A quick dissent

I read Susan Jacoby’s Spirited Atheist column in the Washington Post every week. Two of the best books I read last year were Jacoby’s, Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason. I look forward to seeing her name in print because it means one of our most well-informed, courageous voices is taking the stage against the almost endless stream of idiocy clogging our newspapers and television sets. So it is with slight displeasure that I feel the need to dissent from her on her reading of the Gaza flotilla raid.

In an otherwise well-balanced column on the dangers of religious extremism (she rightly slots radical Islam at the top of her list), Jacoby falls into the Israel Derangement Trap. She feels – I suppose – that to be even-handed she must say something about Israel while going through the list of religious fanaticisms plaguing our world. Instead of honing in on actual Jewish fundamentalists, both ultra-Zionist and anti-Zionist, she rides the wave of international condemnation of the IDF for its bungled operation on the Mavi Marmara ship in which nine people died and various soldiers were wounded. Here’s Jacoby:

The combination of religious and tribal entitlement is constantly on display in the Middle East, most recently by Israel in its crude attack on the relief flotilla headed for Gaza.

You could call the incident almost anything, even a complete failure, but “religious and tribal entitlement” doesn’t sound right to me. That would apply to the settlers on the West Bank, who definitely fit the bill. That would apply to Hamas, who wish to turn present-day Israel into an Islamic waqf. The IDF was, rightly or wrongly, enforcing a naval blockade designed to protect Israel from further attacks on its civilian population. That Jacoby should make no reference to the actual intent of the Marmara ship and its “peace activists”, and their brutal attacks on the Israeli commandoes, seems lazy. This was not a religious intervention, but a military one. That some of the passengers of the Mavi Marmara appear to have envisioned the confrontation as a religious one, and some were even filmed desiring to die as martyrs, goes unchecked. If the intent of the IDF was “religious and tribal entitlement,” then why did the other five ships go to port without incident, including the Rachel Corrie just days later?

That sounds like a military operation gone wrong, not Jewish fundamentalism, to me.