three boys
21 Jul 2014

Mike Huckabee vs the Dalai Lama: Moral Relativism and Ethical Inversion in Gaza


I remember the day, the moment actually, that I made a decision to invest my energies in spiritual rather than political activism.  I was on an anti-apartheid march at the University of Witwatersrand.  As we emerged from the campus into Braamfontein (illegal by Apartheid standards,) I noticed that some demonstrators had joined with a broad banner at the head of the procession.  Painted in quick, broad strokes it read, “Zionism = Apartheid.”

I’m not going into the whole story of how I walked away and what happened next.  Suffice it to say that since that moment the thrust of my life has been to seek change through spiritual rather than political activism.

Truth be told I think all anti-zionism has a spiritual root of anti-semitism by which standard all political commentary on Israel is at some level spiritual.  But the moral relativism and ethical inversion that is rampant in the global perception and portrayal of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge is so widespread, so deep and intense that it strikes me as having extra-ordinary spiritual implications.  All this is by way of my sharing I’m writing an uncharacteristically politically inclined blog post.

Someone I very much respect posted that he’d at one point videographed the Dalai Lama and asked him for his message to the Israeli and Palestinian people.  The summarized, distilled version of his message was this: “Regardless of your past history, the current reality is that you have to live side by side.”

Regardless of your past history, the current reality is that you have to live side by side.”

Words upon which the author of the post pondered, “No big deal, right? It’s almost vanilla. But, as I’ve unpacked it over time, this is what I have come away with.  The Dalai Lama takes no position on who is right, and who is wrong…In seventeen words, he acknowledged the historical narratives of both people. He pointed no fingers at who is to blame, and at which nation is more deserving of living in the Holy Land than the other.”

I disagree.  I believe our need to acknowledge everyone’s narrative as equally valid all of the time has us stuck in the muck of moral relativity and worse – ethical inversion.  I’ll get to that in another post.  That’s what I really want to address.  But first we have to lay the groundwork.  For now, here are some facts (those inconvenient pieces of information that can be shown to be true) which point out how far gone we are in our inability to point and name things for what they are:

Some Inconvenient Truths

When Israel left Gaza in 2005…they left!  There was no occupation, no blockade.  They left hoping for and committed to peace.  American Jews even found a way to gift the Arabs in Gaza with greenhouse irrigation systems (to the sweet tune of $14M) despite the fact that the PA would not be involved in the financial transaction!  Yet within a month looters had stripped those greenhouses and begun dashing hopes for peace.

Since the withdrawal, terrorists have fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel targeting civilians.  Hamas’s Terror Tunnels cost an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars.  One of the tunnels found on July 7, 2014, was 1.2 km (.75 mi) long.  It was full of explosives, accessible from a house in Gaza, with an exit in Israel.  They have used schools, hospitals, mosques and homes as weapons caches and launching pits for missiles as well as for Tunnels of Terror.  And to ensure that those tunnels are filled to the brim with eager little terrorists, the PA and Hamas have indoctrinated their youth with a desire to die as martyrs.  Etcetera.

I believe our need to acknowledge everyone’s narrative as equally valid all of the time has us stuck in the muck of moral relativity and worse – ethical inversion

The same clear distinctions mark the conduct of the two sides since the recent onset of hostilities.  As of earlier today, since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge more than 1,790 rockets have been fired indiscriminately at Israeli citizens from Gaza.  It’s not only the Israelis who have noted the immoral and (according to international law) illegal use of missiles by Hamas.  On July 9, Ibrahim Khraishi, Palestinian Representative to the UNHRC acknowledged that, “The missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity.”  Hamas has thrice violated ceasefire agreements that Israel adhered to.  (On July 15 Israel suspended strikes in Gaza for 6 hours.  In that time, Hamas fired 50 rockets from Gaza.  On July 17 the IDF agreed to a humanitarian window in Gaza.  Hamas continued firing from Gaza.  On July 20 the IDF agreed to a Red Cross request for a cease-fire in Shuja’iya.  Hamas continued fighting from there.)  Hamas encourages the Arab residents of the Gaza strip to move in the direction of danger and then gleefully uses the tragedy to their own advantage, issuing social media guidelines that the dead are always “innocent civilians.”

Israel on the other hand has an internationally unprecedented moral advantage.  Throughout the retaliation, Israel has adhered to international law.  Prior to bombing, it has pre-warned Gazan residents by dropping leaflets; via direct telephone calls to notify residents of impending missile strikes; and with roof knocking.  In the words of Bibi Netanyahu, “We use missile defense to protect people.  They use people to protect missiles.”

To boot, even during current hostilities, Israel allows foodstuffs, medical supplies and more into Gaza.  (Aside from the electricity cut off by a Hamas rocket downing a high-power line that supplied electricity to Gaza) they continue to provide Gaza with electricity even though Gaza alone owes the Israel Electric Corporation NIS 220 million, $64.15M (which is just a fraction of the staggering NIS 1.5B, $437.38M, of unpaid Palestinian debt.)

Calling a Spade a Spade

In the words of Mike Huckabee, “Not one of the Palestinians would have died if Hamas didn’t insist on firing rockets into Israel and then using civilians as human shields…I’m not saying this because I’m a Jew.  Cos I’m not a Jew.  I believe there’s a difference however between good and evil.  And I would never tell good to restrain itself.  Nor would I ever treat evil as if it were the same as good.

Mike Huckabee’s a far cry from the Dalai Lama.  But I’m not sure they’re not both after peace.  We’ve bought in to the fact that it’s loving not to take a position on who is right, and who is wrong.  We should hold and acknowledge the historical narratives of both people.  We shouldn’t point fingers at who is to blame, or at who is more deserving or more entitled in a given situation.  But what is one to do when confronted with facts like these?  How do you live side-by-side with millions of people who want you dead?

Much as Huckabee’s musings seem hostile, I think it is his bold (and counter-cultural) acknowledgement that there is not a moral equivalence between the two stances that pave a path to peace.