DAVIS: Challenging liberals’ moral consistency

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Have you no shame? Have you no decency?” That was the question that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked during his important speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24.

He was referring to the decision of those members of the General Assembly who remained in their seats when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke the day before.

“Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “To those who refused to come here and to those who left the room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity, and you brought honor to your countries.

“But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?”

The question was reminiscent of the famous question asked by lawyer Joseph Welch of Sen. Joseph McCarthy on June 4, 1954, during the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings.

It came at a moment after Mr. McCarthy had accused a young lawyer working for Mr. Welch of being associated with a communist-front organization. Mr. Welch, incredulous and outraged, confronted Mr. McCarthy in the drama of live television in its early days, with a national audience glued to their sets:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

By those two questions, most historians agree, Mr. McCarthy’s reckless demagogic career was effectively over. (He was subsequently censured by the U.S. Senate and died a year or so later.)

Mr. Netanyahu’s two questions, one would hope, should also have the same effect on the credibility of those nations that chose to stay during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, giving, the Israeli leader said, “legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of 6 million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state. What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!”

“Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You’re wrong. History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.”

On Friday, the U.N. “Human Rights Council” - as Mr. Netanyahu described it, “a misnamed institution if there ever was one” - voted on a resolution supporting dozens of recommendations of a one-sided report accusing Israel of war crimes during its Gaza intervention last January.

But the resolution utterly ignored the fact that the intervention was an act of self-defense and, moreover, failed to mention Hamas rockets that had been fired and intentionally targeted Israeli civilians - by definition, a war crime and a terrorist act.

Also ignored by the so-called Human Rights Council that accused Israel of war crimes was what Mr. Netanyahu described as the “double war crime of [Hamas] firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians” - referring to the established fact that Hamas hid its rocket launchers in mosques, schools, hospitals and apartment houses.

The resolution also failed to acknowledge that, as the prime minister pointed out, Israel “tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.”

“We dropped countless fliers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy’s civilian population from harm’s way.”

It’s one thing for a U.N. entity calling itself a “Human Rights Council” to include governments that are notorious serial human rights violators. That hypocrisy has been long noted and ridiculed by fair-thinking people around the world. But it is quite another when people who call themselves “liberals” or “progressives” on the left side of the ideological spectrum are complicit in similar hypocrisy.

Recent polling data in the U.S. since Israel’s Gaza intervention has shown increased negative attitudes toward Israel by liberal Democrats (and, conversely, increased support by Republican conservatives), although the data show substantially greater support from all Americans, including liberals and Democrats, for the Israeli positions versus the Palestinian positions.

Why are people who call themselves liberals less supportive of Israel than self-described conservatives? I don’t get it. I consider myself a proud liberal on all major issues and have supported an independent Palestinian state since I was a kid - consistent, of course, with Israel’s security. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with transparent courts and a vigorous free press, granting its women, minorities and gays equal rights and the same civil rights for all its Arab citizens as are enjoyed by Israeli citizens. Not one Arab country surrounding Israel can make that claim.

So why wouldn’t liberals support Israel as much as conservatives, if not more so? So why the apparent double standard on the left, not just on Israel, but when it comes to Iran, too?

For example, there were plenty of demonstrations by the left in America and in Western Europe when Israel intervened in Gaza - but none when, during the previous eight years, Hamas aimed its terrorist rockets, intentionally killing Israeli civilians. Why?

Then Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling 21 settlements and uprooting more than 8,000 Israelis. And the response from Hamas: to send another 6,000 rockets intentionally aimed at killing Israeli civilians. Where was the U.N. and its so-called Human Rights Council? Where was the left demonstrating for human rights in Europe and the U.S.?

There was … well … silence from most of the left. Why?

Liberals have always taken the lead against nuclear proliferation. Yet as Iran develops a nuclear weapon, threatening a dangerous cycle of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East among Sunni Arab states, why isn’t the liberal leadership in the U.S. and abroad - the legatees of the “ban the bomb” and “nuclear freeze” movements - leading the call for draconian economic sanctions against Iran until it halts its nuclear-weapons program, including a world ban on exporting to Iran the refined oil products on which it heavily depends?

Historically, liberalism stands, above all, for the core values of civil liberties, due process, and peaceful negotiations and diplomacy - and uncompromising opposition to the immoral acts of terrorists, whether al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas, who justify the intentional killing of innocent civilians for some political or theological purpose.

No exceptions. Thus, liberals should overwhelmingly demand that the Palestinians accept Israel’s minimal request to bring peace. In Mr. Netanyahu’s words: “We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say ‘yes’ to a Jewish state.”

And we liberals must invest just as much energy and grass-roots commitment to supporting our government’s efforts to deter the Iranians from getting the bomb as enacting a national health insurance system.

• Lanny J. Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics is Destroying America.” This piece is also published at http://pundits.thehill.com/author/ lanny-davis.

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