“A Gospel of Despair”

I have previously voiced my opinion of The Nation. But I feel compelled to re-visit this topic on account of an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times by Adam Shatz, the literary editor of The Nation. I preface this critique by saying that Shatz seems like a nice guy. I also think it worth mentioning that Shatz is an anti-Zionist, who has spent his considerable intellectual energies anthologizing “A Century of Dissident Jewish Writing about Zionism and Israel.” He is very fond, and indeed finds much to “praise,” about Diasporism. (And there is much to praise about Diasporism).

In his column for the LA Times, he addresses the horrible bombing in Qana, which he accurately points out is rapidly rising to the status of sacred myth and elevating the stature of the Hezbollah in the Arab world. Shatz then poses a very important question. He asks whether Israel can claim the moral high ground if it is in fact true that they are not intentionally seeking to kill civilians.

Shatz writes:

“Is Israel’s ‘accidental’ violence against civilians somehow better, or more morally acceptable, than that of a Hamas suicide bomber who steps into a pizzeria seeking to kill civilians? Or a Hezbollah guerrilla firing a Katyusha in the direction of a Haifa residential neighborhood? In short, do Israel’s declared intentions make a difference?”

[The snark quotes seem to suggest that Shatz is not buying the Israeli line that civilian deaths are in fact accidental. This is hardly an uncommon view, but I ask those who hold it what possible interest Israel has in giving Hezbollah a propoganda victory with the images of disfigured children coated in cement dust being pulled from the rubble?”]

Shatz then proceeds to hedge as he steps up to the line of what is not merely absurd, but monstrous: that Israeli military action is morally equivalent to a suicide bombing in a pizzeria. Instead, Shatz states the obvious, that Olmert’s apology will fall on deaf ears in the Arab world (and to many readers of The Nation). And he seems to agree that there is a distinction between terrorist “murder” and Israeli “manslaughter.”

But it is here that Shatz’s argument dissolves into inane far left platitudes that are completely divorced from reality.

“But this distinction is meaningful only up to a point, and Israel, consistent with its history of violent raids in refugee camps and crowded cities, passed this point almost as soon as the offensive began.”

Because Israel did not limit its targeting to Hezbollah sites and pursue “all available diplomatic channels, as might be expected of a mature regional power with nuclear weapons, Israel launched a vengeful war on Lebanon, which, it has since been reported, was planned over a year in advance.”

I have seen this charge that the war was planned in advance wielded as some sort of damning evidence against Israel. Let me get this logic straight: Despite the fact that a terrorist organization explicitly committed to your extinction diligently amasses an arsenal of over 10,000 rockets just over your northern border, it is provocative on your part to have a war plan on the shelf in the (likely) event hostilities erupt?

No, it would be irresponsible not to have a war plan. Any military worth a damn has contingency plans for all sorts of potential situations, many a great deal less likely than an outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Shatz knows this. He is a smart guy. This is just a cheap shot, the sort of cheap shots that deludes other parts of his argument.

Citing Human Rights Watch, Shatz is under the opinion that Israel is treating Lebanon as a “free-fire zone.” I am in no position to judge the military merits of every Israeli target (and I would imagine neither is Shatz, or Kenneth Roth from Human Right Watch for that matter), but seeing as Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world (as Shatz is quick to point out) it is ludicrous to suggest more damage would not be inflicted if Israel were in fact treating Lebanon in this callous manner. The aftermath of a real free-fire zone looks like the Syrian town of Hama in 1982, after the regime of Hafez al-Assad leveled the place killing 30,000-40,000 people with no regard for safeguarding civilian life. That is a free-fire zone. To abuse the term is to rob it of it’s significance.

Again, Shatz knows all of this. If asked, he would agree that Hezbollah is an insidious organization (he spent considerable time investigating it over the course of two long essays for The New York ReviewPart 1, Part 2), but his analysis is a quintessential example of the sort of liberalism that Lewis Mumford so deftly attacked in 1940 (and Peter Beinart attacks today.)

Shatz holds the “unctuous notion that evil must not be seriously combated because the person who attempts to oppose it may ultimately have to use physical force, and will become soiled by the act of fighting.” This is, as Mumford notes, “a gospel of despair.”

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One Comment on ““A Gospel of Despair””


  1. […] That Curious Line Over the course of its short, too often dormant existence, small-d has not been shy about criticizing the editorial position of The Nation. (Caveat: more accurately, I have not been […]


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