Chris Hedges v. Sam Harris on Israel

July 30, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Everyone agrees on one thing. The situation in Israel is horrific. Something should be done. We disagree on the proper frame for understanding the situation and what needs to be done. The debate is an endless shifting of frames, much like the debate on abortion. The logic of the debates comes after it is too late for logic, because it is the underlying assumptions that determine one’s position. I offer two contrasting positions.

Chris Hedges has recently written of the need to implode the myth of Israel:

Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bare the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.

In contrast, Sam Harris has recently discussed the need and right of Israel to defend itself:

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies. [Note: I was not giving Israel a pass to commit war crimes. I was making a point about the realities of living under the continuous threat of terrorism and of fighting multiple wars in a confined space.]

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done. [Note: I was not saying that because they are more careful than we have been at our most careless, the Israelis are above criticism. War crimes are war crimes.]

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Category: Military, Violence

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Tige Gibson says:

    >Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves.

    I don’t understand what this means to imply. Maybe it’s just me. I know both of these authors’ works, but it just sounds like using the word “liberal” to bash a nebulous group. Who does that?

    Anyway the proper context to understand this is to recognize that Zionism, the creation of the Jewish State, is a very distinct movement from what people generally perceive as survivors of the European Holocaust. Those two groups have never really been the same.

    Conservative Christians have always supported Zionism because its goals are a component of Christian prophecy. Liberals on the other hand, if they are ignorant, assume that Holocaust survivors and Zionists are the same because they are both groups of Jews. That is racism.

    Submitting to a guilt trip on the basis of a misunderstanding is not a proper response to racism. Creating a state whose purpose is to excessively privilege people because you mistakenly think they have suffered excessively isn’t a response to racism. It is racism.

    The majority of people still have no understanding of racism. People who don’t consider themselves racist strongly and actively deny the implications of racism and seek primarily to cover it up rather than deal with it. Racism is not a liberal value, it’s a value of the ignorant.

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