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Moral Blindness on Gaza By: Alan M. Dershowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bill Moyers holds himself out to be a moral arbiteur, based in large part on his commitment to Christian principles. Cardinal Renato Martino is a prince of the Catholic church and President of the Council for Justice and Peace. Former President Jimmy Carter preaches peace, based on the teachings of Jesus. Yet when it comes to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, all three are morally blind.

In a widely watched television assessment of the recent conflict in Gaza, here is what Moyers said: “By killing indiscriminately the elderly, kids, entire families, by destroying schools and hospitals, Israel did exactly what terrorists do…” (emphasis added) Of course he also included the obligatory hedge that: “Every nation has the right to defend its people.” Cardinal Martino went even further, making an obscene and historically ignorant, comparison between Israel’s self-defense actions against rockets fired by Hamas at Israeli children, and the Nazi genocide against the Jews during the Holocaust. He said that the conditions in Gaza “resembles a big concentration camp.”

Concentration camps, of course, were places where Jews were held until they could be processed through the machinery of death, as part of a massive genocidal program that willfully murdered 6 million Jews. Any comparison between Israel’s action in Gaza and those of Nazis during the Holocaust is not only obscene, it is blatantly anti-Semitic, which is supposed to be a sin under Vatican law. (It is apparently not, however, a sin for a Catholic bishop to deny that the Holocaust occurred at all, since Bishop Richard Williamson of Great Britain was welcomed back into the Catholic church after claiming that there were no gas chambers and that the Jews are lying when they say that 6 million of them were killed, when according to that bigot in robes, a mere 300,000 Jews died during the entire Holocaust. The batty bishop—who, like the Taliban, opposes higher education for women—also believes that no airplanes were involved in the 9/11 attack and that the buildings were blown up by explosives and rockets, presumably set and fired by the United States and Israel.)

An essential aspect of Christian teaching, and especially of Catholic teaching, is the important principle that distingusihes between intentionally killing an innocent person, and unintentionally killing an innocent person in the process of legitimately trying to prevent harm to one’s self or others. This concept, known as the principle of double effect, is central to Catholic theology. It traces its roots to Thomas Aquinas and has had enormous influence on moral thinking not only within the Catholic Church, but throughout Christianity and indeed in the secular world as well. Understanding and complying with this principle may literally mean the difference between eternal damnation and eternal salvation. That’s how important it is.

Except, apparently, when it comes to the Jewish state of Israel. Then suddenly moral blindness makes it impossible for church authorities to see, understand or apply this principle. Cardinal Martino is not the first church leader to try to create moral equivalence between the actions of Hamas in willfully and proudly trying to kill as many Jewish children, women and other civilians as possible, and the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces in trying to stop them from killing Jewish children, while inadvertently killing some Palestinian civilians who are used as human shields by Hamas. The Pope himself has been guilty of invoking such moral equivalence between these very different actions. Indeed it is fair to say that the Vatican’s entire approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict has been to suggest a false moral equivalence.

Church leaders know better. They understand precisely what they are doing. They are making utilitarian, pragmatic and very anti-Catholic cynical judgments calculated to bolster the influence of The Church in the Middle East. It might be understandable for secular nations to act in so amoral, if not immoral, a manner, but it is entirely unacceptable for the Catholic church, which eschews utilitarianism and preaches moral consistency and absolutism to act in so cynical a way.

This is especially troubling, because the church tends to forget its own teachings primarily when it deals with the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Its long history of discrimination and bigotry against Jews—slaughtering entire Jewish communities on the way to the Crusades, murdering entire Jewish communities during the inquisitions, fomenting pogroms, and signing a pact with Hitler during the Holocaust—should make it even more concerned about applying a double standard of morality to the Jewish state. But that’s exactly what it does. And then it complains when critics point to this obvious double standard.

This abuse of great Christian teaching is not limited to the Catholic church. Bill Moyers and Jimmy Carter both hold themselves out as exemplary Protestants, whose morality drives from the teachings of Jesus. Yet they too create false moral equivalence between willful murder, and self-defense that sometimes results in accidental killings because Hamas deliberately uses human shields in order to make it impossible for Israel to defend its own civilians without occasionally killing Palestinian civilians. How else could one read Moyers statement that what Israel did “was exactly what terrorists do.” Exactly? Well not exactly! Not even close. As different as anything could be based on principles that Moyers’ espouses in other contexts. Listen to a leading military expert—retired British Colonel Richard Kemp—who concluded, based on his extensive experience, that there has been “no time in the history of warfare when an Army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties…than [the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza].” Is that “exactly what terrorists do,” Mr. Moyers?

Jimmy Carter is even worse. He doesn’t even see moral equivalence. He blames everything on Israel. Jimmy Carter should look in the mirror more often and he will see that he himself bears much of the blame for the death and destruction that he deplores. In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he says it would have been “suicidal” for Yasser Arafat to accept the generous offer made by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak at Camp David in Taba. Remember that that offer included independent statehood for the Palestinian people on all of the Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, an end to all Jewish settlements, no checkpoints, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a $35 billion refugee reparation package.

Think for a moment of what Carter is saying when he warns that any Palestinian leader who might accept such an offer would be assassinated. What is he saying about the Palestinian people? That they will never accept peace without violence? That they will always kill their leaders who make peace with Israel, as the Muslim brotherhood murdered Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and as Muslim extremists killed the first King Abdullah of Jordan. Whether he advised Yassir Arafat before the fact to reject the Camp David offer, which the evidence strongly suggests, or whether he is merely making that suggestions to future Palestinian leaders, he has clearly become a barrier to peace. If he in fact told Arafat to reject the offer, then he is an important contributing cause to the current crisis.

The sad reality is that religious doctrines are as easily manipulated by cynical churchmen as anything Thomas Bentham ever proposed in the name of utilitarianism.

Bill Moyers ended a letter to the New York Times in which he defended his moral equivalency statement by saying that to be indifferent to suffering is “to be as blind as Sampson in Gaza.” No, Mr. Moyers, to be indifferent to the crucial difference between what terrorists do, namely try to kill as many civilians as possible from behind human shields, and what democracies such as Israel and the United States do, namely try to stop terrorists from killing with the minimum possible injury to civilians, is truly to be “eyeless in Gaza.”

Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”

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