And then what do I say? I’ve been observing two entirely different discourses: there’s that of the organized Jewish community, and there’s that of, well, just about everyone else, and, well, you know, there’s not been a whole lot of contact between the two. It’s pretty clear to me that Hamas is a nasty organization, not just in regard to Israel, but in general; only the most naïve anti-Zionist would see a Hamas government as empowering to its residents. Clear, too, that lobbing mortars and rockets at Israeli civilian centers is inexcusable and criminal, not to mention mind-bogglingly stupid as a strategy to get Israel to lift the siege. These two facts are crucial to any discussion of the war.
Yet these two facts neither answer nor preclude two central questions:
1) Was the war a wise and appropriate approach to Israel’s legitimate long-term security needs?
2) Was the war prosecuted in accordance with international law?
You’re all as smart as I am, you have access to the same sources as I do, you can try to answer these for yourselves. But that’s the point – we need to get to a place where we can, indeed, try to answer them.
Concerning the first question, I’d like to note that “Because the bastards deserve it” while necessary, is not, by itself, a good reason to go to war – notwithstanding Bush’s attempt to retroactively apply it to Iraq. I’d also like to note that questioning the wisdom of a country’s policy, even arguing that a policy is wrongheaded and doomed to fail, is not an attack on the country. Nations, even democracies, do wrong-headed things, and it’s worth remembering that the official Israeli report described the second Lebanon war as a blunder, the result of an inadequate decision-making process. In the words of Justice Winograd, “Israel did not use its military power wisely or effectively," Would it have been anti-Israel to say this during the war?
As to war crimes, well, the accusation that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes is an ugly one, and it should be, because war crimes are bad things to do. But they’re bad things even if the good guys do them, and even if the bad guys are committing war crimes, too. This isn’t a zero-sum morality, where if one side is bad they’re entirely bad and the other side is entirely good. God knows (and God does know) that the US isn’t pure, nor is Britain, nor any other country. And we demand an accounting especially when the “good guys” commit them because we want them to remain the good guys – and that doesn’t happen if you begin to believe that goodness and justice are categorical attributes, not qualities that require ongoing commitment.
I’m worried about the long-term security of Israel, because Israel’s most pressing security need – a reasonably stable, reasonably democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – seems further and further away. But I’m worried, too, about a Diaspora Jewish community that does not have a way of engaging in a serious, reasoned, discussion of Israel. Something, by the way, we’re going to need more and more in the coming years.