On Thursday, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th District, penned an op-ed in Daily Kos in which he argued that it is a progressive imperative to support Israel’s assault of Gaza.
It was a mostly forgettable post filled with factual inaccuracies, problematic justifications for killing civilians, and dehumanizing stereotypes of Palestinians that received almost no attention both here and in progressive media in general. However, what makes the post significant is that it was written not just by an elected official, but a Democrat writing under the banners of both progressive politics and liberal Zionism.
For this reason, I’ve chosen to briefly disassemble it below as both a progressive and a two-state Jew.
Let’s begin, shall we? In the first two paragraphs, Leach establishes his progressive credentials, and notes he’s referred to as “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania” for his stances on the issues.
Then, after noting his preference to focus on human rights in the foreign policy arena and his general opposition to American wars (except for Afghanistan), he writes the following regarding his ‘progressive’ worldview:
To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.
Leach’s post has no citations or links, and there’s a reason for this: such generalizations are not supported by reality. While many of Israel’s democratic principles should be celebrated as evidence of Israel’s democratic promise, the painful reality is that such principles are increasingly coming under attack. And many of its current, anti-democratic policies cannot possibly be supported by a ‘progressive’ claiming to champion human rights. Take free speech, for example. In Israel proper, there are several laws which suppress freedom of speech and the right to dissent, including the Nakba Law, which makes it illegal for Palestinians to publicly view Israel’s Independence Day as a time of mourning or sadness. Never mind the West Bank, where Palestinians under a decades-old occupation face a military rule which routinely suppresses free speech and the right to protest, along with the denial of many basic human rights.
If Leach truly supported Israel’s democracy, he would use his political clout as a Democrat and “progressive Zionist” to strengthen it, rather than paint it with an inaccurate brush. However, Leach’s goal is not to support democratic principles, but to paint the Gaza War as a conflict between good and evil in a zero-sum manner. President George W. Bush would approve.
For after painting Israel as progressive (a country where the last remnants of an anti-war left are increasingly under attack), he goes on to demonize Hamas by noting abhorrent human rights violations – violations which rightly have been condemned by progressive human rights groups in Israel. Here’s the thing, though: Leach’s condemnation has one goal, and that’s to vilify Palestinians in order to justify Israel’s killing of civilians in its assault on Gaza.
For he next writes,
It is certainly true that a large number of Gazans have lost their lives in the current conflict. And some of my progressive friends have correctly noted that many of them are innocent civilians and children.
But tragically, this is the case in all wars. We don’t fight wars against individuals; we fight against governmental regimes that control the weapons that threaten us. There were many innocent Japanese children during World War II. They were too young to know who Hideki Tojo was. But Tojo bombed Pearl Harbor. We had to fight back, sad in the knowledge that innocent people would die. Similarly, Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked, doing their best to minimize civilian casualties.
These paragraphs are stunning. Here we have a “progressive” elected official citing a historical stain, the dropping of atomic bombs on Japanese cities in World War II which killed nearly 200,000 innocents, and using that stain to justify Israel’s killing of Palestinians in the name of defense.
Just look at the language: among Palestinians, “a large number of Gazans have lost their lives,” just as in World War II, it was known many innocent Japanese “would die.” The passive construction belies his real worldview: civilians who have died via American and Israeli warheads have not been killed by those countries. Instead, they were the inevitable victims of necessary wars – victims the Japanese and Palestinians forced America and Israel to kill.
To Israel’s credit, unlike the United States in World War II, it has taken great pains, when striking, to minimize civilian casualties. However, that fact does not change the reality that Israel’s disproportionate response in Gaza has killed over 2,000 people, injured over 10,000, destroyed thousands of private houses, and reduced many neighborhoods to rubble. It’s why Israel is now bracing for war crimes investigations.
For Leach, though, only one side’s actions are inexcusable, and so he sets up a straw man argument rather than rightly critique actions on both sides. He says,
Many progressives, who share my strong preference for peace over war and rarely, if ever, find a legitimate reason for Israel (or the United States for that matter) to use force, somehow justify Hamas shooting rockets into Israel. The fact is that since Hamas assumed power, they have fired almost 15,000 rockets, killing dozens and injuring almost 2,000 Israelis. No other nation in the world would be expected to tolerate this.
Perhaps we could all have some faint hope that the recently announced open-ended cease-fire will result in some progress in addressing the concerns of all sides. I understand that progressives feel the Palestinian people have legitimate grievances, and it seems to me that the negotiating table is the place to address them. But there is no grievance that would justify Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians, which is a war crime. And there is no progressive principle which would require Israel to silently endure countless attacks on its people.
Hamas’ firing of rockets should of course be condemned, which Leach is happy to do. As for those legitimate grievances “progressives feel” Palestinians have? Crickets. Not a word about Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has created a virtual, impoverished prison for 1.8 million people. And not a word about Israel’s rejection of diplomacy after the PA-Hamas unity agreement, a diplomacy he claims to support.
Finally, we come to Leach’s concluding paragraph, which is just stunning. He writes,
We all have political heroes. As a progressive, I find my inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These great, progressive leaders all achieved far more for their people than the rocket-launchers and suicide-bombers of Hamas have for theirs. I would hope that in time, the progressive community can come closer to speaking with one voice in condemning the sort of terrorism and genocide that can be found in the Hamas charter. If we as progressives really care about the suffering of the Palestinian people and peace, we have no other choice.
I’m glad Nelson Mandela is a hero for Leach. Perhaps he does not know, however, that while Mandela supported Israel’s right to exist alongside a Palestinian state, he was critical of the occupation and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in ways Leach seems to unwilling to replicate.
I’m also glad Leach is willing to condemn Hamas’ vile charter, which is a truly disgusting, outdated document of hate which must be changed. Perhaps he does not know, however, that Hamas’ leader recently distanced himself from it, and championed a political solution based on 1967 borders.
Perhaps Leach is also not aware that Likud’s official party platform flatly denies the possibility of a Palestinian state, setting Israel’s permanent borders from sea-to-sea. For if he were, his liberalism would demand that such facts be acknowledged as one who supposedly cares about the suffering of Palestinians and the attainment of a final peace. Indeed, as a progressive he would have “no other choice.”
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.