And are they applying a single standard of morality to the world they are protesting?

Pro-Hamas protests on university campuses and on streets around the world fall into several categories relevant to judging their morality and immorality. The most immoral are those like the 30  Harvard student organizations and the National Lawyers Guild who expressly supported the Hamas rapes and beheadings even before Israel first a single shot in response.

There is no moral or political justification for lending such support to rapists, beheaders, and kidnappers. Yet these and other groups immediately showed their approval for Hamas’ barbarity, some claiming that it was an appropriate and entirely lawful military action. These groups and individuals have no claim to morality or decency.

The second most immoral category consists of groups and individuals who were silent about the Hamas atrocities only until after Israel began to engage in self-defense measures that caused collateral damage to civilians — that Hamas knew full well would result from its terrorist attack against Israel. By protesting only Israel, not Hamas, these groups and individuals also disqualified themselves from being taken seriously as moral agents.

Third are those groups and individuals who generally condemn Israel for its policies, without also condemning other nations whose policies are far more inconsistent with human rights. Primary among these groups are the United Nations and individual countries that focus on Israel’s imperfections to the exclusion of all other nations. Israel is the Jew among nations, and focusing only on the Jew is a form of international antisemitism.

A variation on the above is organizations such as Human Rights Watch which does address violations by groups other than Israel but focuses disproportionately on the nation state of the Jewish people.  This double standard, too, is a form of international antisemitism.

The final category — and the one least deserving of moral criticism — are those individuals and groups that focus on Israel and other countries in proportion to the seriousness of their violations.  In theory, such groups have the highest claim to moral authority, but in practice, few such groups actually exist.

I am hard pressed to think of a prominent organization, or even many prominent individuals, whose comparative criticism of Israel is proportionate to its comparative culpability. Even the United States government fails this test. Consider the well-intentioned criticism by the Obama administration against Israel for killing too many civilians in its legitimate effort to root out Hamas.

The United States itself killed many, many more innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan when it was seeking, quite justifiably, to destroy ISIS and Al Qaeda. No one knows precisely how many civilians died as the result of American efforts to stop terrorist groups who were operating thousands of miles away from its borders, but the combined numbers are clearly in the hundreds of thousands.

These relatively recent deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison with the number of innocent civilians killed by the United States, Great Britain, and its allies in its just war against Nazism.  Hundreds of thousands of Germans, Japanese, and enemy civilians were killed in the strategic bombings of cities like Dresden, Tokyo and especially by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The world understood that when nations attack other nations, the result will always be civilian deaths. Israel takes greater precautions than any country in the history of the world in trying to minimize civilian’s deaths among Palestinians. Yet they are condemned for more than any other nation in history. This double standard, too, reflects bias and is relevant to judging the comparative morality of nations at war.

The First Amendment gives anti-Israel protesters the right to be immoral.  It gives them the right to lie and to reflect antisemitic bigotry. The First Amendment, though, also gives us the right, indeed the responsibility, to call out this immorality, mendacity, and double standard.

So let the protests go forward. The best answer to immorality and double standards is not censorship, it is morality and truth. The marketplace of ideas must be open to all and should be as transparent as possible.

So, when you see an anti-Israel protest in the press, in the streets, or on college campuses, ask the hard questions: Who are these protesters?  What is their agenda? What is their history?  What are their biases? And do the protesters apply a single standard of morality? The protesters are judging Israel. Let the world judge them as well.

Alan M. Dershowitz on November 4, 2023

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