Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 4, 2014

The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

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The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

As has become standard practice in the academic BDS movement, the ASA’s Executive Committee has an academic pretext for its intervention in the Middle East: the recent strike on the Islamic University of Gaza. The committee understands that most observers will think an organization devoted to American culture should not have a stance on the Gaza conflict. But the statement almost immediately drops that pretext and concedes that the ASA’s stance is really about “Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates [sic] of life and freedom.

There follows a link you can click to give the ASA money to “to join in financially supporting our principled response to attacks on the organization and our continued growth and impact as an association. As Rahm Emanuel once said, you never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste.

Of course, the ASA stand is sheer self-indulgent theater. Still, it is revealing. Last year, it was at least possible to imagine that the American Studies Association distinguished between the West Bank and Gaza, understanding Israel’s need to defend itself against Hamas, an organization devoted to its violent destruction and to violence against Jews altogether. Today, like others in the BDS movement, the American Studies Association has openly sided with Hamas’s military wing, or, as BDS darling Ali Abunimah likes to call its members, “resistance fighters.”

With this latest ill-advised statement, the ASA leaves no daylight between its own position and Abunimah’s, namely that Israel is the bad guy in the fight between Israel and Hamas, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and placing its own civilians in harm’s way notwithstanding. All that is lacking is the open celebration, which we find in Abunimah, of the military exploits, such as they are, of the Al Qassam Brigade. I suppose the executive committee thinks that such a celebration might frighten the donors.

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has predicted that this year’s anti-Israel activity on American campuses will be even more virulent than it was last year and may even turn violent. I hope he is wrong about the latter but sure he is right about the former.

Those of us who care not only about Israel but also about the enterprise of colleges and universities must point out again and again that the avowedly nonviolent academic BDS movement, which has always shied away from criticism of Hamas and has long hugged the lunatic fringe, is now vying to turn American college campuses into propaganda mills for the “military wing” of Hamas, which even the European Union considers a terrorist group.

Despite the wall to wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect that most faculty members and students alike know very little about it in general or about Hamas in particular. Even on college campuses, the debate against BDS can be won. They can’t hide from that charter.

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Putting Compassion for Palestinians in Perspective

While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

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While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

Some of the discussion on this topic is easy to dismiss. In the case of Northeastern University’s Dov Waxman, who writes in the Forward to lament the lack of Jewish empathy for Palestinian casualties, it’s hard not to see his piece as a display of moral preening that tells us little about the situation or even what is motivating the discussion among pro-Israel activists. Of course, we should care about Palestinians. But other than demanding that friends of Israel gnash their teeth about the situation, it’s difficult to understand what he’d like them to do about it especially since he acknowledges that the fault for their plight largely belongs to Hamas. If, as Cynthia Ozick once aptly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews,” all Waxman here seems to be saying is that it’s necessary for Jews to do more conspicuous wailing about the Palestinians without in any way diminishing their support for Israel’s justified defensive war. Far from being callous, pro-Israel activists are concentrating their efforts on pointing out what the media has failed to about Hamas responsibility for the war and those who have been hurt by it.

More serious are Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments in his Bloomberg column on Friday. Ponnuru acknowledges that Israel is in the right in this contest and that Hamas and its apologists—especially those who falsely accuse Israel of “genocide”—are in the wrong. But he’s worried about those who go a step further in defense of the Jewish state and claim that there are no “true” civilians in Gaza.

Ponnuru takes particular aim at New York University Law School’s Thane Rosenbaum for writing in the Wall Street Journal that those in Gaza who give not only vocal support to Hamas but actively assist its fighters cannot claim to be mere civilians when they come under Israeli counter-fire. Ponnuru also thinks ill of historian Benny Morris who recently wrote that Israel needed to demonstrate a willingness to “exact a heavy price in blood from Palestinian civilians.”

According to Ponnuru, this is more than callousness. Rather it is, he says, a violation of the rules of war that call upon combatants to attempt at all times to make distinctions between enemy soldiers and civilians in their midst. Rosenbaum asserts that sympathy for Gazans who are active Hamas supporters who place their children in the path of violence in order to further group’s causes is misplaced. Ponnuru derides this as not merely unfeeling but a “disgusting sentiment.”

To the extent that these comments reflect a lack of sympathy for any child caught in the crossfire of even a justified war, he’s right. Children don’t choose to be part of a war any more than they choose their parents. Anyone who can view the suffering of Palestinians as they regard those who have been wounded and maimed and mourn their dead with indifference is wrong. Those who have lost the capacity to realize the common humanity even with an enemy have lost their moral compass.

But the discussion about the wave of empathy for Palestinians as their casualty toll mounts and the accompanying anger at Israel is not as simple as that. Rosenbaum may have overstepped his mark, as did Morris, whose main point was to correctly assert that Hamas could not be left standing if there was to be any hope for peace. But to merely assert, as Ponnuru does, that Palestinians civilians “aren’t the bad guys” in this drama is just as unhelpful.

Strip away some of the overheated rhetoric and what Rosenbaum has written is not merely true but inarguable. Palestinians who voted for Hamas, support their charter that calls for Israel’s eradication and the genocide of its Jewish population, cheer the deaths of Jewish civilians, and provide all possible aid to terrorists are not exactly innocent bystanders in this war.

Ponnuru is correct that American civilians can’t be legally targeted for acts of war conducted by their government overseas even if they happened to vote for that government. In that sense, the mere act of voting for Hamas or cheering their terrorist exploits does not make anyone in Gaza a legitimate target. But the distinction that Rosenbaum is attempting to make here is not one that would legitimize the wholesale slaughter of Hamas voters. Nor is Morris, when taken in context, advocating that. Rather, the point here is that those who actively assist Hamas “military” actions are not mere civilians.

But there is a broader point here that touches on just war theories.

As Ponnuru rightly notes, just war theory demands that we always distinguish between soldiers and civilians. But what we should understand is that as much as compassion should be extended to every human being in difficult situations no matter what their beliefs, the attempt to falsely brand Israel as behaving brutally must also be put in the context of a conflict that is happening specifically because Hamas believes killing more Jews will increase its popularity. One need not forfeit sympathy for injured Palestinian children to realize that if their society honors terrorism and incites hatred for Israel, the ensuing violence will take a terrible toll on its people. Those who point out that many of those decrying Israeli strikes on Gaza are themselves advocates of genocide against Israelis are not being callous. They are merely calling Palestinians to account for the culture of violence they have embraced at a time when much of the world is prepared to give them a pass. The suffering of their people will not abate until they reject that culture. To say so is not immoral. It is merely the truth.

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David Remnick’s Distorted Judgment

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

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The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:

He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.

Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.

To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.

One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”

It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.

And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?

It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.

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While West Dithers, ISIS Creates Facts on the Ground

“ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected.”

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“ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations. It possesses the means to threaten its neighbors on multiple fronts, demonstrating a military effectiveness much greater than many observers expected.”

So wrote my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Janine Davidson on July 24. And that was before this weekend’s reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had routed Kurdish fighters from the town of Sinjar near the Iraq-Syria border–one of the few border posts it did not already control–and that it may have taken control of the Mosul dam, which if blown up could flood much of northern Iraq with a 65-foot wave.

Other reports indicate that ISIS has taken control of a Syrian oil field near Homs. As the Washington Post notes in a very comprehensive round-up of depressing news: “Experts estimate the group is pocketing as much as $3 million per day in oil revenue by selling off resources on black markets in the greater Levant.” Oh and ISIS also just staged an attack in yet another country–Lebanon.

In short, the news is about as bad as it could be. The question that remains is: What is the U.S. doing about it? So far President Obama has dispatched 825 military personnel to Iraq to make a survey of the situation and to conduct some liaison work with the Iraqis in two headquarters. That’s about it, aside from some fiery rhetoric from Washington denouncing ISIS excesses. One wonders if the president is once again assuming that denouncing something is the same thing as doing something about it.

There are no air strikes, no Special Operations raids, no attempts to rally Sunni tribesmen to resist their new overlords. Granted, one should not rush willy-nilly into action before gaining an accurate assessment of the situation and deploying the resources necessary to be successful. That is why, for example, the Bush administration did not start bombing Afghanistan until weeks after the 9/11 attacks. But one fears that this time around the U.S. is not preparing a devastating response–or any meaningful response at all–to the alarming expansion of Islamist terrorist control in Iraq and Syria.

One fears that Washington is busy analyzing while ISIS is altering facts on the ground. And that eventually we will hear about Iraq the same thing we have been hearing about Syria: that the situation is so grim that there is nothing we can do about it. That, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy–the less we do, the worse the situation gets, and the less likely we are to intervene in any form.

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Hamas Reaps Perverse Rewards of Its Media Strategy

If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

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If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

Hamas has presented Israel with a no-win situation: Either the Israel Defense Forces declare Hamas militants and weapons off-limits for attacks (in which case Hamas can continue barraging Israel with its rockets and sending its terrorists to infiltrate via tunnels so they can kidnap and kill Israelis) or Israel attacks Hamas installations and produces inevitable collateral damage which then creates sad but true stories of innocent civilians getting killed.

The world, perversely if expectedly, draws a simple moral from all this: Not that Hamas is guilty of war crimes (which it is) by hiding its military infrastructure in civilian areas but that Israel is guilty of war crimes (which it isn’t) for targeting that infrastructure while doing its level best to avoid civilian casualties.

Even observers who are willing to admit that Israel has a right to self-defense then play the Hamas game by subjecting every single Israeli military operation to the kind of minute scrutiny that no other military in the world–not even the American Armed Forces–must face. For instance, there is this New York Times investigative article which begins: “An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.”

I have no idea precisely what happened during the operation which apparently hit a school in Gaza on July 30–and neither does the New York Times, because its reporters were able to get only one side of the story. That is, they are able to get the story provided by Hamas, which is happy to allow Palestinian civilians to be interviewed as long as they say what they’re supposed to say (namely, to blame all casualties on the Zionist imperialists).

Journalists know they are at risk of violent retribution from Hamas if they report how that terrorist organization is, for example, firing rockets from the parking lot of Al Shifa hospital, something that was only reported by an obscure Finnish TV reporter.

Or as an Italian journalist tweeted after leaving Gaza: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”

Those journalists who remain in Gaza, whatever their noble intentions, are serving as a mouthpiece, intentional or not, for the story that Hamas–an organization openly dedicated to genocide–wants the world to hear. This is a brilliant use of “information warfare” on the part of the terrorists, but it’s a disgrace that so many well-meaning people fall for the Hamas line without bothering to learn anything about the extraordinary care that Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties including routinely dropping leaflets on buildings before they are targeted.

Does the IDF still make mistakes and kill civilians they shouldn’t have killed? Of course. That’s the nature of war. Especially of a war fought against an enemy that disdains the most basic laws of war, which call for fighters to openly identify themselves and not shelter behind human shields. Is it tragic that Palestinian civilians are being killed? Of course.

But at the end of the day it’s hard to see what more the IDF can do to avoid public opprobrium without simply giving Hamas a free-fire license. As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz (no hawk he) says: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Unfortunately few people around the world bother to grapple with the moral complexity of his question–or to imagine what their own governments would do if thousands of rockets were raining down on their territory. It’s much easier to simply blame big bad Israel for the supposed “disproportionality” of its response.

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The Missing Pictures of Gaza

Last week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency posed an interesting question to the New York Times: Why isn’t it publishing any pictures of Hamas fighters in Gaza? The answer from the Times and from other media outlets about the lack of any depictions of Hamas terrorists or rocket launchings speaks volumes about the biased nature of much of the coverage of the war.

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Last week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency posed an interesting question to the New York Times: Why isn’t it publishing any pictures of Hamas fighters in Gaza? The answer from the Times and from other media outlets about the lack of any depictions of Hamas terrorists or rocket launchings speaks volumes about the biased nature of much of the coverage of the war.

The answer from the Times communications shop was candid if not particularly helpful. According to their spokesman, out of the hundreds of images of the fighting filed from Gaza by their photographers, there wasn’t a single clear one of one of the two sides in the conflict. The same appears to be true of all the other major news outlets, not to mention the broadcast networks and cable news channels operating in Gaza in large numbers. How is it that we have yet to see a single photo or video of Hamas personnel launching rockets at Israel even though we know that has happened literally thousands of times in the last few weeks? Is it that the intrepid war correspondents and video teams just happened to miss the chance to take the picture every single time the rockets went up? Or is there some other explanation?

There is simply no way that the battalions of journalists wandering around in the relatively tight confines of Gaza could have possibly missed every time a rocket was launched. Nor are the excuses being put forward by some journalists when asked about this astonishing gap in their coverage credible. We know that Hamas has thousands of armed fighters in Gaza.

It is true that most spend as much time as possible in the underground city of tunnels and bunkers that Hamas has constructed at great expense underneath the narrow strip. But they are not vampires. It is possible to take a picture of them when they emerge from their lairs to launch attacks on their enemies or to indiscriminately shoot rockets at Israeli cities. Indeed, unless the foreign journalists in Gaza are making a concerted effort to avoid doing so it would be hard for them to have contrived not to bump into some of them in the course of their efforts to cover instances of Israeli fire causing Palestinian casualties. Since the Israelis are returning fire at Hamas personnel either launching rockets or conducting other military operations, it would be next to impossible for them not to have noticed their presence.

The answer is fairly obvious: despite denials, foreign journalists in Gaza take great care not to depict Hamas military actions because to do so would be to jeopardize their ability to continue to report from Gaza or, even worse, invite attacks from these terrorists. This is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happening. A generation ago, Thomas Friedman and others wrote about the difficulty of reporting accurately about the Palestine Liberation Organization when Yasir Arafat’s terrorists exercised their reign of terror in southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut. The same was true in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when CNN defended its exclusive niche in Baghdad by failing to tell the truth about what that evil regime was doing. Subsequent admissions from CNN about making tough decisions after Saddam’s fall make the network’s current disclaimers about its reporters and camera operators being subjected to intimidation ring false.

In saying this, I’m not castigating those reporters who are trying to report on the fighting in Gaza. It’s dangerous work in the best of circumstances and who are we to ask any of them to dare Hamas to kill them by taking pictures that would give the lie to the Islamists’ attempt to have the world believe the only thing going on in the strip is Israeli aggression and cruelty.

But that’s the reason why this is a topic that needs to be honestly addressed by the networks and publications that are helping to spread these talking points. If, as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough argued last week, the Jewish state is losing friends because of the pictures of horror emanating from Gaza, it’s fair to ask why those depictions are never balanced with footage or stills of the actions of terrorists inviting return fire from the Israelis.

To state this fact is not to deny that the suffering of civilians in Gaza is real. Nor can or should anyone claim that the injuries being inflicted on civilians by fire from Israeli aircraft or troops, including many children, is anything but horrific. There is no doubt that Israeli troops, like those American soldiers and marines operating under similarly restrictive rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes make mistakes. But to tell the story of this war without including the photographic and video proof of the way Hamas deliberately endangers Palestinian civilians is a travesty. Those who lecture Israel on the damage done to its image from the pictures of Palestinian children should at least have the guts to demand that those reporters and photographers working in Gaza either start doing their jobs or admit that they are either being intimidated from doing so or are engaging in biased journalism.

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The Price in Palestinian Lives of Israel’s Gaza Pullout

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

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Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Here, too, a comparison to the second intifada is instructive. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, 1,727 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between September 2000, when the intifada began, and the August 2005 pullout. Since then, the numbers have soared. Another 1,271 Palestinians were killed between the pullout and December 2008, when the first Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began; 1,391 were killed during that war, and 481 between then and the start of the current war. That’s 3,143 Palestinian fatalities in total, and Palestinians claim another 1,600 or so have been killed during this war. So even if you assume, which I do, that B’Tselem’s numbers are exaggerated (it tends to believe Palestinian reports far too uncritically), the trend is undeniable: Since the pullout, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has produced more than twice as many Palestinian fatalities as the peak years of the second intifada did.

Moreover, as in the case of Israeli fatalities, this increase represents a sharp contrast to the trend in the West Bank, which the Israel Defense Forces still control: There, Palestinian fatalities have fallen from 1,491 between September 2000 and August 2005 to 395 in the nine years since August 2005, meaning annual fatalities have fallen by more than 85 percent (they haven’t dropped to zero because neither has Palestinian terror; terror attacks still kill Israelis every year, but the level is dramatically lower than at the height of the intifada).

The question is why Palestinian fatalities in Gaza have risen so sharply. The anti-Israel crowd will doubtless cite this fact as “proof” that recent Israeli premiers are even more bloodthirsty than “the butcher of Beirut,” as they fondly dubbed Ariel Sharon, the prime minister during the second intifada. But anyone not convinced that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu are simply monsters who like eating Palestinian children for breakfast will have to consider the obvious alternative: Palestinian casualties have soared because the IDF’s departure from Gaza allowed terrorist organizations to entrench their rockets, tunnels, and explosives among the civilian population in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

In the current war, Palestinians have stored rockets in schools and launched them from hospitals and from amid civilian houses. They have built cross-border tunnels to attack Israel that pass under civilian houses and emerge straight into a mosque. They have booby-trapped civilian houses and even health clinics. In short, by embedding their war material among the civilian population, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have made it impossible for the IDF to target them without also hitting civilians.

This Hamas strategy increases Palestinian casualties in another way as well: by magnifying the impact of any Israeli strike. Precision bombs can sometimes take out a building without touching the ones next to it. But precision strikes don’t work when the building they hit is booby-trapped or serves as a rocket warehouse; in that case, secondary explosions will create a much broader swathe of destruction. And Israel has no way of knowing when a target has been booby-trapped; Hamas doesn’t provide it with maps.

Problems like this didn’t arise when the IDF still controlled Gaza, because it could take preventive action to keep Hamas from entrenching war material in civilian areas to begin with. And that’s precisely why counterterrorism operations in the IDF-controlled West Bank have produced vastly lower Palestinian casualties.

Hamas certainly isn’t going to abandon its “dead baby strategy” voluntarily; conducting operations from amid a civilian population so as to maximize civilian casualties has proven wildly successful in turning the world against Israel. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Should the IDF ever leave the West Bank, the pullout won’t just result in more dead Israelis. It will certainly result in more dead Palestinians as well.

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Rewarding Hamas for Its Crimes

Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

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Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

The most immediate reward for Hamas has been in the field of public relations, and here the international media–perhaps unwittingly–has been incredibly cooperative. A public-relations victory for Hamas does not require anyone to say anything nice about Hamas. The objective is simply to tarnish Israel in an effort to mobilize world opinion against the Jewish state. Hamas’s extensive use of human shields must be primarily understood in this context. By embedding its terror infrastructure in civilian areas Hamas doesn’t simply seek to deter Israeli attacks, but inevitably this tactic is about pushing up the civilian casualty rate on its own side. The more civilians killed in Gaza, the better it is for Hamas.

The greater attention the media devotes to these casualties, the more hysterically it flaunts these images of apparent Israeli barbarism, the more Israel is condemned and the more it comes under pressure to restrain its military activities against Hamas. The very upsurge in killing that reporters declare must be brought to an end is in fact encouraged by their own incessant reporting. The more that the press emphasizes civilian suffering in Gaza, the more it is in Hamas’s interest to keep that suffering coming. Hence, Hamas has learned that the prime location to operate from is adjacent to UN facilities. Israel then has the choice of either not returning fire or doing so with the risk of hitting a UN compound and thus igniting a frenzy of condemnation against itself.

This condemnation at the diplomatic level is another key part of the Hamas strategy. An Israel that is chastised by its allies for these military operations soon becomes unable to do anything meaningful to counter Hamas. Furthermore, this kind of open criticism adds to a wider perception that Israel should be isolated and perhaps even ejected from the community of nations. The decision by the UN human rights council to investigate war crimes in Gaza is a particularly important victory for Hamas on this front. It is true that the UNHRC is supposed to be investigating Hamas as well as Israel, but since Hamas is already a proscribed terrorist organization it really has nothing to lose as far as international standing is concerned. Israel, on the other hand, has very much to lose from being presented in this way.

Hamas always knew that in provoking this war it would cause a humanitarian crisis that would in turn lead to an international outcry. Western publics appalled by the images being endlessly flashed across their television screens will understandably demand that “something be done.” That something comes in the form generous pledges of financial assistance for Gaza. Prior to the outbreak of this war Hamas was broke. It couldn’t even afford to pay its civil servants. Now every government around the world is writing big checks for the authorities in Gaza; the U.S. alone has pledged $47 million. But since Hamas runs the ministries and public services of Gaza, this financial assistance will help keep Hamas rule afloat well into the foreseeable future.

This of course is the third war in Gaza in recent years. It should be clear by now that culpability rests with Hamas. Each time these wars have erupted at the point that increasing rocket fire from Gaza forced an Israeli response. Yet Western leaders—most prominently president Obama–have gradually been adopting the Hamas narrative that insists the underlying cause of all of this violence is actually Israeli policy, and that while the rockets may be illegitimate, they are the result of legitimate Palestinian grievances. These grievances, we’re told, center on the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza. In reality that blockade only concerns items that could potentially be used for terrorist activities, but Hamas insists Gaza’s borders must be fully open. Such a move would not only bolster Hamas rule but it would allow for a free flow of weapons into Gaza.

It appears that negotiations for a full truce will soon commence in Cairo and an expectant Hamas has submitted an extensive list of demands. But we’ve been here before. Last time there was a war in Gaza it ended with the November 2012 ceasefire agreement that greatly eased the blockade and granted a host of other concessions to Hamas. We now risk sending the message that whenever Hamas would like some more concessions it need only let us know by provoking another war and getting large numbers of Palestinians killed. This is a crime. If the world is serious about preventing yet another Gaza war erupting in the near future, then it must resist rewarding Hamas for these outrages. That means no concessions at the diplomatic level and  a recognition that the Western media’s addiction to dramatic footage is causing it to serve as the primary outlet for Hamas’s emotive propaganda war.

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On Casualty Figures in Gaza

The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

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The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

Sometimes, incompetence and negligence combine to lead to inaccuracy. In 1997, while working in Tajikistan, I met with the head of the Tajik Bureau of Statistics. Tajikistan was in the midst of a civil war and it was the poorest former Soviet republic by far. And yet the Tajikistan Bureau of Statistics was churning out complete datasets, information which the World Bank and International Monetary Fund incorporated into their reports, as would the international press should anything in Tajikistan become newsworthy. When I asked the chief how he managed to do it, he was uncharacteristically blunt. “I make them up,” he told me. But if the U.S. government would give him computers and fund his operation, he could try to be accurate. In the meantime, any report using Tajik statistics would be corrupted by the equivalent of “garbage-in, garbage-out.”

Sometimes, organizations simply don’t care if faulty statistics pollute their reports. The notion that sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children has become part of progressive folklore, a statistic often trotted out to excuse any sort of coercion against dictatorial, anti-American, or rogue regimes. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense.

The idea that sanctions were killing innocent Iraqis was the central pillar of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s influence operations. He repeatedly claimed that United Nations sanctions had killed more than a million. There were many groups in the United States which latched onto such figures and amplified them. The U.S.-based International Action Coalition, for example, claimed that the economic embargo upon Iraq had killed 1.4 million people by 1997.

Thousands did die, but not the numbers bandied about in the press and simply because of sanctions: There was plenty of food available; Saddam just refused to allow it to be distributed to Shi‘ites and other populations he disliked. All the while, he exported UN-provided baby formula for profit.

While pundits accepted Saddam’s line and news agencies like CNN dutifully broadcast images of sick and dying children (all the while knowing the inaccuracy of their narrative), Iraq expert Amatzia Baram compared the country’s population growth rates across censuses and found Iraq’s growth rate between 1977 and 1987 (35.8 percent) and between 1987 and 1997 (35.1 percent) proved that there had been no death on the scale Iraq claimed.

So how did the claim of more than a million sanctions-related deaths in Iraq persist? In 1999, UNICEF released a glossy report that found that sanctions had contributed to the deaths of one million Iraqis. The devil, however, was in the details—and in the UN’s capriciousness. Because the Iraqi government did not give UNICEF researchers free access, UNICEF decided to take statistics provided by Saddam Hussein’s Ministry of Health, which it accepted uncritically. More on the whole episode, here. When Saddam Hussein fell, however, and the exaggeration and inaccuracies of the claims of more than one million sanctions-related deaths including 500,000 children was exposed as a fraud, no major outlet bothered to publish a retraction let alone question whether bad statistics were worse than no statistics.

In Gaza, it’s déjà vu all over again. CNN and other outlets cite statistics provided by the United Nations with regard to Palestinian casualties, never questioning where and how the UN was able to gather and confirm such numbers. In reality, the UN simply parroted the figures provided it by Palestinian authorities or Hamas-controlled organizations. While there is no doubt Palestinians have died in the current operations, it seems it’s the Jenin Massacre all over again. Remember that one? Palestinian officials duped the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Samantha Power, and countless European foreign ministries. Nor does the media ever stop and question the notion of civilians to Hamas. Hamas violates the Geneva Convention in that its members do not wear uniforms and it fires from civilian areas. Even Israeli human rights groups—B’Tselem, for example—embrace a restrictive definition of combatant which enables the classification of many Hamas activists as “civilian.” As far as Hamas is concerned, every person not in uniform is a civilian.

There’s a tendency among the media to engage in moral equivalency and promote the idea that the Hamas and Palestinian claims on one hand, and the Israeli narrative on the other are equally valid. This is nonsense, especially given the long history of Palestinian politicization of statistics. This article, for example, decisively shows how the Palestinian Authority manipulates—and in some cases has even recalled—demographic statistics in order to ensure they conform with a political narrative the Palestinian Authority finds expedient and to which American diplomats respond.

More Gazans have died in the ongoing conflict—one their elected government initiated with kidnapping attempts and missile launches—than Israelis, but count me dubious about the numbers of deaths reported in the Gaza Strip. When deaths of non-combatants do occur, that is tragic, but that is also war. To accept such statistics from a terrorist group either directly or laundered through organizations like the United Nations without the capacity for independent confirmation is foolish. It promotes not truth but propaganda. And given previous errors—from a half million dead Iraqi babies to hundreds dead in Jenin—it suggests the media simply does not care to learn from its previous mistakes.

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Is Colin Powell a War Criminal?

The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

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The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

When Powell’s legacy is written, chief among it will be a series of principles relating to the use of military force which he articulated while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This so-called “Powell Doctrine” prioritized restraint and demanded a clear exit strategy when force was used. However, when military action became necessary, then Powell called for a decisive edge and overwhelming force.

Hence, in Operation Desert Storm, Americans went in with overwhelming force, and Powell did not hesitate until he reached his objective: the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces. Americans celebrated that military victory, and Kuwaitis still do. The overwhelming victory led directly to the 1991 Madrid Conference which brought Israel and Arab states like Syria together in an unprecedented way, as well as to a renewed peace process on the Korean peninsula.

Fast forward to the present day: Journalists, human-rights activists, diplomats, and foreign officials all castigate Israel for its use of disproportionate military force. Israel, however, has adhered closely to the Powell Doctrine. It deferred the current military operation for years despite multiple provocations by Hamas, which had fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel. Rather than resort to military force loosely, it sought to utilize diplomatic pressure to force closure of the tunnels which Hamas has constructed to smuggle weaponry, explosives, and other contraband into Gaza. However, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided he had no option but to utilize military force.

Has Israel committed war crimes? Only in the fevered imagination of the political left and those whose moral barometer has become so dangerously miscalibrated. Is Israel acting with disproportionate force? Absolutely. And should it? Well, that’s the celebrated lesson of the Powell Doctrine.

Just as the United States leveraged its industrial might and used overwhelming force in World War II against both Japan and Germany, and more recently used disproportionate force in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again in Iraq; and just as France more recently has used disproportionate force in Libya and against al-Qaeda in Mali; so Israel now uses disproportionate force against Hamas in pursuit of aims of destroying Hamas’s tunnels, eradicating the Hamas missile threat, and rendering for a short time at least Hamas impotent. In each case, civilians died, often in numbers far greater than have been killed in Gaza.

How ironic it is that CNN and other media networks which once celebrated the wisdom of Colin Powell now condemn it when it is pursued by others. Perhaps, though, when it comes to accusations of lack of impropriety, the fact that it is Israel that is fighting terrorists is no coincidence.

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