Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Saint Bill or Accessory to Mass Murder? The Dilemma of the Morally Relativistic Media
In the light of my last post and the very acute comments of Truepeers, lgude, Nancy Coppock and others, I have been compelled to take another look at the question of anti-Semitism in Bill Moyers’ remarks about The Bible and the genetics of violence. There was a lot of anguish and recrimination in the wake of that incident and I am just beginning to make sense of it. Mr. Moyers was obviously horrified and felt injured by the whole thing. It seemed, though, that the more he twisted and squirmed, the deeper he got. Just look at his wounded and frantic reply to Abe Foxman (Leader of the ADL). even while he is denying moral equivalency, he says “And although I specifically referred to “the rockets from Hamas” falling on Israel and said that “every nation has the right to defend itself, and Israel is no exception,” Note that he uses a venerable trick of rhetoric, the passive voice, to minimize the impact of the “rockets falling on Israel” (oh dear, another one “fell” just now), while he characterizes the Israelis as “shelling” the Palestinians. So he minimizes the violence of Hamas as they initiate their avowed plan to annihilate Israel and he demonizes Israel’s defensive response. A masterful wordsmith, Moyers is good but the more he talks the deeper he gets.
Neither does he mention that Hamas deliberately uses their own civilians as human shields or that the alleged Israeli atrocities he refers to have both had serious doubt cast on them. It appears likely that they were staged or otherwise faked, as has turned out to be the case with every other allegation of intentional Israeli atrocity in the past- Jenin, al Dura, Kfar Qana- you name it. Yet Mr. Moyers repeats the reports as fact, as justification for calling the Israeli action an onslaught. The characterization of the restrained and careful Israeli actions with terms like “onslaught” and “slaughter” juxtaposed with his blithe gloss of the “falling missiles” is not merely an argumentative pose, it betrays an inner contradiction in Moyers heart.
On one hand he considers Israel to be entitled to defend herself (as if she needed his permission) on the other hand, he wants, from the vantage point of his snug PBS studio to be able to pass judgment on what a fitting (proportional?) defense would be.
Proportionality? Israel’s armed forces always has done and continues to do their best at separating Hamas from their human shields and killing only the combatants. But that is not enough for Bill Moyers. He uses two examples, examples which all media professionals by the time he used them knew to be suspect, to imply that the Israelis are no better than those who want only to murder them. He pointedly ignores the obvious difference in the morality of the two sides. He pretends, as it were, that he has just walked into the room and sees Israel beating up the Palestinians without knowing any of the background. According to him, it is an onslaught and a slaughter and he hurls those epithets at Israel, not the hate-filled murderers who have caused the problem and intentionally placed their own people between them and the tiger they had taunted once too often.
He crowns his assault on morality with the remark that first caught our attention- the one he has already backed away from as “obviously not sufficiently precise”. (Ah, suddenly the man who has traded in words all his professional life has “misspoken? More likely he spoke too quickly and revealed to much) Not only did he state that it was the bible that “genetically encoded” violence in the Jewish people, even if he goes on to say, “A radical stream of Islam now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth,” he compounds his betrayal of common sense and moral decency by adding “Israel misses no opportunity to humiliate the Palestinians with checkpoints, concrete walls, routine insults” as if he agrees with the Islamist honor/shame formula that their humiliation must be avenged in blood.
Not content with tacitly supporting the blood-revenge paradigm, he willfully misinterprets the purpose of the IDF’s YouTube channel. The IDF posts video on YouTube to try to prove to Mr. Moyer and his ilk that the strikes in Gaza are done with greater precision and care than has ever been shown before by any military in the history of warefare- to show the world that even against a foe that is sworn to murder every Jew and destroy their state the IDF is performing with surgical precision and Talmudic respect for innocent life.
All Mr. Moyers sees is a further insult to Arab honor. He says, “As if boasting of their might, Israel defense forces even put up video of the explosions on YouTube for all the world to see.” This is quintessential honor/shame drama! “For all the world to see!” To him this is a bad thing!?!?
Nor does his attempt to dismiss his “genetic” remark as “insufficiently precise” address the sense in which the remark still stands as a blood libel. Casting the two sides as equally at fault and implying that Israel “humiliates” the Palestinians by having checkpoints and walls, none of which existed until they were reluctantly employed to protect Israelis from suicide bombers! Laying the blame for these things equally on Israel is a deep, immoral wrong.
Deny it though he may, this is moral relativism, leveling the moral difference between two sides of a dispute and then applying spurious “evenhandedness” that injures and impugns the party that is morally superior.
And that is the first key to understanding Moyers’ dilemma. In Moyers’ world, the only morally superior stance is his. He rejects violence without reservation and blames all who employ it equally. He looks down on Israelis fighting for existence against Hamas, fostered and supported by Iran and the Arab world all of whom want nothing less than the annihilation of Israel, and he rolls his eyes in pious disapproval at the violence. As Truepeers has characterized it in a comment to my original post about Moyers, “this is one of the most well-worn of moral failings: admitting the eliminationist nightmare while at the same time giving the blame, or at least some of it, to the Jews. It's a smug righteous way of saying I'm above all that, a pox on both their houses.”
The ultimate insult he offers, though, is the suggestion that he is actually “a friend” of Israel. “From my days in President Johnson’s White House forward,” he writes, drawing himself up in the bogus dignity of a wordsmith who has crossed the line back and forth from “journalist” to “spin-master” enough times that he clearly has lost sight of any difference between the two, “I have defended Israel’s right to defend itself, and still do. But sometimes an honest critic is a government’s best friend, and I am appalled by Israel’s devastation of innocent civilians in this battle, all the more so because, as I said in my column, it is exactly what Hamas wanted to happen. To be so indifferent to that suffering is, sadly, to be as blind in Gaza as Samson.”
The reason they call it “spin” is that is designed to make you so dizzy that you forget which end it “up”. If you were to take him at his word and grant that he is a “friend of Israel”, you would be tempted to believe that he was really an “honest critic” and that Israel was indulging in the “devastation of innocent civilians”. He says he is “appalled “ by it and so you would see it through his eyes as appalling devastation- even as those eyes of his studiously ignore the evidence of Israel’s humanitarian intent. He says the IDF web site is a humiliation for the Palestinians but isn’t it just as humiliating to him? He resents the fact that there is proof that his assertions are false and that his moral compass is not true.
Then, finally, trusting that his double talk has rendered us so woozy and nauseated that we will be powerless to resist its authority, he flashes us the gold plated, jewel encrusted, richly engraved, plain-as-day badge of the hypocrite. He taunts Israel, saying that the slaughter of innocents he so deplores, “is exactly what Hamas wanted to happen.”
But, Mr. Moyers, a truly honest critic would have to ask why Hamas “wanted it” to happen. A real friend of reality, let alone Israel, would have to admit that a political/religious movement that intentionally incites violence against its own women and children for its own gain is an abomination- that is guilty of what amounts to human sacrifice. An honest man whether a critic or not would be compelled to admit that such a movement no more deserves equal respect with a modern, western, liberal democracy like Israel than Hannibal Lechter deserves to be compared with Julia Child.
The real hole in Mr. Moyers’ soul is that the moral relativism he denies so passionately does not only endanger Israel (who can take care of herself), it is that he must avoid knowing that it is he himself who is endangering the defenseless women and children of Gaza. The facts and reality push him to that awareness and he uses all his intellectual power to avoid it.
He is on a slippery slope. He has already acknowledged that Hamas (like Arafat before them) know that, what ever calamity they bring down on their own people, moralistic idealists with a grudge against Israel like Moyers will be unable to resist the temptation to blame Israel. It is he, not Israel who is giving Hamas what they want in reward for endangering their own people.
In spreading the blame for the plight of Palestinian children to the Israelis (who routinely risk the lives of their soldiers to avoid harming Palestinian women and children) and minimizing the responsibility of Hamas (the cowards who hide behind the children and by doing so put them in peril) he is succoring terror. He plays into their cynical game. He becomes a supporter and a participant in the slaughter. In legal parlance he is more than a bystander; he is an accessory.
It is the ultimate irony of Honor/Shame, that it so often results in unavoidable dishonor. In Moyers we see a man who has made the fatal error of staking his honor on a explaination of events that is fundamentally flawed and now cannot face the shame of admitting to his complicity in horrors beyond his intention. Now he'd rather see missiles "falling" on Israel forever rather than have to admit where the real responsibility lies for what he cynically calls the Israeli "onslaught" to stop them.