Correcting Erroneous Middle East Analysis in The Chicago Maroon

 /  Nov. 26, 2018, 9:55 a.m.

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In the first line of Atman Mehta’s recent Chicago Maroon op-ed, The Responsibility of Students, he states that “it is the responsibility of students to question everything, and thereby uncover the truth and expose lies.” The article claims two student writers from the Gate “have obediently accepted American propaganda instead of questioning it.” Ironically, the author fails to take his own advice and creates a strawman to promote his particular worldview.

The author brands Noa Levin’s article, Rethinking US Involvement in Yemen, as “a regurgitation of American propaganda.” This characterization is patently false. Levin is highly critical of American involvement in Yemen, arguing that the United States has made a “significant contribution to the atrocities of the war and indirectly to the humanitarian crisis.” Moreover, she recommends that “the United States ought to withdraw its assistance to the Saudi-led coalition.” How one can construe this to be some form of acceptance of “American propaganda” is unclear to me.

Furthermore, the author’s understanding of Middle East power dynamics appears shaky at best—going as far as citing the infallible Wikipedia to support a weak argument. Despite arguing that writers for the Gate are obediently accepting American propaganda, he quotes a US State Department spokesperson to support his claim that the Houthis are not an Iranian proxy. Other than this blatant hypocrisy in using State Department sources, which he might call “American propaganda” as evidence, there are two major problems at hand. First, the United States was just months away from rolling out the Iranian nuclear agreement­­, so it was not in the Obama administration’s interest at the time to highlight Tehran’s nefarious regional activities.­­ Second, a great deal has changed in the region since early 2015 and Iranian involvement in Yemen is now all the more apparent.

There is strong and irrefutable evidence that Iran is supporting Yemen’s Houthis. Just a few months ago, IRGC commander Brigadier General Second Class Naser Shabani spilled the beans, saying “we told the Yemenis to strike two Saudi oil tankers, and they did.” He even admitted that “Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah are our rear guards in the region, the enemy is so vulnerable that we can engage them beyond the border, but of course we do not insist on engaging Saudi Arabia beyond the border.” In addition, fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah—Iran’s most formidable proxy—have reportedly turned up dead on the battlefield in Yemen. In fact, a Hezbollah commander once said, “Who do you think fires Tochka missiles into Saudi Arabia? It’s not the Houthis in their sandals, it’s us.”

Speaking of missiles, which target Saudi Arabia and the UAE by the dozen, there is evidence that the Iranians designed and manufactured some of the ballistic missiles the Houthis have been firing into Saudi Arabia. To categorically deny Saudi fears of Iranian involvement in Yemen in such a way can only be explained by ignorance or dishonesty—or perhaps a combination of the two—to advance the author’s particular worldview.

The author’s critique of Jake Biderman’s piece on Israel’s image problem is also deeply flawed. First, why does the author consider Biderman’s claim that Israel’s image is subpar to be “a fantastic conclusion”? Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East with gender equality and many of the same freedoms found in most Western countries. Israel also has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and increasingly warm ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and others—which makes the Jewish state less regionally isolated today than at any other point in its history. Furthermore, while there is unfortunately an ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, it does not remotely compare to the atrocities and loss of life in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Contrary to the Maroon article, Biderman’s desire to question why Israel has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Council more than all other countries combined is therefore entirely appropriate.

The article also fails to inform its readers that Prime Minister Netanyahu famously endorsed the two-state solution in his 2009 Bar Ilan speech. Netanyahu said, “in my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government.” This was a major concession from Netanyahu and he went against his own political base in the process. However, the Palestinians failed to make any meaningful concessions, and the Prime Minister has since reverted to his more hardline stance.

Even long before Netanyahu’s second term, Israeli leaders have made tremendous efforts to make peace with their Palestinian neighbors. In fact, one Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered for his attempts to make peace by an Israeli terrorist. In 2008, Prime Minister Olmert made a peace offer to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that would have created a Palestinian state with 93.7 percent of the West Bank and 5.8 percent of pre-1967 Israeli territory. Abbas turned it down. When looking back at the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, legendary Israeli statesman Abba Eban said it best: “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Unfortunately, these historical insights are ignored entirely in the Maroon article, likely because the author is trying to convince the reader to buy into his narrative.

None of this should be construed as a personal attack on the Maroon’s author. In fact, I admire his willingness to question his peers and grapple with some of the toughest issues in US foreign policy. While everyone has their own worldview and perspective, the best way to promote one’s opinion is by forcefully arguing it and entertaining the toughest possible counterarguments. Dissecting articles one disagrees with and rendering them into something absurd and easy to attack is neither quality analysis nor an effective way to promote one’s views, but rather a logical fallacy. Going forward, Maroon authors should strive to truly question everything—their own views included. That is the real responsibility of students.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Gate.

The image featured in this article exists in the public domain and is not subject to copyright law. The original can be found here.

Blake Fleisher


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