Andrew Sullivan's Binary Thinking

by Jonathan Chait | June 14, 2010

Last week I expressed some frustration that so many critics on my left insist upon mischaracterizing my beliefs on the Middle East. Andrew Sullivan replies by... mischaracterizing my beliefs on the Middle East. He concludes that my "bottom line is still that of a neocon Likudnik." He reaches that conclusion through a series of erroneous inferences. I'll go through his points one by one:

1. "Chait thinks that until Palestinian opinion shifts decisively, the pressure should be on them in resolving the issue, not the Israeli government's policy of increasing settlements."

I don't think it's an either-or situation. I think pressure should be placed on Israel to halt -- or, ideally, reverse -- settlement construction, and the U.S. should recognize that Palestinian rejection of any Jewish state is the deeper problem.

2. "But even if I'm wrong and Chait is right, and Palestinian opinion and not settlements is the major problem, isn't continuing the settlements and collectively punishing Gazans likely to have the opposite effect on Palestinian opinion?"

Agreed. While there's no viable reading of history to suggest that settlements have caused the Palestinian rejection of the legitimacy of Zionism, it's obvious that settlements encourage Palestinian rejectionism. That's why they're bad. Andrew follows the above sentence with a disquisition about "the logic of Chait's argument" which presumes that my argument supports settlements.

3. "Reversing this cycle was precisely the point of Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze as a kick-start to negotiations. This wasn't a big leap or an impossible demand. It wasn't a reversal of any settlements, let alone forcible dismantling; it was merely a suspension of adding to what Chait calls a crime. And yet even then, Chait backs Israel."

No, I backed Obama. Again Andrew has launched an assault upon a position I do not hold.

When you correct the factual misinformation about my beliefs in Andrew's post, there's nothing left to it. You'd have to cross out every word.

Now, to be sure, I do not agree with Andrew about the Middle East. I am not sure how far he would like to see the United States go in punishing Israel for the settlements, but I'm certain it's much further than I'd like to go, or that Obama has gone. I'm confident that whatever this distinction is, he'll use it to claim that my opinion is functionally that of a Likudnik. Through his switch from ulta Israel hawk to ultra Israel dove, the one constant has been an insistence upon binary thinking. Before, anybody who disagreed with him was making excuses for anti-Semitic terrorism. Now anybody who disagrees with him is making excuses for Avigdor Lieberman. Thus his assumption that, because I think Palestinian rejectionism constitutes a greater problem than settlements, I must think settlements are not a problem at all. And thus his final conclusion that I'm functionally a Likudnik.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/75531/andrew-sullivans-binary-thinking