The Israeli government’s assault on Gaza has left the besieged Jewish state even shorter on friends than usual, but when an influential pop culture icon like Jon Stewart is comparing you to the Tucson mass shooter, you know something has gone really wrong.
Israel’s military operations against Gaza, in response to Hamas rocket and terror-tunnel attacks, have claimed more than 1,400 Palestinian lives to date, mostly civilians, while Hamas attacks have killed three Israeli civilians. Revulsion at the innocent deaths has eroded sympathy for Israel, as even the usually unconditionally supportive U.S. government condemned Israel for the shelling of a United Nations school that killed 16. On Thursday night’s The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart stepped up his own critique of Israel’s actions when, in reporting on a ceasefire that collapsed shortly after the episode aired, he made an unmistakable comparison.
“Maybe what happened is the diplomats tackled Israel while they were reloading.“
As Stewart, and others, have noted, expression of anything but unwavering support for Israel’s actions is often characterized as being anti-Israel or worse, but when the United States began to gently suggest that Israel might be able to do more to uphold their incredibly strict and rigorous efforts not to kill civilians, while totally having the right to defend themselves, they were being more of a friend to Israel than those who blindly cheerlead, but not nearly as much of a friend as Israel needs. Maybe when we ship weapons to Israel, we should also ship some sighting equipment, because when the death toll is that lopsided, something ain’t right.
Better yet, the U.S. could have come out earlier and more forcefully against the civilian death toll, and perhaps spared Israel the revulsion it now faces, even from a favorite son like Jon Stewart. His comparison, though, illustrates part of the problem with the U.S. and its position on civilian casualties, because this conflict has been replete with explanations of why it is worse to try to kill civilians and fail than it is not to try to kill civilians but succeed wildly at it. Certainly, there is a difference between Israel and Hamas, and there is also a huge difference between U.S. drone strikes and what Israel is doing in Gaza, and so on. But the differences, whatever they are, are not differences of moral superiority.
The most important reason for Israel to stop killing so many civilians isn’t morality, it is that the world has never needed much of a reason to hate Israel, or any reason at all. It is genuinely frightening to watch the world forget this in the glare of IDF flares.