I’ve Seen Israel From Both Sides Now …

by Jonah Shepp

At one point or another in my short life so far, I think I have held every position on Israel that it is possible to hold, from militant support to equally militant opposition. But this summer, I briefly reverted to the right-wing Zionism of my teenage years, at least for the purposes of Facebook. Amid the Gaza war, my feed was suddenly inundated with denunciations of the racist, fascist, Zionazi terrorist state. There wasn’t much to love in the rants about the ZOG or conspiratorial nonsense about ISIS being an Israeli-American plot, but what really got my goat were comments like this one:

Settlers can go back to anti-semitic Europe where they came from! … Every last zionist shall be kicked out and notice the emphasis on the word zionist. Jews however are welcome to stay and woreship like they have among us for the past 1500 years. (sic)

This oft-expressed distinction between Zionists and Jews betrays a total misunderstanding of what Zionism is and what Israel means to most Jews. Palestinians who say that “the Zionists” must go but “the Jews” can stay need to come to grips with the fact that Zionism, at its core, is about creating a space where Jews do not need someone else’s permission to live. Diaspora Jews of my generation may be much less attached to Israel than our parents and grandparents, but when push comes to shove, we’d rather it exist than not, because we know that our permission to live freely and safely in any other country can be withdrawn at any moment. In our history as a people, we have seen it happen time and time again with devastating consequences. With a well-armed territorial state to our name, we no longer have to fear those consequences.

There is no question that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the world, and not only in its traditional strongholds in Europe, but is world Jewry really in such great danger as to match our insecurities? More importantly, given the imbalance of power between Israel and its enemies, can we really fear that it will cease to exist? Noah Millman took up that question the other day:

I have, myself, plenty of fears for Israel, a country with which I am deeply concerned, but essentially no fear at all that Israel will “cease to exist.” I don’t even know what that phrase means – that Israel will cease to define itself affirmatively as a “Jewish state”? That Israel will merge into a larger entity, or subdivide into smaller entities? Those would be big changes, yes, but “cease to exist” is a funny phrase to use for something could happen to the UK, or Belgium, or Canada. When I listen to both of them, what I think they mean is: that the Israeli Jewish population will cease to reside there; that Jews will move, en masse, to some other place or places, or will be physically annihilated. Does anyone really believe that kind of outcome is likely?

“Israel is not, in any meaningful sense, a provisional experiment,” he concludes, and both its supporters and its detractors ought to stop speaking of it as such. This, as I see it, really gets to the heart of the matter. Israel is a fait accompli; it is not going anywhere, no matter what Hamas feels the need to tell its constituents. We really ought to stop catastrophizing.

But Palestinian nationalism isn’t a provisional experiment, either, much though right-wing Zionists wish it to be. Netanyahu claims that there can’t be peace with the Palestinians until they get used to the idea that Israel is there to stay and stop espousing delusions of getting rid of it. But by persistently denigrating and stepping on Palestinian aspirations for fundamental rights and self-determination, his policies encourage a Palestinian discourse of resentment, fear, and hostility toward Zionism, Israel, and ultimately Jews. You can’t claim to wish for the day when Palestinians become OK with Israel while actively working to undermine that possibility. And it’s just nuts to pretend that Palestinians have no legitimate reason to feel angry and even hateful toward Israel. Until Israel grapples with the fact that its creation was indeed a nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians, and finds some way to make amends for that, the conflict will surely never end.

It would also behoove the Israeli right to acknowledge that Zionism has won, and how. Anti-Semitism may be rooted in the resentment of Jewish power, but the power Israel wields today is such that it really doesn’t matter what other countries think of it: nobody is going to wipe a wealthy, well-armed, nuclear power off the map. Israel’s choice isn’t between defending itself or being dismantled; it’s between continuing to exist with the support of other countries and world Jewry, or as a pariah state.

What disheartens me is that it seems to be on the latter path, as the center shifts farther to the right and the “Arab problem” takes up a shrinking segment of its public consciousness. When Tzipi Livni heads the dovish camp in the security cabinet and Netanyahu holds the center against a militantly anti-Arab right flank, it’s hard to see how this ends well. To some extent, this was inevitable: the influx of immigrants from post-Soviet countries after the fall of Communism brought a new demographic to Israel that despises the left on principle and has actually experienced persecution, so paranoid politics resonate especially strongly. The growing ultra-Orthodox population also contributes to the shift.

But Israel also made choices. Its leaders might have forced a two-state settlement at Camp David if they had taken the refugee problem seriously and proposed a bold solution to it. The Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table since 2002 and still stands, but who knows for how long? The Israeli right remains convinced that the Palestinians must learn to accept Israel before the occupation can end. That is about as convincing as someone claiming in 1960s America that the end of segregation would have to wait until black people stopped resenting white people. Peace is nearly always made between leaders before it is made between peoples. Israel is no exception to this rule; claiming otherwise just avoids the issue. And Israel must take the lead on this, precisely because the balance of power is so lopsided.

A permanent solution isn’t even necessary in the short term. Whether the parties finally opt for one state, two states, twelve states or no state, as Noam Sheizaf argues, what matters now is ending the occupation and the deep inequities it entails:

[O]nce Israeli society decides to end the occupation irrespective of the political circumstances, the power relations and various interests will determine the nature of the arrangements on the ground. That is the moment in time where we, Israelis, will need to conduct an honest conversation about the kind of arrangement we would rather negotiate (Palestinians would do the same probably). Such a debate cannot exist now because the one thing we can all agree on is prolonging the status quo.

Another Land Grab, Or Much Ado About Nothing?

by Dish Staff

On Sunday, Israel declared nearly 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem in the West Bank to be “state land”, allowing it to be developed into a new settlement, in what Haaretz describes as a partly punitive measure:

The announcement follows the cabinet’s decision last week to take over the land in response to the June kidnapping and killing of three teenage Jewish boys by Hamas militants in the area. Peace Now, which monitors settlement construction, said it was the largest Israeli appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years. … The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages in the Bethlehem area: Jaba, Surif, Wadi Fukin, Husan and Nahalin. The move is the latest of a series of plans designed to attach the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem and its environs. Construction of a major settlement, known as Gvaot, at the location has been mooted by Israel since the year 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site, and 523 are currently under construction. Ten families now live on the site, which is adjacent to a yeshiva.

Jonathan Tobin defends the decision by pointing out that this particular area would end up going to Israel in any conceivable two-state deal anyway:

Let’s be clear about this. Neither the ownership nor the future of Gush Etzion is up for debate in any peace talks. In every peace plan, whether put forward by Israel’s government or its left-wing opponents, the bloc remains part of Israel, a reality that most sensible Palestinians accept. The legal dispute about whether empty land can be converted to state use for development or settlement or if it is actually the property of neighboring Arab villages is one that will play itself out in Israel’s courts. Given the scrupulous manner with which Israel’s independent judiciary has handled such cases in the past, if the local Arabs can prove their dubious assertions of ownership, the land will be theirs.

But Damon Linker gets why the continual expansion of the settlements rankles:

Israel’s defenders say the country will repatriate hundreds of thousands of settlers and dismantle and remove or turn over to the Palestinians many thousands of homes, apartments, and buildings used by businesses, as well as roads, electricity, plumbing, and other infrastructure. That sounds like a stunningly foolish and wasteful policy. And yet, against all apparent good sense, Israel apparently intends to continue and expand it. No wonder so many Palestinians have despaired of ever reaching a two-state solution with Israel. Regardless of what Israel’s leaders and apologists say — and these days they often sound ambivalent at best — its actions are those of a country that has no intention of ever leaving the West Bank.

To Will Saletan, the move looks creepily Putinesque:

What’s more disturbing, from the standpoint of international norms, is the close resemblance between Israel’s and Russia’s rationalizations. Israelis point out that hundreds of thousands of Jews live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Russians make the same case for protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Israelis say they need the new patch of land to connect their West Bank outposts to Israel proper. Russians use the same logic to justify carving a land bridge to Crimea. Israelis say they captured the West Bank fairly in a long-ago war started by the other side. Russia could say the same about its World War II reclamation of Ukraine. Israel says it’s still willing to negotiate peace; the ongoing settlements just add to its leverage. That’s exactly how Russian officials view their bullying in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Hamas has grown more popular since the Gaza war:

A new poll appears to show that support for Hamas has surged among Palestinians – in spite of (or perhaps due to) a huge Israeli military operation that battered Gaza and left many of the militant group’s fighters dead. It’s a stark shift. If presidential elections were held today with just the two top candidates, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) found that 61 percent of Palestinians would vote for the militant’s leader Ismail Haniyeh over current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That’s a big increase over a poll conducted in June, which found that 53 percent supported Abbas and 41 percent supported Haniyeh. PCPSR note that it’s the first time that Haniyeh has received a majority in the eight years they have asked the question.

A War Without A Winner, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Juan Cole casts doubt on how much of a victory the Gaza ceasefire really is for Israel:

[W]hat the Israeli military was going for was a result similar to its 2006 war on Hizbullah in Lebanon; since that conflict Hizbullah has not fired any rockets into Israel or Israeli-occupied territories like the Shebaa Farms (which belong to Lebanese farmers). It is not at all clear that the war produced any such similar cessation of hostilities between Gaza and Israel. In part, there are undisciplined small groups in Gaza perfectly able and willing to construct some flying pipe bombs and send them over to Beersheva and Sderot (former Palestinian cities from which Gaza refugees hail that are now Israeli cities). One drawback of Israel reducing Hamas’s capabilities is that it also reduced its ability to police the Strip. Hamas itself has in the past honored cease-fires as long as Israel has observed their terms. In part, that 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugee families from what is now Israel and that 40% still live in squalid refugee camps means that they are very unlike the Shiites of southern Lebanon, who are farmers with their own land.

The Dish looked at the hazy definition of “victory” in Gaza during the previous ceasefire earlier this month. Mitchell Plitnick observes how Netanyahu failed to achieve his strategic goals:

Netanyahu is now going to face international pressure to seriously engage in peace talks through Egyptian mediation. His preference, and that of his right flank in Israel, will be to stall on such talks, but with the United States and Europe increasing their support for a resolution to the issue of Gaza, Netanyahu will find himself in the middle of a tug o’ war battle. With that same right flank becoming increasingly alienated from and hostile to him, he may be forced to the table. That table will house yet another massive failure on Bibi’s part. … Bibi’s purpose in all of this was to rend asunder the Palestinian unity government. Now the United Nations, the European Union, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and crucially, the United States, are pushing for that same unity government—currently composed of technocrats led by Mahmoud Abbas—to take over in Gaza.

But Hamas didn’t exactly “win” either, Adam Chandler remarks:

Hamas made many promises that they did not deliver. The group said they would fight until the blockade of Gaza ended. Despite some cosmetic shifts, the blockade is still in effect. They demanded that Israel release the prisoners it rearrested, pay its salaries, and establish a seaport. None of those things have happened, although some discussions are set to take place next month. As many have pointed out, after 50 days, Hamas ultimately accepted a ceasefire proposal that is almost identical to one proffered by Egypt on the war’s eighth day. Hamas rejected that proposal. And the wages for all this bluster was death. A lot of Palestinian death and misery, including 100,000 homeless.

Ed Krayweski suggests that the ceasefire might have come thanks to America’s stepping back from the negotiations, demonstrating that we’re not as indispensable in the Middle East as we think we are:

Reserving judgment on Kerry’s skills as a negotiator, his attempt to negotiate a truce was doomed from the start. The U.S. plays too active a role, yet is not vested enough in the situation in Israel, to have acted as an effective negotiator. Egypt, with which the Gaza strip also shares a tightly controlled border, which sends aid to Gaza, and which has a 35 year old peace deal with Israel, was far better positioned to negotiate a truce than the U.S. America’s participation in negotiations may have also made them harder to succeed by drawing so much public and press attention to the process. In those conditions, Israeli and Hamas negotiators might have been more interested in not appearing weak in the court of public opinion.

Keating looks ahead:

I don’t think a brief return to fighting is out of the question, but a return to the level of carnage we saw in July seems improbable. It’s likely that Israel will agree to ease but not entirely lift the travel and trade blockade on the territory. This could involve some opening of the checkpoints on the territory’s borders, the construction of a port and expanding of fishing rights, the expansion of humanitarian aid, and talks on prisoner releases. It’s been obvious for weeks that this is what a final settlement would look like, which raises the question of why it couldn’t be reached earlier. … The talks will continue and will get messy, and they may be punctuated by renewed bursts of violence, but things are slowly returning to normal. Which is to say that things are returning to an intolerable situation that is unsustainable in the long run for both parties.

But Noah Efron thinks the aftermath of the war offers some opportunities to both Israel and the Palestinians:

Likely, the Palestinian Authority will have renewed influence in Gaza. Possibly, the reach and power of Hamas is diminished. The project of rebuilding all that was destroyed in Gaza may offer opportunities for world leaders who have little sympathy for Hamas to develop alternative civic leadership in the region. The greater involvement of Egyptian leaders, also untrusting of Hamas, suggests as well that a future can be hewn for Gaza that is different from its recent past. All of these things, taken together, are not enough to make one optimistic about future relations between Gaza and Israel. But they do show that, rather than disengage, Israel needs to engage with Gaza. If we are smart, energetic, creative and, above all, lucky (all things at which Israelis, at our best, excel), this war may prove to be a turning point toward a Gaza that we can live with and, perhaps, towards a Palestine that we can live beside.

Will This Gaza Truce Hold?

by Dish Staff

The NYT reports that Israel and Hamas have agreed to an open-ended ceasefire proposed by Egypt:

People familiar with the agreement said it would ease but not lift Israeli restrictions on travel and trade, largely reviving the terms of a 2012 cease-fire agreement that ended an eight-day air war. It also will allow construction materials and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza in large quantities for a major rebuilding effort, with a monitoring mechanism to ensure that concrete and cement would go only to civilian purposes. “We’re not interested in allowing Hamas to rebuild its military machine,” the senior Israeli official said. Other issues — including Hamas’s demand for a Gaza seaport and airport, Israel’s demand for Gaza’s demilitarization, and the return of Israeli soldiers’ remains believed to be in Hamas’s hands — were to be addressed after a month if the truce holds, people familiar with the agreement said.

In an interview with David Rothkopf, Martin Indyk offers his view on how the Gaza war has altered the dynamics of the peace process:

I think it’s made it a lot more difficult — as if it wasn’t difficult enough already — because it has deepened the antipathy between the two sides.

The Israelis look at Gaza and what’s happened there and understandably say, “We cannot allow such a thing to happen in the West Bank.” And therefore, today there’s a lot more credibility to the argument that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have to stay in the West Bank, otherwise Israelis fear there will be tunnels into Tel Aviv and there will be rockets on Ben Gurion Airport, and Hamas will take over and they’ll face a disaster in the “belly” of Israel.

There are security answers to all of that, but I just think the Israeli public attitude is going to be far more concerned about any kind of Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank. At the same time, the Palestinian attitude will be even stronger that there has to be an end to the occupation, which means a complete Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank. And the process of negotiating peace does not have any credibility with them unless they have a date certain for when the occupation is going to end, and basically the Israeli attitude will likely be that the occupation is not going to end if that means a complete withdrawal of the IDF. So beyond all of the antagonism that conflict generates this Gaza war may have put another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

Rami Khouri suggests that the best way to a permanent peace is through the UN Security Council:

Pressure from the Security Council — where both sides enjoy significant support — would help Israeli and Palestinian leaders to sell their followers on otherwise difficult concessions. For example, assuming military attacks on both sides do stop, Israel could delay its demand to demilitarize Gaza. The Palestinians could similarly suspend their demand for an operational port and airport. Working through the UN could also ensure that any cease-fire holds better than previous ones did. The draft resolution proposed by France, Britain and Germany reportedly envisions an international monitoring presence in Gaza, to minimize violations by either party. This missing element was a major reason why previous cease-fires collapsed. If Hamas expects Israel to lift border restrictions on travel and imports, and if Israel expects Hamas to forswear attempts to rearm, U.N. observers trusted by both sides will have to be in place to ensure compliance.

Israel Gets Into The Demolition Business

by Dish Staff

One of Israel’s air strikes in Gaza this weekend leveled an entire apartment building:

The Israeli military said that it destroyed the building because it contained a Hamas command center, though spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner “could not immediately specify which floor, or floors, of the building were the targets in the attack, or whether the intention had been to destroy the whole tower,” according to the Times. Residents denied that Hamas had been working out of the building. Residents said they received an alert from Israel 20 to 30 minutes before a drone dropped a “warning” rocket on their home. A warplane filled with non-warning weapons arrived shortly after. Text messages, voice mails, and leaflets distributed by Israel also warned that it would target anything “from which terror activities against Israel originate.”

Israel hit several other targets in Gaza over the weekend, including two homes and a commercial center. Ten Palestinians were reportedly killed in those attacks.

Netanyahu is now preparing his public for a war that continues into next month. A new ceasefire proposal may be in the offing, though that won’t be much comfort to the 106 Palestinians or the four-year-old Israeli child killed in the exchange of fire since the previous truce broke down last Tuesday:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday Israel would not be worn down by persistent rocket fire, warning it would hit any place from which militants were firing, including homes. His remarks came as the air force stepped up its campaign against rocket fire, bombarding a 12-storey residential block. But by early Monday, there was increasing talk about a possible new ceasefire agreement which would see the delegations return to Cairo to resume discussions on an Egyptian proposal to broker a more permanent end to the violence.

“There is an idea for a temporary ceasefire that opens the crossings, allows aid and reconstruction material, and the disputed points will be discussed in a month,” a senior Palestinian official said in Cairo. “We would be willing to accept this, but are waiting for the Israeli response to this proposal,” he said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. Another Palestinian official said Egypt might invite Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams to return to Cairo within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, a new poll of Gazans has come out that illuminates the attitudes of the people who, in Israel’s view, abdicated their status as noncombatants when they voted for Hamas:

More than 90 percent of Gazans surveyed thought that resistance was either “well prepared” or “somewhat prepared” for the Israeli assault, and more than 93 percent opposed the disarmament of Palestinian militant groups, which Israel has said is a condition of any long-term truce. At the same time, despite an Israeli assault that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians — overwhelmingly civilians — in the last six weeks, nearly 88 percent of those surveyed also supported a long-term truce, and another 10 percent supported an unspecified “medium-term” truce. …

The poll also surveyed opinions in Gaza regarding the Syria-based Wahhabi militant group Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which Israeli leaders have repeatedly referenced in their offensive against Hamas. More than 85 percent of Gazans surveyed, however, said they oppose the group.

That last finding is particularly salient in light of the new propaganda meme Netanyahu has been pushing:

Max Fisher takes down that facile comparison:

The two groups are totally distinct. It’s not just that there is no known connection, operational or otherwise, between Hamas and ISIS, although there isn’t. They ultimately follow very different ideologies: Hamas will talk about Islamist extremism, but it is ultimately a Palestinian nationalist group first and foremost, one that is fighting to establish its vision of a Palestinian state. One of Hamas’s most important supporters historically has been the government of Iran, which is actively fighting against ISIS in Syria, where it has been sending arms, money, and men. If Hamas and ISIS were really the same thing, then presumably Iran would not fund one half of the group and then send Iranians to die fighting the other half. And Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal publicly rejected any Hamas-ISIS comparison.

ISIS, on the other hand, comes from the same ideological strain as al-Qaeda, a jihadist movement called Salafism, which rejects the idea of nationalism and seeks a pan-Islamic caliphate. Even within Gaza, the Palestinian territory that Hamas rules, there is sometimes-violent tension between Hamas and the local Salafist groups that follow something more akin to the ISIS worldview.

A Blow To The Head For Hamas

by Dish Staff

Palestinians carry the body of Mohammed Abu Shammala, one of

The IDF assassinated three Hamas commanders in a strike on a building in Gaza yesterday:

Israeli forces had a day of successful air strikes Thursday, killing three senior Hamas officials just a day after the organization claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of three Israeli teens. The strikes targeted leaders of Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades. According to Hamas, the strikes killed Mohammad Abu-Shamalah, Raed al-Attar, and Mohammed Barhoum, all highly sought by Israeli forces. The IDF initially only confirmed the deaths of Abu-Shamalah and al-Attar, but later confirmed that Barhoum had been killed as well. … These triumphs against the Qassam Brigades leadership came just a day after Hamas’s Saleh al-Arouri claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and deaths of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel.

Morrissey thinks these assassinations are particularly significant:

The target selection sends a big message, too. For the past several weeks, the Israelis had for the most part resigned themselves to a continuing Hamas presence, in part over fear of what might follow in its place. One need look no farther than the northern Iraqi desert to contemplate the answer to that question. Now, though, Israel seems more committed to decisively breaking Hamas rather than the “mowing the lawn” strategy early in this war. The tunnels may have convinced them, or more likely the large plot for a coup against the Palestinian Authority, but either way the specific targeting of top leadership sends a message that Israel has dispensed with worrying about the pessimistic options and now want Hamas out of the way entirely. The futility of the latest round of talks can’t have helped, either.

But Rami Khouri argues that Israel’s strategy of assassinating Hamas leaders has always been counterproductive and remains so today:

Palestinians have responded to the loss of their militant leaders by developing much more secure, smaller and more secretive leadership structures that cannot be easily penetrated by Israeli intelligence agents. Groups such as Hamas have established more decentralized and localized operational units that continue to function in war or peace if the leadership is hit. More sophisticated command-and-control systems have evolved that don’t rely on a single decision-maker. Support among the Palestinian community for the long-term struggle has increased. And the resistance itself has turned to technologies and strategies — such as rockets and tunnel-building — that are more deeply embedded in Palestinian communities than reliant on the skills or charisma of a handful of individual commanders.

In an apparent response to the assassinations, Hamas executed 18 Gazans suspected of being informants for Israel:

One witness said masked gunmen lined up the seven men in a side street and opened fire on them. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his own safety. Other witnesses told AFP that six of the victims were grabbed from among hundreds of worshipers leaving the city’s largest mosque, by men in the uniform of Hamas’s military wing. They were pushed to the ground. One of the masked men shouted: “This is the final moment of the Zionist enemy collaborators,” then the gunmen sprayed them with bullets.

On Friday morning, a Gaza security official said that 11 suspected informers were killed at the Gaza City police headquarters, noting that they had previously been sentenced by Gaza courts. The killings of the first 11 were also reported by al-Rai and al-Majd, two websites linked to Hamas.

(Photo: Palestinians carry the body of Mohammed Abu Shammala, one of three senior Hamas commanders during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. By Ahmed Hjazy/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

No, Israel And Hamas Can’t Work Out A Deal

by Dish Staff

The Gaza ceasefire ended today with a fresh exchange of fire and the calling off of negotiations in Cairo. Netanyahu –shock– was quick to blame Hamas:

After reportedly coming close to an agreement, the parties appear to be back at square one:

Netanyahu’s right-wing Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, said after the renewed fire Tuesday that it was impossible to negotiate with Hamas. “When you hold negotiations with a terror organization, you get more terror,” he said. “Hamas thinks that firing rockets helps in securing achievement in negotiations, therefore it is firing at Israel even during a cease-fire. Rockets are not a mistake [for Hamas], they are a method.”

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused Israel of dragging out the talks and of not being serious about reaching an agreement. “Israel’s foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” Abu Zuhri said. “The Palestinian factions are ready to all possibilities,” he added, presaging the likelihood of a return to further conflict.

Though the fighting drags on, Israel seems to believe it has already won. Eli Lake watches the victory lap:

On Monday [Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Tzachi] Hanegbi told a handful of reporters that Israel’s campaign in Gaza this summer would deter Hamas for years. “I think Hamas is going to be much more restrained in the coming years,” he said. “It will be very careful before being so adventurous.” Hanegbi went even further. He said there was a chance that this time around, Hamas would reconsider its strategy of building up its arsenal, and instead reconsider exactly what it had achieved after eight years in charge of a strip of land Israel removed its soldiers and settlers from at the end of 2005. The suggestion was that Hamas would know it was beaten and want to discuss a more permanent peace with Israel.

Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown criticize Egypt’s approach to mediating between Israel and Hamas, accusing Cairo of prolonging the conflict and empowering radicals:

Cairo is presiding over a process that follows the priorities of Hamas, which has always rejected the diplomatic process that began with the 1993 Oslo Accords. The current state of negotiations reflects Hamas’s position that only talks about interim arrangements and truces are acceptable; conflict-ending diplomacy is not. The Israeli right can also feel vindicated, as the talks suggest that the conflict might be managed, but that it will not be resolved anytime soon.

The Palestinian Islamist camp and the Israeli right, however, should take little joy in this accomplishment. The diplomatic efforts led by Egypt will likely give Hamas little, and the new Egypt-Israel alliance is based on a short-term coincidence of interests rather than any strategic consideration. Israeli and Palestinian societies, meanwhile, are already paying a high price for the continuing failure to reach a lasting peace accord.

Can Israel And Hamas Work Out A Deal?

by Dish Staff

J.J. Goldberg is growing more pessimistic about the negotiations taking place in Cairo:

Early reports were that the two sides were close to agreement on an Egyptian compromise proposal for a long-term cease-fire. On Friday and Saturday, however, declarations on both sides indicated that positions were hardening as fierce internal divisions emerged, pulling the leaderships on both sides away from the center. The Palestinian side appears to be stymied by the refusal of the organization’s Qatar-based political secretary, Khaled Meshaal, and the head of its military wing, Mohammed Deif, to go along with the compromise proposals laid out by the Egyptians and mostly accepted by both delegations.

On the Israeli side, meanwhile, chaos appears to be reigning. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who rode a wave of popularity during the military operation, has been facing a tsunami of criticism over the past week from the left, the right, the residents of Gaza-adjacent communities and his top coalition ministers. Two of his senior coalition partners, foreign minister Avigdor Liberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and economics minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, have repeatedly attacked the prime minister’s management of the Gaza conflict from the right, demanding a continuing assault until Gaza has been taken over and Hamas disarmed or dismantled. Broad circles on the right accuse him of giving away the store (i.e. lifting the blockade) in return for “nothing” (i.e. Hamas-Jihad agreement not to shoot, bombard or tunnel).

David Kenner examines one of the key sticking points, namely whether, how, and by whom Gaza will be rebuilt:

In his remarks on Wednesday, Aug. 13, announcing a five-day extension to the cease-fire, Palestinian delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmed said that there had been significant progress in efforts to lift the Israeli economic blockade on Gaza — but that there were still disagreements over reconstruction issues. These debates will not only determine whether residents can rebuild after the war, they also promise to be an important tool in Israeli efforts to weaken Hamas’s hold on the territory. As Finance Minister Yair Lapid put it, Israel would demand that “there is no rehabilitation without some sort of demilitarization [of Gaza].” …

The importing of building materials to rebuild Gaza’s tens of thousands of destroyed homes is one of the most potentially fraught issues. Hamas used large quantities of cement, allegedly smuggled in across the border with Egypt during the presidencies of Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, to build its extensive tunnel network, which posed one of the most deadly threats to Israel during the current war. For that reason, Jerusalem has only allowed U.N. agencies to import cement — and is going to be loath to ease restrictions on construction material that could be used by the Palestinian Islamist group to rebuild its tunnel network.

On another major point of contention—lifting the Gaza blockade—the EU is willing to step in and help monitor border crossings in order to make that happen:

The EU has offered to resume its operations at Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt, and to train Palestinian Authority officials who are supposed to take over the bulk of operational work at the crossings. At the U.N. Security Council’s request, it would also expand its operations to other checkpoints. (The EU previously monitored the Rafah crossing between 2005 and Israel’s withdrawal in 2007.)

According to the AP, EU officials said that lifting the blockade is needed for “a fundamental improvement in the living conditions for the Palestinian people in Gaza.” This is one of many outside expressions of disapproval at Israel’s conduct during the latest Gaza operation. The United States recently decided that Israel’s new weapons requests would need individual approval from the presidential administration, rather than going through military channels.

Bibi Bags Bombs Behind Barack’s Back

by Dish Staff

Say that ten times fast. In a sign of just how badly American-Israeli relations have deteriorated during the Gaza war, Adam Entous’ big scoop in the WSJ yesterday reveals that Israel acquired US munitions directly from the Pentagon, bypassing the White House, and may have subsequently used these munitions to bomb an UNRWA school. Katie Zavadski summarizes:

As The Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. officials had been growing increasingly concerned about the civilian toll of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, particularly in light of the UNRWA school shelling. Imagine their surprise, then, when they found out that Israel had requested mortar shells and other weapons through military-to-military channels ahead of the incident. A diplomat said officials were “blindsided,” though a defense official said that the request had been approved through all the required channels.

Officials subsequently found out that the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency was on the verge of releasing an initial batch of Hellfire missiles to Israel through those same channels. They immediately suspended that shipment. A senior White House official said that more than “check-the-box approval” is required for such releases, this being a time of war and such. Going forward, the Journal reports, such weapons requests will have to get individual approval from the White House and State Department.

But Ed Morrissey doesn’t buy the White House’s claim that it was hoodwinked:

If the standard review process was followed, then why was the White House “caught off guard”?

Isn’t it incumbent on the Obama administration to know how the sale and transfer process works? Israel had conducted a ground war — much to the chagrin of Obama and his “policymakers” — for a few weeks. Why wouldn’t anyone have expected Israel to replenish its supplies? Surely there are a few people who may have at least watched Patton if not studied Clausewitz in this administration. Resupply is a basic function for any army at war.

He advances a theory for why the story is coming out now:

Israel (and probably Egypt too) has marginalized John Kerry after the Secretary of State attempted to legitimize Hamas by attempting to negotiate through Qatar and Turkey. That leaves Barack Obama out in the cold, but still making demands on Israel to be flexible in the final truce settlement. Netanyahu wants Obama to make concessions in exchange for that flexibility. That has angered Obama, who finds himself all but impotent in the matter — which is why we have this big leak about the deteriorating relations between Washington and Jerusalem.

In Beauchamp’s takeaway, this incident illustrates just how one-sided our government’s relationship with Israel has become:

Entous’ reporting illustrates why the US is so bad at pressuring Israel. The United States and Israel are bound so tightly together in so many ways that Israel has all sorts of avenues to get around the limited pressure that administrations might want to bring to bear. US officials admitted to Entous that their influence over Israel has been “weakened” during the Gaza war. That’s because Netanyahu “has used his sway in Washington, from the Pentagon and Congress to lobby groups, to defuse US diplomatic pressure on his government over the past month.”

The American public and Congress both overwhelmingly support Israel and sympathize with it over its enemies during conflicts. That helps maintain a strong US-Israel relationship, even when the leaders of both countries can’t stand each other. It also seriously ties America’s hands when the two countries disagree.

Drum sees dim prospects for the US standing up to Netanyahu anytime soon:

It’s not as if Obama has actually done much of substance to put pressure on Israel despite endless provocations from Netanyahu, but it’s a very good bet that the next president will do even less. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite, and she’s made it crystal clear that her support for Netanyahu is complete and total. On the Republican side, it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is. As long as it’s not Rand Paul, Netanyahu can expect unquestioning fealty.

And in the meantime, he can count on the US Congress not really caring that he publicly treats the US president like an errant child. I keep wondering if one day he’ll go too far even for Congress, but I’ve mostly given up. As near as I can tell, there’s almost literally nothing he could do that would cause so much as a grumble.

Gazing At Gaza: A Conversation With Sam Harris

Israeli attack kills Palestinian kid in Jabalia Camp

[Re-posted from earlier today]

As promised, the edited transcript of an August 6 telephone conversation. I’ll now go back to vacation mode – so I’ll deal with whatever dissents and comments when I’m back next month.

Harris: First, Andrew, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. As you know, this began with a blog post I wrote to which you responded. I don’t want to focus too much on those articles – readers who want to do their homework can go back and see what we said. However, I want to begin by acknowledging that certain topics are simply radioactive. It seems to me that one can’t make sense about them fast enough to defuse the bomb that is set to go off in the reader’s brain when one fails to align with his or her every prejudice.

Unfortunately, this is true of many topics I’ve written about – such as gun control, torture, profiling, and even wealth inequality – and it’s especially true of the subject of Israel and its enemies. People just get emotionally hijacked here. One sign of this happening is that readers notice only half of what you’re saying – or they discount half of it as something you don’t really mean, as though they knew your mind better than you do.

I wanted to talk to you directly because it seems to me that you have gotten emotionally hijacked on this issue. I felt that your response to my blog post was, in certain places, quite unfair. At the very least, you were misreading me. Again, we’ve put links to both our articles above so that people can make their own judgments. I think we should talk about the issue from scratch here, rather than focus on what we’ve already written. And I’m hoping we can do this on two levels: The first is to talk about the war in Gaza; the second is to reflect on why this topic is so difficult to talk about.

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT-GAZATo start us off on both points, let’s focus on the matter of Israeli war crimes, the existence of which I acknowledged in my original article. The thing we should observe at the outset is that in times of war, ethics degrade on all sides. Every war is an emergency, and in an emergency, people’s ethics tend to fray – or just get tossed out the window. It seems to me that there is nothing remarkable about this. What’s remarkable is when it doesn’t happen. When rockets are raining down on your head, or you’re in a sustained conflict with people who would murder your entire family if they could, it’s very easy, and perhaps inevitable, to de-humanize the other and to respond in ways that begin to look extremely callous with respect to the loss of life on the other side.

We can’t begin a discussion on this topic without acknowledging the reality of collateral damage, because every war fought with modern weapons entails the risk, if not the certainty, that innocent people will be maimed and killed. Unfortunately, pulling dead children out of the rubble in times of war is now becoming a universal experience. This is where the images coming out of Gaza are misleading, because if we had these images from the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or World War II -you can pick as righteous a war as you like – you would see the same horrific pictures of dead children.

This is why we need to consider the intentions of the parties involved, which is what I was attempting in my blog post. Needless to say, collateral damage is pure horror, regardless of intentions. Consider how we behaved in World War II: We did things that would now constitute the worst war crimes imaginable – the firebombing of Dresden, the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We literally burned hundreds of thousands of noncombatants alive. Was all that carnage strategically necessary? I don’t know – probably not. And we certainly couldn’t behave this way today without invoking the wrath of billions of people. However, the crucial question is, what sort of world were we trying to create? What were the real intentions of the U.S. and Britain with respect to Germany and Japan? Well, you saw our intentions after the war: We helped rebuild these countries. Out of the ashes of this war, we created the allies we deserved. The truth is that we wanted to live in a peaceful world with thriving economies on all sides.

I’m not saying that Israel hasn’t done appalling things – but governments, including our own, do appalling things in times of war. In fact, there is evidence that the Israelis intentionally torpedoed a U.S. ship during the 1967 war, killing some dozens of American soldiers. If true, this was an outrageous crime. But none of this cancels the difference between Israel and its enemies. It seems to me that the Israelis really do want to live in peace, however inept and callous they may have been in trying to secure it, while their neighbors are explicitly committed to their destruction.

The final point I’ll make is to remind people of who those neighbors are: Hamas is a death cult – as PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-DEMOare ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and every other jihadist organization we could name. Despite their differences, they are in fact the same death cult. And in case our readers imagine that jihadists don’t have global aspirations, they should pay attention to what they say among themselves (read, for instance, “The Management of Savagery” [pdf]). It’s in this sense that I claimed in my blog post that we’re all living in Israel – an assertion you found ridiculous. This death cult is springing up everywhere: It’s more or less ubiquitous in the Muslim world, obviously, but it’s also in Boston, with the Tsarnaev brothers who woke up one morning and decided that the best use of their short time on earth was to bomb the Boston Marathon. The fact that they didn’t have a formal link to any established terrorist organization is irrelevant. It’s the ideas of martyrdom and jihad that are the problem. These ideas have entranced millions of people, and they are spreading.

Sullivan: I’m not quite sure where to begin, except to take one thing at a time. So let me ask a question about both history and proportions in the struggle against jihadism. Are you surprised at how few Americans have died since 9/11 by jihadist terror? It’s quite remarkable.

Harris: Not really. But I’m happy so few have.

Sullivan: You focused on the Tsarnaev brothers in the same context as Hamas, which seems to me depicts a disproportionate understanding of the situation.

Harris: I don’t think you can analyze this risk by body count thus far. The fact is that we are now confronted by people who are undeterrable – who really do love death as much as we love life. These are not rational actors, and their access to destructive weaponry is only growing. We’re living in a world in which nuclear terrorism is going to be increasingly difficult to prevent – and yet we must prevent it, year after year after year after year. Pakistan is just a coup away from letting the big bombs fall into the wrong hands. So that’s the lens through which I view the global threat of jihadism. One can easily imagine a terrorist atrocity two orders of magnitude worse than 9/11. And that would change everything.

Sullivan: Well, it’s not entirely bleak. We did see recently a big, successful attempt to sequester the weapons of mass destruction that the Assad regime had: chemical and biological weapons. Of course, Israel is the only power in that region to have nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons without being a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty.

Harris: Correct. But this just speaks to the difference in intention that I consider paramount. Do you lose any sleep over the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons?

Sullivan: No – but you can see why the people in the region do, because it gives Israel absolute impunity to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, including the many wars that it has been conducting recently. And to talk about the blitz, I agree with you that the Dresden firebombing was a war crime. But look at what was happening in that situation. Britain was being carpet-bombed itself, with huge numbers of civilian casualties. It was, as you say, an “emergency situation.”

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza BorderIn this current Gaza war, on the other hand, Israelis are all but protected by the Iron Dome, by Israel’s massive superiority in technology, overwhelming military dominance, huge economic superiority, and by being the most powerful country in the entire region backed by the global superpower. And even though the Israelis are protected from any sort of civilian casualties of any significance, they nonetheless have killed an astonishing number of Palestinian civilians in the past few weeks, including roughly 300 children. As you know, there seem to be credible accusations that they have fired into places where, even though they weren’t targeting civilians, they knew full well that many civilians would die, and even may have targeted shelters where children and women are sleeping. So I don’t think Israel was in an emergency. I think it has many other options, rather than killing so many innocent civilians.

Secondly, if one’s worry is jihadism, and it should be our worry, then obviously Israel is making the world a much more dangerous place by its constant provocation of Muslims by putting the Muslims under its control in little-Bantustan regions in the West Bank or cordoning them off into a tiny area in the Gaza Strip. That is where the question of proportionality comes in.

Harris: The Israelis have successfully minimized the consequences of Palestinian terrorism – building the Wall, for instance, and creating the Bantustans you object to – and now you are holding this very success against them as an unconscionable act of provocation. The game is rigged. You can’t say that Israel’s success in containing the terror threat posed by Hamas and other groups is evidence that they need no longer worry about this threat. The only reason that suicide bombing is no longer a weekly occurrence on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is that there is now a concrete wall separating Israel from the people who want to carry out such bombings. That is why Gaza is a prison camp.

Sullivan: The Wall is not what makes it a prison camp.

On top of the Wall, they occupy and control that entire region, and maintain checkpoints that burden and enrage many of the inhabitants. And remember, again, and this is where we have to go back to history, when you say the Israelis only want to live in peace with their neighbors, is that why 1948 is regarded by any non-Israeli in the region as a “catastrophe”? Was that living in peace with their neighbors? That was a terroristic campaign of expulsion, of ethnic cleansing, and of mass murder. That’s how Israel was founded. And many of the people living in Gaza and on the West Bank are the descendants of refugees from that original act of ethnic cleansing. One problem of the debate in the U.S. is that this vital piece of context is so often removed, and so we have an utterly ahistorical understanding in which the motives of one side become unintelligible.

Harris: The problem with invoking history in this discussion is that you have to decide when to start the clock. You could go back further than 1948 – but many Jews would have you go back 2,000 years, pointing to the fact that this is their ancestral homeland, as evidenced by the history of the diaspora. The Jews were kicked out of Palestine and hunted and hounded and ghettoized and murdered for millennia – which would seem to justify the decision to return them to their homeland, provided it could be done in a way that wouldn’t ruin the lives of other people.

Sullivan: Well, the problem is that other people happened to live there already in the land assigned to newcomers – and they regarded their lives as ruined. They were the majority, and they were not Jewish. This is the most recent big event in the history of that part of the world – and the Palestinians had almost no say in any of it. So to claim that we just have to accept this as a given and that any complaints about the deep wound in that part of the world are somehow illegitimate or to be bracketed off from the core discussion seems to me to miss the whole point of the conflict.

Harris: As you know from reading my original blog post, I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. And I don’t support anyone’s religious claims on that land.

Sullivan: But you are supporting Israel based on just such a religious claim, which, given your other arguments, doesn’t make any sense. Because if Israel-Palestine were not an explicitly Jewish state, as you’d prefer, there would be a majority Arab population – that would presumably, in your view, result in the immediate extermination of every Jew in the country.

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza BorderHarris: If all the Jews in Israel woke up tomorrow and said “This sucks. We’re sick of being attacked by religious lunatics. Let’s just move to America and forget about this godforsaken desert,” I would fully support it. In fact, it reflects how I live my own life. I’m a Jew who sees no point at all in fighting for land that an imaginary Abraham sanctified with his imaginary footsteps, in thrall to an imaginary God. And I’m more than happy to assimilate and to forget about my Jewishness. I’m just trying to be a rational human being living on the third planet from the sun. And I think all Jews would be well served to do likewise.

In fact, I would consider it the crowning achievement of Judaism if all Jews realized simultaneously that their religion was total bullshit and abandoned it en masse. Is that going to happen? Of course not. But imagine if the Jews did leave Israel. Would our conflict with Islam go away? No. Would we see an outpouring of goodwill and gratitude and a reasonable analysis of why this was the best outcome for humanity, all things considered? No. We would see a deranged victory dance throughout the Muslim world. The fall of Israel would be taken as further justification for a fever dream of an ascendant Islam. And the clash of civilizations would just shift to another front.

Sullivan: Let’s try this non-Zionist counter-factual. Any Jew in the world is free to come to America. American Jews are among the most accomplished, integrated, successful, vibrant contributors to American society and culture. And they are among the most popular religious and ethnic groups in the country. They mercifully have peace, security – far away from this kind of Middle Eastern awfulness. So why wouldn’t that have been a credible alternative, rather than actually going in and seizing land from people who –

Harris: Again, you have to acknowledge the burden of the past. First, you’re painting too rosy a picture of the American attitude toward the Jews, especially at the time Israel was founded. For instance, if you read the book The Abandonment of the Jews, by David Wyman, you encounter the most appalling picture of American anti-Semitism. During World War II, with full knowledge that the Jews of Europe were being exterminated, there were anti-Semitic speeches on the floor of Congress. We even turned back boats of Jews who had escaped the inferno of Europe, knowing that they were thereby doomed. You can’t just say the Jews should have come to America.

Sullivan: It’s a shameful episode in American history; I agree, although plenty of xenophobic speeches have been made on the floor of the Congress about any number of waves of immigrants.

Harris: Not ones who were then being murdered by the millions, for whom immigration would have been, quite literally, salvation. And, again, I would point out the double standard here, because we could be talking about the founding of Pakistan, another incredible confection by colonial powers – where new lines drawn on a map affected the lives of millions of people. In this case, 15 times as many people were displaced from Pakistan as from Palestine. Where are the Hindus calling for their right of return?

Sullivan: But the point of that horrifyingly bloody partition was to create a state for Muslims and a state for Hindus. And there is actually a Hindu state – India. But there is not a state for those people in Palestine. In recent years, the Israelis seem determined to prevent that. And the situation is getting much worse. Now, in the occupied territories, Israel is deliberately and aggressively populating that land with some of the most fanatical Jewish sects imaginable.

Harris: Which I condemn as much as you do.

Sullivan: Your piece kept conflating Hamas with all the Palestinians, and was about the Palestinians as murderous Islamists. But the Palestinian Authority is not Hamas. Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza full of dead bodiesAnd you would not have gotten a better opportunity for peace partners than Abbas and Fayyad on the West Bank. They’ve been begging for two states. You would not have had a better partner for peace than Barack Obama in 2008. But the Israelis do not want to give up that land. And I fear they will never give up that land. And Netanyahu has said he cannot conceive of –

Harris: Well, I was pretty clear in saying that not all Palestinians support Hamas. And I was also clear in saying that Hamas isn’t the worst Islam has to offer – that honor would probably have to go to ISIS for the time being. But on the topic of trading land for peace: Recall that the Israelis gave up Gaza and were immediately bombarded with rockets. You just can’t separate their security concerns from the land.

Sullivan: If this was about security, Sam, why did Netanyahu prefer to release over a thousand murderers and terrorists from prison rather than relent and give up a single brick of a single settlement on the West Bank, or East Jerusalem? And my point is this, that when you have a power like that, which has already taken a large amount of land and then refused to allow a second state to emerge – and in fact has sequestered the other population in such a way as to render their dignity and self-esteem and self-government impossible, then I think what you’re talking about is a very different situation. It’s not simply a nice, peaceful country fighting forces of jihadist Islam. In fact, you can say that one of the major sources of jihadist Islam and anti-Western terrorism has been not just the founding of Israel, but its expansion and its constant presence in the lives of so many Arabs in the Middle East.

Harris: But, Andrew, much of this is the result of Muslim anti-Semitism, not its cause. Jewish crimes are especially significant – and Jewish victories are especially galling – because the Jews are reserved a place of special scorn under Islam.

Sullivan: If I suddenly found that the south of England, where I grew up, had been occupied by the French through a war of conquest, and they were then populating England with French people dedicated to creating France in Britain, then I don’t think I would be some bigoted anti-Semite to be furious about the land that was taken from me. You don’t need anti-Semitism to explain why people would feel enraged about a hostile takeover of their own land. It’s such a canard to say that there’s something outrageous about being offended that you’ve been thrown out of your land, town, or home. And it’s made worse when even in the place left to you, you are then policed, monitored, harassed, and constantly controlled by an occupying force. This is an absolute recipe for disaster.

Harris: Yes, I agree with much of that. But again, we see the consequences of your framing the issue too narrowly. Where are the Jews in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Syria – or even Egypt or Jordan, states that are ostensibly at peace with Israel? The ethnic cleansing of the Jews has already been accomplished in the Muslim world.

Sullivan: No, no, hold on. The vast majority of that happened because of the creation of the State of Israel. That was the paroxysm that created the great emigration within the regions. Before that, look, you can look at Palestine in the ’20s or ’30s, I mean, let alone in the last part of the 19th century, and there aren’t that many Jews living there. The big majority of it is Arab and Muslim.

Harris: You are being far too chipper about what life was like for the Jews under Islam before the purge. We are talking about a history of apartheid punctuated by pogroms. And, in any case, there are estimates of the population of Jews in Jerusalem going back to the time of the Romans. And there has probably been a continuous presence of Jews in the so-called “holy land” since before the Babylonian Exile.

Sullivan: No one’s denying that there were some there. But there were many, many others. Here’s a link to the Wiki page on Israel-Palestine demographics through history. In 1800, there were 268,000 Arabs and 6,700 Jews. Even by 1947, there were twice as many Arabs as Jews: 1.3 million to 630,000. The original idea gave the Jews half the land, despite being a third of the population. And now they have controlled the entire area for nearly 60 years. If I described that in the abstract, you would need no theory of Muslim anti-Semitism to explain the resentment and anger.

And in fact, the first people who came back to report to Theodor Herzl about the promised land knew this very well. They told him, “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man.” The land they wanted was already populated by another people. There was an option to allow some Jewish immigration to rebuild Jewish culture, Jewish language, Jewish history, and so on and so forth. But not the creation of an actual, physical state with Judaism as the central pillar of it – let alone one that would control the entire area. Now, it seems to me that that’s an important piece of the context. And it’s worth noting that, along with unbelievable oppression over the centuries, the diaspora Jews also achieved enormous success wherever they went.

Harris: But that’s in spite of how they’ve been treated. Again, my interest is not in arguing the justification for the founding of the State of Israel. I think that’s the wrong focus, for many reasons. If we moved the Jews to British Columbia, we’d still be talking about the problem of Islam – and even about the problem of Muslim anti-Semitism. You do realize that most Muslims have never met (and will never meet) a Jew, and yet they hate them, based upon their religion? My friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali recalls being taught as a child – in Somalia, of all places – to pray for the destruction of the Jews.

However, if we are going to discuss the founding of Israel, it does not seem crazy to point out that many nations were born out of theft and chaos – from someone’s point of view – and yet we no longer question their origins. I’ve already mentioned Pakistan, but consider the United States: No one is talking about Apache claims upon Kansas and Oklahoma. The Native Americans are stateless – and for well over a century the only reasonable question to ask has been, how can we ensure that they have better lives given the fact that the United States isn’t going anywhere? But no one will treat Israel this way – not in the Muslim world, certainly, and not even in Europe – and that is part of the double standard that Israel is forced to operate under. Everything Israel does is doubly questioned and doubly stigmatized.

Sullivan: My favorite headline in the Onion, one of the headlines of the century, was – “War-Weary Jews Establish Homeland Between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt.”

Harris: That’s hilarious.

Sullivan: In other words, there has to be some weight put on the fact that we’re also talking about the seizure of land from people who did not consent to it.

Harris: No one ever consents to it.

Sullivan: We’re talking also about modernity; we’re talking about something not that long ago. You’re right, we are also talking about the fact that Islam has a very – Islam and Judaism together have a very strong attachment to specific lands in a way that Christianity, for example, doesn’t. At least not now. So you’ve created a zero-sum situation, and the point of allowing the Jewish homeland in Israel was always predicated upon a two-state solution. There was no idea in 1948 that they would have just Israel and never have another state for the Arab-Palestinians; never an idea of that.

Harris: There’s also been a very cynical game played by the Arab states to maintain the status quo. Keeping the Palestinians in limbo has been a way of keeping the question of Israel’s very existence on the table for debate – immiserating the Palestinians in the process.

Sullivan: So the Israelis bear the primary responsibility, although the Arabs are absolutely partly responsible for their intransigence, just as Israel is responsible for the deaths of all those civilians in Gaza, even though Hamas is utterly complicit in it. I’m not exonerating Hamas, but I’m certainly not going to defend the killing of 1,800 people in this brutal campaign when Israel is not seriously at risk. Israel is not in danger. Israel has the overwhelming resources behind it.

Harris: You’re being too cavalier about the dangers that the Israelis face.

Sullivan: They have nuclear weapons.

Harris: But they can’t use those weapons. They certainly can’t use them on Gaza.

Sullivan: They’re a massive deterrent.

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza BorderHarris: Again, you’re blaming the Israelis for how successfully they’ve managed to defend themselves against more or less ceaseless Arab aggression. You just said they’re not under threat -and, therefore, that their actions in Gaza are not truly defensive. But the evidence adduced for this is the fact that there hasn’t been an equal number of civilian casualties on the Israeli side. If there were 5,000 casualties in Tel Aviv as a result of rockets fired from Gaza, you wouldn’t be saying any of this. But the only reasons why there haven’t been massive casualties on the Israeli side is that Israel has had to make its survival a national obsession – building bomb shelters and a missile defense system, among other things – and Hamas doesn’t yet have the rockets it really wants.

Sullivan: Why do you keep listing these hypotheticals? The reality is Israel is secure.

Harris: Having thousands of rockets fired at you, and just waiting for them to land who knows where – that’s security? No missile defense system is 100 percent effective. And there are times when a majority of the population of Israel is now forced to hide in bomb shelters.

Sullivan: When none of them can kill anybody because your defenses are so great, you are pretty secure. You’re secure also in the sense that you have nuclear weapons; you have the support of the superpower, the global superpower behind you. You have the United States, you and I are paying for their rearmament, right now as we speak. And they’re so powerful they’re occupying the region that was designated for the other state for 50 years with impunity. That’s power, Sam. Real power. Easily the dominant power in the region. Overwhelmingly. Militarily. Economically. And it’s come through their alliances.

Harris: Imagine the consequences if that were not the case.

Sullivan: Then I would have a different position on this. If Israel was under that kind of attack, I would totally understand having this kind of response. My point is simply that they’re not the same thing. And when I also have seen the Israeli prime minister talking about “deterrence,” using these wars in Gaza in order to prove to these populations they must simply submit, I’m concerned. We are talking about the impact of collective punishment on people to deter any future attempt to construct their own lives in their own country.

Look, I’m not defending what Hamas is doing. What I’m saying is where we are now is in large part a function of Israel’s inability to understand that it’s powerful enough to make compromises, powerful enough for there to be two states in the region, and its refusing to do so has made the conflict far worse and it also made Israel’s position much less secure. I think we agree on that, right?

Harris: Yes, we agree on that. And I know you don’t support Hamas, any more than I do.

Sullivan: I do support Abbas and Fayyad in attempting to get a two-state solution. I do support the Obama administration in trying to negotiate one for the past six years. But they were repeatedly told to go fuck themselves by the Israeli government while it kept adding settlements to the West Bank.

Harris: There are reasons why the Israelis feel themselves to be in greater jeopardy than you deem strictly rational. For one, you are underplaying the significance of being asked to negotiate with people who – whether they’re going to admit it in every context or not – are committed to your destruction.

Sullivan: Abbas and Fayyad are not committed to Israel’s destruction. They have explicitly recognized the State of Israel and support a two-state solution.

Harris: But Hamas is.

Sullivan: Yes, and if you really wanted to tackle Hamas, you’d give the Palestinians an option with Abbas and Fayyad. But what Netanyahu and the Israelis have done is reward Hamas’s horrible eliminationism with mass brutality, and reward Abbas and Fayyad, who want to have a two-state solution, with more and more settlements, making such a solution impossible. I just want you to understand what it must feel like to be a Palestinian in your own land, constantly having new settlements built, clearly designed to tell you, you do not belong here; in the end, you will be forced out of here as well.

Harris: Of course, I agree with you about the settlements. Let me say it again for readers who have trouble reading through tears of uncomprehending rage: I agree with you about the settlements.

Sullivan: And then we have one of the deputy speakers of the Knesset saying that they want to put up camps, concentration camps for the citizens of Gaza, and want to annex the entire West Bank. And everything in Israeli society is leading towards the one-state solution on exclusively Jewish lines. And you, I think, would say, well the Palestinians deserve it.

Harris: No, that’s not fair. I would say no such thing. And we must deal with the point you just raised about the deputy speaker of the Knesset. I saw your blog post on that where, in a very inflammatory way, you distorted what was actually being said on the Israeli side. You accused this man being a “genocidal bigot.” You noticed how uncanny it is for a Jew to be suggesting “concentrating” a civilian population within “camps” – leaving the reader to marvel at the irony of the oppressed becoming the oppressors. But this was just a play on words. The man was not suggesting that Israel build concentration camps of the sort we saw under the Nazis. He was suggesting moving Palestinian civilians into camps so that IDF could fight Hamas without killing noncombatants.

Sullivan: In order for them to be subsequently expelled from the region.

Harris: Granted – the man was articulating an extreme view – but that’s still not genocide. You can call it “ethnic cleansing,” but moving people from one place to another, however unjustly, is not genocide. Genocide is when you herd them into gas chambers.

Sullivan: It’s ethnic cleansing.

Harris: Fine. But I don’t want us to slide off this point. Go back and read your blog post. You call it genocide, and you draw the concentration camp implication in a way that does not differentiate between the Jewish version, designed to get civilians out of the way, and the Nazi version, designed to reduce them to ash.

Sullivan: But the idea that anybody would come close to that is horrifying.

Harris: They’re not close at all. This brings me back to the other topic I mentioned at the top of this call, regarding why it’s so damn hard to talk about this issue in the first place. We have to be honest about the plain meaning of words. When you use a word like “genocide” to describe a person’s intentions –

Sullivan: I didn’t.

Harris: You do in your blog post. Just go back and look at it.

Sullivan: I’m looking at it right now.

Harris: Do a keyword search for “genocide.”

Sullivan: I’m not good at doing that kind of thing.

Harris: Just type control-F, or command-F, and then “genocide.”

Sullivan: I see now: “Genocide and ethnic cleansing.” You’re right. But he does believe in killing every civilian in Gaza who resists –

Harris: Andrew, he does not believe in killing every civilian in Gaza. He’s talking about combatants. I only know this person from your blog, but I read what you wrote, and I read what you quoted. The man wants to separate the civilians from the militants so that the IDF can bomb the hell out of the militants.

Sullivan: No, but how can you say that and then not admit that he wants to take these people, completely annex Gaza as part of Israel, Judaize it, remove all of its Arab inhabitants who don’t accede to the new order, and “exterminate” – his words – anyone still resisting.

Harris: I’m not defending this person, and I’m not defending his military strategy. I’m defending the meaning of important words – words like “genocide” and “concentration camp.”

Sullivan: Genocide can mean the intention to kill a whole race – rather than the actual successful attempt to do so. The former chief rabbi of Israel, spiritual leader to many Middle Eastern Jews, said among other things that the Palestinians should “perish from the world.”

Harris: Andrew, you are changing the topic. Stick with our man in the Knesset. I have no doubt that you can find a genocidal rabbi who’s going to liken the Palestinians to the Amalekites and deem them fit for slaughter.

Sullivan: The chief rabbi of Israel, whose funeral was attended by 800,000 people, is not some fringe figure.

Harris: I’m happy to excoriate the ultra-Orthodox as much as you want. But the question is, how many Jews in the world does this rabbi speak for? As I make clear in my post –

Sullivan: – the chief rabbi of Israel. Or how about the former head of Israel’s National Security Council who wants all Gazans, including women, to be thought of as enemy combatants and therefore to be killed.

Harris: Are you alleging that a significant percentage of Jews have genocidal intentions toward the Palestinians? Is that the punch line here?

Sullivan: I’m saying an alarming and growing number of Israelis hold those views. And it’s not a punch line.

Harris: Okay. Then let’s get our intuitions in order. If given a magic button to push that would annihilate the Palestinians – not just Hamas but all men, women, and children – what percentage of Jews do you think would push it?

Sullivan: I’m talking about the evolution of Israeli society in a very, very nationalistic, almost fascistic direction.

Harris: I totally agree that there is a problem here. As I said in my article, I think Israel is being “brutalized” – by which I mean being made brutal – by this conflict.

Sullivan: They have no choice in the matter?

Harris: Not much. I think this is just what happens to people who are living in a continuous state of siege and fear.

Sullivan: Which they chose.

Harris: Well, up to a point. They didn’t choose the legacy of anti-Semitism. They didn’t choose having half the Jews on earth fed into ovens in Europe.

Sullivan: Well, neither am I saying that.

Harris: But that’s the context. Again, we can’t leave the problem of language unresolved. You’re using words in such a way as to make the intentions on both sides of this conflict appear equivalent. I will grant you that you can find some genocidal maniacs on the Israeli side. What you cannot find is an entire culture that has been transformed into a cult of death – where children are routinely brought up to be martyrs. Nor can you find a significant percentage of the population that would sanction a genocide. That is an enormous distinction.

Sullivan: Again, I’m not saying they’re as bad as Hamas. I am not. I am saying that a remarkable and growing number of people in Israel seem to paint the Palestinians as a general threat in a way quite similar to what Hamas does with Israeli Jews. And when you have several wars, continuous wars, in which the civilian casualties of Palestinians dwarf anything on the Israeli side, it begs the question: When you have ethnic settlements continuing on and on, what is the project here? What is the project for Israel?

Harris: That’s exactly my interest – what is the project? What project would either side accomplish if it could accomplish its aims? And insofar as your fears are borne out, and the Israelis become indistinguishable from Hamas in their intentions, then there would be absolutely no moral distinction between the two sides. I don’t have an intrinsic bias for the Israelis, and I have no fondness for ultra-Orthodox Judaism. I’m simply saying that if you find a rabbi who talks about the Palestinians as Amalekites who should just be wiped off the face of the earth, that person speaks for the tiniest extremity of the 15 million Jews on earth. When you find an imam in Gaza or Beirut or London speaking that way about the Jews, he is speaking for at least tens (and probably hundreds) of millions of people.

Sullivan: Even though he was the chief rabbi?

Harris: Well, yes. I’d have to research who you’re talking about. I’m simply taking this story on your authority. However, it is a fact that most Jews are secular – and secular in a way that one can’t currently imagine in the Muslim world. I fully grant you that the ultra-Orthodox in Israel are a real problem, but their views do not reflect the aims of Israel as a nation or the aims of most Jews. The picture changes utterly when we’re talking about anti-Semitism on the Muslim side. Anti-Semitism is so well subscribed among Muslims that they basically drink it in the water – and much of it is eliminative, which is to say, genocidal.

Sullivan: And I’m not denying that, but I have to say that I think that it’s gotten worse because of the way in which Israel has behaved. It has not helped itself in any way.

Harris: I agree, for the most part. But you could also make the case that many of Israel’s enemies understand and respect only strength – i.e. violence or its credible threat. Reasonable concessions, and just basic human decency, aren’t always interpreted in the way that one intends.

Sullivan: Let’s talk about what they would each do if they really had their druthers. And I think this is what both would do. I think that the responsible Palestinians – those represented by Abbas and Fayyad – would want a two-state solution. And I think they’ve been basically foiled by the Israeli government in that endeavor. I do think that many if not most Arab Muslims in the region would like to see Israel wiped off the face of the map; absolutely. What do I think the Israelis want? I think if they had their druthers, they’d have a single state from the river to the sea, in which there was no hint of a threat to a Jewish majority. That’s the Likud charter.

Harris: They would probably want to push all the Palestinians into Jordan and the surrounding Arab states.

Sullivan: That’s where they pushed them in the first wave, from ’48 to ’67. The question is whether we’re witnessing a second phase in which eventually those people in Gaza would also be encouraged to flee to other countries – that was the deputy speaker’s proposal. And I think the Israelis would like, in an ideal world, to get the Palestinians on the West Bank to go to other countries as well. And they will argue, look, it’s still only a tiny amount of land that we’re asking for. Look at all the land the Arabs have. All we’re asking for is Greater Israel. I think that’s what they’d want.

Harris: I agree. But forcing people to emigrate and genocide are very different projects.

Sullivan: They are. But both are basically crimes, of different orders. And I think that if we want to see a sane resolution to this, and I actually accept the idea there should be a Jewish state, unlike you, for the historical reasons of protection of the Jewish people, then I think that the basic original plan of two equal states is not that bad of an option.

Harris: Actually, I agree that it is the only feasible option. So I accept it too.

Sullivan: It’s the only option that could possibly work. I don’t think it’s possible at this point because of the bitterness on both sides and because of the facts on the ground. The Israelis have been very successful at creating facts on the ground over the past 60 years that make the possibility of an actual partition in that region impossible. And I don’t think it’s absurd for a fair-minded observer to note that.

Also, I think it’s fair to ask you to try to understand what it must be like to be an Arab living in Israel in 1948 or even on the West Bank in 1967 or 2014, which now has half a million Israeli immigrant inhabitants, and to see that the country that you believe was yours is no longer yours at all. Now, even if you take religion out of it, the conquest like that and expulsion of peoples is an inherently divisive, terribly destructive, and terribly polarizing act, whatever the outcome.

Harris: I completely agree. And, obviously, displaced people need to be compensated. That would be the only ethical way to do it – if it had to be done.

Sullivan: But do you understand why people would still say, “Fuck it, I live in my home. This has been my home forever. Why should I have to leave my –

Harris: It would be remiss of me not to point out that none of this would be a problem in the absence of religion. That’s what makes a “one-state solution” unthinkable – or, indeed, a “one-world solution.”

Sullivan: Ethnically they’re pretty indistinguishable. Genealogically, genetically, and all the rest of it. So look, we both agree on that, I think, but my contention is simply that with respect to this current war, I think that you’ve gotten the balance slightly wrong. I think I understand why you have that balance, but I think you’re underestimating the power of Israel, and being a little too generalizing about what Palestinians want. I don’t think they’re all Hamas supporters.

Harris: But I acknowledged they’re not all Hamas supporters in my article. And I agree with you now that they’re not all Hamas supporters. However, there is another problem for Israel that you’re ignoring. The people with whom the Israelis must negotiate, even the best of them – even Yasser Arafat after he won his Nobel Peace Prize – often talk a double game and maintain their anti-Semitism and religious triumphalism behind closed doors. They’ll say one thing in English, and then they’ll say another in Arabic to their constituencies. And the things they say in Arabic are often terrifying. In fact, there is a doctrine of deception within Islam called taqiyya, wherein lying to infidels has been decreed a perfectly ethical way of achieving one’s goals. This poses real problems for any negotiation. How can Israel trust anyone’s stated intentions?

For instance, consider the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini. He was the leader of the Palestinians in the ’30s and ’40s, prior to most of the history we’re talking about that has so enraged the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the man visited Auschwitz in the company of Himmler and aspired to have his own death camps created in Palestine to exterminate the Jews. He was a full-blown Nazi collaborator, and the head of the Palestinians. As late as 2002, eight years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Arafat praised al-Husseini as “a hero.” This is the kind of thing Israel has had to deal with continuously.

Sullivan: Sam, you wouldn’t have found a stronger defender of Israel on the lines that you have given than me when Arafat was running the show. My problem is that when the Palestinians actually, finally agreed to recognize Israel, actually cooperated with Israeli security in preventing terrorism, and succeeded in generating some economy and growth and community on the West Bank that is not simply all about death, they were rebuked rather than rewarded. The Israelis have failed dramatically since 2000 to really seize that opportunity, which is an incredibly important opportunity for them and for all of us. Because this conflict also affects us, and it definitely pours gasoline onto the jihadist flames, this whole conflict.

So that’s where I’m coming from, Sam. I’m coming from a sense that the Israeli Right has gotten veryPalestinian Dina in difficulty opening her eyes powerful. That there is dangerous nationalism and atavistic sentiments that happen when a prime minister stands up and says he wants generalized “revenge” after three murders. I think there are dangerous forces within Israel that have learned to justify or even look at dead children and call them “telegenically dead.”

I know what you’re saying about brutalizing. But I think when a prime minister of a Western country can look at children being dragged out of rubble and call them “telegenically dead,” that a coarseness has overcome the Israelis’ moral sensibility. I’m not saying they’re unique in this moral coarsening at all, but I’m saying I think they’ve gone off the rail in the past ten years or so at a time when it’s crucial that they don’t.

I want to take a moment to discuss why this is so emotional. It’s not terribly emotional for me, inasmuch as I’m only really interested in this topic because I was thrown into it as a New Republic editor and learned it in a very obsessive way over many years. There’s some emotion involved because I had such a strong pro-Israel position for so long that I came to feel I had to speak out in this current situation, to appease my conscience. But I’m not that invested by my identity in any of this. I have been to Israel once and I have nothing but amazed admiration for what they’ve achieved and who they are and have incredible respect for their achievements. I really do. But at the same time, I think they’ve gone overboard and I think that the current mess is a consequence of that.

But the thing that happens to me in this debate in America is that many of my Jewish friends cannot debate this, it seems to me, without extreme emotional investment in it, and that’s a very hard thing to deal with. It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough. Do you not think that your being a Jew affects the way you talk about this thing? I mean, you seem more emotional about this than many other subjects I’ve talked to you about.

Harris: No, I really don’t. I get emotional trying to keep words like “genocide” from losing their meanings. But I think my being Jewish is irrelevant. I’ve told you that if the Jews decided to assimilate perfectly and cease to be Jews, I would celebrate this decision. And this is how I live my own life. I’m Jewish only in the sense that when it came time to have children, I needed to get screened for the Tay-Sachs gene.

Sullivan: So you feel the same way about Israel as you would feel about Pakistan or England?

Harris: Well, I’m still a Jew in the sense that I know a good pastrami sandwich when I see one. So I’m acculturated in a way that I’m not with respect to Pakistan. But do I harbor any sympathy for the religious project of Judaism? Not at all. Nor do I have any nostalgia for an ancestral homeland in the Middle East. In fact, when I walk the streets of Jerusalem and feel a romantic thrill for antiquity, it’s the Christian thrill that I feel: I think about Jesus having walked those streets. So, I’m not the Jew you’re looking for. The truth is that I just want to live in a sane, global, civil society where religion no longer divides human beings from one another. It is time we recognized that we are all members of the same sect: humanity.

However, there is another thing I do get emotional about – and that’s the threat of Islam, especially when it is systematically obfuscated by my fellow liberals who should know better. If you want to get to the core of my response, emotionally, here is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely nuts: If a Jewish artist in New York covered a copy of the Koran in pig blood, and the act were well publicized, half the Muslims on earth would take to the streets. But when a group like ISIS starts crucifying noncombatants, or attempts to starve 40,000 men, women, and children to death on the side of a mountain, there are no significant protests at all. This psychopathic skewing of priorities extends not only to the “Arab street” and its lynch mobs; it extends to the talking heads on CNN. Spokesmen for a group like CAIR, devious blowhards like Reza Aslan, and liberal apologists like Glenn Greenwald would also attack the artist – and, if he got butchered by a jihadist on Park Avenue, they would say that although such violence had nothing at all to do with the noble of faith of Islam, the poor bastard surely got what was coming to him. He was too provocative; he should have had more “religious sensitivity.” And yet these people say scarcely a word about the mass murders of Muslims, by Muslims, committed on a daily basis in a score of countries.

Of course, some Muslims do denounce terrorism or groups like ISIS, but they almost always do this in a dishonest and self-serving way. They will say that these people “do not represent Islam.” But this is just obscurantism. When not actually lying and seeking to implement their own sinister agenda – here I’m thinking of a group like CAIR – they are just expressing their fear of being associated with such sickening behavior. Most Muslims don’t want their faith tarnished. They don’t want any hassles from the TSA. They don’t want to be stigmatized. All of this is perfectly understandable but perfectly wrongheaded, given the reality of what is going on in the world. The scandal here is that so few Muslims are speaking honestly about problematic doctrines within their faith. The few who are – such as Asra Nomani, Irshad Manji, and Maajid Nawaz – are heroes. The crucial difference is that they admit that the doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women, etc. really are at the bottom of all the intolerance and violence we see in the House of Islam. And, needless to say, these brave people are regularly denounced and threatened by their fellow Muslims.

Everything we needed to know about the masochism and moral blindness of the Left, we should have learned during the Salman Rushdie affair. There we saw the whole problem in miniature – the infantile rage of religious maniacs concerned about their so-called “dignity” side-by-side with the complacency, sanctimony, hypocrisy, and cowardice of their liberal apologists. And it’s this same schema that is shaping world opinion about the war between Israel and the Palestinians. If you detect any emotional charge in me, that’s where it’s coming from.

Sullivan: I basically agree that willful blindness as to the extremes of political Islam and the unique sensitivity and overreaction of Islam in the modern world to affronts to its religion is something that everybody, right and left, needs to get into their thick heads. My point is that, nonetheless, it’s pragmatically foolish to provoke jihadism in such a way as to render it even more extreme.

Now, I’m not saying that the State of Israel is itself or should be a provocation. I am saying that its conduct, certainly since ’67, is not helping at all. But I also agree with you. Let me just be clear, because I don’t want to give any false impression, but what is going on in Syria and Iraq right now, the atrocities and the inhumanity, it dwarfs what is happening in Gaza by a factor of ten. Similarly also what has happened with the Syrian civil war – unbelievable, direct targeting –

Harris: But then don’t you find it strange, and rather telling, that the focus is on Israel and Gaza?

Sullivan: Well, I think partly it’s because we’re paying for it.

Harris: That’s surely not the reason on the Muslim side. And that can’t be what is driving European opinion.

Sullivan: All I can tell you is what I think. I think one reason that there’s a lot of fuss about this is that we are so directly involved. And I don’t think it’s crazy to make a distinction between atrocities that are occurring or horrible things that are occurring which we are actually funding and defending, and those in Iraq or Syria over which we have no control –

Harris: You mean to say that if we had not given arms to Israel in the past ten years, there would be less outrage over Israel’s behavior now? I think Israel would be more or less in the same situation.

Sullivan: No, I don’t. I think it would be less. Now, I’m not saying it would disappear. I’m just saying that for a lot of us, those of us who are just simply horrified by this kind of obviously civilian collateral damage, that when I think that my taxpayer dollars are actually paying for that military campaign, I have a slightly different reaction to it than I would knowing that Assad, with arms from Russia or wherever he’s getting them from, has just killed innocent civilians in a civil war.

Now look, on the Dish, we constantly monitor ISIS, constantly monitor Syria, and try to make that distinction. But since Israel is basically in some ways an extension of the United States, I think it’s a problem. Now, I think we’d be in a stronger position if we ended aid to all those countries in that region, especially military aid. I think we could then be better able to have some kind of neutral role. And, frankly, I think a lot of Israelis think that, too. I mean, we wouldn’t have the relationship where we feel responsible for things we have no power over. And we are blamed by the rest of the world for things we don’t really have any control over. I think that’s a genuine matter.

Now, I agree with you that lots of people will hate Israel regardless, but I think some of us would be less horribly conflicted about this.

How do you account for the way in which Arab lives are treated as worth so much less than Jewish lives in this conflict?

Harris: Well, I would point out that they seem to be worth less to the Arabs themselves. Consider what happens when it comes time to have a prisoner swap: Hamas will accept no less than 1,000 prisoners for a single Israeli soldier. Again, I don’t think you can divorce the belief in martyrdom and paradise from this circumstance. Many Palestinians – I suspect most – are under the sway of religious beliefs that devalue human life in this world. And one of the problems, especially for secular liberals, is to understand that they actually believe these things.

Sullivan: Look: a parent wakes up in his home and sees his own child murdered in the bedroom next to him and has to dig him out with the head missing. This does not need to be explained by religious beliefs. I mean, I’m sorry, Sam, but I can’t imagine what these people have gone through.

Harris: Neither can I. But neither am I tempted to ignore how religious beliefs color their thinking and their resulting behavior.

Sullivan: No one in Israel has ever experienced what they’re doing to other people.

Harris: Not so fast. The percentage of Israelis who know someone who has been blown to bits by a Palestinian suicide bomber has to be pretty high. And if you go back to ’48, you’ll find Jordan bombing the Jewish quarter in an attempt to annihilate every Jew in Jerusalem. Of course, there are still a few people walking around who survived the Holocaust. So I think the Jews in Israel can well imagine what it is like to have people trying to kill them, or their children, and succeeding.

Sullivan: If 300 Jewish children had been buried under rubble in Tel Aviv, I think the world would have a completely different view of this, and the United States would, too. And in fact, people would assume that Israel had an unassailable moral right to do whatever it needed to in response to that. And yet the Palestinians in Gaza experience this astonishing loss of life, of innocent life, and they’re told to shut up about their “telegenically dead” children.

Harris: They’re not being told that by most of the world. Most of the world has taken their side and now despises Israel.

Sullivan: Well, I think we’re probably starting to go in circles now. But I think it is good that we can have a civil conversation about these things.

Harris: I agree. And I’m very grateful you took the time to do this, Andrew. It makes me very happy that we can have exchanges like this.

Sullivan: Any time, Sam. Any time.

(Photos, in descending order from the top: Palestinian girl Ansam says goodbye to her little brother Sameh Junaid, killed in an Israeli cannon shot in the morning of Eid al-Fitr at Jabalia Refugee Camp as he was playing in the garden of his house on July 28, 2014 in Gaza City, Gaza. By Ali Hasan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images;

An Israeli soldier carries a shell as he and his comrades prepare their Merkava tanks stationed at an army deployment area along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014. By Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images;

A Palestinian protester holds an Islamic flag walking towards Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron on August 1, 2014 following a demonstration against Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip and in support of Gaza’s people. A joint Palestinian delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is to travel to Cairo on August 2, 2014 for ceasefire talks despite the renewed fighting in Gaza, president Mahmud Abbas’s office announced. By Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images;

Police keep right-wing supporters of Israel separated from left-wing protesters during a rally held by the left-wing calling for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for a ceasefire of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict on July 12, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel. By Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Israeli soldiers weep at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Adar Barsano during his funeral in Nahariya, Israel on July 20, 2014. Sergeant Barsano was killed along with another IDF soldier on the twelfth day of operation “Protective Edge,” when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers.  By Andrew Burton/Getty Images;

Paramedic team and few journalists access to the Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire proposal from the International Committee of the Red Cross which was accepted by Israel, July 20, 2014. People frantically attempted to to pick up the dead and the wounded in the blood strewn area while plumes of smoke from the recent Israeli shelling lingered in the air. The latest Palestinian fatalities figures reached 425 in the unrelenting Israeli air and naval bombardment of the blockaded Gaza Strip since July 7. By Mahmood Bassam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

In this Israel Ministry of Defense handout, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (R) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet with IDF forces as they visit the Southern Command in Beersheba, Israel on July 9, 2014. Due to recent escalation in the region, the Israeli army started new deployments at the border with the Gaza Strip. In the past three weeks, more than 130 rockets where reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel.  By Ariel Harmoni/Israel Ministry of Defense via Getty Images.

Nine-year-old Dina wounded when shrapnel pieces hit her eyes in an Israeli strike in Gaza, is treated at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza city on August 5, 2014. Palestinian Dina has difficulty in opening her eyes due to the flames and poisoned gas she has exposed in the strike. By Mohammed Talatene/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)