A Fair and Balanced Gaza Post: Madoff-Mandela Edition

What Bernard Madoff and Melson Mandela tells us about Gaza.

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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.