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“The current death score is 159-0.”

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This Saletan column has been sitting in my tabs for several days, waiting for me to contain my amazement long enough to write about it. Fortunately, Bertram has already beaten me to the punch:

I wonder if Israel’s cheerleaders realize the damage they do their own cause when they write things like “Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. It’s taking pains to spare them” and “But in the Gaza war, it’s clear that Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize civilian deaths. The same can’t be said of Hamas.”…Anybody who is not parti pris can see that the Netanyahu government has partially contrived and partially been trapped by a domestic political climate that requires them to kill numbers of Palestinians in order to satisfy the Israeli electorate. Of course there’s the usual blather about “operatives” and “terrorist infrastructure”, but it is hard to take seriously the idea that anyone believes this as a description of Israeli aims. In fact nobody does, but lots of people in political power in the West think they have to go along with the story and pay lip service to Israel’s “right to defend itself”, even though concretely this takes the form of airstrikes against densely populated urban areas with predictable civilian deaths. Meanwhile, those who speak for the Israeli government go around claiming that no state could tolerate missiles being fired into its territory and that any state would have to retaliate. This is false, indeed absurd: much of British policy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s was deplorable, but though the IRA fired plenty of mortar rounds across the border, nobody seriously contemplated taking out “terror operatives” by aerial bombardment of civilian housing in the Irish Republic.

I have only a couple of small points to add. First of all, this is another illustration of why focus on motives in politics is generally misplaced. I also find Saletan’s readings of the relevant Israeli officials implausible, but it doesn’t actually matter whether they sincerely think they’re minimizing civilian deaths or not. They’re using tactics that guarantee many civilian deaths; what the motives are is fundamentally beside the point.

This also isn’t a defense of Hamas’s rocket strikes. They’re both objectionable in themselves and as with most heighten-the-contradictions strategies the chances that they will make things better by making things worse as opposed to just making things worse are roughly 0%. But this doesn’t change the fact that the Israeli response has been grossly disproportionate.

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