Monday, October 6, 2008

Morality and hypocrisy

In a debate we're having elsewhere (Spanish), one of my opponents, Buena Prensa, disagrees with my view that Israel's behavior should be closely scrutinized. His (rather common) argument is that Israel is a country like any other: not better or worse, as Golda Meir already said several decades ago. So why should a country imbued with so much normalcy deserve any particularly close inspection?

But scratching a little under the surface it's evident that's not the way Israel sees itself.

A couple of months ago, an Israeli soldier shot a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner in the foot. A 16-year-old Palestinian girl filmed the incident and handed over the video to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which released it at both the national and international levels. In an article translated by the Z-Word Blog, Israeli analyst Mario Wainstein reported:

[T]he B’Tselem organization, which brought the event to light and which gave the camera to the person who filmed it, did so because they had received numerous complaints that this sort of thing was happening but lack [sic] sufficient proof.

Already here we have a small but telling distortion: actually, the girl filmed the event with her own camera and on her own initiative, not with a camera provided by B'Tselem and in the context of a B'Tselem program. The Israelis are depicted as having at least as much merit as the Palestinians in exposing the incident.

Further on, Wainstein wrings his hands over the anti-Zionists' gloating about the incident and using it to bash Israel. In the critical section of the article, he notes:

It was to be expected that a Jewish soldier shooting a Palestinian with a rubber bullet in the foot and causing him an injury to his big toe would be more widely reported on and provoke more moral condemnation than the glorification of someone, not a Jew, who beat a four year old girl to death. It shares the same logic as the release of hundreds of Palestinian Arabs in exchange for a single Israeli prisoner.

I say it without any irony, I believe you are right. There is no question of a double standard. Quite simply, you know that we are morally superior and therefore demand from us what you don’t demand from others. I believe that this is how things are and that you are right. We are superior, so superior that the revelation of immoral conduct came from us, not from you, from an Israeli and Jewish NGO called and, and not by chance, B’Tselem, which means “in the image of” , a name taken from the Bible which says that all men were created in the image and likeness of God.

Instead of accepting that Israel is a State like any other, which in war situations does evil actions, Wainstein goes over the top to minimize the event and praise Israeli behavior. "A rubber bullet": wrong; it's a rubber-coated metal bullet, which mustn't be fired from less than 10 meters (it was fired 1 meter away from the prisoner). "The revelation of immoral conduct came from us, not from you": again wrong; the revelation came from a Palestinian girl, and if it was reported to B'Tselem it was because she knew that the affair would have been covered had she reported it to the police or the army -- the institutions that do represent the State.

Notice how Wainstein appropriates B'Tselem's work, which he passes off as representative of Israel's national values, when in fact it's a group of marginal members of the society, despised by the majority and with no political power whatsoever, who quixotically (but not heroically; the one hero was the girl who filmed it, as we'll see in an upcoming post) devote themselves to exposing what Israel would like to sweep under the rug.

In short, Israel doesn't mean to be the most moral country in the world, hence there's no particular reason for focusing on our war crimes. At the same time, Israel is the most moral country in the world, and this makes up for our shooting bound and blindfolded prisoners in the foot.

The polite thing to say is that one can't have it both ways. The impolite thing to say is that one can't be such a hypocrite.

15 comments:

Yitzchak Goodman said...

It's a minor point, but B'Tselem and its allies have some political power. They represent a substantial minority, I would say. Most democracies have a substantial left-wing which sees itself as being in opposition to traditionally nationalistc values. Dictatorships crush opposition political movements while allying themselves with the leftists in the democracies. It's a bit odd.

Ernie Halfdram said...

Oh, but Yusuf, you CAN be as hypocritical as you want. It's been flavour of the month for as long as I can remember. Indeed, in the media, politics, business, it's absolutely de rigueur.

When, just for example, the media can report Rice's assertion, "Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used whenever it wishes to deliver a message and that's its military power. That's not the way to deal in the 21st century." without derision, you know hypocrisy is perfectly acceptable.

JR said...

Yusuf, its interesting that an organisation like B'tselem can operate freely in Israel, unlike Syria, Iran etc. Isn't it? What do you think? And any progress on the Lebanon clarification? Or doesn't Hasbara busting require any factual information to support it?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Yusuf, its interesting that an organisation like B'tselem can operate freely in Israel, unlike Syria, Iran etc.

Yes. The Jews enjoy freedom of speech in Israel; I never denied it.

What does this have to do with morality, though?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Dictatorships crush opposition political movements while allying themselves with the leftists in the democracies. It's a bit odd.

I can think of other oddities.

For instance, have you noticed that Israel's staunchest allies seem to be quasi-Fascist Western leaders? Silvio Berlusconi is fingerprinting all Gypsies, both Italian and foreign, but he's fully committed to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish country. John Hagee is a thinly-veiled anti-gay, anti-Catholic bigot -- but he has raised over $9 M which he has donated to Israeli causes. José Aznar has opposed gay rights and bashed both Catalans and Basques, but he has come to the defense of Israel in quite a few forums.

The Jewish state is getting support from the very people who only the day before yesterday were spewing anti-Jewish hate.

JR said...

Yusuf, I thought btselem was about more than free speech, being about acting morally to defend human rights. You know, the rights that don't exist in Syria, Iran etc, but are regarded as morally important in Israel and enshrined in the constitution and laws. Which is why people who think human rights are important see Israel as an exemplary state in the middle Eastern context.
Regarding your smear about Israel being supported by rightists, why don't you look at the opponents of Israel to see where their political allegiance lies? Ahmedinajad? The Klu klux klan? The BNP in the UK? Nazi parties in Europe? Then there's the so-called leftists who are in bed with the muslim brotherhood and the Iranians, and who love the explicitly neo-Nazi Hamas and Hezb. Do you know the expression, "the pig got up and walked away"?

andrew r said...

Let's unravel jr's rant a bit...

Israel has no constitution and has laws that legally define people as 'absentees' and 'present-absentees'. Polls are regularly conducted that ask its Jewish citizens if they support expelling Arabs. Most of the land in greenline Israel is just plain off limits to Arabs for living.

Hezbollah and Hamas are not neo-Nazi groups. Resisting occupation and creating an Aryan empire free of undesirables are two different agendas. Leftists support these groups because they believe the victims of ethnic cleansing and a racist military regime have a right to fight back, and it's not their place to tell the resistance what to think about the occupiers.

If you think the BNP are against Israel, you've got some catching up to do...
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/1674064/posts

As a Nationalist I can say that I support Israel 100 % in their dispute with Hezbollah - Lee Barnes, a BNP lawyer

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Silvio Berlusconi is fingerprinting all Gypsies, both Italian and foreign, but he's fully committed to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish country. John Hagee is a thinly-veiled anti-gay, anti-Catholic bigot -- but he has raised over $9 M which he has donated to Israeli causes.

The only day I ever spent in Rome I got attacked by Gypsie pick-pockets. Are you sure Burlosconi is a "quasi-fascist"? I'm glad Hagee supports Israel, but I haven't been that impressed in the anti-Catholic charge. It probably has some truth to it. Radical Protestants--Pentecostals, etc.--have along tradition of anti-Catholicism. I grew up in the American South and I am used to this stuff. It doesn't strike me as a danger to Democracy. People who think that way mistrust the government and usually vote against expanding government power. Anyway, we are getting side-tracked. Why do leftists endlessly apologize for Iran? Why don't they have enough sympathy for Mizrachi Jews--who they sometimes claim to care about--to advocate continued self-determination for the country where almost all of those Mizrachi Jews now live? I assume you're a leftist but not a Maoist or something. Why are you the way you are about Israel? Why don't you have some sympathy for Palestinian suffering, admit that a lot of it is self-inflicted, criticize Israel for its flaws, and accept that the rather small zone of Jewish-self-determination that Israel represents should survive. If it doesn't, that's going to be about it for thousands of years of continuous Jewish presence in the Middle East. Do you want wall-to-wall Islam in the Middle East, or is there some value to diversity?

JR said...

Let's unravel Andrew R's refutation fail a bit:
Israel's constitution - http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles/const-intro-93.htm
BNP pretends not to be antisemitic and fools no-one (axcept Andrew R) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/apr/10/thefarright.race
From the Hamas constitution: "8. Article 32 refers to an infamous century-old forgery in almost the identical terms used by Adolf Hitler: "Their plan is embodied in 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion', and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying." see http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17738.htm
And if you think that indiscriminate attacks on civilians constitutes resistance, or that you can "resist" people who are minding there own business and leaving you alone then I suggest you don't accuse others of ranting.

andrew r said...

BNP pretends not to be antisemitic and fools no-one (axcept Andrew R)

The BNP support Israel despite being anti-semitic. Don't forget in your last post, you asserted they're against Israel. In fact, there's a history of powerful anti-semites who supported Zionism, starting with von Plehve, who corresponded with Herzl and including John Vorster, a South African Nazi who was Israel's ally as PM.

Amazingly, even the jcpa article you linked agrees with me: Israel has been unable to adopt a constitution full blown, not because it does not share the new society understanding of constitution as fundamental law, but because of a conflict over what constitutes fundamental law within Israeli society.

Hamas has shown they can and do hold off attacks; they've honored ceasefires for months on end while IDF attacked with impunity. They've also recently condemned firing rockets on Israelis (for practical reasons, but it shows the common slander of preferring death to peace is much exaggerated). Not to mention many of their leaders publicly demand a withdrawal to the 1967 borders for a longterm peace. This isn't about making Hamas into good guys -- I just know Israel bribes its civilians to live in a warzone, so the pretense of occupation as self-defense isn't credible, and Hamas has given more reason to believe they won't attack if there's no occupation.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

The only day I ever spent in Rome I got attacked by Gypsie pick-pockets.

During the week we spent in Rome a Gypsy fortuneteller told my wife she was pregnant (which we didn't know at the time) and would give birth to a healthy girl. Eight months later our daughter was born.

I wouldn't say all Gypsies bring good luck from our experience, and I wouldn't say all Gypsies are thieves from yours. The fact that 8-year-old Italians are being fingerprinted because they belong to the wrong minority is blood-curdling -- as is seeing Jews supporting the measure. (No, I'm not asking Jews to be better than others; I'm asking them not to forget what was done to them.)

I assume you're a leftist but not a Maoist or something. Why are you the way you are about Israel?

I'm not a militant leftist, although I may be left-leaning in that I believe that too much economic power concentrated in too few hands is not good for the world.

Actually, I'm much more against Hasbara than I am against Israel. I just can't see people I know to be intelligent repeating the same tired Manichean clichés and, in some cases, actually believing them.

You must acknowledge that presenting B'Tselem, a European-left-funded organization, as proof that Israel is morally superior to other countries is ludicrous.

I just can't stand the self-righteousness of Israel supporters, their racist attitudes about Arabs, their cavalier dismissal of all Israeli wrongdoings as exceptions, or even as evidence that Israel is better than all other countries combined.

That said, I also have a commitment to the truth, as our private correspondence may have shown to you. (By the way, what happened with that?)

Yitzchak Goodman said...

You must acknowledge that presenting B'Tselem, a European-left-funded organization, as proof that Israel is morally superior to other countries is ludicrous.

It isn't ludicrous to cite B'Tselem as proof that Israel has what Syria or Iran lacks, an anti-Nationalist opposition, or one that's tolerated. That's all. All countries blow their own horns. Democracies are generally superior to dictatorships although I don't know how you would rate the democracies against each other. Israel's national and political culture is an odd mixture of the leftist idealism of the people who gave the world the Kibbutz and a certain toughness which came out of the Holocaust, which was augmented by Jews from Arab lands, and which further developed during Israel's seemingly endless struggle with the Palestinians and the other Arabs.

Actually, I'm much more against Hasbara than I am against Israel.

Why don't you do a post about that?

That said, I also have a commitment to the truth, as our private correspondence may have shown to you. (By the way, what happened with that?)

Technically we never had a private correspondence although our exchanges in the comments section of my blog may have approached being one. You were going to e-mail me at one point, but it seems you fell afoul of some spam-blocker or some other technical barrier.

Anonymous said...

Oh, don't give me that "country like any other" crap. Israel was created by the colonial powers in the area, and finally given its statehood under the UN. It is a completely artificial state, created to hopefully ameliorate several perceived problems. If it ends up making ever more problems, what good is it, to the Jews, or anybody? I admit my religious education is not extensive, but I don't remember a religious imperative having to do with any particular bit of real estate.

What can the Jews in Israel do for God that they can't do for Him anywhere else? And what can God do for the Jews in Israel, that He cannot do for them anywhere else?

The place is becoming a burden and a shondah to all righteous Jews.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

It is a completely artificial state

And other Middle East countries weren't created by the Colonial powers? Where does this notion of "artificial" (and I suppose "natural") states come from? Do you know many Israelis? Israel's national movement succeeded despite adversity. Maybe there was something "natural" about that.

I admit my religious education is not extensive, but I don't remember a religious imperative having to do with any particular bit of real estate.

We just finished a shmittah year. You might start there.

Health Blog said...

I say it without any irony,
I believe you are right.