Thursday, April 9, 2009

Michael Walzer and Avishai Margalit Condemn Israel’s Conduct of the War in Gaza

When Michael Walzer, one of Israel’s staunchest defenders among American liberals and the author of the classic study, Just and Unjust Wars, publicly criticizes Israel for its conduct of the war in Gaza, you know that Israel has lost its moral stature in the eyes of liberal American supporters. The only answer to Walzer is, “Morality be damned; war is hell” which, of course, is a rejection of the just/unjust war distinction that has formed the bedrock of the liberal justification of war since the publication of Walzer’s book.

Walzer's condemnation, carefully worded but uncompromising, is co-authored with his Princeton Advanced Institute colleague, Avishai Margalit, Israel's best-known philosopher. It appeared in Haaretz yesterday, and I have not seen it translated yet. Maybe the English version will appear in Dissent or in the New York Review of Books

Both Walzer and Margalit have publicly criticized Israel before, but they have always taken the position of the Zionist left against Chomsky, Said, and what we in Israel call "the consistent Left." And Walzer, in particular, has gone easy on the IDF, which he has romanticized as a people's army.

Walzer and Margalit start their op-ed by criticizing the well-known article by Asa Kasher (the IDF's house ethicist) and Asher Yadlin, "Assassination and Preventive Killing", which according to Amos Harel, underlaid the military's justification for its actions in Gaza. The major principle is that "our soldiers' lives take precedence over their civilians."

The principle, according to Walzer and Margalit, is "erroneous and dangerous" -- because it strikes at the distinction between combattants and non-combattants which is at the heart of just war theory. Wars can be just when they are conducted between states (and those entities that function as states) and not between peoples. The ability to harm and to inflict damage is what makes soldiers legitimate targets during war times. Civilians are not legitimate targets, even if they sympathize with their fighters; for that matter, soldiers who are not part of the immediate war effort are also not appropriate targets (whether they be Israeli soldiers waiting at the Beit Lid bus stop, or Hamas policemen and their families -- JH)

The bottom line is that soldiers must risk their lives in order not to hurt civilians -- and to take the same measures to protect Palestinian civilian lives as they would to protect Israeli civilian lines.

How much should they be willing to risk their lives? To answer this the authors propose a variant of the thought experiment first presented IN THIS BLOG (thanks to a suggestion of philosopher Georges Rey) and by Joseph Levine. Only this time, instead of Hamas militants holding Israelis as hostages, it is Hizbollah militants holding Israelis as hostages, and four separate types of hostages are presented. Walzer and Avishai's point is that there can be no moral distinction between our civilians and their civilians. Where killing one group as collateral damage is justified, so too killing the other group.

All this has to to do with the conduct of the war. I find it highly significant that the authors say nothing about jus ad bellam, whether Israel was justified to go to war in the first place. Well, nothing directly...at one point they write that the Hamas and Hizbollah fighters also believe that their war is just, but that this does not absolve them of the need to examine their conduct.

Can it be that an answer to the question that often decides jus ad bellam - whether all diplomatic avenues were exhausted -- eluded the authors? Walzer criticized the Second Iraq war on these grounds. Apparently, Margalit and Walzer decided to focus on the no-brainer: Israel's immoral conduct of the "war".

For the record, again, I am very skeptical of the just war/unjust war distinction, which enables powerful countries and their defenders to justify horrific atrocities. But even if there are just wars, then Israel's conduct of the Gaza operation was not just -- according to the guy who wrote the book.

66 comments:

Margaret said...

Thanks for the links and sources as well as for development of the issue of jus ad bellam.

I would make a joke about 'thought experiments', but people have been thinking, so I will refrain.

Anonymous said...

The SAIS references are subscription only.

I am going to have to get a paypal account eventually, but not today.

Margaret said...

The SAIS reference is subscription only.

This dinosaur (a Digital Immigrant) has to get a pay-pal subscription, but not today.

I've been reading papers on the ICT site, http://www.ict.org.il/, which seem to provide the basis for the IDF/State of Israel standard scripts.

McClatchy news says use of drones by the US is being evaluated. We shall see if that means anything, or is a merely a sop to irritants encountered along the way.

Anonymous said...

The same thought experiment mentioned above can be found in

http://hum.mbreen.com/gaza2009.html

together with a general critique of the various defences advanced for the Gaza offensive.

Avram said...

Jerry - I'm just curious if you feel there's been a 'just' war in the last century (if yes, which one obviously)? Or do you feel the term cannot exist due to it being 'war'.

Margaret said...

"Wars can be just when they are conducted between states (and those entities that function as states) and not between peoples."

Seems there is a disconnect: 'states' are groups of people; when states engage in war, people kill, maim and dispossess other people.

Oh, that must be 'realpolitik' - where reality is transformed into a widget based fantasy land.

Thank you for taking this question one step further.

Steve from NYC said...

Jerry, great analysis -- with all evidence to the contrary, however, we still get the official line that the IDF is the most ethical/moral army in the world. Your candor is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Magnes,

one can criticize the conduct of a war while still justifying the fact of needing to go to war.

This is my position. I also gree that the distinction between civilian and military ought to be maintained.

As I read this article this is what Margalit and Walzer did.

Reasonable people have criticized GB for bombing Dresden during WW2 but not the fact that Britain declated war on Germany in 1939. (let's remember that the Nazi regime had not attacked GB at the time.)

Your haste in condemning Israel doesn't give your sometimes reasonable views credibility.

Greg said...

One matter further, gentlemen.
We fight on their level.

With trickery, brutality, finality.
We match their evil.

I know, James. I was reputed to be a gentle man.

But I was commander in chief...
during the four bloodiest years of my country's history.

I gave orders that sent...
a hundred thousand men to their death...
at the hands of their brothers.
[ Sighs ]

There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy.

There is nothing good in war except its ending.
[ Sighs ]

And you are fighting for the lives of your crew.

Watch Here.

---

By the way, if you don't like the fictional nature of the quote, the same sentiments were stated by General Sherman in his letter to the city leaders of Atlanta.

Read Here

That is probably where the writers got it from.

Anonymous said...

Do you know who Weiss is?

Take a look:

http://www.observer.com/node/39531


"What about Jewish shape-shifters like Lewis Namier, the Zionist and historian who became Christian? Or Spinoza, who refused to drink the Kool-Aid that we are the chosen people? Or Mortimer Adler of the Aspen Institute, who needed to become an Episcopalian?"



Or this?


"But Jewish history is filled with assimilation, especially by literary stars from Spinoza to Heine to Nathanael West. Assimilation is older than any other Jewish social dream, older than Zionism, communism, or, today, neoconservatism. ”

http://www.observer.com/2007/oh-norman-my-norman?page=all


Are you really an "Orthodox" Jew?

Greg said...

What you don't understand about Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims is that they aren't like us. They don't act the way we do. They don't think the way we think.

For some peoples aren't looking for anything logical - they can't be bought. bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some peoples just want to watch the world burn.

Can't negotiate inevitably with such evil. Such evil must in the end be destroyed.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a combination of "Monday morning quarterbacking" as well as elitist ivory tower irrelevance.

Sure from up in that ivory tower where "reality" consists of just ideas in books and dissertations it all might look so clear to them.

But if it was THEIR children's school that was hit by a rocket attack I bet their perspective would change quite quickly.

These people don't operate in the real world so the real world should ignore whatever they have to say regardless of the number of PhD's they might have.

The people who with legitimacy on this matter are the people who have been there, with the sweet, in the mud, up to their ankles in blood.

They are the ones with authority on such matters not pointy head academics who should be viewed only with contempt.

Henry said...

Wow, Princeton, what a prestigious university. I bet he has a PhD doesn't he? Since he teaches at Princeton I guess he must be right.

You know in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s there were lots of people from prestigious universities, people with PhDs who said people like you were less than human. But I guess the citizens back then must have said with a PhD he must be right.

I remember this behavioral test they once did where they had their volunteers ask these other volunteers some questions and when they answered the question wrong they would shock them. And each time the shock was worse than the time before.

Well, the ones being asked the questions were acting and weren't actually being shocked, but the people asking the questions didn't know that. And despite protestations and even screams they would still continue with what they thought was shocking the people for the wrong question.

But the people asking them to do the shocking were in "authority". After all they had PhDs from a prestige school and it was being conducted at the University so what they were doing must be correct regardless of any personal doubts they might have had in what they were being asked to do.

I don't want to live in the world you are promoting by appealing to someone's credibility because he teaches at some prestigious university. Such a world scares me and it should scare you given history.

People with PhDs, people who even teach at prestigious universities can be wrong, and frequently they are.

Often it is because they get so enthralled with their own ideas, their own theories, their own dissertations they are blinded by them and don't consider if such ideas work in the real world or their implications. They become detached from reality and if and when they get the opportunity to put their ideas in action often cruel things happen as a result.

G-d save us from the academic as they have caused as much if not more destruction in the world than the ignorant rabble.

So as to Princeton, if anything it gives him less credibility because it indicates that he is most likely out of touch with the real world with his clouds in the sky academic theories.

Book learning is important up to a point and then it can be hazardous as the person becomes detached from the real world. Unless it is the "hard sciences" (eg. Engineering) I don't trust PhD's and give much weigh to those "in the trenches".

Anonymous said...

"The bottom line is that soldiers must risk their lives in order not to hurt civilians -- and to take the same measures to protect Palestinian civilian lives as they would to protect Israeli civilian lines. "

That is insane.


The order is protecting your own citizens.

Victory.

Protecting your own soldiers.

Protecting enemy civilians.

Protecting enemy soldiers.

In that order without the lesser goal harming the higher goal.

The only place where sometimes it doesn't go that way is protecting your citizens. Sometimes and I only mean sometimes for the sake of victory you might not be able to protect your own citizens as much as you would want to. For if you don't achieve victory those citizens as well as the rest would be harmed by defeat but of course the goal should always be to organize your victory strategy around the protection of your own citizens. I was thinking of cases like Coventry though where those people had to be sacrificed in order to achieve victory.

But instead for these occasional exceptions the order is.

Protection of your own citizens.

Victory (which of course in part is the protection of your own citizens).

Protection of your soldiers.

Protection of enemy civilians.

Then absolutely last, last, last is protection of enemy soldiers.

For it is the duty of your leaders to protect their own citizens to the greatest degree possible and that includes their solders! To do less would be immoral!

Anonymous said...

"Civilians are not legitimate targets, even if they sympathize with their fighters; for that matter, soldiers who are not part of the immediate war effort are also not appropriate targets (whether they be Israeli soldiers waiting at the Beit Lid bus stop, or Hamas policemen and their families."

This is all crap.

Here is reality. The Palestinians are going to do whatever it takes for them to harm your people, so you need to do whatever it takes for you to stop them from harming your people.

That's the reality. All the rest is just irrelevant crap.

There is only ONE Rule of War. And that is... there are no rules! Only victory or defeat. Only kill or be killed.

Young Activist said...

Even if Israel did not kill civilians in Gaza, either by targeting them or through negligence, this war was not justifiable because (a)it was disproportionate, (b) it worsened the situation in provoking a response from Hamas that led to more rockets, and (c) there were diplomatic routes open for the resolution of the official pretense for attacking Gaza.

The Contentious Centrist said...

It is my opinion that the hypothetical scenario that Walzer and Avishai provide as a possible model for drawing conclusions about civilian casualties is deficient and not at all equivalent to the context in Gaza war. Absent from these deliberations are the 11,000 kassams that were launched from Gaza and pose mortal danger to almost a million civilians who live in the region. The Manara thesis simply ignores this very important factor. If Hizzbala were to use Manara with its Israeli hostages, as a launchpad for rockets that could reach every civilian in the Galilee, the consideration for taking it by any means would have to include the need to endanger the the lives of the captured Israelis, is spite of the feelings of the soldiers who will have to do the fighting.

Unfortunately, there are in Israel's history many such examples when Israeli hostages were killed in similar situations. Let's recall Munich's botched attempt by the Germans to set the hostages free. Antebbe. Savoy hotel. Sabena airliner. Maalot. To names but a few.

This scenario is simply flawed and possibly irrelevant to the Gaza reality. Sadly, it looks just like an attempt to jump on the band wagon of Israel bashing, a very fashionable past time among literati and ignoranti alike. It's terribly sad for me to see Walzer, whom I respect, cooperate in such a poorly thought out piece of writing.

BTW, there is a discussion of this article on the New Republic, here, starting at about comment # 11 or thereabouts:

http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2009/04/09/no-thanks.aspx#comments

Anonymous said...

I see your refuse to publish comments critical of your point of view.

I am not surprised since this is typical of the anti-Zionist camp.

However, your views (and those of your demented Jew hating friend Weiss) are being attacked elsewhere on the web. They are being shown to be tendentious nonsense.

Here:

http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2009/04/09/no-thanks.aspx#comments


Even though you are unwilling to debate people on your own blog we would welcome you there if you have the guts to debate us.

Jerry Haber said...

Hi, I just want to say that the reason I did not publish the comments until now (and some that were repetitive were partially republished) was due to the fact that there is Jewish holiday called Passover going on, and that I just arrived in DC a few hours ago from Israel.

I am behind (as always) on my day job, but I hope to respond to some of my comments.

One thing -- there is no moral or practical equivalence between the thousands of rockets fired into Israel -- to be morally condemned to be sure, as every human rights organization did -- and the hundreds, if not thousands of shells and bombs dropped on Gaza by the IDF over the last nine years. The number of casualties and damages very much speak for themselves.

It is false to say that thousands of Israelis were seriously endangered by the kassam rockets -- although I do not deny that the trauma is significant -- but the trauma, deaths, and casualties of the Palestinians in Gaza were and is greater -- not to mention the fact that only one side controls the other side to a large extent, and denies its liberty.

to all the people who say, "What about the Kassams," I say, "Where would you rather live? In Gaza City or in Sderot? Where is the quality of life higher? Which place can you exit if your children are frightened? Where can you be sure of being protected by one of the strongest armies in the world?

During the second intifada, Jews thought twice before they went to cafes in Jerusalem, even though the odds they would get hurt were minimal. But Palestinians knew that tif they stepped outside of their houses after curfew they would be shot by Israeli snipers -and they were. So should we say that the Palestinian trauma was less than the Jewish?

Only if you have a tribal morality.

To me, there is something deeply sick about drawing some sort of equivalence between the actions of Hamas and those of the IDF -- and not because I expect better of the IDF. Because the IDF's terror was much more widespread and effective than those of Hamas. That is why, although I condemn both, I consider the IDF's much worse.

Perhaps had Hamas the same weapons and strategic control as did the IDF, they would have behaved worse. Perhaps. But I am not dealing with what if's.

Thanks for the links to the New Republic.

Jerry Haber said...

Well, I read the New Republic blog on the Walzer and Margalit op-ed, and the comments were amusing.

First, the tone was one of denial (Walzer is a good guy; he can't be condemning Israel); then, blame thr messenger (how can you trust Weiss and that tendentious Haber); then, when one of the bloggers translated much of the piece, the response was one of disbelief (Say it ain't so, Michael), followed by comments that showed that the TNR blogging crowd doesn't know how to follow a philosophical argument when it reads one.


Look: what Walzer, Margalit, Levine, Rey, and Haber are all claiming, is that civilians can only be harmed when it is a matter of military necessity, and when the maximum care has been taken to minimize that harm. The identity or allegiance of the civilians should be entirely irrelevant to the calculus involved. If it is morally justified to take out a terrorist leader where there is a concomitant loss of civilian life, then it should be justified no matter what the allegiance of the civilians are. Or to put it another way -- if it is moral to take out Osama bin Laden if that would kill Pakistani madrasa students, then it should be moral to take him out if that would kill Jerusalem yeshiva students. And if the IDF would do it in the first case and not in the second, then it would be acting immorally.

At least one person, Contentious Centrist, clearly agrees with Walzer and Margalit on this point, because he says that Israel in the past has risked the lives of Israelis when performing rescue operations. Even allowing for the fact that the cases are not similar, what Centrist is doing is biting the bullet -- conceding that W and M's principle is right, and then arguing that Israel doesn't take into consideration the ethnic identity of the civilians when it decides on military policy.

That's one way to respond to the thought example -- to say that Israel always makes a calculus of what is militarily necessary, balanced against the consequences to civilians -- regardless of who the civilians are.

The only problem is that this is, to quote Anonymous, "crap". Israel by its actions clearly has a hierarchy of what civilians are more valuable, and which can be dispensed with. I would argue that the lives of Gazan Palestinians are considered of less worth than their West Bank counterparts in the eyes of Israelis, and only partly because Hamas rules in Gaza. The reason is that most Israelis have always thought of Gaza as an overcrowded hell-hole ("Lekh le-Azza"), and most simply don't think of the hundreds of thousands of people living there as worth bothering about, as long as it doesn't make a stink in world public opinion.

I hope by now it is clear that if the Gazan operation had been preceded by vast Hamas carpetbombing of Tel-Aviv that had killed thousands of Israeli civilians, that would have no effect on the principle enunciated by Walzer and Margalit. Had Israel conducted itself after that hypothetical scenario in the way that it did after the Kassams, W and M would have issued the same moral condemnation.

To make this plainer: the fact that the other side commits war crimes does not allow you to commit war crimes.

Of course, the commenters whom I understand are those who say that there is no such thing as a just war. Of course, they usually say that with respect to the wars they are interested in waging without moral constraints. They generally don't argue that Israel's invasion of Gaza is no more justified than, say, the Nazi invasion of Poland, although that is what their position implies, since "justice" doesn't apply to war, either ad bellam or in bello, in their eyes.

Anonymous said...

"First, the tone was one of denial (Walzer is a good guy; he can't be condemning Israel);"

No one there said that, Haber.

What I said was that W&M criticized the view that Israeli soldiers lives are as pecious as those of civilians on the other side.

They did not criticize the campaign itself. They didn't even go into the details of the fighting.


Here is what Walzer says about Gaza in Dissent:

"A last note: it is critically important right now to address the suffering of the people of Gaza, and no one seems to have figured out a way of doing that—perhaps there is no way—without strengthening Hamas. So be it. But Hamas is obviously not “ready” for negotiations and not ready to get ready. Its refusal to recognize Israel and its commitment to terrorism are, for now at least, central features of its identity. So, I am afraid, is its rabid anti-Semitism: the Hamas Charter reiterates an ancient hatred that long predates the Zionist project and the wars of 1948 and 1967. It solemnly insists that the Jews as a people are responsible for the French and Russian revolutions and for the two World Wars. And that’s part of the message delivered every day and every week in Hamas schools and mosques—which is not a sign of readiness. Perhaps we need to think about a three state solution, with only two of those states—Israel and the PA’s West Bank—preparing themselves for peaceful co-existence."



Walzer is the editor in chief of Dissent if he wanted to "condemn Israel" he has the place to do so.

http://dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=211


I know its hard for blogger to read carefully but try injecting a little more nuance in your response, Haber.

Anonymous said...

"I hope by now it is clear that if the Gazan operation had been preceded by vast Hamas carpetbombing of Tel-Aviv that had killed thousands of Israeli civilians, that would have no effect on the principle enunciated by Walzer and Margalit. Had Israel conducted itself after that hypothetical scenario in the way that it did after the Kassams, W and M would have issued the same moral condemnation."


This is plain stupid, Haber.

Do you think that Walzer is an idiot?


Do you think he would have condemned bombing the Gas chanbers at a death camp because the would also have killed innocent civilians?


Would you?

Anonymous said...

"Of course, the commenters whom I understand are those who say that there is no such thing as a just war. Of course, they usually say that with respect to the wars they are interested in waging without moral constraints. They generally don't argue that Israel's invasion of Gaza is no more justified than, say, the Nazi invasion of Poland, although that is what their position implies, since "justice" doesn't apply to war, either ad bellam or in bello, in their eyes."

You seem to interpret other people's points of view to suit your own agenda.


I believe that wars (the aim of which is to kill your enemy) are not just and can never be just because their aim is to kill people.


However, that doesn't mean that one shouldn't go to war in order to defend oneself or one's family, or even for a just principle.


The civil war which freed the slaves was a war fought for a just principle.


The war against the Nazis was a war fought for self preservation and the preservation of our freedoms.


The Nazi war on Poland was launched in order to conquer land and eliminate people. Hence the cause of the war was unjust and the conduct even more unjust.

Now, one can believe that there is no just war and conclude that only pacifism is the answer.

Gandhi thought so and advised Jews to lay down in front of trains in order to call attention to their plight.


The Israeli war in Gaza was a war to stop rocket attacks. It was not a war to conquer land. Hence the comparison to Poland is tawdry and self serving.


Still the conduct of the was unjust by definition.

In the real world we sometimes have to do things that are not just in order to survive.

You can if you wish follow Gandhi advice and lie down in front of trains or rockets to call attention to the injustice of Hamas’ action.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"The reason is that most Israelis have always thought of Gaza as an overcrowded hell-hole ("Lekh le-Azza")"

What a bizarre kind of reason to provide by way of supporting a completely manufactured excuse for making this slanderous claim.

"Lech Le-azza" was around a long time before Gaza was under Israeli occupation and is a shortened version of "lech Le-azazel", Go to Azazel. The term Azzazel, according to the Talmud, designated a rugged mountain in the wilderness from which the scapegoat was thrown down, as part of a pre-Yom Kippur ritual. Not hell, btw.

I suggest to you that you have no credible evidence to support your astounding theory that "the lives of Gazan Palestinians are considered of less worth than their West Bank counterparts in the eyes of Israelis".

Anonymous said...

"Only if you have a tribal morality."

We all have a tribal morality. If you don't then you aren't a decent human being.

You care about your friends and family before total strangers. And that is the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

There is no justice in war.

War is hell. You can not refine it. It is by it's very nature, harsh, cruel, unfair.

So when it needs to be fought it needs to be fought as hard as it can be fought to end it. Prolonging the war out of some misguided act of "mercy" is actually one of the cruelest things that can be done.

And it should go without saying that the lives of ones own soldiers are of much much greater value for you than enemy civilians. So when you fight you should use methods that provide your troops the most protection even at the expense of enemy civilians.

Anonymous said...

"I would argue that the lives of Gazan Palestinians are considered of less worth than their West Bank counterparts in the eyes of Israelis."

And indeed they are of less worth when one is looking at it subjectively from an Israeli perspective.

And from a perspective of someone living in an allied country during World War II the lives of German citizens being bombed in Berlin would be considered of far less worth than their London counterparts.

Life is lived subjectively. The life of your son to you is of far more worth than the life of a stranger. If you don't believe that way, then you are indeed inhuman.

Greg said...

"They generally don't argue that Israel's invasion of Gaza is no more justified than, say, the Nazi invasion of Poland, although that is what their position implies..."

The Nazis invaded Poland to expand their territory, whereas Israel invaded Gaza in an attempt to try to step them from continuing to lob missiles at Israeli.

Surely you can understand the difference, can't you?

Do you perceive?

Jerry Haber said...

A problem with blogging is that new readers can read the latest thing you wrote and then come up with objections that you have answered ad nauseum. I have some semi-regular readers on the right -- Y. Ben David, for example -- who don't agree with my answers, but who have heard them, and who don't bother me with klutz kashes.

To be brief --

If you haven't read Walzer's book, Just and Just Wars, of if you haven't taken the time to familiar yourself with just war theory, don't bother to leave a comment on posts like these. I don't have the time to teach you. Read wikipedia

To the Anonymous who said there is a distinction between the justice of a war, and the justice of its conduct, I say one thing, "Learn how to read, for chrissake."

To the fellow who said, "We all have tribal morality," I say, "Read my post On Singling Out Israel for Moral Opprobrium"

The Contentious Centrist doesn't spend much time in Israel, and if he does, not among Hebrew-speaking Israelis. "Lekh le-Azza" is a double entendre --it plays off the modern Hebrew phrase "Lekh le-Azzazel," which is the Hebrew version of going to hell, and the fact that Azzah means Gaza. If you want to say, Go to Hell, you will never say, Lekh le-Azza.

Oy, American Jews...

The fellow who brought up Gas chambers in Gaza, well...mah inyan shmitah ezel har-Sinai?

anyway, chag sameah....I can't think of anything else coherent to respond to...if you want to go after Walzer, be my guest. As I wrote, I don't even buy just war theory....

But what I find interesting is that none of the tnr anonymous bloggers has bothered to understand how Walzer's view in his op-ed is not at all inconsistent with his earlier views -- in fact, his concern with civilians has been an abiding one.

I said "tribalist morality"; I meant "mafia morality". Good to see that it is alive and well at tnr

Avram said...

"The Contentious Centrist doesn't spend much time in Israel, and if he does, not among Hebrew-speaking Israelis. "Lekh le-Azza" is a double entendre "

Jerry - I've never heard this 'lech le'azza' quote, not from Israelis or from chutznikim. I live a few minutes from your favorite shuls in Katamon, so why haven't I heard this?

As you haven't responded to my question directly, I'll assume by your last response to the latest bloggers that you don't believe there are 'just wars'.

Jerry Haber said...

Avram,

You live a remarkably sheltered life...but do me a favor. Before you write questioning whether a phrase exists ("I have never heard it") do me the decency of googling it -- you will find 680,000 hits on "lekh le-azzah"

I don't believe in just war theory. That's all I am going to say about it. I believe some causes are just and some are not.

Anonymous said...

How nice for Haber to always get the last word.

Here is my last word:


"I don't believe in just war theory. That's all I am going to say about it. I believe some causes are just and some are not."

Neither do I. So what is your point?


Are you saying that defending oneself from Hamas' terror attacks through suicide bombers and rocket fire is unjust?

Is that your point?

Anonymous said...

"The picture is not of him, but of his kind of Zionist, Judah Magnes."


Magnes was one of those people who loved principles more than life.


Pacifism is a mental disorder, "Haber."


The Islamicists will thank you for making it so easy for them to kill you.

Anonymous said...

"But what I find interesting is that none of the tnr anonymous bloggers has bothered to understand how Walzer's view in his op-ed is not at all inconsistent with his earlier views -- in fact, his concern with civilians has been an abiding one."


Who said different?

The point and you are too invested in your ideological swamp to see it is that Walzer while condemning a policy that puts soldiers on the same level as civilians did not condemn the attack on Hamas.


Now go talk to Weiss, you and he have nothing in common except a hatred for Jewish sovereignty.


I can see you both in a play like Sartre's No Exit driving each other mad in an imaginary hell.

Jerry Haber said...

"Walzer while condemning a policy that puts soldiers on the same level as civilians did not condemn the attack on Hamas"

Well done -- exactly as I wrote in my original post.

So why were the tnr bloggers skeptical of my account of Walzer until one of them translated the op-ed and saw that my account was accurate?

The Israeli government has the right and responsibility to protect its people, just as the Palestinian government has the right and responsibility to protect its people.

There is no difference whatsoever betrween the two of them in this regard.

By the way, if you read this blog, you would know that I am no pacifist, and that it is not called the Magnes Pacifist but the Magnes Zionist. I oppose terrorism, whether it be Hamas terrorism, or the type you support.

Also by the way, I am banning your sort of commenter from the blog. Go bother Phil, who has more in common with me than you think.

Avram said...

"Avram,

You live a remarkably sheltered life..."

Jerry, you make so many assumptions about me. I guess 'judging favorably' as per Pirkei Avot isn't something you like to practice with me ...

I've lived in quite a few countries (I guess more than you) and have delved & studied many parts of Israeli culture (and don't believe in your "From a Jewish standpoint, Israel did have a period where it was culturally interesting. That was the period of the beginning of the state, where the cultural beacons were European Jews" as I find it elitist and 'ashkenazi-centric' ... Which isn't surprising sadly.)

Regarding your hits, I googled "lekh le-azzah" as you requested and found 19 pages in English. I will google it in Hebrew when I find a Hebrew computer (not in Israel either). I did however ask a few people who've lived in Israel to see if perhaps 'my remarkably sheltered life' was the reason:

My dad's cousin has been in Israel since 1944 ... Never heard of it.

My uncle has been in Israel since 1979 and thought I was just saying 'lech le azzazel'.

No one knew of this statement ... I will ask some of my Israeli friends when I get home to see but if they all say 'nope, sorry', will your answer be "they are are all remarkably sheltered unlike me"? Quite a disappointing statement from you Jerry.

"I believe some causes are just and some are not."

Can you name a few ... Just curious again.

"I oppose terrorism, whether it be Hamas terrorism"

I don't doubt that but in an earlier blog of yours, you wanted Hamas to remain strong to defy Israel/US (I don't remember the exact words) - How do they remain strong Jerry?

The Contentious Centrist said...

"The Contentious Centrist doesn't spend much time in Israel, and if he does, not among Hebrew-speaking Israelis. "Lekh le-Azza" is a double entendre "

Mr. Haber, your assumptions are breath taking. Is this the best you can do by way of refuting my explanation, taking aim at my familiarity with Hebrew? I wonder if this is the depth and breadth of your understanding and knowledge, how reliable can you be in anything you claim here?

I'm not an American and I'm not "he", either. I'm a sabra born and bred, and my profession is translation. I am always interested in these deliberate injections of meaning into worn-out, antiquated slang words.

Don't you ever suffer from a moment of scepticism in your own judgment? Don't you understand that you need to be scrupulously accurate in what you explain to your fans? Something can start from an innocent enough error, like explaining how a colloquialism suggests an entire people's mindset and soon enough it is picked up and multiplied exponentially, evolves into much bigger and uncontrolable slander.

Contentious Centrist said...

Anonymous said: "Life is lived subjectively. The life of your son to you is of far more worth than the life of a stranger. If you don't believe that way, then you are indeed inhuman."

Martha Nussbaum:

“I do not go about fearing any and every catastrophe anywhere in the world, nor (so it seems) do I fear any and every catastrophe that I know to be bad in important ways. What inspires fear is the thought of damages impending that cut to the heart of my own cherished relationships and projects. What inspires grief is the death of someone beloved, someone who has been an important part of one’s own life. This does not mean that the emotions view these objects simply as tools or instruments of the agent’s own satisfaction: they may be invested with intrinsic worth or value. They may be loved for their own sake, and their good sought for its own sake . . .. [Nonetheless], the emotions are in this sense localized: they take their stand in my own life, and focus on the transition between light and darkness there, rather than on the general distribution of light and darkness in the universe as a whole.” (From: Upheavals of Thoughts")

Robbins said...

Why are you so angry, Haber?

Jerry Haber said...

Contentious Centrist,

I claim that the phrase, "Lekh le-azzah," as used today, is indicative of Israelis' negative view of Gaza. The claim that the phrase predates 1967, and that it is a shortened form of "lekh le-azazel" doesn't touch that claim.

What I understood you to be saying is that "lekh le-Azza" has nothing to do with Gaza; it is merely an abbreviation of "lekh le-Azzazel"

That led me to believe that you didn't spend much time around Israelis, nor did you read the Israeli press, where the phrase has been used, especially in recent years, with the double entendre.

I came across an interesting discussion of the phrase here:

http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1236110

Now, many (I would say "most") Israelis view Gaza as a hell hole. They did this well before the intifada, primarily because of the overcrowding and poverty associated with Gaza, but also because of the people who lived there. I infer this because I haven't heard Israelis describe impoverished and overcrowded development towns in that manner. With the intifada and later the rise of Hamas, etc., Gaza became even more synonymous with a hell-hole.

Sherut in Gaza before Oslo was considered to be difficult, dangerous, and unattractive.

I may be wrong to think that the lives of Gazans are valued less by Israelis than the lives of West Bank Palestinians. That was a speculation. It may be that the death of 1400 Palestinians from Ramallah, a large number of them civilians, would be no different in the eyes of most Israelis than those in Gaza. But considering the long-held negative views of Gaza (that Israelis went there to buy furniture before the first intifada doesn't mean a thing) the speculation seems reasonable.

I am sure that there are people who use the phrase who do not belittle the lives of Gazans, and there are people who haven't heard the phrase who do. During the Gaza "war" I don't known of many Israelis, except for the extreme left, and some of the Zionist left, who cared squat about the enormous loss of civilian life in Gaza. I also don't know of many Israelis who protested when Israel put an embargo and then siege on Gaza, thereby imposing collective punishment on the population. The embargo came as a reaction to the Hamas electoral victory in elections approved by the US and Israel and not as a reaction to the firing of Kassams. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans suffered because many, though not all, of them had voted for candidates who were affiliated with a party that Israel did not like. I don't recall many Israelis being bothered by that. They arrested Hamas leaders in the West Bank, but they didn't put the West Bank Palestinians under siege, did they?

As for Martha Nussbaum, nothing that you cite has anything to do with what I and others call "mafia morality".

The problem is that many tribalists slide down the slippery slope from a justifiable ethic of preference (my people often take precendece) to an unjustifable mafia morality ("my people always take precedence, right or wrong, because they are my people."

Please read my post, "On Singling Out Israel for Moral Opprobrium," in which I stake out a position similar to Nussbaum.

I apologize for making assumptions about your gender. I still belong to the old school that uses masculine pronouns as the default.

Jerry Haber said...

Not angry, Robbins, annoyed at the level of the disagreement...Makes me long for Y. Ben David and Bar Kokhba...

Peter said...

Makes me long for Y. Ben David and Bar Kokhba......who turn out to be one and the same person.

Regarding Gaza and hell-hole, while I myself haven't heard the expression "lekh le-azzah" either, I find Jerry's representation of the attitude of most Israelis towards Gaza accurate. It is also true that military service in Gaza was considered the worst.

Avram said...

"It is also true that military service in Gaza was considered the worst."

Which is why they always gave it to Givati! ;)

"while I myself haven't heard the expression "lekh le-azzah" either"

I think 'kibinimat' replaced it (or at least that's what I heard the most in the army - lech kibinimat'), or it's just an 'older' phrase that is no longer used.

Peter said...

See also this take on the issue by Aryeh Amihay (Hebrew).

Robbins said...

MY, my Haber you really do go on.

So people in Israel think Gaza is a hell hole.


There are lot of places in the world I think is a hell hole, including Sderot, Israel even before the rockets started falling there; Benton Kansas; Aliminusa, Sicily, the Bronx in New York, etc.


You also said that Israelis think of Gaza as a hell hole because of the people who live there.

This is merely an assertion which you didn't prove.

The fact that you need such an assertion because of your intereset in proving that Israeli Jews are racists makes your comment doubly questionable.

Finally the kinds of comments you recieve is indicative of your own attitude towards discussion.

You can never be wrong, you don't concede a point and you are every bit as fanatical as you claim your Israeli opponents are.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Mr. Haber,

I’m sorry to belabour the point. I get the feeling that you get very impatient with posters who take issue with your so confidently-stated accounts.

I took your advice and googled the term "lech-le-azza". It took a few attempts at different transcripts to get a substantial number of results. Here is what one of them says:

"Faced with attacks from the Gaza Strip since the early 1950s, Israelis were cursing “Lech le’Aza” – literally “go to Gaza” and figuratively “go to hell” –
years before their conquest of the coastal strip where their sworn enemies lived in the largest numbers and worst conditions. Now, as Israel leaves the Strip after nearly four decades of strategic disorientation, Gaza is showing no signs of shedding its dubious distinction as hell’s synonym. Indeed, a vast majority of Israelis – including ones who would not part with its Jewish settlements – woke up this morning happily Gaza-less. To them, this part of the surgery they have just undergone feels less like an amputation and more like the removal of a tumor. Though this rule has had its exceptions, on the whole when Israelis heard “Gaza” what came to mind was hostility, fanaticism, violence and irredeemable destitution. The place author Amos Elon once described as “the Middle East’s
armpit” was where most years, most Israelis would not go unarmed, if at all.
It was the sprawling maze of makeshift alleys, shanty towns and open sewage channels that two generations of Israelis patrolled incessantly and recall traumatically. It was the place that a succession of Israeli administrations tried, and failed, to rehabilitate;"

http://static.jpost.com/images/2007/pdf/oldcovers/2005.0912.pdf

So your characterization of this colloquialism as a "double entendre" (the etymology of which you neglected to mention in your original post, leaving the reader with the impression that "lech le-azza" was a malign invention of the average Israeli mind, meant to express utter contempt, disregard, and indifference to the life of Gazan Palestinians) is indeed closer to the linguistic meaning. However, you fail to identify properly the rationale of this abbreviated form of "Lech le-azazel", namely, that the misery of the place had less to do with it than the fact that since the early fifties Gaza was the place from which terrorists infiltrated into Israel, always leaving behind death and destruction.

The ill wish conveyed in this expletive has more or less the same function as "Go to hell". People tell each "go to hell" when they hope their enemy will go to a place in which they will feel very uncomfortable and maybe even their life will be endangered. “Lech le-azza” has less to do with Gazza than with the fate that awaits Israelis should they attempt the excursion without protection.

Margaret said...

Robbins - That you say you are not aware of the contemptuous attitude held by many Israelis toward their Arabic neighbors indicates one of two possibilities to me: either you never read comments written by others on-line, or your own attitudes reflect the same contempt to the extent that you are unable to perceive how greatly it varies from the norm in other Western countries.

By that I don't mean to indicate that bigotry is not a problem elsewhere, but rather that such attitudes are individual, and no longer are accepted as being appropriate for States, whereas the prejudicial discrimination by which Israelis live as individuals is fostered by the State structure.

Israel's government is so often compared to the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party, I think, because it still maintains institutions that are based in the autocratic attitudes that roiled middle Europe from the Austrio-Hungarian period onward.

So many years later, those attitudes impress one not only as archaic but repugnant.

Margaret said...

http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/04/14/israel-no-one-belongs-here-more-than-the-palestinians/

If you have a moment, would you review this, please?
.........
I got Niccolo Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, and Obama's Dreams from My Father, still have to get Just and Unjust Wars.

My focus has shifted from Israel to the conduct of war. Doing so doesn't de-emphasize Israel much.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Margaret said...

.. of the contemptuous attitude held by many Israelis toward their Arabic neighbors'

"Arabic neighbors'"???

Should be "Arab neighbors". Arabic is the language. If you pretend to respect Arabs the very least you can do is get these simple names correctly.

Peter said...

since the early fifties Gaza was the place from which terrorists infiltrated into Israel, always leaving behind death and destructionReally? Considering that most of these were actually unarmed Palestinian peasants trying to return to their lands, and shot by the IDF, this statement strikes me as rather misinformed.

The Contentious Centrist said...

From Peter's source:

"From 1949 to 1956, Egypt waged a terror war against Israel, launching c. 9,000 attacks from cells set up in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip." [3]. At first, Palestinians were trying to go back to their houses or to retrieve property but after 1950 these acts became much more violent and included killings of civilians in nearby cities. After Israel's operation Black Arrow in 1955 which came as a result of a series of massacres in the city of Rehovot, the Palestinian fedayeen were incorporated into an Egyptian unit.[1"

Margaret said...

Should be "Arab neighbors." Thank you for the note, Contentious Centrist. Read that distinction before, obviously didn't think it through far enough to reach the level of my own usage.

Anonymous said...

i find it fitting (and funny) that a guy named "Contentious Centrist" always cares about things which aren't really that important or central to anyone's argument.

Avram said...

Peter,

You quote an article that also says:

"From 1949 to 1956, Egypt waged a terror war against Israel, launching c. 9,000 attacks from cells set up in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip." [3]. At first, Palestinians were trying to go back to their houses or to retrieve property but after 1950 these acts became much more violent and included killings of civilians in nearby cities"

Kind of negates what you said ...

Anonymous said...

"this war was not justifiable because (a)it was disproportionate, ("

Nonsense. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

Peter said...

Contentious Centrist and Avram,

Kind of negates what you said ...not really, unless you have reading comprehension issues or just too keen on selective quoting:

From the Israeli Defence Forces archives, Israeli historian Benny Morris concluded that the majority of Palestinians killed on the border between 1949 and 1956 were unarmed migrants:
Israeli security forces killed some 400 infiltrators a year in 1951, 1952 and 1953. At least a similar number and probably far more were killed in 1950, and 1,000 or more in 1949. At least 100 (and perhaps many more) were killed during 1954-6. Thus, upward of 2,700 Arab infiltrators and perhaps as many as 5,000, were killed by the IDF, police, and civilians along Israel's borders between 1949 and 1956. To judge from the available documentation, the vast majority of those killed were unarmed 'economic' and social infiltrators.
So, majority of infiltrations were unarmed. How does your quote contradict that exactly?
Next, you need to understand the process of these articles appearing on Wikipedia. They are a result of a constant tug of war between pro-Pal and pro-Israel editors. See through the specific edition (go to the "discussion" tab) if you have time on your hands to try to figure our the context - it's a lot of fun. My part quoted Morris who is by far the most authoritative Israeli historian of the period (even despite his turn to the right since 2000) and is written in a neutral manner, whereas your quote is taken from some guy the titles of whose articles speak for themselves and who uses language like "a terror war". All this not to deny the fact that there were terror attacks with civilians killed. However, the context is important. When you say "always leaving behind death and destruction" while we learn that "majority of Palestinians killed on the border between 1949 and 1956 were unarmed migrants" the context is lost, to a large extent.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"i find it fitting (and funny) that a guy named "Contentious Centrist""

I'm not a guy. I wonder why people keep making this mistake. It's very annoying.

Mike said...

Can somebody explain to me how 300 children got killed this winter in Gaza? I still don't get it.

Avram said...

ok peter - this i don't get

"So, majority of infiltrations were unarmed. "

what was the reason most of these people 'left' their farmlands?

now there's normally 3 reasons
a) expelled by force
b) left due to the fear of being expelled by force
c) left b/c of request by Arabs

C is highly contentious as you've shown, so if it's either a & b - why would these guys come back unarmed? Surely, they knew they'd be 'armed people' saying no? It's not really adding up ...

"How does your quote contradict that exactly?"

Well, of the 9000 fedayeen attacks (unless you're contending that), how many of those resulted in deaths of the attackers? 'migrant and social' workers are far likely to be killed by guards than fedayeen who are trained to kill and leave ... I will have to find the Morris stuff I have to see if he mentions, or if they work in parallel.

Y. Ben-David said...

Peter is correct that I have used both Y. Ben-David and Bar-Kochba132as pen-names. I explained this on Richard Silverstein's site as well. There is no conspiracy involved and I am not attempting to use "sock puppets". I originally used BK but found it was causing a lot of unnecessary digression into the history of the Second Jewish War against Rome. I still use BK at Silverstein's and Phil Weiss' sites primarily because it pops up automatically in the comments box.

Regarding "lech l'azza" I do speak Hebrew and at work I am in a totally Hebrew speaking environment and I can not recall hearing that. However, I do not hang around "the street" (felaffel stands, coffee houses, kiosks, etc) that much and I confess I do not understand a lot of the slang my kids know. You are quite right that Israelis don't like the place (Gaza), reserve service there was not liked very much. This is why Sharon figured (correctly) that he could get away with destroying Gush Katif, because he thought that "right-wingers" would not oppose him strenuously for this reason. Interestingly enough, Palestinians in Judea/Samaria feel the same way. That is why the Palestinian Authority never fought very hard to get the free passage open between Gaza and Judea/Samaria. Gazans have a very different accent (based on the Egyptian accent) than Palestinians in Judea/Samaria and are easily identifiable by this.
I have a feeling , although it is not provable by official statements made by the Palestinian Authority figures, that they feel that the HAMAS coup in Gaza was the best thing that ever happened to FATAH's Palestinian Authority. It opened the EU and American treasure chests and has led to a massive inflow of money to the FATAH people.

Peter said...

Avram

why would these guys come back unarmed? Surely, they knew they'd be 'armed people' saying no? It's not really adding up ...Maybe they were desperate? Frustrated? Hoped to make it (that's why they are called "infiltrators")?
I don't know how realistic their hopes were or if they realized it.

Anonymous said...

A terrific response to Margalit and Walzer at Z-Word:

"A Partial Defence of Kasher and Yadlin"



http://blog.z-word.com/2009/04/a-partial-defence-of-kasher-and-yadlin/#more-1242


Will the brave Magnes man come and respond on Z word where he has no control of the microphone?


Robbins

Jerry Haber said...

Thanks, Robbins, but why do you consider this to be a response? The author doesn't understand either side's position. Kasher and Yadlin flatly contradict his interpretation of them. See my response there. And read my post above.

Avram said...

Hi Pete,

"Maybe they were desperate? Frustrated? Hoped to make it (that's why they are called "infiltrators")?
I don't know how realistic their hopes were or if they realized it."

Ok ... If that's how it makes sense to you, I can respect that. I don't agree with it, but c'est la vie.

Happy Indepedence/Nakba day.

Anonymous said...

I love my child much, much, much more than I love yours.

Call that tribal if you like.

I call that human.

In My Opinion said...

To Anonymous May 3, 2009 11:10 PM
Do you doubt that the feeling you have for your child is one universal to human beings? Believing that those of other "tribes" don't share human emotions serves a purpose; it makes it easier to kill anyone not of one's own tribe.