To the vast majority of Americans, to most other nations, and even to the United Nations, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a just use of force. The Taliban regime, after all, was allowing Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for al Qaeda, a place for training and planning and launching attacks. The United States, in the eyes of most of the world, was fully justified in overthrowing the Taliban regime in an effort to uproot al Qaeda and break the back of that terrorist network. Our response was deemed as proportional in part because of the good being defended and the possible good that may result from the action (among the standards comprising the just war theory).
Israel is acting along the same ethical lines – yet when Israel does it, its actions are met with almost universal condemnation. The transparent double standard that is applied to Israel – a state that acts with extraordinary care to protect enemy noncombatants – is deeply troubling. Let’s just say if the nation we were talking about was non-Jewish, the response from many quarters would be dramatically different and far more sympathetic.
Some of Israel’s more vocal critics are undoubtedly anti-Semitic, but I think this argument is a straw man. Most people recognize that no nation has an unconditional right to military retaliation. The United States’ intervention in Afghanistan garnered broad support because a) the September 11 attacks were incredibly devastating and b) it was pretty plausible that Al Qaeda would continue to attack civilian targets absent some sort of military response. Weighed against the risk of collateral damage in Afghanistan, this rationale was very compelling to most reasonably objective observers.
The Gaza invasion, on the other hand, has incurred more civilian casualties than Hamas’s rocket attacks. There are also serious doubts about the ability of the Israeli military to defeat Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure. I think there are several responses (compelling and otherwise) to this point, but it strikes me as a straightforward empirical debate, not a question of anti-Semitism. Added to this confusion is Israel’s treatment of Gaza over the past few years and you have a situation that is dramatically different – both strategically and morally – than the United States’ posture after September 11. Needless to say, I think we should be able to engage in a debate about the merits of Israel’s strategic choices without resorting to accusations of anti-Semitism.