Since the escalation of Hamas missile strikes against Israel began on November 14, there have been three basic kinds of reactions – moral clarity, moral fog, and moral hypocrisy.
Moral clarity distinguishes between the aggressor and the victim, the arsonist and the fireman, and includes the courage to say so.
Fortunately, this latest round of Hamas-triggered violence has evoked voices of moral clarity.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been among them.
On November 18, he stated firmly: “And there’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”
So has Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “We have been concerned obviously for some time about the presence of a terrorist group, Hamas, in charge in the Gaza Strip… [W]e support Israel’s right to defend itself against such terrorist attacks…”
Add to the list German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, among others.
But then there are those who quickly descended into a moral fog. They couldn’t – or simply wouldn’t – allow themselves to leave the 50-yard line.
Their words were so exquisitely crafted that they managed to achieve perfect moral balance, or equivalence, between Israel and Hamas.
For them, there is no distinction between a democratic nation, Israel, that left Gaza to its own destiny in 2005 and seeks only one goal – a peaceful border – and Hamas, a jihadist group that is on the terrorism lists of the U.S. and European Union.
For them, the Hamas Covenant, dripping with venom for Israel and Jews, proclaiming the virtues of death in the service of jihad, and extolling the vision of Shari’a-based rule, is irrelevant to the discussion.
And for them, the fact that Gaza has become an arms magnet, as weapons flow in from the likes of Iran and Sudan, doesn’t prompt any obvious conclusions.
No, for those opting to live on the 50-yard line, the important thing is not to risk making moral choices, but rather to see it all as some extended face-off between the Hatfields and McCoys.
Here are two examples of many from the world of diplomacy:
On November 18, India, a country that knows a thing or two about being the target of jihadist-inspired violence against civilians, nonetheless declared: “We are deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, focused around Gaza, that threatens the peace and security of that region.”
And the Swedish foreign minister also walked the morally neutral tightrope: "We need to appeal to both sides to cease all attacks both against and from Gaza as soon as possible."
In the media, meanwhile, how many headlines have revolved around antiseptic wording like “Hamas-Israel spiral of violence,” or “Hamas-Israel conflict escalates”?
And how about the November 16 front page of the New York Times, which displayed two photographs of equal size – the first of the funeral in Gaza City of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military commander, and, just below, the funeral of Mira Scharf, an Israeli mother killed by Hamas?
In the same spirit, would equal and abutting space have been given to photos of the funerals of Osama Bin Laden and one of his victims?
Then there is the third reaction – moral hypocrisy.
Among the several candidates, the runner-up has to be Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
As the death toll in Syria exceeds 37,000, Russia continues to block meaningful action by the UN Security Council. Still, Ambassador Churkin found the time Monday evening to spearhead a proposed Security Council resolution on the Gaza conflict that included no reference to Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel.
Yet, without any hint of embarrassment or sheepishness, Churkin had the nerve to criticize the U.S. and its allies who objected to the text, saying: "Unfortunately it looked like a little bit of a filibustering attempt. Maybe I am mistaken, maybe it's just a laid-back attitude in a situation where we cannot afford procrastination.
Alas, despite Ambassador Churkin’s valiant efforts, the hands-down winner in this category is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He has abandoned the longstanding ties between Turkey and Israel, just as he has dismantled the secular tradition of Atatürk in his effort to lead a new wave of political Islam.
That, in turn, has led Turkey, a NATO member no less, to champion Hamas, an avowedly anti-Western group.
Erdogan has branded Israel a “terrorist state” for having the audacity to defend itself against a group that seeks its destruction. He has vociferously denounced Israel’s use of military force, while never condemning the hundreds of missile attacks against Israel this year alone.
Yet the very same Erdogan has shown no hesitation to go after the PKK, the Kurdish group that seeks not Turkey’s annihilation, but greater rights and freedoms for the Kurdish minority. In taking on the PKK, Erdogan has repeatedly unleashed the full power of the Turkish military, and has not hesitated to cross international borders in pursuit.
An International Crisis Group expert wrote this month: “Erdogan’s response so far [against the Kurdish insurgency] has been a new round of inflexible rhetoric, a military-only strategy on the ground, and a public denial that anyone was on a hunger strike at all [when more than 600 Kurdish prisoners in Turkish prisons are on exactly that].”
Yet Erdogan has the audacity to assail Israel mercilessly for merely exercising its right to defend itself against those who would destroy it.
If nothing else, this latest Hamas assault on Israel provides an opportunity to sort out the who’s who of moral clarity, moral fog, and moral hypocrisy. To say the least, the picture is mixed.