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The Narrative of Perpetual Palestinian Victimhood

Getting beyond bad faith and 'poetic truth.'

by
Shelby Steele

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November 14, 2011 - 10:05 am
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The following is excerpted from a speech delivered September 22, 2011 in New York City at the conference “The Perils of Global Intolerance:  The UN and Durban III,” sponsored by the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and the Hudson Institute.

 

The Arab-Israeli conflict, is not really a conflict, it is a war – a war of the Arabs against the Jews.  In many ways, this conflict has been a conflict between narratives.  We who strongly support Israel have done a poor job in formulating a narrative which will combat the story spun by the other side.  We can do better.

The Durban conferences, the request for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and the general animus in the Middle East and elsewhere toward Israel and toward the Jews, what are they really about?  Is the Durban conference and the claim that Israel is a racist nation really about reforming the people of Israel and curing them of their racism?

I think their real interest is to situate the Palestinian people within a narrative of victimization. This is their ulterior goal:  to see themselves and to have others see them as victims of colonialism, as victims of white supremacy.

Listen to their language; it is the language of colonial oppression.  Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas claims that Palestinians have been occupied for 63 years.  The word oppressed is constant, exploited. In this, there is a poetic truth;  like poetic license, in a poetic truth a writer will bend the rules in order to be more effective.

I will give you one example of a poetic truth that comes from my group, black Americans.  We make the following claims:  America is a deeply, intractably racist society.  It may not be as conspicuous today as it was before.  Nevertheless, it is still there today structurally and systemically, and it still holds us back and keeps us from achieving the American dream.

To contradict this claim, one can come forward with evidence to suggest that racism in America today is about 25th on the list of problems facing black Americans.  One can recount one of the great untold stories of America, namely, the moral growth and evolution away from that problem. This is not to say that racism is completely extinguished, but that it no longer prevents the forward progress of any black in the United States.  There is no evidence to suggest that it does.  Yet, this claim is still the centerpiece of black American identity – this idea that we are victimized by a fundamentally, incurably racist society.

Poetic truths like that are marvelous because no facts and no reason can ever penetrate.  Supporters of Israel are up against a poetic truth.  We keep hitting it with all the facts.  We keep hitting it with obvious logic and reason.  And we are so obvious and conspicuously right that we assume it is going to have an impact and it never does.

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