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Miko Peled: A peace activist's war on intellectual honesty

Collateral damage?
Collateral damage?
Courtesy Jersualem Post

On Monday, ABC News reported that three teenage Israeli boys that the Israeli government believed to be kidnapped by Hamas were found dead, ending an intensive search that had been going on for over two weeks.

In a recent interview on Russia Today television, when speaking about the three Israeli teenagers, activist Miko Peled essentially gave those committing these types of acts against any Israeli a pass, if not an endorsement, when he stated that it was, in fact, Israel’s fault for creating an atmosphere where such consequences should be expected.

He even went on to say that for Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn terrorism is “cynical” and imply that perhaps we shouldn’t be saddened at all, despite the young age of the victims when he alleged "these three young men, as we know, were students at a Yeshiva University, a Yeshiva high school. This is the breeding ground for the worst kind of fanatic terrorists….”

It’s an interesting position, considering even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnappings and even more so when you see Palestinian TV producing children's TV shows that advocate killing Jews.

Peled has further condemned Israel’s crackdown on Hamas as a gross overreaction. Admittedly, there has been no proof presented of responsibility even though Hamas has applauded the kidnappings. As the Huffington Post reported, Israel took action against Hamas activists because past attacks have killed hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev reported waiting for 48 hours before assigning blame to Hamas. "The information is conclusive," he said. "The people behind the abduction are Hamas members." Still, there is an argument to be made that airstrikes in retaliation may not be appropriate or productive to either the peace process or garnering sympathy for Israel.

The beneficial role of dissent should not be understated. In a democracy, voices of opposition provide much of the barometer for our actions. Without them, institutions such as slavery would still exist. The anti-war movement that was so vocal during the Vietnam War but largely ignored since hasn’t been present or strong enough to prevent Americans from finding ourselves in a conundrum such as Iraq.

Peled garners some credibility with critics of Israel as the son of an Israeli general who has become one of its staunchest one-sided dissidents. There is little question Israel has made mistakes similar to those of the United States. We have supported oppressive dictators and worked with groups such as the Taliban under the shortsighted old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and it has never worked out well. Israel, like the U.S., had little clue what was growing in the form of radical Islam when they themselves helped facilitate what eventually became Hamas.

Likewise, should we question if these Israeli teenagers really just terrorists-in-waiting? Stories of alleged victims shouldn’t be off limits to scrutiny. While many of those echoing Peled’s sentiments about Israel are also Holocaust deniers and any legitimate fact-checking cannot come to the conclusion that the Nazi “Final Solution” was not only real in its intent but in also in how much was actually executed, there have been a few false claimants who were simply opportunists. As USA Today columnist Jayne O’Donnell recently revealed, sad stories don’t always ring true and there are times when very compelling, emotionally heart-wrenching representations of victims turn out to be grossly overstated or even completely fabricated. It is a sad statement that whenever there is a real tragedy such as 9/11, there will be those who exploit it for personal gain. Still, ostracizing the phonies shouldn’t be a license to lump those actually harmed into the same bucket, particularly when they are children and certainly when their stories are accurate.

Peled's non-condemnation of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli boys shouldn't come as a suprise. Now a resident of the San Diego area who once operated a Karate school, he does presentations on the Israel/Palestine situation and begins with the following disclaimer:

“If anybody here came hoping to hear a balanced presentation then they’re going to be sorely disappointed. I don’t believe that a balanced presentation on this topic is possible. There is no balance on this issue. If anybody claims their presentation is balanced, they’re either misleading themselves or they’re misleading their audience.”

Of course, he also mentions that most people have strong feelings one way or the other, which might suggest to some that there are merits to both sides, but Miko doesn’t see it that way.

Indeed, if you align yourselves with Miko’s position, there is no sympathy for any innocent Israeli child who is a victim of a terrorist attack. Since he cannot envision a balanced presentation, one can only wonder how to address everything from decades of attacks on Israelis to the assassination of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972 to the 73 incidents just between 2001-2003 such as the bombing of a nightclub in Jaffa. In fact, there have been nearly 25,000 Jews killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the last century and those statistics don't enter into Miko's singular condemnation of Israel and Zionism, nor does his peace activism address groups who have killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Syria or any other significant carnage.

He claims Palestinians live in an apartheid state, a common accusation which has been thoroughly debunked by those who actually have lived in apartheid in South Africa. That is not to say that the occupied territories are country clubs but Peled, like many others, also acts as if the Palestinian people are citizens living under Israeli jurisdiction. There is an occupation to preserve security and some freedoms are certainly limited but the Palestinians are not governed by Israel, as opposed to Israeli Arabs are citizens with full equal rights. This reality does not stop Peled and those like him from calling the Israelis "racists."

Intellectual honesty requires that we acknowledge war crimes are never justified and Israel has been guilty at times of going too far. Any country at war or even just defending itself is likely to act improperly because violent conflict doesn’t bring out the best in us. Even if the United States is “the good guys” that doesn’t mean that war crimes committed by our soldiers in any combat situation are to be ignored or excused. Israel has made its share of mistakes, such as the use of white phosphorous in 2009, which, although only intended as a smokescreen, caused severe burns on some civilians, and as a result, Israel was excoriated and ceased using it shortly thereafter. The government has moved distinctly to a hawkish right wing ever since the election of former Irgun member Menachem Begin. It's not inconceivable they are overreacting now in retaliation for these murders.

It is also a simple fact of human nature that human beings don't always behave well under this type of duress. Looking at figures of domestic violence between couples who ostensibly love each other, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people at war or faced with a hostile enemy sometimes struggle to use restraint.

But that doesn't answer the question of why there can be no balanced presentation.

One does not have to be a supporter of Israel to see the disconnect. If we assume for the moment that Peled and other detractors are correct that Israel operates an oppressive apartheid state under which the Palestinians live, what exactly should a Palestinian governing authority or activists do? Is terrorism the only answer and does the world simply need to understand that Israeli civilians will be targeted as payback and get over it? Do the ends justify the means? For that matter, is terrorism an effective means of forcing your opponent to negotiate or is it actually more likely to make them stiffen their back even further?

By Peled’s logic, if someone rapes your daughter then they should fully expect their own daughter to be raped or their family similarly attacked and vice versa as a logical consequence. Yet modern history has well documented the work of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, all of whom facilitated tremendous social and political change against the odds and through peaceful means.

Even Mandela, who flirted briefly with sabotage after forming the militant group Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) or "Spear of the Nation" and was influenced by Marxists, was committed to exerting maximum pressure on the government with minimum casualties. He favored bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transport links at night when civilians were not present. In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela stated that MK chose sabotage because it was the least harmful action that "did not involve loss of life [and] …offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterward."

We see the demands being made on Israel. Do Palestinian advocates also have any moral obligation to follow similar guidelines or do Israel’s children and all civilians just deserve whatever comes their way as subjects of the Israeli regime? And what has the Palestinian government done to pursue other means since Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak brokered a deal giving the Palestinians 95% of what they demanded and Yasser Arafat declined? Could it be that the Palestinian government finds more value in their people being victims than peace or is this also entirely Israel’s fault. For that matter, is Israel’s fault if the Palestinians don’t really want peace and someone there produces those children's programs?

A “peace activist” isn’t required to be fair or even-handed or even truly concerned about peace but when you shrug your shoulders and write off the children of one side or the other as understandable collateral damage, perhaps calling someone else “cynical” is a bit—cynical...although "hypocritical" sounds a lot more accurate.

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