Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mars Attacks!

About fifteen years ago there was a black comedy movie called Mars Attacks! It wasn't a particularly good film, but the central theme was a perfect parable for Israel. And it also answers the objection of one reader to my previous post on the Palestinians, who objected that it had nothing to do with rationalist Judaism.

In Mars Attacks!, a fleet of Martian spaceships arrives at Earth. The US launches a welcome ceremony, in which the Martians initially participate, announcing that they have come in peace. But then, after a pigeon "makes a deposit" on a Martian, the Martians suddenly kill everyone. The US is convinced that this was a tragic misunderstanding caused by the pigeon incident, and arranges for the Martians to address Congress. The Martians agree to do so. The Martian ambassador makes a speech before Congress - and then kills everyone there.

At this point some people are saying that there is obviously a war to be fought, but the president does not agree. He has a personal conversation with a Martian, in which he makes a very moving speech about cooperation. A tear glistens on the Martian's cheek. Finally!

And then the Martian kills the president.

Throughout the movie, it's clear to us that the Martians mean to annihilate all the humans. But we can only recognize that because it doesn't matter to us (since, after all, it's only a movie). For the human characters in the story, however, it's a different matter. Faced with an alien civilization who is technologically superior, the thought of a war is just too terrible to accept. As a result, the humans constantly grasp at straws and fall for the Martian lies, even when there's no reason to believe them and the humans are fatally compromising their own security as a result. They are "taking risks for peace"!

The black humor of the film is in mankind's refusal to acknowledge the true intentions of the Martians. Even after fifteen years, I remember one particular scene in which a Martian is charging down the street in a war machine, shouting "We come in peace! We mean you no harm!" while he is firing his laser cannons and killing everyone. It's absurd... or is it?

When Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo accords, there was very little reason to believe that he was actually serious about wanting peace. After all, in his Arabic speeches back at home, he was telling people that it was a strategic move as part of a longer campaign to destroy Israel. Nevertheless, many intelligent people fell for it - because they were so desperate for peace. One very well-known rabbi (who I will not name) also fell for it and subsequently publicly admitted his error - but how many others did?

Over the years, the Israeli left has made a number of concessions to the Palestinians. Each time, their predictions have been proven wrong. When Israel armed the PA police forces, Peres assured Israel that these weapons would never be used against Israelis - and that if that ever happened, Israel would come down in force against the PA. Well, lo and behold, the weapons were used against Israelis, and Israel did very little in response. When Ehud Barak decided to withdraw from Lebanon, he assured Israel that if there was any trouble, Israel would be free to come down hard on Hezbollah. Well, there was trouble, and Israel was made to feel extremely constrained in its response. When Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza, he assured Israel that if there was any trouble, Israel would be free to come down hard on Hamas. Well, there was trouble, and Israel was made to feel extremely constrained in its response.

Some of us were not surprised at any of this, and had been saying it all along. But others, especially the secular left, were so desperate for peace and normalization of relations with the wider world (and, unlike the religious right, incapable of resigning themselves to the impossibility of it in the short term), that they blinded themselves to the facts. One would think that their repeated errors of judgment would cause them to have some humility and hesitations about continuing in the same path, but like the humans in Mars Attacks, it doesn't.

Cognitive dissonance is not restricted to narrow-minded religious fundamentalists. Even the most intelligent, educated, "enlightened" people can blind themselves to facts when it goes against their deepest emotions and desires. And the desire to be loved is very powerful.


  1. Dear Rabbi Slikfin,

    While I'm honored to see a post in what appears to be a response to my comments, I reiterate my previous assertion that this is a political issue, and though it may involve the divide between rational and irrational thinking, it still does not address that divide within Judaism. I still believe that a different forum is the most appropriate place for political issues not directly related to religion. Perhaps this discussion belongs in a treatment of the Torah's directives regarding war and statecraft, but it does not belong here as presented.

    To briefly address a specific issue you raise, I'm not sure how being made to feel constrained in response to violence after taking risks for peace put Israel in a worse position than being made to feel constrained in response to violence before taking risks for peace. I also think you ignore other long-term risks of doing nothing, and the cognitive dissonance involved in a "patient" fortress mentality. Surely the wise path is somewhere between recalcitrance and overly risky generosity, and future posts on this issue should address that, not because I have a right to dictate your opinions, but because I think it does not speak well for a rational approach to do otherwise.


  2. Very true, very eloquent, but you know what? We already know all that. You’re preaching to the choir. So let’s get serious here. If there is one corner of the internet where one can safely challenge the received wisdom, it’s right here. So let me ask you: what do you actually propose that Israel do? I get your Mars Attacks analogy, but it’s too late for that. The 90s are over, so are the aughts. Too much water is already under the bridge. What should the Israeli government do now?

    The situation is this: we have millions of Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza. We all know where the demographics are headed. If they are not given their own country, and if they are not allowed to vote in Israel, then they are victims of political discrimination. That is a fact. Now, you can argue that they deserve that status, that they have brought it on themselves, that they could have been accepted as members of our society but they chose to bomb it away. Fine. I think that’s fundamentally true. But go tell the rest of the world that. It’s just not an argument that holds any water outside the four corners of Israel (and Congressional Republicans, and Canada’s conservative government – but the world is much bigger than that).

    So where does that leave you? Do you just not care? Do you just continue to insist that the Palestinians lost their right to complain after Camp David in 2000 and that they should get back to us after 5 or 10 terror-free years (if ever)? Hey, I would love it if were possible for us to get away with that, but be realistic. Does it even matter to you how that position would be received around the world?

    So what do you do? Is there anything you would offer up? Would you stop construction in the West Bank? If not, why not? Do you recognize that continued construction is effectively the same as sending a message that there is no peace process whatsoever? Is that the official policy of the Israeli government? If it is not, then why the internal confusion? You can’t build on the West Bank and at the same time insist that there is a state in the Palestinians’ future.

    I’m looking for answers here, not more retellings of why We Are Right and They Are Wrong.

  3. Well said.

    I would like to note, though, that I think the disengagement is a bit different. After the disengagement, when Hamas attacked Israel (killing a number of soldiers and kidnapping Gilad Shalit) there actually was a massive military response. It just got overshadowed by the even more massive military response in Lebanon (i.e., the 2nd Lebanon War).

    And that response got overshadowed by the fact that Israel bungled the war (although it did create some deterrence with Hizballah - but the expectations created by Olmert were much greater than that).

    It's also worth noting that (years late) Israel had a massive military response to the missiles on the South - one which again wasn't necessarily finished properly, but was much better handled than the 2nd Lebanon War.

    It's true that there were diplomatic repercussions, but the military response was there (and the threat of a future, similar or better response is still there).

    One other point - I think it's worth taking a look at this video in terms of what is happening and when this all really began:

  4. There is a range of options. You can continue to build in areas which almost everyone recognizes will always remain part of Israel. And, ideally, I would like to see the following proposal considered:

  5. Okay, let's see what that site says:

    "Israel, the US, and the international community will formulate a multi-year program for full and rapid rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees, while absorbing them as citizens in various countries."

    "srael, the US, and the international community will recognize the Kingdom of Jordan as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, and Jordan will again grant citizenship status to the residents of Judea and Samaria."

    "In coordination with Jordan, Israel will extend its sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. Arab residents of these areas will become citizens of Jordan (Palestine)."

    So transfer. You're advocating transfer. Your idea is that the UN should assist Israel in a transfer of millions of Palestinians to Jordan.

    Rabbi Slifkin, get back to me when you've given this some serious thought. What that website proposes is inconceivable in the world that we inhabit.

  6. I do believe your concerns and fears of living in an Israel, where Palestinians would be enfranchised, are real and must be addressed at least somewhat during any forthcoming negotiations.I am opposed to ethnic cleansing, straight-out or in slow motion, but I do not deny the need every person has to feel safe and at home. Anyway, having left your blog I saw Rabbi Rosen, the rabbi of the Reconstructionist Temple here in Evanston had criticized the head of the Reform movement for saying he wanted to live amongst Jews. Many comments, mostly in agreement. I wrote about white flight in Chicago and NY and triggered a vigorous response.

    So apropos who is naive and who is burying his head in the sand, check out Rabbi Rosen's blog. He doesn't represent AIPAC, but he does speak to and for many left-liberals in America, and their ideas are becoming the majority view among young Jews. You have Flatbush and Teaneck and Gov.'s the other 300 million you ought to begin worrying about.

  7. So transfer. You're advocating transfer.

    Dan, that's not what it's saying. It's talking about them being foreign citizens of Jordan. The absorption of refugees is referring to people in the refugee camps.

    Incidentally, do you know that Kuwait transferred tens of thousands of Palestinians out? Or maybe it was hundreds of thousands, I forget. Yes, I know, Israel doesn't have the same latitude.

  8. "Cognitive dissonance is not restricted to narrow-minded religious fundamentalists. Even the most intelligent, educated, "enlightened" people can blind themselves to facts when it goes against their deepest emotions and desires. And the desire to be loved is very powerful."

    ... as does the desire to view your group favorably and, when in conflict, your adversaries unfavorably.

    I especially like your comparison of the Palestinians to invading Martians, an appropriate fascist caricature.

    I'd debate the facts with you but no doubt you are very aware that when fundamentalists use psychoanalysis to dismiss others' opinion there's typically little point in a rational discussion. Perhaps your paragraph should be rewritten:

    "Even the most intelligent, educated, "enlightened" people can blind themselves to facts when it goes against their deepest emotions and desires. Those atheist reshoyim scientists just say the world is more than 6000 years old so they can fulfill their tayvos..."


  9. Avi, your comment really didn't have much substance, so I really don't see what there is to respond to.

  10. I'm skipping to what it will ultimately turn into. If it's not transfer at the outset, it will inevitably turn into that. Otherwise you're saying that Israel should establish a system, unique to the entire world (to the best of my knowledge), in which millions of people are made to be citizens of one place and residents of another.

    How in heaven's name is that supposed to work? Why would anyone agree to that? Why would the UN assist with that? Why would the member nations of the UN ever approve that? It might be even more far-fetched than out-and-out transfer.

  11. By the way, Dan, my point in this post was not to argue for or against any particular strategy. Rather, it was that choices about strategies should be made with acknowledgement of the realities, not delusions. It could be that disengagement from territories is the correct move - but nobody should delude themselves into thinking that it will bring peace, or that the international community will allow Israel to exercise normal defensive strategies in the event of being attacked.

  12. Dan Daoust is entirely correct in describing Rabbi Slifkin's proposed solution to the conflict as "inconceivable in the worlds we inhabit".

    The only line from this post that is remotely related to Rationalist Judaism is:
    "Even the most intelligent, educated, "enlightened" people can blind themselves to facts when it goes against their deepest emotions and desires."

    This blog does a good job of pointing out how some of the greatest talmidei hachamim cling to silly pseudo-scientific theories to support their deepest emotions about Torah.

    Rabbi Slifkin, that sentence you wrote also perfectly describes the Israel Unity Coalition.

  13. Could be. But see my previous comment. My point here is not about which strategy to use.

  14. It is indeed absolutely irrational to hold a position which is based on false premises. Just as it is irrational to to base oneself on the premise that Hazal had perfect scientific knowledge so too is it irrational to support initiatives vis a vis the Philistinians which are predicated on the premise that they want peace and are willing to compromise their principles.

    Expelling the enemy population makes a lot more sense to me. We need to be ready for windows of opportunity which arise from time to time.

    I liked this post.

  15. Please, let's keep the discussion focused on how strategies are informed, not on what strategies are to be used.

  16. "Could be. But see my previous comment. My point here is not about which strategy to use."

    But then we're just going in circles. We've 18 years since that terrible day on the White House lawn to brush up on our metaphors for why the peace process is a disaster. We already know all that. It's time to figure out what the strategy should be going forward.

  17. We already know all that

    I wish. Many people (mostly, but not all, outside of Israel) still think that it's possible to actually have peace. Or that Israel would be free to defend itself against missile attacks from Palestine.

  18. By "we" I mean the people who read this blog.

  19. There is quite a lack of "rationalism" on both sides here. Just a few of the facts that people forget:

    (1) With one notable exception (the current West Bank PM, Salam Fayyad), the Palestinian side has not budged one inch since the Oslo Accords, turning down every offer Israel has made, insisting that every Jew be removed from any Palestinian state (signifantly, Fayyad does NOT support that), and going to war multiple times.

    (2) There were two genuinely democratic political parties in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. (One of them was Fayyad's.) Together, they got 5.1% of the vote. A recent poll showed their combined support at 6.2%, so I guess that can be seen as improvement?

    (3) Hamas, which won a plurality in that election, still insists that peace will happen only when all Jews leave or expelled. That is a "transfer" policy that continues to be ignored by most of the west, who simply refer to Hamas as a terrorist group.

    (4) With the exception of East Jerusalem and possibly the Golan, none of the territory recaptured in 1967 is part of Medinat Yisrael, its non-Jewish residents are not citizens of Israel and as a practical matter are permanently excluded from ever becoming citizens of Israel, yet they remain subject to the effects of Israeli security decisions into which they have no effect.

    (5) Israel's own Arab citizens remain second-class, facing massive segregation. We have given the Arabs of Yehuda, Shomron, Gaza, and the Golan little reason to want to be ruled by Israel.

    (6) Israel voluntarily signed and ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly a country from transferring part of its population into area that it has occupied in a war. The 1977-1992 Israeli settlement policy is a flagrant violation of this and no country in the world accepts the pilpul from the Israeli government.

  20. I agree with everything you wrote except the last line: "And the desire to be loved is very powerful."

    Most Americans during the Cold War couldn't care less if Russia liked them or not. It's Israelis' infeiority complex that make them want to be loved.

    (Incidentally, traditional/religious Jews generally don't care if Arabs or anyone else likes them, which I think tells us something about the internal makeup of the modern secular Jew. But that's a whole different discussion.)

  21. This time I write to disagree with Dan and everyone else.

    I do not believe that the Palestinians are genetically inclined towards Hate. Poll after poll shows that the Palestinians want peace. The narrow Hamas victory in Gaza was primarily a protest against corruption in the PA and in support of the social support system Hamas had developed. Hamas is opposed to new elections in Gaza because they know the Gaza war ended all prospects of another Hamas victory.

    The only way toward peace is through reconciliation and the recognition that eventually, we are going to have to live together. If you accept that premise, then the Oslo accords were NOT a mistake. Surely mistakes were made along the way in the implementation of the peace process but its goals remain correct.

  22. With all due respect for "Mars Attacks!" I've thought similarly for years about a different movie, namely the original Battlestar Galactica which I saw as a kid. "Peace in our day" with the treacherous Cyclons and all that. Remember that the movie came out very near in time to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. When I was a kid I couldn't keep myself from making the analogy.

    I never saw the later version of Battlestar Galactica, because it came out after we made aliya. From what I've heard it was meant to be more "complex" by blurring the lines between the good guys and the bad guys.

    Complexity doesn't mean that some things are not black and white. Israel is a complex society with a complicated history, and even though there is a great deal of amazing good there are also things that are deeply wrong. On the other hand, those who openly and clearly strive towards genocide, in word and in deep, are truly doing evil, and it is wrong to mask that with complexity. In the Israeli-Arab conflict that is on the Arab side alone.

  23. R' Slifkin,

    I am disappointed that when it comes to politics you treat your ideological opponents in almost exactly the fashion that you criticize in your science/torah debates. In science v torah you ask that your opponents respond to specific arguments, and not paint with a broad brush. Yet here you simplify your opponents position and discuss no details. It is all generalities etc.

  24. "Poll after poll shows that the Palestinians want peace."

    Really? Can you provide some references?

  25. These polls indicate otherwise:

  26. To Charlie:

    Israel voluntarily signed and ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly a country from transferring part of its population into area that it has occupied in a war. The 1977-1992 Israeli settlement policy is a flagrant violation of this and no country in the world accepts the pilpul from the Israeli government

    How is the settlement policy a violation? Israel didn't occupy Palestinian territory for the simple reason that it never was Palestinian territory.

    Whose territory was it?


    Nope - they obtained it via a war (one that they - in conjunction with others - started). No one recognized their sovereignty over that land and they relinquished all claims to it after 67.

    Before that, who controlled it? The British (as part of the Mandate from the League of Nations).

    What was that mandate from?

    The League of Nations.

    What was the mandate for - to implement the Balfour Declaration.

    What was the Balfour Declaration about? About establishing a homeland for the Jewish people.

    And the Balfour Declaration came about because the British took the land from the Ottoman Empire (which controlled the area for 400 years).

    So in modern legal terms (not in terms of HaKadosh Baruch Hu granting us the land) - how exactly is this a violation of the Geneva convention? How exactly is Israel occupying this land?

    note - I'm not necessarily saying that the settlement policy was the right policy or implemented properly, just that the land is not occupied territories.

  27. To Rabbi Slifkin- Great post (initial), but one of your comments here (after the post) I am disappointed and I believe the proposal you made (or brought down from that other site) is not rational at all. We can't have arabs be part of "Jordan" and yett live in Judea and Samaria. They have to go. Even if they are part of Jordan they will continue to attempt to murder Jews. Their is no other solution besides transfer. Transfer of death to them. That's the only solution and the only language they understand.

  28. The "left" in Israel that controls the media,radio,TV,Supreme Court are in"psychoic denial."
    Their desire for a piece of signed paper stating 'peace"stops them from seeing reality.
    Israeli governmentin acts like the abused spouse blaming themselves and attempting to appease their supposed"partner."

  29. Rabbi you knocked one out of the park with this post. Clear, factual and undeniable. I also happened to see mars attacks in the movie theatre (pretty funny movie) and the parallel is striking.

  30. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I dont think the Israel Project is an objective source but if you actually read the "methodology" and the associated charts you will find that their data can be read as a support for a pro-peace policy even despite their disregard for the culture of fear in the territories (a known bias).

    More importantly, I dont think the views of the most Palestinians differs from what I hear on a weekly basis in shul. Want a sample? Just look at what Tzvi ben Roshel wrote above:

    "Transfer o[r] death to them. That's the only solution and the only language they understand."

    Considering that most Palestinians wont leave voluntarily, I read that as a call for genocide.

  31. Great analogy, RNS. I guess this movie is before the hard-core Liberals completely took over Hollywood? Such a theme would never be incorporated nowadays.

    I really think this kind of discussion needs to be taken out of the philosophical and into the practical. We can go on about people feeling disenfranchised and who started what, and so forth, but practically speaking, every single country with a growing Muslim population has suffered a huge upswing in crime.

    Before the current mass immigration, Muslims who came to Europe and America were looking for freedom and economic success and willing to work for it; they admired democratic values. But it's not like that anymore (although it still is for some). Because of America's geographic and population size, it will take longer for Muslims to reach the percentage they reached in Europe with the accompanying problems.

    When you worry about "disenfranchising" Muslims as a group, you actually end up disenfranchising the very Muslims who want to embrace positive values. It's the rights of the Muslims who truly want peace that we need to protect, not Muslims in general.

    It doesn't matter where you put the Muslim Palestinians. They need a very heavy hand, they need to know who's in charge. You cannot give them normal rights until they start to embrace democratic values or you're going to end up in a horrific situation. That's why Muslim countries have such barbaric laws, and severe discrimination against women and non-Muslims. Muslim culture does not embrace our value system. Period. And we have to acknowledge that before we even start trying to deal with a Muslim population.

    So what to do with the Muslim population in Israel?
    First of all, you can get really heavy with them. Starting with the Broken Glass theory, you make it very clear that stealing, rock-throwing, etc., are absolutely not tolerated. Acts of terror will be dealt with no mercy. You tighten immigration laws (No more allowing East J-m Muslims to import wives from Saudi Arabia or bring over "relatives" and the like.) That gets things under control. You could convince different countries to absorb them. Countries make secret deals all the time. Israel has a lot to offer in exchange. The harsh truth is, the Palestinians aren't better off in one place than another, due to their own culture and/or the cognitive dissonance of the Western world.

    Settling all of Israel is a great idea. It's a mitzvah, which always brings blessing. God gave us this Land - let's not spit in His Face.

    Mollycoddling Muslims as a group and pretending that, as a group, they aspire to the same American-based values that you hold dear only hurts both you and them. Europe has proven that.

  32. To James:

    Without in any way justifying any calls for genocidal violence, I just don't think you can compare what you may here in shul with the 90+ years of continuous, brutal, and inhuman violence from the Arab nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists.

    One could easily fill volumes with the numerous acts of barbaric violence perpetrated (both against Jews and those within their own population who were seen in any way as willing to reach some sort of real modus operendi or coexistence with us).

    So, whether or not the 'views' differ, the actions dramatically differ. We did not dedicate ourselves to decades of war and terror, we did not dedicate ourselves to an education system of hate and prejudice, we did not dedicate ourselves to a campaign of lies and propaganda.

    If you want to make a good comparison, compare the aims, goals and means of Arab Nationalistic and Islamic Fundamentalist violence and propaganda to Nazi Germany. The comparisons are real and stark.

    People may talk in shul (and elsewhere) in ways that they shouldn't, but there is no indication at all that any sort of genocidal program even has a hava mina of a possibility of a chance of getting off the ground here in Israel. On the other hand, there is a real-world, solid, reality-based, concrete fear that the Arab/Islamic terrorists would slaughter each and every one of us if they could (with governmental and societal support).

  33. One very well-known rabbi (who I will not name) also fell for it and subsequently publicly admitted his error - but how many others did?

    This is actually related to another post you made awhile back about Rabbi's being political leaders. My wife commented that she lost respect for this Rabbi, even though he was "taking the advice of the generals" because she says that anyone who is a real Talmid Chacham should have easily been able to see through the Arab deception and past the political bias of the generals.

  34. The situation is this: we have millions of Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza. We all know where the demographics are headed.

    Actually, it's been shown pretty decisively that Jews and Arabs are headed very quickly for Fertility Rate parity in the next 5 years or so and that the PA has been lying about it's population figures to put pressure on Israel. It's fairly certain that there are significantly less Arabs in the PA than claimed, as much as 50% less. I wrote an Op-Ed on Arutz-7 back in 2006 dealing with this exact issue:

    There is an Alternative! (To Another Unilateral Withdrawl)

  35. You've got to love a blog which is called "Rationalist Judaism" and can still work in a picture of a martian shooting a laser gun.

  36. >>>> because she says that anyone who is a real Talmid Chacham should have easily been able to see through the Arab deception ….

    Kindly tell your wife, that this is one of the many foolish things that we are told to believe. just because someone knows shas and poskim thoroughly makes him a “wise” man.

    Nonsense. And that’s why this whole thing of “daas torah” is nonsense. It probably ranks among the greatest scams perpetuated on the naïve jewish community in jewish history.

    It takes a lot more than a blatt gemorrah to become ‘wise’.

  37. James- I stand by my comment(s).
    And you saying "Considering that most Palestinians wont leave voluntarily, I read that as a call for genocide."
    Its not factually true. Most WANT to leave. Even without the question of compensation. Now their is even a proposal (as made by Rav Kahane) for voluntary compensation for them to leave. Personally I wouldn't want to give them anything good. BUT I understand the situation and especially some Jews like you (who for some reason can't be cruel to the cruel), soo compensation seams to be a more pragmatic solution. But either way "They Must Go". And about "genocide", you think that if we were to start bombing and telling them to leave they would just stay there? Arabs are not brave, then ran even during wars where they had guns. Surly they will find a way to fly is need be once their is a proper Jewish government and not the ________ that run it now.

  38. I just ran across Ariel Zilber's remake of Naomi Shemer's song A Sardine meets a Shark. Very appropriate to this post.


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