An Open Letter To Philip Weiss

Dear Phil,

I understand that, in Weissworld, it is considered a compliment to be singled out as a representative of the mainstream media, someone “finally” alienated from Israeli policy—and, as an additional commendation, to be credited with having termed Israeli attacks in Gaza as a “war crime.”  I think that anyone who bothers to read the whole article—to which you curiously provide a link—will immediately see how seriously you’ve flattened my views.  I write, among other things:

Familiar, finally, is the posturing and the doublespeak, Hamas’s Big Lie countered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s half-truths. A senior Hamas official told Haaretz, “When Israel started operating against our people, some decided it was time to act and show that we are one people and one nation that must defend our people in the West Bank.” As if Hamas defends its people by provoking luridly photogenic attacks on Gazans; as if launching Iranian-made missiles, acquired through its Sinai tunnels, does not appear to justify the Israeli siege that Hamas says it is trying to break; as if Hamas has not consolidated an occupation regime of its own, plunging Gaza into a parochial horror in which almost ninety per cent of adults live in poverty.

“The difference between us is simple,” Netanyahu says. “We develop defensive systems against missiles in order to protect our civilians, and they use their civilians to protect their missiles.” That’s a good line, and even a true one. But it’s also true that the Israeli government knew the kidnapped teens were almost certainly dead when, in an alleged desperate effort to save them, it began a crackdown that resulted in hundreds of Hamas supporters being thrown in prison. More plausibly, it took this opportunity to crush Hamas as a political force. Netanyahu and Israeli military tacticians openly consider all homes of known Hamas officials or fighters to be part of Hamas “infrastructure.” Bombing these homes every few years—“mowing the lawn,” as one commander put it before earlier Gaza operations—demonstrates that Israel will not shrink from inflicting hundreds of random civilian casualties, through which it hopes to discredit Hamas. If you don’t think this is a war crime, talk to your Palestinian friends.

Justice Goldstone established what war crimes are. I won’t compete with him here. Let us say neither Hamas nor the IAF are doing credit to the human species, whose record wasn’t great to begin with. I clearly meant that both sides are cynical about civilian casualties in Gaza, tolerating them, even using them, for alleged strategic gain. Where, in your blog, is a post about how missile attacks ought to distance us from Hamas? Anyway, even if Israeli strikes can be vaguely justified as a response to them, you need to be incapable of compassion, or devoid of Palestinian friends, to refrain from seeing the bombing as criminally cavalier.  This is what I argued, which is not really what you insinuate, is it?

I also consider that “finally” condescending. You write: "It is just a matter of time before some liberal Zionists (who are merely the most amenable voice inside a reactionary American support community) begin to jump off the Zionist tank.” Presumably, people like myself, otherwise reactionary liberal Zionists, are finally summoning the courage to come around to your principled alienation. This isn’t the place, either, to explain all the ways I find your views about historic Zionism misinformed, even crude, and your political analysis one-sided. But some of us, in and out of Israel, have been willing to take the unpleasant consequences of non-conformity, criticizing the occupation and its consequences—including arguably just wars that might nevertheless have been avoided—since the time of Golda Meir. However queasy we may feel about Weissworld’s tribute, we certainly weren’t waiting for its spine.

Best, Bernie