1. What Bernard Madoff tells us about Gaza. There is an ineluctable tendency among people to suspend their disbelief and accept what members of their in-group tell them. This gets them in trouble.
Bernard Madoff was able to destroy so many Jewish charities because they did not do their due diligence about him. He was Bernie, the nice Jewish boy; he could be trusted. So it is with Israel and American Jews. An IDF spokesperson or consul-general comes to a synagogue or Hadassah, or whatever, and gives the party line: yes, settlements are bad, and we don’t like them, either, but everything else is exaggerated, and it’s not that big of a deal, and isn’t Darfur worse, and 75-year-old Mrs. Shapiro writes her check to AIPAC.
This makes sense at some level: everyone is rationally ignorant about aspects of politics. We don’t have the time. We have to choose whom to believe.
This isn’t just about Jews. All diasporas tend to be more hard-line. And it isn’t just about politics. A friend used to work at an investment bank, where she knew a deeply unethical stockbroker who happened to be a Mormon. All these Mormon organizations trusted him with their money. He put them into several California tax-exempt funds, which were of no use to Utah organizations. But he got a great commission for selling them. See also, e.g. Adam Clayton Powell, “Our Sarah”; evangelicals supporting the Torturer-in-Chief.
That said, American Jews need to start doing their due diligence. And they (or should I say we) are not. I got an e-mail from my rabbi today saying that we need to keep ourselves informed about what is going on–and then announcing a briefing by the local AIPAC chapter rep. That won’t get it done.
2. What Nelson Mandela tells us about Gaza. An oppressed and occupied people does not necessarily resort to terrorism, as some have suggested. The ANC maintained a strict policy of nonviolent protest for nearly 50 years, until the 1961 Sharpeville Massacres. Even after the founding of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the vast majority of its targets were government installations and military outposts. Its record was hardly perfect, including the infamous “Magoo’s Bar Bombing” and similar incidents in the mid-80’s, but overall, the ANC was highly disciplined and refrained from hitting civilian targets. Indeed, Umkhonto We Sizwe started a landmine campaign in the mid-80’s, but ended it because of too many civilian casualties. Overall, the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the rare soft target attacks were the outcome of either misunderstandings or rogue operators among MK agents.
Similarly, I am still waiting for the terror campaign from the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan nationalists, although that could change. Haven’t heard much about Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian suicide bombers, either.