From the Comments: Does Israel have the moral upper hand on Palestinians in Gaza?

In the ‘comments’ thread on his excellent post about Israel/Palestine (I hope he produces Part 2 soon), Matthew reveals some of the skepticism he has regarding Israel’s current policy towards Gaza. You should read the whole thing. Matthew does an exceptional job of summarizing the thoughts of millions of Americans – especially younger ones – regarding the US’s relationship with the Jewish state. Here was my response:

I think the allegations of anti-Semitism can be found if you follow along with me while I tease this out.

First, though, an important geopolitical thought. The settlements in the West Bank are the worst policy to come out of a Western government since overthrowing democratically-elected Leftist governments during the Cold War. The settlements are absolutely toxic to peace and prosperity in the region, and for this reason I cannot count myself among the “supporters” of Israel.

The reasoning behind this policy probably has to do with the buffer zone, though. If I were an Israeli I would view the settlements as an important “human buffer,” if you will, to another (another) invasion from the east. I don’t think the settlements are a nefarious attempt on behalf of Right-wing Israelis to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of indigenous Muslims (that is a charge being leveled by some otherwise serious Leftist quarters). My opposition to the settlements in the West Bank is more of a strategic one than a moral one (though the moral argument underlies the strategic). A human buffer zone will not prevent another invasion from the east any more than an Iron Dome will discourage rocket attacks from Gaza. All these settlements do is stir bad blood between already hated enemies, and that is as stupid as you can get.

Speaking of Gaza, I can agree to an extent that Israelis should try to limit civilian casualties as much as possible. This is a standard that should be held up to all of the world’s states (even if it is not). However, Israel and Hamas are fighting an undeclared war and as such I do not think it just to condemn Israel and overlook the targeting of civilians by Hamas. (I am sure you are in agreement on this.) As a rule of thumb I don’t trust governments to take necessary precautions of any kind when it comes to interests of state, but I think the overwhelming scrutiny that Israel faces from the international community pressures it to take precautions that would be unheard of in the non-Western world. Hence I am caught between disavowing war – as all good libertarians must do – and acknowledging that Israel is fighting a just one.

On to the implicit anti-Semitism of Israeli criticism. Usually I can spot anti-Semitism by the reliance upon conspiracies or money to explain events pertaining to Jews or Israel, but the pinkwashing argument – which I suspect is anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Western – is a tougher nut to crack.

Pinkwashing is certainly anti-Western, as you don’t see many organizations – especially those on the Left – criticizing policies of despotic non-Western governments that would be condemned outright in Western states. Anti-Semitism exists, indeed permeates, Arab and European societies in a way that is hard to fathom in places like the United States or, say, India. Thus I conclude that the criticisms of Israel that do not include equal criticisms of Hamas or other non-Western organizations, and that stem exclusively from Arab or European capitals, are anti-Semitic. I know this is a broad brush and there are certainly principled dissenters among the ranks of anti-Israeli critics in these regions, but sometimes all you can do is call a ‘cat’ a ‘cat’.

If you delve into the critiques of Israel that come from European or Arab capitals, you will often find such critiques to be superficial and, indeed, relying upon conspiratorial explanations for Israeli actions. This is of course not true in the American or Israeli media, where critics are often more principled and have a better understanding of the mechanisms of Israeli society.

In this sense, you are right to criticize Netanyahu for dissemblingly conflating Israeli society with Jewish society, but in another sense Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians are dealing with factions that extend far beyond the borders of the United States or Israel, and these are factions that I would describe as being most savage in nature.

Your responses to my analysis would be most welcome. It seems to me that the global Left and the Arab Right is unwilling to look at the issue at fairly. Israel is a state, and it exists in the Middle East. Opponents of Israeli tactics in the most recent fighting hardly mention this, though. Instead, I can barely sort through the muddle of ‘Zionist’ or ‘imperialist’ epithets hurled its way (and at anybody willing to suggest that Israel is not 100% at fault for the violence).

Some of this, especially from Western Leftist quarters, can be viewed as more of an opposition to colonialism than to Israel itself, but for the most part – after reading accounts from many different sides – I find the opponents of Israel to be engaging in a battle that is far removed from reality.

This is not to say that Israel should not be criticized (especially given its socialist roots), but in order for criticism to be effective it has to be smart and objective, and this is completely lacking in the accounts offered up by many Leftists and virtually all Muslims.

Again I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from our Middle Eastern readers.

Right-wing Marxists and the libertarian’s lament

Daniel McCarthy, the editor of The American Conservative, has a post up on the current “liberal” (Leftist) misreadings of how politics actually works:

Politics is just magic to [Leftists]. (Some of this comes of drawing the wrong lessons from Alinsky and Gramsci—wrong lessons the activist right is now busy committing to memory.)

The “lessons from Alinksy and Gramsci” that the Right is currently incorporating into its political program are none other than the tactics Leftists used during the heyday of communism to gain political power in the West.

Unfortunately, I think the Right is making a big mistake by copying a program that has failed the Left. Has it failed the Left? Or is communism an inevitable failure and tactics had nothing to do with it?

Governance is affected by movements. Does the Right want to be the new authoritarians? They’ve always been less authoritarian than the Left, but I see this changing especially if the Right continues to borrow tactics and ideas from the communist Left.

What is interesting is to watch how this all plays out. The Left’s playbook consists of delegitimizing people rather ideas or institutions. This leads to misdirected anger and makes it easier for opposition movements to seize the levers of power. It worked in the Anglo-American world, to a large extent (look at our educational systems, for example; they’re run by Marxists), but never more than superficially. Everybody knows, for example, which institutions have been captured by the Left. They know which institutions are Left-wing and which ones are not.

Why Rightists would want to copy this failed tactic is beyond me. The strength of classical liberalism has always been the resounding truth within its creed. It is truth that we march into battle with, not cheap tricks or ploys from the gutter.

It seems to me that the Right’s embrace of communist tactics comes mostly from one influential group of people in the US: conservative intellectuals with cultural ties to the Catholic or Mormon churches. To me I find this very weird, and while weirdness is definitely something I appreciate in my personal life I truly hope these tactics don’t trickle into the intellectual wing of the libertarian quadrant.

The spectacle of conservative intellectuals mimicking their Cold War adversaries two decades after winning – outright – the war of ideas is pathetic. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!