Hamas vs. Israel: the ‘moral equivalency’ controversy
To determine relative guilt, some compare Gazan and Israeli civilian deaths.
Is this reasonable?
As always when Israel fights Palestinian terrorists, there has been much talk lately about the ‘moral equivalency’ argument. Those who support this argument will say something like this:
“I condemn the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. By the same token, I condemn the Israeli attacks in Gaza, which are also killing civilians.”
The ostensible principle at work is that civilian lives should be protected by belligerents. If both sides are killing civilians, then they should both be condemned: moral equivalency.
Thanks for reading The Management of Reality! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This leads straight into counting civilian deaths. According to this logic, since killing civilians is wrong, whichever side kills more civilians is the morally more condemnable belligerent.
And from this it follows—goes the argument—that, in the present Hamas-Israel war, Israel should come in for a larger share of blame, because more Arab civilians are dying than Israeli civilians.
Those who defend this argument believe it sounds like fairness. But their detractors—supporters of Israel—consider this argument illegitimate and morally outrageous. Can this question be settled? I believe it can.
The argument as presented in the media
Before I take a gander, however, it will be useful to see how the moral equivalency argument is wielded in public by my fellow talking heads. So let us consider an exchange that took place on Rising—the TV branch of The Hill—between Briahna Joy Gray (who presents as a leftist) and Robby Soave (who presents as a libertarian).
Briahna Joy Gray defends the moral equivalency argument. I have quoted her below. Before you read her, keep in mind that when she says “this question of moral equivalency” she really means the outrage expressed—by defenders of Israel—against the moral equivalency argument. Also, notice that her second question does not express a complete thought (I have transcribed her speech faithfully; you are welcome to check). However, I think her intended meaning is interpretable. My inserted brackets, I hope, help improve reading comprehension.
Briahna Joy Gray: This question of moral equivalency is confusing to me. I’m a little confused; what does that mean? Are we saying that we cannot morally weight the fact that more children have died in Gaza—have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza—than the total number of people that have been killed in the horrific events of October 7th? Is it [an illegitimate] moral equivalency to say that I value those lives [on either side] equally, and that given there is an ongoing tragedy that is now eclipsing, in pure number of bodies in Gaza, the number of people who are murdered in Israel? (…) Of course, I think all people are equal, and all human lives are equal, so of course I want to draw moral equivalencies between the tragedy of innocent civilians being killed in Israel and the tragedy of innocent civilians being killed in Gaza. And to say we have the power to stop the latter… We [the United States] absolutely should use our influence as a country to do so.
Let’s dig in…
Briahna Joy Gray holds that “all people are equal, all human lives are equal,” and therefore all civilian deaths are also equal, morally, and that leads her straight into counting civilian deaths on either side. She means to “morally weight” that the “ongoing tragedy [in Gaza] … is eclipsing, in pure number of bodies in Gaza, the number of people who are murdered in Israel.”
Summarized, the argument goes like this: more people are dying in Gaza, ergo, Gaza is the bigger victim, ergo, the IDF is morally worse than Hamas.
In a separate intervention Gray says it explicitly:
“Israel at this point is more guilty than the Palestinians, numbers wise” (my emphasis).
(She meant to say more guilty than Hamas; her co-host corrected that.)
Now, let us first examine Gray’s logic entirely on her own terms, conceding all of her premises. With all that charity to her benefit, does her argument stand? I don’t think so.
If Gray’s principle were applied rigorously, a defending country should cease its counterattack the minute casualties on the attacking side match the casualties on the defending side. If the defender kills one over parity, the defender becomes the guilty party.
That’s absurd on inspection—it gives a giant advantage to any attacking terrorist force, and that is immoral. No decent civilization could ever survive if these were the rules.
But what if the defender kills two over parity? Does Gray’s argument apply now? Is the defending side now the guilty party? Still absurd. What if it’s three over parity…? Catch my drift? Where is the numerical threshold over parity that will make the defending State—the State that got attacked, mind you—the guilty party?
One thing appears certain: Briahna Joy Gray does not know. She didn’t give us a figure. Perhaps she is “a bit confused,” as she says. Obviously, counting civilian deaths on both sides is not the straightforward moral-reasoning procedure that she thinks it is.
Let’s try a different tack
Let us consider the question of a State’s moral responsibility to its own citizens. It is often said in liberal political theory that the first responsibility of a modern liberal State is to ensure the security of its own citizens. If your State cannot protect you from murderers and thieves, it is no State at all. The term ‘failed State’ is not used for poor States that cannot generate much economic growth; it is used for States—rich or poor—where criminals run amok.
A State that cannot protect its citizens from an attacking enemy is also a ‘failed State’—it gets conquered. Or, in the case of Israel, it is destroyed and its population exterminated, because that’s what Israel’s jihadi enemies publicly claim as their ecstatic goal.
The question then becomes: To whom does the State of Israel have a stronger moral responsibility? To Arab civilians in the Gaza statelet whose Hamas government has already attacked Israeli civilians (in the worst attack since the Holocaust) and means to exterminate the Israeli Jews? Or to its own Israeli civilians?
I think the answer is obvious: to its own civilians.
Of course, morally, the State of Israel should, whenever possible, minimize harm to civilians in the enemy territory. The State of Israel does that more carefully than any other State. Before every operation, the IDF makes thousands of phone calls, sends thousands of emails, and drops millions of leaflets in attempts to inform Gaza civilians where an operation will take place so that Gaza civilians may take refuge elsewhere.
This is recognized even by the New York Times.
The New York Times matters
Let me give you some context to establish the importance of this.
The New York Times has such a pronounced anti-Israel bias that it routinely accepts accusations against Israel—without any fact-checking—from the antisemitic terrorists publicly committed to an anti-Jewish genocide. A recent example is how the New York Times repeated the Hamas lie that Israel had struck a hospital in Gaza.
Normally, such accusations are spread with impunity. This time, the truth came out.
First of all, that hospital was not hit—it is still standing. This is why the New York Times used a photo—on its front page, mind you!—of a different destroyed building, in a completely different place, to make the public think that Israel had struck that hospital.
Second, it is now widely recognized that the blast—which happened in the hospital parking lot—was in fact a botched missile launch by the Palestinian terrorists. Since the Palestinian terrorists were firing from the hospital parking lot, it is they—and not Israel—who were endangering Arab civilians (hospital patients!).
Yes, the New York Times published a correction, but most people never learn of corrections. And by then the ‘reporting’ on the hospital had already produced protests against Israel in several cities and even violent attacks against Jews.
The Times, rushing to judgment, and caring little to establish actual facts, yelled ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Worse: it produced a new blood libel against the Jewish people (this is an old tradition).
So, if not even the New York Times denies that the IDF goes to great lengths to protect Arab civilian life, you may be reasonably certain that the IDF indeed takes such precautions.
Hamas matters even more
But the strongest evidence that the IDF tries to protect Arab civilians in fact comes from the Palestinian terrorists themselves.
Consider again this remarkable phenomenon: the Palestinian terrorists fired a missile from a hospital parking lot. This sort of thing is widespread among Palestinian terrorists, and rather well known. The idea is that by firing from such locations (they also use, for example, children’s schools), the terrorists are somewhat protected from Israeli return fire: they are using the Arab civilians as ‘human shields.’
They even use children’s daycare centers. You have to see this to believe it:
The use of ‘human shields’ by Hamas makes zero sense unless the IDF makes great efforts to spare the lives of innocent Arab civilians. If the IDF didn’t care, the presence of Arab hospital patients and children next to missile launchers, or missile launchers inside those structures (as above) would give those missile launchers no protection. It follows, therefore, that the Palestinian terrorists themselves know and recognize that the IDF will try to protect those Arab civilians.
Indeed, Hamas themselves have explained that their policy is to expose Arab civilians to death and destruction.
Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations routinely try to produce Arab civilian deaths so that the media will blame Israel for ‘war crimes.’ When Arab civilians try to follow the IDF’s instructions and leave the structures that Israel—at a cost to its own element of surprise—announces that it will attack, the Hamas terrorists—at gunpoint—force those civilians back inside. This has always been happening. And it’s been reported that it’s happening again. Even CNN, no friend of Israel, is saying it.
What follows? That Arab civilian deaths in Gaza are the responsibility of the Palestinian terrorists.
A useful metaphor
If this is not immediately obvious, consider the following metaphor in the first person.
You are in your home, with your own family, which you have a moral obligation to protect from harm. Someone breaks into your home to try and murder you and your entire family. You fire your gun and you kill the attacker.
Are you to blame? No. Self-defense is moral.
Now let’s add a twist. This attacker who has broken into your home—with the intention of killing you and your entire family—has come with his own baby in arms. When you shoot him to protect your family, you also unintentionally kill his baby.
Are you to blame for that baby’s death? No. What was that guy doing bringing his baby to his murderous rampage? His baby’s death is on him, not on you.
Back to Briahna Joy Gray
Notice now how careful Gray was to correct herself:
“… more children have died in Gaza—have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza—than the total number of people that have been killed in the horrific events of October 7th” (my emphasis)
Her self-correction—her claim that Israel is killing children in Gaza—is absolutely necessary for her attempted argument. For unless she pins those deaths on Israel, she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
But just like you are not responsible for your attacker’s baby’s death in my metaphor—even though it’s your bullet that killed that baby—Israel is not responsible for the Arab civilian deaths in Gaza that they’ve done everything in their power to avoid. Those Arab civilian deaths must be pinned on Hamas. If Hamas had not attacked Jewish civilians in Israel, none of this would be happening. And if Hamas were not using Arab civilians as human shields, far fewer Arab civilians would be dying.
What Briahna Joy Gray says—that “[Arab] children … have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza”—is perfectly false. Those Arab children are being killed by Hamas.
The antisemitic terrorists want those Arab children to die so that talking heads in the Western media will then defend the ‘moral equivalency’ argument, thus dealing a propaganda blow to the State of Israel. Why are Briahna Joy Gray and many other talking heads cooperating with the terrorists?
Is this antisemitism?
Is Briahna Joy Gray an antisemite?
The question is legitimate. Certainly her co-host Robby Soave appears to be developing that opinion. “Listen to yourself!”, he pleads with her. (It is remarkable to watch, because Gray does not appear the least bit embarrassed by the positions she defends.)
It is possible, of course, that Gray is not an antisemite. It is admissible—at least in principle—that she is ignorant and doesn’t understand that Hamas has a strategy to produce Arab civilian deaths so that talking heads like her will then use that to destroy Israel’s prestige. If so, then Briahna Joy Gray is just a terrible journalist engaging in malpractice.
It is difficult for me to believe, however, that someone who daily comments in public on the Hamas-Israel war, and who is daily challenged by her libertarian co-host Robby Soave, still does not understand this.
As another troubling example, consider that when Soave pointed out that everything happening right now is a consequence of Hamas attacking Israel, Gray adopted an indignant pose and justified the Hamas murders and hostage taking of babies, children, and grannies on the grounds that Palestinians are suffering difficult conditions, for which she faults Israel. Here she is:
Briahna Joy Gray: The 2.3 million people who are living with non-potable water, and in an open-air prison that has been condemned by eighteen humanitarian groups, where they are not allowed to come and go, where they are not allowed to fish more than a few feet out into the water because they are under a blockade, where their nutritional food requirements are under-met [sic] and half the population is severely malnourished, they shouldn’t—it’s their fault [sarcasm]! They’re bad [more sarcasm]…
Robby Soave: I didn’t say it’s their fault; I said it’s Hamas’s fault.
Briahna Joy Gray [more sarcasm]: I forgot—I forgot this whole conflict started…
Robby Soave: You said it’s Israel’s fault.
Briahna Joy Gray: I do think it’s Israel’s fault that Palestinians—2.3 [million] Palestinians—are kept in captivity in the Gaza Strip…
Soave is correct. The blockade of Gaza is not gratuitous. In 2005, asking for nothing in return, many Israelis supported that Israel should disengage from Gaza in order to send a signal to Arab Palestinians about Jewish willingness to live in peace. It was PLO/Fatah (the ‘Palestinian Authority’) that got Gaza in 2005, and at that time no Israeli blockade was put on Gaza. The Israeli blockade of Gaza began in 2007.
Why in 2007?
Because in that year PLO/Fatah gave Gaza to Hamas, after which Hamas quickly turned Gaza into a terrorist statelet and began attacking Israeli civilians. And then Israel imposed a blockade, in an attempt to stem the entry of weapons to Gaza.
Yes, there is scarcity of potable water in Gaza—Briahna Joy Gray is right about that. Is that Israel’s fault? No. It is well known that Hamas uses all the money it gets, and the material for civilian infrastructure that comes in, to build rockets and tunnels and other tools of terrorist warfare. We know this in part because Hamas boasts about it.
Hamas has bragged about how they turn EU-funded water pipelines, meant to provide Gazans with potable water, to build weapons that kill Israeli civilians. They unearth the pipelines and then turn them into missiles! So, naturally, Gazans don’t have enough potable water.
One of those pipelines, the largest of them, was just recently built by Israel. It was a gift to Gazans. As reported in 2019, such Israeli gifts to Gazans are not easy to deliver:
“Construction work began in recent days, and is being conducted under heavy military guard out of fear that Gazan terror groups will open fire on the crews as the pipeline-laying work nears the border.”
Why, then, is Briahna Joy Gray blaming the lack of potable water in Gaza on Israel?
She is obviously very smart. Can she be this poorly informed? But Robby Soave makes great efforts to point out her errors. So I ask again: Is she an antisemite?
Is this what the left has become?
Thanks for reading The Management of Reality! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.