Condemnations, Moral Guidance, and Gaza (guest post)


“The absence of moral guidance by philosophical condemners conveys that they do not think of Israelis as friends whom they want to morally improve. Perhaps, worse, it reflects the sense that there is something morally improper about providing Israelis with guidance and advice…”

The following guest post is by Daniel Schwartz, associate professor of political science and international relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of, among other works, Aquinas on Friendship.

It is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.


Condemnations, Moral Guidance, and Gaza
by Daniel Schwartz

Among the many causes of frustration with recent reactions by moral philosophers and other experts to the war in Gaza there is this: they consist basically in condemnations (short introductory condemnations of Hamas, more textually extensive condemnations of Israel). These texts do not aim to provide us, Israelis, with advice or guidance as to what would be the best thing for us to do (other than to just stop fighting).

By “condemnations” I do not mean calls for Israel’s unilateral ceasefire, considered as such. There are many different possible grounds for unilateral ceasefire calls, and not all of them rely on the moral condemnation of Israel. For instance, compassionate concern for the suffering of Palestinian civilians does not commit one to think Israel is in general acting unjustly. In practice, however, calls for ceasefire tend to conflate compassionate concern for Palestinian civilians with moral condemnation of Israel’s actions, i.e. declaring them unjust.

Some philosophical responses (such as this one by Victor Tadros) do delineate (if vaguely) the limits of what Israel could be morally entitled to do. But the purpose of such delineation is really to show the magnitude of the Israeli excess in relation that moral baseline, not to show Israelis how to scale back their response to the moral baseline (which, in Tadros’s case, would leave many Israelis unprotected).

Perhaps the lack of guidance and advice has to do with the way moral philosophers conceive of their professional duties: their business is just to judge whether actions being taken are morally permissible or not, merely to provide a moral diagnosis.

What about some moral guidance, though? What about instead of just condemning Israel, suggesting courses of action capable of providing maximum defense for Israeli citizens consistent with morality? Yes, this requires knowledge in the field of tactics, strategy, political science and international relations, and perhaps other fields. But condemnations, such as those issued recently, are also based on such purported knowledge and conjectures about the future, insofar as they include assertions on the disproportionality of the Israeli response based on assumptions about the prospective number of Israelis that would be killed in a counterfactually future Hamas attack.

The empirics necessary for a justified condemnation are not so different from the empirics necessary for moral guidance. Condemners should, in principle, believe themselves capable of giving the moral guidance that they fail to give. Indeed, this is all the more so in the case of the Oxford Open Letter, the signatories of which appeal to their authority as ‘scholars of political science, political philosophy, ethics, history, geography, law and the Middle East’. Surely the signatories’ wide range of expertise qualifies them to provide sound empirically-informed moral guidance.

So it is not for lack of relevant empirical knowledge that condemners fail to provide advice, and this brings me to what I really find disturbing about the lack of provision of moral guidance.

When see someone as a friend or someone you care for, you are willing to provide them with moral guidance; you care for their soul and you want them to be good. The absence of moral guidance by philosophical condemners conveys that they do not think of Israelis as friends whom they want to morally improve. Perhaps, worse, it reflects the sense that there is something morally improper about providing Israelis with guidance and advice, as it would be perhaps morally obscene for a priest taking confession to give to moral guidance (even the right moral guidance) to an abominable active Nazi war criminal.

If you have a pre-existing friendship with someone, regardless of whether it is acceptable to have that friendship, and you think that the friend did something morally wrong, your first duty is not to publicly condemn, but rather to provide moral advice. Admittedly, this cuts both ways: perhaps Hamas would have a valid complaint against Qatar, if Qatar had publicly condemned its actions before privately criticizing them and offering moral advice (perhaps Qatar actually did so). And this may be so even though Qatar’s friendship with Hamas is perverse. It is also, of course, true that if a friend becomes a moral monster or a beast (or turns out to have been so all along, unbeknownst to the friend), then the friendship is over and so are most of the duties that come with it.

Clearly the fact that issuing mere condemnations violates friendly duties (as well as professional duties, as argued below) does not imply that everyone should be a friend of Israel. The argument applies only to those who up to now been or seen themselves as friends of Israel. These include at minimum those who wish well to Israelis, care about them, and empathize with their present predicament.

They may also include those who see themselves as friends of the Palestinian people, too, and so face conflicting friendship duties. There is no contradiction between offering moral advice to Israel and at the same time seeking help for Palestinian civilians (as well as providing moral advice to Palestinian non-Hamas collective agents). In fact, concern for Palestinian civilians goes hand in hand with trying to get the Israelis to abide by the relevant moral constraints, which is naturally part of what moral advice amounts to. Moreover, friendship towards Israel is a lever that can and is used at the diplomatic level (by the US and Germany, for example) to encourage Israel to exercise moderation in the pursuit of any just aims it has, and to do so in part for the sake of its friendship with these countries, in a way that alleviates the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

Just to make clear, these points do not aim directly to elucidate the nature of general friendly duties as concern this conflict, but to rescue the spirit in with which we as moral philosophers should behave when acting in this capacity (for example when, writing open letters qua moral philosophers). We should aim to improve those whom we address, just as a friend would. This was the original intent of one of our philosophical exemplars: Socrates. Why—asked Vlastos—did Socrates roam the streets of Athens “forcing himself on people who have neither taste nor talent for philosophy” rather than sticking to “congenial and accomplished fellow-seekers after moral truth?” The reason was that he took it as his duty to improve the souls of his fellow citizens, particularly those whose soul was in the worst health.

In short, it is for judges to condemn and it is for philosophers is to talk, even—or rather, particularly—to the morally flawed.

It could be objected that Israel has shown zero good will to become morally better, so it would be naïve to address it with moral advice. Doing so might also be thought reprehensible because it would make Israel respectable by misleadingly portraying it as in possession of moral capacities it lacks. The right thing, it may be thought, is to condemn it publicly. Note, however, that Israel is not an ideological movement with fixed pre-defined goals, in contrast to Hamas (which takes as a goal the destruction of Israel). Even though historically speaking Israel is the product of Zionism (just as say modern unified Italy is historically the product of Italian risorgimento ideology), Israel, being a state, does not suffer from the rigidity and obdurancy of an ideological movement. While Netanyahu’s ears may be morally deaf (both to advice and condemnations) there are many Israelis who are now trying to figure out what is the morally acceptable way of defending the country and ultimately themselves and their families. There are many Israeli soldiers who need to be reminded of what they may and may not do and must be guided as to how to deal with battlefield moral dilemmas. Moral advice to Israelis is far from being a naïve waste of time.

Condemnations are also morally problematic when considered from the point of view of professional ethics. A physician should not simply produce a diagnosis but also a prescribe a treatment—so long as she has reason to believe that the patient in interested in health. Moral philosophers and political scientists must surely appreciate how complex the situation that we Israelis are facing is. We are facing the sort of problems experts in many various fields have trained themselves over decades to be able to help with. But, again, guidance is withdrawn, perhaps to avoid any suspicion of complicity. You don’t want to be the doctor advising the torturer on when to pause the interrogation just to let the victim recover enough before the start of the next round of torture. But what if you can offer an alternative to torture to achieve the defensive purposes that were sought by using these means? This analogy is of course—intentionally—a gross misrepresentation of what is going on. But it captures the suspicion that perhaps the reason some of the experts issue condemnations but refrain from providing guidance is not, or not only, that they object to Israel’s ius in bello conduct in Gaza but also, and perhaps principally, because they do not morally identify with Israel’s chosen defensive goals (the destruction of Hamas), and think Israel does not have a just cause for going to war.

Even if many of the condemners do not feel this way, at bottom, condemnation in the absence of moral guidance comes off as callous because it conveys that, while the condemners acknowledge that finding a morally acceptable way of defending of Israeli civilians from Hamas is a problem, it is not, despite their expertise, their problem—and that’s bad for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Thinker Analytix: innovative tools for teaching clear and courageous thinking
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

129 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Peter Gerdes
7 months ago

I think the lack of guidance is a super important issue. However, I’d note that it’s often a problem outside of this conflict as well. There is a whole mini-industry that tells us what ways various scientific studies would be immoral to perform but much less work addressing the issue of what would be a moral way to achieve those same goals (indeed, goals which may be morally required).

I fear humans highly over produce moral condemnation generally.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Peter Gerdes
7 months ago

Thank you, Peter. Cannot but agree. Sometimes condemning is intellectually lazy (not that all condemnations are lazy or inappropriate, of course). I need to think more about condemners. Regular people can censure acts of others but seem to lack the status required to condemn.

Daniel Greco
7 months ago

Yes. Here’s another potential explanation for the lack of guidance: every option open to Israel, when spelled out in any amount of detail, and its consequences are explored, is awful.

Cease the military campaign now, leaving Hamas in position to repeat 10/7 as many times as they can, as they’ve promised to do? Awful. Wage an indefinite military campaign in Gaza until the ill-defined goal of destroying Hamas is judged to have been achieved, killing tens–hundreds?–of thousands of civilians and inspiring the next generation of terrorists in the process? Awful.

Of course these are just two options, but i doubt there are intermediate options that aren’t also open to powerful objections. So if you want to write a compelling open letter, you won’t spend a lot of time on what *should* be done—certainly not on the likely consequences of doing what you say should be done—because whatever you recommend will look pretty awful.

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Daniel Greco
7 months ago

You say there might be other options, but then you’re “sure” that those other options are not as good. OK, then, let’s play this endless game of pretending that Israel is dealing with a dilemma:

  1. One horn of the dilemma: Israel keeps doing what it’ doing. VERY likely result: thousands of Gazans will be dead.
  2. Another horn of the dilemma: Isarel stops killing thousands of Gazans. After another two years of planning, Hamas *might* be able to make another terrorist attack.

Is that really a dilemma?

To be sure, there might be a danger of Hamas returning for more of its barbaric attacks in a couple of years if Israel stops the bombing and goes back to keeping Gaza as open-air prison. However, after a ceasefire, Israelis could make positive political changes, stop the occupation, make a peace deal, etc. Israel is choosing to solve its problem the military way. Don’t pretend that it has no other options.

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

something missing in that first sentence that I just wrote. But you get the idea…

Daniel Greco
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

If the plan for preventing a repeat of 10/7 every couple years is to have a successful peace deal–in what’s a much less favorable situation for peace than the last time the process failed–I think it’s fair to call that an awful plan. (And please don’t infer from my saying that that I don’t think such an awful plan is nevertheless the best option.)

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Daniel Greco
7 months ago

Sure. But the choices are between *certainly* awful for thousands of civilians including thousands of children right now vs. *maybe* awful for some civilians in some unspecified future, depending on many factors, including Israel’s own willingness to recognize a Palestinian state, end the occupation of Gaza, end the settlements in the West Bank, etc.

It’s not a dilemma if the options are between certain awfulness with a much higher proportion of civilian death vs. uncertain awfulness with a much lower proportion of civilian deaths, especially if there are real steps you could take to reduce the chances of the uncertain awfulness.

ghostmachine
ghostmachine
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

Interesting. But isn’t it a dilemma if the uncertain awfulness concerns your own citizens, citizens Israel, moreover, has a duty to defend?
Suppose you were faced with the option of choosing between 1) the certain deaths of 5 children right now and a high chance for the survival of your own child tomorrow; and 2) the certain survival of the 5 but the possible death (even as low as a 20% chance) of your own child tomorrow.
Wouldn’t that be a terrible dilemma?

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  ghostmachine
7 months ago

On the topic of Israel’s duty to defend people, you may be interested in this (from the sidebar): https://www.publicethics.org/post/the-duty-to-protect-in-the-israel-gaza-conflict

ghostmachine
ghostmachine
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

Interesting. But what if the possible awfulness concerns your own?
Suppose you had to choose between:
1) the certain death of five children right now and very high chance of survival for your own child tomorrow; and 2) the certain survival of the five and the possible (could be as low as 20% chance) death of your own child tomorrow.
Wouldn’t that be a dilemma?

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

I think a peace deal with Hamas, with its infrastructure and weapons left intact, is *certainly* an awful deal for Israel and its citizens.

Why do i think that? Well, because Hamas leaders and media figures keep saying that they will repeat what they did on Octoer 7th whenever they can.

(if you insist on sources, I’ll provide them, but I think this is general knowledge by now)

JTD
JTD
Reply to  TakingLivesSeriously
7 months ago

Another horn of the dilemma: Isarel stops killing thousands of Gazans. After another two years of planning, Hamas *might* be able to make another terrorist attack.

This is a blatantly biased characterization of the second horn. A better accounting of the negative consequences includes:

  1. Hamas interpreting the situation as an overwhelming victory for them and becoming more emboldened and ruthless in pursuing their genocidal mission.
  2. Hamas using this “victory” to make more inroads and gain more political capital among Palestinians in the West Bank, who generally loath the Palestinian Authority as corrupt and inept and want new leadership.
  3. Hamas continuing (and increasing if possible) rocket attacks on Israel, killing many Israeli civilians.
  4. Hamas increasing small scale terrorist attacks on Israel (in particular, increased influence in the West Bank would greatly aid them in this).
  5. Hamas planning, and attempting at some point in the future, a repeat of the October 7 terrorist attack.
  6. An emboldened Hamas further cementing their authoritarian control of Gaza, siphoning off civilian resources in an even more extreme way for their military projects, upping the ante of their Islamist, Jihad youth indoctrination policies that attempt to convert the next generation of Gazans into suicided bombers and Hamas terrorists, and cracking down even harder on any kind of resistance or dissent from Gazans.

My own tentative judgement is that Israel’s current course of action is morally wrong. But in making a judgment like this it is important that we admit fully the various very bad consequences that follow from any alternative they may take.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Daniel Greco
7 months ago

Dear Daniel,

I partly agree with your diagnosis though I am not totally sure whether you mean to provide an explanation or a justification of condemnations by moral philosophers and other experts. If, indeed, all the options are awful (as myself tend to agree)- including ceasing the military campaign while Hamas is still standing on its two feet, then condemnations of Israel and even calls for ceasefire not nested in any larger plan seem to me no less but rather more inappropriate than writing the long text where you spell out the awfully looking thing that should be done. As perhaps you agree, -and perhaps I should have understood this from your post- someone who has recommendations that look pretty awful should, even as a matter of professional duty, report these rather than write down a short condemnation or joining to one. Perhaps ok to do the former if you do also the latter. 


Daniel Greco
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

I meant my comment to be sympathetic to your post. If the options are A and B, both of which are awful, you can’t make a compelling case against A solely by explaining how awful it is. In such a situation, a compelling case for or against one course of action needs to be much more explicitly comparative–“here are the downsides of the course of action I’m recommending, and here’s why they’re less awful than the downsides of the alternatives”–than anything I’ve seen thus far in the kinds of documents you’re discussing in the original post.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Daniel Greco
7 months ago

Agree. You put it better and more clearly than I did. Thank you.

Mark Jago
7 months ago

Delineating the specific moral boundaries of a given situation is one way of offering specific moral guidance, when conjoined with the general guidance not to overstep moral boundaries. Negative guidance – saying what a person or state may not do – can nevertheless be genuine guidance. And it might be perfectly appropriate to give just this kind of advice to a friend, just as taking a drunk friend’s car keys away on a night out might be the best thing you can do for him, as a friend, at that point in time. 

In terms of constructive guidance, I’d offer the example of the Northern Irish ‘troubles’. The IRA contained elements explicitly committed to terrorist violence until the UK was driven from Ireland, and many thought this made political negotiation pointless. But in the end, it was the only solution. In particular, increasing UK state violence in Northern Ireland only increased IRA membership and hardened their paramilitary activity. Political talks – first secretly, then openly – eventually lead to a prolonged period of relative peace. The Good Friday Agreement was a compromise, with some on each side unhappy about certain aspects, and some threatening violence in response. But, as it turned out, the peace just about held. It also brought increased prosperity in NI, which in turn gave people greater motivation to maintain the fragile peace. 

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Mark Jago
7 months ago

I think the comparisons between Hamas and IRA are not very helpful, because IRA, while undoubtedly a terrorist group, never achieved the level of brutality and targeting of civilians that Hamas consistently does.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

And as far as I know IRA never set as it purpose to destroy the United Kingdom or any of its political constitutive units.

Mark Jago
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

They literally wanted to abolish one of the constituent parts of the UK. Their stated aim was: any element of the British state out of Ireland. Northern Ireland is a country, part of the UK. They wanted the end of NI as a political entity, to be replaced by a single Irish republic. Without NI, the UK (= United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) would simply be Great Britain.

This is clearly different from the Hamas/Israel case, in that the IRA did not have the aim of destroying the UK in its entirety, just one part of it.

But is this difference in aim very significant? Isn’t the threat from Hamas primarily of terrorist attacks in Israel, rather than the utter destruction of Israel itself?

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Mark Jago
7 months ago

Mark: ‘Isn’t the threat from Hamas primarily of terrorist attacks in Israel, rather than the utter destruction of Israel itself?’ That’s what I thought until 7th of October. But I think everybody understands now how fragile internally Israel is, despite of its planes and tanks and whatever. It fragile because it has been sadly unwilling and unable to produce internal cohesion and loyalty, particularly among its Palestinian citizens. It is also fragile because of Netanyahu’s divisive politics and weakening of everything that more or less worked overhere. Hamas knows very well how to use violence to exploit all these internal divisions, vulnerabilities and fissures. See what happened internally in May 2021.

Mark Jago
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

Initially, the IRA targeted mostly British army/police. Later, they targeted civilians. I think the numbers murdered were roughly 1000 and 500, respectively, across many years. There was a divide in the IRA on whether to target civilians indiscriminately. They set large bombs in shopping centres, on public bridges, etc. According to some, they were often pretty incompetent, but the intention for large-scale civilian harm was clearly there. So I see many similarities with Hamas, and some notable differences.

The thing is, there is no exact parallel for the current Middle East conflict. So either we take no lessons from history, or else we try to learn from the closest parallels we have, even if they are imperfect.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Mark Jago
7 months ago

I am no expert on the IRA, but if you want to use history, probably there are better examples. I mean, to put it without technicalities, there is a difference between a separatist movement (IRA not so different from Basque ETA) and irredentist movement that sees the country that controls the region in which it operates, not just as an enemy, but rather as an abomination in itself that, as matter of principle, has no place in the globe.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Mark Jago
7 months ago

Thank you Mark,

The drunk friend is not facing a morally thorny situation. By taking the car keys away from the friend you do not expose him (in normal circumstances) to physical or moral harm. It really depends on the kind of problems we are talking about. If someone asks you in Rome how to get to the Fontana di Trevi is no real advice to say: ‘Whatever you do, don’t go west!’. It is an advice of sorts, but not the advice we expect, say, from a professional city guide employed by Rome to give. In order to feel ok with providing just negative advice you need to be pretty sure that the force of the prohibitions you want the advisee to adhere to does not depend on contingent future factors which you cannot tell in advance. Also, negative advice insofar as it is advice should be given out of concern for the physical or moral well-being of the advisee. To tell your neighbor: ‘Whatever you do, do not park your car here’, may be fully justified, but I don’t think that qualifies as advice, even if the neighbor would be better off morally (and perhaps physically by not parking there).

Mark Jago
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Thanks Daniel. The drunk friend might be in a moral dilemma: say he’s promised to be back by his kid’s bedtime (and only driving will get him back in time), or to be back with the car for his partner to drive, or whatever. He may be open to all kinds of harm. Maybe his marriage is so rocky that one more letdown on his part will be it. Or whatever.

I guess if I’m a good friend, perhaps I’m obliged to put him in a taxi, or cut the night short and drive him back. Perhaps that’s the analog of your original point: as a good friend, I should offer a constructive way out of the problem.

I feel much more strongly the obligation to take his keys, however. I don’t do that primarily out of concern for him, but for the harm he might do to others. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to me *unfriendly* to take his keys (but not drive him home), because I don’t want my friends to suffer as a result of their harming others.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Mark Jago
7 months ago

I agree now that you add some flesh to the example and I agree that the US would not be unfriendly, for example, to take the keys out of Bibi if Bibi (e.g. Netanyahu) begins to lose the plot (perhaps he did already?). I do not think that condemning is like taking the keys. Saying “shame on you” to your drunk friend, turning around and going home while shaking your head when the keys are in his pocket and you didn’t even tryed to seize them would be not just unfriendly, it would be what’s the word?, I don’t know, pick one, you get the idea though.

Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

Isn’t “end the occupation” a form of moral guidance? Isn’t “Free Palestine” a form of moral guidance?

John Harfouch
John Harfouch
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

This author seems unable to think outside the Zionist framework. However, there is no moral guidance within the Zionist ideology, which demands a segregated ethno-state with no Arab presence. Moral guidance can only begin once one gets beyond the Zionist framework and a state that explicitly modeled itself on apartheid South Africa.

ehz
ehz
Reply to  John Harfouch
7 months ago

Israel never modeled itself on apartheid South Africa. There are about two million Arab citizens of Israel (who live in Israel proper, not in West Bank or Gaza) who have full rights, can vote, and so on.

no friend
Reply to  ehz
7 months ago

The 1950 Absentee Properties Law is one exhibit that many scholars think undermines the claim that Arab Israeli’s have “full rights.” There are many others, but this is possibly the most explicit.

ehz
ehz
Reply to  no friend
7 months ago

That law doesn’t apply to Israeli Arabs, but only to Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.

no friend
Reply to  ehz
7 months ago

From Wikipedia (Arab Citizens of Israel): “Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes by Jewish or Israeli forces, before and during the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, but remained within the borders of what would become Israel, that is, those currently known as Arab citizens of Israel, are deemed present absentees by the legislation. Present absentees are regarded as absent by the Israeli government because they left their homes, even if they did not intend to leave them for more than a few days, and even if they did so involuntarily.”

John Harfouch
John Harfouch
Reply to  ehz
7 months ago

Both Herzl and Weizmann claimed South Africa as a model. Arabs in Israel live under martial law in segregated ghettoes. You’re not fooling anyone.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  John Harfouch
7 months ago

Just for the record, there a various kinds of Zionist ideology or, a plurality of forms of Zionism, some forms far more noxious and (morally, politically, and legally) indefensible than others. For a taste of this literature (books only, in English), please see here.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Patrick S. O'Donnell
7 months ago
John Harfouch
John Harfouch
Reply to  Patrick S. O'Donnell
7 months ago

I’m aware. Thank you

TakingLivesSeriously
TakingLivesSeriously
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

Now, you’re endorsing Hamas as the vanguard of liberation for Palestinians!

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

No, I wouldn’t say so. Guidance implies a suggested course of action and advice on how to pursue it; those are slogans which fail to provide any guidance, and seem falsely to assume that this situation can be simply resolved.

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

Is ”Do X” a sensible moral guidance if doing X is very likely to result in the destruction of the agent advised to do X?

Last edited 7 months ago by krell_154
Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

Thank you, Luke There are two questions: does this qualify moral guidance? And, is this good moral guidance in the sense that we should follow it? There is also the question, even if this is the wrong moral guidance, cant it actually guide me somewhere (even to Hell)? This depends partly by how well defined is the destination. What is Palestine? For many Palestine comprises the full territory of present Israel. What is “freeing”? If we do a two nation state Jews and Palestinians from the sea to the river is this ‘freeing’? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. My response may strike you as annoying philosophical dodging, you just mean what everybody means: Israel should get the hell out of the West Bank with most of the settlers. Fine, agreed. Right now, however, we are trying to deal with Hamas, so if yours is a piece of moral advice regarding this specific problem you must believe that Israeli citizens will achieve security from Hamas’ wrongful attacks, kidnapping and raping by getting out of the West Bank. I am skeptical.

Last edited 7 months ago by Daniel Schwartz
Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Thanks Daniel – of course a two- or three-word slogan isn’t the most articulate moral guidance. But I guess I think that when talking to a “friend” who has a long history of maki by things worse despite everyone around them telling them what needs to happen to make things better, there’s no point being detailed and precise and articulate. Maybe we might say: the role of guidance, for an addressee who determinedly does the opposite of what they’ve long been told to do, is just to point them towards the right conversation to have – about what “free” means and how that should be implemented, how different national aspirations should be balanced, etc. We can offer guidance when they make a move towards that, and we can demand that they do. But it seems sort of farcical to begin plotting out the details of a negotiation between your friend and the people they are still in the process of throwing grenades at.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Luke Roelofs
7 months ago

Thanks Luke, I will say -not as a philosopher, or expert, not sure in what capacity this- many observers of the Palestine/Israel conflict, even perceptive and informed ones (perhaps you, I don’t know you) tend to approach happens here on the basis of this background organizing idea: ‘there is an obvious solution, the two state solution, and there are crazy/fanatic/racist people on each side that refuse, blindly, to see the obvious.’ And I am not saying that the thought is totally wrong but I think it would- if only as an intellectual exercise- do not harm to try to think as if that basic though is wrong. It may actually be wrong, after all. It is hard to think about possible ways forward is the thought is wrong, but it is something that I think one must attempt to do. For instance: imagine that Israel does what you want Israel to do, and still faces a bitter terrible Hamas state which constantly attacks.Now you or someone will say, ‘ah so, yeah, still war, but at least now your defesive wars are be just. So not only I am not condemning you or marching against you have now my moral support’. Well but that was not the idea, right or surely not just that?

Ray V
Ray V
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

The ‘what if’ move seems illegitimate.

I have noticed this ‘what if’ move constantly.

‘What if’ can’t justify treating people unjustly. I hope that is obvious.

There’s a lot of psychology going on with such moves. But it depends on the idea that people’s psychology is fixed. That’s obviously false. We have seen it proven false in most instances. People always believe it about an enemy–that they have a fixed character, as a people. But no group of people has a fixed character. There may be specific ideologies in their culture, but these are generally held for concrete reasons and can change, even rapidly when circumstances change.

Palestinians are probably a good example since they weren’t particularly prepared for violent resistance in the 1930s and 40s or even several decades thereafter but gradually became more organized around such resistance after experiencing violence and displacement.

Jewish Israelis also changed culturally over time, as a result of various military incursions and the sense of insecurity these engendered, including some sense military strength was a source of national pride, etc.

At the moment, large numbers of people think their interests and even their lives are preserved by violence. But the situation is one where it makes sense that it looks that way to them. Change the situation, and it is highly possible that it won’t make sense to think this way. This has happened innumerable times in history. So why wouldn’t it happen this time?

Israelis say they are surrounded by threats so they have to suppress the Palestinians because they are also a threat. . But what specifically about some Palestinians with a state is more of a threat than the other threats? How does suppressing the Palestinians make Israel MORE safe from external threats? Won’t there be less of an incentive for people to join Hezbollah or Hamas if Palestinians are simply another society not a group under occupation? Won’t Palestinians be forced eventually to consider their own government? Not right away but it’s generally what happens. Palestinians will continue to be much poorer than Israel. They will never be able to afford a military like Israel’s. Not to mention that of the United States. So why is a Palestinian state more of a threat than the current situation. It’s equally likely to be less of a threat over time, since there’s less of an ideological incentive for continual resistance if there’s an actual society one wants to preserve, and one’s future is not in quite so uncertain and in jeopardy.

This isn’t moral advice but the thing is that some people in Israel don’t see military solutions as particularly beneficial in the long run. It’s a small number of people, and unfortunately some of them have been murdered by Hamas but some survive. They are probably better people to ask than American philosophers.

They are the practically the only people right now whose views seem intelligible to people who are committed to universal human rights. So if I was going to learn more specifics about a solution, I would ask them.

Luke Roelofs
Luke Roelofs
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

On what is and isn’t obvious, honestly I think the distinction I was gesturing at in my last comment works pretty well here. Some things are obvious: that the just and achievable outcomes all fall within a certain region of possibility space, roughly the one where everyone is an equal citizen of some sovereign state, has their human rights respected, etc. Also: that this attack is not within that possibility space, and that the people leading it *really want to keep us out of that possibility space, having repeatedly and loudly said so!*

What’s not obvious is where exactly in that possibility space is an outcome that is both just and achievable – one state, two states, one-and-half, something else. I freely admit that I don’t know that, and I’m not sure anybody does. So it’s true that Israel can’t unilaterally establish such an outcome at one fell swoop. But it can move towards that possibility space and try to enable political negotiation among all affected human beings, of the sort that might settle on a just peace. It is perhaps possible that just peace is literally impossible here, but I think that’s both vanishingly unlikely and something that basic moral decency sort of requires us not to assume (as Ray says, you can’t justify injustice with ‘what if’.)

Hence as I said, moral guidance that simply points at the region of possibility space within which justice would be found, then focuses on screaming about how directly away from it we’re moving, seems to me perfectly apt.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
7 months ago

Everything we have learned about wars since 9/11 is that states should not go into them too quickly, without a clear idea of the ultimate political outcome they are seeking. There is an entire shelf of books diagnosing America’s failures in its recent wars, and they all point to this lesson. Further, some suggest that the penchant of political leaders to unleash what Mary Kaldor calls “spectacle wars”, high intensity/high visibility bombing, is mainly to deflect attention from their own incompetence–as in the intelligence failures prior to 9/11, or the intelligence failures prior to the Hamas terrorist action.
 
The Israeli government is now ignoring every policy recommendation that has emerged from the miserable experience war in recent decades. Instead, it has rushed headlong into a bombing/military campaign with no idea of what it is doing. This is what informed opinion is telling us the United States (we who, as American taxpayers, are asked by the Israeli government to subsidize all this).
 
Consider, for example, the recent New York Times article “Is Israel’s military strategy to eradicate Hamas working?” (Nov 19).
 
It begins with some rather obvious points, drawn from the vast experience of trying to “eliminate” groups like Hamas. “How will Hamas be eliminated if its fighters blend into the rest of the population as they head south?” (Consider what bombing did to eliminate the Taliban.) In the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior military figure in the Western world, recently rejected the idea that military campaigns like Israel’s could succeed in making a group like Hamas.
 
Why the unprecedented civilian death toll from the Israeli actions in Gaza?
 
NYT: “U.S. officials said Israel’s rapid decision to launch ground operations in the enclave left Israeli commanders little time for extensive planning to mitigate risks to civilians and all but guaranteed a high civilian death toll.”
 
Why the attack on Al-Shifa Hospital?

NYT: “Targeting Shifa Hospital was ‘not the result of a strategy,’ said Giora Eiland, a retired major general in Israel’s military and former head of the Israeli National Security Council. ‘It is more an important tactical maneuver’ in Israel’s attempt to control the narrative about Hamas, he said.” Others agree. “Yagil Levy, an expert on the Israeli military, said that attacking Shifa was “a show of power and might rather than part of a clear strategy.” In doing so, Levy said, Israel might have jeopardized the hostages’ lives.”
 
The Hamas terrorist action against Israel was planned for two years, including practice runs in Gaza, some of them posted on social media for all to see—yet the Israeli government/intelligence service somehow missed it. Indeed, the failure to anticipate the Hamas attacks will go down as one of the greatest military/intelligence blunders in modern military history.

Instead of immediately assessing what went wrong, as the United States did after Pearl Harbor, the Israeli government has rushed into a military action that is more about “controlling the narrative” than concern for the safety of either Israelis or Palestinians, it is more about a “show of power” than “any clear strategy”. In Iraq, the attack on Mosul was planned for about eight months before it began. How much planning went into the attack on Gaza?
 
My guidance the Israeli government would have been what anyone’s guidance would have been if they studied modern warfare:
 
Think about what you are doing first.

In particular, define what the political outcome of the action is meant to be–following the lesson of our greatest theorist of war, Clausewitz, that military actions ultimately answer to political goals.
 
But the Israeli government chose not to do this, and having compounded errors upon errors it is not clear what advice could be given now, and even less clear what its incompetent leaders would listen to.

Instead, the world must witness every day, and Gaza’s citizens must suffer every day, military blundering that history will label: “Aimless in Gaza”. Ultimately, what all this spectacle bombing/killing/etc. obscures is that there is no military solution to the problem here. As we all know, the only political solution involves providing justice for the Palestinians. 

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
7 months ago

Dear Cheyney,

My knowledge of military and war history is far below yours, but I do agree with much (most) of what you say. But beyond this, without here directly engaging with each of your assessments, I think you are writing precisely in the spirit experts should write.

An adjunct
An adjunct
7 months ago

Some friendly moral guidance:

Count the bodies

Louis F. Cooper
7 months ago

I’m definitely not an expert on military strategy, but here’s an idea that may be worth considering (although the Israeli govt is very unlikely to do it): Israel should pause its bombing campaign and most of its ground operations for several days (or a week). All key IDF officers, including those at the unit level who are responsible for implementing tactical maneuvers and decisions, should be called back for a series of meetings whose goal should be to plan out in detail the remainder of the campaign. The participants should be tasked with figuring out if there is a way to conduct the remainder of the campaign in a way that meets the main military goals while avoiding replicating in the south of Gaza the level of civilian casualties and destruction of housing that has already occurred in the north. Whatever Israel loses from the pause it would likely gain in moral terms and in terms of the battle for world opinion, which in turn will affect the “political clock.” At least it would be a signal, albeit a belated one perhaps, of the seriousness with which the IDF takes its obligation to comply with the law of armed conflict and to minimize further harm to civilians as much as possible.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
7 months ago

Thank you, Louis,

I am not a military expert either but, the numbers suggest that, even if we take into consideration the complexities of the type of warfare in Gaza, the IDF could have reduced drastically the number of non-combatants deaths -perhaps without significant loss in terms of military advantage. IDF must not just signal intent to comply with the law of armed conflict but actually comply.

Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

Even if, like myself, one believes that the state of Israel and Israelis have the right to exist, and exist in peace, there is only so much you can do, when your friend has already ignore previous advice. Advice given by most human rights institutions and the UN has been simple, and yet ignored for decades. Stop the occupation, stop the apartheid system, and stop commiting genocide. Yet, as direct and clear this advice has been, it has not been heard by many.

In fact, many claim that mildly opposing Netanyahu while ignoring the or downplaying the power of the members of his cabinet asking or promoting genocide is all they are morally required to do. While denying the relevant elements of the occupation and apartheid as relevant facts of analys. Even worse, there is still the denial that those high level political and military officers ask for, promote or even carry on genocidal programs. Despite the overwhelming evidence of it.

Sometimes, no matter how much advice you give to your friend, they wont listen. And if your friend has other friends who keep telling them they are in the right, like the far-right politicians in the USA, there is not much you can do after begging them to just obey the law and basic rules of morality.

When rules such as “genocide is wrong” are disputed under a disguise of “we don’t know all the facts,” that’s when you might need to consider that your friend might be unwilling to hear further guidance. If for decades the advice hasn’t been heard, what else can people who want peace can do but keep condemning?

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

Thank you Jorge,

Israel is and has been doing many wrong things for a long time. Yes, Israel should stop doing these things. Does this mean that its best defense against the threat of Hamas is to stop the occupation? If so, you need to provide some explanation and it will not be short. Suppose that ending the occupation is the best long-term defensive plan. Does this mean that short term we should abstain from attacking Hamas, or can we do both? If we can do both, well, then we need to think about how to conduct war against Hamas. If we should refrain from short-term measures (short of strictly defensive ones), you are telling Israelis to tolerate more murder, kidnap and rape. Its a bit like fighting crime, the fact that, yes, crime is (say) partly a result of social injustice, does not mean (well I think it does not mean) that you should tell the police not to intervene and does not make sterile a public debate about the guidelines that should apply to police operations.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

“Despite the overwhelming evidence of it”? I take myself to know much much more about the subject than the average Daily Nous commentator and it’s not clear to me what overwhelming evidence for genocidal programs you are referring to. Can you please provide this evidence?

Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Reply to  Grad Student
7 months ago

This legal brief by legal experts on Human Rights and International law has examples in the section “intent.” In cases of genocide, intent tends to be hard to prove. However, in this case the examples are abundant. You are welcome to google some extra examples of the statements of Israeli officials.

https://www.icj.org/gaza-occupied-palestinian-territory-states-have-a-duty-to-prevent-genocide/

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

I’m sorry, but what you provided is called ‘allegations’, not ‘evidence’, and it’s expected from philosophers to know the difference. The only things in the link that can qualify as evidence and not mere allegations are the number of deaths (let’s grant that it is relatively accurate), which doesn’t include segmentation into terrorists vs. civilians, and the declarations by the defence minister and the COGAT (one of the links there doesn’t work). Clearly, you don’t give the impression that you know Hebrew or understand the details here. In the minister of defence declaration, he said that they impose a complete siege on the city of Gaza, not on Gaza strip. Humanitarian aid is still provided in the south. Also, it’s clear to anyone that knows the details that by “no water”, “no electricity”, “no fuel” etc. the intention is that Israel will stop provide its own water, fuel and electricity to Gaza (in the end they stopped only providing for the north, and recently started providing some to the north after gaining military control. Nothing in principle prevents Hamas (who’s in control in Gaza strip in general and still in control in the south) from using its fuel to produce water and electricity for the people in Gaza. Israel doesn’t prevent that. Instead, it uses its fuel to operate the tunnels and steal some of the fuel intended for hospitals in Gaza. So maybe the overwhelming evidence is of genocidal plans by Hamas? They definitely did a genocide for a day on October 7th. This really is beyond any doubt, I hope we can agree on that? What makes you to think that they won’t try to starve their own people for their own gain (e.g., people like you accusing Israel in genocide)? Do they have a track record of giving a damn about the population in Gaza?

Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Reply to  Grad Student
7 months ago

Thank you for your reply. It seems like you do not understand how evidence works in a legal setting. In this case, the testimonies are a large part of the evidence. Does Hamas have genocidal intent? I think it does. I don’t think that the testimony on their part would be dismissed as evidence by a court of law. In fact, their testimony plus their actions on October 7th would probably provide enough evidence to convict. The same should seems to apply to Israel when considering October 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, etc. That is the view of most of the experts on the topic and I share it.

You seem to ignore the obligations that states have towards occupied or controlled territories. I recommend further readings of International Humanitarian Law prescriptions and literature. That should help clarify the confusion. Genocide is a moral wrong and a legal category. The latter derives from the former, and evidence of the latter tends to support condemnation at the former level. In this case, the international commission of jurists, and most experts on the field, think that a reasonable threshold to talk about genocide has been met. I would recommend listening to them. All the best

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

Are you saying that the majority of experts on geocide think that Israel is committing genocide?

Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Jorge Sanchez-Perez
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

Yes.

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Jorge Sanchez-Perez
7 months ago

I would really like to see a poll

a grad student
a grad student
7 months ago

It’s unclear to me why calls for a ceasefire aren’t moral guidance (and Schwartz doesn’t seem to deny that they are). As far as I can tell almost every condemnation of Israel has included calls for a ceasefire, so I’m really not sure who Schwartz is responding to.

Schwartz does seem to suggest that calls for ceasefire are problematic if they’re rooted in moral condemnation. But that’s beside the point: it isn’t any violation of the duties of friendship if the moral guidance I give my friend is rooted in moral condemnation of their actions.

Maybe the thought is that calls for a ceasefire fail to provide specific enough guidance? But again, duties of friendship don’t in general require that the moral guidance I give my friend includes a detailed plan of action. (Especially not in a crisis situation: if my friend is beating someone up, my most immediate priority vis-a-vis moral guidance is to tell them to stop. Helping them figure out a better way to respond to whatever conflict or threat was at play – one that serves their interests which I share through friendship – comes later.)

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  a grad student
7 months ago

Thank you, grad student. Calls for unilateral Israeli ceasefire when not presented as part of a larger possible defensive plan, or least at least something like a road map to solve the issue at hand, when signed by people acting in their capacity of experts in the relevant field of expertise, seem to me to involve some professional negligence. I don’t know what it is for ‘moral guidance’ to be ‘rooted in condemnation’. I don’t have theory of condemnation, but they appear to be in general public acts of reprehension or rebuke which do not invite or ask for a response. They are meant to be final. I don’t think that thinking to yourself ‘My friend Peter should not have cheated on Luisa’ counts as a condemnation. I have not problem with condemnation as such, but did you ever condemn a friend and stay friends?

a grad student
a grad student
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

I don’t know what it is for ‘moral guidance’ to be ‘rooted in condemnation’

Yes, I could have been clearer about that. I simply meant that your reason for offering moral guidance is that you’ve judged that the person you’re providing guidance to is acting unjustly. I was responding to this passage:

For instance, compassionate concern for the suffering of Palestinian civilians does not commit one to think Israel is in general acting unjustly. In practice, however, calls for ceasefire tend to conflate compassionate concern for Palestinian civilians with moral condemnation of Israel’s actions, i.e. declaring them unjust.

I sounded to me like you were suggesting that calls for a ceasefire aren’t legitimate instances of moral guidance because they’re motivated by the judgement that Israel’s actions are unjust. My point is that I don’t see how this undermines their status as friendly moral guidance. If anything, judging that my friend has acted unjustly seems like the paradigm reason why I would offer them moral guidance.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  a grad student
7 months ago

Hi grad student. To put it shortly: If I am attacked and you care about me, and you think my chosen defensive means are excessive, don’t tell just not to use my chosen defensive means, tell me what to do instead to save my life. You would not say (if you care about me not to exclusion of caring say about the family of the attacker adjacent to him), ‘well, mate, that’s your bloody problem’.

a grad student
a grad student
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

I think it’s quite obvious that if you are attacked and are motivated to retaliate violently, if possible it is my duty as a friend to stop you from retaliating until the best course of action can be ascertained – not just to protect others, but to protect you from doing moral harm. This is especially true if I have reason to think that the violence with which you were attacked is likely to have clouded your judgement. And this need not be paternalistic: for example, suppose my reason for thinking this is that 12 years ago I was violently attacked and responded unwisely, in a way that caused significant harm to others and to my own moral well-being.

a grad student
a grad student
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Another reason for thinking that isn’t paternalistic: it’s what I would hope a friend would do for me.

a grad student
a grad student
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Also, I may have misunderstood the upshot of the piece. I took you to be saying that it’s a violation of the principle of friendship to issue condemnations without accompanying moral guidance. But now it sounds like may be saying condemnations always violate friendly principles, and may even be incompatible with also offering moral guidance (given their finality)?

On your final question, I don’t have much personal experience in this area (through a combination of having generally good friends and being conflict-avoidant). But that’s not an unusual situation in general. Friends often call each other out on various injustices, and in fact do so without accompanying moral guidance (“hey man, that was a s****y thing you just did”) – one of the values of friendship is that it allows for this. (Certainly if the injustice you’re condemning your friend for is great enough the condemnation will likely put a strain on the relationship, though I doubt more so than the fact that your friend acted so unjustly.)

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  a grad student
7 months ago

I guess we need to think more about the differences between condemnations and censures. I think one thing -conceptually, I mean- about condemnation, is that you can only issue condemnation if you have or assign yourself a certain status analog to that of the judge. If this is right, I guess, one reason why condemnations are inimical to friendship is that regardless of the content of the condemnation, the very seeing yourself, or assigning to yourself the status, required to be a condemner is the problem. Think about ‘He that is without sin among you, let him case the first stone’… part of what Jesus is saying is: look, we are community of morally flawed people, and these guys with the stones, they put themselves above, and the problem is not or not only that they are sinners too, but even if they are pure and saint, they areclaiming a status of superiority incompatible with the fellowship thing. I am not sure I am right, and I am not sure Jesus is, but something like this going there, no?

Michel
7 months ago

I don’t see why we should accept the premise that the intended audience is “Israelis” rather than _the Israeli government_.

I’m also not convinced that governments can be proper targets of friendship in the first place.

no friend
Reply to  Michel
7 months ago

I wondered about this, too. How do we understand the idea that “friends of Israel […] include at minimum those who wish well to Israelis, care about them, and empathize with their present predicament?” I have a good number of Israeli friends, several dozen. I care about and wish well to an even greater number. My inimical attidude towards Israel, though, is well-enough known that I cower into anoonymity in these discussions.

Relatedly, I am confused by the idea that “Even though historically speaking Israel is the product of Zionism (just as say modern unified Italy is historically the product of Italian risorgimento ideology), Israel, being a state, does not suffer from the rigidity and obdurancy of an ideological movement.” Does the author accept as moral guidance, “Dismantle all legal and institutional infrastructure according to which Jewish persons have rights withheld from members of other ethnic, religious, or hereditary groups and provide immediate repairations to everyone historically disadvantaged by that infrastructure. Keep the name ‘Israel’ if you want, but cut out the Jewish State insanity?” Because surely that is step 1 towards being the sort of state with which I could enter into a friendship.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Michel
7 months ago

Dear Michel,

I think it is important to notice this: in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas massacre, the feeling overhere was not that the govt or the state were fighting against Hamas. The state and govt were slow to react and responsible for the major debacle and so deemed unreliable. Israeli society mobilized almost spontaneously and the institutions came later. Even for liberal Israelis (‘liberal’ in Israeli terms), even at the present stage, this is not Bibi’s war, this is (but perhaps will soon cease to be) our war. So when calls for ceasefires were received over here, say three weeks ago, they were reasonably interpreted an addressing not the govt as such but Israelis as such.

Last edited 7 months ago by Daniel Schwartz
William Bell
William Bell
7 months ago

I find it very tiresome that we’re worrying about whether Israel is receiving appropriate tutelage from moral philosophers while Israel is more-or-less bulldozing the residents of Gaza and the West Bank to a lesser extent into the sea.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  William Bell
7 months ago

Oh yes. Academic moral philosophers should now definitely focus on providing moral guidance to Israelis. THAT will definitely stop the ongoing genocide. Any moral philosopher worth their name has one useful thing to do now at campus. Boycotting Israeli institutions and lobbying their universities to cut any ties with Israel until it ends its genocide and occupation of Palestinians. Enough with the pseudo-intellectual attempts to rationalise genocide.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  William Bell
7 months ago

Dear William Bell,
If you care about the Palestinians you should care, if only because of instrumental reasons, about addressing the Israelis in a non-alienating way. Beyond that, since many moral philosophers are addressing Israel (the govt, the state, the citizenry) qua moral philosophers, I don’t think they can then excuse themselves from being willing to consider the aptness such addresses citing the Palestinian plight. The thing is not whether Israel is receiving moral tutelage, but whether moral philosophers, in condemning Israel, are doing the best moral philosophers can do. The way you put things makes it look like there is no moral problem here and the war started on the 8th of October.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

This is true, but the issue, first of all, is that the antecedent rarely holds for anyone. Second, “addressing the Israelis in a non-alienating way” is not fun or advantageous for most people, and the overwhelming reason people discuss this conflict in a way that sides with Palestinian nationalism, to all appearances, is to promote their own happiness (e.g., to gain social advantage in certain circles, to partake in the fun of proud mobbing and chanting, to bask in one’s own superior moral righteousness, to enjoy the relief of letting off steam). Of course, I do not mean to say that this is a rational course of action or a permissible way to promote one’s happiness. Just that the reasons for manifesting humanity and decency toward Israelis and Zionist Jews (i.e., the overwhelming majority of Jews) with regard to Israel and any socio-political issue that especially matters to Jews tend not to motivate people to do so. If you think, e.g., that even half of those who posture in favor of Palestinian nationalism and against Israel and Zionism are motivated by care for Palestinians—or that they even simply *do* care about Palestinians—then I’ve got a Black Friday deal on a bridge in Brooklyn for you.

krell_154
krell_154
7 months ago

But it captures the suspicion that perhaps the reason some of the experts issue condemnations but refrain from providing guidance is not, or not only, that they object to Israel’s ius in bello conduct in Gaza but also, and perhaps principally, because they do not morally identify with Israel’s chosen defensive goals (the destruction of Hamas), and think Israel does not have a just cause for going to war.”

This is precisely the answer, and it is so simple that it has eluded many intelligent people as only a simple answer can do.

For whatever reason, many people (specifically in the West), specifically intellectuals, have decided long ago that Israel is wrong and the Palestinians are right. Not only that, they have decided that Israel is so much in the wrong, that nothing it does can be justified, and *almost* everything the Palestinians do against Israel is justified. Sure, they will say that they condemn the attacks on civilians, including those on Israeli civilians, but they will immediately pivot to explaining how it is in fact Israeli policy towards Palestinians the cause of such aggression and brutality. This shows that condemnations of Hamas attacks on Israel are not sincere.

I am very suprised, purely theoretically, by this turn of events (not to say morally apalled). Do we not consider alternative explanations in every inquiry? Do we often not ponder on whether we have discovered the correct cause-and-effect relationship? Why would something like that be forbidden in this context?

I don’t have good answers to those questions. What I do know is that, after engaing in serious conversation with Palestinian supporters, it seems to me that they cherry pick the historical facts on which they base their understanding of the moral situation in Israel-Palestine conflict, and that they have, to me, inexplicable moral reactions to some uncontroversial historical facts which are clearly relevant for the present day situation. I’m sure they think the same about me.

bzfgt
bzfgt
7 months ago

This reminds me of a recent case where a man was accused of kidnapping and rape. His defense was “You got a better idea?!”

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  bzfgt
7 months ago

This comparison completely brackets out what was done to Israelis on 10/7. Do you deny the mass murder?

Hemant
Hemant
7 months ago

Is this merely a condemnation of condemnation (and condemners) or a genuine request for moral guidance? I’m a little confused.

One could have a really lively discussion around what “moral guidance to Israel” might mean, what precepts it should be founded on, what shape it could take, etc. etc.

But if all you want to do is kvetch about how people around the world are condemning Israel but nobody is saying what else Israel is supposed to do, then this just boils down to a thinly disguised justification for what Israel is currently already doing. You know, because “what else is a good person supposed to do?”

Last edited 7 months ago by Hemant
exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  Hemant
7 months ago

Why, via your rhetorical question, do you describe Prof. Schwartz as “kvetching” and accusing him of “disguis[ing]” a justification of something you insinuate is terrible?

Hermias
Hermias
7 months ago

“Vengeance is mine” – The Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35)

In the days following Oct 7th I saw a lot of comments – on Reddit etc. – along the lines “I’ve always been pro-Palestine but this has made me reconsider”. This sentiment has been squandered by Israel’s vengeful response. Both sides are ultimately captives of world opinion, so it would have been to Israel’s benefit to take the moral high ground, play the role of victim, to have kept the military response very limited and defensive in nature (e.g. make the fence bigger, larger garrisons on the fence, dig a freakin moat – the chance of Hamas doing such an attack again is very low as it depended on surprise and lack of attention).

(Likewise, if the Palestinians didn’t constantly rely on violence, if there was a Palestinian Ghandi, they would have reached statehood decades ago).

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Hermias
7 months ago

.Thanks Hermias: ‘ – the chance of Hamas doing such an attack again is very low as it depended on surprise and lack of attention’ There are larger consequences of reacting in the way your propose in order to keep public opinion on your side. Given that inevitably there would be some level of violence in the scenario you describe that would quickly escalate, the public empathy for Israel would not have lasted long anyway. The relevant consideration, from the point of view of the ethics of defence, is whether different military responses would have been able to provide better short term and long term safety to Israelis. Probably so, and my point in the post above was that suggesting them is precisely what experts should be doing. And no ‘just end the occupation!’ will not do (which does not mean it should not be ended for independent reasons).

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Hermias
7 months ago

I have to say I am pretty surprised by the fact that all the people recommending a ‘more defensive’ operation against Hamas fail to acknowledge two things:

1) How does this more defensive operation help in rescuing the hostages took by Hamas, including children? Should the Israeli’s governemnt calculus be more sensitive towards world public opinion or the interest of its citizens.

2) Vengeance can be meaningful. Specifically, vengeance which destroys the capability of the enemy to inflict further harm. Israel’s citizens want to restore the feeling of security. After what happened on October 7th, which is the population equivalent of a terror attack with 35 000 dead on USA, how else to do that other than destroy Hamas?

I read something from one survivor of the massacre. He was hiding in his house, with his children, while Hamas were in front of their door attempting to set their house on fire. IDF arrived at the last moment. He said, I paraphrase slightly: any state that doesn’t pursue these attackers to the end of the earth and doesn’t kill them all, loses the right to call itself a state. I fail to see what’s wrong with his claim.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Hermias
7 months ago

I’m sorry, bit this comment is like a caricature of an opinionated academic living in his ivory tower thinking he’s so smart. You seem to be thinking that the top priority for Israelis is for people like you to like them. Unfortunately for the Israelis, they have some bigger problems, e.g. staying alive, return the 240 hostages including kids and babies, deterring Hezbollah from launching an attack themselves (why did Hezbollah started attacking Israel right after October 7th?), etc. It’s not entirely clear to me how you love and care and sympathy in the public opinion can help with that.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Hermias
7 months ago

That parenthetical comment at the end is not based on minimally adequate knowledge of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (on which I have a helpful bibliography) As for a so-called “Palestinian Gandhi” there has been some individuals who would fit this bill, as well as authors who have documented nonviolent struggles, methods, and campaigns (BDS being but the latest version of same) among Palestinians (as well as Arabs more generally for that matter). In particular, you might acquaint yourself with some of the literature gathered for my compilation on Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East (with an emphasis on the Palestinian struggle for collective self-determination as understood in international law).

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
7 months ago

Part of the issue in the Israel/Hamas/Palestine conflict revolves around specific facts about that conflict, including its historical origins.

But another part of the issue–in terms of assessing Israel’s current actions, for example–revolves around what we know about war, terrorism, about what works and what doesn’t, etc. I would urge people if they intend to talk about these matters further that they engage in self-education about the reality of war. Otherwise, their views are likely to be informed mainly by television shows, movies, and propaganda.

For an historical overview terrorism, and the different forms it has taken over time I recommend Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent. For the current consensus view on “how wars go wrong”, a consensus that would condemn Israel’s rush to war, I recommend Gideon Rose’s How Wars End. A famous essay on how not to fight terrorism, criticizing the whole notion of fighting it through “wars”–occasioned by America’s actions after 9/11—I recommend Sir Michael Howard’s “What’s in a Name? How to Fight Terrorism.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 81 no. 1, (2002). 

No one goes in the philosophy of law these days assuming that they can remain basically ignorant of the law. But for some reason–I assume because they see a lot about war television, movies, etc.– political philosophers feel they can talk about war while knowing little if anything about it. The upshot is wild-eyed speculations about “what might or might not work”, etc. Clearly the current crisis means we all need to educate ourselves more About the Israel/Palestine situation. Also you should educate ourselves about the nature of war.

Andy Stroble
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
7 months ago

I would like to add Zeev Maoz, and his “Paradoxes of War: On the Art of National Self-Entrapment”.
Ryan is quite correct. Not only about those who know nothing about war, but also about those who allegedly specialize in it.

Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  CHEYNEY RYAN
7 months ago

Is there a singular “reality of war”?

The phrase “the reality of war” could refer to the subjective experience of what being in combat or under bombardment or under fire is like, and for someone who hasn’t actually experienced those things, probably the best route to gaining some access to them is through memoirs, histories, and also selected works of fiction by those who have seen combat themselves (there are of course many examples of this genre).

However, Cheyney Ryan seems to mean the geopolitical/strategic/logistical “reality of war.” And I’m not sure there is a singular one. That said, I agree with his suggestion(s) about self-education. There is a literature on how powerful countries sometimes lose wars against weaker (or apparently weaker) adversaries. Ryan mentions Gideon Rose’s How Wars End, which I haven’t read, but may be (partly?) in that category. Gil Meron’s How Democracies Lose Small Wars is in that category. Of less direct relevance, but worth reading, is Yuen Foong Khong’s Analogies at War. On the U.S./ISAF (NATO) war in Afghanistan, see e.g. Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History. Stephen Biddle, Military Power, is probably good (haven’t read it).

There is also a general literature on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, but I’m not all that familiar with it. One might start with something by David Kilcullen. For a more skeptical view, see e.g. a short book by Kurt Jacobsen, Pacification and Its Discontents.

Sun Tzu is short and worth reading; Clausewitz not short but probably also worth reading. Other books not directly relevant to this discussion but worth reading include: Schelling, Arms and Influence (a classic); Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (no longer the unchallenged work on the topic but still worth reading); Stephen Rosen, War and Human Nature. For a book that synthesizes a lot of natural-scientific and social-scientific work on its topic, see J.S. Goldstein, War and Gender.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
7 months ago

Agree with Andy and Louis, and thanks for their suggestions. As someone who was in Saigon in 1969, I would also suggest that to understand the first experience of war one could begin by simply asking people about it who have had the experience. When I was still teaching, I always made a point of having veterans from in or outside the class come in and talk about it.

Louis Zapst
Louis Zapst
7 months ago

Israelis are as competent in moral thinking as anyone and, being close to the situation, are best positioned to think through the difficult moral problems of this conflict in light of the relevant history and the actual facts on the ground. I have a serious question that I hope will not be dismissed as mere trolling: why is it important for people elsewhere (e.g., myself in the USA) to have an opinion about the Israel-Hamas war (or about any conflict or event about which they lack both serious knowledge and a capacity to responsibly do anything)? My expertise might encompass ethics, but definitely does not extend to any deep knowledge of the relevant history or facts on the ground regarding the Israel-Hamas war. Furthermore, I cannot responsibly do anything whatsoever about this war, and this would be true even if I were apprised of the relevant facts on the ground and were expertly informed about the historical context. I could protest or write letters, I suppose, but protests and letters almost never have any effect with regard to their explicit aim. Neither the Israeli government nor Hamas cares what some protesters or letter writers in the USA or Europe think. I agree that bearing witness is an ethical obligation even for the impotent, but this implies an epistemic standard of witnessing that cannot be easily met by ordinary people (even philosophers) who are distant from a situation. When did epistemic humility go out of fashion?

David Duffy
David Duffy
Reply to  Louis Zapst
7 months ago

Given that the US gives Israel $3-4B worth of military aid annually, it seems to me that citizens there at least have some moral problems to contemplate. This is quite aside from the fact that many people close to hard problems are the least likely to think clearly.

There has been much taking of analogies to Northern Ireland and South Africa, but the outcomes after of the Hutu-Tutsi conflicts seem just as relevant to me (eg comments about Hamas’s avowed long term aims).

Victor Tadros
7 months ago

Daniel, thanks for the post. I think you underestimate the importance of condemnation of moral wrongdoing, generally and in this setting. I’m not a retributivist, and I don’t think that condemnation is important to ensure that wrongdoers get what they deserve. But it plays important functions. Here are two.

1) Condemnation involves expressing the moral importance of the victims. As wrongful killing demonstrates at least insufficient concern with their moral importance, such expressions can be important. And they are especially important in this context, where Palestinian rights have been systematically under-recognised both in Israel and internationally, and support for Palestinian rights has been treated as morally suspect. Changing these attitudes is essential to securing those rights, and it is important for victims of serious wrongdoing to understand that they have public support. This has been a central theme in theories of punishment, and even though I don’t think of it as so central to the justification of punishment (see my Ends of Harm ch.5) it is nevertheless an important public function of punishment.

2) The strength of feeling expressed in condemnation can help wrongdoers, those who support them, and those who help to legitimate them, either to be better motivated, or at least to be deterred from expressing or acting on those views. Condemnation of racists, for example, has been important both in steering people away from racism, but also from public expressions of racism, and the latter is important even when people continue to have racist attitudes, because it undermines the public culture that supports racism. This is a reason to condemn the conduct of Hamas, but also those who seek to justify their conduct, or play down its moral significance. It is also a reason to condemn the conduct of the Israeli government and armed forces, but also those, such as the signatories of the reply by Israeli Moral Philosophers, to the Oxford letter, who legitimate the extremely violent acts by their racist criminal government.

These functions are consistent with friendship. But serious wrongdoing, and exonerating it, is a challenge to friendship (Scanlon thinks that blameworthiness is a reason to distance oneself from a person. I don’t think this. But friendship does depend on some shared trust, values, and so on, and wrongdoing can for that reason make friendship challenging or impossible).

With respect to moral guidance, warranted condemnation also has a role – it identifies the worst actions. Often, this is appropriate even when we are not sure what the right course of action is. For example, the fact that Israel’s conduct in Gaza is obviously inflicting disproportionate harm to any good it might achieve rules it out, leaving us with a range of options we might be uncertain about (honestly, some of the empirical speculation that has been used to justify this is either far fetched or so partial that its hard to take it seriously, and I agree with everything Cheyney Ryan has said in response to this post and others which I notice has gone completely without reply).

But, of course, it would be better if we could also identify the best course of action amongst the permissible courses available. As I think you imply, doing this requires us to understand techniques for reducing the threat of terrorism, on which there is a large literature, but also an understanding of the right political responses to vindicate the rights of both Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.

On reducing the threat of terrorism, strategies have to consider both ways of reducing the ability of those with terrorist motivations to act, but also the longer term effects of policies on radicalisation and recruitment. For example, consistent psychological research shows that a large proportion of suicide bombers have lost loved ones in the conflict they participate in, and political injustice and humiliation also plays an important role. For a summary of the evidence:

https://nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/Suicide%20Terrorism%20sheehan-are-suicide-terrorist-suicidal-a-critical-assessment-of-the-evidence.pdf

This is just one reason why Israel’s current ‘strategy’ is so absurd.

On the political side, as I said in a previous post, the most important first step towards reducing the threat is to ensure that Palestinians have genuine political avenues that have a high chance of securing their rights. People can be diverted from violence to politics when political solutions are plausible. This is currently not the case with the current political framework in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Given that Israel’s political institutions are the dominant power in the region, and Palestinians exercise almost no political power through those institutions, they have little reason to believe that political solutions are feasible. Palestinian thinkers offered different institutional models for securing equal rights of Jews and Palestinians in Israel over past 75 years. These models have almost no prospect of success, and have often been met with political repression in Israel (see, for example, the essays in L Farsakh Rethinking Statehood in Palestine). This has also led Palestinians to abandon them, not because they are unjust but because they see no feasible prospect of realising them. Those who teach moral, political and legal philosophy in Israel/Palestine might do well to think through these institutional options so that the next generation is better educated and more amenable to these solutions than is currently the case.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

 
 

Thanks Victor,

 

I do not propose to banish condemnation from moral discourse and practice. The question is whether moral and other experts when acting in that capacity, and friends acting qua friends should condemn. Condemnation has a number of features which do not sit well with friendship. First, there is something final that is inherent to condemnation, the condemner does not ask for and, in fact does not welcome, a response. Such a response is a defiance and, in a judicial context, possibly a contemptuous act. Second, paradigmatic condemners (judges) are not on a level of equality with the person they condemn. They condemn not as experts but as holders of an institutional role that makes their condemnations valid and final. These two circumstances, the finality and the institutional status gap between condemner and condemned make it an inappropriate type of moral censure in the context of friendship.

 

I leave aside here whether wrongdoing by the friend justifies the suspension or interruption of friendship (I think it does).

Moving on to your second point: Your classifying Israel as a ‘wrongdoer’, is reductive in morally unilluminating and also unfair way insofar as it throws in the same basket the agent who does something wrong out of whim or malice and the agent, who. faced with a very complicated situation, makes a choice that is (or is considered by others) morally wrong. Racists people for the most part do not discriminate people on the basis of race because they see this as a solution to a very thorny practical problem, one on which their lives depends. Israel’s war against Hamas is an attempt to solve a real practical problem: that of Hamas’ threat. It is very misleading to treat it, as you seem to do above, as in the same moral order, of a purely malicious action. The fact that some of the members of the Israel government are indeed racist does not make Hamas’ threat to Israeli citizens not a problem that needs to be somehow solved. Suppose that the government of Israel is as such racist, still the act of racist need not be a racist act. Suppose I am under a wrongful threat from blood thirsty criminals and my racist government sends the police to protect me but just then, some well-intended anti-racists from abroad try to stop the police from defending me. I protest: my life is under threat, I am being wrongfully attacked. They say, ‘shame on you! you are legitimating your racist government!’ I am no sure I am, but even if I am, I think I would a least be excused for trying to get the well-intended anti-racists not to interfere with the efforts of the police acting under orders from the racist government to protect me from a wrongful attack.

I wish we had a government without racists in Israel. We don’t. So right now, Israelis need to try to get the government to defend them though state institutions such as the IDF and to strongly remind the IDF command structure as well as the individual soldiers of their moral boundaries (as for example David Enoch has done in a recent article addressed at Israeli battlefield combatants).

 

Should Israeli Moral Philosophers who wrote a critical reply to the Oxford Letter be condemned for legitimating ‘the extremely violent acts by their racist criminal government’ because this will help them ‘either to be better motivated, or at least to be deterred from expressing or acting on those views’ through condemnations? Intuitively, the idea of philosopher A condemning philosopher B in order to deter him from expressing or acting on views philosopher A considers wrong seems repugnant. Perhaps you can come up with really good scenarios supporting this, but is this really what philosophers are supposed to do? Even in those scenarios in which philosophers are in fact justified in using condemnations in order to deter other philosophers (or other people in general) expressing views that, intendedly or not, legitimate wrongful actions by their governments, I do hope that at least these philosophical condemners will feel a bit queasy about issuing these deterrent condemnations.  

  

You write: ‘with respect to moral guidance, warranted condemnation also has a role – it identifies the worst actions.’ Again, I think you downgrade condemnation to a form of particularly grave moral censure, whereas as I understand it, is something that happens at a different level and assumes a hierarchical, institutional, relationship between condemner and condemned. Also, condemnations are about what has been done in the past not about what ought to be done in the future. But, ok, the point you are making is that negative moral guidance is guidance. I agree, I mean, you could give this negative guidance to soldiers ‘whatever you do, do not intentionally harm non-combatants, that is the worst you can do’. Indeed, it is vital to remind Israel and its soldiers of their duties in war and the moral and legal limits that it is bound to respect, and the more this is done the better. Sadly, I haven’t seen much of this type of negative moral guidance. Mostly it was calls for an Israeli unconditional ceasefire, even issued very early on. This is also kind of moral guidance: it’s a bit like saying to a person, ‘since you are hopeless as driver and a risk to the public, just don’t drive, stay at home (even if criminals are attacking you at home and your only escape route is by car).’ This is no meant as easy sarcasm; one can imagine situations in which the best that morally reckless agents can do is to do nothing. Basically, if Israel belongs to this category, the conclusion would be that morally the best thing would be for us not to defend ourselves from any attack.

 

On your proposed positive moral guidance: yes, condemnations should come with defenses of alternative ways and it is good you are proposing one. I am no expert in reducing terrorism and have not read the literature, so I cannot say much. I can say something though on the implications of your claim that Israel is absurdly causing more radicalization and generating a second generation of suicidal terrorism. Even if Israel would fight now in strict abidance by the laws or war, with lesser civilian Palestinian deaths, Israel would be still be killing a considerable number of people and thus generating roughly the same generational effect. In effect, on your view, no version of Israel’s war against Hamas meets the reasonable hope of success condition, no version can be ad bellum just.  ‘Exactly!’ you may say. There is of course the issue of counterfactuals, as other participants in this debate have noted, i.e. what would happen if Israel refrains to respond with war? But even if future facts will be as you describe I am not sure the conclusion above is the right conclusion: if killing Freddy Kruger, who is wrongfully attacking me, results in his son attacking me in a number of years and then his son and so forth, I don’t think that I am not allowed to kill the original Freddy Kruger, so long as each of these deaths adheres with the ethical limits of defensive violence. So, if this is right then if Israel were to fight justly now, the prospects of having to do the same against other people in twenty years does not make the fighting against this generation of Hamas now unjust on grounds of lack of reasonable hope of success.

 

Ryan Cheyney: You say that his intervention ‘has gone completely without reply. I did answer, here and elsewhere, commending his attitude of sharing his expertise rather than condemning. I also wrote that I lack sufficient knowledge in military history to really engage his analysis in any fruitful way.

 

Lastly, political avenues: Palestinian rights, including of course national rights should be supported for grounds independent of their effect on the Hamas threat, and effect which is disputable.

 

.

 

 

Victor Tadros
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Thanks for the reply Daniel

You think condemnation has features that I don’t think it has – for example, the assumption of hierarchy or authority. In advocating condemnation in this case, I’m certainly not advocating an assumption of hierarchy or authority.

In general, I don’t think that academics should condemn each other for their views with the aim of deterring speech. In general, we should engage with each other as equals, and an open mind, attempting to persuade each other of our views. So you are right that we should approach these issues with caution. But there are limits to this in extreme cases, and this is one such case. It might be helpful to compare my discussion of no platforming apartheid supporters in the 1980s in this piece:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1468-2230.12729

Your characterisation of Israel’s current response makes it seem almost like a bit of a slip up. You’ve just completely failed to see the gravity of the injustice that is being inflicted in Gaza. A large scale military intervention was started with zero planning, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties, the displacement of over 1 million people, causing widespread disease. The infrastructure in Gaza is being completely destroyed, which will result in a massive reduction in life expectancy of a population that already has poor life expectancy, and it is completely unclear what the fate of Gazans is – no plan whatsoever for what will happen to the population that was intentionally displaced from Gaza. This was all done with clear statements from Israeli politicians that the intent is collective punishment. And then humanitarian aid, power, water, was intentionally withheld from this population in order to attempt to recover the hostages, which is itself a clear and grave war crime. This is not a close call, or a plausible if mistaken response to a threat. If you doubt how serious the legal violations are, read Conor Gearty’s recent piece in the London Review of Books.

No one doubts that Israel has a right and duty to tackle the terrorist threat posed by Hamas. But the idea that this is one of the plausible options is ridiculous. Fighting terrorism involves long and careful intelligence gathering, engaging with communities that terrorists are a part of, enhancing security checks, attempts to prevent radicalisation, infiltration of terrorist organisations, and many others things. That’s because terrorist organisations are not clearly visible, often integrated into civilian populations, mobile, and capable of regeneration. All that is true of Hamas terrorists. The idea that a legitimate way to tackle terrorism is to bomb the hell out of a large civilian population in the hope of hitting your targets is utterly crazy. The idea that it would be done with no planning days after a terrorist attack shows a disregard for civilian life that is so extreme that condemnation is the only appropriate response.

Your toy Freddie example just doesn’t capture the problem, partly because it just involves the attacker and defender. Here’s a better example.

X will kill 2000 innocent people if Y does nothing. Y can kill X, but kill 500 innocent people as a side-effect. Let’s suppose that killing 500 would be proportionate. However, if X does this Z will kill the same 2000 innocent people that X threatened to kill. Now killing the 500 is clearly wrong. It achieves nothing for the 2000.

Of course, the IDF has almost certainly killed far more people than it has saved, or who would be saved by enhanced security and other sensible methods of meeting the terrorist threat (don’t forget just how badly their intelligence and security screwed up to lead to the 7th Oct attacks), and caused severe illness and deprivation on an absolutely massive scale. So the hypo is a bit irrelevant to the current situation too. But renewal of the terrorist threat is just one additional reason why these actions are so blatantly unjustified.

I didn’t mean, by the way, that you hadn’t responded to Cheyney; rather that those who attempted to justify the racist war criminals had offered no answer to his damning assessment of the war.

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

Dear Victor,

Let me tackle some of your points, not in the order in which you present them. I apologize for not replying to every point, as I should and hope to do. I also apologize for any grammar and other mistakes: English is not my mother tongue and even if it were I would still make many mistakes (it seems one cannot edit replies after posting them).

First, Israel is not fighting ‘terrorism’. Israel is fighting Hamas. Hamas has army of between 20 to 40 thousand combatants, it has weapons, over-ground and underground infrastructure, tunnels, bunkers, and, as amply seen, a very effective intelligence. This army has conducted a massive murder, raping and kidnapping raid in a sovereign country while firing rockets at the civilian population. Hamas outspokenly and publicly boasts its intention of doing the same again at its earliest. Hamas’s army does not only ignore all the laws of wars, but specializes in what Kant called ‘perfidy’, the sort of wrongs that destroy any chance of getting out of war. These wrongs signal an ‘it is either you or me’ attitude, war to the end; no exit points.

In light of this, your proposals about fighting ‘terrorism’ contain elements seemingly taken from something like a Home Office plan to combat radicalization of Muslims within the UK, down to the language used (‘engage communities..’). We are in such a different scenario that I find it very hard to relate seriously to the other elements of your proposal.

My characterization of Israel’s war is that it is driven by the goal to remove the threat of Hamas by destroying its military capacities as well as command structures and political leadership. This may be achievable or not through war, and even if achievable, a war aiming at this goal may be badly run, mismanaged, plans may be half-baked, the war may become derailed from its original purpose, etc. War crimes may (and surely have) been committed. The question in dispute in our exchange is not however, I remind you, whether Israel war is just or not (not even in a ius ad bellum sense), but whether it is to be seen as an attempt to defend Israeli citizens from Hamas. This, as I argued and you did not question, is of consequence to the moral assessment of what Israel is doing. Your characterization of Israel’s war is that the nature of Israel’s acts makes it clear that Israel either has a non-defensive evil rationale (genocide, ethnic cleansing) or has no rationale at all, this being just a massive outpouring of vindictive violence. Moving one step further someone may also suggest that Israel is using the Hamas massacre as a pretext to get out of the drawer some evil expansionist designs that it already had irrespective to Hamas’ threat, which is a mere pretext.

 I entirely disagree that the facts enable you to characterize with such confidence Israel’s war as lacking a defensive rationale. This does not, as I noted, suffices to makes it just, but it suffices to consider it for what it is: the use of war aimed at protecting civilians in a sovereign country from a murderous army next door. This is, so even if, as I sadly have to concede, far-far-right Israeli politicians are trying to hijack this war for their own expansionist goals.

‘In general, I don’t think that academics should condemn each other for their views with the aim of deterring speech’…. but in some extreme cases they should, you say. I can imagine very stylized scenarios in which deterring harmful speech by your peers could be ok, but I think that the level of certainty and confidence in the absolute and utter wrongness and harmfulness of your peers’ views has to be very very high for one to be permitted to engage in such condemnatory deterrence. That level of certainty and assuredness of the nefarious character of the views that you aim to deter should be a least a little bit dented by the fact that your peers have roughly the same level of expertise in moral matters than you have (of you which you have first-hand knowledge) and the fact that their views are expressed, as I hope you agree, in good faith. Moreover, since they live in Israel they are in possession of quite a lot of information about the history of the conflict and the multiple circumstances preceding the present war. They also know a lot about Israeli politics and they know the IDF first hand. Many of them have been directly involved in protecting the rights of Palestinian, they have Palestinian friends and colleagues. Many of them have protested against the plans of Netanyahu’s government attending demonstrations week after week during the forty weeks, even getting arrested. All of this should count for something even after deducting the inevitable bias of Israeli moral philosophers who qua Israeli civilians, are among the intended targets of Hamas attacks and naturally have a strong identification with co-nationals victims of Hamas’ murders, raping and kidnapping.

To bring this down to earth: I am pretty sure that the Russians are the bad guys in the war in Ukraine. I am 99% sure. But if a group of Russian philosophical peers, whom I take to act in good faith and not as Putin’s commissars, whom I have met in various conferences and had many informal talks with, and I know first-hand not to be mad Russian nationalists and, also, are much more knowledgeable than me of the intricacies of pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet history, tells me that I am getting things wrong about the war in Ukraine, I think that this (even before seeing the evidence) should dent my certainty a little bit and should introduce some self-doubt. Not enough self-doubt to go an defend Russian claims over the Ukraine for sure, but certainly enough self-doubt to get me to hesitate before condemning these Russian philosophical peers as abettors of murder. And yes, I do think that ‘condemning’, whatever other features it has, it has the feature of closing the door to a reply and so it is unfriendly.

Daniel 

Victor Tadros
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Hello Daniel

thanks for for the reply. First, to be clear, I didn’t accuse Israel of genocide. I agree that defence is a central part of the motivation of many people involved in the conflict and those who defend it. I accused the Israeli government and the IDF of serious disproportionality, of the war crime of withholding and preventing humanitarian aid, and some members of the government of expressing the ambition for collective punishment which is being meted out in Gaza. I also accused members of the current Israeli government of racism. Nothing I have seen from you, or from anyone else, does anything to cast doubt on these accusations. So your characterisation of the dispute between us is not accurate. If there are features of the history of the conflict that I’m unaware of that bear on these accusations, let me know. But to be clear, I did my best to educate myself about the history of the conflict; I’ve read dozens of books about it, and debated it in and outside Israel. I certainly don’t claim to know everything, and perhaps the Israeli philosophers know more than I do (though I have to say that my experience suggests pretty partial and piecemeal knowledge in Israel). Finally, even if there is reason to defer to people involved in the conflict, I see no more reason to defer to reasonable Jewish Israelis than reasonable Gazans, and I’m not seeing much defence of the intervention from them!

With respect to your suggestion that my suggested response is more like one from the Home Office dealing with domestic terrorism in the UK, that’s not what I had in mind. The numbers of Hamas fighters are similar to the numbers of Isis fighters, and much smaller than the number of Al Qaeda fighters at the height of that organisation. To put the charge of disproportionality and disregard in perspective, the ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, itself a disproportionate and rushed response to a terrorist attack, resulted in around 70000 civilian deaths directly caused by the conflict in around 20 years. Israel has so far killed around 14000 civilians in a matter of weeks; US and UK forces killed around as many people in the first two years of the conflict. Many people think the rules of engagement in Afghanistan were far too lax, even if the war was justified (itself doubtful). The civilian death toll in that conflict was almost certainly disproportionate. Fewer people were displaced in that conflict than this, even though again this aspect of the Afghanistan war has been subject to scathing criticism. And much more effort was made to work with the domestic population, even though again far too little was done and this aspect of the conflict was subject to devastating critique.

To be clear, I don’t rule out the possibility of a much more intelligence driven, much more carefully planned, much more targeted, military intervention in response to the 7th Oct attacks. There is debate to be had about that. But any such intervention would have needed to involve careful planning to minimise civilian casualties, planning to minimise the humanitarian impact of the conflict, humanitarian support for displaced people, and so on. What we are currently seeing is a wanton disregard for the lives of Gazans that cannot possibly be justified.

With respect to those philosophers who I condemn for legitimising these horrific acts, I have known, discussed and debated with some of them for many years. They are (or perhaps were!) my friends and colleagues. I’m dismayed at their actions, and it gives me no pleasure to have reacted in the way that I have. That being said, the rosy picture you paint about attitudes to Palestinians by moral and political philosophers in Israel does not chime with my experience. Whilst some have gone to lengths to defend some of the rights of Palestinians, I’ve seen plenty of attempts to justify completely indefensible rights violations by the Israeli government both historically and currently, both in conversation and academic papers.

Python
Python
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

I’m very grateful for your thoughtful, clear-eyed perspectives on this situation, Victor (as well as what the US did in Afghanistan–and, I would add, Iraq). I agree with you substantive claims and position entirely.

I also believe that condemnation is not always virtue signaling or mere status-seeking behavior.

At the same time, I do think that Daniel is correct that, on the whole, condemnation of Israeli philosophers is not what is needed here (though I would disagree with him that it is never compatible with true friendship)

As Daniel suggests, Israeli philosophers may identify with their co-nationals right now (and, I think, more strongly than ever now, and, moreover, I would claim that it is understandable). I would also imagine that they are feeling a sense of vulnerability right now they have not before felt. All of this might make them less clear-eyed than ideal, even when arguing and writing in good faith (which, on the whole, I take them to be doing). I do not say this to be condescending. Similarly, after Sep 11, many of us in America (even those of us who are Muslim) felt a vulnerability not before experienced which made us less clear-eyed than we should have been, especially in the immediate aftermath. If you consider the comparative size of Israel, their sense of their security is likely shaken to a much greater degree right now. Having said that, I disagree fully with the stance many have taken on Israeli’s response to Oct 7 and am also dismayed insofar as they do not fully seem to consider the significant injustice experienced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

But I do think that what is needed right now is not condemnation, censure, etc., but to urge them to try to step back from the current situation as much as they can.

None of this means that condemning the Israel government is misguided–that, I believe, is absolutely what needs to be done if for no other reason than (especially) American public opinion seems to have a significant influence on what Israel does

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Python
7 months ago

It is telling that the reference to co-nationals appears to mean Jewish Israelis alone, i.e., Palestinians in particular or Arabs more generally are excluded from the class of “co-nationals,” thereby revealing the ethno-religious character of the State and government of Israel; in other words, it is not a secular democracy. If Israel were a Liberal democratic state, it could remain a homeland for Jews and have non-Jews living on equal moral, legal, and political terms. Until then, non-Jews in Israel are bereft of the human dignity the State accords Jews insofar as the meaning and ramifications of that concept have been defined and respected in more than a few Liberal democratic constitutions around the world. Hence we are left with the ongoing occupation and denial of collective self-determination by Palestinians in Palestine/Israel. The state of Israel is increasingly and unabashedly assuming the characteristics of a Zionist theocracy. Were those characteristics to disappear, and a truly Liberal democracy emerge (one which acknowledges the State is, in part, a homeland for Jews, albeit shared with non-Jews), the regnant rationale for the militant radicalism of Hamas and even more extreme “jihadist” political groups would soon evaporate. (There is a growing literature on the conditions and processes of successful ‘deradicalization’ of militant groups that have resorted to terrorist acts and suicide missions of one kind or another. Thus, I believe it is possible in this instance as well.)

I have discussed Hamas in some detail here. And I entertain the possibility of a one State solution to this conflict (assuming a two-state solution is unworkable, in part owing to the lack of contiguous territory, the settler movement, the evisceration of Gaza, and the divide between east and west Jerusalem) in my post, The Possibility of Palestine/Israel Becoming a Liberal Democratic State (this contains a fair amount of titles that argue for such an outcome

Victor Tadros
Reply to  Python
7 months ago

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Python. I agree that after a terrorist attack, we should somewhat reduce our expectations of people to do and say the right thing, and your comment at least raises a doubt about whether condemnation is appropriate.

That being said, I also think that those who have an influential voice have a significant responsibility to challenge serious wrongs perpetrated by their government, legitimating those wrongs does the opposite of what is required. Senior academics in Israel significantly influence their students, and they are not being presented with a credible picture of the conflict by those who influence. Today’s students are tomorrow’s decision-makers, and I’m troubled about the idea that this kind of violent escalation will be embedded as legitimate in Israeli society in a way that is sure to prolong the conflict with great human cost. The greater the wrong, the harder it is to excuse, and the wrongs seem serious to me in this case. So whilst your comment gave me serious pause for thought, I’m overall less inclined to back down.

Python
Python
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

I do understand your perspective. I confess, I go back and forth. It’s extremely difficult to see/learn about the extensive suffering in Gaza. But, ultimately, I feel we have to try to take another’s perspective to make any headway on these issues.

all best,

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

Hi Victor,

 

In your reply you say ‘I agree that defense is a central part of the motivation of many people involved in the conflict and those who defend it.’. My doubting of your thinking so was based on your writing, in you earlier reply, that Israel’s response was ‘not a close call, or a plausible if mistaken response to a threat’. Thanks for clarifying. So, I take it that you think that while Israel is acting in a morally unacceptable and ineffective way, all this is part of a defensive attempt. If this is so then my original point applies, Namely, that experts should address Israel as you one would address someone in serious trouble who is engaged in trying to solve it, someone whom you want to help to do the right and effective thing.

I agree of course that there are members of the current Israeli government that are racists and that the rhetoric of many of the members of the government (not just the openly racist ones) is disgraceful.

 

On your accusations of Israel’s ‘serious disproportionality’ and ‘the war crime of withholding and preventing humanitarian aid’: we can have a discussion about disproportionality and about humanitarian aid, the sort of discussion that its being had in other, parallel, exchanges. But I was not writing about that, I was writing about condemnations. Yes, perhaps -as many of the repliers to my post thought- it is not just unimportant but it is actually obscene to care about the way moral philosophers and other experts should choose to communicate with their Israeli peers. But I wanted to write about that. Even if all of your accusations turn out to be correct once all the facts are established (indeed they may), it remains that condemning is easy but finding an effective and morally sound way of dealing with Hamas is difficult. If experts want to put their expertise to good use then should try to come up with options to which their Israelis counterparts may be receptive to (rather than condemning which achieves exactly the opposite).

I didn’t mean to question your knowledge of the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. My point concerned the level of confidence in one’s views required for condemning your peers and how their disagreement should impact on such confidence.  Condemners must a very high level of confidence: this is because condemnations involve not just attributing a mistake to the condemned but also blameworthiness. Your Israeli peers may know no more than you, but also, I think, no less than you. The Israeli philosophers who reacted against Oxford Letter may be partial and you may disagree with their political views but they are most certainly not propagandists paid by Netanyahu. Because of this I think their view should probably somewhat dent the level of confidence of their disagreeing peers, a level which, as noted, must be very high for them to get in the business of condemning.

 

Sure, if one goes the peer-disagreement way, then the views of Palestinian peers and reasonable Palestinians in general should be also taken in account, by everyone. You are totally right about that.

My comment about the language in which you couch one element your proposal in your earlier reply (its resembling a Home Office anti-radicalization program) gave me the impression that this colored your general outlook on the matter at hand. You rectify my wrong impression by noting ‘I don’t rule out the possibility of a much more intelligence driven, much more carefully planned, much more targeted, military intervention in response to the 7th Oct attacks. There is debate to be had about that.’ You continue, but …. [what] we are currently seeing is a wanton disregard for the lives of Gazans that cannot possibly be justified.’

My not very philosophical response is the following: in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas’s massacre, there was wide support in Israel that we cannot live next to Hamas and Hamas must be destroyed and this can only be done militarily. I don’t think the military campaign that took shape is the military campaign that Israeli moral philosophers wanted. They would have probably designed something different, perhaps somewhat along your lines.  But the prevailing thought was that doing nothing or significantly delaying a response was not an option. So now, in week 7 of the war I can say, yes, Israel could have possibly achieved the same military objectives with far fewer deaths (though I confess am not 100% sure, I am no military expert, but I am, say, 85% sure). It could have used smaller bombs; it could have been much more target selective; it could have endangered more the ground troops. So, ok, perhaps you should condemn us (me?) for not withdrawing our support in week 2 or 3 of the war once the scale of wanton disregard for the lives of Gazans became obvious to you and others. But there is a big cost to stopping a war that has already started and leave Hamas on its two feet. What will be read as a defeat to Hamas, will have enormous consequences across the Middle East, impeding future peace and greatly bolstering Iran and Hezbollah. It not clear that by continuing the campaign Israel will actually defeat Hamas (I am not going into what counts as ‘defeating Hamas’). Yet stopping will with certainly mean that Hamas has won twice, once 7th of October and once when Israel suspends its efforts to oust them (thrice if we count also Hamas’ successful extorsion for the kidnapped Israelis). I don’t think that in this hypothetical scenario Israel’s enemies will draw the conclusion Israel stopped because of the scruples raised by moral experts. Rather, they will see it as a sign of weakness, vulnerability and impotence. Given this, it seems to me that (morally) best that can be done right now is to urge as strongly as possible Israel to adhere to the Law of War and to record the violations of the Law of War so that they will not go unpunished. 

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

abobe I meant, of course, ‘dead’ not ‘deaf’

Daniel Schwartz
Daniel Schwartz
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

Hi Victor,

 

In your reply you say ‘I agree that defense is a central part of the motivation of many people involved in the conflict and those who defend it.’ My doubt about your thinking so was based on your writing in you earlier reply that Israel’s response was ‘not a close call, or a plausible if mistaken response to a threat’. Thanks for clarifying. So, I take it that you think that while Israel is acting in a morally unacceptable and ineffective way, all this is in fact part of a defensive attempt. If this is so then my original point applies. Namely, that experts should address Israel as you one would address someone in serious trouble who is engaged in trying to solve it, someone whom you want to help to do the right and effective thing (as opposed to condemning him).

I agree of course that there are members of the current Israeli government that are racists and that the rhetoric of many of the members of the government (not just the openly racist ones) is disgraceful.

 

On your accusations of Israel’s ‘serious disproportionality’ and ‘the war crime of withholding and preventing humanitarian aid’: we can have a discussion about disproportionality and about humanitarian aid, the sort of discussion that its being had in other, parallel, exchanges. But I was not writing about that, I was writing about condemnations. Yes, perhaps -as some of the repliers to my post thought- it is not just unimportant but it is actually obscene to care about the way moral philosophers and other experts should choose to communicate with their Israeli peers. But it is about this that choose to write about. Even if your accusations against Israel turn out to be correct once all the facts are established (as indeed they may), it remains that condemning is easy but finding an effective and morally sound way of dealing with Hamas is difficult. If experts want to put their expertise to good use then should try to come up with options to which their Israelis counterparts may be receptive to (rather than condemning which achieves exactly the opposite).

I didn’t mean to question your knowledge of the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. My point concerned the level of confidence in one’s views required for condemning your peers and how their disagreement should impact on such confidence. Condemners must a very high level of confidence: this is because condemnations involve not just attributing a mistake to the condemned but also blameworthiness. Your Israeli peers may know no more than you about the conflict, but also -I think- no less than you. The Israeli philosophers who reacted against Oxford Letter may be inevitable partial and you may disagree with their political views but they not propagandists in Netanyahu payroll. Because of this I think their view should probably somewhat dent the level of confidence of their disagreeing peers, a level which, as noted, must be very high for them to get in the business of condemning.

 

Sure, if one goes the peer-disagreement way, then the views of Palestinian peers and reasonable Palestinians in general should be also taken in account, by everyone. You are totally right about that.

My comment about the language in which you couch one element your proposal in your earlier reply (a language resembling a Home Office anti-radicalization program) gave me the impression that this colored your general outlook on the matter at hand. You rectify my wrong impression by noting ‘I don’t rule out the possibility of a much more intelligence driven, much more carefully planned, much more targeted, military intervention in response to the 7th Oct attacks. There is debate to be had about that.’ You continue, but …. [what] we are currently seeing is a wanton disregard for the lives of Gazans that cannot possibly be justified.’

My not very philosophical response is the following: in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas’s massacre, most Israelis came to the conclusion that we cannot live next to Hamas, that Hamas must be destroyed and this can only be done militarily. I don’t think the military campaign that actually took shape is the military campaign that Israeli moral philosophers wanted. They would have probably designed something different, perhaps somewhat along your lines. But the prevailing thought was that doing nothing or significantly delaying a response was not an option. So now, in week 7 of the war I can say, yes, Israel could have possibly achieved the same military objectives with far fewer deaths (though I confess am not 100% sure, I am no military expert, but I am, say, 85% sure). Israel could have used smaller bombs; it could have been much more target selective; it could have endangered more its ground troops an rely less on air power. So, ok, perhaps you should condemn us (me?) for not withdrawing our support in week 2 or 3 of the war once the scale of the numbers of deaf Gazan civilians became clear. But there is a big cost to stopping a war that has already started and would leave Hamas on its two feet. What will be read as Israel’s defeat to Hamas, will have enormous consequences across the Middle East, impeding future peace, greatly bolstering Iran and Hezbollah and demonstrating the effectiveness of Hamas’ morally horrible actions. It not clear that by continuing the campaign Israel will actually defeat Hamas (I am not going into what counts as ‘defeating Hamas’). Yet stopping it will with certainly mean that Hamas has won twice, once on the 7th of October and once again when Israel suspends its efforts to oust them (thrice if we count also Hamas’ successful extorsion for the kidnapped Israelis). I don’t think that in this hypothetical scenario Israel’s enemies will draw the conclusion Israel stopped because of the scruples raised by moral experts. Rather, they will see it as a sign of weakness, vulnerability and impotence. Given this, it seems to me that (morally) best that can be done right now is to put any pressure possible on Israel to adhere to the Laws of War including getting the US to condition further material support on stricter adherence. 

Victor Tadros
Reply to  Daniel Schwartz
7 months ago

Daniel,

I just think that you have failed to grasp the gravity of the wrongs that are being perpetrated in Gaza. And it’s frankly unbelievable that you think that the right thing now is to continue this appalling war in order that Hamas don’t see Israel as weak. The large number of deaths the war has caused can no longer be undone. But close to 2 million people have been wrongly displaced, they have virtually no access to health care and other forms of humanitarian aid, and the UN warns that deaths resulting from this may well outstrip deaths caused by the bombing:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/28/deaths-from-disease-in-gaza-could-outstrip-deaths-from-war-un-says

Israel’s most important obligation, now, is to ameliorate the harms that it has wrongly inflicted on Gazans, and especially to prevent deaths that it will otherwise cause through its barbaric war. Gazans imperilled by the war now take priority over Israelis in the obligation to protect, for if they are not protected the Israeli military, instructed by the government, and backed by many in the population, will have wrongly killed them. Its resources must now be redirected to assist Gazans to prevent deaths and other serious harms, and to rebuild the infrastructure that has been decimated by the war. Those, such as yourself, who supported the war, share in these duties. Suggesting that the war should continue, which will ensure that the already massively disproportionate death toll will almost certainly at least double in size, is just appalling.

Cloud
Cloud
Reply to  Victor Tadros
7 months ago

Victor Tadros, to respond to your claim about Israel’s most important obligation now, I want to offer an alternative thought.
Part of the argument for the strategy Israel has adopted and for the continuation of the current tactics is that Hamas has stockpiled 4-6 months worth of supplies for its 40,000 soldiers garrisoned in its tunnels. Since the tunnels are too well defended to enter, Israel has to draw Hamas’s fighters out of the tunnels. As the most plausible way to do that, according to the argument, is to a) wait for them to exhaust their stockpiles, and b) create conditions that preclude resupply, it would seem that a case could be made that a) the current strategy is proportionate to the military objective, and b) that its success depends upon sustaining it for another 4 months. In other words, the rationale for staying the course is not the avoidance of appearing weak, but rather the rationale is strategic and potentially justifiable as a matter of jus in bellum.
I acknowledge that it’s a disturbing argument on account of the cost in civilian lives, and, if correct, it unfortunately promises much more pain and death going forward.
But it also seems that part of Hamas’s intention on October 7 was to trigger an Israeli military response of self-defense that would advance Hamas’s goal of further radicalizing a portion of the Palestinian population and thereby aid in the recruitment of more soldiers. In that respect, Hamas has, presumably, succeeded spectacularly, and it appears that Israel charged straight into Hamas’s trap. Given that this outcome was foreseeable and intended, is it not also reasonable to say that Hamas has (or, at a minimum, shares) moral responsibility for the present and ongoing suffering of the residents of Gaza, even if Israel is the efficient cause of that suffering?

Victor Tadros
Reply to  Cloud
7 months ago

Your comment just reinforces the view that even if Israel could achieve its goal of eliminating Hamas, which is not plausible, it could do so only at a cost to civilian life that would make doing it massively disproportionate. I agree that Hamas are responsible for the deaths to civilians predictably inflicted by Israel in response to their horrific terrorist attack. But this has no bearing on the proportionality calculation, and does nothing to reduce Israel’s responsibility for those deaths. Responsibility is not like a pie, where if someone takes a slice, others have less. (See Alex Kaiserman ‘Responsibility and the ‘Pie Fallacy’ Phil Studies 2021).

Mohan Matthen
Mohan Matthen
7 months ago

Thank you, Professor Schwartz, for this moving and sensitive essay.

If Israel really wants moral guidance, here’s something I would offer as a starting point. Approach the question with some humility. Israel has a clear (but, obviously, disputed) right to exist. Jews have a right to a homeland: it is important to their sense of identity. But the state of Israel and the Jewish homeland were created, historically, without sufficient respect for the rights of others, including most importantly, Palestinians–particularly those Palestinians who owned the land and lived in it.

Given that Israel had asserted its right of existence by (in part) denying the rights of others, it was not a morally defensible approach (back in 1948) simply to occupy the land and move Palestinians out of it, in some cases simply by killing them. And with each conflict, it was not morally defensible to extend that dominion further. Yet, that’s what Israel did, especially in this century after the second intifada.

Let me be clear. Many terrible things were done to Israelis in the last twenty + years. But if the response had been tempered with the moral awareness that Israel had itself done wrong, it would have gone in a different direction.

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
7 months ago

Ummmm, how about the guidance that has been given for decades: end the occupation, end collective punishment including home and farm demolition, grant equal rights to all people, remove the walls and the blockade, dismantle at least the majority of the settlements, end punitive control of water, … You know, abide by international law. And then enter into immediate negotiations for a non-apartheid solution, be it two states, one state, or a bi-national state.
This advice has been given by the UN, by human rights organizations, by all major factions of Palestinians, by activists, and by Palestinian civil society. For Decades.

Now if the question is what advice ordinary Israelis might be given, well, this is also clear: refuse military service, as brave israelis already do, and support the only meaningful nonviolent path to all the above: BDS.

No doubt someone is going to respond to this with a version of “but Hamas are monsters!” – ignoring that they have offered a long-term truce under lesser conditions than those I list, and ignoring that Israel has been actively supporting them precisely and explicitly with the goal of preventing all that. I will ignore such dehumanizing and ignorant responses.

Wayne
Wayne
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

couldn’t have said it better

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

Many brave Israelis who refused going to military service volunteered to reserve duty or take some other part in the war effort. What is your explanation to that? (I hope posing this question is not ignorant or dehumanizing, ao you will not ignore it)

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Grad Student
7 months ago

As I noted. I’m not sure what you are asking by way of an explanation – moral awareness, ability to cut through propaganda, courage to face the massive backlash. Beyond that, I don’t know what kind of explanation you want.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

I think you didn’t understand my question. You mentioned brave Israelis who refused to go to the army as exemplars of how moral Israelis should act. Now, I think you are not familiar with the fact, that a lot of those brave Israelis, exemplars of moral behavior, are part of the current war effort. They volunteer to help in the war effort, and some of them went to reserve duty in the military for the current war. This seems to call for an explanation, isn’t it? Maybe these brave moral exemplars understand something you don’t?

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Grad Student
7 months ago

Ah, I see. I took it to be a serious engagement with war resistance as a tactic to resist state crimes, when it was, in fact, just another snarky defense of ethnic cleansing and mass murder. So how about this: first show me evidence of Yesh Gvul, or Courage to Refuse members who have volunteered to engage in the slaughter. Second, explain to me why the obvious moral arguments about the killing of thousands of children, the destruction of cities, the displacement of millions, the creation of an entire generation of radicalized desperate people who will want nothing more than to kill Israelis, to say nothing of the oppressive systems that have been in place for decades – explain how all that would be challenged by the fact that someone got caught up in the nationalistic fervor and gave up on their principles. (Again, assuming it has happened.) Do those two things, and we can engage on this. Refrain, and you are just part of the dehumanizing mob.

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

”This advice has been given by the UN, by human rights organizations”

You mean those groups whose thousands of members work in the Gaza strip, and didn’t see any evidence of Hamas fighters in hopsitals, despite security cameras clearly showing Hamas fighters bringing in victims of kidnapping on October 7th in the hospital? Or those groups who claimed Israel was responsible for bombing the hospital in which 500 people were killed, and two days later it turned out that around 30 people were killed and Israel was not repsonsible? Or those groups who claimed that the entire Gaza strip is out of electricitiy, and there is no fuel of aggreagtes, and then days later, Hamas installed a large screen in front of a well lit hospital, on which they showed videos of their fighters engaging IDF forces? All of that powered by electricity, and not steam engines.

All of this is well documented and easily provable.

I don’t think those organizations have much credibility left.

”No doubt someone is going to respond to this with a version of “but Hamas are monsters!” – ignoring that they have offered a long-term truce under lesser conditions than those I list,”

Why do you ignore the fact that Hamas reguaryl breaks ceasefires, and renegs on them? Just like the one that was supposed to start on Thursday, November 24th, but Hamas backed out of it, because they didn’t want to allow Red Cross members to visit the Israeli hostages?

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

Today I learned that the entire UN and its organizations along with many reputable human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are all puppets of Hamas, so we should not listen to anything they have to say or any moral advice they give. I also learned today that poisoning the well is a valid form of reasoning and NOT a fallacy.

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

No one denied that Hamas brought injured hostages for treatment.
Gaza is massively short of fuel.
No human rights organization said who was responsible for the one hospital bombing that Israel may not be guilty of.
Nov 24 is Friday – today. And the cease fire is in effect.

So basically this entire response is a string of lies.

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

I’m sorry Mark, but there seems to be a strong correlation between your confidence and your lack of knowledge of the details. The cease fire was supposed to begin yesterday, according to the plan, but Hamas backed out from some of the agreements. Today, by the way, Hamas fired rockets 15 minutes after the ceasefire started (it didn’t surprise anybody because it’s a common practice by now). So krell was right and you are wrong.
You say that no human rights organization said who was responsible. That’s quite ridiculous. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
The Director-General of the World Health OrganizationTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, condemned the alleged attack.[45] The secretary-general of the United NationsAntónio Guterres, said that he was “horrified by the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a strike on a hospital”.[11] UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, condemned the “totally unacceptable” and “horrific” strike and demanded accountability.[117] Médecins Sans Frontières said it was “horrified” by the “recent bombing”, and called it a “massacre”.”
Calling it a “massacre”, a “strike”, an “attack”, is very suggestive, and I’m quite sure I heard explicit accusations by human rights organizations, but it doesn’t worth my time to start looking for them.
I will assume good intent, and say only that it seems that you are fed a string of lies, and that you need to diversify your information diet.

Al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion – Wikipedia

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Grad Student
7 months ago

So Hamas negotiated terms of the cease fire. As Israel has. Repeatedly while they bombed indiscriminately and killed 10,000 and made a million and a half refugees. Wow, great point anonymous condescending person.
The Director–general of the World Health Organization is not a human rights organization. Indeed the WHO is a health organization, not a human rights organization. The latter are, for example, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, etc.
You are the one embarrassing yourself here by defending patent propaganda lies in defense of mass murder.

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

Thanks for saying this Mark. I am so sick of the gaslighting.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  Mark Lance
7 months ago

Absolutely. Thank you for stating this. And how shockingly sad that you have to.

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
7 months ago

I cannot believe our discipline is engaged in a debate about whether it is permissible to publicly criticize the Israeli assault on Gaza. I cannot believe that people are tone policing public letters and petitions under cover of making philosophical interventions. While it is true that any letter that fails to clearly condemn 10/7 and Hamas in general for its vile atrocities has serious shortcomings, it is not true that failing to offer specific moral guidance is some sort of error.

Almost no defender of the massive Israeli assault on Gaza has provided meaningful evidence that Hamas could pull off another 10/7. They simply assert that Hamas will do this again.To point to what leaders of Hamas say is, frankly, beside the point. That Hamas *wants* to do something is hardly evidence that they *can* do something. And it’s hardly evidence that they can do it *under every possible security condition* Israel can impose on Hamas. After all, the entire point of this murderous assault on Gaza is to make Hamas incapable of committing more atrocities no matter what Hamas says it wants.

So, before these defenders of incipient genocide tut-tut at critics who do not have well worked out defensive strategies at hand when we express horror at thousands of dead children and nearly a million rendered homeless, I encourage them to make affirmative arguments that (i) Israel could not improve its border security at the Gazan border to prevent another 10/7; and (ii) the current assault on Gaza will in general make Israel safer, as opposed to creating conditions that, as did the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, will ultimately make Israel less safe. You are the ones deploying deadly force. You are the ones who bear the responsibility for justification. Do not throw up your hands and say, “It’s too difficult for us to figure out a way to defend ourselves without killing thousands of children, so we are just going to go the child-killing route.” Do not offload the requirement for moral reasoning to your critics because you do not want to take that demand seriously yourself.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  Matthew Smith
7 months ago

It appears that my more in-depth comment was deleted for some reason. But there is much evidence that Hamas could “pull off” (eww…) “another 10/7,” which I’ll interpret, in accordance with Hamas’s express intentions, which you have recognized, as “commit mass murder of Israelis or Jews.” Even from outside the relevant intel groups. Happy to gesture toward this evidence again if my previous comment that did this already doesn’t re-appear.

TheF
TheF
7 months ago

If we’re in the business of wishing for things, as a non-philosopher (who finds philosophy discussions here and elsewhere interesting), I would have liked to see more discussion of the philosophy of hostages, if there is such a thing. Given it appeared as an early pre-condition for the current “pause” (which hopefully continues), I’ve been surprised to see the topic hardly mentioned in the original posts or (long) threads here. I wasn’t sure if that’s because the moral philosophy of it was so clear that it didn’t warrant discussion, or if it’s more the province of game theory or other fields, or some other reason.

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  TheF
7 months ago

you are absolutely right, and unfortunately, and the omission of the hostage situation in these discussions is not due to some philosophical peculiarity, but a general disregard for Israeli interests in this situation.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

Exactly.

Erin
Erin
Reply to  krell_154
7 months ago

I think it’s more likely that it is because you’re talking about state violence vs group violence, and therefore not equal.

exhausted.
exhausted.
7 months ago

I’m curious as to what moral guidance anyone has to offer Hamas, the PA, or the PLO. Especially those who attempt to present themselves as concerned about Palestinians.

Erin
Erin
7 months ago

This seems to ignore that there has been guidance from political scientists and philosophers, notably Norman Finkelstein. Another problem is, if we take this framework of accepting guidance from only those we deem as “friends”, then we can ignore whomever we please, even those groups and people that represent the population/interests of Palestinian goals. We are not friends to a state, we are people who push for a moral and just society, which I think might start by label those acts which are immoral or reprehensible. It also requires that we work with ideas, regardless of if they come from someone we think of as a “friend.”

Erin
Erin
Reply to  Erin
7 months ago

The intellectual class should not speak out because they are in some parasocial relationship with the state. They should do so because it is the right thing to do, which includes condemnation without guidance. It may be easier to see that something is wrong without necessarily being able to see what is right (which I actually don’t think is the case here; Israel should just stop occupying Gaza, stop trying to ethnically cleanse the area, stop aggressing the Palestinian people, all of which they have been “guided” to do many times.) I think framing this as philosophers and political scientists should lead us because they are invested in our future is a misunderstanding of the responsibility of intellectuals.

Aron T
Aron T
7 months ago

I was curious what this website had to say about the Syrian war, so I found this article by Justin Weinberg where he makes the following statement:

Philosophers have not done a good job of explaining the value of what they do. If we had, then Ms. Samuel would not have asked her interviewees, “What should we do?” Instead, she would have asked them, “Why is it so hard to know what to do?” That’s a valuable and helpful question, and one that philosophers are expert at taking up.

If only he had taken his own advice in starting this series on the Gaza war, Reading the articles and (even worse) the comments on those articles, it is quite clear that when Moral Philosophers start spouting off, giving “moral” advice or taking a “moral” stand on people & topics they know little or nothing about (beyond what they read on Wikipedia or “scholarly” articles on “morality”), one immediately sees how naive they are and how little guidance moral philosophy (or certainly moral philosophers) can provide on how to behave properly in a our quite complex world.

Last edited 7 months ago by Aron T
Andreas
Andreas
7 months ago

That was a long mental gymnastic to say “Palestine is bad evil terrorist, Israel is nice good democracy that does not do anything wrong”. Here is some guidance: Stop the occupation. Stop arresting children. Stop the blockade. Dismantle the settlements. Stop apartheid. Stop shooting journalists. Acknowledge the ICC. Stop blocking the ICC and UN ovserverbservers. Stop bombing hospitals. Stop shooting MSF and red cross workers. Stop trying to defend your fascist government. The world is watching

Undergrad
Undergrad
7 months ago

I’m not sure whether anyone is reading these comments anymore but I believe this point is worth stating: many people have the suspicion that Israeli motives are not pure. The stated goal of the 1967 was defensive but if you ask many Israelis now, one of the greatest outcomes of that war was reclaiming Jewish sovereignty over the whole Jerusalem plus the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. Also now there are clear signs that many people in Israel are not purely interested in the defensive outcomes of the ongoing war, but of reclaiming sovereignty over Gaza and possibly fleeing (most of) the Palestinians and thus maintaining a Jewish majoring in Eretz Israel without any territorial “concession.” Indeed major factions in Israeli politics believe that on the whole land “from the river to the sea” there will only be Israeli sovereignty (that’s written in the Likud platform from 1977). To sum it up, it is evident to many observers that many people in Israel, including many who now hold power in the country, have interests beside removing the threat from Hamas in the current war. In such a situation providing moral guidance just seems a hopeless move since there is no easy way to guide someone into believing that when there are millions of non-Jews in the land between Jordanian river and Mediterranean sea Jews cannot claim the whole land, and, also, there is no easy way to guide someone in achieving objective A when his efforts in achieving A may also lead to achieving objective B and C and these objective are going to distort his calculations regarding the best method to achieve A. Professor Schwartz may answer that even accepting all this, condemnation seems even more hopeless. The important point is that condemnations and calls for ceasefire are actually not mainly directed to Israel but to its western allies, particularly the United States. We have a limited capacity of providing moral guidance and at the current point in history many people, understandably, believe that it is better to use this limited capacity for providing moral guidance to US government.