Tuesday, July 18, 2006

To support Israel or not to support Israel?

My recent posts on the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah situation (for lack of a better word) suggest that I support Israel, perhaps even unreservedly so. And some readers no doubt object to this.

Consider:

In one post, I wrote this: "Right. Israel's aggression and Israel's crimes. That's always the spin, isn't it? When groups like Hezbollah and states like Syria make the case that Israel is to blame for their ills, they can justify their ongoing attempts to wipe Israel out entirely."

In response, an anonymous commenter wrote this: "Now, stickings [sic], I know there are many ways to view things. I'm just curious why you choose to focus on one side and not on both sides, in this particular case."

A fair point. Let me try to address it.

It was Syria's ruling Baath Party (Saddam's party in Iraq) that referred to Israel's "aggression" and "crimes". Assad's anti-Israeli spin is predictable, and it's a spin I reject. Israel has in the past been aggressive. Some may even think that Israel has committed crimes. But Israel is not "barbaric". Furthermore, Syria, which until only recently tyrannized Lebanon, supports Hezbollah. That organization wants to obliterate Israel. Ipso facto, Syria wants to obliterate Israel. Whatever Israel may or may not have done in the past, who is the aggressor here? Who has committed a crime?

This brings me to a post by Jonathan Chait at TNR's The Plank:

At Tapped, Matt Yglesias writes that Hezbollah's rocket strikes, as compared with Israel's bombing of Lebanon, are "equally indefensible." Equally? Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon's infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah's artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targetted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.

Israel's response seems like a good idea to me, though I'm open to the possibility that it may turn out to have been a bad idea. I don't think we can yet know whether Israel's response will have its intended effect, or if it has been precise enough to justify the inevitable collateral damage. But I don't see how you could morally equate the actions of the two sides.

Which is very much my own view. I, too, am not sure if what Israel has done, is doing, and will do is good. It may be bad. Time will tell. However, I'm not so sure it's "a good idea," in Chait's words, as much as a measured response to a very bad situation. I would prefer that Israel didn't bomb Lebanon, even tactically, given the inevitability of civilian casualties, and it may very well be that Israel has already bombed unnecessarily, but how else should Israel have responded to Hezbollah? How would you respond if someone staying at your next door neighbour's house, and with your neighbour's support, broke into your house in the middle of the night and kidnapped one of your children? What if this someone also wanted to destroy you, your house, and everything in it? Even if you yourself have been guilty in the past of being a bad neighbour, even if you don't like your neighbour and that someone, even if you once one hurt one of that someone's loved ones, wouldn't you respond with force and determination to that someone's blatant act of aggression?

The analogy isn't entirely appropriate, I admit, but it illuminates what life must be like in Israel and why Israel has responded as it has this past week to Hezbollah.

But back to my critics: I acknowledge that the anti-Israeli spin I criticize in that post isn't the only spin. The Israelis have their own spin, as the anonymous commenter argues. And, regardless, I am not unreservedly pro-Israel. As I've mentioned, its use of force here concerns me, or at least the degree concerns me, and, more broadly, I've long been a supporter of the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from disputed lands in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as of a sovereign Palestinian state. Which is to say that I was once much more critical of Israel than I am today. I see its response to Hezbollah as largely defensive, not offensive. In recent years, Israel has in good faith attempted to reach a state of peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, even the ones that don't much like it. After all, it was a hardliner like Ariel Sharon, once anything but a dovish accommodationist, who sent the bulldozers into Gaza and who looked "forward" to a lasting peace.

I would unabashedly call myself a supporter of Israel -- with reservations (as many Israelis themselves have reservations, argue amongst themselves over the best courses of action to take with respect to Hezbollah, and support different political parties with different perspectives). In this case, I think, Hezbollah was (and is) in the wrong. In response, Israel has the right, like any sovereign state, to defend itself. Historical wrongs may be tallied up on both sides, and there may be unresolvable differences over who started this whole mess, over who took the first shot, and when, just there may be disagreement over whether Israel has responded proportionately or not to Hezbollah's aggression, but it seems to me that Israel has done more than enough to warrant our continued friendship.

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