Debate Lesson: Challenge the Assumptions

How an argument is framed often puts opponents on the defensive. When Barack Obama, for example, says the only alternative to his agreement with Iran is war, his goal is to back his opponents into a corner. Anyone who accepts war as the only alternative to his deal is stuck since no one wants war. A similar tactic is used by those who say you are a racist if you support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Let’s examine that argument more closely.

The racist argument assumes as fact the notion that Israel is “white” and that the Palestinians are a “people of color.” That concept is simply false. There are Jews in Israel who came from Africa, which should give Israel greater claim to being a “people of color” than the Arab Palestinians, but the underlying difference separating Israel and the Palestinians is religion, not race.

If those who say Israel’s existence is racist want to claim Arabs as a “people of color,” the proper response is to challenge the definition of that concept. Is it based on skin color? If so, that by itself is a racist notion. Isn’t the goal of civil rights movements to deny skin color as determining one’s destiny?

The other underlying assumption in the racist argument is the notion that it is Israel that is blocking the Palestinians from having their own state. Israel has as great if not a greater claim on the so-called occupied territories as the Palestinians. The Palestinians’ argument only makes sense if one is unwilling to go further back in time than 1967. That was the year Israel pushed Jordan out of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea (the so-called West Bank). Jordan had captured those territories in 1948 after the United Nations affirmed the right of the Jewish people to form their own state. Prior to 1948 those territories were part of the British Mandate which was set up after World War I to prevent chaos after the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the entire region for more than 400 years, was defeated by the Allied Powers.

Of course, it all comes down to boundaries. Where would the Palestinians place their state? From the statements and writings of the PLO (Fatah) and Hamas, the answer to that question is they want the whole thing––not just the West Bank territories, but all of present day Israel as well. Does that sound like a two-state solution?

What therefore is the proper response when someone says you’re a racist if you support Israel? Attack the statement on both assumptions. First, explain that race has nothing to do with it. Remind them that Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages that came from the same region. Then explain that neither Fatah nor Hamas want a two-state solution. If anyone’s a racist, wouldn’t it be the Palestinian leaders?

Eventually someone will ask, “What is your alternative?” If the United Nations wants to create a Palestinian state, they should do so, but not where Israel presently exists, nor in Jerusalem, to which the Palestinian’s claim is fraudulent, nor in Samaria or Judea, where Israel’s claim is stronger based on the League of Nations Mandate. They ought to create it in Jordan, which was originally part of Palestine and where many of the Arab people who call themselves Palestinians resided before 1948. Also, if Egypt is willing, Gaza, which already is a fully Palestinian territory, could be enlarged to include part of the Sinai desert.

A corollary to that solution would be for Israel to offer to those Palestinians who want to remain in the West Bank or Jerusalem the same deal non-Jews who live in Israel proper receive––i.e., full citizenship in the state of Israel. It is likely that a large number of Palestinian Arabs would accept that solution since Israeli citizenship would raise their living condition above what they are today under the corrupt Palestinian Authority. Those wanting to move would be allowed to do so, going to Gaza or the new Palestinian state in Jordan.

But the key lesson I hope people take away from this essay is not to be pushed into a corner when discussing world events by allowing your opponent to frame the issue in a way that you have no choice but to accept their position. Challenge the assumptions hidden in the way the argument is presented. When Barack Obama or the boycott Israel advocates present an either/or proposition it often means the facts are against them and the only way they can win the argument is by preventing a fact-based discussion, which is why the choice they want to give their opponents is no choice at all.

Rescuing Baltimore: Help the residents rescue themselves

The absolute wrong way to rescue Baltimore is to throw more money at the problem in the manner sought by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. That solution not only creates dependency and smacks of paternalism, but it has also been tried and failed. The answer is a modern expression of an old parable.

Everyone knows the saying ‘Give a hungry man a fish and he’s satisfied for one day; teach him to fish and he’ll no longer go hungry.” Here’s my modern version. “Teach a man to fish and he’ll not only feed himself, but his entire family. Help him buy fishing equipment and he’ll be able to sell what he can’t eat to restaurants, buy a second boat, hire people to catch and clean the fish, hire more people to make the deliveries, keep his books, etc.

Baltimore needs a plan to foster entrepreneurship, not more hand-outs from the State or federal government. Rawlings-Blake did a presser with the Small Business Administration (SBA) that is offering assistance and microloans. That’s a step in the right direction, but one that needs to be multiplied tenfold. The mayor also needs to learn the lessons of the past mistakes, for example when $130 million spent on rehabilitating housing in Baltimore failed to turn around a neighborhood because the people didn’t have jobs to keep up their houses. (See Why Couldn’t $130 million transform one of Baltimore’s poorest places?)

A coalition of colleges, the chamber of commerce, city, and state government should be assembled to provide free entrepreneurship classes and small business support in the worst neighborhoods.

Here’s how that could work. Mary Jones, a licensed beauty technician, attends an introductory workshop where she learns if she wants to start a beauty salon—something she’s always wanted to do, she can get help developing a business plan, and submitting that plan to a microlending agency.

Most small businesses don’t qualify for bank funding and therefore people who want to start a business may never get the chance. Banks can’t fund lawn care firms, beauty salons, or small contractors, etc. not because of redlining or discrimination, but due to structural impediments. They are too big to lend. Microlenders use crowd-sourcing to raise the money, which has the benefit of being democratic as well as keeping down overhead costs.

A microlending agency might receive business plans for one hundred businesses (existing and new) that want loans under $25,000. They notify people willing to invest. Here’s how that works with Kiva where I’ve invested in dozens of businesses all over the world. I decide I have $100 to invest in small businesses. I scan through the list of companies needing a loan and pick four to get $25 each. One of them might be Mary’s beauty salon. She needs $2,500 to rehab the vacant storefront where she’d like to locate her business and $2,500 for equipment. She plans to have four chairs; three for other licensed practitioners each of whom will pay her rent to meet their customers in her salon.

My investment doesn’t even begin to meet her needs, but I post on Facebook that I’ve lent Mary Jones $25 and invite my 500 friends to consider loaning her $25. Say 50 of them think this is something they’d like to do, which raises $1,250, but each of them notifies their FB friends who notify their friends and eventually we have $5,000. Only then does Mary get her loan.

That’s not the end of the story. Mary’s business plan shows that she should be able to start repaying the loan after one month. As she starts repaying her loan, that money goes into the accounts of the two hundred people who financed her. Pretty soon she’s repaid her loan and I can invest my $25 in Joe’s fishing company.

Not all businesses will be funded; not all that get funded will succeed, but enough will to start building an economy that will allow people to fix up their homes, to raise families, buy a cars, go on vacations, etc.

Pretty soon you have a self-supporting, self-sustaining community instead of a dependent one. Which community do you think will have the higher crime rate? Which will deepen the racial divide? Which will attract businesses outside the region to come in to open stores, restaurants, and offices?

Kiva relies on local NGOs to help select and manage their microloans in places like Guatemala and Kenya. In Baltimore there could be more than one microlending agency authorized by the State of Maryland and City of Baltimore or one organization, such as the Chamber of Commerce, which could do that job, taking a tiny fee out of every loan to pay for the people who run the program.

Compare that model with welfare systems that require hundreds of bureaucrats to hand out money to people who are disincentivized to find a way to escape their impoverished existence.

Baltimore can be saved by the residents of the poorest neighborhoods. Encourage their innate desire to help themselves. Give them a hand instead of a hand out. We’ve tried the other way. It’s time to let the people rescue themselves.

Should the U.S. recognize Palestine?

Matthew Duss of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Michael Cohen a fellow at the Century Foundation argue peace in the Middle East would be advanced if the U.S. recognized Palestine (Washington Post, March 29). Placing the blame for the failure of the U.S. to bring about a two-state solution on Israel in general and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, Duss and Cohen go so far as to assert such an act would “strengthen the Jewish homeland’s security.”

The authors state that a two-state solution has been U.S. policy since 2002 when George W. Bush called for the creation of a Palestinian state. Failure to realize this policy has in their view undermined U.S. credibility and contributed to regional unrest.

While admitting the Palestinian Authority President Abbas “has at times been an obstinate partner in the peace process,” Duss and Cohen ignore the times that Abbas walked away from the table after Israel had agreed to a mediated formula, raising doubt as to whether the Palestinian Authority actually wants a negotiated settlement which includes the continued existence of the state of Israel.

The authors suggest the Palestinians need a leader different than Abbas has proven to be. In doing so, they undermine their claim that recognition will lead to peace by documenting the extent to which the Palestinians are far from being ready for nationhood. Not only do they lack a strong, credible, and legitimate leader, but they are divided to the point where Palestinian Authority officials dare not venture into Gaza given Hamas’ record of assassinating opponents.

The authors further expose the flaw in their own logic when they remind us that George Bush called for “an economically sustainable, demilitarized Palestinian state.” It’s one thing to call for a demilitarized Palestine. It’s another thing to articulate a path to such an end, something they don’t even attempt. Why not? I’d venture to say that if the U.S. informed Israel that we will recognize the Palestinian people’s right to their own country on the day an inspection certifies Hamas, Al Aqsa Brigades and the other terrorist groups have been disarmed, I am confident Prime Minister Netanyahu would applaud.

The problem is no one is stepping forward to disarm the terrorists, least of all the Palestinian Authority. It is well-known the reason the PA has failed to hold scheduled elections in 2009 and 2010 is because they knew Hamas would win and the price of losing would most likely be their lives and the lives of their families.

Ironically, the primary reason Duss and Cohen want the U.S. to recognize Palestine has nothing to do with Palestine. They favor it to “protect U.S. national security.” This is nothing more than a corollary of the Obama doctrine, the primary principle of which seems to be the dubious theory that U.S. security is protected when we withdraw from conflicts.

The authors also fudge on a key matter. Recognizing Palestine is not the same thing as recognizing a Palestinian state. The latter cannot exist without borders and since defining its borders is a central problem, recognition can only be theoretical.

While it would be a public relations victory for the PA and Hamas for the U.S. to recognize the existence of nation called Palestine, it would not lead to an end to the conflict, which can only come when the Palestinian people recognize they cannot achieve their goals by force and that the outcome of negotiations is that neither side get everything they want.

Netanyahu and Likud have placed security above all else for a reason. To do otherwise is to jeopardize Israel’s existence as past history has demonstrated. At the same time, Israelis desperately want peace.

Recognition of Palestine by the U.S. would harm Israel––the authors’ claims notwithstanding––and it would do nothing to end the hostilities. As Golda Meir often said, “Peace will come to the Middle East, when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.

The Fear and Loathing of the Jewish-American Left

The Jewish-American Left is apoplectic about Likud’s electoral victory, which they attribute to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last minute appeal to his constituency by announcing no Palestinian state will be created during his watch and warning his voters that foreign money was financing left-wing NGO’s busing of Arab voters to the polls. The latter comment may have been injudicious, but it was not racist as is claimed.

Racism is the Left’s favorite (and last ditch) card to use against anyone who is beating them in a contest of any type. That’s because the term has become so overused that it no longer has any real meaning while it remains effective in labeling the target as someone it’s okay to dismiss.

The concept of race was invented around the turn of the nineteenth century by those who wanted to justify policies that treated certain groups differently than others. At one time or another it has been used against Europeans, including Poles and Italians, against religious groups, including Jews, against Native Americans, Asians, and against those of African descent.

It had no basis in fact then and it has none today. Racists are people who believe that a group of people––however defined––are members of a unique race and that individual members of that group possess certain qualities or attributes in common. For example, anyone who says all Jews love money are making a racist statement. Someone who says a certain Jewish individual loves money is not.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to his constituents that NGOs were busing Arabs to the polls is not a racist statement because he doesn’t attribute any negative characteristics to Arab people other than he assumes most of them will vote against him. That’s simply a statement of fact. Were he talking about any other voting block, such as residents of kibbutzim or Jews living in a certain neighborhood, it would not have caught anyone’s attention.
But wasn’t Netanyahu appealing to the baser instincts of his constituents? Leftists love to believe those they disagree with are racists. They forget that the union movement in America for decades refused to admit African-American workers and the Democratic Party established Jim Crow in the American South, refusing to give it up until well into the 1960s. The racist canard only works on Netanyahu if one believes Lukid’s voters are racist bigots. In this case who are the real bigots?

I believe Netanyahu had to have drawn certain logical conclusions to make the statements about the two-state solution and Arab voters.

He has concluded that the leaders of the Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza and the so-called occupied territories have no desire for a two-state solution as evidenced by their actions and their words. He has seen that whenever Israel has given in to their demands it has made matters worse. Vide: Gaza. Hence, unless those leaders change their behavior and their views or are replaced by leaders who do not call for Israel’s destruction, no sane Israeli would give them the means to attack Israel more effectively than they have done in the past.

Netanyahu also knows that the three Arab political parties that made up the Arab list are proponents of policies that would harm Israel and make it more vulnerable than it is today. Hence, his hope that his supporters make their voices heard. Thank goodness, his wishes were fulfilled.

The question is to what extent will the Jewish-American Left abandon Israel and those Israelis who returned Netanyahu to prime minister? If they believe he won using illegitimate tactics, they may support the Obama administration’s desire to shove a two-state solution down Israel’s throat. That such would even be conceivable tells us to what extent leftist (i.e., anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperalist) ideology has replaced Judaism as the religion these people follow.