Ron Radosh

With Friends Like These: The Return of Moral Equivalence

During the dark days of the Cold War, the doctrine of “moral equivalence” began to emerge. It referred to those who equated the expansionist aims of the Soviet Union with the defensive response to its policies by the Western powers. Its adherents also compared the repression typified by Stalin’s vast Gulag system with the era of so-called McCarthyism in the United States.  In contrast to the millions murdered by Stalin, McCarthyism resulted in job losses or in some cases imprisonment for contempt of Congress when a few opponents of the bi-partisan Cold War policies of the United States refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

What “moral equivalence” actually revealed was the lack of understanding of what the Cold War was about by those who believed the United States was as guilty and as evil as the Soviet Union. Today, unfortunately, we are seeing the re-emergence of this kind of thinking by those who condemn Israel for its attack on Gaza, and who accuse it of being as responsible as Hamas for the fighting and the deaths of innocent civilians.

What is most galling, however, is that this confused thinking is coming from liberal quarters in the “progressive Jewish community,” in particular, the group known as J-Street. The organization was founded last year as a self-proclaimed alternative lobby to AIPAC, which according to the new group’s founders, was too in line with the Bush Administration’s foreign policy and too hawkish. J-Street defines itself as the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement and as such supports a new direction for American foreign policy in the Middle East.  Their goal is to start a public debate about the U.S.’s role in the region that will be a break from the past.

J-Street believes that they, not AIPAC, are the true friends of Israel. Proclaiming that most American Jews were actually liberals (true) and in favor of a two-state solution in the Middle East(also true), J Street announced that it, more than AIPAC, would represent the actual political sentiment of most American Jews.

J-Streets real agenda, however, is to be seen in its response to Israel’s action in Gaza. The IDF campaign, they declared, not only left hundreds dead and wounded, but pushed “the long-running Palestinian conflict further down a path of never-ending violence.”  Arguing that they alone stand for “sanity and moderation,” they claim that there is “truth on both sides,” i.e., Israel and Hamas both have equally valid arguments and that “neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong.”

J-Street says it respects Israel’s right to defend itself, but that military action cannot solve a political conflict.  They somehow have failed to notice that the only political solution that Hamas is interested in is the destruction of Israel whose legitimacy they refuse to recognize.  For Hamas, there is really nothing to negotiate, except more time to restock its weapons with which to destroy Israel. But J Street is sure that the fighting now going on in Gaza will only deepen “the cycle of violence”  and prevent a two-state solution.  Their solution to the situation is simple: urge the world to demand an end to hostilities, negotiate a cease fire, and a “complete end to military operations.”  Yes, they say that the rockets should stop, but Israel should allow food, fuel and civilian necessities into Gaza. They seem unaware that Israel has been doing just that, even as the rockets continue and their own military response takes place.

There is evidence that other liberal friends of Israel have the necessary moral clarity. Alan M. Dershowitz,  explains that “Israel’s action are justified under international law, and Israel should be commended for its self-defense against terrorism.” He points out that unlike Israel, Hamas deliberately targets civilians with its rocket attacks, and regularly targets Israeli civilians while literally hiding behind Palestinian civilizations. He makes the point clearly: “There is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killing of Hamas combatants.” Israel, he points out, even forgoes legitimate targets when they feel they are too close to civilians.

Israeli military action has also received support from one of the Jewish leaders most sympathetic to J Street, Rabbi Eric Yoffe, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism.  Yoffe sees himself as a “centrist,” and he puts in an obligatory and highly unfair attack on Marty Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, whose own understanding of the issues can be found each day on TNR’s website and his blog, “The Spine.” So Yoffe lets his readers know he is no right-wing liberal hawk, which he seems to consider those people at TNR.

Yet Yoffe hits hard at J Street, whose leaders, he writes, demonstrate “an utter lack of empathy for Israel’s predicament.” As for their claim to speak for the moderate American Jewish majority, Yoffe puts it strongly: “It has misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews.”  Yoffe is disappointed because he considers himself a dove who favors a political, not a military solution. Yet he is shocked that J Street says “Israel made a mistake in attacking Hamas and that the United States…must press for an immediate cease-fire.”

Even worse, Yoffe writes, is that J Street “could find no moral difference between the actions of Hamas,” which has “launched more than 5,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilians…and the long-delayed response of Israel, which finally lost patience and responded to the pleas of its battered citizens in the south.” The words of J  Street, he says, “are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.” And unlike others, he-like Peretz- knows that Hamas “is a terrorist gang” that wants to act with impunity, and that no Israeli government of either the right or the left can agree to a two state solution with the likes of such thugs.

Checking with his Israeli friends in the peace movement and the Left, he informs his readers that these people – all of whom oppose Israeli settlements as impediments to peace- see the Gaza action “as tragic but necessary,” and that they are “astounded by the opposition of American doves.” In Israel, he notes, politicians on the Left support the offensive, as do 80% of the populace.  And as for the incoming Obama Administration, which he fully supports and for whom he voted, Yoffe notes that “this war has the support of  our liberal president-elect.”

Yoffe concludes: We must support “Israel in her hour of need.”

And, I would add, we must reject and expose the perfidy of the so-called peace lobby at home that  proposes action that would legitimize terrorists and lead only to their ability to carry on their never-ending permanent war to destroy Israel.