Friday, January 02, 2009

But especially Israel

In an opinion column in yesterday’s Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer is not pleased by the reaction of diaspora Jews to Israel’s air war in Gaza. The majority, he says, are “just not that interested”; they are “eking out the days” of their Christmas vacation, although they’d be careful to call it something else. Those who are following the war news fall into three categories: (1.) a “large number of Pavlovian flag-wavers,” who “instinctively position themselves behind the IDF”; (2.) a smaller “but highly vocal group belonging usually to the more radical left . . . who feel compelled to atone for Israel's manifold sins and join its enemies in the demonstrations and sign petitions accusing the Zionist entity of war crimes”; and (3.) a third group, perhaps not the biggest, significant nevertheless, who “have more complex and uncomfortable feelings,” caring “deeply for Israel,” but “extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction,” and certain—or at least wishful—that “there has to be another way of doing this.”

Is there any doubt in which camp Pfeffer, were he to live in the diaspora, would place himself? Liberal wafflers always permit their moral self-congratulation—I’m sorry, their more complex and uncomfortable feelings—to overwhelm clear thought. Note that there is no room in Pfeffer’s schema for those who set their feelings aside to separate the facts from the war propaganda and submit them to unsparing rational evaluation. Such men and women do exist, however. They include Caroline Glick, Bret Stephens, Alan M. Dershowitz, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Ledeen, Jeff Jacoby, Victor Davis Hanson (not a Pavlovian flag-waver, but a military historian, which is the next best thing), even the normally waffling Jonathan Chait.

Who would wish to belong to the illiberal school that minimizes innocent suffering? Even those who instinctively position themselves behind the military—we moral cowards—take a deep breath at the level of civilian deaths and destruction in the bombing of Hiroshima and Dresden. There is no comparison between those two liberal touchstones and Israel’s air war in Gaza. The aim is not to break the will of the Palestinian Arabs by bombing them indiscriminately and killing tens of thousands. Casualties number 412, according to the Washington Post. A bad number, but dwarfed by the nearly six thousand missiles that the Palestinian Arabs have sent flying into Sderot alone over the past three years. That those missiles did not manage to kill more Jews is beside the question. The intention behind them was to kill as many as possible.

The conventional literary attitude toward war is Dylan Thomas’s: “After the first death, there is no other.” Literary culture seems to require the abandonment of moral discrimination, except for the high-minded certainty that, as D. J. Enright scornfully puts it,

        the virtuous man
Does not retaliate
But averts his bleeding eyes
Not to acknowledge hate.
Opposition to war became the poets’ default setting after Wilfred Owen’s exposure of “The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” The new truth has only become more rigid since then: killing in the name of country is wrong. Always wrong. Any country. But especially Israel.