The Middle East is whirling in a tragic display of violence, yet the topsy-turvy logic in which the world is squarely focused on the Jewish state will only serve to perpetuate it. In Syria last week, more than 700 people have been killed in 48 hours, bringing the total number to over 130,000. In Iraq, ISIS is on a rampage reminiscent of a medieval Inquisition, forcing Christians who have lived in Mosul to either convert or die. Meanwhile, in Tripoli, 47 people were killed in a single day last week.
Looking at such dire instability, it is worthwhile to examine the context of this abnormal fixation on the morality of Israel’s fight against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, given what it reveals about the Western appetite for employing force to counter an enemy and its conception of justice in war. This is especially critical at a time when Western power in the region is eroding, giving way to Islamic forces which will fight to the death to achieve their objectives.
The central criticism against Israel is the accusation of disproportionality.
This critique has only served to diminish the importance of proportionality in war, extracting the concept of justice from the equation.
Indeed, Israel has become the canary in the coal mine, exposing a dangerous species of pacifism sweeping across Europe and parts of the US.
Central to the accusation of disproportionality is the sacred Excel spreadsheet, whereby the justice of one’s cause is reduced to a simplified algebraic formula: which side has suffered more civilian casualties.
Justice in war used to be calibrated according to the motives and nature of the parties involved.
Not anymore. In this sense, it does not matter to the world that since 2005, Hamas has embarked on a unilateral assault on the Jewish state. The world seems to be ignoring that this is a defensive war for Israel and an offensive one for its adversaries.
This dislocation of morality from the exercise of power, where proportionality becomes about statistics rather than rights, condemns power to powerlessness. Whether a fight is justified or not makes little difference in this new world order.
Taking this spaghetti logic to its conclusion, victory is no longer the desired objective of a war, only the maintenance of “proportionality.”
The proportionality argument does not deny that a just war can exist, it just demands that wars be hygienic, or in other words, pacified.
In the case of Israel, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of maximizing its own civilian casualties should silence those espousing the proportionality accusation. In this most recent round of fighting, the world is learning what Israel has known for years: Hamas is hiding rockets in UNRWA schools, using hospitals to place its sniper teams, co-opting ambulances to ferry terrorists to and from hideouts and cloaking their senior leadership in human shields made mostly of women and children. Those who continue to assess the justice of Israel’s war based primarily on death tolls are being played again for fools by Hamas in their peculiar refusal to acknowledge that this numbers game is clearly rigged.
The fallacy inherent in today’s proportionality paradigm is multi-faceted.
The most obvious is that victory in war, as far as history is concerned, arrives when one side has forced the other into submission.
This conclusion would be altogether impossible if adversaries fought merely to maintain proportionality.
This argument also fails to distinguish between the claims of each party in the fight. Whether one side is justified in its use of force becomes irrelevant. Instead, each side is evaluated solely according to hygiene, or how many were killed.
This approach fails to condemn the aggressor and a priori assumes each party to the conflict is equally in the right.
Lastly, the proportionality argument relies on snapshot journalism, where tweets, graphs and consumer stories of one side overwhelm the complex moral and historical questions driving the conflict.
This does not discount the real tragedy of the loss of innocent life.
But pop-proportionality is not primarily concerned with this. Just look at the silence over what is happening elsewhere in the Middle East.
Instead, pop-proportionality seeks to reward the side which can best claim the mantle of victimhood – regardless of how it is able to achieve it. By deploying a strategy that maximizes its own civilian losses, Hamas believes that it can subject Israel to enough international pressure so that victory against a stronger adversary becomes attainable.
Unfortunately we have seen that Hamas’s gambit is paying off. The pacifism popularized in the West’s critique of Israeli actions presages a moral decay within its own societies.
At its core, this decay stems from the West’s basic aversion to using force in the pursuit of justice.
As a spectator, it is unwilling to do the heavy lifting necessary to discover the truth within the conflict.
Instead of weighing out the moral dimensions involved, and assessing the motivations central to the struggle, the West sits in its ivory tower and is satisfied with a more simple method of indictment: guilt by spreadsheet.
As the Obama administration and European leaders continue their mantra of proportionality while mouthing empty platitudes of Israel’s right to defend itself, the pressure continues to mount on Israel to lay down its arms and accept an untenable status-quo. Yet what the West fails to understand is that its warped call for proportionality will inevitably rob it of its own power to face such a radical enemy – one which we should remember has made it crystal clear that once Israel is defeated, New York, London and Paris will be next.
The writer is the director of the Jewish National Initiative, a grassroots advocacy forum that is bringing Zionism into the 21st century, and co-founder of a successful debate society (Whiskey Debates) in Tel Aviv since 2008.