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March 1, 2016 5:57 am

Israel and the World’s False Moral Equivalence

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk

Email a copy of "Israel and the World’s False Moral Equivalence" to a friend
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters after the July 14 announcement of the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. Photo: State Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters after the July 14 announcement of the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. Photo: State Department.

Israeli military operations have frequently been targeted for criticism by Western pseudo-humanitarians. Now, Israel’s response to the wave of individual Palestinian terrorist acts is also in the crosshairs. The reporting of such events is often characterized by false moral equivalence –comparing Israeli actions with premeditated, cold-blooded murder.

Philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtein has pointed out the dangers of false moral equivalences. He said that “if we could not distinguish between an accidental death resulting from a car accident and an intentional murder, our criminal justice system would fall apart. And if we cannot distinguish the killing of combatants from the intended targeting of peaceable civilians, we live in a world of moral nihilism. In such a world, everything reduces to the same shade of gray and we cannot make distinctions that help us take our political and moral bearings.”

This is illustrated by two classic cases, among many.

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First, US Secretary of State John Kerry compared the three people murdered in the 2013 Boston Marathon to the nine “activists” killed by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara ship in the flotilla that attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza in 2013. Kerry falsely mischaracterized these flotilla passengers as innocent activists and bystanders, much like the truly innocent Boston victims.

This isn’t surprising. False moral equivalence does not require any foundation in fact. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs proved that acts of violence had been planned by some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara before any Israeli troops set foot on the ship. In addition, video footage shows an Israeli soldier being thrown overboard, and other soldiers being attacked with metal pipes and chairs immediately after boarding, leaving no time to negotiate with passengers. Kerry ignored all this.

Former European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton provided another extreme example of false moral equivalence. In 2012, she compared the deaths of innocent people by serial killers and brutal dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to accidental deaths of civilians due to Israeli actions in Gaza. In a speech to Palestinian youth in Brussels, Ashton abused the memory of the four Jews intentionally killed by the Muslim terrorist Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, France by saying:

When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places — we remember young people and children who lose their lives.

The false moral comparisons used against Israel and the Jews have much broader implications for the world at large. One important aspect is that it encourages terrorism. Muslim terrorism in particular has increased greatly since Ashton and Kerry made their remarks. The false moral equivalence issue merits far more attention in the public discourse than it actually gets.

The Israeli army has made more effort to instill combat morality in its soldiers than any other armed force. The exact opposite can be said for terror organizations intended to murder civilians, or in the case of the Mavi Marmara, violent activists intending to attack soldiers.

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