The war, the left and moral equivalence (I)

August 28, 2006

It’s easy enough to disagree with the left on the small to medium sized things. You do the stoush thing somewhere on the blogos, get stuff off your chest, and walk away wondering if you’re ever going to get past talking past each other. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter.

But on a couple of the really big things the left has got me puzzled — the war in Lebanon, and the global terrorist threat.

Take the first one. Why did large sections of the left turn into a cheer squad for Hizbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and for march for both of them in tens if not hundreds of thousands in so many of the world’s major cities? They even marched in Buenos Aires, the city that witnessed two devastating attacks by Hizbollah against Jewish targets in the 1990’s, costing more than a hundred lives. Jewish counter-protestors were hustled off the streets.

In London, ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway addressed throngs of protestors bearing placards that read ‘We are all Hizbollah how’, proclaiming that he was there to glorify the organsation and its leader. And what throngs they were. As Sarah Baxter wrote in The Times, old time feminists marched in lockstep with Islamic fundamentalists who would unhesitatingly have denied them every right they had won over the past generations — and then some.

Maybe Galloway didn’t speak for all the protestors; maybe some had doubts about their new affiliations — but judging from the number of Hizbollah flags and portaits of Nasrallah waved aloft he surely spoke for a sizeable proportion of them. I can understand — just — that Islamists would valorise Nasrallah, but not that so many on the left would make common cause with them.

After all, this was not a conflict that lacked any moral ambiguity. Israel’s response might have been disproportionate — certainly the destruction of the bridges and highways was unconscionable, given Hizbollah appears to have no difficulty transporting munitions in pick-up trucks and on the backs of donkeys. So why destroy the infrastructure? On the other hand, Hizbollah started the war with a barrage of Katyushas, a cross-border raid, killings and a kidnapping. Israel was entitled to regard that as an umambiguous instigation of war by Hizbollah, and it did.

As for the oft-heard claim that the IDF consciously and deliberately targeted civilians, it’s worth recalling that from the beginning the IAF leafleted the areas they were about to strike to warn civilians to get out of the way and to keep clear of Hizbollah’s installations. In southern Lebanon, they also broke into the mobile and fixed telephone networks to relay additional warnings. Of course, in signalling their punches, the Israelis sacrificed the advantage of surprise, and gave the real targets time to get themselves out of harm’s way. Conversely, there were reports from the early days of the war that Hizbollah was forcibly preventing civilians from escaping. All of this against an established background of Hizbollah deliberately locating its missile launchers and weapons caches in civilian areas to protect them from Israeli attack — and in the case of Christian and Sunni villages, against the objections of the inhabitants. No serious commentator has disputed Hizbollah’s use of the Lebanese population as human shields. Yet few cut the IDF any slack on that account when civilians were inevitably killed, as Hizbollah intended them to be.

In part this moral one-sidedness can be attributed to the media. I watched much of the war live on CNN. I’m seldom entirely sure if the media are really biased, or merely lazy, chasing the easy angles, the easy stories, the easy pictures. But throughout, CNN kept its hard questions for the Israelis, its anchors sometimes not even trying to conceal their animus. The late Yizhak Rabin’s daughter was interviewed, perhaps because she was assumed to be a peacenik. Instead she supported the war, spoke of Israelis’ love for the beautiful country they had built over 60 years, their desire to live in peace with their neighbours, and their wish to preserve Israel as a homeland for the Jews. The CNN anchor barely managed to conceal her disdain.

Lebanese interlocutors were treated with visibly more respect. One, a telegenic political analyst, was asked by the CNN anchor whether Hizbollah could be disarmed after the war. She replied with some scorn that once the Israelis withdrew, there would be no need for Hizbollah to retain its arms, as there would no longer be an occupying power to resist. I waited in vain for the anchor to ask why it was, then, that Hizbollah had failed to disarm after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. To its great and lasting credit, however, CNN did run a revealing story by Nic Robertson to the effect that CNN’s journalists and cameramen were so tightly corralled and controlled by Hizbollah that their reporting out of Beirut was little more than a vehicle for Hizbollah propaganda.

And, of course, there were the stories and images from the the July 30th strike on Qana — an area from which dozens of rockets had been fired into Israel — and the reported strike on the Red Cross ambulances a few days prior. Public opinion turned to outright revulsion. There are, to say the least, grave doubts about the veracity of both of these incidents, but the damage was done, and instantaneously. Indeed, it is probable that these graphically reported and photographed events marked the breaking, in the general public’s eye, of Israel’s moral case for war — as was the intention. Seldom has such obvious propaganda been so successful.

Even so, if the coverage turned public opinion away from Israel, it could not alone have sufficed to drive people of presumably good will and decent conscience to side with Hizbollah, as they did by the thousand. Hizbollah began as a terrorist organisation in the early 1980’s, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It was set up, funded, trained and equipped by Iran, and drew its spiritual and political inspiration from the Ayatollah Khomeini. It is estimated to have killed at least 900 people in terrorist operations, most notably the suicide bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983. Reagan immediately pulled the US contingent out of Beirut onto ships offshore, thereby handing international terrorism one of its first unequivocal victories. One truck bomb was all you needed to defeat the United States. The world’s actual and aspiring terrorists took careful note.

Over the years, Hizbollah developed both a humanitarian and a political arm, all funded by Iran. After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago, it acquired an arsenal of 13,000 missiles, including the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile (originally sourced from China) and sophisticated anti-tank and other munitions from Iran. It fortified southern Lebanon as the launch pad from which to carry out, first, its longed-for war against Israel and when that was done, operations against other enemies in Lebanon.

Hizbollah never wavered in its determination to destroy Israel, and never concealed it. Its purpose remains to liberate Israel: all of it, not just the occupied territories, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. ‘Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea’ was a chant heard loudly and often around the cities of the world in the recent weeks. Hizbollah’s goal is the expulsion of the Jews from Israel, the killing of any that remain, and the return of their lands to the Palestinians. In this it acts as Iran’s agent and proxy.

Why such a swathe of folk on the left allied themselves so vociferously with this movement and this purpose is baffling. You can disagree with Israel on a whole raft of things — the targeted assassinations, the settlements, the security wall — without going the extra yards to advocate its annihilation. Anti-Semitism, now on the rise across Europe, and long at epidemic proportions in the Middle East, has something to do with it. The old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend will also have been a factor, as animus towards Israel runs deep among the educated elites of the west. But even taking all those factors into account, it’s still hard to explain the rage, the hatred and the venom so apparent at so many demonstrations around the world.

Perhaps it’s about identity and victimhood.  Over-identification with a victimhood group leads to a kind of moral distortion, even an inversion, that allows you to look at the victimiser through the eyes of the victim — as though it were you who had been the one to suffer. The marchers around the world were looking at Israel through the eyes of those for whom their victimisation by Israel, whether real, exaggerated or imagined, was an integral and defining element of their being. So it became natural to identify with the passions, extremisms and hatreds of the victims with whom they so sympathised, even if the marchers did not themselves actively share them. In such circumstances the historical record, moral integrity and intellectual perspective risked bing lost, swallowed by the raw anger of recent victimhood.

And when confronted with the images of the dead children in Qana — images too strong to be overborne by any argument — all the remaining walls came down. The emotional impact was too overwhelming. So ordinary people found it all too easy to be pushed to a full self-identification with those who passionately averred themselves to be victims of Israel and to associate themselves with exterminationist positions which they would normally have found abominable. Such is the power of propaganda in the hands of those who know how to use it.

Based on their own histories and their own experiences, only the Israelis and the Palestinians have the right to hate each other to the death. Those that do so are wrong, whatever side they might be on; but you’d have to concede they have that right. Nobody else does.



  1. Good post, Rob. And I have found the one where you link to Lisa/Rania “dialog”. Methinks I’ll blogroll you. Actually, already done so.


  2. Thanks, Snoopy.

  3. Excellent! Very well-written.

  4. Rejecting Bush’s Plan And investigating him (The Daily Start )
    Jan 07 , 2007
    In a taste of the new confrontational approach on Capitol Hill, Ms Rice received a grilling when she appeared before the Senate foreign affairs committee to explain the plan. The Democratic senator and 2008 presidential hopeful Joe Biden told her Mr Bush’s plan was “a tragic mistake”. Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican congressmen were lining up in TV studios to denounce the deployment of an extra 21,500 US troops to Iraq.
    Mr. Bush and his most senior staff embarked on a huge public relations exercise to sell the plan to send an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq, aware of formidable opposition in Congress which already promises an embarrassing vote next week rejecting the new
    strategy and calling for an emergent court in the Congress to investigate Bush’s administration and ask about the reasons and results of the Iraqi War .

    It seems to be not only a movement for rejecting Bush’s plan , but also a movement to embarrass him because of his playing a bad game with some Arab leaders whom rulership is not democratic although the American troops were sent to Iraq to create a new soul of democracy and saving Iraqis from the tyrant Saddam Hussein , the same of what other countries suffer from like the suffering of the Egyptian people Under the rulership of Hosni Mubarak , the e suffering of the Sudanese and other nations that suffer from tyrant leaders ,

    That’s why Congress opposes Bush’s plan and trying in a way or another to prove that he is involved in crimes that would make the US suffer from terrorism that he said he is going to destroy but instead he helped the makers of terrorism in the dictator countries.

  5. that’s all

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