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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wise words from The Wall Street Journal

While certainly not as troubling as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal has not been a

consistent friend of Israel nor a consistently balanced source of news and commentary about this region. 

* Please see note at end of this post for an explanation of why I crossed out this flawed opening

The following is just so 'right' in its thinking that I just had to share it:

The Sderot Calculus
By Bret Stephens, WSJ

The Israeli town of Sderot lies less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the intifada seven years ago, it has borne the brunt of some 2,500 Kassam rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists. Only about a dozen of these Kassams have proved lethal, though earlier this month brothers Osher and Rami Twito were seriously injured by one as they walked down a Sderot street on a Saturday evening. Eight-year-old Osher lost a leg.

It is no stretch to say that life in Sderot has become unendurable. Palestinians and their chorus of supporters — including the 118 countries of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, much of Europe, and the panoply of international aid organizations from the World Bank to the United Nations — typically reply that life in the Gaza Strip is also unendurable, and that Palestinian casualties greatly exceed Israeli ones. But this argument is fatuous: Conditions in Gaza, in so far as they are shaped by Israel, are a function of conditions in Sderot. No Palestinian Kassams (or other forms of terrorism), no Israeli “siege.”

The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel’s response to the Kassams ought to be “proportionate.” What does that mean? Does the “proportion” apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams — to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a “proportionate” Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams — an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?

Surely this isn’t what advocates of proportion have in mind. What they really mean is that Israel ought to respond with moderation. But the criteria for moderation are subjective. Should Israel pick off Hamas leaders who are ordering the rocket attacks? The European Parliament last week passed a resolution denouncing the practice of targeted assassinations. Should Israel adopt purely economic measures to punish Hamas for the Kassams? The same resolution denounced what it called Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians. Should Israel seek to dismantle the Kassams through limited military incursions? This, too, has the unpardonable effect of resulting in too many Palestinian casualties, which are said to be “disproportionate” to the number of Israelis injured by the Kassams.

By these lights, Israel’s presumptive right to self-defense has no practical application as far as Gaza is concerned. Instead, Israel is counseled to allow goods to flow freely into the Strip, and to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.

But here another set of considerations intrudes. Hamas was elected democratically and by overwhelming margins in Gaza. It has never once honored a cease-fire with Israel. Following Israel’s withdrawal of its soldiers and settlements from the Strip in 2005 there was a six-fold increase in the number of Kassam strikes on Israel.

Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Article Seven) “In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.” (Article 15) And so on.

It would seem perverse for Israeli taxpayers, including residents of Sderot, to feed the mouth that bites them. It would seem equally perverse for Israel merely to bide its time for an especially unlucky day — a Kassam hitting a busload of schoolchildren, for instance — before striking hard at Gaza. But unless Israel is willing to accept the military, political and diplomatic burdens of occupying all or parts of Gaza indefinitely, the effects of a major military incursion could be relatively short-lived. Israel suffered many more casualties before it withdrew from the Strip than it has since.

Perhaps the answer is to wait for a technological fix and, in the meantime, hope for the best. Israel is at work on a missile-defense program called “Iron Dome” that may be effective against Kassams, though the system won’t be in place for at least two years. It could also purchase land-based models of the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, used by the U.S. to defend the Green Zone in Baghdad.

But technology addresses neither the Islamic fanaticism that animates Hamas nor the moral torpor of Western policy makers and commentators who, on balance, find more to blame in Israel’s behavior than in Hamas’s. Nor, too, would an Iron Dome or the Phalanx absolve the Israeli government from the necessity of punishing those who seek its destruction. Prudence is an important consideration of statesmanship, but self-respect is vital. And no self-respecting nation can allow the situation in Sderot to continue much longer, a point it is in every civilized country’s interest to understand.

On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, N.M., killing 18 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing and 10,000 soldiers into Mexico for nearly a year to hunt Villa down, in what was explicitly called a “punitive expedition.” Pershing never found Villa, making the effort something of a failure. Then again, Villa’s raid would be the last significant foreign attack on continental U.S. soil for 85 years, six months and two days.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Hat Tip Ted Belman of Israpundit

*  A commenter asked me what prompted me to suggest that the WSJ was not a consistent source of balanced information on the Middle East.  While I have never been a subscriber to the Journal, I recall seeing a couple of articles passed around which were less than balanced.  However now that I have spent my lunch hour looking for them I am seeing overwhelming evidence that the WSJ is actually quite balanced... and is even accused by many of being reflexively supportive of Israel.  I stand corrected.

Posted by David Bogner on February 27, 2008 | Permalink


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Bret Stephens is brilliant...former editor of Jpost I think who I heard speak on a mission a few years ago. And really young-early/mid 30s (to me, that's young.)

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Feb 27, 2008 11:52:23 AM

While certainly not as troubling as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal has not been a consistent friend of Israel nor a consistently balanced source of news and commentary about this region.

I am curious what prompted you to write this disclaimer. This editorial is yet another example of the WSJ's refreshingly clearheaded, unbiased coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have seen countless such editorials in this paper. Over the years, I have found the WSJ to be a very consistent friend of Israel, and an extraordinarily balanced source of news and commentary about this region. What makes you say otherwise?

Posted by: Lurker | Feb 27, 2008 2:21:54 PM

The WSJ befuddles many, because its *content* leans leftward, but the *editorials* lean to the right. Why? Ya got me.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Feb 27, 2008 4:06:58 PM

Wry Mouth is right. It's editorial stand tends to be supportive of Israel,
at least by mainstream media standards, but its news content is very mixed.

The WSJ periodicallly (though at rather low frequency) has articles about how
hard it is for Palestinian entreprenuers to succeed or the poor state of
the economy in Palestinian areas and will blame (or list as a major contributing
factor) Israeli checkpoints or security closures without stating why Israel
has the checkpoints and closures in the first place. The reader is often
given the impression that Israel sets up checkpoints and closures out of
vindictiveness or as as a tool to cripple the Palestinian economy.

News items will often concentrate on the Israeli military response (should it
occur) to a terrorist attack rather than the stream of prior terrorist attacks
that prompted it and terror attacks and responses will often be put in the
context of their impact on the "peace process" or regional stability.

Part of this may just be news content. If rockets are fired at Sderot everyday,
then rocket 346 is not news. From the previous 345 rocket firings, one could
pretty well predict that 346 is coming in the near future. So when it happens,
it's not news. Of course, it would be nice for newspapers to have articles stating
that the is a steady barrage of rockets being fired at Sderot. But newspapers
are better at covering individual events, rather than ongoing activities.

However, Israeli responses are infrequent and Arab responses to Israeli military
action has the potential to destabilize things. This means that why it isn't
"fair" to blame the Israeli response for the on-going violence, the fact that
there is an Israeli response is news: It indicates that something new
is happening and something that has the potential to be a step in a broader round
of fighting such as in the Summer of 2006.

While I am sure that much of the problem is the media's bias against Israel.
Part of the problem is that Israel does not consistently response to terrorist
violence. Thus the times that it does respond is a newsworthy event while the
on-going terrorist violence isn't. If it is a deadly but steady drip, drip, drip,
well after 50 drips, it's understood that drip 51 will happen. So drip 51 is
not "news" in this sense of the word.

Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 27, 2008 5:32:06 PM

Coming along nicely.... sees the warts of the NYTimes, learning that the WSJ is not the paper of establishment meanies... excellent....

Posted by: Ben-David | Feb 27, 2008 6:10:12 PM

i noticed the wsj's strong support of israel and general anti-terorism stance after the murder of daniel pearl. they may have always held this position, but it was that heinous act that led me to start seriously paying attention to the journal and what the editors had to say about terrorism.

Posted by: nikki | Feb 28, 2008 12:12:17 AM

Thanks. Now if only we could get that out there on CNN, NBC, Fox and, why not, the front page of the NYT...

Posted by: uberimma | Feb 28, 2008 4:50:45 AM

I have felt for a long time that the WSJ is more consistent in its coverage. Apparently some of the people I have passed articles to consider it the old white man newspaper.

That description follows the trend of trying to label anything Republican as being followed by a small,elitist group, but that is a story for a different day.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 28, 2008 10:50:24 AM


"This editorial . . ."

just to clarify, this piece in question is an op-ed, not an editorial. the distinction is very important. and on that note . . .


i switched my subscription from the times to the journal about 5 years ago. i've found the editorial page (not to be confused with the opinion or op-ed articles) to be consistently right of center on israel. and by consistently i mean 100% of the time.

op-eds are 90% with israel.

the newsreporting might be a bit more uneven, but it is nothing compared to what you find in the times et al.

of course i am biased in favor of the journal, considering they printed 2 letters i sent them on israel.


(i especially like the first letter.)

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Mar 2, 2008 9:41:17 AM

and checking out haaretz b4 i go to sleep, i can conclude without a doubt that this paper is even worse than the times.

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Mar 2, 2008 10:01:07 AM

Benji Lovitt ... Not surprising that the JPost couldn't hold on to a talent like that.

Lurker... I posted an update in your honor. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Wry Mouth ... As long as they are fair and honest I don't care which way they lean.

Jonathan... Good point. Israel has a consistency problem in more than how it deals with terrorists.

Ben-David... Don't pat yourself on the back just yet, svengali. I have plenty of nasty things to say about those on the right... I just haven't had time to muster the proper level of contempt.

nikki... One thing that occurred to me is that many people don't get to the back page.

uberimma... Please don't hold your breath. :-)

Jack... I've often thought the words small and Republican made a nice paring, but probably not in the sense you intended. :-)

Lion of Zion... I think many potential WSJ readers are scared off by the graphs and finance stuff they might find between the hard news items and editorials. And reading Haaretz before bed is just asking for nightmares. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 3, 2008 12:23:14 PM

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