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Op-Ed: "Netanyabbas", or Moral Equivalency in the White House

The Obama administration sees no real good guys or bad guys in world conflicts.
Published: Tuesday, March 04, 2014 5:58 AM


The tweeted comment by a senior Obama administration official describing Al Qaeda's beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as part of a "cycle of violence" will be defended by her colleagues as an inadvertent slip of the keyboard. But Israelis will see it as yet another symptom of this administration's overall worldview, one which confuses enemies with friends, right with wrong, and good with evil.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA on February 23. She also took the occasion to send out this disturbing tweet: "Daniel Pearl's story is reminder that individual accountability & reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence."

If there is one thing to learn about Pearl's story, of course, is that it was NOT part of some "cycle of violence." It was, rather, part of the Islamist jihad against America, Israel, and Western civilization in general. Its perpetrator, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is presently incarcerated in an American military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

This is not the first time Ms. Power has expressed the idea that there are no real good guys or bad guys in the clashes between Islamists and the West, or between the Arabs and Israel, but rather just "cycles of violence" in which aggressors and victims are all lumped together.

In a discussion in Berkeley in 2002, Power said she regarded Yasser Arafat and then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as equally horrific. Power said the U.S. should not show "deference to people who are fundamentally, politically, destined to destroy the lives of their own people and by that I mean what Tom Friedman has called 'Sharifat' [i.e. they are so similar, they should share a name]. I mean I do think in that sense there's a--that both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible…"

The same thing has been said by President Obama's newest Middle East policy adviser. Consider the article that Robert Malley, the new senior director on Mideast issues at the National Security Council, wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2006.  He acknowledged that recent violence between Israel and Hezbollah began when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. But Hezbollah did that only because of the "numerous pressures" it was under, Malley insisted. Hezbollah is committed to "retrieving the few remaining Lebanese prisoners held in Israel jails," so naturally Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had to "live up to his word." Sure, the kidnappings were "more audacious and provocative than customary," but then again Israel is guilty of "incursions into Lebanese air and sea space as well as assassinations of Palestinian militants on Lebanese soil."

Malley refused to recognize Hezbollah as the aggressor and Israel as the victim. He would not acknowledge that Israel's actions were in response to Hezbollah terrorism. For him, it's all just part of one big cycle of violence where everyone is the moralequivalent of everyone else.

The reason that Samantha Power and Robert Malley fit right in at the Obama White House is that this whole "cycle of violence / both sides are guilty" mentality reflects the worldview of the president himself.

In his infamous speech at the leading Islamic university in Cairo shortly after assuming office, President Obama presented a startling new perspective on the Israeli-Arab conflict. Instead of recognizing that Israel's cause is essentially just and that America should be on Israel's side, Obama said that both sides have legitimate claims, both sides deserve our sympathy, and America is, in effect, on both sides. 

"The Jewish people were persecuted for centuries," and that is why their "aspiration for a Jewish homeland" is legitimate, he said. "On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland," the president continued. "They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation.  So let there be no doubt:  The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.  And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

Again, President Obama emphasized, there are "two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history...It's easy to point fingers--for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth…" 

Note the moral equivalency between Israel being victimized by "hostility and attacks," and the Palestinian Arabs being victimized by "the displacement brought about by Israel's founding"--even though that displacement was caused by the Arabs' own war against Israel. 

President Obama, like the advisers and ambassadors he has appointed, refuses to "see this conflict from [Israel's] side." It's all one big "cycle of violence" where nobody's right and nobody's wrong. They refuse to recognize that there is such a thing as an Arab war against Israel, or an Islamist war against the West. 

That sentiment, reflected in Ambassador Power's tweet and Robert Malley's statements, is what must give Israelis pause today--because even as they are being asked to ever riskier territorial concessions, the Israelis have been reminded that when the chips are down, they cannot assume President Obama will be on their side.