the United States?

So takeovers don't matter, because apologists can show, on a map of the US, that the home in which you or your children or grandchildren were evictedis so small as to be a speck on the map?

There are more aspects of the fallacy with sizes.


6.  A similar fallacy concerns the abstract matter of a group having a "right" to a "sovereign state."

Does any group or other have a "right" to one?  The question is too abstract to answer, and so when asked like this is only used to deceive.  The only question is "how"? 

If a foreign people comes and steals Hungary, just because it constitutes an extremely low percentage of the total size of Europe, hardly mean the Europeans wouldn't fight to get it back.

Even more important, it may be a low percentage of the landmass of Europe, but, for the Europeans, but it would be 100% of the land of the Hungarians. 

Or can a foreign group come and steal one of the 50 states of the US and toss out its people because there'd be 49 left?

Or even steal 2 or 3 or --even (gasp)-- 4 states stolen, because there would still be 46 or 47 or 48 still remaining for Americans to live in, in the vast and immense remainder of the United States?

The question, in short, of whether a group has a "right to a sovereign state," ignores the fact that the question is too abstract:

So the question isn't whether anyone has a "right" to a state, but
rather, again-- "how."

Another way to see this is to look at the additional argument of a "desolate Palestine" again.  Suppose before Palestine had been taken over, Palestine had been crowded, jam-packed, thickly settled, densely populated, however one wants to put it, and above and beyond that becoming ever more densely populous.  

Would then apologists have claimed the right to come in and try to force a sovereign state in Palestine?  Or if Palestine had been like densely populous and prosperous like modern Manhattan or Japan?

Or if the Jewish homeland had actually been Manhattan? 

Or if Palestine had actually been where England now is, and the events of the Hebrew Bible actually been in ancient England, from where 2,000 years ago they had been dispersed?

Would they have had "the right to a sovereign state in-- England?" Jam-packed and urban and prosperous England? Or -- on Manhattan?   

Well, of course not.

Again, the question of a "right" to a sovereign state is the wrong question.

It cannot be asked or answered because it is too abstract. Again, it cannot be asked abstractly, any more than asking whether you or I have a "right to a million dollars."  The question is entirely bound up with question from which it is inextricable-- "How?"

The issue again isn't whether, but "how."

The "right" to a million dollars?  Not by burglary, theft, armed robbery, or armed robbery accompanied by murder.

And what about this -- "The right to have children?

Yes. But not by kidnapping other people's children through their bedrooms.

The problem with these questions, once and again, is that, when baldly put, they are too abstract.

They are too abstract to be asked. They can only be answered in terms of "how."

"How."  And the "how" in all these instances excludes by theft, expulsion, ethnic cleansing, bank robbery for a million dollars, or abduction of a child through the pried-open window of its bedroom.

Obviously the question of "the right to have children" is too abstractly asked-- the critical issue is "how."

And so is the question of the "right" to a million dollars-- and the "right to a sovereign state."

The question isn't "whether."  The question is "how."


***

To be continued. But first:

To avoid any possible misunderstandings, please let me end this first part with a conclusion of its own.


Despite the above fallacies, my basic inclination is to believe in a two-state solution, with an Israel that withdraws to approximately the '67 boundaries.

So much historical water has gone over the dam that at this point it's more like something of an ethnic conflict. It seems to me we have to remember and acknowledge what happened.

So much water may have gone over the dam that a two state solution based on apologies, acknowledgements, peace, security, and the approximate 1967 boundaries may make sense.

But one can still find the typical Zionist arguments for this to be fundamentally fallacious, just as some believers may love  God -- while still believing that all of St. Thomas Aquinas's or Maimonides's 5 or 6 or 8 or whatever "arguments" from the "Thomistic Talking Points" are fundamentally fallacious.  So while I think the old talking points are deeply fallacious, that's not necessarily the same conversation as talking about the future of Israel and Palestine and the Middle East today.

Peace and best to all.  And above all the right to all innocent civilians in the contested areas, and making special emphatic mention once again of the Jews of this region, to live in peace, security, the right for them not to live under threats or menace, and especially their right to be free from terrorism against them -- which has largely and ongoingly been Arab and Palestinian in origin.

Terrorist vigilantism against "women and children," families and the elderly, innocent civilian human beings, and emphatically again Jews, is never, never -- ever, ever -- the way toward compromise, forgiveness, justice, social reconstruction-- and peace.

And may Israel live and prosper in peace and security, with West Jerusalem at last recognized by the world to be Israel's Capital City, and also a viable Palestinian state live and prosper with its own capital in East Jerusalem.


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