Denouncing Israel — And Bill Maher — With Love

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Andrew Sullivan has endorsed the disturbing logic of Bill Maher's latest Huffington Post missive, in which the comic paints critics of Israel's Lebanon campaign, indiscriminately, as anti-Semites. We are all Mel Gibson now, Maher claims:

As I watch so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would (Can you imagine what Bush would do if a terrorist organization took over Canada and was lobbing missiles into Montana, Maine and Illinois?) — and, by the way, does anyone ever ask Hezbollah for restraint. you know, like, please stop firing your rockets aimed PURPOSEFULLY at civilians? - it strikes me that the world IS Mel Gibson. Most of the time, the anti-Semitism is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there's been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out.

Let's parse this carefully. I know I'm rising to Maher's bait, but I'm sick of this idea that criticizing Israel is de facto Jew-bashing.

The reason the world doesn't ask Hezbollah for restraint is precisely because they're a terrorist militia that purposefully targets civilians. These people are not reasonable; they are a vicious anti-Semitic virus, an organization with American blood on its hands that needs to be disarmed and defanged, if not annihilated.

But what is supposed to differentiate a civilized democracy like Israel from the enemy they face is precisely a sense of restraint: an unwillingness to massacre women and children and U.N. peacekeepers in pursuit of its righteous goal of eliminating Hezbollah's army.

Now don't, please, purposefully misunderstand me. I do not believe that Israel intentionally targets civilians. (I reserve judgment, however, about the intention behind the strike on UNIFIL). But Qana happened because Israel has opted for a strategy of collective punishment of Lebanon for the sins of Hezbollah. And in so doing it has debased itself.

Yes, Hezbollah hides out among the civilian population. But, under all but the most extreme of circumstances, that does not excuse bombing apartment buildings and towns that are home to desperate civilians unable or unwilling to abandon their homes. Israel's apparent indifference to the "collateral damage" that is the inevitable consequence of its urban bombing campaign might — might — be excusable if these attacks were sure to produce a swift victory: three weeks of death and destruction to eliminate a pernicious threat once and for all.

But Israel appears to be having little luck in degrading Hezbollah's leadership or its military might. Indeed, with 200 rockets fired into Israel yesterday, the campaign seems to be most successful at defanging the dogs of Hezbollah by goading them into mauling Haifa with their katyushas.

To address the second part of Maher's post, let's take his flight of fancy and imagine for a moment that the Michigan militias had spun out of control back in the day, had infiltrated southern Ontario and parts of Toronto, and were lobbing missiles across the Great Lakes. (In this wacky scenario Canada would also have to be a deeply unstable democracy with no effective standing army and be riven by ethnic and religious strife.)

Would it be acceptable or advisable for the U.S. to address the crisis by bombing the suburbs of Montreal? Or destroying bridges, airports and oil refineries from Edmonton to Calgary to Vancouver?

There's no question that Hezbollah started this current fight. Israel has a moral right, indeed a moral obligation, to defend itself and its citizens from an organization dead set on its destruction. But waging war against Lebanon is only driving more of that country's citizens into the arms of Hezbollah.

By relinquishing a claim to the moral higher ground, Israel has recklessly transformed Mideast-wide condemnation of Hezbollah into rage on the Arab street. And American acquiescence is, rightly or wrongly, inflaming militant Islamist sentiment worldwide, endangering me, you — and Bill Maher.

No sir. I'm no Mel Gibson.

And I'm going to continue to call for Israeli restraint, and an American brokered ceasefire.

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