Sunday, July 13, 2014

Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian, demonstrates how to pretend you care about a war crime when you don't really give a damn

David Hirsh flagged an article by Owen Jones in the Guardian on Wednesday about the latest Hamas-Israel war which offers, I'm afraid, a typical example of the kind of one-sided, biased, Israel-bashing treatment of these matters one can expect from the Guardian. However, Jones does make one feeble attempt to pretend otherwise, by slipping in this pious pro forma declaration:
There is no defence for Hamas firing rockets into civilian areas, and as sirens wail in Israel, the fear among ordinary Israelis should not be ignored or belittled.
That's nice to know. But then Jones does manage to ignore it for the rest of his discussion. And when he alludes indirectly to those missile attacks targeting Israeli civilians (for which there "is no defence"), his point is to trivialize these attacks and to dismiss and "belittle" the notion that "ordinary Israelis" might have any reason to feel threatened by them.
"Israel under renewed Hamas attack": this was last night's BBC headline on the escalating bloodshed in Gaza. It is as perverse as Mike Tyson punching a toddler, followed by a headline claiming that the child spat at him.
That image of the conflict is quite revealing (probably more than Jones realized), and it gives the game away. A world-champion heavyweight boxer with an especially scary and thuggish reputation is bashing a completely helpless infant—presumably out of sheer gratuitous sadism, since the infant presents no actual threat whatever.

=> In the real world, over the past decade and a half Hamas and other jihadist groups have launched over 8,000 rockets from Gaza aimed at civilian areas in Israel—mostly at cities and towns near Gaza, like Sderot, but increasingly at major cities elsewhere in the country as well. The frequency of these missile attacks did not diminish, but increased, after Israel's pullout from Gaza in 2005. And about a week ago Hamas initiated a large-scale missile barrage, so far involving over 700 missiles, that has put the great majority of Israel's population under attack.

As Jones pretends to acknowledge with that throw-away sentence I quoted at the beginning, missile attacks that deliberately, explicitly, and indiscriminately target civilians constitute an unambiguous violation of the laws of war (as both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out this week). Every single missile launch is an unambiguous war crime. Somehow, an infant spitting at a prize-fighter doesn't seem like the right image to capture this reality.

It is true that, so far, Hamas and other jihadist groups have not actually managed to kill many Israeli civilians with these rockets over the past decade and a half. But that's not for want of trying. The reason they've been unsuccessful is that Israel has a massive civil-defense operation to protect its civilian population, including the Iron Dome missile defense system, ubiquitous air-raid shelters, a nation-wide warning system, and so on. And the idea that attempted murder is OK, even trivial, as long as it's mostly unsuccessful happens to be legally incorrect and morally absurd.

In the meantime, the intention and effect of these continual missile attacks is to terrorize Israel's civilian population. And if the moral and legal issues make you yawn when Israelis are involved, it's worth mentioning that one practical side-effect has been to severely undermine the peace camp in Israel. From the perspective of Hamas and other rejectionist groups, that's a benefit, not a drawback. On the other hand, if one favors an Israeli-Palestinian/Arab-Israeli peace settlement, this result is a tragic one for both Israelis and Palestinians.

=> As for Owen Jones's imagery and its significance, David Hirsh's observations are on-target:
[...] I do think that the analogy reveals something important about the ways of thinking which are standard on the British left, yet which are hardly even conscious. Of course it is an antisemitic image - that the Jews in the Middle East behave like brutes, incapable of reason or moderation, gratuitous in their violence against defenceless children.[*]  I suspect it is also a racist image in its use of Mike Tyson as the archetype for this kind of evil. And it is certainly racist against Palestinians, portraying them as infants, incapable of rational, moral or political responsibility.
Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

[*P.S. To add a point that may be more terminological than conceptual ... I myself would probably be more likely to describe this as an expression of anti-Zionist bigotry than of anti-semitic bigotry, since I tend to put more emphasis than some other people on drawing an analytic distinction between anti-semitism (i.e., bias, hostility, an demonization directed against Jews per se) and anti-Zionism (i.e., bias and hostility directed against Israel, Israelis, and supporters of Israel, often shading off into obsessive demonization and conspiracy theorizing about real or imaginary "Zionists"). In practice, of course, the two are often associated, but they're not always the same thing, and one of the peculiarities of our era is that anti-Zionism can sometimes promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. Anyone interested in my reasons for seeing things this way can read about them here. But in the present context, none of that affects the fundamental validity of David Hirsh's point about the meaning and significance of Owen Jones's imagery in his Guardian