Ron Radosh

Nicholas Kristof: The New York Times' Apostle of Moral Equivalence

Writing on these pages a few years ago, I called Nicholas Kristof “the worst columnist in the Sunday New York Times.” That may have been somewhat of an exaggeration, although I tried to make out a careful case for my claim. At any rate, Kristof read it, and actually tweeted my column with a sarcastic comment.

Today Mr. Kristof vies for the title once again. This time, he reveals himself to be nothing less than the Apostle of Moral Equivalence. His topic is the fighting now going on in Gaza, as the IDF is doing its best to dismantle the scores of secret tunnels by which Hamas has been hoping to get both its troops and weaponry into Israel. As for Hamas,  David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, lays out its objective in clear and precise terms:

Its overall stated objective remains the destruction of the State of Israel. Its interim objective is ensuring that its rule in Gaza is maintained and flourishes, at maximal pain to Israel, and no matter what the cost to Gazans. As the deputy head of its political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk told Mahmoud Abbas last week in Cairo, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?” — a reference to the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade that had so weakened the Gaza economy and thus so harmed Hamas’s standing in Gaza before this round of conflict erupted.

The fighting, then, is the result of Hamas’ decision to attack Israel on a daily basis with thousands of rockets—some of which are able to reach far into Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Bill Clinton understands this. Here reprinted in full is his candid explanation, given to an interviewer without any hesitation:

Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired one thousand and they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.

They (Israel) know when Hamas attacks them that Hamas has set up a situation which politically it can’t lose, because they (Israelis) can say ‘well if I attack them back they always hide behind civilians and I’ll kill civilians, and if I don’t we’ll look like fools letting somebody shoot a thousand  rockets at us and not responding.’

In the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas. But it’s a crass strategy that takes all of our eyes off the real objective which is a peace that gets Israel security and recognition and a peace that gets the Palestinians their state.

Somehow, Nicholas Kristof shows his readers that he does not get it. Instead, he writes, “this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.”

Let us pause to parse this paragraph. Does Hamas (not the Palestinian citizens of Gaza forced to endure their rule) have any humanity and consideration of its citizens’ needs? This is a terrorist group that has no compunction about setting up its own people to act as human shields in the hope that when Israel hits a terrorist target, these civilians will be killed and then Hamas can show grisly videos of the innocent women and children Israel has murdered. Hamas puts its rocket launchers in hospitals and elementary schools, knowing that Israel will hesitate before aiming a rocket at them. It loads weapons into ambulances, in the hope that Israel will let them by, since medical-aid vehicles are exempted from targeting. Hamas’ tactics are inhumane and repellent on principle. Israel’s tactics are a response to Hamas’ aggression.

Israel accepted the proposed peace treaty suggested by Egypt, which is supported as well by the United States. Hamas rejected it, because it wants the fighting to continue, hoping that as time passes, its objectives will be reached or at least leave them in a better place to continue fighting for their ultimate goal — the destruction of Israel — at a later time of their own choosing.

What does Nicholas Kristof say? First, he confuses two issues. He writes that “Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings.” True.  But in his very next sentence, he writes:

Palestinians are absolutely right they have a right to a state…a right to live in freedom rather than be relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.

Does not Mr. Kristof comprehend that Hamas does not want a state, unless it is the entire area that is Israel totally under its complete control? Indeed, its first act upon being handed Gaza when Israel gave up its control of the area was to destroy the greenhouses that Israel left them, as well as water-purifying plants, that would have allowed them to build up their infrastructure and to function in a productive way. They want nothing that was developed by Israel, even though Israel gave Hamas the mechanism to start building a viable and peaceful area in Gaza.  Nothing will satisfy them, except gaining ground in their war to destroy the Jewish state.

So why should anyone accept Mr. Kristof’s argument that we should “put away the good vs. evil narrative…”? Anyone looking at the situation knows that this is a case of good vs. evil, if ever there was one. Let me put it boldly: Hamas is the very personification of evil. It is not the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, even with its flaws and the PA’s  half-hearted policies that contradict its expressed intent to establish two states in the region.

Mr. Kristof knows this, because  he continues to note that Hamas is violent towards its own people as well as Israel, and does not even try to avoid civilian casualties. He also writes that it is more repressive and unpopular at home, to which I would add now it is even more so, since the residents of Gaza know what game Hamas is playing and that their own leaders purposely put them in danger. Kristof even puts in a good barb, noting that “Hamas sometimes seems to have more support on certain college campuses in America or Europe than within Gaza.”

But next, he digs up the old moral-equivalence canard, writing that on both sides, the “hawks are in charge, and they empower each other.” This is simply patent nonsense. Just two days ago, the moderate and peace-minded leader of Israel’s security cabinet, Tzipi Livni, told reporters that Israel would not rule out the possibility, as David Horovitz put it, “of this conflict expanding to the point where Israel seeks to bring down Hamas altogether.” Livni is known in Israel as such a dove that Horovitz noted that at her interview, the TV reporters “almost fell off their chairs.”

So, it is not just hawks who favor a tough response to Hamas. Virtually all Israeli leaders understand that they are fighting against those committed to anything but a solution, unless it is one that allows them to gain their stated ends. Mr. Kristof, however, argues that both sides are the same. He writes as if Prime Minister Netanyahu does not mind if innocent civilians perish, and compares Israel’s response to aggression to those residents of Gaza who are so “suffocating under the Israeli embargo” that they think the only way out is to “fire rockets — and if some Israeli children die — that’s too bad.” He then reminds us that 100 times as many Palestinian children are dying. Whose fault is that, Mr. Kristof? We know that the fault lies with Hamas — which cynically, as Netanyahu put it recently, “uses civilians to protect their rockets, while Israel uses rockets to protect its civilians.”

Hamas will not adopt Mr Kristof’s suggestion that they turn to “Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns.” Against whom — their own leadership? Gandhi was fighting in India for the right of independence; Hamas is fighting in Gaza to destroy Israel. How is non-violence going to help them gain their ends, and why would they even contemplate adopting it?

Sitting in his home safe for the time being in our country, Nicholas Kristof writes that if we were being bombarded by rockets, we too “might cheer an invasion of Gaza.” Israelis are supporting their soldiers who are protecting them.  They are not cheering. The citizens of Israel understand that there will be casualties and death on their own side, and what they are doing is offering support to the young men and women who are serving to protect their countrymen.  They hope only that those soldiers fighting to prevent their country’s destruction manage to impede the effort of Hamas and make it further away from doing real damage to Israel. They cheer only the soldiers’ bravery, and their willingness to offer all they have to defend the Jewish state.

Yes, we need a “cease fire that includes an end to Hamas rocket attacks and a withdrawal from Gaza by Israel.” But tellingly, Mr. Kristof does not comment on why Hamas rejected the Egyptian proposal, which would have produced exactly that end. It is not, as he maintains, “a conflict between right and right.” Hamas is not fighting for any goal that is right — and he confuses its aims with those of the relatively few Palestinians who actually believe in a two-state solution. The few who do live in the West Bank, where they precariously rule. They are not in Gaza and are not members of Hamas. And even the Palestinian Authority has acted against those living there who vocally accept the need for real concessions made by their own side.

Finally, Mr. Kristof urges diplomacy. Fine. With whom? When is Hamas willing to engage in diplomacy? We’ve seen how far it has got when Israel talks with Saeb Erekat, the PA negotiator, who pledged never to give up the “right of return,” which he says is non-negotiable.

The symmetry Nicholas Kristof thinks exist is not there. Israel does all it can to move to peace, and is forced by its enemies to resort to war. Hamas rejects any moves to peace, and hopes aggression and the death of civilians will move the international community to condemn Israel. So Mr. Kristof ends saying that no, they are not the same, “and what I see isn’t equivalence.”

After an entire column arguing just that, he contradicts himself because he knows how foolish his previous words are. There are no hard-liners on Israel’s side who have hijacked the leadership, as he believes is the case. As many have recently observed, Benjamin Netanyahu is a centrist, opposed on his right by Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and others. The Hamas leadership are all hard-liners, who have not hijacked their power from moderates since none exist in their organization. As for the peace camp, it hardly has any members left in Israel, since so many of its former adherents, such as journalist Ari Shavit, know that its original raison d’etre has been proven wrong. The illusions they had about the Oslo peace process proved to be an empty vessel.

His end conclusion? Mr. Kristof says there is “painful symmetry,” and that “each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.” On that, both sides are right. Hamas is to blame, and Israel is justly responding to aggression against its very existence.

I guess that in the world that is ganging up on Israel, Nicholas Kristof’s doctrine of moral equivalence, or symmetry, is an improvement on those who openly want Israel’s destruction.