1938 again? Something is terribly wrong

When policy debates are won and lost in 140-character outbursts, something is terribly, terribly wrong.

 (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On July 10, 2014, following an 11-hour flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, I disembarked into a surreal world.
It was mid-afternoon and the “Red Alert” application on my phone wailed every time a Hamas rocket came whizzing over from Gaza. The contrast to Canada could not have been starker.
At the time, I was the Canadian ambassador to Israel and, at that moment, I was rushing from the airport to Tel Aviv, where foreign minister Avigdor Liberman had summoned diplomats to a press conference.
These were the earliest days of Operation Protective Edge and Israel was getting pummeled, diplomatically in the press, and by Hamas rockets.
Early in the war, the international community was highly critical of Israel for putting “boots on the ground” in Gaza at all, in spite of the fact that Hamas had been firing off more than 100 rockets daily for two weeks prior. “Restraint” and “proportionate response” were the buzzwords of the day. More than a few in the international community questioned the need for any Israeli military response. At all.
While listening to minister Liberman, I began “real-time” posting on my twitter account every time the Red Alert app sounded, thinking that maybe, just maybe, people in their summer idylls in Canada and America and Europe would get a smidge of a sense as to what it is like to be a civilian in the way of rocket fire.
I am certain that my efforts failed to achieve the desired outcome, but they did catch the eye of a Canadian journalist. To him, the “story” was that I was “live tweeting,” not that Israeli civilians were being hammered.
No country would withstand one day of such attacks on civilians, never mind two weeks, before responding militarily.
Yet, for some reason, Israel was being castigated by the international community.
Throughout the war and since, critics of Israel have trotted out the numbers. Since so many more Palestinians than Israelis died, that means Israel was more wrong and bad. Way more.
(If numbers be the arbiter of principle and morality then we have a lot of rewriting of history to do, WWII being a case in point. That more Germans than British perished does not make the Nazis right.) Sitting there, I remember thinking the world was upside down. For two weeks, Hamas had sent hundreds of rockets, daily, intentionally targeting civilians. Israel implored the international community to intervene, to attempt to influence Hamas to stop. Silence.
Then, Israel responded. And wham! The critics awoke.
Surreal, I thought. This must have been what 1938 felt like. Reason upside down.
Logic upended. Madness.
Which is how the world feels now, in the wake of #LasVegas. Etc.
Protective Edge and #LasVegas are, in so many ways, apples and oranges. State and non-state actors vs. a very disturbed individual.
That’s clear.
But, it’s a sense. That there are seismic, paradigmatic shifts. In the world order. In the West. In terms of mass migration and the clashing of cultures. In the resurgence of more extreme political movements, on the Right and Left. In the way in which we communicate, and don’t. Everything is staccato, clipped, harsh. Mean.
Vicious personal attacks have come to characterize and saturate political discussion in so many legislatures and cultures.
Disrespect for opposing views has become intolerably extreme.
Discourse in general has become downright Orwellian; dare to differ and you are a pariah, banned from the new “civil” society. When a school like UC Berkeley bans Prof. Alan Dershowitz from lecturing, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
When conservative speakers routinely require police protection for public events, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
When Linda Sarsour is the darling of progressive America, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
When policy debates are won and lost in 140-character outbursts, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
When car rammings and street knifings and mass shootings become regular occurrences, and we respond with vigils and candles, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
We, Westerners, have devolved into a flaccid, politically correct culture in which moral equivalency is the benchmark, which means we have lost the ability to assess and judge, lest we offend. Reason has been overcome with emotion and intellectual tyranny. We have lost the ability to think and discuss without vilifying and caricaturing. Because there is only one correct way.
The causes are many but hardly simplistic.
Decades ago, when “applications” were what we filled out for jobs and university and not tools to warn of incoming rockets, two great thinkers, Allan Bloom and Robert Hughes, warned us eloquently about the early signs of decay in Western society, in many ways evoking the decline of Rome.
The author, former Canadian ambassador to Israel, currently resides in Tel Aviv.