24 November, 2012

Don't Godwin yourself you silly goose


'Israel', of course, is not such people any more than 'Palestine' is the febrile and fatuous and autonomous armed wing of Hamas. The geopolitics involved are, as people will go to great lengths to point out, horrendously complicated.

One thing is not quite so complicated however. Exterminationist rhetoric is never excusable, never ameliorated by context, never countered by giving the other side of the story, as it were, because there is no side of the story which makes it anything less than horrendous. For such rhetoric to be increasingly uttered by people in a position of power, for the deputy defence minister, for instance, to literally call for a shoah - that is, a Holocaust of Palestinians - should be deeply unsettling. There is never any excuse for such talk, and the more it is accepted, the more it is treated with blasé indifference, the more accepted it becomes by the power elite then the more translatable into eliminationist and exterminationist crimes the idea becomes. For such thoughts to be uttered in a modern liberal democracy by a cabinet minister should be unthinkable. It is never self defense to declare an intention to wipe out a people. It is never justified. It is never reasonable or rational or rendered sane by context. There is no such thing as balance for calls to genocide. People who say such things should not get away with it. They should not be part of the political process. They should not get to keep their jobs in government, or be regarded as savvy thinkers, or as journalists. That they keep their jobs and their roles and their functions should be of the deepest concern. There is no way of altering that, literally irrespective of anything any group of Palestinians do. They must be rooted out and rejected, and where they are not, the society in which such rhetoric is allowed to flourish must be looked at warily. Its justifications for military actions, policing actions, must be held under intense scrutiny because it is a society in which the idea of mass murder of a people merely for being of that people is tolerated and such ideas are darkly insidious.

We can talk about the feeble calls of genocide uttered by the  al-Qassam brigades - which Israel had prior to the mid-late 1990s allowed to develop and occasionally even supported against left wing and considerably more conciliatory Palestinian groups such as most notably the PLO and its Fatah wing, the only groups the Islamists have ever been militarily effective against - if you like. Morally such comments are of course equivalent, and it is a sign of the desperation and the hatred and the fear and, increasingly, religious bigotry and zealousness of Palestinians that Hamas was voted into power, more or less, and enjoys popular support after waging a low intensity conflict with Israel. All of the same condemnation I uttered against individual Israelis making such comments apply of course to individual Palestinians making such comments. Concern with societies which don't reject such people is echoed, with different nuances: it appears rather more popular amongst the Palestinians which is unsurprising, albeit no more justified, because their system of governance is less sovereign and also designedly protects fewer rights and liberties, and they have the worst of the conflict.

But as the article points out, the al-Qassam brigades are undoubtedly a terrorist organisation and Hamas is tainted by the association - they have actively supported numerous terrorist attacks and strategies, actively have had genocidal rhetoric woven into their quasi-repudiated 1988 charter. There's no such thing as a counterpoint for any of the individuals involved or the organisations which allow them to flourish that advocate genocide. In suggesting a state of comparison, in suggesting balanced reporting would more fully compare the genocidal comments between Hamas and Israel one is suggesting a collective moral equivalence between the state of Israel and a band of terrorist mass murderers. Far from excusing Hamas such an attitude condemns Israel in the worst ways imaginable. Are we really going to say they are like entities, the two distinct sides of the conflict?

There's another crucial distinction I suppose, pragmatically, insofar as Israel notably has the power and ability to complete such a genocide, and unlike the Palestinians is a functional and relatively well-established democracy, sovereign over its own territory, with the wealth of a superpower behind it, the full firepower and economic strength of a nation state at its beck and call, the capacity and will to strangle trade and embargo both luxuries and necessities. It kills a magnitude greater Palestinians than Palestinians kill Israelis in conflicts, and considerably more than that in more general terms. You don't get to mitigate such calls to mass murder by suggesting we need to look at the other side. You don't get to play them down by pointing out that the al-Qassam tactic of indiscriminate shelling - which has killed about four civilians during the most recent operations, roughly 11 since 2003, and one soldier - is, and it most certainly is, murderous, callous, and brutal. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been dispossessed of homes and livelihoods, forced into squalor and poverty and hunger; almost all have had goods and services and necessities restricted or prohibited as a matter of course; eliminationist rhetoric has been transformed into dramatically debilitating practice with the ghettoisation of Palestinians into the West Bank and Gaza. These are things Palestinians cannot do to Israelis. They can fling rockets and shells, which is a horrible and terrifying thing to endure. It is not an equitable level of suffering to endure.

The Palestinians are no more fair game than the people of Israel. In a modern, liberal democracy, with freedom of the press and of ideas and to a lesser extent of association, one rather hopes that such ideas as sodding genocide would be crushed mercilessly by better ideas, free from state or militia-driven censorship or the debilitating insular mindset generated by a loss of national sovereignty and repression. We cannot hope for such in Gaza, which enjoys none of these freedoms, opposed as they are by both Hamas and the net military and government actions of Israel.  Hamas is our enemy, irrespective of the mildly softening stance towards Israel brought about by its surge into political power, and suggesting moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas in such points merely suggests Israel is our enemy too.

As for responding to the conflict with a shrug,

-The Rev. Schmitt.

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