Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.
The incident that generated the reported took place on August 1, 2014. On that morning, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was put into effect that sought to end the war that had begun a month earlier. The conflict started when a Hamas terror cell kidnaped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then escalated when the group began firing rockets at Israeli cities and towns. Several thousand of these missiles would be launched at Israel before the war ended. In addition to that, Hamas attempted to employ tunnels it had dug underneath the border with Israel to conduct more such kidnap/murder raids. Though the Israelis tried at first to halt the attacks with air power, when that didn’t work, ground forces were required to stop the terrorists. Though the August 1st cease-fire — like the one that later finally did end the shooting — left Hamas in place and in possession of its rocket arsenal, Israel agreed to it.
But only an hour after the fighting was supposed to stop, a Hamas terror squad ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers in the city of Rafah along the border with Israel. Two were killed and the body of one, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was dragged into the tunnel from which his attackers had emerged. That set off a desperate search and counter-attack aimed at recovering him and/or his body. That directive, known by the code name, “Hannibal” aims to use maximum force to prevent terrorists from escaping with a hostage. The order is always controversial because some interpret it as encouraging Israeli forces to even endanger the life of the captured soldier rather than standing down and subjecting both the individual and his country to a protracted hostage negotiation that inevitably involves the release of a disproportionate number of terrorist murderers.
In this case, Amnesty accuses Israel of using artillery fire in such a way as to conduct “disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks” on civilian areas with no regard for the lives of innocents who might be killed in the barrage. According to Amnesty and its Palestinian sources, the Israelis fired 1,000 shells and 40 bombs on the area where the Hamas assault took place resulting in 135 Palestinian deaths.
But while the loss of life during this battle was regrettable, the focus of the Amnesty report is remarkably skewed.
After all, the one war crime that we can be sure that took place was the attack on Goldin and his squad. It was a deliberate violation of a cease-fire that might have been a godsend for ordinary Palestinians, but which didn’t serve the purposes of Hamas. Having bled Gaza white for weeks, the leaders of the terrorist group were not yet satisfied with the toll of casualties among their own people. Hamas places its missile launchers and terror squads among civilians in order to deliberately expose them to Israeli fire. While there are plenty of fortified shelters in the strip for Hamas fighters and their massive arsenal, there are few for civilians. In Hamas-run Gaza, the shelters are for the bombs, not the people.
That means that any fair-minded observer of the events of August 1, 2014 must concede that the responsibility for all of the casualties the ensued as Israeli and Hamas forces fought in Rafah that day belongs to those who cynically ordered the attack on the Israeli soldiers that ended the cease-fire. The tunnel they used ran through residential areas, and the flight of these terrorists was such that they deliberately and with malice aforethought endangered the lives of all those who lived in the area. Their goal was not only to spirit away a hostage but also to create the kind of havoc that would result in more accusations against Israel.
But the minute analysis of every round fired by the Israelis by Amnesty not only doesn’t take that into account or put their accusations in a reasonable context. It also treats the effort to rescue Goldin — who probably did not survive the initial attack — as wrong while treating the assault on the Israelis as a reasonable and even legal action. But even in the course of its effort to demonize the Israeli actions by pouring on the details of bullets and shells fired amid a chaotic battle amid the fog of war, Amnesty cannot help falsifying their indictment. The report fails to take into account that along with the civilians who were sadly killed or wounded as a result of terrorist actions, some of the casualties they lament were actually Hamas or Islamic Jihad personnel.
But no matter how you break down the battle, the talk of disproportionate fire frames the discussion in a way that inevitably skews it toward treating the Israelis as the transgressors rather than a combatant. Would any nation, including Western democracies or the United States, be any less “indiscriminate” in its fire on terrorists attacking its cities and its troops than the Israelis? The answer is obviously not. As General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his comments about the Gaza war, the conduct of the Israelis in the fighting was a model that U.S. forces seek to emulate in their own conflicts in the Middle East. Indeed, the same accusations of “disproportionate” fire are often, and sometimes with more reason, lodged against Americans fighting in Afghanistan or bombing Taliban or al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.
As for the “Hannibal” directive, the discussion is a controversial one even within Israel. But the assumption that it means that soldiers are ordered to kill one of their own rather than let them be taken is probably a misunderstanding. Any hostage in a war zone is, by definition, in harm’s way and faces a good chance of becoming a casualty. The Israelis rightly seek to prevent the capture of their people. Doing so spares the country and the individual from a terrible ordeal. Efforts to prevent these crimes deserve the praise of fair-minded people, not their condemnation.
The effort to turn the effort to save Hadar Goldin was, like the entire counter-offensive that Israel conducted in Gaza last summer, entirely justified. The blame for the deaths of Palestinians needs to be placed at the door of the Hamas terrorists that started the conflict and then broke a cease-fire in a conscious effort to set in motion the tragic events that then unfolded.
In the meantime, the family of Lt. Goldin still awaits the return of his body from Hamas that may be holding his remains in order to exact another gruesome exchange for live killers. If Amnesty wants to live up to its claim of advocacy for human rights, it might want to get involved in that issue. More to the point, the group and its financial backers need to understand that by conducting such attacks on Israel, it cannot pretend that is rationalizing the actions of one side in the conflict. In this case, their version of human rights advocacy appears to be indistinguishable from rationalizing the crimes of terrorists and seeking to hamstring the efforts of those seeking to stop them.
When Is It a War Crime to Defend Yourself? If You’re an Israeli.
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He just can't help it
On Thursday, the president released a statement—where else?—on Twitter.
“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” the president asserted.
The carefully worded statement, complete with subordinate clauses and series commas, was probably not crafted like most of Trump’s tweets are: on a whim. The impulsive tweet that compelled the president to legally indemnify himself was, however, a perfectly characteristic Trump tweet. It was a missive that was also indicative of the president’s penchant to bluff himself into dangerous corners.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press,” Trump tweeted on May 12. The tweet, seemingly composed for no discernable reason, is now believed to have been a response to a May 11 New York Times story. That dispatch cited conversations the former FBI director had with the president, as related to reporters by Comey’s associates, in which he described Trump’s demanding “loyalty.” If Comey had not directly leaked those conversations to reporters, he got right to work covering his hide immediately after Trump issued this threatening tweet.
In testimony before Congress, Comey said that he revealed the existence of memos he took regarding his conversations with Trump explicitly because of the “tapes” tweet. Moreover, Comey said he did so in order to compel Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to overtake the Bureau’s investigations into the Trump campaign. Some have speculated that, based on Trump’s shifting explanations for Comey’s dismissal, the FBI director was relieved of duty because he would not publicly state that Trump was not personally under investigation, which he wasn’t. Because of the president’s paranoid, self-defeating behavior on Twitter, however, he is now personally under investigation.
This tale of self-destruction is not unfamiliar. It’s reasonably similar to the sequence of events that was set in motion as a result of a fit of presidential pique on social media involving the allegation that Barack Obama’s administration “had my ‘wires tapped.’”
That March 4 tweet compelled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to jump out in front of the scandalous revelations and provide the president some political cover. Seventeen days later, Nunes traveled to the White House to meet with an administration source at a secure location to review intelligence involving the “unmasking” of Trump administration associates swept up incidentally in foreign surveillance. Nunes spent the next few weeks vaguely insinuating that Trump’s tweet was accurate, leading the president to agree that he had been “vindicated” by the House chairman.
Two days later, Nunes reversed himself and the source of his information became a scandal. Just over one month after Trump’s original tweet, Nunes was compelled as a result of ethics complaints to join Attorney General Jeff Sessions in recusing himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign. Thus, only as a result of his own imprudence and urge to seek self-gratification, Donald Trump purged himself of one of his closest and most powerful allies in the House.
Republicans in Congress already have ample reason to keep their distance from the president. His determination to keep the Senate’s health-care bill at arm’s length and allow the congressional GOP to absorb all the criticism until he’s sure it’s not politically toxic should communicate to Congress that they are on their own. It is, however, Trump’s habit of setting himself on fire in moments of paranoid agitation that should give Republicans pause.
The president is not predictable, and he has a habit of making his allies fall on grenades. For now, the president has plenty of troops to call on, but he’s going to run out.
Maybe it's not everyone else's problem.
For months, Democrats have resisted the notion that they were the problem. Despite a series of historic losses resulting in the party’s worst position in nearly a century, Democrats convinced themselves that their philosophy was shared by a majority of the country. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, after all. The left dominates popular culture. An electorate made up of minorities and single women and the Democratic dominance it will yield is just over the horizon. These myths sustained Democrats through the darkest early days of the Trump era, but they’ve since lost their luster. The party’s failure in Georgia on Tuesday has had a dramatic psychological effect. Democrats have been humbled. Now, finally, the party’s notables are starting to realize that it is them—not the country nor its voters—who have to change.
“Our brand is worse than Trump,” Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan told the New York Times. This contrarian Democrat from a Trump district mounted a quixotic effort to remove Nancy Pelosi from leadership late last year, but his crusade is receiving new converts. “I think you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top,” said Texas Democrat Rep. Filemon Vela, on the record, despite having supported Pelosi against Ryan. “Nancy Pelosi has been an effective bogeyman for Republicans for decades, and it just seems like it’s time for her to go,” an unnamed Hillary Clinton staffer told the New York Post. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics chief Larry Sabato told the Post he had heard from at least two “senior Democrats” telling him they want Pelosi out.
Democrats who cannot convince themselves to turn on the party’s House leader are, however, persuaded that they need to make some adjustments. New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes both told the Times that Democrats need a comprehensive and specific agenda for creating jobs. After spending the last 18 months claiming, not inaccurately, that the American economy had finally recovered from the 2008 recession and with the national unemployment rate at just 4.3 percent, this will prove a discordant message. Still, it’s clear that Democrats are resolved now to do something, even if they’re not quite sure what that something is.
Even the liberal intelligentsia is coming around. Writing in The Atlantic, the liberal columnist Peter Beinart admirably conceded that a demonstrably false notion once seduced him and his fellow liberals: the idea Republicans grew more partisan over the Obama years while Democrats did not. Focusing specifically on immigration, he demonstrated how Democrats lost touch with the country on the issue, began to resent the pressures on immigrants to assimilate as a form of chauvinism, and lost touch with the American public.
Other liberals have criticized the modern left for elevating identity politics to almost religious significance. Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla called for a post-identity liberalism last November only to be attacked by the faithful for “whitesplaining” and “making white supremacy respectable again.” Republicans were genuinely nervous when the Democratic Party put former Tennessee Governor Steve Beshear—a white, Southern septuagenarian with a drawl—up against Donald Trump following the president’s February address to Congress. Talking communitarianism before a handful of virtually monochromatic Americans in a greasy spoon diner represented a real threat to the GOP in the age of Trump, but not more so than it did to the identity-obsessed left. Liberal elites on the coasts laughed Beshear out of the room, and the GOP dodged a bullet.
It is revealing that this process of reflection was inspired by a novice candidate’s loss in an overhyped special election in a GOP district. The commitment to self-delusion Democrats displayed over the eight months between the 2016 election and Georgia’s 6th District House race is a marvel that cannot be overstated. Normally, when a party loses a presidential race to a supremely unqualified and unpopular alternative, they’d engage in some soul searching. But they didn’t. Perhaps because to do so would be to examine how Barack Obama causally presided over the utter devastation of their party at almost every level.
Obama entered office with his party in control of 62 of 99 state legislative chambers. When he left office in January 2017, Republicans controlled over two-thirds of America’s legislative chambers. The GOP has veto-proof majorities in 17 states compared to the Democrats’ 3. In 2009, Democrats had 31 governorships. Today, the GOP has 33. In 25 states, Republicans have total control of every lever of government, and, in three more states, the GOP can override the Democratic governor’s veto. At the federal level, Democrats lost a net total of 61 seats in the House of Representatives over the course of eight years and ten seats in the Senate. The Obama years saw a generation of up and coming Democratic lawmakers wiped out.
These facts need restating because Democrats have been so loath to internalize them. Perhaps because Obama remained popular with the public or because he was such a towering cultural figure, Democrats perceived liberalism to be the nation’s governing ethos even standing amid the rubble of the president’s legacy.
Maybe the introspective left will turn a critical eye toward Obama amid this long-delayed display of humility. It is remarkable that it took a party as thoroughly routed as Democrats this long to even entertain the possibility that it isn’t everyone else’s problem. After all, that’s the first step toward recovery.
From the July/August COMMENTARY symposium.
The following is an excerpt from COMMENTARY’s symposium on the threat to free speech:
When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Read the entire symposium on the threat to free speech in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY here.
Podcast: Seven theories about Jon Ossoff's loss.
We’re podcasting a day early here at COMMENTARY in order to take the measure of the result in the Georgia special House election. Abe Greenwald, Noah Rothman, and I posit seven possible theories to explain what happened—and then we attack the theories! It’s positively Talmudic. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
The following is an excerpt from COMMENTARY’s symposium on the threat to free speech:
The real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Read the entire symposium on the threat to free speech in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY here.