Civilization is a responsibility.

Reflecting on Israel, ED Kain writes

Note when Foukara mentions that the only country Al-Jazeera has never been shut-down in is Israel.  Perhaps this is another reason we hold them in our esteem–they reflect some of our shared values.

Quite so. This is in fact one of my hobbyhorses when it comes to Israel. When people say that we must support Israel because it is a democratic actor that at least attempts to live up to conventional Western dictates of proper conduct, they are right both in the sense that we should privilege democracy and human rights, and in the fact that Israel remains, for its many failings, head and shoulder above almost all of its neighbors in terms of the kind of conduct and organization we might want to see from any given country. What people who make this claim too often fail to recognize, or to point out, is that it is precisely because of their democratic and enlightened nature that makes Israel an appropriate target for legitimate criticism.

Sharing our values, after all, involves respecting the right to self-governance of the (presently, and for 40 years) dispossessed people of the Palestinian territories, and the preference for just war theory which renders the kind of disproportionate response to Hamas’s terrorism untenable. Participation in the world as one of the enlightened liberal democracies carries with it enormous sacrifice; our literary and philosophical tradition holds that this sacrifice is worth it. It so happens in this particular instance that I and many others think that the surest path to lasting peace and prosperity for Israel is also the best path for defending human rights, as this conflict has become a constant problem for Israeli prosperity. Beyond that self-interest, though, is the at times unfair but simple truth that of those who have the most to give, the most is asked, and that it is precisely Israel’s virtue that compels it to better behavior than it has demonstrated.

One of the many answers to “why do you criticize Israel”, in other words, is that rather than thinking so little of Israel, many of us think so much of it.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

21 thoughts on “Civilization is a responsibility.

  1. Sharing our values, after all, involves respecting the right to self-governance of the (presently, and for 40 years) dispossessed people of the Palestinian territories, and the preference for just war theory which renders the kind of disproportionate response to Hamas’s terrorism untenable.

    Your summary of a hundred years of complex history in the phrase, “dispossessed peoples of the Palestinian territories” just shows your ignorance and your reliance on other “opinion-makers” for your opinions. Why don’t you first find out what you’re talking about before you go on line with this kind of sanctimonious drivel? You may think you’re staking out a moral position, which allows you to criticize both sides in the conflict (although your criticisms of Hamas’s many war crimes is hard to find), in fact, by becoming an echo-chamber for the above “disproportionate response” meme, you’re taking sides with Hamas. Is this what you want to do? If it is, then be honest enough to say so and forget about pontificating about your rights to “legitimate criticism,” while doing the exact opposite: repeating Hamas propaganda claims as if they were some established fact.

    While every civilian death is regrettable, casualty ratios are not relevant to the standard for evaluating proportionality. Pursuant to article 2(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, an attack is “disproportionate” if it causes damage or loss of civilian life “which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated” and as Israel’s former UN Ambassador, Dore Gold notes, Israel “is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.” “Just war” theorist Michael Walzer has also remarked that the concept of proportionality cannot be applied “speculatively.” He points out that the test of proportionality is in relation to the future expected military advantage, not in relation to past events or civilian deaths from previous attacks. In his view, those leveling the charge of “disproportionate” do so only when it is “simply violence they don’t like, or it is violence committed by people they don’t like.” Therefore, “Israel’s Gaza war was called ‘disproportionate’ on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were.”

    The exploitation of international law by NGOs as seen in the Gaza conflict, according to Washington attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey, reflects an effort to “criminaliz[e] traditional warfare” rather than promote universal human rights.The NGO Front in the Gaza War: Exploitation of International Law

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. Sharing our values, after all, involves respecting the right to self-governance of the (presently, and for 40 years) dispossessed people of the Palestinian territories, and the preference for just war theory which renders the kind of disproportionate response to Hamas’s terrorism untenable.

    With the phrase, “dispossessed people of the Palestinian territories,” you’re merging a hundred years of conflict into one, politically-correct phrase. The fact that this kind of dishonesty supports the Palestinians against Israel belies the even-handed morality you’re trying to promote. Why don’t you read something about the conflict, instead of simply being up-to-date on what other bloggers are saying.

    A case in point of your partisanship, in spite of everything you say, is your insistence on the “disproportionate response” meme. Again and again I’ve explained this to you but you don’t want to hear. I’ll give it another try, but you’re making me suspect that your writing is not just ignorant partisanship (where people repeat the meme because other people repeat it), like I’ve assumed, but that you’re fully conscious of what you’re doing.

    Claim: NGOs such as Oxfam, Gisha, and B’Tselem, claim Israel has used “disproportionate force” highlighting the number of Palestinians killed especially children with emotive “testimonies” and anecdotes from Gazans in their reports. These claims frequently compare Palestinian casualties with Israeli casualties.

    Analysis: While every civilian death is regrettable, casualty ratios are not relevant to the standard for evaluating proportionality. Pursuant to article 2(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, an attack is “disproportionate” if it causes damage or loss of civilian life “which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated” and as Israel’s former UN Ambassador, Dore Gold notes, Israel “is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.” “Just war” theorist Michael Walzer has also remarked that the concept of proportionality cannot be applied “speculatively.” He points out that the test of proportionality is in relation to the future expected military advantage, not in relation to past events or civilian deaths from previous attacks. In his view, those leveling the charge of “disproportionate” do so only when it is “simply violence they don’t like, or it is violence committed by people they don’t like.” Therefore, “Israel’s Gaza war was called ‘disproportionate’ on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were.”

    So, in conclusion, your sanctimonious even-handedness and constant reminders of your enlightened liberal morality are only playing into the hands of the enemies of this very enlightened liberal morality. In other words, you’re acting like a Hamas partisan and providing an echo chamber for Hamas propaganda. Is this what you want to do? If so, at least be honest about it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. So, in conclusion, your sanctimonious even-handedness and constant reminders of your enlightened liberal morality are only playing into the hands of the enemies of this very enlightened liberal morality.

    Roque, we’re working on a comment policy for the site, but in short, we expect our writers and our commenters to be respectful and act with some level of common courtesy. You are free to disagree and make your point, but do all you can to please refrain from ad hominem, name-calling, etc. Your perspective is appreciated, but your tone is not.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Roque,

    Your point on propotionality to me, in its correctness, shows why the whole concept itself is now meaningless in an era of low-intensity conflict. That notion of proportional or disproportional assumes nation state to nation-state warfare. I have a long post as to why I think that Here if you are interested.

    The proportionality doctrine comes out of Clausewitz’s theory of warfare. And I think Martin van Creveld has demonstrably argued that the Clausewitzian paradigm of war is basically over.

    As to the question of what replaces something like proportionality as a kind of rules of war for this new Low-Intensity Conflict Era I have no idea. I think they are basically brutal, with all sides committing all kinds of horrible acts.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. Actually, Chris, that might be an interesting series. What replaces the sense of proportional warfare in non-state conflicts? etc. etc.

    I agree, though, it becomes almost entirely meaningless in these situations. There is always a good deal to question in regards to the wisdom of too brutal a retaliation, or the wisdom in firing off rockets randomly at civilian populations, because the reaction of your adversary is such an unknown…

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. OK. Sorry. But as to the substance … what?

    C. Auguste Dierkes

    Your point on propotionality to me, in its correctness, shows why the whole concept itself is now meaningless in an era of low-intensity conflict.

    Finally! It’s amusing that this is exactly what I’ve been saying at Freddie’s blog and at C11 for months, while being subject to real “ad hominem, name-calling, etc.” not just sarcasm, like I do to Freddie.

    Now then, C. Auguste Dierkes, how does the correctness of my point on proportionality relate to my larger point in the debate with Freddie?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. One quick caveat–though proportionality may be meaningless in determining how to wage these fights, or at least not the most important qualifier–it is still important to judge whether they are worth the fight, worth the fallout, or essentially effective in the long term. Then, too, there is the moral question of civilian death which must be addressed. To me, if Israel is intent on carrying out this sort of mission, they should be as focused or more so on doing something about the settlements which are a huge impediment to peace, or at least to a Two State solution.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. You know, I’ve never been moved with those who thread logic through ever-thinner needles in order to say “don’t worry, this isn’t actually immoral.” I don’t know if proportionality is the best philosophical prism to consider this issue through; I do know that if you’ve arrived at a place where you have abdicated your responsibility for moral action, you are in bad faith, and in the wrong.

    As for you, Roque, following this brief statement I won’t be responding to your comments, because you’ve demonstrated that you aren’t worth responding to. If you had ever shown even a modicum of good faith in responding to me, or even a shred of being interested in an actual dialogue, that wouldn’t be the case; you can ask almost anyone else who’s ever argued with me at my blog, ever. I respond to them all, I engage with them all, and then there’s you. Many of my other commenters and I still don’t agree, many think I’m totally off-base, but we have talked together. You and I meanwhile, never haved; you’ve yelled at, insulted and sworn at me, and I’ve grown to ignore you. The question is, do you have the self-critical mechanism necessary to ask yourself the question, “Maybe it’s not him… maybe it’s me”? I highly doubt you have; your certitude is the only thing that matches your frankly ludicrous bile. So, from now on, I’ll just ignore. I believe in the enterprise of discussion, but I have limits, and you’ve never demonstrated, in any degree or capacity whatsoever, that you actually want to talk. And that’s that.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. It’s funny that I was subject to Freddie’s yelling over at C11 before I even looked at his blog. He’s confusing sarcasm with yelling and name-calling. He’s been the one calling me names. I’ve responded with sarcasm. My policy is to respond to people’s insults in this way, not to plug up my ears and call them names. Does he have the self-critical mechanism necessary to ask himself the question, “what if it’s me?” Because that’s who it is. When he says, “I do know that if you’ve arrived at a place where you have abdicated your responsibility for moral action, you are in bad faith, and in the wrong,” how am I to interpret this other than being yelled at, insulted and sworn at? I’ve told him over and over again that there’s a difference between law and morality. If I defend Israel against spurious charges of war crimes, based on spurious interpretations of the doctrine of proportionality, how does that imply any position whatsoever on the morality of the conflict? I have never even mentioned as a side issue my position on morality.

    A case in point: Now he “doesn’t know if proportionality is the best philosophical prism… etc.” but that’s only after C. Auguste Dierkes’s offhand comment. On his blog, I was saying this over and over again and being called dirty names by him and others. That was when you said that I (and anyone else who shared my position) placed a lower value on Palestinian life than on Israelis. In other words, that was back when you called me a racist. I respond with sarcasm. You plug up your ears and hide. Fine with me.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  10. E.D. Kain: Remember the 2000 Camp David talks? Israel offered to “do something” about the settlements. They offered a “just solution” for the refugee problem. The Palestinian response was the so-called second intifadah (I say “so-called” because intifadah means “uprising” and this was no popular uprising, like the first intifadah was—it was planned and operated by Arafat). How does this factor into your scheme?

    Like I said to Freddie, I’m not interested in discussing morality. I’m interested in defending Israel against spurious charges of war crimes. So you go ahead and consider the morality all you want to and you won’t hear a peep out of me.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  11. That’s a rather vague “offer” though, Roque. Israel offered to do something…what? What did they actually do? What have they done since? Probably the greatest half-measure in their history: leaving Gaza. What a foolish thing to do while remaining in the West Bank. It brought them no closer to achieving two states.

    Now I am not one to accuse Israel of war crimes as I sincerely believe that will do nothing to further the debate. But I am one to accuse them of consistent stupidity in their policy decisions. I have a great deal of hope for the vision of Israel, and I am well aware that there many feet at which to lay the blame, both Israelis and Arabs are at fault here.

    But the Israeli’s cannot offer to “do something” about the settlements. They just have to do it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  12. You know roque I came over here because I was a longtime reader of Freddie’s old blog. I don’t agree with Freddie on a lot of things, but I was always blown away, more than anything, by his ability and desire to actually listen to other people’s opinions. I can’t tell you how many times he would get a comment, then update the relevant post with a quote of the comment and some thoughtful discussion. He admitted when he was wrong all the time. I can’t remember a commenter who he refused to engage with.

    Then you showed up, and frankly ruined his comments section. I notice you didn’t actually respond to Freddie’s point here: why are you the only person who Freddie basically gave up on? I also totally deny that you can find Freddie “calling you a dirty name”. And it’s absolutely comical that you say that Freddie unfairly accused you of calling him a racist when time and again you wrote stuff making it clear that you thought that Israelis were worth less than Palestinians. To be simple about it, you ruined your credibility in Freddie’s comments, anyone was a regular reader at Freddies old blog would tell you it, and it’s only a matter of time before you have no credibility around here too.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  13. What’s the implication? S–t I don’t know. War is hell. The only implication I draw from all this is that (as I said in the Hamas piece quoting Creveld):

    When the strong fight the weak, the strong become weakened.

    For me all the attempt to defend Israel from some doctrine of proportionality is completely useless relative to what is actually going on long term (strategically) in this fight. Israel continues to win battles only to be losing the long term war. Because the strong, esp. if it is a liberal constitutional democracy like Israel, begins to erode its own political legitimacy being drawn into these conflicts.

    And I say this as someone who thinks Israel has a right to exist (in the pre-67 borders). If they continue on this path, they are in serious existential trouble. They will have won the armchair debate about proportionality to no practical avail.

    The reason groups like Hamas embed themselves in civilian populations is that since WWII it is clear that liberal democracies will target civilian populations/infrastructure. e.g. The US firebombed Dresden, Tokyo even without using nukes. Whether that was right or not, is not a question I want to get into now, just that Hamas-like gropus are trying to use what they know will happen militarily to redound (morally) back on the strong power.

    Like I said this is particularly, horribly brutal stuff. But it does have a logic. It’s not Western versus Muslim or whatever. It certainly takes certain cues and is justified within those worlds by recourse to their own traditions, history, and such. But to me that is more the way it shows up, not the underlying structure. As Mark correctly pointed out this stuff goes back to Ho Chi Minh and Mao, not exactly Muslims either one of them.

    But back to the Israel-Palestine version of this for a sec.

    This is not a justification but rather simply an observation. From the Palestinian view the choice seems to be don’t fire rockets (Fatah) and continue to have your land colonized–the “settlements” continue on in an ad hoc but pretty well unabated fashion in the West Bank. Choice #2: Fire rockets (Hamas) and get bombed. Either way the potential for ever creating a state continues to decline and Israel is left having to face the question of whether it can be a liberal democracy as it has to embed further and further into this occupation.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  14. I mean, look– people love to cast this conflict as a case of Israel facing an existential threat, with Israel being deeply imperiled and in danger of being wiped off the map. Israel certainly faces grave threats to its future, largely because of geographical proximity to regimes that don’t like it very much. I actually don’t think these are as grave as some people make them out to be, because Israel boasts a nuclear arsenal, a competent and powerful military, and the backing of the United States. But, yes, Syria, Iran, etc. are legitimate threats to the Israeli way of life.

    Hamas and the Palestinian population, meanwhile, most certainly are not genuine threats to Israel’s way of life or existence. They just aren’t. They have nothing resembling the military capability to destroy Israel, or even to cause it meaningful short term harm. Part of the point of talking about the comparatively tiny number of Israelis killed in reference to the number of Palestinians killed isn’t just to talk about proportionality, but to demonstrate that Hamas simply isn’t a meaningful threat to the Israeli way of life. They just don’t have that capacity. The point isn’t, and has never been, simply that there’s some sort of superior morality in killing less people than more; the killing is immoral, point blank. The question is, are people right when they say that Hamas represents a significant threat to Israeli security? To Israel’s border integrity? I say no.

    So if we’re going to talk about threat level, let’s be honest and point out that the Palestinian people are more imperiled than the Israeli people. It seems a matter of little controversy to me to say that a people with neither citizenship rights nor sovereignty, no conventional military, no control over their own borders or airspace, destroyed or decaying infrastructure and no capacity to provide for their own people are far more endangered than the Israelis.

    That is, again, not to in any way justify rocketing or bombing. We have to avoid believing in the superior morality of the most oppressed. But the situation here is totally untenable for the Palestinians, and actually quite survivable for the Israelis. It is the Israelis who have the ability to effect meaningful change by honoring international law and their treaty obligations and curtailing the settlements. The Palestinians have to stop rocketing, absolutely must stop it. But in reality whether they do or don’t they have an incredibly small amount of control on the situation.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Freddie,

      I agree with you that Israel has a huge nuclear arsenal and has mass deterrence against any country (including I would say a hypothetically nuclear armed Iran in the future). Country to country warfare is precisely where Israel is the strongest–which is why since ’73 there really hasn’t been one. Only these low-intensity conflicts that make use of their military vulnerabilities. Certainly, as I was pointing out with West Bank occupation and Gaza bombing, the Palestinians are also imperiled in many ways. Ways that are not often covered enough in US media. But when I talk on the Israeli side, when I say existential threat I mean the long term loss of political legitimacy of the state. (What I called losing the war, which is maybe the wrong metaphor). Jimmy Carter called it apartheid, which I’m not sure is the right word for it, but does get at the reality of the decreasing legitimacy of the state. Look at the israeli political scene. It is increasingly deadlocked and logjammed. Israel had more emigration out than immigration in this year. It has got itself (again rightly or wrongly) into increasingly militarized society, which is undercuts the moral of a liberal constitutional order.

      I guess what I should have made clearer is that some state may continue to exist but my fear is that it slides further and further into the loss of its democratic nature. It was founded to be a Jewish liberal democracy. If it ceases to be the latter, whatever husk remains (even if it retains the name of Israel and still is based on Jewish citizenship), then in my mind it will have gone out of existence. Does that make sense?

        Quote  Link

      Report

  15. ED Kain:

    Dennis Ross:

    In the Clinton ideas, which are also presented in the book, the Palestinians were offered the following: 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank. The principles that guided the way the borders should be drawn and determined by the two sides, based on the percentages were: Contiguity of territory for the Palestinians, non-absorption of Palestinians into Israel.

    The following is scanned from his book, The Missing Peace: [URL=http://s388.photobucket.com/albums/oo323/roquenuevo/?action=view&current=05c156b6.gif][IMG]http://i388.photobucket.com/albums/oo323/roquenuevo/th_05c156b6.gif[/IMG][/URL]
    Why is this a vague offer? Seems like a good deal to me, especially when you consider the offers of compensation that were extended to the refugees. Since then, they have defended themselves against suicide mass-murderers.

    In 2000, I was sure that Clinton would be able to get a deal. I thought that that was going to be the beginning of the end of the conflict. I really had no position as to how much land Israel should cede, or on anything else. When the Israeli proposals were announced, they seemed like a good deal to me, but what do I know? When Arafat refused categorically, my position changed. I saw it as definitive proof that the Palestinians were not negotiating in good faith. If they had been, then why not make a counter-offer? Why just refuse and start a violent suicide-murder campaign?

    Back in the ’80s I was almost completely on the Palestinian side. Who wouldn’t be after the invasion of Lebanon and the Intifadah? But those days are over. Israel is not the same state today as it was back then. Critics have not considered this development of actual events in their critiques. They act like its’ still the ’80s with some religious zealot in charge of Israel talking about Judea and Samaria instead of leaders committed to the two-state solution by law. That changed my own political calculus.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  16. Kath: “time and again you wrote stuff making it clear that you thought that Israelis were worth less than Palestinians. ”

    Put up some examples here. I bet you can’t because I don’t think that. If it was implied in anything I said, I’ll repudiate it once you post it. This would only be a matter of sloppy writing on my part. But for you to say the above is a matter of sloppy reading.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  17. But when I talk on the Israeli side, when I say existential threat I mean the long term loss of political legitimacy of the state. (What I called losing the war, which is maybe the wrong metaphor)

    Brilliant point, and so true. Again I think that’s part of my point that it’s important to remember that Israel gets held to a different standard because we want more from Israel and believe in its project. In a more concrete, pragmatic way, it’s at least possible that Israel losing its moral and democratic status could cause it to lose the support of the United States, and then all bets are off. So, you’re completely right.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  18. Roque,

    I don’t want to get into the history argument on this one. Else we end up in the never ending abyss and then Godwin’s Law will probably be proved right yet again.

    I’ll just say my general schpeel on all this. And this is not taking the Palestinian side, ‘cuz I think it’s a nearly infinite number of errors on all sides. But The Palestinians really have never had a group that they choose to represent them–from all sides, factions, and constituencies of theirs–at the table since the peace process started. [Open question I suppose on 1947]. Even if Clinton was right that Arafat betrayed him, then Bill (and Dennis Ross & Crew) has no one really to blame but himself since he engineered a coup essentially bringing Arafat in and declaring him the legitimate broker on the Palestinian side. The idea that you will negotiate with Fatah and not Hamas to me is just more of that.

    So in other words, I think Ross is basically telling the truth in what was offered, but he fails to grasp that the process was ultimately flawed from the get go (on both sides) and then he and Clinton are basically just trying to cover their butts in history. Which I can understand mind you, I can even understand how they feel that way (from their pov), but I wouldn’t take it as gospel truth. There is another side to the story.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  19. Chris Dierkes:
    There’s simply no way to understand this conflict without understanding history. It’s funny that you say you don’t want to discuss history and then you continue by discussing history. Do you mean that you don’t want me to discuss history, but that you can? I don’t get it at all.

    I’d like to say that we agree on the fact that the “[peace] process was ultimately flawed from the get go.” But this was hardly Clinton’s fault. He’s a politician and politicians will want to broker deals and so forth. Everyone else does it. If the president announced that the process is flawed, he’d come in for opprobrium from all sides. So we’re stuck with it, even if we know it’s flawed and will never come to anything.

    What I don’t understand is the “coup” you say Clinton engineered to bring Arafat into the negotiations. When did this happen? From what I can remember, after Arafat renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist, he was in, no matter what Clinton could have done. That was the idea all along, anyway, so it would have looked bad for Arafat to do this and then still be locked out. But you seem to know more about it than I do, so what’s the deal?

    In the 90s, Arafat signed the Oslo Accords and got the Nobel Prize, remember? If Clinton, or anyone else, had said what you’re saying here, they would have been laughed out of town.

    I must differ with your idea (well…it’s not really your idea. It’s a meme) of appealing the the “cycle of violence,” shown when you say, “a nearly infinite number of errors on all sides.” I know that you’re not interested in hearing me discuss history, but if anyone else reads this, they should know that this is not supported by any evidence at all. In every case (or almost, anyway) Israeli violence has been in retaliation to Arab or Palestinian attacks against them. Palestinian/Arab/Hamas ideology is such that the mere presence of a Jewish state in Palestine is in itself an attack, to which they respond. You can take their position if you want to. It’s very popular, so I don’t think you’ll get into a lot of arguments about it. It helps people maintain the facade of moral righteousness by blaming both sides, but it has the effect of blaming Israel because, as Freddie himself has said over and over, we expect more out of Israel.We don’t expect anything like this of the Arabs. Tell me why this isn’t racist.

    Of course it’s true that Ross and Clinton want to cover their butts. Who doesn’t? But what’s your explanation for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks, other than generalizations about “a flawed process from the get go?” I thought they had a good deal and, if Arafat had signed it, today there’d be a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *