Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Thought Experiment

Many philosophers like thought experiments; ethicists really like them. You know, the "say-you-are-on-a-desert-island-with-enough-water-just-for-you" variety of thought experiment.

So here's one:

In going through the confiscated tapes and videos of the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, you see the video of an execution of a Turkish passenger. The execution, on the face of it, not only contradicts the IDF's official verson of what happened, but it pretty clearly shows a serious violation of IDF code of ethics reports. If you release this video, however, you undermine the credibility of Israel's hasbara attempts, and you invite international condemnation, that could be construed as a threat to Israel's security. Lying ot the public for the sake of security is a time-honored tradition in many, if not all, countries.

What would you do?

It won't do to answer,"The scenario is impossible," because there is well-documented and undisputed evidence of such behavior on the part of all soldiers, including Israeli. One doesn't need a Breaking the Silence handbook of testimonies for that.

Nor will it work to say, "Such a cover-up will be discovered" because many cover-ups are never discovered; sometimes they are revealed by a historian fifty years later.

So what would you do?

28 comments:

Alex Stein said...

Do you have this video? Or are you referring to the doctored one being peddled by the liar Richard Silverstein?

Jerome Slater said...

Jerry:

There really is no dilemma here. Government lies to protect national security may sometimes be necessary--but only when the claims of national security, or perhaps of some high moral purpose, are legitimate. For example, in 1942 Roosevelt lied when he said that German subs had attacked US destroyers, when it was the other way around. Today no one faults Roosevelt: for the overwhelming just and moral cause of getting the US into the war against Hitler, he had to manufacture a provocation to get around Congressional restrictions.

The Israeli attack on the flotilla, as of course we agree, is nothing like that--indeed, quite the opposite. What is really at issue is the non-existent "right" of Israel to maintain its occupation and repression of the Palestinians, in the course of which it routinely lies, practically on a daily basis.

It's like life itself: lying for the sake of some genuine higher cause is justified, whereas lying to further an unjustified interest just doubles the sin.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it depend on who I am, Jerry?

Devir said...

Some of the portuguese Jews here in Lisbon ( when I talk to them ) differ from the views of their Community Leaders on the so-called israelo-palestinean conflict and specially on the recent attacks to the Gaza flotilla. The Vice-President of the Portuguese Jewish community ( a synagogue, a cultural center open to public, a cemetery, specific butchers for kosher meat, a vineyard for kosher wine, etc ), Esther Muzcnik, a beautiful and elequent middle-aged blonde women ( she looks like a movie star but talks like an intellectual ) is an expert in using in our media arguments that sound logical and reasonable to defend what for me and many others ( including portuguese jews ) is indefensable.
I understand your doubt ( What should be done ) but when I hear her justify the barbarian acts against the flotilla I know what must be done: to expose in any way the crimes. To obtain justice but also to help cease the blockade on Gaza !
By the way, the Israeli Ambassador to Portugal, said in one of our four tv channels that he " would rather be criticized by the blockade than for letting iranean missiles enter and be fired from Gaza and kill israeli families" ( I'm quoting by heart )!...

fiddler said...

Even assuming the country in question was my own, that's easy, I'd publish the video. The claim that exposure of state crimes threatened its security is part of the very propaganda (we don't call it hasbara here) in which I don't believe, as evidenced by my decision. I don't accept that violating my country's laws, not to speak of international ones, in such an egregious manner can contribute to its security without simultaneously changing the nature of the state itself. If an individual public servant commits a serious offence, the state defines its principal relation to that offence through the way it deals with the individual case. In covering up the state partakes in and sanctions the crime.
In Israel this has led to a "culture" where the IDF can kill Palestinians, including undisputedly innocent civilians, with an impunity that is only ever diminished, somewhat, by publicity. I wouldn't want my country to become like this, and I think no country deserves a security that's allegedly bought by such means.

Tomer said...

If I saw the same video you are referring to, I think it's not an execution. The soldier is firing a paintball gun at the guy. It's still unnecessary violence of course.

bacci40 said...

how about a non hypothetical question and answer

lets say you have raw footage of the event (at least part of it) that you have smuggled out, but much of the footage supports the idf claims...what do you do.

simple...you go on democracy now, being sure to edit out the parts that prove you and the rest of the passengers are liars

you release the rest of the vid in pieces, making sure the incriminating stuff still stays off the web...and then, and only then, do you allow the entire uncut piece to be uploaded...on the weekend, when no one is paying attention...

and that is exactly what happened

you owe the idf, your readers, the state of israel, an apology

just a few months before yom kippur...gonna need to do a lot of leg work in asking everyone for mechila

Jerry Haber said...

Thanks for the responses.

This was a thought experiment. I made no claims that there was a video showing such an execution. So those people who thought that I was were mistaken. I wished to ask the question in principle.

I could have taken a case where an atrocity had actually occurred and was documented -- and atrocities do occur in war -- and asked the same question.

What I was driving at was to get two sort of answers: those who, like Anonymous, said, "It depends on whose side you are one" and those who took a moral, principled position -- even if that position countenanced lying for the sake of a higher good.

But feel free to think about it some more.

Anonymous said...

The right thing to do is to make the information known. But to whom, and at what cost to the "whistle-blower"? If the information is made public before it is reported to the relevant military authority, the latter might be justified in exacting punishment on the grounds that the affair should and would be properly dealt with within the army's code of conduct. However, if the process is reversed, the matter might be concealed by the military and the whistle-blower constrained from doing anything further, under threat of sanctions.

How about the following: the matter is reported to the military authority. At the same time, a sealed copy of the report is lodged with a trusted third party who is instructed to present it to a court of law under certain circumstances, eg: delay, arrest of informant etc. The military is advised of this instruction. It then has the choice of dealing with the matter appropriately, or answering to the court for its inaction.

Anonymous said...

Here is a "not so hypothetical" question for you:

You have a best friend who makes an outlandish statement. To wit:

"95% of American Jews eat ham"
http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2008/04/12/for-this-bakery-the-customer-isnt-always-right/

comment #2

1) Do you attempt to correct your friend"?

2) You make believe he never said it

3) Or do you agree with your BFF's assessment and have a link to prove him right?

Dietrich said...

"It is better for a lover of the truth to tell a lie, than for a liar to tell the truth." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Michael said...

How does one prevent Bonhoeffer being used to defend lovers of lies? The quote refers to a lie which would do him no discredit in the eyes of the world. Here, in contrast, we are talking about the hiding of the truth from the eyes of the world - in effect, a lie told not to frustrate killers, but to grant them impunity. To cite Bonhoeffer here is more than disingenuous, it is outrageous.

Viewed in the most generous way, and assuming a purely consequentialist argument, the hypothetical decision to collude in hiding the truth might be defended like this: the murder was not characteristic of the Israeli army, and exposing the evidence might lead others to falsely conclude that it was, thus unjustly turning opinion against Israel, which may have worse consequences.

But how am I to know that such murders by Israeli soldiers are not more common than I think? There is no reason to believe that many others did not face the same dilemma - people about whom I never heard because their decision was to suppress the evidence. Further, if I suppress this evidence, will it not encourage further the kind of behaviour which is being hidden? Is it then not just a matter of time before much worse things are done, until eventually the suppression breaks down - and exposes even greater misdeeds than I would expose now? Would that not be far worse for the security of Israel? Would not my decision then have led not only to the loss of that security, but also the loss of my own integrity and credibility?

More generally, such a lie can be seen as a violation of the moral imperative to treat others as I would wish to be treated myself. Perhaps some Israelis would prefer not to know uncomfortable facts, but that cannot be said of people of good will generally. To lie in this case is to set myself above them, to arrogate to myself the right to determine not only my own opinion but also what they should think, to deny them the chance of making an independent judgment or to participate in an argument on the basis of the truth, as well as to deny the possibility that my own judgment may innocently be based on falsehoods and misperceptions.

Michael said...

Unaccountably, I forgot to mention above the story that dominated much of world media yesterday: the Savile report into Northern Ireland's Bloody Sunday killings 38 years ago which demolished the original investigation as a cover up. It is known that those murders by British soldiers drove many young people to join the IRA. How different things might have been had the nationalist community in Northern Ireland been able to look towards a Savile rather than a Widgery and say: yes, British soldiers murdered Irish civil rights marchers, but at least the British authorities admitted this and those soldiers are now going to be prosecuted according to the impartial rule of law. We can have confidence in the system. We can continue to march and protest peacefully within it.

In the decades since then, how many lives might have been saved? Yet, at the time, the cover up might have been justified by those who knew the truth, or did not want to know the truth, in a very similar way to the cover up of murders by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara.

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, I have tried three times to post your comment (which has a link to the San Francisco Examiner), but it doesn't work.

So quick answer to your hypothetical -- I wouldn't post on it at all. Fortunately, it was only hypothetical.

And as for Brinkley, he typifies the secular liberal Zionist profile that is typical of the Times correspondents sent to Israel/Palestine. That is why the NY Times is worthless when it comes to reporting developments in the region. You don't have to be Jewish to be a NY Times reporter, but you do have to accept the Israeli master narrative. Bronner, Brinkley, Schipley, Friedman, Kershner. They are all suitably liberal, western, secular, critical of settlements, blah, blah, blah, and way within the hasbara status quo consensus. they only annoy the diehards on the right like CAMERA and David Bar Ilan.

Dietrich said...

Michael said:

More generally, such a lie can be seen as a violation of the moral imperative to treat others as I would wish to be treated myself

That doesn't apply in conflict.

To use a simple analogy...

If you are watching a soccer game would you want your team to score a goal?

Probably.

If you are watching a soccer game would you want the other team to score a goal?

Probably not.

But wait using your thinking you are being a hypocrite. If you wish not to have the other team score a goal, how can you in good conscious want your team to score a goal against the other team.

After all isn't it a moral imperative to treat others as I would wish to be treated myself?

This is what happens when you apply something that is good and is meant for one set of circumstances and misapply it to circumstances it was never meant to be applied to.

You have to look at the larger picture here. Releasing that video would hurt Israel and that should be your only concern.

Anonymous said...

atrocities do occur in war...

It depends on whose side you are on.

That is why you always want your side to be the victor.

Anonymous said...

Brinkley hit the nail on the head. Sorry.

Michael said...

Football analogy: who is the other team? If it is Palestinians then lying about what happened on the Mavi Marmara will make no difference to their opinion. Telling the truth is telling the truth to Israelis and to the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is the other team then - well, you should try to figure out the implications.

(Incidentally, even the analogy fails: I wouldn't enjoy a game of football if I thought the opposition weren't trying.)

Dietrich:

You have to look at the larger picture here. Releasing that video would hurt Israel and that should be your only concern.

Apart from the fact that I explained exactly why hiding the video was likely to hurt Israel more in the long run, has it even occurred to you that your second sentence contradicts the first?

Remind me: what did you learn from Bonhoeffer - a Christian who gave up his life to save Jews? Oh yes, that lying is OK. Yes, he got that right, but what a schmuck he was for not realising that Jews were on the other team and that German Christians should have been his only concern.

Anonymous said...

Is the former PM of Spain also a liberal Zionist like the NY Times columnists?


By José María Aznar

For far too long now it has been unfashionable in Europe to speak up for Israel. In the wake of the recent incident on board a ship full of anti-Israeli activists in the Mediterranean, it is hard to think of a more unpopular cause to champion.

In an ideal world, the assault by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara would not have ended up with nine dead and a score wounded. In an ideal world, the soldiers would have been peacefully welcomed on to the ship. In an ideal world, no state, let alone a recent ally of Israel such as Turkey, would have sponsored and organized a flotilla whose sole purpose was to create an impossible situation for Israel: making it choose between giving up its security policy and the naval blockade, or risking the wrath of the world.

In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic institutions. It is a dynamic and open society that has repeatedly excelled in culture, science and technology.

Second, owing to its roots, history, and values, Israel is a fully fledged Western nation. Indeed, it is a normal Western nation, but one confronted by abnormal circumstances.

Uniquely in the West, it is the only democracy whose very existence has been questioned since its inception. In the first instance, it was attacked by its neighbors using the conventional weapons of war. Then it faced terrorism culminating in wave after wave of suicide attacks. Now, at the behest of radical Islamists and their sympathizers, it faces a campaign of delegitimisation through international law and diplomacy.

Sixty-two years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south, threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear weapons and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never to have a moment's peace.

For years, the focus of Western attention has understandably been on the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But if Israel is in danger today and the whole region is slipping towards a worryingly problematic future, it is not due to the lack of understanding between the parties on how to solve this conflict. The parameters of any prospective peace agreement are clear, however difficult it may seem for the two sides to make the final push for a settlement.

Anonymous said...

(continued)

The real threats to regional stability, however, are to be found in the rise of a radical Islamism which sees Israel's destruction as the fulfillment of its religious destiny and, simultaneously in the case of Iran, as an expression of its ambitions for regional hegemony. Both phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but also the wider West and the world at large.

The core of the problem lies in the ambiguous and often erroneous manner in which too many Western countries are now reacting to this situation. It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Middle East. Some even act and talk as if a new understanding with the Muslim world could be achieved if only we were prepared to sacrifice the Jewish state on the altar. This would be folly.

Israel is our first line of defense in a turbulent region that is constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If Israel goes down, we all go down. To defend Israel's right to exist in peace, within secure borders, requires a degree of moral and strategic clarity that too often seems to have disappeared in Europe. The United States shows worrying signs of heading in the same direction.

The West is going through a period of confusion over the shape of the world's future. To a great extent, this confusion is caused by a kind of masochistic self-doubt over our own identity; by the rule of political correctness; by a multiculturalism that forces us to our knees before others; and by a secularism which, irony of ironies, blinds us even when we are confronted by jihadis promoting the most fanatical incarnation of their faith. To abandon Israel to its fate, at this moment of all moments, would merely serve to illustrate how far we have sunk and how inexorable our decline now appears.

This cannot be allowed to happen. Motivated by the need to rebuild our own Western values, expressing deep concern about the wave of aggression against Israel, and mindful that Israel's strength is our strength and Israel's weakness is our weakness, I have decided to promote a new Friends of Israel initiative with the help of some prominent people, including David Trimble, Andrew Roberts, John Bolton, Alejandro Toledo (the former President of Peru), Marcello Pera (philosopher and former President of the Italian Senate), Fiamma Nirenstein (the Italian author and politician), the financier Robert Agostinelli and the Catholic intellectual George Weigel.

It is not our intention to defend any specific policy or any particular Israeli government. The sponsors of this initiative are certain to disagree at times with decisions taken by Jerusalem. We are democrats, and we believe in diversity.

What binds us, however, is our unyielding support for Israel's right to exist and to defend itself. For Western countries to side with those who question Israel's legitimacy, for them to play games in international bodies with Israel's vital security issues, for them to appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly to stand up in defense of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but a strategic error of the first magnitude.

Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Whether we like it or not, our fate is inextricably intertwined.


José María Aznar was prime minister of Spain between 1996 and 2004.

fiddler said...

Anonymous, thanks for showing us Aznar in all his glory. He's as much of a liberal as Geert Wilders, Bernard Lewis, and the late Jörg Haider.

LeaNder said...

Incidentally, even the analogy fails: I wouldn't enjoy a game of football if I thought the opposition weren't trying.

I thought exactly that while reading. But then I don't really belong to the people who support specific teams. ... I prefer watching good games, good players, good teams, that ideally do not use dirty tricks. An example from soccer Materazzi versus Sidane.

And if the Israeli narrative is true, why confiscate all the evidence?

Devir said...

ANONIMOUS, here is a fragment of Aznar's biography taken from Wikipedia:

"Aznar's government posthumously granted a medal of Civil Merit to Melitón Manzanas, the head of the secret police in San Sebastián and the first high-profile member of the Francoist government killed by ETA in 1968. Manzanas was widely considered a torturer, and Amnesty International condemned the awarding.[25]

After the 2004 elections it was revealed that Aznar and his government secretly channeled public funds to a US legal firm to lobby for the bestowment of the Congressional Gold Medal on Aznar. The contract consisted in a first payment of $700,000 USD for the first seven months, followed by $100,000 monthly payments until it reached the sum of $2 million.[26]

In an interview with BBC World on 27 July 2006 he voiced doubts about "Islamists" being the sole culprits of the disputed 11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings, "You know in this moment some perpetrators of the attacks, but you do not know who imagined the attack, who is the leader of the attack, who is the idea (sic) of the attack, who established and supported means for the attacks, who defined the logistics of the attacks, who established the strategies of the attack. Nothing...I think that one part of the perpetrators are Islamists, but I think that this is not only an Islamist attack."[27]

During a conference in the Hudson Institute, a conservative U.S. think tank, on 23 September 2006 in Washington, DC, while referring to Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam and violence, Aznar asked himself why Muslims had not apologized for occupying Spain for 800 years as Al-Andalus. He then called the Alliance of Civilizations initiative "stupid." His reference to apologies was a response to the demonstrations asking the Pope to apologize. One PP official clarified Aznar's speech by saying the Prime Minister thought it is pointless to apologize for historical events.[28][29]

During the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, Aznar was criticized by Hugo Chavez, who called him "less human than snakes" and a "fascist", claiming that Aznar disregarded Venezuela. King Juan Carlos responded to these criticisms by saying to Chavez, "Por que no te callas?" ("Why don't you shut up" )"

Is this fascist "recicled" to democracy you find credible to back your opinions ?

Anonymous said...

To all the critics of Azar (Hugo Chavez doesn't like him? Oh my God!!!), thanks for proving my point. I was attempting to show Magnes Zionist that his critique of Binkley's article was ridiculous.

"And as for Brinkley, he typifies the secular liberal Zionist profile that is typical of the Times correspondents sent to Israel/Palestine. That is why the NY Times is worthless when it comes to reporting developments in the region. You don't have to be Jewish to be a NY Times reporter, but you do have to accept the Israeli master narrative. Bronner, Brinkley, Schipley, Friedman, Kershner. They are all suitably liberal, western, secular, critical of settlements, blah, blah, blah, and way within the hasbara status quo consensus. they only annoy the diehards on the right like CAMERA and David Bar Ilan."

Since, as you've all noted, the former PM of Spain does not resemble this description at all and yet also understands the ridiculously biased and constant criticism of Israel in light of the complexity of Israel's position, we can all now deduce conclusively that Magnes Zionist's stereotypical confused Israel supporter doesn't really exist in the way he imagines.

As for whether you agree with Azar's views or not, please excuse me while I laugh. I don't often vote in Spanish elections, do you? Let's say we did. You would use the opinion of the totalitarian leader of Venezuela as a source for vilifying Azar? Oh wait, that's the same dictator - yup, dictator - who vilifies Israel and plays gracious host to Ahmadenijad, when he's not vilifying the United States, that is.

I mean, really, give me Azar over Chavez any day. But then again, in your confused world, you guys support the Palestinians over the Israelis. The Palestinians who kneecap their opponents, send them packing from rooftops, threaten homosexuals who then flee into Israel, think highly of slamming Israeli Jewish families in restaurants with rat-poison-encrusted, rusty nails in their bombs, and think nothing of denying the Jewish connection to any part of the Land of Israel despite ample proof to the contrary.

Yup, those are the people you support over the guys with the free press, the vigorous and independent judiciary, and the democracy.

It boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

Here is an example of your hero's doublespeak. Chavez sits next to Assad, a dictator who is also the son of a dictator, leading a country without freedoms for its citizens over several decades. Who does Chavez criticize? Israel, for apparently not being a real democracy.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3911050,00.html

How is this different than what the unholy alliance between Leftists and Islamists does in critiquing Israel constantly?

Jerry Haber said...

Anonymous, as usual you miss the point.

The point in quoting the Wikipedia on Azar was simply to show that he was to the right of George W. Bush. It had nothing to do with Chavez. It was to show that the supporters of Israel are rightwing defenders of torture and Islam bashers. You should be happy with that, since that places them in your camp.

Had Azar been a liberal, than his support of Israel would have meant something; it would show that Israel has support from more than the usual suspects. It is no hiddush that rightwing Islamophobes support Israel.


Frankly, I want Azar, a defeated president, and his types to write articles in praise of Israel. It is very important to my agenda that increasingly the only support Israel gets is from Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and the right wing. That there are still Democrats that support Israel's policies is due to the skewing of the narrative in America. That will change in time, and it is changing already.

I agree with the Republicans that if you support Israeli policies you should vote Republican.

Anonymous said...

Magnes, I realize that what you and your friends want is a split between Repub and Dem support for Israel. I realize that what you want is for supporters of Israel, like me, to be lumped in with "Zionists" (you must have been tired when you wrote that) as well as those nefarious folks on the "rightwing."

You can keep wishing for all of these things while ignoring statements such as "But then again, in your confused world, you guys support the Palestinians over the Israelis. The Palestinians who kneecap their opponents, send them packing from rooftops, threaten homosexuals who then flee into Israel, think highly of slamming Israeli Jewish families in restaurants with rat-poison-encrusted, rusty nails in their bombs, and think nothing of denying the Jewish connection to any part of the Land of Israel despite ample proof to the contrary.

Yup, those are the people you support over the guys with the free press, the vigorous and independent judiciary, and the democracy."

Yes indeed, you can wish for all of these things and claim that I'm missing the point because I stress how debased your attempts to find support for your attacks on Israel have become when you rely on someone like Chavez as a source.

However, as I've proven in this conversation and as you have now acknowledged, support for Israel continues to come from the confused writers at the New York Times who can't be considered "Evangelical Christians," "Rightwingers" and in some cases not even as "Zionists." And then it also comes from people like Azar and those dastardly "Republicans."

So I guess, as I've been pointing out, there are many people who, unlike you, still understand that Israel should be seen without the constant and unfair vilification, and they belong to the Right, the Left and the Center. In fact, we can conclude from this discussion that they are also the people that support democracy and morality over totalitarianism and two-faced liars.

Anonymous said...

Here's another thought experiment. You watch a video where Arab children sing of dying as martyrs for "Palestine." This isn't new because on the internet you have seen many photos of Palestinians and Arab children dressed in Hamas and other terrorist fashions.

Do you support the people who stand behind this child abuse, or do you pretend that it doesn't exist or is a minor issue in the struggle against Israel?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illF1vt5g1Q

I have to say that this is way better quality than the Mickey Mouse clone Hamas uses in their TV programming.