Analysis from Israel

As Michael has noted, the UN inquiry into Israel’s raid on last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza largely exculpated Israel. Yet the fact an otherwise balanced report found it necessary to accuse Israel of “excessive and unreasonable” force says a lot about the warped fashion in which the West now views any use of force.

After all, as the report itself acknowledged, Israeli soldiers “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded.”

Specifically, the first 14 soldiers to land on the ship were attacked by dozens of passengers “armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives.” Passengers later seized some of the soldiers’ guns, and two soldiers were shot; while it isn’t certain they were shot by passengers, “there is some reason to believe” they were, and certainly, the soldiers thought so at the time.

Nevertheless, the report declared the “loss of life and injuries resulting from the [soldiers’] use of force” to be “unacceptable,” insisting there was “no satisfactory explanation” for “any of the nine deaths,” and particularly for the fact “most of the deceased were shot multiple times.”

This begs an obvious question: How were the soldiers supposed to subdue this much larger group of heavily armed opponents, whom the report itself admits posed a threat to their own lives, without causing any injuries or deaths? The report provides no answer, because in reality, it’s simply not possible.

Moreover, as any soldier knows, a wounded opponent can still kill. Shoot a man in the leg, for instance, and he can still kill you with his iron bar, stave, chain, knife or gun. The Israelis also had no way of knowing what other weaponry passengers might have – whether, for instance, some might have wired themselves with explosives, as Islamic fanatics (which by this point the soldiers knew they were facing) often do. Under such circumstances, no soldier worth his salt shoots once and hopes for the best; he keeps shooting until he’s sure his opponent is out of action. In a fight of this kind, the unpleasant truth is shooting someone multiple times is often a necessary precaution to make sure your opponent doesn’t kill you first.

Granted, the soldiers might never have been in this situation had the raid not been so poorly planned and executed. But once they were attacked in a way that required them “to use force for their own protection,” nothing they did was “excessive and unreasonable”; they did what was necessary under the circumstances to protect themselves.

Thus the report’s implication is that injuring or killing another is never acceptable, even in self-defense; it’s always “excessive and unreasonable.” But if soldiers on a legitimate mission – which the report says enforcing the Gaza blockade was – can’t use lethal force even to save their own lives, then something is badly wrong with the West’s attitude toward the use of military force.

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Why equality doesn’t belong in the nation-state law

Ever since Israel’s nation-state law was enacted in July, one constant refrain has sounded: The law should have included a provision guaranteeing equality to all Israelis. It’s not only the law’s opponents who say this; so do many of its supporters, liberals and conservatives alike. But they are wrong.

Adding a provision about equality to the nation-state law sounds innocuous because civic and political equality is already implicitly guaranteed through the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Basic Laws are Israel’s closest approximation to constitutional legislation, and the 1992 law, which protects the “dignity of any person as such,” has been consistently interpreted by the courts as enshrining equality on the grounds that discrimination violates a person’s dignity. So what harm could it do to offer an explicit guarantee in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People?

The answer is that doing so would elevate Israel’s democratic character above its Jewish one. And that would negate the entire purpose of the nation-state law, which was to restore Israel’s Jewish character to parity with its democratic one—not superiority, but merely parity.

To understand why this is so, it’s first necessary to understand why adding an equality provision would violate basic constitutional logic. This argument was cogently made from the liberal side of the political spectrum by Haim Ramon, a former senior Labor Party Knesset member and former justice minister. Writing in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last month, Ramon argued that if anyone thinks equality isn’t sufficiently protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, they should work to amend that law rather than the nation-state law, as the former is where any provision on equality belongs.

This isn’t mere semantic quibbling. A constitution, being a country’s supreme instrument of governance, isn’t supposed to be a jumble of random provisions thrown together with no more thought than a monkey sitting at a keyboard might provide; it’s supposed to be a carefully crafted document. That’s why constitutions typically group all provisions relating to a given topic into a single article or chapter. Each article has equal status; none is more or less important than the others. And together, they create a comprehensive document that addresses all the basic questions of governance.

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