The Gaza Seminars: Robert Manne

I know this is a touchy issue. Anyway, the Gaza Seminars are now all online. The Panel discussion is on ABC. Robert Manne spoke thusly:

Robert Manne: The first issue I want to raise is this: it seems to me important and it has come up in many of the talks, to think about where the Arab/Israeli conflict, not just Gaza, reached a point of intractability or no return or whatever one wants to say.

In my view the point of no return for the deadlock was 1967 and its aftermath. In politics sometimes it seems to me mistakes can be more important than crimes. What I would say is what did Israel expect once it decided and it wasn’t immediate that it might have a chance of holding on to the West Bank and Gaza, with fantasies of a greater Israel. Even at the time or pretty soon after it was clear that a number of things would follow from the decision to hold on: one is that oppression and injustice [sic] of the Arab populations was absolutely inevitable.

The second thing that I think was clear was that the Israeli body politic would be poisoned by what it was doing, in particular I think by the fact that the kind of injustice that was done would be denied – and I think denialism is always a poisoning aspect in a society. It was obvious that the occupation would hand the enemies of Israel legitimation for their hostility to Israel. I think it was inevitable that it would poison the relations between the Jewish population inside 1948 Israel and its Arab population. Although not so inevitable but I think it was likely, as it did, have a deleterious effect on the political attitudes of what I will call Diaspora Jewry in particular the most important community, the American Jewish community. If things have gone wrong, I put my money very strongly on the mistake, the profoundly important mistake that Israel made in the decade or so after ’67.

Margaret Coffey: Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, opening the discussion. Here is his second main point:

Robert Manne: It seems to me that even before the creation of the State of Israel, a Jewish presence of a state-like form in the Middle East was regarded as illegitimate. Even though the creation of the Jewish state followed the gravest crime in the history of humanity, the Holocaust, even though the creation of the Jewish state in the Middle East was supported by almost the entire international world with the exception of the Arab States at that time, Israel was and continued to be regarded I’d say almost alone amongst the nations of the world as an illegitimate entity by its neighbours. For me one of the difficulties of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the difficulty of disentangling these two rather stark facts – the mistake Israel made after ’67 and the unique regard of Israel as Illegitimate by many of its neighbours over time. My two stark facts in a very vicious way interact with each other and I think are to do with the intractability of things now.

Margaret Coffey: And here Robert Manne quotes from the lecture by University of New South Wales political scientist Geoffrey Levey.

Robert Manne: Geoffrey Levey made a point which I think was very important, right at the end of his lecture. He said, how dismaying it was that the Diaspora Jewry in both the United States and Australia, he stressed Australia, have not taken the advantage of their own security and their distance from the conflict to bring to the Jewish population of Israel a cooler, saner perspective. It seems to me, and many people have commented on this, exceedingly strange that there seems to be more open argument in Israel, amongst the Jews in Israel, than there is amongst the Jewish population of the United States and Australia. It is of course not entirely true but it seems to me that the degree of kind of bullying about free debate within the American and Australian Jewish communities is a strange and a disastrous fact.

Which leads to my fourth main point: I believe the existence of an immensely powerful pro- Israel lobby in the US has had a disastrous impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict over time. Israel relies on the United States from almost every point of view. One of the greatest and to me most puzzling problems about the conflict has been the unwillingness of the United States to pressure Israel, to bring it, as I would say, to its senses. And one of the reasons that the United States has not been willing to place serious pressure on Israel in my view is the role played in US domestic politics by the Israel lobby. My hopes do lie on Barak Obama. I wouldn’t place my money on his ability to do much but I think if ever there has been a president who has the intelligence and perhaps the strength of will, to see what must be done, he may be it.

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