What’s Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick details the dysfunctional thinking

James Kirchick has an excellent piece in City Journal about how some commentators minimize the threat that Hamas poses to Israel. This is actually part of a larger, and extremely dangerous tendency among the intelligentsia in the West to downplay the threat of global Jihad, and I think one of the major dimensions to this “policitically correct” moral and intellectual insanity derive from a seemingly irrepressible desire to dump on Israel. The only way to make Israeli responses disproportionate is to make Hamas and other Palestinian and Arab (Hizbullah) provocations slight. As soon as one recognizes the dangers of Jihad, then it becomes so much harder to crack down on Israel’s disproporionate responses.

I know some of the people cited in this article are intellectual lightweights — as their quotations indicate — but they’re widely read lightweights. What to do?

James Kirchick
Downplaying Hamas
The persistence of rationalizing terrorism against Israel
18 February 2009

Whenever Israel responds to terrorist attacks, it can rely on international bureaucrats, liberal politicians, and humanitarian aid groups to criticize the Jewish state for its “disproportionate” response. The reaction to Operation Cast Lead—launched in late December after three years of incessant rocket attacks on Israeli population centers—has been even harsher than the reaction to Israel’s response to the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. Back then, Palestinian terrorism’s preferred method was dispatching suicide bombers to buses and cafés. The carnage these attacks wrought, visible almost daily, made Israel’s case for self-defense more reasonable in the eyes of Americans who had recently witnessed the immolation of 3,000 of their own countrymen.

When Israel erected a security fence and imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip following its withdrawal from the territory in 2005, Palestinian terrorists had to find other means of killing Jews. Hamas chose crude rockets, which, while occasionally injuring and even killing Israeli civilians, were not nearly as lethal as men detonating themselves in crowded shopping malls. Because of this supposed asymmetry in the metrics of the decades-old Arab-Israel conflict, commentators from around the world have declared Israel’s response to Hamas’s provocations “disproportionate.” Yet the attempt to downplay the significance of Hamas terrorism and the expectation that Israel not respond militarily obscure the real suffering of individual Israelis, as well as the strategic cost to Israel of unanswered aggression.

In order to make the “disproportionate” argument, Israel’s critics must first minimize the threat that Israel responded to in the first place. “Before proceeding, let me state that the Gaza rocket attacks are human rights crimes, and Israel has the right to defend itself,” Mother Jones writer David Corn wrote—before proceeding to explain why Israel didn’t have a right to defend itself: “But that does not mean that in retaliation for about a dozen deaths caused by the rockets from 2004 on, the Israeli Defense Force ought to blow up schools and hospitals in Gaza and kill scores of civilians.” Note how casually Corn dismisses the cold-blooded and unprovoked murder of 12 innocent people, as if they were expendable in the greater quest for a nonexistent “peace process” with a terrorist organization constitutionally committed to Israel’s destruction. Note, too, that Corn neglects to mention that the Israeli military takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties. Israel does so not only on moral grounds, but because it understands that too many people like Corn eagerly await the next opportunity to hold it to an outrageous double standard.

Lamenting the greater number of Palestinian civilian casualties (due almost entirely to the Hamas practice of placing its weaponry and soldiers in hospitals and schools, and to its use of women and children as human shields) is a perennial tactic of Israel’s critics. The logic of their position dictates that Israel should wait until some critical mass of its own civilians is killed before eventually fighting back. But over the past several weeks, the critics have developed a new piece of rhetoric: the Hamas actions that provoked Israel were merely a nuisance. Writing in The American Prospect, Dana Goldstein described Hamas’s “rocket fire” as “rag-tag,” making the militants who delivered some 7,000 rockets over a period of just over three years sound like the Little Rascals. Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress made that comparison even more explicit, recounting an anecdote in which a “kid” had thrown a rock at him while he was riding his bike around Washington, D.C. The punk missed. “I suppose if he’d hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured,” Yglesias acknowledged. But even if Yglesias had been hit, “obviously it wouldn’t have been right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting ‘self-defense!’ and ‘double-effect!’”

Analogies are perilous instruments. Despite Yglesias’s insistence that he wasn’t making an analogy, his comparison, if you will, is preposterous. As Reason’s Michael Moynihan pointed out, for Yglesias’s rough-neighborhood allegory to approximate the reality of what was happening with Hamas and Israel, there would have to be hundreds of kids throwing dozens of rocks and causing actual damage—not just the terror that comes from being the possible victim of a hurled stone, but death, maiming, damage to property, and trauma (a recent study found that most of the children aged 4 to 18 in Sderot—the Israeli town most affected by Hamas’s rocket attacks—suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome). For Yglesias, however, it seems that a terrorist organization’s launching rockets into sovereign territory just isn’t that big a deal and that the Israelis ought to suck it up.

I think this misses the point (but I haven’t read Yglesias’ article): Israelis blow up the houses of suicide bombers, not rock throwers or even Qassam launchers.

Such minimization of Israeli suffering abounds. A Guardian news report referred to the rocket attacks as a “manageable irritant.” Pat Buchanan compared Gaza with a concentration camp and waved off “these little rockets that didn’t kill anybody” (he’s wrong, of course). Writing in Canada’s National Post, Jeet Heer described Hamas as “a raggedy half-starved guerrilla force whose homemade missiles are usually as dangerous as firecrackers.” And missing in all of these analyses is mention of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006 and whose captivity it has rubbed in the face of the Israeli public ever since.

For their “disproportionate” argument to make sense, Israel’s detractors have had to minimize, to an almost comical extent, what its citizens have had to endure over the past three years. They portray a bona fide war crime—the deliberate firing of rockets into civilian areas—as a minor irritant no more threatening or bothersome than black ice or a loud neighbor. But does one really expect that Pat Buchanan would sit still even if his neighbors, say, played rap music at all hours of the night? If Matthew Yglesias’s neighbors began firing bullets—sporadically and imprecisely—into his “flophouse,” wouldn’t he, a proud supporter of the Second Amendment, have the right to draw his own weapon and fire back in self-defense?

These may be “irritating” questions for those who criticize, from the comfort of their keyboards thousands of miles away, the actions of a beleaguered democracy under siege from terrorists—terrorists suborned, in turn, by a theocratic regime building a nuclear capacity with the express aim of wiping that democracy from the face of the earth. But they are hardly as irritating as Hamas’s war crimes, or the pedants who excuse them.

James Kirchick is an assistant editor of The New Republic.

24 Responses to What’s Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick details the dysfunctional thinking

  1. [...] Augean Stables wrote an interesting post today on Whatâs Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick details the dysfunctional thinkingHere’s a quick excerptJames Kirchick has an excellent piece in City Journal about how some commentators minimize the threat that Hamas poses to Israel. This is actually part of a larger, and extremely dangerous tendency among the intelligentsia in the West to downplay the threat of global Jihad, and I think one of the major dimensions to this “policitically correct” moral and intellectual insanity derive from a seemingly irrepressible desire to dump on Israel. The only way to make Israeli responses disproportiona [...]

  2. [...] Newsvine – politics wrote an interesting post today on Whatâs Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick details the…Here’s a quick excerptWhen Israel erected a security fence and imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip following its withdrawal from the territory in 2005, Palestinian… [...]

  3. oao says:

    and I think one of the major dimensions to this “policitically correct” moral and intellectual insanity derive from a seemingly irrepressible desire to dump on Israel.

    i suspect is the other way around: the desire to dump on israel derives from the insanity (of downplaying the global jihad).

    the terror and economic bankruptcy of the west scares the west, particularly the intelligentsia enormously. they have neither the courage nor the ability to face the jihad and they delude themselves that the problem is israel and if only it went away, the jihad will go away.

    this is consistent with the history of anti-semitism: whenever societies are in crisis, usually self-induced, they escape responsibility and delude themselves that somebody else, usually the jews, are the root of the problem.

    as to what to do about it: judging from history, it will repeat itself: nobody will do anything until another holocaust will happen, except this time around there won’t be the 4 powers to defeat evil and express regrets: the west is already in the process of disappearing.

  4. davod says:

    “the terror and economic bankruptcy of the west scares the west, particularly the intelligentsia enormously. they have neither the courage nor the ability to face the jihad and they delude themselves that the problem is israel and if only it went away, the jihad will go away”

    I do not know what you mean. The latest economic problems hav nohing to do with the long term bankruptcy of moral values in “The West”.

  5. Cynic says:

    The latest economic problems hav nohing to do with the long term bankruptcy of moral values in “The West”.

    If it was not for the collapse of moral values one would not have had those politicians forcing (blackmail) the banks, against the collected financial wisdom, to lend to those who had no capability of repaying the loan; would not have had those politicians milking (hee) Fanny Mae for millions.
    Where was the integrity needed to maintain an honest sector?

  6. oao says:

    Where was the integrity needed to maintain an honest sector?

    that was only part of it. the whole political and corporate system is corrupt to the bone.

  7. JD says:

    This is actually part of a larger, and extremely dangerous tendency among the intelligentsia in the West to downplay the threat of global Jihad

    It long predated 9/11 or the Cole.

    It just seems more insane because they have to defend Hamas. Leftist anti-semitism does have right wing qualities, such as the inability to accede any correctness to an Israeli action. There is also pride since they covet the notion that they understand the world, which is really just imposing their template, rent with Western imperial hubris.

    Plus, Hamas is good at playing to their needs and fears. Its also psychological play. For example, the Egyptian fellow who wrote in the NYTimes how the Arab world will “like” you if you do x and y and z to Israel.That’s a play to the Northeast liberal american insecurity complex.

  8. [...] Richard Landes wrote an interesting post today on Augean Stables » Whatâs Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick …Here’s a quick excerptWhen Israel erected a security fence and imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip following its withdrawal from the territory in 2005, Palestinian terrorists had to find other means of killing Jews. Hamas chose crude rockets, which, … [...]

  9. Eliyahu says:

    JD, instead of seeing “right-wing” traits in “leftist” Judeophobia, it would be simpler and more sensible in my view to reject the whole silly notion of a “left-right” spectrum. Many poor, working-class Israelis voted for the Likud because it promoted their economic interests better than Labor did. Moreover, the Nazis, usually considered right, called themselves “socialists,” national socialists to be sure, but socialists all the same. Were they left or right? The right-left notion only confuses people. The Syrian Baath party, whose leader is now the darling of the Western Left, got their start as an imitation of the Nazis.

  10. oao says:

    Plus, Hamas is good at playing to their needs and fears. Its also psychological play.

    looks like alibama is good at it too. he is one of the best implementer of saul alinsky.

    if you want to understand alibama, how he got elected, what he’ll do and with what consequences to america, read alinsky. he would probably be amazed of how good alibama is at applying him and how predictable the gullibility of the american public is.

  11. oao says:

    eliyahu,

    instead of seeing “right-wing” traits in “leftist” Judeophobia, it would be simpler and more sensible in my view to reject the whole silly notion of a “left-right” spectrum.

    i would not put it this way.

    rather, I would say that because the left has lost the socioeconomic game in the west, it’s been looking for ways to undermine the west. the jihadists happened at an opportune time: aha, they are oppressed by the west, they are the new proletariat, they are the weak AND they want to kill the west. OK, so they are allies.

    it is precisley because jiahd has nothing to do with leftism that the left is wilfully ignorant of and oblivious to the characteristics of islam/jihad. it is very difficult to stretch leftism to incorporate that, so it’s advantageous to just ignore what it is and focus on it as a way to bring the west down.

    so you’re right in the sense that it’s not leftism per se, but not exactly, because leftism is relevant in the sense that I explained.

  12. Eliyahu says:

    oao, you do know that Lenin got back to Petrograd from Switzerland on a sealed train provided by the German imperialists? Why did the Germans want to help Lenin, davka, precisely Lenin? Because they were desperate to win WW One or prevent a defeat. They thought that Lenin could take Russia out of the war. Not only did Lenin et Cie. take Russia out of the war but they conceded territory to Germany’s ally, the Ottoman Empire, that had been in Russian hands since the 1st half of the 19th century. These were parts of historic Armenia and Georgia conquered from the Ottomans. When the Bolsheviks handed these areas [Kars, Ardahan, Batumi] over to the Ottomans, as per the treaty of Brest-Litovsk [1918[, the Armenian population –Russian subjects– had to flee for their lives, abandoning their homes.

    So helping Leftists was part of the strategy of at least one empire during WW One. Likewise, the Bolsheviks paid back the Germans with territorial concessions. Now to our present awful situation. Maybe certain Western empires today consciously want to help the jihadists –for whatever reason or reasons– and the so-called “Left” is a convenient tool for organizing public opinion or part of it for that purpose. Consider that possibility, oao.

  13. oao says:

    Maybe certain Western empires today consciously want to help the jihadists –for whatever reason or reasons– and the so-called “Left” is a convenient tool for organizing public opinion or part of it for that purpose. Consider that possibility, oao.

    anything is possible. i am sure that there are many in the west who believe that western interests are with the arabs and iranians (chas freeman, baker, scowcroft are examples); i am sure that there are others who are scared shitless of jihad terror and delude themselves that it can be appeased,

    but insofar as the left is concerned, their main objective is to bring down the west. i doubt that they have a clue as to what will happen to them once that happens. at best they don’t want to think about it, or believe that they can be controlled, or that they’ll leave the left alone socializing the system.

    they have convinced themselves that muslim grievances are real and were caused by the west, same as the west oppresses its own proletariat. so just dismantle capitalism and stop oppressing the muslims and they’ll just live happily ever after in the ME.

  14. oao says:

    just watch the video of the NYU “riot” by students and you can clearly see a bunch of idiots who were indoctrinated with crap probably by some of their profs and who are regurgitating things without any competence to think for themsselves. it’s pathetic, but this seems to be the young generation of america. they elected alibama and he will make sure they multiply.

  15. Rich Rostrom says:

    Eliyahu: The territory ceded by Russia to Turkey under Brest-Litovsk was won in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, not in the early 19th century. In any case, Bolshevik cessions were not particularly meaningful, as the Bolshevik government did not control Caucasus region. The collapse of the Russian army in the Revolution eliminated Russian power in the area, and there was nothing to resist Turkish reconquest.

    Later on, the Bolsheviks aided Turkey against Greece in 1919-1921, and subdued the Caucasus; the final border agreement left some of the 1878 conquests (Batumi) in the USSR.

    oao: the refusal to see the reality of jihadism (and of Hamas and Gaza), and the resulting anti-Israelism, is IMHO all part of the obsessive self-criticism of Western culture. Israel is condemned not because it is Jewish, but because it is “white”.

    Though in a sense, Israel is considered especially “white” because it is Jewish. Jews are seen as the most successful and respected element of the liberal West: models of all liberal/progressive virtues. Israel’s situation requires it to defy key elements of the liberal creed. Thus Israel appears as the “best whites” turned into the worst whites. That perhaps explains the obsessive focus on Israel. Worse, Israel’s situation exposes the failure of that creed, which is intolerable. That is why the actual Arab threat to Israel must be ignored or minimized.

  16. oao says:

    the refusal to see the reality of jihadism (and of Hamas and Gaza), and the resulting anti-Israelism, is IMHO all part of the obsessive self-criticism of Western culture. Israel is condemned not because it is Jewish, but because it is “white”.

    no question, and I brought this up myself. but there is also no doubt that anti-semitism is at play, as well as fear (of jihad).

    Worse, Israel’s situation exposes the failure of that creed, which is intolerable.

    again agreed.

    i made these 2 arguments myself, albeit in slightly different language.

  17. Eliyahu says:

    oao and Rich, how do you explain that 100 years ago Jews in Europe were considered Oriental [actually this had a historical basis] and not quite white. Consider the British novel of circa 1996, Trilby, with its evil swarthy Jewish villain. The Nazis used to portray Jews as dark. Many of them were but not all.
    Again, Jews were not considered to be really European. This goes back pretty far. The phoolosopher Kant wrote that the German Jews were “the Palestinians living among us.” So how did the Jews’ skin color change from swarthy to ultra-white? How did the Jews become ultra-Europeans? Martin Bernal argued that after Israeli independence Jews stopped being seen as Orientals and became full-fledged Europeans. So how does that explain all the hatred –in the UK espeically– for “fellow Europeans”?? Then again, how come the Western “left” does not perceive the huge wealth of the Arab oil sheiks, kings, and dictators? Don’t they know that Qatar has long had a higher per capita income than the USA, for example?? Not only Qatar of course. But how come the “Left” doesn’t know –so it seems– who really owns the big capital?

  18. Eliyahu says:

    Trilby, by George DuMaurier, was published about 1896, not as written above.

  19. Rich Rostrom says:

    Eliyahu: Yes, there was a racial attitude toward Jews. But things change.

    For one thing, Jews might seem culturally and physically exotic in 1900, but in 2000, with the great influx of far more exotic strains to the U.S., Jews seem less unusual.

    For another, I acknowledge the great liberal triumph of the 1900s, the defeat of racism and ethnic bigotry. America was reshaped by the vast wave of immigration in 1860-1910. In the next sixty years, America adapted to that wave by redefining “white” identity. In polyethnic, polycredal America, Jews were unremarkable, and liberal thought repudiated explicit bigotry. Conservatives too repudiated bigotry; note the famous campaign of William F. Buckley to purge antisemitism from the conservative movement.

    Britain has had some similar changes, and British thought has been carried along by the tide of American culture, as have Canada and Australia, and even continental Europe.

    Then, too, Jews assimilated – in dress, speech, behavior – and became known for education, prosperity, civility, sobriety – “white” qualities.

    Israel? Why is Israel “European”? Well, one obvious reason is that the founders of Israel all came there from Europe, and were opposed by Middle Eastern natives.

    Another is Israel’s military prowess. It seems to recapitulate European imperial conquest; something “progressive” Europeans were always ashamed of. It has also won the admiration of some American traditionalists. For instance, Rear Admiral (USN) Daniel Gallery (Chicago’s greatest naval hero, and author of much nautical humor): an Irish-American Catholic who became an enthusiast for Israel after 1967. One can see it in his books Cap’n Fatso and Away All Boarders.

    I have to say – I don’t see much animus toward Jews simply as Jews, outside the Islamist and neo-Nazi fever swamps. The constant complaint is Jewish influence being used on behalf of Israel. One does not see the old complaints about the Jewish conspiracy to undermine civilization, or to cheat all Gentiles out of their wealth.

    As to the wealth of the oil states: the Left notices it, but they don’t care – those are non-whites. I would also note that Qatar, for instance, has less than 1M people, so its aggregate wealth is trivial. It’s also money derived from cash sales of extracted resources, and so untainted by capitalism. And besides, Western progressivism is all about self-criticism; mustn’t be judgmental about Third Worlders.

  20. oao says:

    how do you explain that 100 years ago Jews in Europe were considered Oriental [actually this had a historical basis] and not quite white. Consider the British novel of circa 1996, Trilby, with its evil swarthy Jewish villain. The Nazis used to portray Jews as dark. Many of them were but not all.

    unlike the original christian antisemitism, the nazi and later one is racially based. so it’s not hard to seek imaginary trait differences that are obvious to demonstrate they are “different” and thus a reason to hate them. that would be my guess, but what do I know?

    I have to say – I don’t see much animus toward Jews simply as Jews, outside the Islamist and neo-Nazi fever swamps. The constant complaint is Jewish influence being used on behalf of Israel. One does not see the old complaints about the Jewish conspiracy to undermine civilization, or to cheat all Gentiles out of their wealth.

    but why is everybody focused on the influence of jews and not the much greater influence of others e.g. the saudis?

    have you looked at the comments on the lefty blogs? the hatred is rabid and would put the nazis to shame. IN AMERICA!!! no way can such genocidal sentiments be caused JUST for their influence on israel matters.

  21. oao says:

    And besides, Western progressivism is all about self-criticism; mustn’t be judgmental about Third Worlders.

    not exactly self — they are much better, perfect. in fact that’s what berman argues in his interview that I posted in another thread.

    jews/israel is (their better) competition, hence the envy and hatred.

  22. Cynic says:

    IN AMERICA!!! no way can such genocidal sentiments be caused JUST for their influence on israel matters.

    Israel is brought in because it is the stick to beat the Juice.

    how do you explain that 100 years ago Jews in Europe were considered Oriental [actually this had a historical basis] and not quite white. Consider the British novel of circa 1996, Trilby, with its evil swarthy Jewish villain. The Nazis used to portray Jews as dark. Many of them were but not all.

    Because of their black garb, dark beards giving the appearance of something sombre?

    My first visit to Israel was an eye opener as I suddenly saw Blue eyed, Blonde haired Jews, Red haired and Green eyed Jews, Freckled faced clear skinned Jews and shock of all shocks Jews who did not resemble Jewish stereotyped features.

  23. Eliyahu says:

    Cynic, oao, and Rich. I recommend that you read the book The Jew in the Text, which is an anthology of lit criticism about perceptions of Jews in literature. One article deals with perceptions or depictions of Jewish skin color. Now, in my family just about everybody on my mother’s side and father’s side was dark-haired or relatively dark or swarthy. I realize that there were pale, light even blonde Jews 100 years ago too. But the Judeophobes then did not notice these people. Moreover, the wearing of black garb was not so common 100 years ago. The Jews in Germany were not Haredim. Yet the cartoonist Phips [spelling?] of Der Stuermer portrayed them as dark [not wearing Haredi garb] in contrast to the ever blonde Germans. Or course, I realize that not all Germans are blonde either, no more than all Jews being swarthy or dark-haired. My point is that just as then the Jews were not perceived empirically but according to a stereotype, so today Israelis are perceived and depicted according to a stereotype [ultrapale Europeans] that is equally false –or more so. In other words, Western perceptions/depictions of Jews are not reliable. Rather they tend to be instrumental rather than factual or empirical. It is just that the stereotype today is not the same as 100 years ago. However, the underlying theme has not changed. That theme is that the Jews are alien. Then they were depicted as alien to Europe [Kant the phoolosopher wrote circa 1790 that German Jews were: "The Palestinians living among us"- How ironic!!]. Now Jews are depicted as alien to the Middle East. But the essential statement has not changed: The Jews are alien. So now it turns out that certain interests want people to perceive Jews as alien. Alien here, there and everywhere. So we are back to the old Judeophobia in a new garb. אותה הגברת באדרת אחרת
    Old wine in new bottles. What did the Prince de Ligne say? In order for things to stay the same, everything must constantly change.

    By the way, if any of our Francophone friends know the exact quote from the Prince de Ligne in French –or know where to find it– I would be much appreciative.

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