Analysis from Israel

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Amnesty turned its attention to Hamas only after months of reporting on alleged Israeli crimes. First came a March report on Hamas’s rocket fire, then one this week on its extrajudicial killings of alleged collaborators. Each undercuts a key claim against Israel.

The most interesting finding in the March report was that Hamas’s rockets killed more civilians in Gaza than they did in Israel. Altogether, Amnesty said, the rockets killed six Israeli civilians and “at least” 13 Palestinian civilians. Where did the latter figure come from? From a single misfired rocket that killed 13 civilians in the Al-Shati refugee camp. In other words, Amnesty didn’t bother checking to see whether other Hamas rockets also killed civilians; it simply cited the one case it couldn’t possibly ignore, because it was reported in real time by a foreign journalist at the scene.

But according to Israel Defense Forces figures, roughly 550 rockets and mortars fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, including 119 that hit urban areas. And it defies belief to think those other 549 rockets and mortars produced no casualties.

After all, unlike Israel, Gaza has no civil defense system whatsoever. A 2014 study found that Israel’s civil defense measures reduced casualties from the rocket fire on sparsely populated southern Israel by a whopping 86%. But Gaza has no Iron Dome to intercept missiles, no warning sirens to alert civilians to incoming rockets, and no bomb shelters for civilians to run to even if they were warned. Thus in densely populated Gaza, with no civil defense measures, those misfired rockets would almost certainly have killed at least dozens, and quite possibly hundreds, of civilians.

One of the main claims against Israel made by Amnesty and other human rights groups is that it caused excessive civilian casualties. Most such groups simply parrot the UN claim (which came straight from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry) that 67% of the 2,200 casualties were civilians; Israel has consistently said the civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was roughly 1:1. While there are many reasons to think the Israeli figure is closer to the truth, even the UN/Palestinian ratio of 2:1 would be drastically lower than the international norm of 3:1.

But once you acknowledge that some portion of those civilian casualties was actually caused by misfired Hamas rockets rather than Israeli strikes, then the claim of excessive civilian casualties becomes even more untenable. Indeed, it means the civilian-to-combatant fatality ratio from Israeli strikes was likely even below 1:1.

Then there’s Amnesty’s report this week on Hamas’s extrajudicial executions. Its most interesting finding, as Elhanan Miller reported in the Times of Israel, is that “Hamas used abandoned sections of Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, ‘to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.’”

That goes to the heart of the other main allegation against Israel made by Amnesty and its fellows: that Israel repeatedly targeted civilian buildings rather than sticking to military targets. Israel countered that these “civilian” buildings doubled as military facilities – weapons storehouses, command and control centers, etc. – and were, therefore, legitimate military targets, but human rights groups pooh-poohed that claim.

Now, however, Amnesty has admitted that Hamas used Gaza’s main hospital as a detention, interrogation and torture center. And if Hamas was misusing a hospital in this way, it defies belief to think it wasn’t similarly misusing other civilian buildings for military purposes. Once you admit that Hamas did so once, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do so again. And, in that case, the allegation that Israel wantonly attacked civilian structures also collapses.

Thus in its reports on Hamas, Amnesty has effectively demolished its two main allegations against Israel. And if it had a shred of honor and decency left, it would admit it. But, needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Originally published in Commentary on May 28, 2015

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How a Changing American Liberalism Is Pulling American Jews away From Israel

In his essay “Why Many American Jews are Becoming Indifferent or Even Hostile to Israel,” Daniel Gordis lists, as key sources of tension, four major differences between the American and the Israeli political projects. His analysis strikes me as largely accurate, yet I think he misses something important by treating the differences as longstanding and perhaps even inherent. In fact, most are of recent vintage, and there is nothing inevitable or intractable about them. They are the product, first, of dramatic changes in the tenets of political liberalism, and second, of a collective decision by many American Jews to follow the new liberalism wherever it leads—even when it contradicts longstanding axioms of both American politics and traditional Judaism.

Take, for instance, the issue of universalism versus particularism. It’s true, as Gordis notes, that unlike Israel, America was not founded to serve a particular ethnic group. Nevertheless, throughout most of its history, America has viewed itself and functioned as a nation-state. Thus, despite promoting supranational projects like the European Union, which entail forfeitures of sovereignty, America has shunned any such project for itself, preferring jealously to preserve its own sovereignty. This preference traces straight back to the founders’ distrust of “entangling alliances.” Even today, there is bipartisan agreement that America’s first responsibility is to itself, whether or not the “international community” agrees; that’s why even a thoroughly liberal president like Barack Obama didn’t hesitate to launch strikes against anti-American terrorists worldwide without waiting for UN approval—something few European countries would deem thinkable.

Of course, the agreement isn’t wall-to-wall. In recent decades a vocal subset of American liberals, mostly housed in the left wing of the Democratic party, has come to believe that—in the words of Walter Hallstein, first president of the European Commission—”the system of sovereign nation-states has failed.” As perhaps inevitable corollaries of this belief, they argue that national decisions require “global legitimacy,” and that one’s fellow citizens have no more claim on one’s allegiance than do citizens of other countries.

Princeton University, my alma mater, exemplifies this evolution. When I graduated in 1987, the university’s motto was “Princeton in the nation’s service,” which nobody considered problematic. A decade later, the idea that a university should dedicate itself to serving its own country in particular had become unacceptable in advanced liberal circles. And so, in 1996, the motto was changed to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Two decades later, even this was deemed too particularistic; last year, the university’s trustees recommended a new version: “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

The change is hardly trivial. Americans who view their country as a nation-state, even if not the state of a particular ethnic group, have no trouble understanding why, when Israeli and Palestinian interests clash, Israel puts its own interests first: why it is reluctant to cede more territory to Palestinians when every previous such cession has massively increased terror, or ready to fight wars to stop rocket fire on its civilian population. Only for liberals who believe that countries have no right to prioritize their own citizens over other human beings are such decisions unacceptable.

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