USA Today’s “Our view” editorial “Yet again, Hamas rockets backfire on Palestinians” (July 15) started by sounding reasonable, but quickly leaped into false Israeli-Palestinian equivalence. Its “counter-point” “Opposing view,” by anti-Israel academic Fawaz Gerges, “Israeli excesses provoke Hamas” was worse. Together, they would have been laughable—except that USA Today’s circulation is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country.
The editorial imagined that the latest Israel-Hamas fighting exposed the increasingly religious nature of the conflict and how “opposing extremists feed off each other.” It pronounced Israel’s manhunt for the three kidnapped—and murdered—teenagers in June “excessively intrusive.” And it pontificated that “hard-line politics of the rapidly expanding and religiously extreme Israeli settler movement are leading Israel further toward confrontation, not coexistence, with the Palestinians.”
Gerges’ “rebuttal” carries USA Today’s editorial to its illogical conclusion, blaming Palestinian aggression from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Israeli self-defense. Of course, the wildly erroneous but widely quoted London School of Economics professor of Middle East studies, doesn’t see it as self-defense. Rather, “the rocket attacks are a manifestation that Hamas feels cornered with its back to the wall.” Gerges’, like USA Today’s editorialist, charges “Israeli excesses in the West Bank after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens, especially the arrest of Hamas former prisoners in the West Bank, were bound to produce a reaction from Gaza.”
USA Today’s “Our view” and “Opposing view” are bookends, collecting between them the same superficial, anti-Israel clichés. The paper did deserve credit for pointing out Hamas’ inclination toward “messianic self-destruction” and the fact that it intentionally bases weaponry “next to sensitive targets.” But overall the editorial and commentary began with false premises and ended with dangerously foolish conclusions.
The editorial asserted that “the crisis exposes a deeper threat: the increasingly religious (and therefore inflexible) character of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the way opposing extremists feed off each other.” This equivalence is false. Religious intolerance is common to the Islamic fundamentalism widespread in the Gaza Strip (and well-represented in the West Bank). The kidnapping of the three Israeli teens was celebrated, and not only by devout Muslims, in the Strip and on the West Bank.
In contrast, the murder of a Palestinian youth, apparently by Israeli Jews, was condemned not only by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders but also by the Chief Rabbi and the head rabbi of a yeshiva (seminary) reportedly attended by one of the suspects. The Jerusalem neighborhoods in which most of the suspects, all reportedly haredi or “ultra-Orthodox,” lived were known, according to articles in the Israeli press, for being apolitical.
Jewish religious extremists are still, after decades of Palestinian terrorism, marginal figures in Israeli society. Muslim extremists, on the other hand, are featured not only on Hamas television from Gaza but also broadcasts of the “moderate” Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
USA Today also claimed “the hard-line politics of the rapidly expanding and religiously extreme Israeli settler movement are leading Israel further toward confrontation, not coexistence with the Palestinians.” Nonsense. Most settlers are not “religiously extreme.” Many have told pollsters they would support giving up at least some Jewish communities in the West Bank in exchange for real peace. They simply doubt, and have reason to, Palestinian desire to make and keep a compromise peace. Even among the minority of settlers who are devoutly observant, many recognize that Judaism’s highest value is life and the saving of it, not territory.
As if to emphasize its blinkered hostility to Israeli settlements, if not to Jews who exercise their religious, historical and legal claim to some of the disputed West Bank (Judea and Samaria) USA Today thunders “then, in apparent retaliation [for the murders of the three Israeli youngsters], a gang of young thugs from the Israeli settler movement brutally murdered a Palestinian teen.” How does it know? None of the six suspects had been identified publicly at the time of the editorial. Of the first three arrested, one lived in a West Bank settlement, the other two in Jerusalem.
The yeshiva (religious seminary) they reportedly attended was in Jerusalem, not the territories. One was said to be a dropout. The head rabbi of the yeshiva tried to pay a condolence call on the family of the murdered Palestinian but was advised by Israeli security officials not to. Mainstream leaders of Jews living in the territories condemned the murder. But USA Today, in unwarranted generalization, tarred “the Israeli settler movement.”
The editorial said “Palestinian terrorism must end, and Hamas must join the Palestinian Authority in accepting Israel’s right to exist.” Hamas’ charter, as the Associated Press reminded readers the same day USA Today’s editorial appeared, “commits the group to the killing of all Jews everywhere as a divine Muslim duty….” To cease anti-Jewish terror would be violate its raison d’etre. As for the PA’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist—axiomatic for any peace-seeking state, especially one restored on a portion of its people’s ancient land—PA leaders have made clear they recognize that Israel exists. They just refuse, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest failed diplomacy showed, to make peace with it as a Jewish state.
They don’t believe, as Labor Party veteran Shlomo Avineri acknowledged in a commentary of his own a few days later (“With the Oslo dream shattered, Israel must to the creative thinking,” Ha’aretz, July 16), that the Jews are a people entitled to a state of their own.
Gerges, in his mislabeled “Opposing view,” alleged “Israeli strangulation of Gaza through an air and land blockade in cooperation with Egypt have brought Palestinian frustrations to a boiling point.” Ah, the chutzpah of the murder defendant who, having killed his parents, begs the judge for mercy.
Israel unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, and agreed to U.S.-mediated arrangements for border crossings into Israel and Egypt. But from then until the appearance of Gerges’ Op-Ed, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Strip launched 9,000 mortars and rockets at Israel. Nevertheless, Israel continued to allow hundreds of truckloads a day of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid into Gaza and supplied the enemy entity with most of its electricity. If anyone should have been boiling in frustration, it ought to be the Israelis.
Gerges also charged, like USA Today’s editorial, that Israel’s West Bank security sweep in search of the kidnapped teens was excessive. But Israelis knew that Hamas and others had been urging and planning—including constructing cross-boundary tunnels—kidnappings of Israelis to hold hostage, as in the Gilad Shalit case—for the exchange of hundreds more jailed terrorists and terrorism suspects. Israelis also knew that the more intensive the early search, the more likely it was to find the victims alive. Excessive? Perhaps Gerges and USA Today’s editorialist had not lived under terrorist bombardment and justified fear of kidnappings as part of daily life.
Ludicrously, the Middle East studies professor insisted “both camps, not just Hamas, should be forced to renounce violence and accept a ceasefire.” Too bad for Gerges that the day his column appeared, Israel accepted but Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire.
Even more, his false equivalence put Hamas’ war crimes—firing unguided missiles indiscriminately among civilian populations—on the same footing as Israel’s justified self-defense, which was authorized under basic international law and the U.N. Charter. In London, does Gerges hold the burglar and police, arsonist and fireman to the same standards?
Showing either contempt for his readers or intellectual shallowness, Gerges claimed “weakening of Hamas would likely sow the sees of a new Islamic state that arcs through Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories.” Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, the outfit whose decades’-old slogan is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” (After first using Palestinian noncombatants as “human shields, that is.) Gerges apparently did not comprehend that Hamas already is a candidate to join the Islamists of Iraq and Syria in any success. That makes weakening, if not destroying it, a step in the right direction in the larger Middle East.
USA Today’s editorial “Yet again, Hamas rockets backfire on Palestinians” was off-base. Publishing Gerges’ commentary, “Israeli excesses provoke Hamas,” let alone as an “Opposing view,” was off the wall.