Hamas and Israel are not equivalent—that should be obvious, but it's not for many on the far Left who have lost their moral conscience and compass
What I really find troubling about this line of thinking, Michael, is the very western mental model in superficially tackling such a complex and complicated issue as the Israeli/Palestinian issue. What you are really highlighting here is merely how left and right leaning people, primarily living in the west, view this issue and which one has the high moral ground.
You proclaim to lay down some hard facts in an effort to draw a parallel and support your position: ‘although it was admittedly one of the worst acts against the Axis powers by the Allies, it resulted in about 35,000 deaths, not the 250,000 first claimed by the Germans (Goebbles exaggerated the number for propaganda purposes), and nowhere near the 6 million of the Holocaust.’ So is the number of civilian casualties a benchmark of right/wrong? You are implying that the Allies killed only 35,000 (a drop in the bucket when compared to the alleged 250,00 or the 6 million) in this instance. Great. Let’s go with this parallel. Now, how many Israelis have been killed by Palestinians compared with the other way around? If numbers are your benchmark, I would conclude that Israelis get a higher score for Palestinian hating than Palestinians get for Israeli hating. In that vein, have you not been able to draw a similar conclusion from all your arguments that Israel is starkly anti Palestinian just as you accuse the Palestinians of being anti Jewish/Israeli/Semitic?
I see the majority of western responses trying to be on the right side of history while simultaneously excising this incident from any historical context. Apart from pointing out that Hamas is Islamist (so? Israel is Jewish and current government is on the hard right side of politics) and has been clinging to power since 2006 (Bibi has been in power for some time, too..). Do you not even take a cursory glance at Israeli/Palestinian relations before the rise of Hamas? Did the Palestinians have it better with Israel, you think, before they chose to go with Hamas? Did Hamas win hearts and minds merely because they were anti Israel? Again, this whole issue seems to be surgically removed from its historical context by the western mind and oversimplified (the victors who got to not only orchestrate events on the ground and hence, write history but dictate it to the rest of the world) and then neatly placed within liberal/left vs conservative/right buckets. I wish life were that simple; you’re either with us or against us.
I would assume this investigation is beyond the remit or interest of this writer and his audience as most of the comments relate to a quibble about jargon such as progressives/liberals and how one appropriately defines these terms. The issue at hand is nothing more than a tool to buttress one’s political leanings.
And to be clear, it’s not about maintaining a moral equivalence or qualifying the issue with a two-sided approach - as opposed to the one sided approach here. I would call for a more comprehensive view where you use your yardstick of measurement (morality; numbers vis à vis [holocaust] casualties) for a deeper and more honest view. Otherwise, you have an incomplete model of reality at best and skewed/biased at worst.
Also, I understand what the motives of the Nazis towards the holocaust were; eradication of Jews from the motherland (earth) based on a racial perspective and misplaced grievances. How can you draw this parallel here and not catch the irony of your own analogy? Have the superior Israelis/Jews, aided and abetted by the west, not done onto the Palestinians what had been done to them by the superior Nazi state apparatus (Palestine is an entity and not a country)? How can people say that the Israelis have been acting in self defence in attacking the Palestinians who are also native to the land without laying down the facts? How can you not be curious about investigating their claims? You speak of numbers and precise historical facts regarding the holocaust but I’m curious as to why you choose not to do so when it comes to the conflict happening now. The European Jews were dispossessed of their belongings and kicked out of their homes and forced to live in ghettos (fact). The Palestinians have been subjected to the same treatment at the hands of the Israelis (is this not a fact? Or is this a lesser fact?). Do you have evidence to the contrary? How can you bring the holocaust as an equivalent yet turn it on its head? Like the holocaust deniers that you bemoan, you seem to implicitly engage in the denial of the eradication of Palestine and Palestinians. This can only mean one thing, which is ideology. And your rhetoric disparages any thinking that challenges that opinion.
Yes, what Hamas did was abhorrent but if you’re quantifying and qualifying grievances on both sides of this conflict, by your own logic, Israel has much to answer for and should come out with blood on its hands.
Thought experiment: If the European Jews retaliated against the murderous Nazis by mounting guerrilla attacks, I am assuming you would be strongly opposed to that on moral grounds, correct?
I am a subscriber to your magazine and enjoy reading your books. I am not surprised, however, by your reasoning. The rhetoric I have been hearing in western circles for sone time now is that yes, the Palestinians may be at a disadvantage when it comes to Israel but they should suffer in silence or maybe use diplomatic means to raise their cause. Both have been done to no avail. What would you and all your readers do in their place? Either flee or suffer in silence? Is that the moralistic thing to do? Should they form a secular resistance rather than a religious one? Would that give their struggle more legitimacy? The PLO tried doing that, by the way..
To borrow some of your religious metaphors, is the holocaust the original sin of the west and the founding of Israel - that goes hand in hand with colonisation of Palestine and eradication of its people - its redemption? And finally, in the moralising world that you and the majority of your readers inhabit, is there a slight chance that the Palestinians do not see it that way? That would be the true mind of a sceptic..
While I appreciate and agree with the article's condemnation of moral equivalency, this article makes an overly broad claim that this is a problem among "progressive left" groups. In reality, the "progressive" groups the article mentions are NOT a broad cross-section of the progressive left; they are almost *entirely* Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian! (Here, I encourage the interested reader to dig up the list of the 30 groups that signed the Harvard letter--almost all are Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian). Yes, the DSA-NYC publicized a rally, which was wrong and stupid, and already has tried to walk back from it. It is important to consider the Venn diagram--the moral equivalency, so far, is one small (Arab/Muslim/Palestinian) circle nested within a larger (progressive) circle.
Michael, this is an excellent essay and I agree with you 99%. You have successfully debunked the moral equivalency argument. I would like to give just a bit of criticism on one point.
You said "By contrast, the progressive Left (a term I use to distinguish them from more mainstream center-left liberals and classical liberals) seems hopelessly adrift at sea without a moral compass."
The term "progressive left" is just the wrong term to use in this case. I am mostly progressive and I am mostly left, and so I identify as "progressive left." And yet, I strongly oppose the actions of Hamas and the moral equivalency of some persons on the left. I suggest that you make an apology to those of us who are legitimately "progressive left" and substitute a different term like "extreme left" or "misguided left" or "morally confused left."
Wow! While I fully understand Shermer's deep grief and highly emotional response and agree that Hamas's attack was a horrible, grotesque act his piece is so over the top it undermines his response to the tragedy. Very unlike his usual thoughtful style.
He should also acknowledge and it is a moral failure not to do so that while Israel has every right to
exact the severest punishment on Hamas (and hopefully erasing them) the indiscriminate bombing, (mosques, community centers, a nursery, apartment buildings, UN helpers) and killing of civilians (1500 at last count with 400 children) is wrong as is preventing, food, energy,medicine, etc. to an entire population. These kinds of behaviors are reminiscent of Putin's punishment of Ukraine in his wanton
disregard of human life.
Israel risks losing the moral high ground it had after the attack by now even exceeding the barbaric acts of Hamas. And the U.S. is complicit as it has been for years in what has happened and is happening in this situation. It is hard to read, hear the news these days and it doesn't look like it is going to be better any time soon. If I were religious I would pray but all I can do is hope support organizations who are helping the people and trying to work out a solution.
Excellent piece. I only wonder how to have works like these reach a broader audience. I'd imagine most of Michael Shermer's following already empathises with perspectives like these, and it's instead huge institutions (academic institutions! who ought to be the harbourers of scientific inquiry and skepticism!) who are allowing such aggressive protests. For the record - protests are a great, a vital thing. However, they reflect a strong opinion of many people, and when that involves aggressive or anti-Semitic beliefs - whether or not participants are actively aware - that's a serious issue. This post sheds light on just how extreme and dangerous such beliefs can be.
Why are universities often failing to guide their own students towards critical thought and questioning, when did it happen, and how can it be resolved? I suspect it connects with raising tuition costs & economic necessity of students, and the incentive that unis have to remain competitive and expensive -- so they don't want to "upset" their customers (students). I think I may tackle this issue in a future newsletter of my own.
Women and children are always in the middle. The year I was born, there was a civil war in Greece between communists and fascists (fascists because they collaborated with the Italian and German occupiers in WWII). Both sides committed atrocities. Each side documented the atrocities of the other side. My concern is that if Israel wants to keep the moral high ground, it should not allow its soldiers to behave like Hamas. I say this because I read (NYT or Wapo or BBC,I don't remember which) that Netanyahu said that no Israeli soldier will be tried for war crimes in this war. It sounded like an encouragement to commit atrocities for revenge. I only read it once. May be he retracted it. Women like me are tired of men's wars and revenge killings everywhere.
As a conservative I don't agree with comparing anybody with the Nazi's, besides Nazi's. Because to be clear, the Nazi's weren't even the deadliest group of the 20th century. Mao, Stalin, and Pot were worse by a chasm that spans so far, it's beyond the eye's perception. Marxists are naturally antisemitic; so, I'm not surprised they are cheering for slaughter.
Intellectual quibble is how I view this article about "moral equivalency". Some people are evil, others are more evil - that the Hamas have wreaked atrocities and death on the innocent Israelites is obvious without us having to join the chant of condemnation. But do we know the degree of desperation of the Palestinians who have lived in captivity for decades now. Is the answer of death, destruction and atrocity, death, destruction and atrocity. If I had a child who needs medicines, food or water but have no where to turn to for this, would my moral compass get out of whack? Hell yes!
I do not automatically assume the media reports are true. Did Hamas really manage to stage a surprise attack on Israel without the vaunted Mosad knowing it was going to happen? I somehow doubt it.
The various Palestinian organizations are all well infiltrated by Israeli intelligence services and some of the most radical of them are actually under covert Israeli control. It is not only possible, but very probable, that whatever happened was known in advance by the Israeli government and allowed to take place as a way to justify the Israel response we are seeing.
Israel has been taken over by a hard-line faction and the long-standing goal of the hard-liners has always been to drive all the Palestinians out of the whole region permanently. But to just go ahead and do that without somme provocation would bring down the condemnation of the world, so allowing, or possibly even instigating some act by Hamas that could be used to justify retaliation is a logical thing for the hard-line Israeli governing faction to do. And they woulld be willing to sacrifice some Israeli civilians in order to do it if that would get the world to allow the ''ethnic clensing'' of the region.
Most of the Israeli population are not among the hard-liners, but they can be gotten on board with the hard-liner's long-term project to gain all of the alleged ancient Kingdom Of Israel if the Palestinians can be framed for atrocities against Israeli civilians and driven out of the territory for good without causing the rest of the world to condemn Israel.
If this is right, what we will see as the drama unfolds is the Palestinians will ultimately be forced to flee the so-called ''Palestinian Territories'' and emigrate to whatever countries will have them, leaving Israel in full control of the territory the hard-liners have always coveted.
The Nazis ran a major European economy and built it into a prospective empire while carrying out industrial scale genocide across Eastern Europe.
Hamas are the bantustan bossmen of the Palestinian Territories' most overpopulated and most besieged (literally) and brutalized (constantly), third world ghetto, Gaza.
And you're comparing the two like the Levant is the Eastern Front, Stalin vs Hitler.
Read Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Israeli NGO B'Tselem, all use the same word to describe Israel's brutal, longstanding – and, yes, industrial scale – policies against the Palestinians: “Apartheid.”
Incidentally, are you old enough that you wore a “Hang Mandela” t-shirt in the 80s?
The shoe fits.
Add me to the two people here who believe "progressive Left" is too broad a brush here. "Callow undergrads" might be better. Everyone in my orbit has denounced Hamas, as have all the prominent left-wing people I've seen on social media.
The "horseshoe" model is correct, though I might argue that it's a circle. Actually, given the American right's sharp turn away *from* free trade and science and *toward* big spending and authoritarianism, it might be a Mobius strip.
We have a local candidate in my area who claims his family came here from Argentina fleeing "socialism." He's wrong. They weren't running away because they had Ikeas and health care. They were running from *authoritarianism*. It's a pity more people don't know the difference.
While I agree that the genocidal words of Hamas and American White Supremacists are equivalent, I do not agree that Hamas is worse than the Nazis... and especially I do not agree with basing this on the idea that the Nazis hid their genocidal thoughts and actions while Hamas proudly announces them. I think Hamas knows the world does not support genocide, terrorism, torture, and will not support them, and simply doesn't care -- simply being transparent does not make them worse. The main difference I see is that Germany was effecting genocide of its own citizens, while the Palestinians are not. But this too is not relevant in genocide -- racist killing is racist killing. And wartime strategy is not relevant either -- Hamas cannot clean their hands by declaring itself at war with Israel and their actions are an instrument of forcing the enemy (Israel) to surrender. We are no closer today than we were at the end of WWII in understanding genocide and why there is such hate that manifests itself in the desire to exterminate other groups of humans. But trying to rank genocidal acts or groups by any metric only obfuscates the road to change.
Up until now Mr Shermer has frequently been a voice and source of strong skeptical reasoning. I have no argument with his well researched telling of Holocaust history. However, his assessment of progressive democratic politics is way out in right field, Mr. Shermer makes his political proclivities quite apparent. (In the larger context, it has been debatable whether the right wing's conflation of left leaning political thought with open-mindedness is simply the product of group think, or part of some politically premeditated psychological operation, but the right has increasingly seen the open-mindedness approach, taught in universities, as an affront to their, often dubious, rigid economic, religious, pseudo-biological[anti-science] centered ideology, and central to the policies very often espoused by the modern political right.) Science, law and journalism cannot function, with any integrity or trustworthiness, in an environment that encourages closed minded thought and preconceived results. Whatever our political leanings, we should all strive for more open-mindedness and deeper understanding.(Science and ethics are the tools that provide us with this pathway to that deeper understanding.)
Our nation finds itself in grave danger of devolving into an autocracy of pro-Nazi fascism, coming from a greatly expanded extreme right wing and funded perniciously by extreme wealth, into a system where corporate heads and billionaires set the thought direction, even more so than has already been apparent. It is a movement that is motivated to pick apart the spirit of the laws, to intimidate would-be dissenters, to break up social cohesion & solidarity and intimidate individuals charged with the administrative responsibilities of the democracy.
The push back going against this right wing/autocratic movement emanates, most powerfully, from the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Mr Shermer's characterization of the left, gives right wing propaganda mills all the grist they need, to add to their already mountains of manufactured outrage. Attempts at equating the debate among young students, that are trying to dissect & understand world affairs, in the face of never before experienced degrees of propaganda assault; to Holocaust deniers, does both students and the nation a disservice. (Much of the propaganda we have been saturated with has been constantly emanating from far right captured media, digital sources, right wing politicians & hostile foreign states.)
Below is a platform written for progressives who, by the way, generally believe in policies driven by the best available science and statistical evidence.
"Our Progressive Platform is governed by the principle that we all do better when we all do better.
When we have a fairer tax code, we all benefit from the investments we can make in the public good.
When we all have good-paying jobs and quality health care, we all benefit from a stronger economy.
When we have high-quality public schools and affordable housing in every community, every community can flourish.
When we have a legal system that protects everyone, we’re all safer.
When we accelerate our transition to a green economy, we all benefit from cleaner air and a healthier planet.
And when we have a democracy in which everyone can participate, we all benefit from the better policies that result."
*And then there is this reminder of what our democracy is all about.*
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, *establish Justice, *insure domestic Tranquility, *provide for the common defense, *[promote the *GENERAL Welfare], and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves *and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Best article and thoughts on this matter I’ve seen? Someone send me the link I’m signing up for the skeptic magazine. I’m so tired of false interpretations of morality. GREAT ARTICLE!!!!!!
Europe (as a whole) created this impossible situation (Balfour Declaration, Violent anti-Semitism) and only Europe can end it. How? "Blood money" is the key: compensating the Palestinian people generously for their losses as an integral part of the terms of any final settlement the two parties reach. It would need to be an ongoing program of wage subsidies, health insurance, retirement and old-age assistance, and the like, (plus, possibly, residency rights throughout Europe and the Anglo-Sphere?), continuance of which would be conditional upon Palestinians who receive it abide whatever terms are included in the final settlement. T
Blood money can solve this problem in principle as well as in practice. It is the only acceptable way in Arab and Islamic culture to end inter-tribal disputes, of which this is one (though with the responsible 3rd party thus far inexcusably absent).
The comments in here are quite telling - trying to nuance a religious (Islamic) and Antisemitic organization and it's supporters, around the world, from such obvious motifs that parallel everything they would have none of regarding either the Palestinian's plight or any other historical attempt to annihilate a people.