Category Archives: prisoner exchange

"Progressives" on the Shalit deal: Israel is the moral equivalent of Hamas

Arab terrorists, 2011
Some of the discussions by Jewish “progressives” and their allies have used the Shalit prisoner exchange to propose a moral equivalence between the Israeli justice system and the Hamas abductors.
First, there is a relatively mild version.
Mr. Ralph Seliger, writing a blog for “Partners for Progressive Israel,” has the following musings on Shalit:

There’s a lot more that can be said on this, of course. For example, the diverse reasons that so many Palestinians have been imprisoned, some justly and others not: from participating in heinous mass murders to offenses that should not be cause for  imprisonment, e.g., merely being a member of Hamas.

In other words, the Israeli system of justice is sometimes just, to be sure, but at other times it is unjust, when, not to put too fine a point on it, it functions on the moral level of the Hamas abductors.  Mr. Seliger insists that there are “so many Palestinians” who may have been, or have indeed been, imprisoned for “offenses that should not be cause of imprisonment.”   How does he know this ?  He speaks, by way of example, about “mere membership” in Hamas as too trivial for punishment.  But what were the details in cases that he would consider instances of unjust imprisonment ?  Were these cases of Hamas membership with or without criminal conspiracy to commit murder ?  What does he know about actual cases ?  If he knows he will not tell.  We are just asked to trust him that “there is a lot more that can be said” about the Shalit matter, namely that Israel acts unjustly.
If Mr. Seliger’s musings are annoying and pretentious, his colleague Ashley Bates on “Tikkun” (to which Seliger also  contributes regularly), is more than a bit over the top. 
Now, we know that the boss of Tikkun is person whom his supporters and he himself call Rabbi Michael Lerner, but who has steadfastly refused to disclose how or by whom he was ordained, apparently on grounds of freedom of speech or some other important democratic principle.  I have had occasion to write about him before; since then,  I have found nothing on his on-line publication that detracts from my impression of him as someone implacably hostile to Israel and the Jewish people.
Ms. Bates, in her contribution to the Lerner blog, complains that media reports on Shalit have given the impression that only he was a victim when, in fact, according to Ms. Bates, there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who suffer just as much.  At least many of these imprisonments, she suggests, are as unjust as that of Gilad Shalit.  On these general matters she resembles Mr. Seliger, but then she does something that Mr. Seliger does not do:  she goes into detail.  And she does this with such surprising clumsiness that any attentive reader is bound to catch her various distortions.
1)  how many Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails ?
Ms. Bates maintains that since 1967, “about 20 percent of the Palestinian population have served time in jail.”  How does she know this ?  Her data come from the link that I have reproduced here, i.e. Addameer, a Palestinian support group.  Not perhaps the most unbiased source.  But be that as it may, the very source that Ms. Bates here quotes does not support her allegations of 20% having “served time in jail.”  What it in fact says is that

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 700,000  Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

So Ms. Bates goes from the “have been detained” of her source to “have served time in jail.”  “Detained” by police can mean detention of a few minutes or hours to much longer.  Not a distinction that Ms. Bates will entertain.  This switch — from detention in her source to imprisonment in her text — is enough to destroy any and all credibility of her piece.  And, we must conclude, this is not a matter that the learned Rabbi who is in charge of Tikkun would care to investigate.

There is also something breathtakingly vague about the computation of that twenty-percent figure.  A percentage computation requires a numerator — in this case the number of prisoners — and a denominator — in this case the population.  When Addameer speaks of the Palestinian population “since the beginning  … in 1967,” just which population figure does it have in mind ?  In the last forty four years many have died, many were born.  Does Addameer include in its population the total of all these lives and births and deaths ?  Or only the population at one point in time ?  If it is the latter, as the context suggests, then the denominator is artificially diminished, leading to an artificially inflated percentage figure.  Of course all this asumes that we can trust the original raw figures, which we cannot.  But even if they were trustworthy, the computational errors would vitiate the results.

Does either Ms. Bates or her self-styled rabbinic supervisor care about such detail ?  Apparently not.

2.  The case of Ameer Makhoul

Most of Ms. Bates’s piece is taken up by the case of Palestinian convict Ameer Makhoul.  Ms. Bates’s take on the case is that it is a matter of unjust imprisonment for strictly political reasons, citing Amnesty International and a variety of pro-Palestinian sources.  She writes about 500 words on this case, charging forced confessions and other such matters.  She also reports that Makhoul is now involved in a hunger strike, etc.  But nowhere in her piece does she mention that Makhoul in fact agreed to a plea bargain in which he admitted espionage against Israel.  The facts were reported in Haaretz, and were certainly available to Ms. Bates.  Why does she suppress them in her reporting ?

Ms. Bates suggests that Makhul was victimized because he supports a boycott of Israel, and she cites the recent anti-boycott legislation in Israel as somehow relevant to his case.  Like others, she distorts this legislation (see my blog on this, and also that of NGO MONITOR).

But her overall charge is really against the Israeli system of justice as a whole:  it is unjust, period.  To believe this proposition, which is also endorsed by Mr. Ralph Seliger and other Jewish “progressives,” one would have to be so biased against Israel (and the Jewish people) as to simply overlook the internal inconsistencies and obvious distortions of those who advance it.