Selective Moral Outrage

April 26th, 2009

In Our Selective Moral Outrage in The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal, Bret Stephens asks why there is so much moral outrage directed at Israel in regard to the Palestinians and so little at Russia in regard to Chechnya. 

Russia’s actions have been far more aggressive and deadly than Israel’s.  However, if the issue is terrorism, Palestinian terrorists have inflicted at least as much death and destruction as Chechen terrorists, if not more.  If the issue is statehood, Israel would support Palestinian statehood if its security were guaranteed; Russia is fighting to prevent Chechen statehood.  

Why, then, is so much moral outrage directed at Israel and so little at Russia?

Stephens concludes:

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inflames the Muslim world in a way the Chechen one does not. But why is that, when so many more Muslims are being victimized by Russia?

Then too, why does the wider world participate in the Muslim world’s moral priorities? Why, for instance, do high-profile Western writers like Portuguese Nobelist José Saramago make “solidarity” pilgrimages to Ramallah, but not to the Chechen capital of Grozny? Why do British academics organize boycotts of their Israeli counterparts, but not their Russian ones? Why is Palestinian statehood considered a global moral imperative, but statehood for Chechnya is not?

Why does every Israeli prime minister invariably become a global pariah, when not one person in a thousand knows the name of Chechen “President” Ramzan Kadyrov, a man who, by many accounts, keeps a dungeon near his house in order to personally torture his political opponents? And why does the fact that Mr. Kadyrov is Vladimir Putin’s handpicked enforcer in Chechnya not cause a shudder of revulsion as the Obama administration reaches for the “reset” button with Russia?

I have a hypothesis. Maybe the world attends to Palestinian grievances but not Chechen ones for the sole reason that Palestinians are, uniquely, the perceived victims of the Jewish state. That is, when they are not being victimized by other Palestinians. Or being expelled en masse from Kuwait. Or being excluded from the labor force in Lebanon. Things you probably didn’t know about, either. As for the Chechens, too bad for their cause that no Jew will ever likely become president of Russia.


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11 Responses to “Selective Moral Outrage”



  1. Kevin |

    I have a hypothesis.

    By which of course he means to say that he knows perfectly well why.

    Maybe the world attends to Palestinian grievances but not Chechen ones for the sole reason that Palestinians are, uniquely, the perceived victims of the Jewish state.

    That’s a small fraction of it, which he has conveniently stripped of it’s historical context viz the Holocaust.

    That is, when they are not being victimized by other Palestinians. Or being expelled en masse from Kuwait. Or being excluded from the labor force in Lebanon. Things you probably didn’t know about, either.

    In fact, I did.

    I also know about the collusion between Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen and the IDF to allow the massacres of women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refuge camps in 1982. This just weeks after the Palestinian men had surrendered their weapons and been deported out of Beirut, thus leaving the women and children utterly defenseless before their mass-murderers.

    I also know that among the enigmatic Druze, those living inside Israel proper are supportive of the Jewish state and willingly serve in the IDF while the overwhelming majority of Druze who live outside of Israel proper do not support Israel – to the extent that Druze living in the Golan Heights reject the available Israeli citizenship 9 to 1. And although Lebanese Druze have occasionally cooperated with Israel against Lebanese Muslims, they’ve historically preferred to cooperate with Lebanese Christians who in turn are much more willing to cooperate with Israel when they deem it useful to do so.

    I also know that utterly unlike Zionist Jews, the Russians don’t wear a historic victimhood of epic proportions on their sleeves as both a badge of honor and an excuse for just about anything.

    In short, the religious affiliation of most Chechens is one of the very few points of commonality between the two highly disparate situations. But then it seems pretty obvious that Mr. Stephans understood that before he wrote the essay.

    As for the Chechens, too bad for their cause that no Jew will ever likely become president of Russia.

    If you say so, Mr. Stephans. If you truly cared about the fight for Chechen independence then you’d have compared it to the more analagous Darfur conflict. But of course that wouldn’t have been very interesting because there’s no way to grind on your pro-Zionist axe if you were to stick with analagous comparisons.


  2. Tom |

    Kevin, we’ve been around this particular bush a few times. To address just a few points:

    There is no valid comparison between Israel-Palestinian issues and Darfur. I have no idea how you reached that conclusion.

    Sabra and Shatila was bad, yes, and the IDF was indirectly responsible, if only because they should have seen it coming. There was a huge negative reaction in Israel, and Ariel Sharon was forced to resign his cabinet post. All true, and irrelevant to this subject.

    The absolute fact is that Arab governments have done very little to support Palestinian refugees since 1948. Their main interest in the Palestinians is to use them as a cause in the Arab and Muslim effort to destroy Israel. The truth is that Israel has done more to assist Palestinians than Arab governments. You can go on and on about the Druze and Lebanese Christians and whatever, but nothing changes the facts. It looks like you’re determined to find some justification, no matter how thin, for every negative action of Muslims.

    Jews “wear a historic victimhood of epic proportions on their sleeves as both a badge of honor and an excuse for just about anything?” I honestly don’t think you believe that.

    The only significance of Zionism is historical. It was a movement that began over a century ago with the goal of establishing a homeland for the world’s Jews. It was rooted in both the growing general trend toward nationalism and the bitter experience of Jews in the diaspora, reinforced by the horrors of WWII. It succeeded with the establishment of Israel in 1948, and since then Zionism has been nothing more than a minor organizational entity that supports Israel, along with many other and more influential organizations. To use the term as you’ve used it here, and as opponents of Israel everywhere use it, implies that the very existence of Israel is still a “movement” that is subject to criticism, and should that criticism prevail Israel will simply cease to exist. Pure nonsense.

    We have to deal with the world as it is today. Israel exists, it’s the only democracy by a long shot in the Middle East, and it’s a very important ally of the U.S. in political, strategic, cultural, and moral terms. Israel is surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims who yearn for its destruction, and their instrument is Palestinian terrorism, given that they have proven themselves incompetent to defeat Israel by direct military action several times over.

    You can apologize for Palestinian terrorism and condemn Israel’s defense of itself, but the U.S. will never forsake the state of Israel and watch it be destroyed, along with most or all of the Jews who live in it. President Obama, like every past president, will support Israel at least at a level necessary to ensure its continued survival. The American left, which is inexplicably anti-Israel (to say the least), is just going to have to live with that fact.


  3. Kevin |

    There is no valid comparison between Israel-Palestinian issues and Darfur. I have no idea how you reached that conclusion.

    Of course I didn’t reach such a conclusion.

    The truth is that Israel has done more to assist Palestinians than Arab governments.

    Under international law Israel, as the occupying force, has responsibilities towards the occupied which other countries obviously don’t have. That is as it should be. Similarly, while almost uniformly white-skinned, heavily Christian Allied Powers occupied Japan, our equally white-skinned, equally Christian friends in Switzerland had zero obligations towards the occupied Japanese people. Funny how that works…

    It looks like you’re determined to find some justification, no matter how thin, for every negative action of Muslims.

    I think your religious bias is showing. Mr. Stephans at least tilted at the Palestinians as a geographical Arab group rather than at the religious affiliation of the majority of them. Fact is, Christians and Druze have suffered alongside Muslims. Both have more nuanced views with respect to Israel than do their Muslim neighbors. But it is a gross misrepresentation of the larger conflict to only couch it in terms of Muslims versus Jews.

    Does it make it easier to dismiss what I have to say on this subject to assume my ignorance?


  4. Brian |

    Kevin, the Palestinians are not Arabs, at least not according to Arabs (that count).

    The Palestinians were hustled out of Jordan in the late 60s. Why? I imagine that the Jordanians wearied of them as much as everybody else has.

    But be that as it may, while too many on the left wish to sacrifice Israel to the Palestinians, they would do well to ask why it is that Jordan won’t accommodate them. Jordan comprises, after all, about 2/3 of the Palestinian Mandate of the Balfour Agreement of 1918. Geographic Israel comprises less than 1/3 of the Palestinian Mandate.

    And I simply find it amazing that civil war erupted in Lebanon shortly after the Palestinians started arriving in the late 60s and early 70s – a civil war that didn’t conclude until 1995. Yep, definitely initiated by those evil Druse and Phalangists.

    Prior to the Palestinians, Beirut was the world’s center for culture and fashion; more so even than Paris. Today, it is still a war-torn dump. It is getting better, but so long as Lebanon is predominantly Muslim, it will remain a dump. And to think, prior to 1970, it was predominantly Christian – the only predominantly Christian country in all of southwestern Asia.

    And no, Palestinians are not Arabs, at least not according real Arabs. Most Arabs, if they want to emigrate and obtain citizenship in another Arab country, get rubber-stamped. It isn’t universally true, but nearly so. Not so for the Palestinians – they are denied citizenship in ALL Arab nations.

    Israel knows the score – the Palestinians are used as pawns by the Arabs, and the Arabs, for their part, really couldn’t care less what happens to the Palestinians as long as the Israel/Palestine conflict ultimately results in the weakening and destruction of Israel.

    Frankly, I don’t think Israel has been that great a friend to us. From the USS Liberty to the Robert Pollard spy case, they’ve been, at best, fickle with us. They were a willing proxy for us against Soviet expansionism in Syria and Egypt. Imagine what might have happened to world commerce if the Soviets had controlled all access through the Suez.


  5. doris |

    I think the reason our Gov. does nothing about Russia, is well, because it is Russia. We can’t condemn them or even acknowledge it because we tread on thin ice with them, as they might be able to wipe us off the face of the earth. Palestine, not so much. Kevin is very passionate in his thoughts, and certainly not ignorant of anything, as I see it. You, as well as Tom, have truly enlightened me, thanks. I do think Tom is showing his Muslim bias, too.


  6. Kevin |

    Brian, here’s something for you to ponder: If Jordan hustled the Palestinians out of Jordan in the late 60s, as you claim, how was it that Jordanian forces were barely able to defeat Palestinian rebels seeking to overthrow the monarchy in 1970/71? How is it that Palestinians make up roughly half of Jordan’s population right now? Why does the Baqaa Palestinian Refuge Camp continue to exist just outside Amman Jordan?

    If you got such basic facts so woefully wrong, just imagine how factually-challenged your other opinions listed above might be?


  7. Kevin |

    You’re exactly right, Doris. That’s also why American Chicken Hawks act so belligerently towards Iran but so meekly towards North Korea. As well as why the Iraqi people apparently were so much more deserving of the sacrifice of American blood and huge amounts of taxpayer dollars in order to bring them freedom while the starving citizens of North Korean had zero chance of the Chicken Hawks coming to their rescue.

    Not that North Korea has the capacity to directly wipe us off the face of the earth. But they clearly have the potential capacity to do it indirectly.


  8. Tom |

    Brian’s facts aren’t wrong. There may be some confusion generated by the highly summarized nature of these discussions, and that could account for your different perceptions. “Late 60s” may have been slightly off the mark, but it’s pretty close to 1970. It’s also inexact to say Palestinians sought to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, although that might have been a goal. Jordan perceived the PLO and related groups as having too much power, and concerned with what they might do, fought them in 1970, winning and expelling them in Sep 70 (Black September).

    There’s also confusion about who is a Palestinian. It generally means anyone who is from that region and technically could include Israelis. Two-thirds or so of Jordanians are Palestinians, and there are some “refugees” in Jordan who originated long ago in Mandatory Palestine. However, the fact that Jordan wouldn’t tolerate the PLO and related Palestinian terrorists and expelled them, and the fact that they moved on to Lebanon and wreaked havoc there for more than 10 years before they were forced to move on to Tunisia, are correct.

    Judged on Brian’s facts, his opinions would seem pretty sound.

    Kevin, I don’t think you’re ignorant or unintelligent because you disagree with me; quite the contrary. However, it would be fair to say that I don’t understand how you know the same facts I know and reach such diametrically opposite conclusions on Middle East issues.

    I don’t have religious biases, at least not in the sense that I prefer one religion over another for religious reasons. I am, however, deeply opposed to those who take it upon themselves to kill and destroy as and when they please based on their religous beliefs. The vast majority of terrorism in the world today is carried out by Muslims for religious reasons, and although few Muslims are active terrorists, a majority of the rest of Muslims at least passively support the terrorism of their co-religionists. If Buddhists ever begin a worldwide wave of terrorism, I’ll view them with equal contempt and oppose them just as strongly.

    Disagreements are common in discussions like this. That blogs generate such discussions is one of their major contributions. Personally, I avoid ad hominem argument and name-calling because it detracts from the quality of discourse and reduces the validity of arguments.


  9. Kevin |

    Syria was largely blameless for the troubles in Lebanon? That’s an… interesting hypothesis. Hafez Assad must be dancing a joyful jig in his grave right about now…


  10. Brian |

    So if they’re wrong, refute every one of them. It shouldn’t be that difficult for someone as intelligent and well-read as you are.

    The fact that there is/are still camps in Jordan should be a pretty good indicator of how the Arabs view the Palestinians. And the fact that the Pals tried to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy should also serve as a pretty good indicator of why the Palestinians are so disliked by all of the Arab world, except for their utility as proxies against Israel.

    The fact is, I know people (my cardiologist and his wife, for two examples) who lived in Lebanon at that time. The fact is, I also know people who lived in Syria back then, too. I trust them more than what I read in the paper or what I see on TV. They have nothing to gain by lying to me, and sterling reputations to lose if they do.


  11. Kevin |

    As written your basic assertion that the “Palestinians were hustled out of Jordan” is false on it’s face – as evidenced by the fact that there are are now and always have been huge numbers of Palestinian refugees in Jordan

    Your conclussion that the Arabs don’t give a flying rat’s backside is a subjective opinion which Occam’s Razor doesn’t support.

    Why are there still refugee camps in Jordan? For the same basic reason that the Bush administration didn’t want to allow a huge influx of Iraqis when that country was imploding – They didn’t/don’t want to turn short-term refugees into long-term citizens. Jordan (and Lebanon) could read the tea leaves as well as anyone. They understood that simply welcoming in the Palestinians into their societies would be greeted by Israel as a fait accompli. IOW, temporary refugees would never be allowed back into the homes they’d been forced out of.

    Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the surrounding Arab countries actually love the Palestinians. It does mean that whether they love them or hate the Palestinians is irrelevant to the geopolitical realities that subsequent years have proven to have been extremely accurate. Likewise, the criticisms of Bush as not caring about those poor Iraqi refugees was irrelevant to the geopolitical realities of that situation. He may have passionately hated every one of them and it wouldn’t change the fact that his decision – viz refugees – was a pragmatic one.


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