The false notion of moral equivalence
Eddie Damstra | Wednesday, March 1, 2017
One of my biggest reservations with President Obama was the manner in which his administration handled relations with Israel. From negotiating a deal that gives Iran, whose leadership vows to destroy the state of Israel, a path to nuclear weapons to refusing to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity, President Obama and his administration have only increased the already-heightened level of vulnerability that Israel faces. However, I would argue the more dangerous legacy left after Obama’s two terms in office is the gradually accepted understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a conflict rooted in moral equivalence.
Before dealing with the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is vital to recognize a fundamental truth about the conflict, namely that there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Palestine. To lump Israel’s self-defense measures as equivalent to Palestine’s blatant human rights offenses is entirely disingenuous and significantly counterproductive to making any progress in solving the conflict. In saying this, I do not at all mean to suggest that Israel is an entirely blameless or faultless nation. I am also not attempting to insinuate that all Palestinians are radical, violence-seeking individuals. Rather, I hope to emphasize that Israel and Palestine, as a whole, are significantly dissimilar, both in their understandings of justice and their military conduct.
A recent example of how people often misconstrue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the reaction that was drawn out of the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict. In the conflict that occurred in the summer of 2014, a Palestinian group, Hamas, refused to stop launching rockets at Israel. This resulted in counterattacks from Israel and led to a seven-week violent conflict. Unfortunately, many people across the world, including many Americans, misinterpreted the conflict as an act of Israeli aggression. People on social media began proclaiming their solidarity with Palestine and voicing their opposition to Israel. Condemning Israeli military actions, all of which were self-defensive in nature, became mainstreamed.
Hamas, and Palestine as a whole, seemed to have won the war of public perception throughout the entire 2014 conflict. This was not accidental, however. Hamas strategically carried out military actions in a manner that would make it easier to entirely misinterpret what was happening. Throughout the entire conflict, Israel made an effort to comply with international law regarding war. Hamas did not. It became commonplace for Hamas to launch missiles from mosques, schools and hospitals, and even set up military headquarters in these places. This resulted in Palestinian civilians being killed by counterattacks from Israel. This was morally despicable but strategically ingenious on the part of Hamas because it allowed them to win over much of the press, and gave the appearance of an evil, militant Israel. In reality, however, Hamas was truly to blame in the deaths of its own fellow Palestinians.
The 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel demonstrated the moral dissimilarity between Israel and Palestine. Yet many people fail to recognize this. People point to the fact that more Palestinians died during the conflict, but disregard the reason why more Palestinians died.
It is critically important to recognize the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before we can move forward with policies regarding it. The most important reality to highlight is the fact that Israel is a liberal democracy in an area of the world plagued by radical Islamic extremism and totalitarian autocracies. Israel is not morally equivalent to its enemies. Rather, its enemies despise its existence in part due to the very moral dissimilarities that they hold.
It is also vital to place the nation of Israel in context. Israel is a nation roughly the size of New Jersey. The nation harbors most of the world’s Jewish population, a population of people who have been brutally oppressed throughout the entirety of human history. Many of Israel’s neighbors, including Palestine, Iran and Syria, threaten the very existence of a Jewish state, vowing to destroy Israel.
Israel is a very vulnerable nation whose citizenry knows all too well the history of oppression against Jews. Israel has every right to self-defense, and has every right to take justifiable military precautions in order to ensure their own safety. This is why the United States has continued to ally itself with Israel. Israel is not just another radical, militant nation in the Middle East. It is a shining beacon of democracy and hope in an area of the world riddled with extremism and violence.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.