more of the same
Part of what makes the Israel-Palestine debate so wearying is that so many fundamental broken arguments have a remarkable persistence. This is largely a result of the huge role that emotionalism, ad hominem and innuendo have in the conversation. Consider this email to Andrew:
I’m sorry but that Yglesias “Quote For The Day” was utter bullshit. You are comparing a death cult who fires a missile and hopes it lands in a school yard to a country that makes mistakes, but venerates and celebrates life. What is it about Jews that drives people like you batshit? To object to the Gaza operation is to object to Israel’s existence. They were defending themselves. From Goldblog to Peres at Davos, every Jew knows that. For a people that can’t agree on anything, Jews can agree for the most part on what Israel did during the Gaza operation was out of necessity, not out of malevolence.
Andrew is right to call attention to the immediate, knee-jerk accusation of anti-Semistism that has become such an unavoidable trope that when debating these issues we barely notice it. That’s, of course, part of the danger of reducing our duty to combat anti-Jewish hatred to a cynical, crass and empty political ploy; we start to tune out the accusation altogether. The use of such an accusation for partisan political ends cheapens and debases the accusation, and as such those who throw slurs of anti-Semitism around are no friends to the Jewish people.
On the larger level–I have written this so many times that frankly I am tired of doing so, but it remains as correct today as ever: there are very strange and illegitimate turns of moral logic here that you routinely see when discussing Israel that you never see anywhere else. Chief among them is the fact that we generally reject relative morality, whether in the vast scope of international affairs or in the day to day of human life. Saying one moral actor is superior to another is irrelevant to the question of whether that actor is moral. This is taken as such a basic element of standard human assumptions about morality that it goes unspoken, and yet it is routinely and flagrantly violated in discussing Israel. Children on the playground know that their actions are not rendered moral or immoral in relation to the other children but rather that their conduct has independent moral value. They likewise know that being of superior morality to some of the worst behaved children on the playground means nothing.
The emailer seems to think, as so many defending Israel do, that saying that Israel is better than a vile terrorist organization like Hamas is a ringing defense of Israel. But, of course, he or she is actually damning Israel with faint praise. I should certainly hope that a robust, functioning liberal democracy such as Israel would be of superior moral character to a group like a Hamas. And pardon me for expressing a rather proletarian vision of morals, but I think that whether Israel is “better than” Hamas just isn’t important compared to the question of whether Israel’s actions are moral. And there is frankly overwhelming evidence that in the incursion into Gaza in question the members of the IDF committed war crimes and caused great suffering to innocent civilians. We must hold Israel accountable for this behavior, no matter how much more we prefer Israel to Hamas. The crimes committed in Gaza in no way diminish my commitment to the safety and prosperity to Israel. But we have long ago decided that the way we prosecute military engagement is not suddenly unimportant if we deem the military engagement necessary. If we did, you can forget about condemning the My Lai massacre, or the firebombing of Dresden, or the Bataan death march, or any other atrocities in a time of war.
(Incidentally, a pertinent question is to ask why all of the Palestinian children killed in the Gaza mess deserved to die because of the actions of a missile-lobbing death cult that they have absolutely no control over.)
But then, that’s the situation again with Israel and Palestine: it is insisted that we have to treat Israel and Palestine in fundamentally ways than we treat any other conflict, and not just in how we view the situation but in how we talk about it. I know people who write freely about controversial subjects routinely and yet are afraid of weighing in on Israel and Palestine out of fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. In democracy, all aspects of government action– most certainly including foreign and military aid, and how we diplomatically protect favored entities– have to be on the table. Which means that we can’t responsibly equate very legitimate and important questions about war crimes and atrocities with being “driven batshit” by anti-Jewish animus.
By the way, you can consult this old post of mine when considering much pro-aggression, anti-accountability defenses of the IDF; you’ll find a great portion of these arguments fall into the fallacies that I describe.