Today's Reading Tips: Donald Sterling, 'Apartheid Israel,' False Equivalence

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Donald Sterling, center, flanked by his wife Rochelle and the actor George Segal, both white (Reuters)

These writers are well-known enough not to need any pointing-out from me, but the insights in their pieces are strong and clear enough that I still want to highlight them.

1) Jeffrey Toobin on Donald Sterling—with crucial cameo from Chief Umpire Justice John "I just call the balls and strikes" Roberts. 

Because John Roberts has decided (in Citizens United and McCutcheon) that money cannot corrupt politics except when conveyed in brown paper sacks and stored in the freezer, we are en route to having no campaign finance laws. And because John Roberts has decided (in Shelby County) that the main problem in American race relations is affirmative-action laws and similar race-conscious legislation, we are en route to dismantling voting-rights protections that an elected Congress has repeatedly deemed necessary. For previous items on Roberts as one-man-legislature, see this and this.

On the New Yorker site, Jeffrey Toobin connects Roberts's rulings with the social indicators of the past week involving Cliven Bundy and now Donald Sterling. Short and worth reading. E.g.:

Bundy and Sterling represent an ugly corner of contemporary American life, but it is one that is entirely invisible in recent Supreme Court rulings. In the Roberts Court, there are no Bundys and Sterlings; the real targets of the conservative majority are those who’ve spent their lives fighting the Bundys and Sterlings of the world.

2) Paul Krugman on False Equivalence. In a NYT web item, Krugman introduces the term "centrist echo chamber" to describe the lazy but all-but-irresistible press instinct to match any case of real extremism from one party with an assumed or asserted equal nuttiness on the other side. There are times when the two parties are more or less equidistant from a split-the-difference centrist position. There are other times, like now, when they are not—and Krugman's item is one more bit of evidence to add to the growing heap.

3) Jeffrey Goldberg on Apartheid Israel. It's a fact of life that certain kinds of debate are acceptable "within the family" and unacceptable from outsiders. I can complain about my relatives, but you'd better not do so. The same is true, and natural, within a nation, within races and ethnic groups, among friends, and in any other situation where people recognize a difference between "us" (who can bicker and criticize) and "them" (who should butt out).

Thus everyone understands that debate on Israel-Palestine issues within Israel is freer-swinging and wider-ranging than what is acceptable within the United States. Thus Haaretz in particular routinely publishes reports and opinions that would have Abraham Foxman on high alert if they appeared in the U.S. press.

And thus too John Kerry has had to issue an artfully hedged non-apologetic "wrong words were chosen" statement for stating the plain truth. Namely, that unless Israel and the Palestinians can work out a two-state solution, eventually Israel "winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state." The point is frequently made within Israel, sometimes including the word apartheid; but it's awkward for any outsider to make, especially when the outsider holds Kerry's current job.  

Jeffrey Goldberg—a friend and Atlantic colleague and office neighbor—isn't constrained by representing the U.S. government, and he has an insider/ outsider status in assessing Israeli politics. In a Bloomberg item today he uses the Kerry episode as a reminder that a single word—apartheid—can keep people from hearing any words that come after it.* (We can think of other words that have that power.) So Goldberg says that he doesn't use the term any more. Nonetheless, he says, the real-world prospects are as Kerry described, because of the continuing-and-expanding occupation in the West Bank: 

The settlers who entangle Israel in the lives of Palestinians believe that they are the vanguard of Zionism. In fact, they are the vanguard of bi-nationalism. Their myopia will lead to the end of Israel as a democracy and as a haven for the Jewish people. The regime they help impose on Palestinians is cruel, unfair and unnecessary. Rather than label this regime in an incendiary fashion, I now prefer simply to describe its disagreeable qualities.

But if Kerry, following [Ehud] Barak’s lead, wants to warn about a possible apartheid future for Israel, I’m not going to condemn him as anti-Israel. Israeli leaders must open their minds to the possibility that he has their long-term interests at heart.


Bonus 4) While I'm at it, this New Yorker essay by my longtime friend Michael Kinsley is very much worth reading. It's about the cognitive effects of Parkinson's disease, with which he was diagnosed 20 years ago, when he was in his early 40s—and about the larger prospects for his (and my) Baby Boom generation as it contemplates the actuarial inevitability of Alzheimer's disease and widespread other "cognitive deficits." An extremely difficult topic, handled with grace and skill. This item is subscribers-only, but with any good magazine you should subscribe.


* My one-time employer Jimmy Carter learned this lesson. At the Camp David meetings in 1978, he did as much as any modern figure to advance the security of Israel (and Egypt) by guiding Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to an agreement that until the last moment seemed impossible, but that has endured. Lawrence Wright's very good play Camp David is about the emotional and policy distance all three leaders had to travel to reach an accord. I was there at the time, albeit in a spear-carrier staff role, and everything I saw matches the version presented by Wright, including Carter's perseverance and insight in changing Sadat's and Begin's minds.

But eight years ago Carter's book Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid made him a pariah to many in Israel—even though his arguments are very similar to those routinely made by the Israeli left. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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