Media Link: AVFA on the implications of US elections.

In this week’s “A View from Afar” podcast Selwyn Manning and spoke about the upcoming US elections and what the possibility of another Trump presidency means for the US role in world affairs. We also spoke about the problems Joe Biden has in dominating the presidential race against a demonstrably unbalanced opponent, shifting voter demographics, how US allies and adversaries engage in strategic hedging depending on whether they view Trump as an asset or as a threat, and how the US increasingly looks like an unstable polity, to the point that US foreign interlocutors must factor in its growing unreliability as an international partner. And much more. The link is here.

Setting things straight.

Seeing that, in order to discredit the figures and achieve moral superiority while attempting to deflect attention away from the military assault on Rafa, Israel supporters in NZ have seized on reports that casualty numbers in Gaza may be inflated by Hamas (even if corroborated by international agencies), I thought I would recap the truth behind this spin game.

On October 7 Hamas fighters attacked Southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. They were initially said to have killed more than 1500 people (mostly civilians), but after scrutiny that figure was reduced to below 1200 (including military personnel). At least some of the deaths attributed to Hamas were later found to be the result of friendly fire from responding Israeli (IDF) forces. Israeli sources claimed that babies were cooked in microwaves, women were sexually tortured and mutilated and that mass rapes were carried out, but that has not been independently substantiated. Scores of hostages (closest reliable count is 250) were supposedly taken back into Gaza, presumably to serve as human leverage in subsequent negotiations with Israel. A few have been released but many of those have died, not just at Hamas’s hands but as a result of IDF assaults on the places that they were being held captive.

Here are some facts. The killing of IDF soldiers by Hamas is not a crime, as it can be classified as the product of clashes between an armed resistance to an illegal occupying force on Palestinian land (one look at the 1947, 1967, 1973 and recent maps of Palestine/Israel demonstrates the steady annexation of Palestinian land regardless of the formal agreements in place). In other. words, as ugly as that sounds, in a fight with an armed opponent IDF soldiers were fair game.

What is a war crime is if Hamas tortured, raped or murdered soldiers after they surrendered. But in order to prosecute the Hamas individuals or units involved would require international recognition of Hamas as a legitimate fighting force acting on behalf of a recognised State or political community. Although Hamas has a political wing that is related to but separate from the armed wing and has been the de facto government of Gaza since its victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections, leading to the 2007 Hamas-Fatah war that resulted in Hamas gaining control of Gaza while Fatah and other Palestinian Authority factions retreated to the West Bank, the International community (read: the West) does not recognise it as a State or government and instead has designated it a terrorist entity because of the irregular warfare operations, including terrorist attacks, conducted by its armed wing. That may be convenient for Israel and its Western supporters, but it makes it more difficult to hold Hamas accountable for the actions of its members, armed and unarmed (because not all Palestinians, or Hamas supporters for that matter, are fighters). So, in spite of the obvious fact that Hamas was a governing entity in Gaza at the time the war started, charging Hamas fighters with war crimes is difficult because they are not seen as representative of any duly constituted political organisation. They are just terrorists, and if one is to believe the Israel apologists, so are the people they are ostensibly fighting for.

Here I must pause for a brief aside about non-recognition. There is irony in non-recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of at least some Palestine people. Hamas exists as a political movement with an ideology (nationalist-religious in this case), as well as a physical presence that extends beyond its armed wing. It will not go away just because it is not recognised abroad, is not liked by many, or if its armed cadres are decimated. And it holds equal if not more legitimacy than the Palestinian Authority of which Fatah is part, which is a corrupt gerontocracy that serves as a laptop of the Israelis in the West Bank. Moreover, Israel itself is not like in many quarters and is not recognised by a number of Muslim-majority States, but it certainly exists and is not going anywhere no matter what other’s may wish or think. In addition, the State of Israel was created in part due to the “terrorist” operations of the likes of the Irgun (which was designated as a terrorist organization by the British), so not recognising Hamas because of its irregular warfare activities in the contemporary era is a hypocritical specious reasoning.

The bottom line is this. Non-recognition may be an attempt at de-legitimation and ostracism, but it is more akin to closing ones eyes and putting fingers in one’s ears while shouting “you are not there” to someone you dislike. The reality says otherwise, and in the international arena non-recognition only serves to absolve political actors from assuming full legal responsibility for their actions. Not recognising Hamas as having a legitimate claim when it comes to representing Palestinians is therefore an own-goal (remember, Hamas won the largest plurality in the parliamentary elections of 2006 and would have been required to form a coalition government before Israel, the US and other Western states backed Fatah’s rejection of the results and subsequent armed assault on Hamas in Gaza. This only played into the hands of the hardline Hamas cadres and strengthened their resolve to prevail in the fight against Fatah, which they did. That set up the subsequent chain of events that has led to the current disaster).

In any event, killing, raping and abducting civilians are crimes against humanity even if the actions of the Hamas fighters are not technically classified as war crimes when it comes to their treatment of IDF soldiers. Remember that it is not the method or instrument of violence that defines a war crime or a crime against humanity. Nor is it the number of victims. Instead, it is who commits atrocities (war crimes are committed by military forces) and who is targeted. Regardless of who the material authors may be, for there to be war crimes or crimes against humanity, the victims must be defenceless. In the case of Israelis attacked by Hamas on October 7, most but not all of them were, so the scale of the atrocities was significant and cannot be downplayed.

In response, Israel unleashed a scorched earth collective punishment approach to the residents of Gaza, and has meted out come collateral punishment to Palestinians in the West Bank as well. Some see the IDF military campaign in Gaza as genocidal in intent–and it may well be–but at a minimum it is ethnic cleansing in effect: entire swathes of Gaza have been cleansed of their inhabitants. The NZ apologists for the IDF approach want to make it seem that 15,000 or 20,000 Palestinian dead is significantly different than 30,000 or 40,000 dead claimed by Hamas (never mind the wounded and maimed or those now enduring mass starvation due to Israeli (including Jewish settlers!)) interference with aid convoys. But at the same time they use the malleable 1200+/- Israeli body count to argue that the IDF response is proportionate to the October 7 attacks. They also clamour for the release of the Israeli hostages but are silent about the thousands of Palestinians detained by Israel since October 7. It seems that Israel also understands the hostage-taking-as-leverage game. Perversely, for the Israel supporters scale and scope of dehumanisation only matters when the numbers favour a particular victimisation narrative. In other words, 1200 Israeli dead is comparable with 20,00 rather than 40,000 Palestinian dead, so moral equivalence applies. That is not a winning argument.

That is in large part due to the fact that collective punishment is illegal under international law and classified as a war crime, most specifically Convention 4, Article 33 of the Geneva Convention. The same convention, article 34, notes that the taking of hostages is prohibited, even if it does not specify the means by which hostages are taken by belligerents (presumably the 3,000 or so Palestinians held in “administrative detention” without charge by the Israelis since October 7 would fit into this category regardless of the institutional/legal facade used to cloak their real status). So although only Israel is guilty of violating the convention when it comes to collective punishment, both sides are in violation of the Geneva Conventions when it comes to hostage taking.

That brings up the truth of the matter. Both Hamas and the IDF have committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Both have committed serious breaches of international law. Fiddling with and sniping about numbers do not alter this fact. Moral relativism does not alter this fact. Trying to comparatively scale and scope the atrocities does not alter this fact. No amount of spin alters this fact.

Most of all, both Israel and Hamas apologists cannot escape this fact.

Media Link: “A View from Afar” on the moment of friction, and more.

After a hiatus of over four months Selwyn Manning and I finally got it together to re-start the “A View from Afar” podcast series. We shall see how we go but aim to do 2 episodes per month if possible.

Here we start of with a catch up on events since the last podcast of 2023. Selwyn liked the KP moment of friction post from April 1, and so we used it as the stepping stone into a discussion that incorporates material from several recent KP posts and other news. I hope that you find the podcast of interest. You can find it here.

The Israel/Palestinian metastasis.

In the weeks after the October 7 Hamas attacks on Southern Israel I wrote about the possible 2nd, 3rd and even 4th order effects of the conflict. These included the possibility of new fronts being opened in the West Bank (with Hamas), Golan Heights (with Syria), Northern Israel/Southern Lebanon (with Hezbollah), with the Yemeni Houthis (at sea and in the air) and with Iran (now directly) all of which seemed a fair possibility back then and most of which have indeed eventuated. Israel has needed allies to help fend off some of the widening attacks, while Palestinians have had to place themselves at the mercy of the international community for humanitarian aid because Israel will spare them little of it while prosecuting what for all intents and purposes is a scorched earth war policy in Gaza. Other than Iran and its proxies/allies, no one is coming to the military rescue of Hamas or Palestinians in general. In other words, it is now a one-sided meting out of punishment on a largely defenseless population.

What I did not envision is what is happening on campuses in the US and around the world nearly seven months after the Hamas attack. The ensuring conflict has become a lightening rod and trigger not just for those disgusted by the events in Gaza but also for those who espouse a number of other grievances, including climate change, racism, global inequality, imperialism and colonialism, political corruption and even capitalism itself. In response, the Right labels them all “radicalised” commies and terrorist lovers because that is an easy way to introduce culture war themes into the mix rather than debate the complexities of what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean. Apparently the war on Gaza is less about Israel and Palestine and more about a host of other (not all unrelated) things. The moment of friction that I wrote about recently has now come to American academe.

This has turned campus protests (and the coverage of them) into partisan events, with rightwing entities backing pro-Israeli demonstrators and leftwing and progressive forces, including those in the Democratic Party in the US, siding with the pro-Palestinian side. The protests include non-students as well as students, confirming what I wrote in the last post about outside agitators and infiltrators using the opportunity to advance their own agendas (which often go beyond the Israel/Palestine conflict). This includes Antifa and the old Occupy Wall Street crowd, now resurrecting old peeves (some well justified then and now) on the back of the Palestinian cause. For the US Right it is another way of showing how Democrats are soft on crime and Joe Biden is a doddering old fool while demonstrating that, like Republican Governors Abbot of Texas and DeSantis of Florida have done, you show strength by ordering cops to bash in heads of people wearing masks and keffiyeh–but not those waving Israel flags.

Unfortunately, this has lifted the scab on long-festering hatreds in many societies, including the US. Long dormant anti-semitism has been inflamed by Israel’s actions in Gaza, which however heinous the October 7 Hamas attacks were, are grossly disproportionate to them (including using starvation as a weapon), and are therefore a form of collective punishment that, if not genocidal in the strictest sense of the term, certainly seems to have ethnic cleansing as a purpose. Conversely, Islamophobia has been resurrected by the Political Right, including conservative Christians and Jews and an assortment of rightwing media outlets and political organisations. In the pro-Palestine protests there are now people who believe that the main problem are Jews rather than Zionists or the the State of Israel’s actions. In the pro-Israel camp there are people who believe the root cause of the conflict is Islam, Arabs or the both combined. Primordial hatreds have been resurrected and brought to the fray, which now encompasses pre-modern, modern and post-modern fault lines covering a broad spectrum of divisive issues.

Then there are those who are not quite sure who to hate more. Take for example representative Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA), who believes that all Muslims are potential terrorists and therefore should be deported from the US and Europe, but who on the other hand, when it comes to “the” Jews, well, there is that problem of their space lasers causing forest fires….

This is why I refer to this evolution as a metastasis of the conflict. It is malign in nature and it is spreading well beyond the original boundaries of the conflict qua disease. The pro-Palestinian protestors have degenerated in some places into glorification of Hamas’s atrocities and a Holocaust denying Jew hate fest. Likewise but in mirror fashion, pro-Israeli demonstrations rejoice at the civilian death toll in Gaza, paint all Muslims/Arabs as savages and call for their extermination as such. Neither is really interested in a legitimate “debate,” and both are using protests to stake antithetical claims. That is not good and does nothing to change minds, much less advance any peaceful resolution or long-term solution to the impasse in the Levant.

My alma mater, the University of Chicago, appears to have struck a good balance by allowing an encampment to be established on the central university mall but not on footpaths or in front of buildings. The university makes a distinction between free expression versus disruption, drawing the line when the former is used to justify the latter. It seems to be working so far, as the protests are loud but constrained when compared to other universities. That being said, MAGA frat boys have tried to storm the encampment, only to be repelled by the U Chicago police (as a private university U Chicago has its own accredited police force dating back to the 1960s). The rightwing frat guys have a history of racist antics and in this case appear to be less interested in supporting Israel than in scoring physical points against woke “commies.”

Other places that I have taught at, including the University of Arizona and University of South Florida, have descended into chaos, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas to roust pro-Palestinian crowds. As for the University of Auckland, where I also taught, Students for Justice in Palestine (they dropped the “Peace” from their name a while ago) abandoned their attempts to set up an encampment when the University informed them that as a registered university club they would be in violation of university policy regarding club rules if they did so and therefore become liable for suspension, etc. They still have the freedom to conduct peaceful protests outside the main library on a daily basis, which is what they have agreed to do.

That is somewhat ironic– student protesters accepting the orders of their institutional masters when it comes to how to behave. Ah, the kiwi way! But where are the old “Minto” types of direct action these days? (Minto himself was down in Christchurch yesterday protesting National’s support for Israel, so at least that old dog still has some bark left in him). Is it true that today’s generation of NZ leftist activists have gone a bit soft? It is not for me to say since I am just a Trotteresque keyboarding observer these days, but the starch seems to have gone out of the current protester’s shirts when it comes to Israel and Palestine. On the other hand, when it comes to vaccinations, government mandates, Qanon and the Deep State, those on the NZ Right have shown in March 2022 how far they are willing to go in order to prove their points (and mettle). In fact now that I have mentioned them, given the attitudes of many on the NZ Right when it comes to Jews and Muslims, where might they stand when it comes to the Middle East? Perhaps Kyle Chapman or one of the Counterspin or Action Zealandia weirdos can enlighten us.

Let’s be clear on this. The Right demonstrate over matters that they feel affects them personally (like vaccines and mandates), but not over matters of solidarity with or concern for others. Their protests are about infringements on themselves, not on infringements not he rights of others. The Left, such as those involved in the student protests, demonstrate out of humanitarian concern for people that they do not even know, but whose basic humanity is under lethal siege. To be sure, there are the bad-intentioned actors among them who bring other agendas into the mix, but the motivations for Right versus Left protests are often quite different in origin.

That brings up a larger issue. Are not protests supposed to be disruptive? Much is said about the Vietnam War protests but what about the freedom marches in the US South that brought about the civil rights movement and eventually the Civil Rights Act? Were they not disruptive? What about the Springbok Tour protests? Did no good came from their disruptions? How about the Stonewall protests, which opened the way for gay rights in the US? What about general strikes? Are they not disruptive but have served to improve wage and working conditions for a multitude of employees? This the fundamental question that needs to be asked.

Instead, riot porn is the clickbait of the day.

That makes the coverage of the student protests pretty shabby. More emphasis is placed on the protection of property and supposed public order (even though the violence that has occurred has been confined to campuses) rather than on the original cause and the motivations of others now involved in the unfolding events. More time is spent on political blame-gaming than on considering whether divestment from companies doing business, especially military business, in or with Israel is a reasonable demand given what is unfolding in Gaza. In fact, few Western media outlets appear to have asked the basic question as to whether it is ethical for corporations, and the US and other governments for that matter, to do business with and sell weapons to Israel while it reduces the Gaza Strip to rubble. And when they do, the answer is always the same–“but what about Iran and the terrorists?”

In any event, I use the US examples as illustrative of the fact that the Israel/Palestine conflict has galvanised as well as polarised world opinion, creating an ideological vortex into which a number of causes and actors have been sucked into. This may well have a tornado-like effect on several political landscapes, including in Israel but especially in the US this election year, where not only the presidency and Congress undergo elections but also a multitude of State and local governments as well. How the protests evolve and end–if they do before November–may be critical to those election outcomes.

More broadly, the Israel/Palestine conflict is a malignant scabrous wound that may not be cauterised any time soon. In fact, regardless of the outcome of the war on the ground, it is doubtful that Israel will recover much diplomatic goodwill other than from its Western backers and the Arab oligarchies that side with it against Iran. Much like Russia with its invasion of Ukraine, the question Israelis have to ask themselves is “will we be better off for having prosecuted this war they way that we have?” If the answer is anything other than “yes” (and that would be delusional), then they have already lost. Israel’s supporters abroad need to understand this basic fact.

As I have written before, hypocrisy is the currency of diplomacy. But when governments like those of NZ, Australia, the UK and US mute their criticism of Israel with their “whataboutism” comparisons with Hamas and Iran, they lose all moral ground for chastising other States for their treatment of subject populations. Because in some liberal democracies, for all the talk about supporting a “rules-based” international order, when it comes to Israel the rules are made to be broken.

The student protests are a reminder of that.