Supporting Israeli Survival While Opposing Israeli Actions

The Israeli raid on relief supplies going to Gaza was certainly a bad move, both on humanitarian grounds and in terms of public relations. It is a shame that so many people are framing the events in Israel and Gaza as being for or against Israel. It is It is possible to understand why Israel has gone to extreme measures,seeing its survival at stake, and to support Israel’s survival, while still opposing some of Israel’s actions.

Supporting Israel”s safety and continued existence is like supporting the United States in defending ourselves against terrorism while also opposing the Iraq War. During the war the question wasn’t one of being for or against the United States (even if many right wingers tried to frame it this way).

Just as American liberals opposed George Bush’s acts in the so-called “war on terror” while still supporting the United States, many American liberals also support Israel while opposing many of its actions, especially when led by those on the far right such as Benjamin Netanyahu.

While written before the current incident, Ezra Klein had an excellent post earlier in the month on The Conflict Between Zionism and Liberalism which was motivated by a response to Peter Beinart’s recent essay in The New York Review of Books. Klein wrote:

This disagreement often falls across generational lines. As Beinart says, young Jews do not remember Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria massing forces in the run-up to the Six-Day War. They do not remember a coalition of Arab forces streaming across the Sinai on Yom Kippur in order to catch the Jewish state by surprise. Their understanding of Israel was not forged watching the weak and threatened state improbably repel the attacks of potent adversaries.

The absence of such definitional memories has contributed to a new analysis of the Israeli situation. Today, Israel is far, far, far more militarily powerful than any of its assailants. None of the region’s armies would dare face the Jewish state on the battlefield, and in the event that they tried, they would be slaughtered. Further stacking the deck is America’s steadfast support of Israel. Any serious threat would trigger an immediate defense by the most powerful army the world has ever known. In effect, Israel’s not only the strongest power in the region, but it has the Justice League on speed dial.

That is not to say that the Jewish state is not under threat. Conventional attacks pose no danger, but one terrorist group with one nuclear weapon and one good plan could do horrible damage to the small, dense country. That threat, however, is fundamentally a danger born of the Arab world’s hatred of Israel. It follows, then, that hastening the peace that will begin to ease that hatred makes Israel safer. Exacerbating the tensions that feed it, conversely, only makes the threat more severe.

And to many of us, it looks like Israel is making the threat more severe. Its decision to pummel the city of Gaza from the air in a misguided attempt to punish Hamas. The ascension of Avigdor Lieberman and the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither an overwhelming assault certain to kill many Arab civilians or a political movement that seeks to disenfranchise Israeli Arabs — whose respected position in Israeli politics has long been a point of pride for Jews — seems likely to begin the long process required to get back to the place where peace is conceivable…

But Israel has to walk with care. Previous generations might have believed in “Israel, right or wrong.” Their replacements may not be as willing to sacrifice moral perspective in service of tribal allegiance. And much more importantly than that, every day that relations with the Arab world don’t improve — or, more to the point, continue to worsen — is another day that Israel remains under threat. For those of us who worry about the state’s safety and believe the primary threat is terrorism combined with more potent weaponry, the continuation of current trends is a terrifying thought.

The Israeli right wing has to learn how their actions are counterproductive to the long term security of their country–much like the actions of the American right wing are counterproductive to our long term security.

Possible Openings Among Muslims Following Obama Speech

We really can’t expect too much out of a single speech from Barack Obama, but there are signs it has made a difference in influencing some Muslims:

In his speech in Cairo Thursday, Obama listed confronting “violent extremism” as the top priority in addressing tensions between the U.S. and Muslims. He urged the Islamic world to reject radical ideologies and promised to work aggressively to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also said the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank and endorsed a Palestinian state.

There are already some indications his words are having the desired effect of undercutting extremists. A militant leader in Egypt called on the Taliban to respond positively to Obama’s gestures, and Hamas militants in Gaza say they are ready “to build on this speech.”

Obama may have managed to “plant the seed of doubt in some minds,” said Robert Malley, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. “There was enough … that represented openings for those who wanted openings.”

Mitch Albom of The Detroit Free Press fears that the speech will fall on deaf ears:

It is important for America to have good relations with the Arab world and the Muslim world (not the same thing). But I have always believed that, when it comes to the extreme end of things, we are speaking two different languages. We talk of compromise; they don’t know the meaning. We cherish democratic values; they see them as our vices. We talk of peace in this world; they talk about death here, glory later.

It remains far too early to determine the effect of Obama’s speech. The speech also must be seen as an opening of communication after the Bush years. It is hopefully something to build upon, as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Saturday, not the solution to the problem.

Cheney Acted To Undermine Mideast Peace and Obama

Few in high political offices have done as much to betray the interests of their country as Dick Cheney has. Cheney’s betrayal even extended to his final days in office as he sought to undermine both the Mideast peace process and then President-Elect Obama. Seymour Hersh reports:

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”).

A Vicious Cycle Plays Out in Gaza

Blogging, as opposed to more in depth writing, tends to lend itself toward issues in which the author is clearly on on side of an issue. While some recognition might be paid towards the nuances of an issue, for the most part bloggers are for or against a candidate, and are for or against the Iraq war. The situation in Gaza is far more difficult as neither side is totally in the right. Megan McArdle sums up the problem with writing about the conflict between Israel and Hamas:

Since no action in the region has occurred without plausible provocation for 4,000 years or so, this requires constantly shifting the metrics by which you measure whichever side you happen to favor. Point out that Israel is killing a lot of civilians and you are told that they had to do something in response to the Hamas rockets. Point out that practically, the response they chose has absolutely no strategic or tactical benefit, and a huge potential downside, and you are castigated for your lack of moral outrage about Hamas’s attacks on civilians. Either Israel is doing this because it hopes to gain something, in which case the whole thing is hopelessly ass-backwards–they are strengthening Hamas and worsening their international political position–or it thinks that it’s okay to kill boatloads of civilians purely for revenge against Hamas; revenge for attacks that have so far killed and injured almost no one. This rather undercuts the argument of moral superiority, because guess what? That’s what Hamas thinks it’s doing.

On the other side, there’s a tendency to forget, or forget to mention, that whatever the provocation, a plurality-to-majority of Palestinians constantly and actively wish to kill large numbers of Israelis purely for revenge. Gaza wants to be at war with Israel, and then hide behind the protections of not-quite-war, because they haven’t the foggiest hope of winning anything like a real war.

As with many such conflicts, this is a situation where plenty of fault can be found on both sides. While Megan does attempt to avoid taking sides, and I share her skepticism that Israel’s current actions will be of any long term benefit, ultimately the most important point here is that “Gaza wants to be at war with Israel.” There is no doubt that Israel has reacted to this situation in ways which are objectionable, with regards to the occupation, the subsequent blockade, and its conduct during war, but the underlying reality of the situation is that whether these conflicts continue is far more up to the Palestinians. There is no hope for peace as long as one side to the conflict has a visceral objection to making peace. Overreaction to such a situation, while perhaps not always morally justified, is the inevitable response.

While some speak of a proportional response, such expectations are not realistic. Shooting rockets into civilian areas will inevitably lead to a disproportionate response from virtually anyone, even if civilian casualties have so far been low. I don’t totally buy Alan Dershowitz’s argument that Israel’s actions are “proportionate” but his example still remains relevant to understanding the situation:

When Barack Obama visited Sderot this summer and saw the remnants of these rockets, he reacted by saying that if his two daughters were exposed to rocket attacks in their home, he would do everything in his power to stop such attacks. He understands how the terrorists exploit the morality of democracies.

In a recent incident related to me by the former head of the Israeli air force, Israeli intelligence learned that a family’s house in Gaza was being used to manufacture rockets. The Israeli military gave the residents 30 minutes to leave. Instead, the owner called Hamas, which sent mothers carrying babies to the house.

Hamas knew that Israel would never fire at a home with civilians in it. They also knew that if Israeli authorities did not learn there were civilians in the house and fired on it, Hamas would win a public relations victory by displaying the dead. Israel held its fire. The Hamas rockets that were protected by the human shields were then used against Israeli civilians.

These despicable tactics — targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians — can only work against moral democracies that care deeply about minimizing civilian casualties. They never work against amoral nations such as Russia, whose military has few inhibitions against killing civilians among whom enemy combatants are hiding.

Regardless of whether it is justifiable, Israel’s actions are going far beyond the actions of Hamas (primarily because Israel has far greater ability to wage war than Hamas does), and violate what we would like to think are accepted laws of war. AP reports on the destruction being caused by Israel in Gaza. Still it is notable that they report:

Before the airstrikes, Israel’s military called some of the houses to warn of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn civilians before flattening the homes with missiles, Palestinians and Israeli officials said.

Giving warning by itself does not justify targeting of civilians, but this does note a significant difference between the two sides. The Israeli airstrikes might be a disproportionate response to the rocket attacks fired by Hamas, but Hamas did not give any warning first. Israel does deserve criticism when civilians are harmed by its airstrikes, but at least their goal is to minimize such casualties. On the other hand when Hamas rockets hit schools in Beer Sheva it was most likely due to a fortunate chance and not the wishes of Hamas that no children were killed. Israel would also not use school children as human shields, but Hamas is not above this.

Kevin Peraino, writing for Newsweek, considers whether these actions will help or hurt Israel and finds both short term benefits in restoring its aura of invincibility but long term problems in terms of achieving peace in the region. The article concludes:

Retaliatory strikes aside, an intense Israeli assault on Gaza could indeed restore some element of its deterrent power vis-à-vis the Islamists. The Jewish state “has already improved its reputation and powers of deterrence by yesterday’s performance,” says Jerusalem-based historian Michael Oren. Yet even as Israel strengthens its position with regard to Hamas, it risks simultaneously weakening its ability to confront larger, more-dangerous players—particularly Iran. Regional Arab allies like Egypt and Jordan will be critical if the United States and Israel are to effectively increase pressure on the Islamic republic. The bloody images of dismembered corpses that are now airing around the clock on Al-Jazeera will strain those ties. Israel’s latest campaign may restore some measure of its long-lost aura of invincibility. Yet in the long run, it will come at a price.

Part of this price is that yet more Palestinians will find justification for rocket attacks or other terrorist activities in the future, leading to yet more acts of retaliation such as the current strikes in Gaza, even if counter-productive. There is no clear end for this vicious cycle.

Argument By Labels Rather Than Logic on Iraq

Kevin Sullivan has responded to my last post on Iraq but continues to play the label game in lieu of using real arguments. His argument basically comes down to a claim that a stragegy which aims towards leaving Iraq is the position of those he calls progressive isolationists while liberals would agree with him and stay the course–regardless of the fact that very few liberals actually believe this.

Kevin is disappointed that I refuse to play the label game and am content in consider a strategy concentrated on diplomacy, international involvement, and disengagement from Iraq the liberal position simply because this is the position held by most liberals. (Many take the alternative path than Kevin and label anyone who opposes the Iraq war as liberal regardless of their positions on other issues.) Certainly an argument based upon liberalism can be made for our position, from opposing preemptive war based upon lies to the willingness to consider new ideas when the current strategy has failed as opposed to the conservative mind set of refusing to change. While arguments could be made based upon liberalism, the fundamental arguments for changing strategy remain pragmatic. For reasons I discussed in previous posts, it is in the strategic interests of the United States for us to change policy.

When Kevin applies theses labels he makes essentially the same mistake I discussed in Fallacies Regarding Doves, Iraq, And The Use of Military Force. Desiring to change policy in Iraq does not mean we are either doves or isolationists. It is simply a pragmatic choice based upon this particular situation. Most opponents of the current war supported the war in Afghanistan and other wars which we felt were in our national interest. Opponents of the war are not necessarily isolationists, and many of us see the war as a terrible distraction from the actions the United States should be taking, including mounting an effective program against al Qaeda and reducing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Kevin continues to attack straw men while ignoring all the reasons why we should change strategy by falsely claiming “one of the underlying principles appears to be that most American involvement overseas, whether it be militarily in Iraq, or psychologically in the case of Iran, is inherently bad. ” No, the principle is that there are sensible measures to take and there are foolish measures to take. Continuing our present course in Iraq is a foolish measure. The case of Iran is yet another argument against our current policy as the Iraq war only acts to strengthen Iran in the region. Being tied down in Iraq also limits our ability to take action against Iran to reduce the risk of their development of nuclear weapons.

Similarly Kevin attacks straw men when he says, “I believe Progressive Isolationists often want to have it both ways– Iraq is apparently a quagmire, just like Vietnam, however no other historical parallels need apply.” Again, we are being pragmatic not isolationist in opposing the war in Iraq. The post World War II situations and Korea are totally different. Kevin’s arguments for staying in the middle of a civil war in Iraq based upon those analogies simply makes no sense once you look at this from a pragmatic stand point as opposed to creating an absurd dichotomy where one must always be a interventionist/hawk versus an isolationist/dove. Those like Kevin who make decisions in this manner are guaranteed to be right some of the time and wrong others, as neither interventionism or isolationism is always the correct response.

I won’t bother to repeat the arguments for changing policy discussed in the previous post in detail except to note that Kevin misunderstands the Israeli analogy. Israel shows the difficulties of long term occupation. Kevin’s response that “withdrawing from Gaza certainly hasn’t prevented radicalization there by any stretch” is rather irrelevant. Israel is still engaged in the region, and there is no possibility of this changing. Simply withdrawing from Gaza would hardly be enough to change hardened attitudes. While Israel does not have the option of leaving the region militarily, we do have far more options that Israel in reducing our military involvement. The continued radicalization is also further evidence of our need to change course. This is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds, and the longer we remain viewed as occupiers the harder it will be to end this cycle of radicalization.

There are certainly problems with any course in Iraq, however as I noted before our continued stay only worsens these problems. Any problems we will face by leaving over the next year will be even worse if we stay five, ten, or twenty years. The current policy has failed and the burden of proof no lies on those who want to remain in the midst of a civil war. Rather than providing proof, Kevin can only play the label game and attack straw men.

A Modest Proposal For Beheading Journalists

AP reports that an Islamic group in the Gaza Strip threatened to behead female TV broadcasters if they don’t wear strict Islamic dress:

The threat to “cut throats from vein to vein” was delivered by the Swords of Truth, a fanatical group that has previously claimed responsibility for bombing Internet cafes and music shops.

Beheading a woman simply for not wearing a headscarf is both wrong and sounds like the waste of a good sword. There are many far better reasons to behead journalists. Offenses for which we might consider beheading journalists include:

  • Spending a career repeating the claims of government officials as fact without checking on the accuracy. Every journalist covering the run up to the Iraq war is in danger of losing their head here.
  • Claiming to be “fair and balanced” when you are actually a Pravda-style propagandist.
  • Limiting coverage of politics to the horse race without discussion of the issues.
  • Using Matt Drudge as a source. Goodby Mark Halperin.
  • Equating a yes vote on the IWR as support for the war ultimately waged by George Bush.
  • Reporting a controversy over global warming without noting that the only significant counter opinion comes from the petroleum industry and their lackeys.
  • Being Katie Couric (with or without headscarf) when your network has a tradition of real journalism stemming from Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
  • Failing to provide a male heir to the throne. (Ok, I’ve been watching too much of The Tudors.)

Jimmy Carter on Israel versus True Support of Hatred

I have avoided comments on the controversy surrounding Jimmy Carter’s recent book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid as I have not had a chance to read it yet and I felt a close examination of what Carter is saying might be necessary in order to fully evaluate Carter’s position. Since the book has come out I have read a number of attacks on Carter for being “anti-Israel.” I have also seen a few responses from Carter, including a statement released Friday which ends as follows:

I am familiar with the extreme acts of violence that have been perpetrated against innocent civilians, and understand the fear among many Israelis that threats against their safety and even their existence as a nation still exist. I reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts of terrorism. When asked my proposals for peace in the Middle East, I summarized by calling for Hamas members and all other Palestinians to renounce violence and adopt the same commitment made by the Arab nations in 2002: the full recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace within its legally recognized 1967 borders (to be modified by mutual agreement by land swaps). This would comply with U.N. Resolutions, the official policy of the United States, commitments made at Camp David in 1978 and in Oslo in 1993, and the premises of the International Quartet’s “Roadmap for Peace.” An immediate step would be the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, now absent for six years. President Mahmoud Abbas is the official spokesman for the Palestinians, as head of the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and has repeatedly called for peace talks. I asked the rabbis to join in an effort to induce the Israeli government to comply with this proposal.

In addition, I pointed out that the Palestinian people were being deprived of the necessities of life by economic restrictions imposed on them by Israel and the United States because 42% had voted for Hamas candidates in the most recent election. Teachers, nurses, policemen, firemen, and other employees are not being paid, and the U.N. has reported that food supplies in Gaza are equivalent to those among the poorest families in sub-Sahara Africa with half the families surviving on one meal a day. My other request was that American Jewish citizens help to alleviate their plight.

The chairman of the group, Rabbi Andrew Straus, then suggested that I make clear to all American Jews that my use of “apartheid” does not apply to circumstances within Israel, that I acknowledge the deep concern of Israelis about the threat of terrorism and other acts of violence from some Palestinians, and that the majority of Israelis sincerely want a peaceful existence with their neighbors. The purpose of this letter is to reiterate these points.

We then held hands in a circle while one of the rabbis prayed, I autographed copies of my book as requested, and Chaplain (Colonel) Rabbi Bonnie Koppell gave me a prayer book.

I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel, and my own prayer is that all of us who want to see Israelis enjoy permanent peace with their neighbors join in this common effort.

Reading statements such as this from Carter cause me do doubt the reliability of those who are characterizing his book as anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. I have no doubt that there are disturbing things going on in the West Bank and Gaza, regardless of the underlying problems which brought about the current situation. After I read Carter’s full views in his book I may wind up agreeing or disagreeing with him on specifics, but I doubt that his view is either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

There are far bigger problems for Jews than someone not being one hundred percent in support of all of Israel’s policies. The Telegraph reports on hate crimes in Great Britain, noting that “Jewish people are four times more likely to be attacked because of their religion than Muslims, according to figures compiled by the police.” Of course the issue here is hatred, not the comparison between crimes committed against Jews or Muslims. I wonder if the numbers would be different in the United States, where there has been a considerable amount of anti-Muslim sentiment promoted since 9/11. I already note some conservative blogs are using these numbers to excuse their anti-Muslim bias. (more…)