Letter to the Editor: Focusing on false equivalences distorts reality, distracts from real issues

In an August 1 editorial for the Gateway Journalism Review, William Freivogel denounced the “false equivalences” imposed upon Israel in its latest assault on the Gaza Strip.

Freivogel’s selective focus on equivalences distracts from what is really at issue, exculpating the US from its role in enabling more than 1,800 deaths and the displacement of more than 300,000 in Gaza since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. “Children continue to bear the brunt of the crisis,” too, the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs explained in a report released August 3, “with 373 killed and at least 2,744 injured.”

“Never mind that it was Hamas firing missiles into Israel that started the violence, or that Hamas places its weapons near civilians, schools and hospitals, or that Hamas vows to drive Israelis into the sea, or that Israel warns civilians when it is about to bomb,” Freivogel argued.

Through omission, Freivogel ensured readers would pay little mind to the fact “Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7,” prior to Hamas firing its first rockets in 19 months, as Jewish intellectual Noam Chomsky reminded those who attend to reality.

Never mind, one should also add, that Gaza has been under siege – a 7-year blockade tightly enforced by Israel and Egypt preventing people, essential goods and services from going in or out.

The “devastating results of the blockade imposed by the Government of Israel,” Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert wrote in his June 2014 report to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East before the recent Israeli military assault even started, have given rise in Gaza to other realities worth keeping mind.

According to the report, the blockade has contributed to 38.5 percent unemployment, caused 57 percent of households food insecure, left 90 percent of the water not potable, and guaranteed the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip – Al-Shifa – would be without adequate supplies and unable to perform needed surgeries.

Forget how “Hamas places its weapons near civilians, schools and hospitals,” Freivogel waxed sarcastic. In the same vein, we must forget that Israel made it so hospitals in Gaza, like Al-Shifa, could not function.

Erase from memory also that the Israeli Defense Forces shelled the al-Aqsa hospital in Gaza. Bury under the ideological rug as well the killing of 10 Palestinians outside of an UNWRA school providing shelter to civilians – “another gross violation of international humanitarian law,” according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who deemed it a “moral outrage and a criminal act,” which “must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable.”

“Israel warns civilians when it is about to bomb,” Freivogel noted. This is true, except that it is not true at all. In truth, Israel ignored the more than 30 messages UNWRA sent informing the IDF of the coordinates for the UN refugee school noted above – the one where 10 people died at the entrance after an Israeli airstrike. When Israel does warn civilians before it bombs, it must never mind that the concentrated area they are bombing is under siege with nowhere for civilians to flee – apparently not even hospitals and UN shelters.

“Hamas vows to drive Israelis into the sea,” Freivogel wrote.

However, “Hamas leaders have repeatedly made it clear that Hamas would accept a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that has been blocked by the U.S. and Israel for 40 years,” Chomsky clarified, adding that “Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Palestine,” and “is implementing that commitment,” as evidenced by the effects of both the blockade and latest military operation.

To carry out that operation, Israel receives military aid from the US to the tune of $30 billion over the course of 10 years, according to an April 2014 Congressional Research Service report to Congress. Israel is also the largest recipient of Foreign Military Financing from the US, the report states. Israel purchases billions of dollars in US military equipment – much used in the latest assault – with FMF grants from the US.

Freivogel excoriated journalist Glenn Greenwald for comparing a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with one made by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany. A more relevant juxtaposition is comparing Freivogel’s focus on those comparisons with Greenwald’s actual reporting about Israel.

Last year Greenwald – along with Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill – reported the NSA shares intelligence data from its surveillance activities “without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens.”

More recently, Greenwald elaborated the “broader American policy that actively supports and enables Israeli aggression and militarism,” encompassing the amped up surveillance assistance the NSA provides the Israeli SIGINT National Unit, “including data used to monitor and target Palestinians” – because US FMF for Israel and distortive US media focus on equivalences do not suffice.

Yet, protests in Europe “against the Israelis rather than against Vladimir Putin and his separatists over the downing of the Malaysian airliner that killed 200 Dutch citizens,” are “astonishing,” for Freivogel.

Equally “astonishing” is that despite the uncertainty surrounding the MH17 downing, media pundits fail to make connections to historical events involving far less ambiguity regarding which parties bear responsibility. When the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655 in July 1988 killing 290 people, 66 of them children, as it flew through Iranian airspace on a clear commercial route, no outrage from Washington ensued.

Reagan defended the attack and the commander of the Vincennes received the Legion of Merit award two years later, Chomsky reminds us. The Vincennes was in Iranian waters to defend Saddam Hussein in his US-backed aggression against Iran. Indeed, Reagan “accorded Saddam a privilege otherwise granted only to Israel: there was no serious reaction when Iraq attacked the USS Stark with missiles, killing 37 crewmen, much like the case of the USS Liberty, attacked repeatedly by Israeli jets and torpedo ships in 1967, killing 34 crewmen,” Chomsky explained.

Returning to false equivalences, Freivogel criticizes the comparisons of Israel with South Africa under apartheid.

“But Israel is not South Africa during Apartheid,” he wrote. “Israeli law’s recognition of the rights of Arab citizens is significant and does not compare with Apartheid.”

Indeed, the South African analogy is somewhat of a “dubious one,” as Chomsky also points out.

Chomsky argues that within Israel discrimination against non-Jews is not at the level of South African apartheid, but “the situation is far worse than it was in South Africa” in the occupied territories, he qualified. In the South Africa “the white nationalists needed the black population,” Chomsky avers, while Israel considers the Palestinian population largely disposable – like the 1,800 now dead in Gaza.

Like Freivogel, Chomsky is critical of both the Israel-South Africa juxtaposition and aspects of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but for different reasons – namely, the latter thinks the “necessary educational work has not been done,” for BDS to achieve results in Israel like those achieved against South African apartheid.

Like the general secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, Chomsky has, however, joined with others to call for a military embargo on Israel.

Amnesty International has also urged the US government to stop arming Israel, just as the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution – with the only negative voting coming from the US – to investigate violations of international human rights with regard to Israel’s recent assault.

Similarly, other actions by Israel, like the construction of a separation wall in the West Bank, have been considered contrary to international law by the International Court of Justice, which suggested all States are obligated “not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”

Human Rights Watch entreated Palestinians to seek justice at the International Criminal Court after the Red Cross was forced to stop delivering emergency shelters to the occupied territories because Israel just kept demolishing them, no doubt with US-supplied munitions.

If nothing else, intellectual honesty demands assaying the above facts, not focusing on false equivalences.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis. He writes for Truthout, among other publications. 

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