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writing for godot

War in Gaza: Criticizing Israel, Crossing Lines, Creating Facts

Written by Thomas Magstadt   
Saturday, 16 August 2014 00:14

Are Jews who criticize Israel for its conduct of the war in Gaza crossing the line? Are high-profile pubic figures here in the United States who are moved to question the military necessity, political prudence, or moral justification behind a strategy that targets densely populated neighborhoods – killing, injuring, and traumatizing many thousands of civilians (yes, including children) while destroying homes, mosques, and schools – guilty of deserting Zionism in an hour of great peril?

“My Face Reddened”

Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate raises these questions in a recent article. She writes, “As a liberal American Jew, my face reddened as I read frequent Slate contributor Shmuel Rosner’s New York Times op-ed last week, “Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans,” in which he expressed dismay at other liberal American Jews who have recently written columns critical of Israel.” Bazelon says she felt “chastened” but was also “puzzled and frustrated”. Rosner had “singled out three American Jewish commentators, Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, and Roger Cohen, and took them to task for saying, as he put it, ‘that the brutal war in Gaza has made them question their Zionism.’”

Jewish commentators like Chait, Klein, and Cohen who criticize Israel are a special problem for apologists like Rosner. The common charge of anti-Semitism leveled against non-Jewish critics of Israeli policy – a charge that is both generally unfair and potentially unwise (self-fulfilling prophecies happen in this world) – doesn’t work when the critics in question are Jewish.

“Creating Facts”

In the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict, there is plenty of blame to go around. The so-called Arab World has exhibited more than a modest portion of hostility toward Israel, denying the right of Israel to exist. Such a stand, while understandable on a purely subjective emotional level, makes no sense objectively: the state of Israel is a fait accompli. It boasts a first-rate army and air force. It possesses nuclear weapons. These are fundamental facts, which Arabs, including the most militant Palestinians, have refused to accept.

That refusal goes a long way to explaining why Zionist generals and politicians – heroic figures like Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin – came to embrace a policy of “creating facts” – encouraging Jewish settlements in Jordan’s West Bank, the very territory that would form the core of any future “two-state” solution to the intractable Palestinian Question.

Over time this hardline policy hardened into a new reality, one that has resulted in the virtual annexation of the West Bank and the ”Holy City” of Jerusalem, making them permanent parts of an expanded and expansionist Israel. This policy has left the millions of displaced Palestinians with nowhere to go and fading hopes for a viable Palestinian state. Gaza, home to some 1.8 million Palestinians, is a tiny strip of desolation (146 sq. miles), about twice the size of the District of Columbia.

The Wrong Question

Oddly, Bazelon focuses not on the suffering inflicted on the people of Gaza, but on whether or not it’s kosher for Jews to criticize the Israeli government for pulverizing the homes and lives of people trapped in a dismal concentration camp from which there is no escape. That concern strikes the rest of the civilized world as not only callous but also supremely self-pitying.

Introspection in the face of such disproportionate suffering requires compassion for the victims; the perpetrators don’t need or deserve it.

The Right Question

When it comes to historical wrongs committed against defenseless peoples, the United States of America is hardly in a position to throw stones. Slavery, lynchings and the notorious Jim Crow laws in the South; broken treaties, atrocities, and the shameful treatment of Native Americans forced to live on reservations carved out of the most marginal lands available; racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans in the North; the internment of Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps during World War II – these are but a few examples from the pages of American History of what can only be described as crimes against humanity perpetrated by a self-righteous and paranoid majority against a weaker minority.

Did this writer just cross a line? Is it disloyal to criticize the actions, policies, and leaders, past or present, of one’s own country? After all, the United States is still mired in post-9-11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Raising such questions is a time-honored diversionary tactic, a way to deflect and discredit any criticism of a discredited policy.

Since when is it not fair game for commentators to cry foul when a policy has, well, run afoul of political logic and moral law (to say nothing of the laws of war)? The right question is not whether critics are disloyal, but whether a particular policy or strategy, especially one that involves killing a lot of people (“collateral damage”), is militarily proportionate and morally defensible.

Or does that rule not apply to Israel? Is Israel fundamentally different from other state actors, subject to a different moral standard by virtue of past horrors suffered or a superior claim to being God’s chosen people?

Perhaps. But as History will attest that is a very slippery slope.

Ask yourself this question: Would you rather be a child growing up in the cramped, besieged concentration camp called Gaza or in Israel? Only then decide if it’s okay for anyone with a healthy conscience – Jews and non-Jews alike – to cross a line some ideologue with a severely impaired conscience has drawn. your social media marketing partner
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