My comments on Operation Tzuk Eitan or “Mighty Cliff” (which appeared here as well as in Haaretz) triggered many positive responses, a couple of negative assessments from the right and one sharp negative response from a leading leftist blogger, Magnes Zionist. That writer, Prof. Charles Manekin, was seconded by a mutual friend of each of ours, someone I hold in esteem and great affection, though we differ deeply. It was not an easy conversation, but I hope an honest one.
Manekin’s reply was ungentle. It’s OK. I can take it. At least he found me “well intentioned,” so that’s something, although my “hard-heartedness” did make him “grieve for American Judaism.” I sense I am a member of a large class, there.
Still, I accept a portion of his rebuke. “Where was the good rabbi …” through the “moral nightmare” of Palestinian suffering under occupation, he asks? Fair enough. As my son tells me all the time, I am too placidly, undemandingly “against the occupation” (by which I mean only of the post-1967 territories) without doing anything about it. I should be more direct and consistent.
But I’d like to respond to one of Manekin’s points. He wonders why I – like so many others – lack the “moral clarity” of Amira Hass, Gideon Levy and Avram Burg.
Well, it seems to me that clarity sometimes is purchased only at the steep price of ruling out of court discomfiting questions and filtering out data that challenges one’s premises. Manekin, Hass and Levy excel at asking questions the rest of Israel and her friends might rather ignore. We should be grateful. But they often lack answers – and seem unwilling even to attend – to questions the rest of us regard as ineluctably obvious and pressing.
For instance: “What should Israel do about the fact that Hamas is in power in Gaza and has built a threatening military apparatus, including long-ranged rockets and tunnels created expressly for lethal assaults?” That’s not an existential threat, says Manekin dismissively, not comparable to Israel’s power over the Palestinians. That’s true. So what? You only defend yourself from existential threats? Oh but, Israel knew about the tunnels years ago. Also true. So what? They’ve lost the warrant to defuse that threat now? It’s been years since the suicide bombs. So? You figure Hamas is no longer in that business? Leftist activist Gershon Baskin – who knows Hamas better than most – told CNN that 3,000 martyrs are setting out.
Perhaps I am just a hopeless liberal, and will always disappoint radicals like Charles Manekin. But to me, rare is the problem best solved by “moral clarity,” which all too often is illusory and narrow. I learn more from the more honest, more nuanced and ultimately realer observations by Amos Oz and Michael Walzer (whom Manekin also criticized – probably the only time I will be associated with Michael Walzer. How cool is that?) See also Philip Gourevitch’s excellent comments on the New Yorker site on the moral and political difference between Amos Oz and Rashid Khalidi. In the same category, please go back and re-read Moshe Halbertal’s analysis of the Goldstone report, after the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. David Grossman, too, speaks of the need to make peace with no illusions about our enemies in the Middle East and around the world.
These writers contend seriously with the demands of moral warfare, the demands to reduce civilian death, the demand to improve the lives of those locked into the Gaza Strip … and the need to fight Hamas. That might not seem like clarity. But it brings aspects of morality into the conversation that cannot be ignored.