Ian Lustick Needs A New Map (And Flare Gun)

Ian Lustick, a political science professor from the University of Pennsylvania with a penchant for making predictions that simply don’t pan out and for downplaying Islamist intransigence, is at it again, this time with a March 19, 2013 Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times. In the piece, titled, “Israel Needs a New Map,” Lustick depicts Israel as a pariah state and glosses over the sins of its adversaries. He apparently suffers from a bad case of the Oslo Syndrome, which afflicts its victims with the false delusion that Jewish self-criticism and Israeli concessions can bring a unilateral end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lustick also mocks Israeli concern about the campaign to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Lustick wrongly suggests that the Arab-Israeli conflict can be brought to an end solely by Israeli concessions. In fact, the lack of peace between Israel and its adversaries cannot be blamed on Israel alone. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not negotiate in good faith at Camp David in 2000 and Mahmoud Abbas responded to an Israeli settlement freeze on 2009 with more bad faith by refusing to negotiate with Israel until the freeze had almost expired. And when he finally came to the table to negotiate, Abbas demanded that the freeze be extended for negotiations to continue.

Moreover, Israel has been demonized in the United Nations despite the fact that it has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the Oslo Accords. This has had a huge impact on Israeli public opinion and Israeli policies, but has yet to make a dent on Lustick’s analysis. Other things that don’t make a dent on Lustick’s analysis: history, facts, events in the region and any degree of good sense.

Some Background

Ian Lustick is one of a number of American Jews who invoke their Jewish identity to lend credence to a distorted, generally anti-Israel narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Like Marc Ellis and Mark Braverman, Lustick is unable to convince his fellow Jews in the United States and Israel to embrace his worldview, so he takes his story to non-Jewish audiences in the United States.

The story he tells these audiences is that Israel is governed by bad leaders who violate Judaism’s ethical demands and that Hamas really isn’t so bad.

Lustick’s tendency to downplay Hamas’ violent agenda was evident in an interview he gave to the Voice of America in 2006. In the interview, he said “Hamas is mainly popular because one of the things it is trusted to do is probably be ready to live with Israel, even if not officially, for a very long time.” (Note: The page at the link above states the article was updated in 2009, but the original interview took place in 2006.)

In the years since Lustick offered this prognostication, Hamas kidnapped and killed Israeli soldiers, launched thousands of rockets and initiated three rounds of fighting – all in an effort to exercise a veto of Jewish national life in Israel. Events have proved that Hamas simply cannot be trusted to do what Lustick said it could be trusted to do – tolerate Israel’s existence.

Lustick did not stop making harebrained predictions despite getting it wrong in 2006. In an piece published in Forbes in June 2010, he chided Israel for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip without a treaty, stating that it left the territory “without an agreement to make it part of a viable Palestinian state, and having corrupted and humiliated what was left of the Palestinian nationalist movement, Israel lost the best opportunities it had to domesticate Hamas as a loyal opposition.”

He also argued that Israel could change the dynamic by accepting a Hudna (or temporary truce) offered by Hamas and then engage in a non-violent competition with the Islamist organization to “determine if and how the conflict would be continued after two or three decades and whose attachments to the land and belief would prevail.”

What would the model for this arrangement be? “Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere,” he writes. Lustick writes that “In a variety of Sunni Arab countries the Muslim Brothers and affiliated groups (Hamas is in the category) have agreed to compete peacefully in the social, cultural and ideological spheres while foregoing directed military or political attacks on the secular governments.”

Hamas, Lustick reported in 2010 had offered the “equivalent” arrangement to Israel.

One only has to look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover in Egypt to see that Lustick’s prognostications were wrong – and disastrously so. In the years since Lustick’s benign assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization has attacked its secularist foes in the streets of Cairo, allowed the murder and oppression of Coptic Christians and has worked to establish a constitution based on shariah – all since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

In sum, the centerpiece of Lustick’s argument in favor of Israeli negotiation with Hamas – his assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood was playing by the rules in Egypt – has been thoroughly discredited. The Muslim Brotherhood is simply not playing by the rules Lustick said it was. It is a ruthless organization intent on grabbing and keeping power by whatever means necessary. Just ask its secularist opponents.

Lustick in LA Times

Despite Lustick’s tendency to get it wrong – and demonstrably so – the LA Times gave him the opportunity to lambaste Israel in March 19 op-ed. In this piece, Lustick offers a litany of predictions of the things that will happen in light of Benjamin Netanyahu’s success in forming a center-left government in Israel. His assessment is dire:

… [N]othing of substance will change. Peace negotiations will not resume; settlement activity will expand; war with Iran will still be threatened; and Israel will move even closer to becoming an international pariah. When President Obama speaks to the Israeli public, he will no doubt treat his counterpart cordially, but that won’t mute the shocking dishonesty of what he has already said. An Israeli government led by Netanyahu cannot be a partner for productive peace talks.

This isn’t really a series of predictions, but rather Lustick’s assessment of responsibility for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In the story Lustick tells, Israel is in the wrong and the sins of its adversaries are not worth mentioning.

In Lustick’s worldview, Israel’s reputation suffers not because of a systematic campaign of de-legitimization in the international arena, but because it refuses to mold its behavior to his expectations. After recounting high levels of disapproval of Israel in Europe, Lustick writes:

ed about “delegitimization” as an “existential threat,” the Israeli government and its U.S. friends have funded a host of rebranding PR efforts. But Israel’s image has suffered more from repeated outrages to the world’s sense of fairness than from bad public relations.

In this passage, Lustick has attributed the moral and diplomatic high-ground to institutions such as the United Nations General Assembly – which ignored genocide in Sudan while passing resolution after resolution condemning Israel – and the UN Human Rights Council, which has ignored human rights abuses in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East while demonizing Israel. Things have gotten so bad at the UNHRC that Nobel Peace Laureate David Trimble, member of the British House of Lords recently told the body to follow the advice of a number of UN General Secretaries to stop singling Israel out for condemnation “to the exclusion of virtually everything else.”

Lustick also engages in hyperbole, stating that in response to the Palestinian bid for observer status at the UN, the Israeli government “announced radical expansion of Jewish settlement in sensitive areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is overblown. The E-1 announcement which took place after the Palestinians achieved observer status at the UN detailed the construction of homes in an area that was slated to become part of Israel at Camp David negotiations. (For more details, click here.)

Lustick’s Post-Zionism

Lustick’s biggest beef is with the persistence of Zionism as a credible ideology. He describes Zionism, which posits that Jews have a right to a sovereign state in their historical homeland, as a tired, worn out movement that is unable to adapt to current circumstances, give Israelis a proper map of reality and as a result, “is an obstacle to Jewish welfare and security.”

This is simply ridiculous. Despite Lustick’s calumnies, Jews live in freedom and safety in Israel, and have been able to achieve a degree of security for Jews who fled oppression in both Europe and the Middle East that had been unheard of in the centuries prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Israeli Jews (and Arabs) enjoy a degree of human rights and safety that has been denied religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East since time immemorial. Israeli Jews are have achieved what only one other people group – the Armenians – has been able to obtain in recent history: sovereignty in the face of Islamist supremacy.

Compared to virtually every other country in the region, such as Syria and Lebanon, Israel has been a runaway success. Zionism has worked while virtually every other ideology that has manifested itself in the Middle East, whether it be Pan-Arabism, Baathism, or Islamism, has been an astounding, and catastrophic failure.

Lustick’s problem is a simple one: He simply cannot see what is going on in front of him.

It is not the adherents Zionism who are having a tough time dealing with current events, it is Lustick and the “human rights” community that cannot adapt to them.

For example, Lustick portrays the Palestinians as a beleaguered people in the Middle East whose suffering is a great wound on humanity. Yet, Lustick and others completely ignore the suffering of other groups in the region, such as Assyrian Christians, more than 1 million of whom have been driven from their homeland in the past decade. Their efforts to create a special province for religious and ethnic minorities have largely gone unnoticed, as has the departure of more than 100,000 Coptic Christians from Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Whether Lustick wants to admit it or not, Israel is the model, not the pariah in the Middle East.

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