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Even Wieseltier is upset by ‘indifference in Jewish world’ to Gaza slaughter and wholehearted Israeli support for it

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Leon Wieseltier

Leon Wieseltier

Here are more signs that the Gaza onslaught has reshaped the American discussion of Israel and Palestine, in three arguments from intellectuals.

1, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch said on  Democracy Now yesterday that Palestinians should end the “charade” and go to the International Criminal Court to have Israel hauled up on war crimes. Roth has been more careful in his indictments in the past. He is obviously angry about the Israeli slaughter, and about Israeli immunity.

“They seem not to learn… they are completely on notice. We’ve accused them of this in the past. They just keep repeating it.”

Roth sees a design, of targeting civilians: “to try to make the people of Gaza pay a price because Hamas is ruling over them.”

Full excerpt below.

2, Leon Wieseltier, a longtime supporter of anything Israel wants to do, confesses in  The New Republic that he finds Israel’s failure to sort out militants from civilians “sickening,” and more importantly, that he needs to distance himself from the Israel lobby and Israeli society. The overwhelming Israeli support for the the slaughter makes him “queasy.” And as for the lobby, “I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference in the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense.” In refusing to defer to Israelis in his judgment of the massacre, Wieseltier parts company with Michael Walzer, who said on an Americans for Peace Now call that it was too easy to sit in Princeton and judge people in Israel, or Bill Kristol, who has said that it is “cavalier” to sit on the Upper West Side and second-guess Israelis. These men defer to Israeli judgment (presumably in part out of a religious understanding that Israeli Jews are aliyah, higher, while we in the Diaspora are yoredim, or lower); Wieseltier has no such astral body.

Full excerpt below.

3. Finally I’ve thrown in great analysis of the Israeli tactics by David Bromwich at Huffpo. Bromwich hasn’t shifted any from his recent book, but the Vietnam “Free Fire Zone” analogy he makes is one I’ve heard from other Americans and needs to be highlighted.

 

1. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, interviewed by Nermeen Shaikh at Democracy Now! Roth doesn’t parse anything; he says Israel committed war crimes:

And no matter how many times the Israeli military spokesmen scream, “Human shields! Human shields!” most of the people being killed in Gaza are being killed because Israel is paying insufficient care to saving civilian lives. There’s been case after case in which Israel has used the wrong weaponry or has shot at people with many civilians around. And these, in our view, are war crimes.

He calls on Palestine to go to the ICC as “the only realistic proposal” to deal with these war crimes:

Now, Palestine, having now been recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a state, actually is entitled to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty, or even short of that, to simply invite the International Criminal Court to come in and conduct an investigation. I don’t quite understand what the Palestinian representative was doing in The Hague, because this is not just a matter of going and discussing whether maybe the International Criminal Court might get involved. You know, they should stop the charade and just invite the International Criminal Court in. It’s a simple thing to do.

Now, of course, the reason they’re not doing it is probably twofold. I mean, one is that the U.S. government and certain Western governments are shamefully putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority not to do that, threatening to withhold aid and all kinds of severe consequences. And this is their effort to protect Israel from a proper war crimes investigation. The other factor which may be playing a part is, of course, Hamas’s vulnerability to prosecution, as well. And we don’t know to what extent Hamas is telling the Palestinian Authority, you know, “Don’t you dare really bring in the International Criminal Court, because we’re at jeopardy, as well.”

But, you know, the bottom line is that this charade is not real, and we hope that the Palestinian Authority will get off the fence and go forward and actually invite in the International Criminal Court as the only realistic prospect for bringing justice to the many, many victims of these war crimes….

Here he expresses his anger at Israel’s contempt for the distinction between militants and civilians:

you know, for example, when they hit the beach cafe killing nine people watching the World Cup, we don’t even know if there was a militant there, but that was a wholly inappropriate time to shoot. Or when they claimed to have been going after a militant, hit his family home and killed 25 civilians who were breaking the Ramadan fast. These are clearly disproportionate harm to civilians, a war crime regardless of whether there might have been a militant in the vicinity or not..

They seem not to learn. I mean, we’ve gone through this in the prior Gaza efforts. We went through it with the Hezbollah war. I actually, you know, after the Hezbollah war, went and briefed the senior Israeli lawyer for the military, describing many of these same problems, the fact that you can’t just issue a warning and assume that everybody left, in that case, is Hezbollah. So, you know, they are completely on notice. We’ve accused them of this in the past. They just keep repeating it. And it seems to be almost by design to try to make the people of Gaza pay a price because Hamas is ruling over them. But, of course, you know, that’s the same logic that they criticize Hamas for, where Hamas will say, “Oh, well, you know, Israel elected Netanyahu, therefore any Israeli civilian is fair game,” or, “All Israeli males might go into the military, so therefore we can fire indiscriminate rockets.” I mean, that’s a war crime logic, and Israel is oftentimes acting according to the same logic in Gaza.

2. Here is Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic. I’m leaving out his condemnations of Hamas and the validation of Israel’s war on Gaza. Though you will see that he is excited that Israelis are shooting guns. I am focusing on his fine response to the enormity, his moral rage at the idea of “mowing the lawn.”

I do not know how to do the arithmetic of conscience. Officials in Gaza say that 1,834 Palestinians have been killed. An IDF spokesman says that “approximately 900 militants in combat” have been killed. That leaves about 900 dead civilians. Is that doctrinally acceptable? Is it “mowing the lawn”? What is the concept which can confidently prescribe that when three Hamas operatives are on a motorcycle at a school where people are waiting in line for food supplies, the trigger should be pulled? If the villains can be identified, so can the people. There are no concepts that can catch up with the murder of children. After all, even Satan has not yet devised the proper vengeance for the death of a child. I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference in the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense against the missiles and the tunnels. Some of the e-mails I have received have been lunatic in their lack of compassion. According to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 95 percent of Jewish Israelis believe the war in Gaza is just. It is easy to see why: Self-defense is also a moral duty. But only 4 percent believe that the Israeli military has used excessive force. This makes me queasy. Unanimity, or close to it, is no guarantee of truth. No excessive force, anywhere?

There are two ways to interpret my disquiet. The first, a canard of the right, is to view it as a breach of solidarity, as a wobble in hard times. The second, a canard of the left, is to view it as moral complacence, as a cunning form of complicity with what it deplores. Needless to say, I do not regard myself as a turncoat or a pawn. It is not sickening that Israel is defending itselfit is, by the standard of Jewish historical experience, exhilarating; but some of what Israel is doing to defend itself is sickening.

3. Finally here is David Bromwich in Huffington Post, “Actions and Intentions in Gaza,” saying what Ken Roth is saying, that Israel’s contempt for the distinction between militants and civilians demonstrates that it has an implicit policy of harming civilians. The Vietnam analogy is extremely helpful.

You do not kill unarmed people in such numbers, and you do not kill women and children on such a scale, when the constantly considered aim of your forces is not to inflict unnecessary injury on civilians. Conversely, when you take the most scrupulous measures to avoid the killing of innocents, it does not turn out that the vast majority of the people you have killed are innocents.

Because the pattern admits of no misunderstanding, we should withdraw credence from Netanyahu’s profession of his secondary aim: the great care taken against harm to civilians. The facts suggest, rather, a tacit condoning of retaliation against any Palestinian who comes into view. The Netanyahu government has permitted such killing to recur, and at the same time has denied that it is happening. “I’m 60,” saysthe Gazan human rights lawyer Raji Sourani:

“I lived all my entire life in this part of the world, and I’m working in this field for the last 40 years. I attended the last wars, in 2008, 2009 and 2012. I can assure you one thing: Yes, war crimes happened, and entire families have been erased — Samouni, Daya, and others. Houses were destroyed. Civilian targets were targeted. And we documented that. But the scale never, ever was on this level … We never, ever have had entire areas, like Shejaiya, like Khuzaa, like Zanaa, like Beit Hanoun, like Beit Lahia, razed. Doesn’t exist anymore. Hundreds of bombs, weighing one ton, dropped on the heads of the people while they are there.”

Other witnesses have said the same. There are whole streets and sections of towns in Gaza that look as if they had become free-fire zones for Israeli soldiers.

“Free-fire zone” was an unwritten concept of American combat in Vietnam. (One of the returning soldiers to expose the fact and explain its meaning was John Kerry.) Americans who have read that history know that the killing of women and children on such a scale does not happen by accident. It happens when soldiers who are angry at the loss of comrades have been shown, by unwritten orders or by a leeway that amounts to permission, that they are free to decide “in the heat” whom they want to kill, and that those whom they target need not be armed or anywhere close to anyone armed. Naval shelling that kills four children playing on a beach can be classified as one of the mysteries of war. The response of the IDF to similar incidents in 2008-2009, “We will investigate,” is seldom heard these days. The response is now, “We have no record of that.”

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31 Responses

  1. Donald
    Donald on August 7, 2014, 11:46 am

    I was hoping Phil would link to this NYT Book Review piece by Neil Sheehan written in 1971. The only caveat I’d have is that the numbers for the civilian dead in the war are way too low. But otherwise it’s a fascinating look at how slowly US reporters were to recognize war crimes right in front of their face, as Sheehan says about himself. But some of them did get there in the end. I wonder if we’re seeing that stage with Israel in Gaza? As with Vietnam, people have come to the realization very slowly. At the NYT editorial board they still aren’t there.

    war crimes in Vietnam

    All the issues in Vietnam are pretty much the same as they are in Gaza. People didn’t use the human shields term, but the argument was the same. In the incident Sheehan himself wrote about, a few snipers in some fishing villages drew so much fire from US forces that the villages were destroyed and hundreds of villagers killed. Back then Sheehan might have agreed that the VC should not have fired from the villages, but he also realized (eventually) that the US response was so disproportionate that it was a war crime.

    • philweiss
      philweiss on August 7, 2014, 12:00 pm

      Thanks Donald.

    • American
      American on August 7, 2014, 1:22 pm

      No thanks Donald.

      “As with Vietnam, people have come to the realization very slowly. At the NYT editorial board they still aren’t there.

      war crimes in Vietnam

      All the issues in Vietnam are pretty much the same as they are in Gaza. People didn’t use the human shields term, but the argument was the same””

      Enough of your ‘universal whataboutery” as self or site appointed historical moral oracle at MW–and an inaccurate one at that.
      And your gate keeping as ‘balancer’ for the NYT who just hasnt
      caught up yet.

      Didnt you learn in school that you get an F if you dont stick to writing about the assigned subject?

      • Donald
        Donald on August 8, 2014, 2:50 pm

        “Enough of your ‘universal whataboutery” as self or site appointed historical moral oracle at MW”

        I don’t care what you think about me. The Israelis, as bad as they are, are basically doing the same sorts of things that Americans have done. The historical analogies work in our favor, if you are in favor of Palestinian rights. If you have some other agenda, maybe not. American liberals easily understand what was wrong about the free fire zone tactics used in Vietnam–now just get them to see the same thing is going on in Gaza. That’s been the problem–progressive except for Palestine. But some are starting to see the similarities.

        The same is true of the Jim Crow analogy. Get people to understand the connection between how white America used to act and the defensive apologetics of white Southerners and the way Israel acts and the defensive apologetics of the Lobby and again, people who disapprove of the one will disapprove of the other. It’s how I got to see what was wrong with Israel and its defenders–it all seemed so familiar.

      • eljay
        eljay on August 8, 2014, 2:59 pm

        >> Donald @ August 8, 2014 at 2:50 pm

        Good post.

      • Donald
        Donald on August 8, 2014, 3:44 pm

        Thanks.

    • Marnie
      Marnie on August 8, 2014, 1:35 am

      War crimes in the US: “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice” the orders of Col. John Chivington, US Cavalry, prior to massacre at Sand Creek. The decades upon decades of the “Indian Wars”, to massacre Native Americans for their lands or just drive them off their lands with great numbers of native people dying in the process (Trail of Tears?) for the westward expansion (Israel Vs Palestine); destruction almost to the point of extinction of the buffalo (Israel Vs Palestine – destroying crops, uprooting centuries old olive trees, destruction of farms/equipment/stock), pillaging and murder of elderly, women and children of non-warring tribes just for association with warring tribes (Israel Vs Palestine and Palestine Vs CNN and other visionaries, i.e. just being Palestinian is a crime). War crimes in the US: “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice” the orders of Col. John Chivington, US Cavalry, prior to massacre at Sand Creek.

      • Marnie
        Marnie on August 8, 2014, 2:05 am

        I didn’t mean to repeat the last line. My point being that the US has a horrible, shameful history. I loved my home, but not the government that did many things overtly and covertly supposedly in my name but is to my shame. I don’t know what it is about some white folks that make so many want to be conquerors, colonialists, masters, etc., but maybe it’s just inherent slothfulness and a huge dose of covetousness, – yes I want a beautiful home, crops, etc., but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna do the work. And yes, I’m blaming us white folks for this but they’ve been running (it to the ground) things forever and have spread racism around the world – everywhere and in every nook and cranny.

      • libra
        libra on August 8, 2014, 3:30 pm

        “It’s all my fault.” admits Marnie. “I just couldn’t help it, I’m white”.

      • Marnie
        Marnie on August 9, 2014, 1:22 am

        That’s what you heard or just mimimizing what I said? US history is very very bad and the present doesn’t look good either, mostly because of the anglo-saxon hoard, m ‘kay?

      • Marnie
        Marnie on August 9, 2014, 2:20 am

        I’m forgetting how to spell, the hallmark of my senioritis.

    • tree
      tree on August 8, 2014, 4:17 pm

      I wonder if we’re seeing that stage with Israel in Gaza? As with Vietnam, people have come to the realization very slowly. At the NYT editorial board they still aren’t there.

      I understand that you feel that bringing up Vietnam provides some relevancy to what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians, and other Arabs, since 1948, but to compare the “slowness” of realization of the evils of the US war in Vietnam with the glacial, or damn near non-existent, realization of the evils of Israel’s war against the Palestinians is inapt at best.

      At its broadest scope the US involvement in the Vietnam war lasted for 18 years, from 1955, when Eisenhower pledged military support for Diem, to 1973 when the US withdrew unilaterally. A build up to 9000 US combat troops didn’t happen until 1962, with the beginnings of a massive buildup in 1965 and within six years the US abandoned the war completely, due in good part to disgust against the war among significant elements of the US population. Slow, yes, but downright supersonic compared to realizations in regards to Israel.

      You are comparing a US combat troop presence that lasted less than a decade to Israeli presence in occupied Palestinian territory that has lasted nearly 50 years, and ethnic cleansing and oppression of Palestinians for 66 years( and Zionist terrorism against them for years prior to 1948). The comparison, especially in regards to “slowness” in realization of the evils committed, whitewashes the continual racism and cruelty of Israeli actions.

  2. Justpassingby
    Justpassingby on August 7, 2014, 11:59 am

    Puppet Abbas is more silent than ever, maybe he dont dare telling his people that he reject to become a member of the ICC.

    • globalconsciousness
      globalconsciousness on August 7, 2014, 1:13 pm

      according to the Guardian Riad Mailki from the PA has visited The Hague and the papers were given to Hamas leadership and they are in the process of discussing this in Egypt and some say poised to sign onto the ICC – let’s hope this is the case…

  3. eGuard
    eGuard on August 7, 2014, 12:06 pm

    One post is from August 2, the other two are from August 6. What took these Zionists so long to make up their minds? Their only surprise was that it lasted so many weeks. (2008/2009 was three weeks only). 1800 dead and only now they come out doing a cooks tour for an applause? Why are they treated as heros at MW?

    As I said here on MW, July 10:
    [these Zionists are] saying “One week of bombing is enough. Forty children at max, no more. I’m a Liberal Zionist”.
    http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/relentless-continues-watching.html#comment-682916

    • philweiss
      philweiss on August 7, 2014, 12:14 pm

      One’s a rightwing Zionist. The other two are not Zionists in my opinion.

      • eGuard
        eGuard on August 7, 2014, 5:33 pm

        Skips my essence: what took them so long? And: why applause here, instead of a teacher’s slap?

  4. doug
    doug on August 7, 2014, 12:23 pm

    Another aspect is that soldiers fired upon by snipers in a village start to see no difference between civilian and military. Back in the Vietnam war it was not uncommon to hear many people say things like: “kill them all, let God sort them out.” War is always dehumanizing. In part it must be so. Most all people have a hard time killing other people so they must be dehumanized and made “evil” first.

    • globalconsciousness
      globalconsciousness on August 7, 2014, 1:33 pm

      This was not a war but asymmetric invasion
      I just don’t get a sense that the sicko boys of the IDF or Wieseltier for that matter have problem with killing – what is sickening is Wieseltier invoke the tired old canard of self defense as exhilarating – must be really exhilarating starving a population of largely children under the age of 14 and then bombing them to smithereens with the help of my tax dollars. That’s what’s sickening in this whole excuse of self defense.
      And my message to Ken Roth – glad to see you crawled out from under that rock and some of us are not fooled by your attempts at rewriting your track record in this whole sorry mess…
      I am just sick of having these people constantly having the platform to verbally pontificate about their tribal rights and wrongs while the Paleatinians are treated as sub-human and their voices are silenced- that’s what is really sickening…

  5. Chu
    Chu on August 7, 2014, 12:30 pm

    Ken Roth does a great job of explaining the situation (min. 14-23).

    I feel like this bombardment, compared to Caste Lead 2009, has be much worse, but the media criticism of Israel has been appallingly
    meek. It’s like were going in reverse – but time will tell…

    • Justpassingby
      Justpassingby on August 7, 2014, 1:41 pm

      Chu

      I agree, for example – never before have the west blamed Gazans when israel have killed them. So we are going in the wrong way indeed imo.

  6. American
    American on August 7, 2014, 1:10 pm

    David Bromwich is the one in the crew who is being totally honest, the others are still hedging around a bit with the ‘not taking enough care’…’how to tell there were civilians in the crowd” and etc..
    You have to be retarded not to see the mass killing was deliberate.

    • marc b.
      marc b. on August 8, 2014, 3:50 pm

      not to see the mass killing was deliberate.

      agreed. I frankly don’t give a fig about the years-long psychological foreplay they seem to think they are entitled to, to bring these half wits to full consciousness.

      There’s been case after case in which Israel has used the wrong weaponry or has shot at people with many civilians around. And these, in our view, are war crimes.

      they deliberately shoot women waiving white flags and shred children kicking balls on the beach. jeezus, what bullshit.

  7. bilal a
    bilal a on August 7, 2014, 3:44 pm
    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on August 8, 2014, 9:03 am

      We all know the truth to this question the reaction would be very different. Racist issue at the core.

  8. ritzl
    ritzl on August 7, 2014, 4:04 pm

    The underlying war crime is that this happened at all. Forget the after the fact parsing.

    This slaughter was based on a preconceived and total fabrication for domestic Israeli consumption.

    Something I’m sensing in common with this article, Pam’s article, and the Nickles article is the defensiveness (reactiveness?) of the responses to the Hasbara. Israel starts it all the time. It’s the pattern. Now debate whether “all” means 97% or 98% of the time. Rock “them” back by negating their argumentation/rationalization/post hoc starting point from the get go. Let “them” start from there/the beginning (of this round anyway).

    This “resequencing” of the discussion is also a quick discriminator wrt whether people are actually understanding/solution oriented or unchangeable and/or distanced navel-gazers (i.e. a waste of time). It makes for a short[er] conversation because engagement on Israel’s terms validates their assumptions/Israel’s talking points. Their assumptions are simply not valid. Make that clear and make it their choice whether they want to continue the discussion.

    Roth/HRW seems to come the closest to doing this, imho.

    FWIW.

  9. Citizen
    Citizen on August 7, 2014, 6:23 pm

    Big Hannity show tonight on FOX; long interview with Bibi N in Israel. Ads on attacking Hamas too.

  10. wondering jew
    wondering jew on August 7, 2014, 9:01 pm

    Bromwich reports that the change of Netanyahu from advocating a real two state solution to his newly expressed opinion that there will never be a Palestinian state in which Israel will not rule the borders, “was reported with relief by one of his admirers, in an article entitled “Netanyahu Finally Speaks his Mind.” ”

    If Bromwich truly believes that the admirer (David Horowitz) was relieved by this conclusion he should cite some passage in Horowitz’s writing that indicates relief. He won’t find any. Horowitz is not a firm supporter of the two state solution (as in; whatever however whenever it must be a good idea) but he is a squishy supporter of the two state solution (as in: it’s probably the best hope that exists and we must ensure that it won’t turn into a nightmare, but negotiating a two state solution is the best we can hope for).

    Bromwich’s mischaracterization of Horowitz’s opinion is not the sign of a good reporter.

  11. Vera Gottlieb
    Vera Gottlieb on August 8, 2014, 11:49 am

    israel has been giving the world ‘the finger’ so many times and getting away with it – trying to take israel to the ICC would just be greeted with another ‘finger’. But…nothing ventured, nothing gained. israel’s ‘red line’ is full of blood.

  12. hophmi
    hophmi on August 8, 2014, 1:10 pm

    “Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch said on Democracy Now yesterday that Palestinians should end the “charade” and go to the International Criminal Court to have Israel hauled up on war crimes. ”

    It will never happen, because the US won’t allow it, and because the day the Palestinians try to use the ICC as a political tool, the entire leadership of Hamas will be placed in the dock for ordering attacks on civilians. The PA will not give up its funding just to pursue a fruitless criminal case against the Israelis.

    Wieseltier’s criticism is the same as Beinart’s. Israel has a right to defend it, Hamas is terrible, and the problem is that there’s no strategy for peace. But the notion that Wieseltier is distancing himself from Israel and Israeli society is something you’re reading into the piece. To the extent that Wieseltier questions high levels of Israeli Jewish support for the war, he’s not being honest with himself. Americans faced no threat from Iraq, and supported the war in large numbers at the beginning. In 1990, support for the war in Iraq was over 90%, and again, Americans faced no direct threat. Why should it be surprising for people who actually do face a daily threat on their border to support a war against the perpetrators of those attacks in large numbers?

    As far as Bromwich: Bromwich uses the 80% figure advanced by Palestinian HR organizations. That figure is very much a matter of debate right now.

    “You do not kill unarmed people in such numbers, and you do not kill women and children on such a scale, when the constantly considered aim of your forces is not to inflict unnecessary injury on civilians. ”

    Don’t you? How many civilians died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars? Is it Bromwich’s contention that they died in large numbers because the US targets civilians? Has Bromwich conducted a study on this matter? Is it part of his portfolio as a lit professor?

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