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The New Moral Equivalence By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 14, 2001


DURING THE BYGONE DAYS of the Cold War, we used to see example after example of the doctrine of "moral equivalence," in which media pundits, commentators and intellectuals of the Left equated the United States and the totalitarian powers, led by the Soviet Union, as complete equals in the moral plane. If one protested the Soviet control of nations such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the response would be: "but the United States empire controls and subjugates Latin and Central America, practicing neocolonialism in the areas it controls and actively working to overthrow free and independent regimes like Cuba." While those on the political Left argued that countries like Cuba and the former Soviet states were actually freer than the imperialist United States; most in the media simply treated the attempt of the postwar American administrationsfrom Truman through Reagan and Bushto respond to the expansionist thrust of the USSR as no different than what the Soviets and their client states were trying to do to American expansion.

The Soviet Union no longer exists, but the pundits still are engaging in the same illogicthis time, however, the focus of their analysis is the growing conflict between the free and democratic state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by Yassir Arafat. As I write this on Sunday evening, the news has just announced the second vicious attack by a Palestinian "suicide bomber," this time a man who was part of Arafat’s personal security guard, at a crowded restaurant in Haifa on a Sunday afternoon. Just as the media has been "explaining" in articles such as Deborah Sontag’s now notorious frontpage article in The New York Times a few weeks back, that Israel is the party equally responsible for the failure of the ceasefire and the inability to reach a culmination of the Oslo accords in Bill Clinton’s waning days of the Presidency, so the media pundits now explain that the renewed violence and escalation of terrorist attacks by Arafat’s legions are simply a result of what they call the growing "cycle of violence" engaged in equally by each side of the dispute.

On Friday night, I watched ABC television’s Friday Night Nightline Special, a report hosted by Jon Donvan that sought to explain to viewers what was happening in the Middle East. It was simple, we were told. Both sides were upping the ante and resorting to unrestrained violence. As news footage was shown of the moving funerals of some of the nineteen killed in last week’s Jerusalem bombing of a pizza parlor, including the funeral of a New Jersey pregnant woman; the images shifted to Palestinian mourners carrying aloft amidst throngs of cheering crowds the photo of the suicide bomber who was responsible, and the bodies of other terrorist leaders who were assassinated by targeted Israeli missiles. The measures taken by known terrorists who were openly giving orders to destroy the lives of men, women and children civilians in Israel, were equated with the Israeli response of seeking to target the assassination of known terrorist leaders from groups like Hamas who were ordering a rash of new suicide bombing missions. Each side’s actions, viewers were told, equally led to escalation, and each revealed that both Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli government’s response to terrorist attacks were on the same moral plane.

Moreover, as Barry Rubin reported in the August 8 Jerusalem Post, American press reporters at both White House and State Department briefings seemed unanimous in their clearly stated opinion that it was Israel alone that "is solely responsible for the… continuation of the violence." Rubin sifted through the transcripts of the press briefings, and came up with pointed comments from various reporters, such as the one who asked whether President Bush, "since Israel stepped up its policy of targeted attacks… unilaterally violating the ceasefire," had "called Prime Minister Sharon on this?" As Rubin justly comments, no one asked whether the President had called Arafat to complain, given that he had rejected two peace plans, ceasefire plans and sponsored and even endorsed suicide bombings.

Moreover, under Colin Powell’s tutelage, the State Department has been carrying out a policy of socalled evenhandedness to preposterous proportions. At an August 2 State Department briefing, Richard Boucher opposed "targeted killings," denying that an Israeli missile attack was aimed at a Hamas headquarters, and suggesting that the destroyed building might have been a simple apartment building. As Rubin writes, "it doesn’t really matter whether Israel hit a base where attacks on Israelis were being planned, or a normal apartment building. Both actions are equally wrong." Indeed, Israel is regularly condemned for attacking known perpetrators of violence, after which their retaliation is often said to have been "excessive." To use a simple analogy; if you take action to prevent future planned attacks on your home and family, by opponents who are constantly threatening to attack; you are morally the same as those criminals who for months have been planning the attack you are seeking to prevent.

What the State Department says, as Richard Boucher did, is that "we’ve encouraged both sides to stop violence." The words, of course, imply that the vicious and brutal killing of families at lunch is to be equated with the carefully targeted attacks on those who were planning the series of attacks. In the case of the Jerusalem bomber, reports indicated that the man responsible was on such a list compiled by Israeli intelligence. If they had successfully assassinated him earlier, perhaps the pizza parlor attack would have been foiled. If the State Department engages in such gobbledygook, can we really be surprised that the media analysts are doing no better?

And even as the press condemns the growing attacks, its editorial writers cannot get themselves to admit that Yassir Arafat stands behind the attacks. The New York Times continually editorializes that Israelis must understand that despite his deficiencies, he is the only possible negotiating partner, and must be accepted as one if peace is ever to be realized. Like the State Department, the media attacks Israel for retaliating against terrorists, more than it attacks Arafat for allowing the terrorists to operate out of his own organization.

At present, only VicePresident Dick Cheney, who forthrightly approved Israel’s policy of retaliation, has come forth as the voice of sanity. But the White House’s recent statement correcting his remarksin effect undermining his correct response by appearing to favor a balanced positionhas only stalked those who continue to engage in the new and still fallacious doctrine of moral equivalence. The time has come to realize that there have been 80 suicide bombings against Israel since Oslo was signed in 1993. The amount of Israelis killed has now gone to 450 since that time. It is clear, as Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson argue in the August 13th Wall Street Journal, that the Palestinian authority has violated Oslo, as well as has sponsored "a terrorist infrastructure of frightening proportions." To condemn Israel in this context is to give a green light to Yassir Arafat to continue with his program of violence, and to spawn Palestinian hopes for the eventual control of Jerusalem and the destruction of Israel. Moreover, as Pipes and Emerson argue, Powell has to "stop repeating the old mantra about going back to the bargaining table." And I would add, the press has to stop telling usin print and on televisionthat Israel has to show more restraint. If your home were attacked by criminals and, rather than call the police, you were asked to enter into a dialogue with them, would you?


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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