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The Opinion Chorus on Gaza

What columnists and opinion writers argued, explained, and claimed this week
January 9, 2009

Fourteen days into the Israeli offensive in Gaza, opinion writers and op-ed columnists have spent no deficient number of inches weighing in on the conflict—what Israel/Hamas/the U.S./peacemakers should do, how history should inform the present, why the offensive won’t work, why the offensive will work, what we can learn from the re-eruption of violence, why the cease-fire is the only option, why continued war is the only option, what 2006 has to do with it, what 1993 has to do with it, and what Israel’s upcoming February elections have to do with it. And, of course, there’s more. Here are just a few responses we’ve seen coming from the editorial and opinion pages in the past week.

Calling for a cease-fire

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof took the middle ground (“When it is shelled by its neighbor, Israel has to do something… But Israel’s right to do something doesn’t mean it has the right to do anything”) and called on Obama to speak out more forcefully:

As the ground invasion costs more lives, [Obama] needs to join European leaders in calling for a new cease-fire on all sides — and after he assumes the presidency, he must provide real leadership that the world craves.

Former President Jimmy Carter revisited the six-month cease-fire, writing in The Washington Post:

The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community.

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The Economist’s Gideon Lichfield wrote in the NYT that Israel needs to abandon the military concept of deterrence in favor of a “more pragmatic political” plan:

What Israel should do now is work for a cease-fire on terms that allow both sides to save some face. It should then do something it has done far too little of in the past: improve Gazans’ living conditions significantly. The aim should be to construct a long-lived state of calm in which Hamas has more to lose by breaching the cease-fire than by sticking to it.

An editorial in The Boston Globe called the bloodshed “needless”:

In the long run, popular anger at the suffering of Gazans will play into the hands of extremists. That anger will also make it harder for the 22 states of the Arab League to keep the pledge of their Arab Peace Initiative: to establish normalized relations with Israel once it reaches a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians desperately need a new truce in Gaza.

On numbers and proportionality in war

Bret Stephens, in his “Global View” column at the The Wall Street Journal, made a case for proportionality:

Israel will also have to practice a more consistent policy of deterrence than it has so far done. One option: For every single rocket that falls randomly on Israeli soil, an Israeli missile will hit a carefully selected target in Gaza. Focusing the minds of Hamas on this type of ‘proportionality’ is just the endgame that Israel needs.

But author Etgar Keret, writing in the Los Angeles Times (translated from the Hebrew), wryly expressed his frustration at the media for perpetuating arguments of proportionality in war coverage:

There is something soothing in the proportionality debate because it takes unquantifiable parameters such as anxiety, pain and even human life and seeks to introduce them into a seemingly objective equation. Similar to Newton’s laws or the second law of thermodynamics, this is an a priori law of nature: an equation that contains the suffering and victims of Israel’s southern settlements on one side and produces a reasonable number of corpses on the Gazan side. Something like 23.5 (the half could, perhaps, stand for a particularly serious injury or the death of an elderly person or an infant).

Reacting to the anti-Israel rallies

Writing about anti-Israel demonstrators in Fort Lauderdale and in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby said that we should call it what it is—anti-Semitism:

Let’s say it for the thousand-and-first time: Every negative comment about Israel is not an expression of bigotry. Israel is no more immune to criticism than any other country. But it takes willful blindness not to see that anti-Zionism today – opposition to the existence of Israel, rejection of the idea that the Jewish people are entitled to a state – is merely the old wine of anti-Semitism in its newest bottle.

Letting the war play out

Charles Krauthammer stated in The Washington Post that the French-Egyptian-engineered cease-fire would be “a terrible mistake”:

It would have the same elements as the phony peace in Lebanon: an international force that abjures any meaningful use of force, an arms embargo under which arms will most assuredly flood in, and a cessation of hostilities until the terrorist side is rearmed and ready to initiate the next round of hostilities.

In The Wall Street Journal, Edward N. Luttwak, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, outlines how Israel can win in Gaza:

What Israel can do is weaken Hamas further in its current ground operations by raiding targets that cannot be attacked from the air – typically because they are in the basements of crowded apartment buildings – and by engaging Hamas gunmen in direct combat…. If their target intelligence remains as good as it was during the air attack, they will run out of targets in a matter of days. That is when a cease-fire with credible monitoring would be possible and desirable for both sides as the only alternative to renewed occupation.

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum renamed the peace process “a war process”:

Further negotiations will make sense only when Hamas’s leaders — currently emboldened by a combination of popular indignation and Iranian support — finally arrive at the same conclusion as their secular counterparts, and a new generation of Israelis is persuaded to believe them. Until then, there is no point in bemoaning the passivity of the Bush administration, the silence of Barack Obama, the powerlessness of Arab leaders or the weakness of Europe, as so many, predictably, have begun to do.

Lessons for Obama

There’s a silver lining to the current conflict, writes Jackson Diehl, the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor:

The war against Hamas is proving – once again – that the Middle East’s extremist movements cannot be eliminated by military means. If the incoming Obama administration absorbs that lesson, it will have a better chance of neutralizing Iranian-backed groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and of eventually brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement… Though Israel must defend its citizens against rockets and suicide bombings, the only means of defeating Hamas are political.


Rosa Brooks aimed for humor-in-a-somber-situation in a column that delineates “how to be stupid…Hamas style” (refuse to recognize Israel)…“Israeli style” (complain about unfair media coverage, but don’t let any Israeli or foreign journalists into Gaza)…and “Bush style” (let the new guy handle it).

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.