Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jerome Slater Denies Israel's Right to "Self-Defense"

Jerome Slater is a professor at SUNY of political science and occasional Huffington Post blogger. He doesn't write exclusively about the Israelis and the Palestinians, but when he does he is always anti-Israel. He has hit a new low with his latest article entitled, "The Goldstone Report and the Israeli "Right of Self-Defense"" Yes, that's right. Israel's right to self-defense is put into scare quotes. And as if that didn't tell you everything you needed to know, Slater opens with this quotable quote:
"Richard Silverstein is one of the best bloggers on Israeli affairs."
Yes, he's talking about that Richard Silverstein. If this sentence combined with the headline didn't tell you everything you need to know about Slater's viewpoints and where he is coming from....well then you probably don't know who Silverstein is. Check out the links above. Considering that Slater basically basis the rest of his article on Silverstein's opinions, it's all downhill from there. Right in the first two paragraphs, Slater gets down to the meat of his argument:
"However, Silverstein does not discuss the Goldstone commission's most crucial error: while its report courageously and persuasively labeled Israel's methods in Gaza as "war crimes," it failed to challenge the argument that however unjust its methods, Israel was exercising its legitimate right of self-defense when it attacked Gaza."
It's pretty hard to imagine that Israel wasn't defending itself during Cast Lead. There was no cease fire, Hamas was launching armed attacks against Israel multiple times per day, and people's lives were in danger. Not even the most stringently anti-Zionists (well, maybe the most stringent) claim that Israel wasn't acting in self-defense, they instead claim that Israel was using disproportionate force. Slater however, feels otherwise. He then proceeds to twist the law into a pretzel in an effort to destroy Israel's most basic of rights. Click the link below to continue.

Slater begins with what he believes to be the most important topic: the occupation. "That is the central point, not the Palestinian methods of resistance. True, terrorism cannot be morally justified, but Israel crushes all methods of Palestinian resistance, increasingly including nonviolent resistance."

Already he is setting up an argument where it is Israel's wrongdoing that must be the focus of our attention, not those of the Palestinians. If he hadn't already proven himself to be partisan, he did so in this sentence. It also appears to matter not a whit to him as to look to the causes of the occupation, while simultaneously demanding that we look at the causes of Palestinian terrorism. If this is not hypocrisy, I haven't seen it yet. He spoke about "just war" theory and the principle of "last resort," but we are skipping that for now and move to:

" Israel massively violated the principles of proportionality, discrimination, and noncombat immunity...even if Israel had scrupulously adhered to all of those principles, it still would have been guilty of the crime of aggression because -- its methods aside -- its behavior also violated the just war principles of just cause and last resort."
We can argue about the proportionality, etc, at the proper venue. Right now Slater needs to back up his claim that Israel lacked "just cause" and "last resort." I think if it were any other nation having rockets raining down on them that would be considered a "just cause." Matt knows more about just war theory than I do, so maybe he can weigh in, but right now let's let Slater speak his piece [bold emphases are mine]:

"But, it will be objected, doesn't Palestinian terrorism support the Israeli claim that its military attacks are justified self-defense? No: not so long as the occupation continues. Palestinian attacks on Israel are primarily, even if not exclusively, the consequence of over forty years of continued Israeli occupation, repression, assassinations and other killings; of the destruction of governmental, economic, public health, educational, and other societal institutions and infrastructures; and of the deliberate impoverishment and humiliation of the Palestinian people. Consequently, Israel is not engaged in "self defense" when it uses force to crush resistance to its repression -- and that holds true even when the form of resistance -- terrorist attacks intended to kill civilians -- are themselves morally wrong."
In one relatively short paragraph, Slater just gave a green light to Palestinian terrorism in any form, while utterly destroying Israel (and any other nation's) most basic right: The right to protect it's citizens. In Slater's world, all terrorists ever need to do is come up with a grievance, real or imagined, and they can start mowing down innocent civilians with impunity. As long as Osama made it clear that he is only responding to US "imperialism" or some such, he can fly planes into buildings until he dies of old age. All Jerome Slater would say is that what he is doing is "morally wrong."

Maybe the Palestinians feel like they are justified in what they are doing. Maybe the Unibomber felt he was justified too. That doesn't give either of them a right to kill people with impunity. In sum, all Slater is doing is blaming the victim of violence for the violence perpetrated on them: I guess if women don't want to be raped, they shouldn't wear short skirts? And if someone does try to rape them, they shouldn't try to defend themselves, after all they shouldn't have worn such a skirt knowing what it would do to any man who sees them? The right to self-defense now hinges on whether the aggrieved party's reason for attacking is legitimate enough to warrant Jerome Slater's sympathy. I can't imagine a less "legal" form of decision making.

The Palestinians see Israeli military measures against them as repression, and clearly Jerome Slater feels the same way. The key word there, though, is see. Israel being engaged in repression is just as much a matter of opinion as whether or not the Palestinians are engaged in terrorism or resistance (and I do think at some level that question is open to debate). Mr. Slater doesn't see any other side except for his own, so it's not surprising that he is willing to completely butcher his own understanding of something that is really quite simple: The right to self-defense.

Of course, I shouldn't even need to mention this, but Slater has his history wrong. And in this case history really does matter, because it gives us an insight into the Palestinian leadership. Here's a quick lesson, Mr. Slater:
-The occupation began in 1967.
-The "repression" as you call it did not begin until the 2000s, in response to the intifada. You can ask Rachel Corrie if you don't believe me.
-The PLO was founded in 1964, three years before the occupation.
-The "fedayeen" cross-border attacks to kill Israel were happening ever since the state was founded in 1948.
-Israeli forces completely withdrew from the West Bank during the Oslo Accords. Peace did not result from that, the Second Intifada did.
-And of course, the border crossings were only closed as a response to the rocket attacks.

To pretend that the Palestinian terror groups are only motivated by "resistance" to the occupation and not by a desire to destroy Israel is naivete at worst and downright malice at best. Don't take my word for it, ask Hamas themselves. For Slater to simply declare, "This is what the Palestinians are fighting for" and then proceed to justify it is absurd. He is not a Palestinian, he doesn't even live in the region. But what else is new.

I trust I have made my point, so let's move on to the second half of Mr. Slater's argument, the claim of "last resort." I'll let him state his case first:
"Further, Israel's claim that its attack on Gaza was a legitimate method of self-defense is further undermined because of its violation of the last resort principle. As Silverstein points out, it was Israel that was primarily responsible for the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement that for six months had effectively ended all terrorist attacks on Israel. (For the details, see here and here)."
Good lord. Not this old chestnut again. If you read the links, you will find that Slater quotes himself, as well as Silverstein. As we have discussed multiple times, the failure of the ceasefire was due to mistakes on all sides. Not to mention, Mr. Slater doesn't even back up his own words: Even if Israel's actions had led to the end of the cease-fire, that doesn't prove that they had taken all reasonable measures to avoid war. The cease-fire was only ever going to last six months, regardless of how well the two sides stuck to it. Despite that, Israel waited another two months (under rocket fire) before attacking. Mr. Slater's claim here is quite weak.

This post is getting quite long, but Slater sums up his argument in one line, so I would be remiss to address it:
"In short, since the Israeli occupation is unjustifiable, its only legitimate method of "self-defense" is to end the occupation and all other means of repression of the Palestinian people."
What an informative line. First of all, Israel's occupation is only unjustifiable in Mr. Slater's opinion (oh, there's that word again!). If he really understood the right of self-determination, he would understand that the occupation is an exercising of that right: The presence of IDF soldiers in the West Bank stops one terror attack every day on average. If Mr. Slater doesn't recognize it as justified, then it is no surprise that he doesn't recognize anything else Israel does as justified either.

The fact that the only thing Israel can do that is "legitimate" is capitulate is also informative, and it's interesting that it is also the exact thing that the Palestinians demand. So let's take Mr. Slater's argument one step further: The Palestinians (many of them) consider Israel's very existence to be illegitimate. Say they convince Mr. Slater this is also true (if he doesn't already). Would he then claim that the only thing Israel can do is surrender, because after all it is their existence that is provoking the Palestinians to violence?

In sum, Mr. Slater has written a stirring legal defense for terrorists to shield themselves behind. I can only hope that no more innocent people get killed because people like him refuse to let them defend themselves.


  1. I want to comment only one part of your attack on Slater, in which you say "Israeli forces completely withdrew from the West Bank during the Oslo Accords." Not only did Israel not come remotely close to "completely withdrawing" from the West Bank, it has effectively maintained military control over the West Bank and consistently expanded the Jewish settlements there, including in what used to be known as Arab East Jerusalem.

    If Slater had made such a fundamental error of fact on a crucially important issue, would you regard him as disqualified to state his "opinions?"

  2. Well, anonymous, I guess I'll start by saying that if that sentence is the only thing you found to be wrong in my analysis of Mr. Slater's article, I'm a very happy man. As for your last sentence, both Slater and I (and everyone else) can make mistakes, whether they be of history or of the modern day. It is his (and my) overall points that I care about, not tiny details.

    Now then, onto your claim. In "Oslo 2" the West Bank was divided up into Areas A-C, in which the PA would control areas A and B:
    Feel free to research it more on your own, but the point is that the hardware of the occupation did leave the major Palestinian population centers in 1995. They only return (big time) in the 2000s due to the Second Intifada.

    If you have something to back up your claim that Israel did not even come "close" to withdrawing, and that they maintained military control, please provide them.

    Finally, the Oslo Accords had nothing to do with settlements. Nor does Palestinian violence, as they were killing people in Israel before the first settlement was founded. Cheers.


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