Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sorry, your Antisemitism Card has expired

CNN: Nobel laureate Wiesel:
Hamas must stop using children as human shields

This weekend my friend Mary Goodwin posted the above link on Facebook. The following argument ensued. I’m reposting it here because many friends have been writing on the tragedy of the current fighting. As usual, there's no end in sight--and why is that? Mary and I see quite different things. Comments welcome.

ERIC MADER: It is good to see Wiesel come out in this way, if only because it powerfully reminds people that Hamas certainly also bears responsibility for the deaths on the Palestinian side. But I don't think Israel holds any moral high ground in this fight. And the hawks in Jerusalem know very well their overreaction will only strengthen Hamas.

MARY GOODWIN: According to the article, there is strong Israeli public support for the current campaign to pummel Hamas into submission (not just a few 'hawks,' as you call them). I admire the Israelis for ignoring their many critics and doing what it takes to defend their country against terrorism. I have FB friends from Israel whose feeds are full of angry accusations at the world that "never lifted a finger when Jews were targets and now thinks it can impose 'moral' standards on Israel."

ERIC MADER: The problem, now as always, Mary, is that it's not just "their" country. If Israel would recognize borders between its territory and Palestinian territory, if--and this is the most crucial thing in my mind--it would halt the building of settlements on other people's land, then there would be an argument that Israel was being attacked by terrorists. As it is, Israel is in a military conflict, and I am happy to call it that for as long as Israel continues building or defending settlements. Lucky for Israel, it has the big guns on its side, thanks largely to my own government's lavish support.

As for Israelis who talk about how the world "never lifted a finger when Jews were targets and now thinks it can impose 'moral' standards on Israel," this is called "the Antisemitism Card". Sadly this phrase has come into existence. But the only reason is HAS come into existence is because of Israelis who, every time there is criticism of their government's policies, talk about how the criticism is evidence of antisemitism. Which is bullshit. The current events in the Middle East have nothing to do with European antisemitism in the early and mid-20th century. Referring arguments about Israeli policy to discussions of the Holocaust is a monumental case of "changing the subject".

There are plenty of vicious anti-Semites in the world, but that does not mean those who criticize Israeli policy are among them. In my case, for instance, I am disgusted with Israeli policy more because I love Jewish culture than because I'm against it. As a supporter of Jewish culture, I'd like to see its supposed representative government not continually supporting the policies it does. In short: The existence of antisemitism in the world is not a blank check which renders the Israeli government somehow insulated from criticism.

Israel cannot "pummel Hamas into submission". All it can do is pummel Hamas into attracting more and more support. Isn't this obvious? Rather than overreact to the piddly threats of an enemy whose rockets can't even reach their targets, it would be strategically wiser for Israel to under-react. By projecting its vastly superior force into Gaza, Israel is just prodding angry Muslims across the globe to take out their checkbooks and donate more to Hamas. And prodding Palestinians in ever greater numbers to dream of becoming suicide bombers.

MARY GOODWIN: Eric, you need to read more on Hamas' explicit refusal to negotiate with Israel or to participate in a peace process. "Their" definition of ownership of the area excludes a Jewish state. I think that the problem is Hamas, not the Palestinian people; there are many other recent articles describing Hamas' LACK of support in the region, especially from Egypt and other former supporters, as well as its reckless and murderous disregard for its own people. In the main, Palestinians and Israelis support a two-state policy. Hamas will not negotiate. And as for the "Holocaust Card," I think that if you have endured a Holocaust, you can play that card forever. The well-meaning outsiders (that is all of us) who are horrified to watch Palestinian children killed by bombs might remember that the Israelis have kids, too, and just because the Palestinian rockets don't reach their target it doesn't mean that they aren't equally lethal or aren't launched with lethal intent. Incompetence does not equal innocence; neither does competence equal guilt

ERIC MADER: I know what Hamas is and I know how many Arab states view it. I've read plenty. I know Hamas lacks support in the region, and of course Hamas is far from innocent. My thesis is that it is better to INCREASE Hamas' isolation rather than push the Muslim street toward rallying for them. So how does one do this, how does one help Hamas to obsolescence? Explain.

Israel is now doing just what Hamas wants it to do. As for Hamas' refusal to negotiate, so what? Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist? Well, it's very clear, by its actions on the ground (again: by continual settlement building, for example) that Israel refuses to recognize any Palestinian state's right to exist. Tit for tat.

As for the Antisemitism Card, your argument seems to be that since the Holocaust happened, Jews are forever incapable of abusing human rights. And the idea of Israeli leaders becoming war criminals--well, that would be a contradiction in terms, a logical impossibility. Right? Thus: Regardless of what Israeli bombs or bulldozers or blockades might do, we just need to remember the Holocaust and everything is elevated to a different moral level. Right?

I'm sorry if my reaction here seems a little over the top, or if I seem to be putting words in your mouth, but this, in my view, is what it means to evoke to the Holocaust when discussing current Israeli policy. It is a diversionary tactic and needs to be loudly called out as such every time it appears. What happened in the West in the mid-20th century is irrelevant to the morality (or otherwise) of how the Israeli state now uses its very real military power.

So, again, how do we weaken Hamas? My position is that we must rally neither for Hamas nor for Netanyahu's version of the Israeli state. Like Dick Cheney and al Qaeda back in 2003, Netanyahu and Hamas are secretly best buddies. Each helps the other push its own agenda. If we were smart, we'd be doing our best to marginalize both sides in these equations.

A child stands in front of the rubble of his home in Gaza.

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