The point where we reach the limits of civil debate about policy is, like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of pornography, hard to define but you generally know it when you see it. That’s the only possible reaction to a blog post by Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner who wrote on Sunday to say the actions of the terrorists who murdered eight Israelis near Eilat last week were justified. Yes, you read that right. Derfner, a veteran journalist who has enjoyed playing the enfant terrible house leftist at the centrist Post for years, wrote on his personal blog to say Palestinian terrorism against Israelis is “justified.”
In doing so, Derfner has exposed the fundamental flaw in the left’s position on terror. His obscene post will, as he predicted, lead some of his fellow countrymen to call him a traitor, and Israel’s enemies will cite it in defense of their policy of murder. But the significant aspect of this piece is it shows how pious liberals who believe the blame for the conflict falls upon the Jews are inevitably led to the justification of murder.
Derfner claims, despite all the evidence of the past 18 years of peace processing, the blame for the continuation of the conflict falls squarely on Israel and no one else. He says the Palestinian terrorists are merely fighting for their “independence” against an evil Israeli “occupation.” But, as even Shimon Peres has said, if the conflict were just about the Palestinian desire for an independent state, it would have been over more than a decade ago when Yasir Arafat chose to reject Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July 2000. Since then, that offer has been repeated and rejected. But that is meaningless to Derfner, because he and those who think like him have never been really been interested in the Palestinians or what they do or want. His focus is hatred of the Israeli right and the settlement movement, and to discuss anything else, even if that means ignoring the truth about Palestinian nationalism and its implacable desire to destroy Israel no matter where its borders are drawn, is a distraction.
To Derfner’s way of thinking, so long as Israel is not unilaterally surrendering to the Palestinians, it is provoking, nay “compelling” them to murder Jews. For him, there is no “cycle of violence” which wrongly treats Palestinian murder and Israeli self-defense on the same moral plain. As far as he is concerned, the Arabs are in the right and the Israelis in the wrong, and therefore the latter has no logical right to complain about being murdered. Derfner claims he wishes the Palestinians wouldn’t employ terrorism since, presumably, he is not happy to see people slaughtered in this fashion and wouldn’t like it if it happened to him or his family and friends. But he says it’s time for Israeli leftists to stop denouncing Arab terror because it’s hypocritical. That is the crux of his position, and one has to admit there is more logic to it than the Jewish liberals and leftists (who will, no doubt, condemn his words), will admit.
The problem is Derfner has stripped away the veneer of civility from the critique of his country’s policies. He is, in a sense, right. If you really do believe that Israel is “occupying” and “oppressing” Palestinians then why shouldn’t you support terror against Israelis? For those who buy into his palpably false notions about the conflict, qualms about murdering Jews in cold blood as in Eilat or deliberately firing missiles at civilian targets, is mere squeamishness.
What the Jerusalem Post columnist has written is beyond the pale of civil debate, and he will deserve every bit of the abuse that comes his way from fellow Israelis. But the ones who should really be upset are liberals and leftists, both in Israel and elsewhere, who agree with his misleading position about the “occupation.” It is they who must think long and hard about the “logic” of his argument and realize that, whether they echo Derfner’s words or not, their wrongful condemnations of Israel and refusal to defend its rights will be interpreted as implicit justification of terrorism.