Friday November 28, 2014
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28.11.2014
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Richard Baehr

Israels disproportionality problem

Fox News is the only major broadcast network in the United States that treats Israel fairly, even sympathetically at times. With its reputation as a conservative station, Fox attempts to add liberal journalists to its panels on various news programs to provide some balance. One of them is Juan Williams, formerly of National Public Radio, who is a frequent guest on both daily and Sunday news programs. Williams has repeatedly offered criticism regarding how Israel conducts its various military campaigns, such as Cast Lead, and the more recent Pillar of Defense.

In both cases, Williams was critical of Israel because of the lopsided body counts resulting from the brief wars. In Cast Lead, the total was about 1,400 dead in Gaza, and 13 Israelis dead. In the recent eight days of fighting between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces, the death count was six Israelis, and somewhere between 100 and 160 Palestinians, not counting eight Palestinians murdered by Hamas as accused Israeli agents (they somehow missed their court appearances to face charges). Williams always acknowledges that Israel has reason to strike back at Hamas for its rocket fire, but it bothers him that one side suffers more casualties in the wars than the other.

Williams called the comparative death toll in Cast Lead and in Pillar of Defense disproportionate. In other words, there is a problem when one side suffers more dead than the other in a conflict. The implication is clear. The fight would be fairer and Israel would be criticized less, if only more Israelis died (or even better, fewer Palestinians). Or put another way, and to use the vernacular that appears regularly in news stories or commentary as it relates to other topics, the war would have been more just, if only Israelis died their fair share.

Williams is not alone. The Washington Post ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, in a lame attempt to defend the indefensible, argues that it was just fine for The Washington Post to place a large picture above the fold of a weeping man holding his dead child in Gaza in the early days of the recent fighting. No weeping Israeli was featured, he says, because the few Israeli deaths in the fighting only occurred in subsequent days (though of course there were no front page pictures of the families of these later victims of rocket fire, or of the wounded from the bus bombing in Tel Aviv, on the last day of the conflict).

Pexton felt obligated in defending his newspaper to add this unique take on the war:

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. Its disruptive and traumatic. But lets be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bears behind.

These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

In addition to the rockets being weak, Israels defenses are strong. It has an extensive network of bomb shelters in the south, and its new Iron Dome, built in part with U.S. funds, has proven to be the best missile-defense system ever deployed. And the Israel Defense Forces are by far the most powerful military in the region, equipped with just about every weapon the U.S. military has.

Gaza, meanwhile, is almost entirely urban and densely populated; bombs there will kill civilians no matter how precisely targeted.

So the more than thousand plus rockets fired at Israel, some of them Fajr-5s aimed at Israels largest cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were in total, nothing more than bee stings on the Israeli bears behind, since their aim was bad, and they did not kill very many Israelis, and Israel has the best missile defense system in the world. In essence, Pexton, a moral cretin of the first order, is excusing Hamas attempts to indiscriminately kill Israelis, because they were not too successful at it. If only Hamas had killed more Jews with their rocket fire, then Israel and its supporters might have had more of a case in arguing that it was unfair to only show a grieving Palestinian on the front page.

Of course, with the exception of Israel, no country at war has ever come in for this kind of criticism for doing a good job of protecting its citizens and limiting its casualties. But in the new moral valence, fairness is what counts, and it is just not fair to have fewer dead and injured.

Fairness is of course, an important concept in the current American political debate. Those on the Left side of the debate think it is unfair that a small percentage of Americans have gotten very wealthy in the past few decades. They think it is unfair that there is significant income and wealth inequality. They think it is unfair to ask those who benefit from government health and welfare programs to be asked to accept less in order to slow down the spending train, when the real problem is that the wealthy do not pay their fair share, and should be asked to contribute more to achieve a balanced approach to tackling the trillion dollar plus annual deficits.

It is not a stretch to argue that Israel gets no sympathy from these same quarters for the same reason the wealthy dont they are the big dog, the bear, the ones with the better weapons, who suffer much less in the fighting than their enemies, the ones with higher per capita gross domestic product, and who do not have to live in Gaza, the most densely populated place on earth (of course Gaza is no such thing Manhattan has more people in less than a quarter of the land area of Gaza). To use the vocabulary of the Left, Israel is privileged. Forget that it is the single oasis of Western civilization amidst 400 million Arabs who want it gone, and the only nation in the region not ruled by secular or theocratic despots, in spring, summer, fall or winter, each season being one that can be preceded by the word Arab.

The only equation that matters is that between Israel and the Palestinians, and on that scoreboard, Israel is wealthier, more powerful, more successful, and worst of all, pushes its advantages in its conflicts with its neighbors. If Israel were a person, and not a country, it would be viewed as the hedge fund guy who limits his tax liability by keeping some money in the Cayman Islands so as not to pay his fair share. And worst of all, that hedge fund guy would be running for president and support Israel!

It is maybe a bit too callous to say that some on the Left would be happy if more Jews died in these wars. They may really want nothing more than for Israel as a Jewish majority state to disappear and for the Jews to scatter and disappear. But in any case, Israel stands out like a sore thumb, sort of like the billionaire boss who pays a lower marginal tax rate than his secretary.

Sadly, I think the redistributionist impulse on the Left (which means pretty much all journalists) is as strong in foreign policy as on domestic issues. It pays to fail, if you want sympathy these days.

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