In early 2002, only months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Michael Walzer penned an article in the socialist quarterly Dissent which asked, “Can There Be a Decent Left?”
Walzer answers his question in the negative in a piece written forThe New Republic concerning Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. While Walzer does describe Hamas as “an awful organization and deserves all its trouble”, he unhesitatingly places the Netanyahu government on the same moral plane as Hamas:
Hamas wants Greater Palestine; the Netanyahu government, though it doesn’t admit it, is moving steadily toward Greater Israel. Hamas opposes Little Israel, and Netanyahu opposes Little Palestine. One might well want to say, a plague on both their houses! But now they are at war, and choices have to be made.
As long as Walzer or any other leftist insists on placing any Israeli government on par with Hamas it cannot be decent. Israel is a free, pluralistic society which values life while Hamas’ worship of death and martyrdom ensures a totalitarian regime where life is, to quote Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”
Walzer is well aware of this and chooses Israel. But as always there are strings attached. “But this choice, Israel over Hamas, is difficult for many people to make because of the rising tide of Palestinian casualties, dead and wounded, in the Gaza war,” writes Walzer. He then goes into all the usual discussion about disproportionately and asymmetrical warfare imploring Israel to do all it can to minimize civilian casualties:
Along with many others, I have argued for another rule: that the attacking forces must make positive efforts, including asking their own soldiers to take risks, in order to minimize the risks they impose on enemy civilians. How much risk has to be accepted? There is no precise answer to that question. But some risk is necessary, and if it is taken, then I think that the major responsibility for civilian deaths falls on the insurgents who are fighting from homes and schools and crowded streets. And if responsibility is understood and assigned in that way by the global public, it will be possible to fight and win an asymmetric war.
Is Israel fighting that kind of war? Warning civilians to leave a house or a neighborhood, as the IDF has been doing, probably reduces civilian deaths; and it may involve increased risks for the attackers, if the attack is coming on the ground rather than from the air, since defending forces will also be warned. But warnings, as the U.S. learned in Vietnam, aren’t enough. People don’t leave, or not all of them leave: they are caring for elderly or sick parents; they can’t bear to abandon a home of 30 years, with all its accumulated belongings; they don’t know where to go; or there isn’t any safe place to go. Except when they are being used for some military purpose, houses where people live are not legitimate targets—even if the people who live there include Hamas officials. These attacks are wrong because the officials live with their families, who can’t be called human shields.
So according to Walzer repeated IDF warnings to civilians in Gaza isn’t enough. So should the IDF forcibly evacuate Palestinian civilians who won’t leave? If they did that then Israel would be condemned for forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes. So what is Walzer’s alternative? Of course, none is forthcoming. What’s the fun in that when you can lecture Israel? Coming up with an alternative military strategy involves meaningful thought and there is no meaningful thought to be had from an indecent Left. I hate to break it to Walzer but with war comes civilian casualties. No matter what measures Israel takes to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties it will invariably find itself lectured by the UN, in Europe and by the Michael Walzers of the world. As long as this state of affairs prevails, the IDF could paraphrase the late Steve McQueen in Bullitt and say, “You work your side of the street and we’ll work ours.”