The celebrated author Ta-Nehisi Coates is not reliable regarding things he’s spent considerable time thinking about here in the U.S., so it’s presumably a mistake to put much stock in his newly formed opinions about matters he barely knows anything about.
He proved as much in an interview about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the other day on Democracy Now!
At the outset, Coates announced his opposition to “complexity” and “complication,” and left little doubt about his sincerity in that regard with a preposterous depiction of Israel as a direct descendant of the Jim Crow South.
If Coates weren’t simply retailing the familiar left-wing critiques of Israel, his belief that there’s nothing to learn on the ground in the Middle East that he doesn’t already know from reading about the failure of Reconstruction might qualify as a high-handed form of “Orientalism.”
Coates makes much of a checkpoint that he encountered on a trip to Israel and the West Bank a few months ago in the West Bank city of Hebron. He says his Palestinian guide couldn’t proceed down a certain street, but Coates was allowed to pass after an Israeli guard ascertained that his grandparents were Christian.
It’s hard to say much about this incident without knowing more. It is certainly true, though, that Hebron has more checkpoints than other West Bank cities.
Why? Well, Coates doesn’t mention that Hebron is one of the four holy cities of Judaism. Or, that there was a pogrom there in 1929 that led to the evacuation of the Jewish population. Or, that a small community of Jews has returned to the city.
Without the Israeli security, the community likely wouldn’t survive. Is that what Coates wants?
Oh, sorry — complications. We’ve been told that they’re unnecessary.
Coates is dismissive of Israel’s worries about terror attacks. The West Bank is not Gaza, but terrorism, including in Hebron, is still an ongoing concern.
Coates gives no sign of realizing that Israelis themselves are forbidden from traveling to so-called Area A territory in the West Bank. If the various designations of territory with different rules seem arbitrary, they were hashed out in the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel in the 1990s.
In a laughable argument, Coates said he was shocked during his trip “when it suddenly dawned on me that I was in a region of the world where some people could vote and some people could not.”
It is true that Palestinians can’t vote, but this isn’t the doing of the Israeli government. There hasn’t been an election in the Palestinian territories since 2006. The people who currently run the West Bank fear they would lose — for good reason. Hamas won the legislative elections last time around, and then waged a brief factional war to eliminate their Fatah rivals in Gaza.
In Israel proper, there are about 2 million Arab citizens who have the right to vote and the other rights of Israel citizens.
But I know, complexity only gets in the way.
Coates directed the balance of his outrage at the Israeli military operation, without mentioning Hamas, October 7 or that fact that terror group uses civilians as human shields.
Finally, he says that the U.S. has “exported” Jim Crow to Israel. Really? Did we eliminate it here, but conclude that it would be the right system for Israel? And bipartisan administrations pursued this policy while hiding it from the American public?
As a high priest of woke progressivism, Coates was always going to be a fierce critic of Israel. He is a particularly instructive instance, though, of trying to take the Left’s racial categories here at home and apply them to a conflict with its own fraught dynamics established long ago.
“It’s actually not that hard to understand,” Coates maintained of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. “It’s actually quite familiar to those of us with a familiarity [with] African- American history.” If Coates has accomplished anything, it is demonstrating that this is wholly untrue.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.