Moral Equivalence, Moral Idiocy
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy’s Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.
Scenes all too familiar from the Arab conflict with Israel have followed the murder last Wednesday of a 16-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Mourners at his funeral chanting the Muslim war-cry “Allahu Akbar” as they carry the boy’s open coffin, the crowd shouting slogans like “Intifada rise up” and “America and Israel are the terrorists,” banners representing terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad waving above the crowd, gangs of “youths” attacking Israeli police throughout East Jerusalem, barrages of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, and the usual condemnations of Israel and calls for “restraint” from the “international community” – all sadly are business as usual. And the “business” is the demonization of Israel and the obscene double standards indulged by too many in the West.
The Israeli authorities have quickly tracked down and arrested 6 Israeli minors as suspects in the killing, even as the killers of the Israelis are still at large. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, “We do not differentiate between terrorists, and we will respond to all of them.” The speed of the arrest, and Netanyahu’s unequivocal identification of the crime as an act of terrorism, should underline the differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which seemingly is making little effort to hunt down the main killers of the 3 Israelis, and the Authority’s political partner Hamas, which praised the killings. As Netanyahu pointed out, “The murderers [of the Israelis] came from the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority; they returned to territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority is obliged to do everything in its power to find them, just as we did, just as our security forces located the suspects in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir within a matter of days.”
But Israel’s enemies are unlikely to draw the proper conclusion from this contrast, or even take time to note how comparatively rare such violence on the part of Israelis is compared to the thousands of Israelis murdered by Palestinian Arabs over the decades. Rather, the moral and intellectual idiocy of the “cycle of violence” meme will determine reactions to this murder on the part of those too lazy or timid to choose a side, even as they hold Israel up to standards of behavior and forbearance no other country would accept. But there are good and bad sides in this conflict, and which side has the moral high ground can be seen by comparing further the reactions of each to the recent murders.
Listen, for example, to the response of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas to the kidnapping of the Israeli teens, delivered at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia: “Those who kidnapped the three Israeli teenagers want to destroy us. First and foremost [these teenagers] are human beings like us. It is our responsibility to search for them and to return them to their families. We will hold their kidnappers accountable, whoever they are.”
For those impressed by these comments, notice that the first sentence condemns the kidnapping not as a moral evil or a terrorist act, but as a tactical blunder damaging the Palestinian Arab program of destroying Israel by “stages.” Bad p.r. is the problem, not the evil of terrorism or the deaths of 3 innocent teenagers. This sort of comment is consistent with Abbas’s past habit of joining general condemnations of terrorist acts to complaints about their bad timing or damage to Palestinian interests. Speaking of the Second Intifada and its brutal terrorism, Abbas commented, “If we do a calculation we will see that without any doubt what we lost was big and what we gained was small.” Later, speaking out against a rocket attack from Gaza, he said, “This is not the time for this kind of attack,” which suggests there is a time for shooting rockets at women and children. That is, blowing up innocents is not wrong, just inefficient at that particular time for achieving the long-term goal of a Palestinian state that eventually will include the territory of Israel.
But the larger context of Abbas’ crocodile tears is his own history of complicity in Jew-hatred and terror, and the PA’s program of genocidal incitement institutionalized in school curricula and popular culture. This is the man who evidence suggests financed the 1972 PLO massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and who, according to the mastermind of that attack, kissed the murderers on the cheek and wished them luck. This is the man whose 1983 doctoral dissertation claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to murder Jews in order to create sympathy for creating the state of Israel, and asserted that fewer than a million Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust. This is the alleged “moderate” who named a public square in Ramallah after a terrorist who in 1978 killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children. This is the leader whose government pays stipends to terrorist murderers and their families. And this is the head of state who has welcomed the genocidal terrorist outfit Hamas, which has praised the killing of the 3 Israelis, into his government. If, as appears certain, members of Hamas murdered the Israelis, does anyone believe that Abbas will “hold them responsible, whoever they are”?
Now compare Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s comments on the murder of the Palestinian boy before the arrests of the 6 suspects: “We don’t know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime, whoever they may be. Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism — they have no place in our democracy.” A categorical condemnation of violence, not a statement of how such a crime harms his government or Israel, and a pledge quickly fulfilled in the swift arrest of 6 suspects. One sees the same contrast between Israel’s response to a brief anti-Arab protest, and the low profile of the PA police – armed and trained, by the way, by the U.S. – during the violence roiling Jerusalem and the West Bank:
Dozens of Israelis had protested in Jerusalem on Tuesday night against the kidnap and killing of the Israeli teens, and there were reports some had shouted ‘death to the Arabs’ at one of these demonstrations. Jerusalem District Police deployed units to the field to prevent the assault of Arab residents and police confirmed that there was an explosive confrontation between inflamed protesters seeking revenge and the Arab population.
Police forces managed to rescue eight Arabs from the mob and arrested 47 on charges of public disorder, attempted assault of Arab minors, assaulting police officers, and property damage.
No major press reports of PA police helping the Israelis keep order or arresting their own people for attacking Israeli citizens and police, let alone actively seeking to find the murderers of the 3 teens. Indeed, the U.S.-funded and trained force has over the years been complicit in terrorist violence. And more recently, as part of the rapprochement between the PA and Hamas, 3,000 PA police officers were sent to Gaza. We can be skeptical that they are there to prevent the various jihadist gangs from firing rockets against Israeli civilians.
These obvious differences between the responses to 2 heinous acts on the part of the people and governments of each side demonstrate that in this conflict moral equivalence is moral idiocy. The truth of history is that a people established under international law on the land of their ancestors have been assaulted, attacked, and invaded by the descendants of conquerors, colonists, and immigrants. In the midst of this existential threat and level of brutal violence against civilians, Israel has stayed true to its liberal democratic foundations and moral code even as it defends itself against a people filled with genocidal hatred. That many in the West cannot acknowledge this simple fact and instead hide behind “cycle of violence” evasions–– when they are not just indulging camouflaged anti-Semitism that always blames Israel–– is testimony to the moral rot of a decadent culture.
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