The L.A. City Council wants to boycott the Grand Canyon State. When will the United Nations condemn Los Angeles for its callous pursuit of collective punishment against Arizona in retaliation for its immigration policies? To be sure, the boycott is mainly symbolic, but at least in principle the measure is aimed at hurting all Arizonans regardless of whether they support the "regime" in Phoenix. That's collective punishment.
Also, why isn't the world outraged by the wholesale deprivation we're inflicting on the North Koreans? Why do we even bother talking about sanctions against Iran, which will surely hurt the average Iranian more than the mullahs and the kleptocrats running the Revolutionary Guard. We've been maintaining an embargo against Cuba for half a century. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, the supposed voices of peace and sanity argued for "giving the sanctions time to work" and "keeping Iraq in the box" — the "box" being a stiff sanctions regime. What was so great about the sanctions against South Africa if they too were a form of collective punishment?
Only one blockade is deemed indefensibly beyond the pale: Israel's blockade of Gaza. Why? Because it imposes "collective punishment." The U.N. Human Rights Council, which rarely finds time to condemn the barbaric practices of its own members, routinely denounces the blockade as a crime against humanity.
The blockade, which is surely causing real suffering, is entirely the fault of Hamas and the Palestinians who support it. When the brutal terrorist outfit consolidated power in a bloody coup, it proceeded to rain missiles indiscriminately down on Israel for years (talk about collective punishment). Israel finally launched a strike to stop the attacks and was, predictably, denounced as an aggressor by the usual suspects. Even now, Hamas won't accept the supposedly vital humanitarian cargo seized by the Israelis last week. Why? Because it's lost its propaganda value, and because it's been sullied by Jewish hands.
Recently, I debated my friend Peter Beinarton television about the flotilla incident. In the current New York Review of Books, he tears into liberal American Jews for their support of the blockade, a symbol of Israel's descent into illiberalism. He laments that about 80% of Gazans are on food aid and — allegedly — many staples are being denied the Gazans. "Chocolate is not something that can be turned into a missile," Beinart proclaimed on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor." "And yet, it's not allowed to be imported into Gaza."
Meanwhile, the White House, which initially leaked that there would be "no daylight" between the U.S. and Israel over the flotilla, now wants to use the international furor to leverage Israel into loosening the blockade.
By all means let the Gazans have their chocolate. Though as William A. Jacobson, a Cornell law professor and blogger (legalinsurrection.com) notes, claims that such items are banned should be taken with a grain of salt. But this is a terrible moment to consider abandoning the blockade.
Why? Because it would rightly be seen as giving the organizers and supporters of this seaborne propaganda stunt a victory. It would signal that America can be conned. It would reward Turkey's outrageous insult to us (a NATO ally) and to Israel, a longtime friend of Turkey. It would undermine Egypt and other Arab governments (including Fatah) that don't want Iran's clients in Hamas strengthened (their propaganda notwithstanding). And it would signal that Iran is the most important power in the Middle East.
Alas, it seems President Obama cannot think straight about Israel because he has so many preconceived notions about it and his role on the world stage. Like so many liberals, he claims to be "realistic," but he actually sees things through a literary prism, living in a world of symbolism and metaphors.
It's amazing to read news reports about how the blockade "serves as a symbol" of this or that. "You know what else the blockade serves as?" asks Commentary's Abe Greenwald. "A blockade. It separates Israel's sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade, and not a symbol, the blockade works."
Alas, such realism has no place in this debate.