The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

The Left and the war: 12 answers to my critics

It would take a book to answer all the questions and criticisms that followed the publication of this article. I've decided to attempt short answers to a dozen of these.

1. "Why does one of the most powerful military countries in the world, supported by the single superpower NEED the left?"

Israel does not need the support of the Left. But the Left needs to support Israel. If it does not do so, it has lost its moral compass.

2. "But how do you measure/judge whether Israel has gone overboard in its use of overwhelming military power in Lebanon?"

That's a hard question to answer. By definition, the waging of warfare by modern armies is terrifying, and will always appear to be overwhelming. But while there are many grey areas, sometimes the picture is quite clear. For example, the massacre of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies with the IDF standing idly by was clearly a war crime. But putting some craters into an airport runway or imposing a naval blockade is perfectly legitimate. Let us judge each Israeli action separately, and let us be prepared to criticize the IDF when it does use excessive force.

3. "How does using phrases like Islamo-fascist help?"

It helps because it makes the issue clearer. Israel is fighting a battle against forces with which we democratic socialists have nothing in common. Nothing.

Oddly enough, at least one of my critics actually seems to support Hamas, and writes: "The reason why the Hamas result was a bad one for Israel is that Hamas will not settle for an unfair deal, like Arafat would have (and almost did). A peace settlement with Hamas will involve much less Palestinian compromise then a settlement made with Fatah."

Most of you do seem to understand that we on the Left have nothing in common with Hamas and Hizbollah.

4. "Destroying civilian infrastructure (and it is civilian infrastructure even if terrorists use it) will not by itself stop Hizballah attacks."

That is correct. Destroying Hizbollah means blowing up its mobile rocket launchers, killing its leaders, flattening its South Beirut headquarters, knocking its television station off the air, cutting off its access to Syrian and Iranian arms -- all of which the IDF is currently doing. The critical thing is to understand that Hizbollah has a limited number of missiles, and cannot be re-supplied so long as Lebanon is cut off. This is why the naval blockade and the closing down of Beirut airport are so significant.

5. "Hezbollah might be a purely south Lebanese phenomenon."

If Hizbollah had merely been a local "resistance" to real or imagined Israeli oppression, it would not have posed a military threat to the Jewish state. But it is clearly a proxy army fighting on behalf of much larger and more powerful forces.

6. "Do you really think that the current action will result in the overwhelming defeat of either of these movements?"

I hope so, yes. The military defeat of Hizbollah and Hamas would be a good thing.

7. "How does supporting either side help?"

Because the victory of the wrong side would be such a disaster that it must be prevented. Hizbollah's victory -- indeed, its very survival as a military force -- would be a disaster first and foremost for the people of Lebanon. That must be prevented. Hizbollah's aggression started this war, and by supporting Israel, we are helping to bring the fighting to an end.

8. "Disgusting. Not a word about the suffering of the Lebanese."

I wrote: "We should be giving our full support to Israel, while of course insisting that the Israeli military behave according to international law and keep civilian casualties to a minimum."

I also wrote: "It [Israel] is hitting back with all the firepower at its disposal, but doing so in a way to minimize civilian casualties. That is why it decided to flatten Hamas' foreign ministry building at 2:00 in the morning, when it was unoccupied. Or used targetted aerial bombardment to create craters in the runways of Beirut airport, rather than bombing terminals crammed with people. (Either way, they would have shut down the airport -- but they chose a way that saved innocent lives.)"

Of course the suffering of innocent civilians in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel concerns me -- which is why I support a swift and decisive victory for Israel.

9. "Images of children killed by the Israeli Air force ... Is this what you want the left to support Mr Lee?"

No. And I could show image of innocent civilians, including children, killed by Israel's enemies. The point of this war is to stop the Hizbollah and Hamas terrorists from causing any more deaths of innocents, whether they be Israelis or Arabs.

10. "The mind boggles at any attempt to characterise a government that is turning whole swathes of the Middle East into a walled concentration camp as 'left'!"

I never wrote that the Israeli government was a Left government; I did say that the Left was part of the coalition, and it is. The Israel Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International, and a sister party of the British and Australian Labour Parties, the Canadian New Democrats, Democratic Socialists of America, the African National Congress, etc.

11. "To act as if Israel is facing a threat to its existence is ludicrous."

That's very easy to say from the comfort of living in Europe or North America. But that's not how it feels to people today in Sderot, Haifa, Afula, Tiberias, Nahariya, and Kiryat Shemona. And it's not just their subjective take on things. Iran does pose an existential threat to Israel, and not only to Israel, once it becomes a nuclear power. The Iranian threat is very real, and has been recognized as such by the international community.

12. "There is an implicit assumption in your post, and in much writing on this topic: that there must be some legitimate response to terrorism. This assumption is false. Not all problems have solutions."

In other words, learn to live with terrorism? I think Israel is right to at least make the attempt to deal with the problem.

Though I would hesitate to add -- as I wrote in my original article -- "We should insist that at the end of the fighting, Israeli forces be pulled back to the international border with Lebanon, and withdrawn from Gaza. And we should support a renewal of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a withdrawal from the West Bank."

Only the creation of an independent, viable, democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel offers the hope of a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism.


=" But putting some craters into an airport runway or imposing a naval blockade is perfectly legitimate. Let us judge each Israeli action separately, and let us be prepared to criticize the IDF when it does use excessive force."=

Fair call.

So we are now up to just over 200 dead, approximately 199 of whom are civilians.

4, wait *FOUR* are Hizbollah fighters.

So that is why I have judged.

I'm no socialist but I certainly agree with you on your choice of alliances. Whilst I sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians, this is a battle fought by political entities and only one has an ideology that I approve of.

I sent a link to your previous post to a socialist colleague of mine. His response:

" be honest, having read most of the article now, it’s just the usual run-of-the-mill superficial analysis. So completely divorced from historical reality, and neatly avoiding all the evidence that rather inconveniently contradicts the argument the man wishes to make, that it makes the perfect theoretical basis from which to pump out all the normal moral effluvia and self-deluded hypocrisy these people are so fond of. Just goes to show, anyone can call themselves socialist!"

The reason I posted this is because I have never met a pro-Israeli socialist. Nice to meet you Eric!

If you're looking for pro-Israel socialists they're pervasive in the Jewish community... just look for them.

I recomend googling Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim Dror (socialist-zionist youth movements).

Yes, it's a complicated ideology - but we're firm in it. Being pro-Israel does not negate being pro-Peace or pro-Palestinian. I think you'll find that the large left wing in Israel is very progressive, but also loves their country and peace.

When will people get it? Pro Israel and pro democracy does not = right wing.

Eric - I know this is a second bite of the cherry, but in responding to one part of my comment about what destroying civilian infrastructure won't do, you left off my next point:

'It WILL undermine the stability of Lebanon which will be bad, bad, bad for the workers of Israel and everywhere else in the Middle East.'

You are minimising Israel's actions by merely referring to a naval blockade and 'closing' the airport as vital to 'destroying' Hizbollah. Israel is doing a lot more than that and it will be counterproductive (to put it mildly). Israel was unable to destroy Hizbollah for all the years it occupied South Lebanon. So it is a bit rich to punish the Lebanese government and people for not being able to do that either. The current Lebanese government arose from the 'Cedar revolution' that ended the Syrian occupation - by undermining it Israel will harm itself in the long run. Certainly lots of Lebanese are angry at Hizbollah for triggering all this, but that doesn't mean Hizbollah can't make political gains at the government's expense. When Israel invaded Lebanon in the early 1980s many Shia in the south were pleased to be liberated from the PLO, but that didn't prevent the rise of Amal and Hizbollah out of resentment towards a foreign military. Destruction of basic infrastructure in Iraq (electricity supply is still appalling in Baghdad) is fuelling the insurgency there. Similar acts will have similar results in Lebanon. And by the way Hizbollah rocket attacks are still being carried out.

Before you say that I don't live in Israel so I don't understand. I HAVE lived in northern Israel, and spent plenty of time in Haifa, Kiryat Shemona and Sfad. I've seen Hizbollah rockets slamming into the hills. That's why I don't believe in fighting to the last Israeli just so Olmert can avoid doing what Sharon was willing to do in 2003, have a prisoner exchange with Hizbollah.

I do consider myself a socialist (albeit a pragmatic one, who will when necessary support the lesser of two evils). However I find your argument for supporting Israel singularly unpersuasive. Your argument largely ignores important context, or consists of simple assertions that you fail to back up with an argument.

1) This is a simple assertion. I don't agree, and given that you don't actually provide an argument for why I would have lost my moral compass its hard to respond in any meaningful way.

2) Israel has not been limiting itself to bombing airports, or imposing a naval blockade. Either you are spectacularly ignorant of what is going on (in which case why you are even bothering to offer an opinion), or you realise that discussing what Israel is ACTUALLY doing would blow your argument out of the water. Given that Israel has been targetting residential appartment blocks (with precision weapons, so I don't believe in accidents), civillian convoys (fleeing because Israel told them to, so I don't believe it was an accident), cities in the north (they bombed a Maronite town. Maronites! They hate Hezbollah), milk factories (Israel's intelligence in Lebannon is good enough for them to know what these targets are), lighthouses, Greek Orthodox churches, etc, etc - how exactly is this proportional. Even if you think that Israel is justified in punishing supporters of Hezbollah - they're bombing enemies of Hezbollah.

3) No it helps you make your argument sound stronger, because fascist is a word which shuts down people's faculties because everybody knows that "fascists" are bad, and want to invade foreign countries. Its propoganda, rather than reasoned argument. It doesn't help anyone understand what they are, how they operate and what they believe (and it also implies that you don't really know much about either movement). I may not particularly like aspects of Hezbollah's ideology, but its a massively popular movement as much driven by what its base want, as what its leaders want (arguably Nasrallah is moderate compared to much of his base). It is a fairly democratic organisation and more representative of its supporter's views than say the Labour party in the UK. Hezbollah's islamic agendas are not forced upon the Southern Lebanese, and there's no evidence that they wish to force them upon the rest of Lebannon.

Short of genocide, Hezbollah cannot be eliminated through use of weapons. I guess there is a "socialist" precedent for social change through genocide (Stalin, Mao - and of course Cambodia) - but its not one I personally identify with.

Hamas are strong in Lebannon, because Israel has discredited (in the eyes of the Palestinians) the PLO. When moderates fail, most oppressed groups turn to the extremists. Oppression breeds extremism.

I may not like the social agendas of either group, but I can recognise that they are "democratic" (in the sense of representing the views of those the represent) - and also that their larger battles (fighting against a vastly superior and very violent oppressor) is a just one. I'd like a nice liberal resistance movement in Israel and South Lebannon, but they don't exist. Many of the Algerians fighting the french occupation were not nice people either, nor would I have liked the politics of the VietCong. However both their fights were just, and I would have had no qualms supporting those.

4) Again this argument ignores what Israel has actually been doing, just like (2). It also ignores the fact that Israel have been remarkably unsuccessful at stopping rockets flying into Israel, but very successful at destroying Lebanese infrastructure and killing civilians.

5) There's nothing clear about this whatsoever. Just because you assert it as true, doesn't make it so. It gets weapons and money from Iran and it probably has to at least consult them about planned operations (much like Israel and its relationship with the US). There's no evidence that Iran dictates their military, or foreign policy - or that the relationship is based more upon Iran's natural sympathy for fellow Shi'ites. Given that the Hezbollah action was a repititon of previous attacks (capturing Israeli soldiers), had a clear objective (exchanging them for prisoners that Israel still keeps in its prisons) - and that Hezbollah were obviously surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response - I see absolutely no reason to believe that this was an action ordered by Iran (and given that Syria is terrified of this escalating - I doubt that Syria even knew about it).

6) How can Israel defeat Hezbollah? Its a mass movement of 3 million odd people. It came into being in response to a brutal Israeli military occupation, and drove Israel out of Lebannon. They hated Israelis so much, they drove trucks filled with explosives into Israeli military convoys. You think bombs will somehow stop them? Short of genocide, what exactly can Israel do to eliminate Hezbollah? And bombing Christian areas is going to simply make Hezbollah's enemies hate Israel (which seems to be what is happening).

7) Again another assertion, short of anything resembling a fact. Care to explain why?

As for aggression. Israel has been kidnapping Lebanese civillians (fishermen for gods sakes) since the 2000 pullout, flying planes into Lebanese airspace (some of them at supersonic speeds, at low altitude) as well as bombing South Lebannon. There have also been occasional incusions by Israeli soldiers into Lebanese territory. And then there are the political assassinations carried out by Lebannon. If you really believe Israel is an innocent party here, you are mistaken.

As for Gaza. The military capture of those soldiers (which is completely legitimate in war - which war it certainly was. After all those soldiers had been shelling Gaza for a week) was preceded by Israeli commandos kidnapping (well they were civilians) two Palestinians two days before. How come that wasn't an invasion, provocation, etc? Or is it different if Israel does it?

8) Israel has been deliberately targetting civilians. Pretending that they have just targeted airports and office blocks is dishonest. Yes Israel could have killed more civilians if they really wanted to. Does that somehow make them moral because they have chosen to kill less civillians?

9) You could show images of children killed by Israel's enemies. However Israel has killed far, far more children from the other side. And its ISRAEL causing the deaths of Lebanese children - not Hezbollah. Just as its ISRAEL causing the deaths of children in Gaza. Pretending otherwise is dishonest - indeed is the kind of unspeak that Orwell raged against.

10) There are socialist parties in the Israeli political system. Domestically I'm sure many of their policies are ones I would support, though I would also abhor their support for the racist policies that discriminate against Israeli Arabs and their support for the construction of settlements. I fail to see why this should affect one way or the other my views on the war in Lebannon and Gaza.

11) Just because some Israelis feel that Israel is at threat, doesn't mean they're right. Some Americans believed Reagan when he claimed that Sandinistas could successfully invade the USA. So what, Israel's existence is not threatened.

The Iranian threat is not real. Iran has never attacked any of its neighbours, doesn't have a border with Israel. While Iran might be trying to get nuclear weapons (though this is still some way off - and is not nearly as certain as many US propogandists like to pretend. The Ayatollah issued a fatwa against them a few months ago, for example), Israel has nuclear weapons and very sophisticated ones (and is backed up by the US - it would be suicide for Iran to attack Israel with nukes, and they know it). It also has US bases on two of its borders. Furthermore, Israel periodically threatens to bomb Iran. Iran has more reason to be scared of Israel, than Israel of it.

12) Well if Israel pulled out of the occupied territories and LEFT THEM ALONE, removed the economic blockade (and possible helped them rebuild) - perhaps that would help reduce Palestinian terrorism. It took over 20 years before Palestinians in the occupied territories turned to violence (20 years of a nasty occupation) - and that violence was preceded by appaling Israeli violence directed at peaceful demonstrations. Israel created this terrorism. I'm not sure why we expect the Palestinians to renounce violence, when we don't do anything to address their grievances and the Israelis show no sign of seriously pulling back to the 1967 borders. Israel is the occupier, and the military superpower - its up to them to make the first move.

Hezbollah is only a terrorist organisation, if you also consider the IDF one (and the IDF is a far nastier one). And if Israel really wants to solve that problem, they should release all the remaining prisoners, pull out of Shebaa and leave Lebannon alone. This might not solve the problem, but Israel should at least try it seriously before bombing innocent civilians.

Why is it that everyone ignores the fact that Hezbollah places its weapons in civilian residential areas.
The Zilzal 300mm rockets bombed by Israel were in Hezbollah's South Beirut enclave.
Why did Hezbollah set up roadblocks to stop residents of South lebanon from leaving after Israel had dropped leaflets warning them?
Why does Hezbollah demand a room in the houses of South Lebanon villages to store their smaller rockets?

"12) Well if Israel pulled out of the occupied territories and LEFT THEM ALONE, removed the economic blockade (and possible helped them rebuild) - perhaps that would help reduce Palestinian terrorism. It took over 20 years before Palestinians in the occupied territories turned to violence (20 years of a nasty occupation) - and that violence was preceded by appaling Israeli violence directed at peaceful demonstrations. Israel created this terrorism. I'm not sure why we expect the Palestinians to renounce violence, when we don't do anything to address their grievances and the Israelis show no sign of seriously pulling back to the 1967 borders. Israel is the occupier, and the military superpower - its up to them to make the first move."

I'm sorry, I just have to reply to this commment.

The Palestinians didn't start using terrorism 20 years ago, they simply changed the nomenclature (in 67 to be exact). There has been active violence between jews and arabs, and specifically violence from arabs targeting jewish civilians, in the area for most of this century, from the riots of 1920 to the Hebron pogrom of 1929 to the Arab uprising. Prior to the war of independance in 1948 the jewish authorities were in active conflict with Arab irregulars (the modern day Palestinians), both sides committing their share of massacres against non-combatants.

In 1948 all Arab states, Lebanon and the above mentioned irregulars included declared war on Israel. All through the fifties the same irregulars raided across the cease fire line, attempting to kill Israeli civilians. After Hussein drove the PLO out of Jordan in the seventies, the PLO began raiding across the north border while at the same time inciting the Lebanese civil war, leading to the current conflict.

Lastly...where have you been living for the last five years, Cian? Israel ended its occupation in Lebanon a long time ago and left Hezbollah alone. Israel pulled out of Gaza this year. Did either Hamas and Hezbollah in any way step down the violence against Israeli civilians as a result?

Fuck you, racist asshole.

I suppose your view that the Democratic Socialists of America constitute part of the "left" means that you would have sided with US imperialism against Vietnam, as they did.

And I suppose that your inclusion of the British "Labour" Party as part of the same "left" means that you support their current imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps you, like Winston Churchill, are "strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes."

Your mention of the "Socialist International" makes your orientation perfectly clear. Those people were already cheerleaders for imperialism a hundred years ago. They used the same racist, white-mans-burden arguments then as you do now.

Between the "Islamo-fascists" who are fighting against imperialism, and social-fascist-racists like you who are supporting it, I'll side with the former any day of the week.

Once again, fuck you, and fuck Israel and its zionazi leaders.

Palestinians in the occupied territories did not use terror until after the (very violent) crackdown on the first (peaceful) infatada. over 20 years later.

Your larger point ignores the fact that the Jews prior to 48 were trying to take over Palestine (and were pretty open about this). Oddly the locals were not terribly happy about this. And there was plenty of violence towards the Arabs by Jews. Pretty much all the violence in the partition of 1948 was by Israeli soldiers (and included many war crimes), and it was pretty brutal. In the 50s and 60s there were raids by Palestinians in Jordan, and raids by Israel into Jordan (which killed far more Palestinians, as it happens). I don't wish to defend the PLO's actions in Lebanon (the regime in S. Lebannon was pretty revolting) - but Israel used to regularly bomb and shell Palestinian refugee camps (For example the immediate response to the kidnap/murder of olympic athletes was to bomb a refugee camp in south lebannon. clearly they had nothing to do with it). And the PLO were not the only actors responsible for the civil war. This is a ridiculous statement.

The current conflict has more to do with the brutality of the occupation of South Lebanon by first the SLA, and then the IDF. Things like free fire zones in the border region, the mass expulsion of civillians. The Shiites hated the PLO, and saw the initial invasion as a kind of liberation. Hizbullah is an Israeli creation.

Israel did not leave Hezbullah alone. They've periodically shelled it, bombed villages, kidnapped Lebanese, bombed fishermen, assassinated Hizbullah leaders and committed occasional border raids. Israel refused to release the Lebanese prisoners they were still holding until they Hezbollah captured an israeli spy and soldiers and offered to exchange them (Israel still hold three Lebanese). They have also refused to leave Shebaa farms (one might be able to argue that it is Syrian territory, but Israel sure as hell has no right to be there).

Israel pulled out of Gaza, but locked down its borders economically, flew military planes at supersonic speeds at very low altitudes during the night (a form of psychological torture), shelled periodically. The capture of Israeli an soldier (who were shelling Gaza - hardly the innocent of Israeli propoganda) was preceded by Israeli commandos entering Gaza and kidnapping two civillians (who they claimed, though no evidence was produced, were militants).

Every Zionist talks about Israel's 'right to exist' as if it were an eternal and self-evident verity. History comprises the failure of states to continue to exist, and their replacement by others. I see no reason to suppose that Israel is exempt from this possibility. (Whether it *should* have such a right is another matter-- as Auden wrote, History can only say Alas to the defeated.)

Now, given that the original Zionist promise was that a Jewish nation state would afford all the world's Jews a self-sufficient, secular, peaceful and productive home, how do 58 years of reality compare with the prospectus?

*Israel has failed to attract about 60pc of the world's Jews, and many sabras would probably high-tail it out of the promised land tomorrow if they could find a country to take them as immigrants.

*Israel depends on the bounty of the USA to keep its economy afloat and its borders intact.

*Israel has to conscript most of its young people, and then hold them on a reserve. Military values are glorified; the arts of peace, less so. The country's internal economy is a weird blend of extreme socialism (e.g. land utilisation), political nepotism (Bibi's and Sharon's offspring) and capitalism. The welfare state is patchy.

*'Temporary' concessions to the Orthodox mean that in this supposed non-theocratic exemplar, you cannot catch a bus on Shabbat or get married outside a synagogue. Torah students don't have to fight; Israeli Arabs are spared conscription but then denied post-service benefits.

*Israel is surrounded by 20 more or less hostile neighbours-- some murderously so-- and has to exert quasi-colonial suzerainty over adjoining territory to feel secure.

*Israel has to maintain an armoury of 200 or more nuclear missiles, and lie its head off about their existence.

*Diaspora Jews the world over feel awkward about what is done in their name by Israel, and feel in jeopardy: for the Zionist line that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic means that hostile gentiles assume all Jews support Israel.

Of course it's easy to blame all these negatives and disappointments on the bad will of the Muslims, and nobody's better than a Jew at playing the victim. But Zionism was supposed to cure Jewry of that.

If Herzl could come back and survey the net effects of his dream's realisation, how glad would he be? Might he wish he had listened to those who argued that a colony in Venezuela or East Africa might be less troublesome in the long run?

The normal life he foresaw for Jews is more easily liveable in the USA, Britain or France than in the Judenstaat. He drew from the Dreyfus Case the wrong conclusion that whites would never accept Jews. But Dreyfus was vindicated, and the British, American and French Jews of today are not packing their bags for the next El Al flight.

"Pretty much all the violence in the partition of 1948 was by Israeli soldiers (and included many war crimes."

Ever heard of a guy named Al-Hussein? He was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (essentially the chief religious and subsequently political figure) and was directly charged by the Brititsh of inciting violence against Jewish civilians (most notably in Hebron). He was notoriously anti-semetic (he spent the war years in Nazi Germany as an advisor to Hitler) and planned to set up a mirror of the "Auschwitz" CC camp in "Palestine" (it wasn't a national identity, and ironically enough, the British referred to Jews as Palestinians.) So it's extremely one-sided and unfair to say that the Jewish state were the chief perpetrators of war crimes. The crimes you speak of were committed by Irgun and Lehi, which were non-state sponsored paramilitary zionist organizations. Interestingly enough, despite their extreme lack of manpower, the Jewish authorities disbanded and disarmed these groups. It's a true testament to their committment to democracy (many of them Socialists, i.e. Ben-Gurion) that they would disarm the most trained and lethal elements of their society on the eve of an impending attack .