I’m not a J Street moral-equivalence sort of guy. Yes, Israel makes constant mistakes, which I note rather frequently, but this conflict reminds me once again that Israel is up against an implacable force, namely, an interpretation of Islam that disallows the idea of Jewish national equality.
My paralysis isn’t an analytical paralysis. It’s the paralysis that comes from thinking that maybe there’s no way out. Not out of Gaza, out of the whole thing.
The furious positions of many people on this issue leave me with the feeling that I should take a definitive side. Sometimes, you must stand up and be counted – or become irrelevant. But on this issue, I have yet to hear any passionate argument that is convincing. The best arguments are microarguments, winning some small points. The best writers on this issue are reflective and nuanced, avoiding becoming apologists for either side. I have entered into arguments in which I have felt myself being alternately tugged to justify the worst actions of either Israel or the Palestinians – which I don’t want to do. Neither side has clean hands – but it is also not fair to create some kind of moral equivalence. What is needed is that rarely appreciated virtue, nuance.
In that spirit, here’s a selection of reflective takes on the current situation:
By somewhat the same token, I do read in the comments section what I would regard as a disproportionate level of shock and appalledness from some quarters about Israeli activities as if this action is some kind of unprecedented outrage in human history. The real outrage is how common and banal, how unsurprising and thoroughly precedented it is.
In the history of the West, the laws of war are clear enough. You do not launch a just war if it leads to greater evils than the status quo ante. There must be a reasonable proportion between means and ends. Both sides should be able to acknowledge common human values, even as they fight over territory or ideology. And yet Hamas has never done this; has no capacity for abiding by even minimal moral norms, believes it has a moral responsibility to eradicate the Jewish state, and certainly finds the universalist and liberal moral law embedded in Western and largely Christian culture meaningless outside Islamic hegemony. Israel, for its part, is on a different moral plane than Hamas. Its internal critics write op-eds; they are not taken out and shot. But, in the face of what is, essentially, a 60 year war against enemies on all sides and within, it has long since disappeared down the self-reflecting mirrors of survivalist logic and existential panic. It looks to me like a society in danger of losing its sense of restraint to the logic of violence. It is lashing out because it feels it can do no other and senses its long-term survival at stake. Even if violence does not solve the problem and may make it worse, war can seem a better option now than disappearing passively in the next couple of decades. The stunning near-unanimity of Israelis behind the Gaza attack is proof of this. In Israel, it seems, it is always America in 2002.
I have been a very outspoken critic of Israeli policies for many years. Nevertheless, those who…go into endless diatribes to ascribe sole responsibility to Israel for the current situation are hypocritical at worst and ignorant at best. In this age of political correctness it is always sexy to support the underdog. But political correctness does not always yield wise political judgment
[digg-reddit-me]Hostilities between a small government on the border of a regional power turn into full-fledged war after the smaller power lobs a few military weapons endangering civilians and escalating the conflict into open warfare and violations of territorial sovereignty by the regional power. Both sides are generally considered responsible for increasing tensions with proactive actions in the extensive lead-up to the war. Both sides are accused of committing atrocities and killing or harming civilians during the war.
This description in broad strokes describes both the most recent flare-up of the Israeli-Hamas conflict and August war between Russia and Georgia.
Yet those on the left have tended to favor the regional power in the case of the Russian-Georgian conflict and to oppose the regional power in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. My impression is that while a majority of those on the left have no strong opinion on these issues, seeing each as complicated and unfortunate, a very prominent minority on the left have strongly favored Russia and opposed Israel. Looking at the conflicts and the issues themselves, it’s hard for me to find a single convincing reason that is not America-centric.
The American political establishment has tended to favor Georgia – as it is a liberal democracy on the border of a major competing power. Similarly, the American political establishment has tended to favor Israel as it is a liberal democracy in the midst of a region full of autocracies (as well as for domestic political reasons.) Both countries have been considered strong allies of America and have strong military support from America.
Yet aside from these facts, the circumstances surrounding their most recent wars and their history with their neighbors are very different:
Few would dispute that Hamas is a terrorist organization with a political branch that was elected in a relatively free election. Hamas refuses to recognize the right of it’s neighboring state to exist, accusing the Israel of driving it’s people from their homes over fifty years ago in the mass migration that resulted from the 1948 war for Palestine in which nearly 950 thousand Jews were expelled from or fled neighboring Arab countries and in which 750 thousand Palestinians were pushed out of areas controlled by Israel.
The United National Movement Party is a somewhat nationalist political party elected in a free election which refused to recognize the right of nearby disputed territories to be independent or to join neighboring Russia. Many ethnic Georgians were driven from their homes in Abhkazia and South Ossetia nearly twenty years ago in ethnic hostilities. For example less than twenty years ago, nearly half of the residents of Abhkazia were ethnic Georgians. Over 80% of that population was driven out of Abhkazia or killed in ethnic hostilities in the early 1990s. After this ethnic cleansing of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and ethnic Georgians were not blameless in this – a majority of the remaining inhabitants of these two traditional parts of Georgia sought protection from an international peacekeeping force and eventually, to ally themselves with and perhaps join the Russian Federation.
Israel is the strongest single power in the region but has been attacked by many of it’s neighbors since it’s existence. It is a democracy in an autocratic region. The descendants of the former occupants of Israel’s land demand the right to return to the homeland of their parents or grandparents, and the official government of the Palestinians has often embraced suicide terrorism and attacks on civilians in order to achieve it’s goals. Israel has been granting the Palestinians some measures of autonomy but is still very wary of the security threat that exists.
Russia is a regional power with great power aspirations that has turned away from an open democracy in recent years in favor of some form of either tyranny or oligopoly. It has long supported the separatists in the disputed regions of Georgia in their bid to win independence. There has been growing concern in Russia that America’s support for Georgia was an attempt to check Russia’s regional influence. Georgia’s push to join NATO only deepened their concern – especially as Abhkazia has strategic importance to Russia due to an oil pipeline being constructed there.
So what am I missing here? Both Russia’s and Israel’s offenses hurt civilians as well as more legitimate targets. Both over-matched their opponents significantly. Both were in measure provoked (although both Georgians and Hamas believe they were the ones provoked.)
If anything, Hamas’ explicit embrace of terrorism should count against it. The fact that Israel is a democracy that faces an imminent security threat from the Palestinians – and especially Hamas, which is officially dedicated to Israel’s destruction – and has been attacked by Hamas and other Palestinian forces in the recent past would seem to partially explicate Israel’s actions, even if one considers them overreactions.
At the same time, Russia violated an international boundary when it was not facing an imminent threat. It has not been attacked by Georgia in the recent past if ever.
I think it’s probably true that most political convictions are based more on intuition than reason – but can anyone enlighten me as to a good reason to oppose Israel’s attacks on Hamas and to support Russia’s attacks on Georgia?
Some of my readers will be interested in his exchange, this interview of Barack Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg:
BO: My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I’ve repeatedly condemned them. I’ve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.
JG: Were you flummoxed by it?
BO: I wasn’t flummoxed. I think what is going on there is the same reason why there are some suspicions of me in the Jewish community. Look, we don’t do nuance well in politics and especially don’t do it well on Middle East policy. We look at things as black and white, and not gray. It’s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, “This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he’s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,” and that’s something they’re hopeful about. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they’re not confused about my unyielding support for Israel’s security.
When I visited Ramallah, among a group of Palestinian students, one of the things that I said to those students was: “Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” I’ve said this in front of audiences where, if there were any doubts about my position, that’d be a place where you’d hear it.
[digg-reddit-me]Reuters is reporting that in an absolutely outrageous and despicable move,1 Israel’s internal security service has refused to provide assistance to the Secret Service guarding President Jimmy Carter in Israel after he met with the leaders of Hamas.
I didn’t think that Mr. Carter should have been meeting with Hamas on principle as they have never renounced terrorism. I can see why Mr. Carter believes someone must talk with them, but I think Mr. Carter’s meeting would only serve – at this time – to give the group international legitimacy. Of course, I would not refer to Israel’s difficult situation as “apartheid” either. Mr. Carter has his own opinions, and although I trust his intentions, I think his actions and words in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are ill-advised.
But despite these actions, it is difficult to believe this story is true – that a close ally would refuse to assist a former American president’s security detail. According to the Reuters piece:
Another source described the snub as an “unprecedented” breach between the Israeli Shin Bet and the U.S. Secret Service, which protects all current and former U.S. presidents, as well as Israeli leaders when they visit the United States.
Carter included the southern Israeli town of Sderot on his itinerary. The area is often hit by rockets from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and one of the sources described the lack of Shin Bet assistance there as particularly “problematic”.
Although the Bush administration opposed Mr. Carter’s meeting with Hamas, the president must take action regarding this refusal to assist in providing security to a former president. The Israeli government’s behavior is unacceptable for an ally – let alone one of our closest allies.
This is an issue on which all Americans should unite. Israel has every right to criticize President Carter and to denounce him; but as an ally of the United States, they should not be messing with his security. That is far – very far – over the line.
I think this is an issue on which all of us – from Bill O’Reilly to Michael Moore – can agree.
In the spirit of the web and political engagement, how can we make our position known, take some action to affect the situation?
Updated: Some reactions around the blogosphere:
It gives the State Department a little more leverage about Carter’s trip. They could use the danger into which Carter would lead the Secret Service as a means to ask the Department of Homeland Security to refuse to allow them to accompany Carter. Carter could choose to go without the Secret Service, but without Israeli security, it would present a huge risk — and if he did go and got killed, it would be an explosive issue for the Bush administration.
Quite frankly, although I understand the Israeli’s action, I think it sets a bad precedent. Cooperation in security should not be predicated on agreement of political policies. Jimmy Carter may be the worst ex-president in American history, but he is still our ex-president, and the Secret Service detail that accompanies him deserves Israeli cooperation. The snub from the political class is well-deserved, but the Israelis should consider how Americans will view them if their refusal to cooperate on security leads to American deaths on this trip.
Over at LiveJournal some random guy who has one of the top Sphere links suggests that the United States arrest Mr. Carter for meeting with foreign governments against the interests of the United States pursuant to the Logan Act. Regarding security, he says:
Let Hamas help protect their friend.
- Redacted because on re-reading the rhetoric was overheated and unnecessary. [↩]