The Apologist's Toolbox: Straw-Man, Fallacy and Ignorance

I have been writing about and discussing the current crisis in the Israel, Lebanon and Gaza since it erupted on June 24th. My position has remained the same throughout, as a quick glance through the archives will verify. The responses I have received and the arguments I have seen used to justify Israel's actions have remained pretty much the same too. They are usually a mixture of straw-man, fallacy and ignorance.

Let's take a look at the apologist's toolbox, and how to defeat it.

1. "Israel has a right to self-defence" - a favourite amongst Olmert, Bush and Blair. This is a straw-man argument: no-one is denying Israel's right to self-defence. Firstly, the assaults on Lebanon and Gaza are not in self-defence - if anything, they are making Israelis less secure. Secondly, the `right to self-defence' doesn't give Israel a blank cheque to do whatever it wants. The nature of its self-defence is constrained by, among other things, international law. Whenever you hear someone use this as an argument to justify the current Israeli actions, you know they are either trying to deceive you or they don't know what they're talking about.

2. "Israel has shown great restraint. It could have carpet-bombed Lebanon, but it restrained itself" - this is just plain false. Yeh sure, Israel could have nuked Lebanon as well. Does that mean anything short of a nuclear weapon is "restraint"? The fact is that in response to the kidnapping of a couple of soldiers, Israel has launched a full scale war on Lebanon, repeatedly violated international law, killed hundreds of innocent civilians, caused billions of dollars in damage to the Lebanese economy and effectively set Lebanon back 20 years. That is not restraint, that's a military machine gone wild.

3. "Israel is acting in self-defence! What other country on Earth would be expected to tolerate rocket attacks on its cities?" - this is another favourite among Israelis and Israeli politicians. This argument displays acute historical amnesia, so it's worth recapping how this war started. Hizbullah operatives kidnapped two IDF soldiers. In retaliation, Israel launched it's air-strike campaign against southern Lebanon. It was only after 40 Lebanese civilians had already been killed that we saw the first Hizbullah rocket fired on Israel. Therefore, the war is most definitely not a retaliation for Hizbullah rockets. Unless you consider murdering 40 civilians an acceptable response for the kidnap of two soldiers, Israel the aggressor in this conflict. Secondly, again, this is a straw-man argument. No-body said Israel has to tolerate rocket attacks on it's cities. The minimum people demand is that Israel respect international law and basic morality.

4. "We can't negotiate with people [Hamas, Hizbullah] that want to see us wiped off the face of the Earth!" - that's just ridiculous. Israel is not fighting for it's existence any more, not by a long shot. Of course Hamas and Hizbullah are going to continue advocating the destruction of Israel (although less so in Hamas' case - they simply refuse to change their Charter) - after all, they formed in order to provide real, tough resistance to Israeli oppression. They aren't going to change their semantics now in return for nothing. This excuse now holds even less water than usual with Hamas, after they signed the Prisoner's Document which all but recognises the state of Israel. The truth is that everyone knows there will be a two-state settlement: all this fighting is over what the terms will be.

5. "Israel is fighting for a UN Resolution! It withdrew from Lebanon to the UN demarcated line, and all it wants now is for the Lebanese government to fulfill its obligations under 1559!" - firstly, the sudden Israeli love for UN Resolutions is laughable. How about they respect the numerous resolutions and evacuate the West Bank, East Jerusalem and free Gaza? In any event, it is true that under 1559 Hizbullah should be disarmed. However, thanks to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, Hizbullah have been too strong both militarily and politically for the Lebanese Army to be able to achieve that. It is not true that this is what Israel is fighting for: no-one thinks the IDF has a hope of disarming Hizbullah. They didn't manage it in 18 years of occupation, why now? No, Israel's war has been on the Lebanese people, showing them what happens if you support a terrorist group, hoping to turn them against Hizbullah. Even Olmert occasionally lets this slip.

6. "You accuse us of war crimes? Look at Hizbullah! They fire rockets at our innocent civilians every day!" - this is often a response by an apologist when someone points to flagrant Israeli violations of international law, deliberate targeting of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, ethnic cleansing, state terrorism etc. It is an obvious logical fallacy - everyone knows Hizbullah are a terrorists; that doesn't admonish Israeli crimes one bit. In any event, why would you compare Israel's actions to Hizbullah's? Are you saying it is acceptable for a respected, democratic member of the international community to behave no better than a fundamentalist terror group?

7. "Hizbullah deliberately targets civilians. Israel goes out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. That is the difference." (see, for example, this statement from the Israeli Chief of Staff) - That is just plain false. When Israel targeted the power station, was that in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties? What about when Israel refused to allow any humanitarian aid to reach suffering civilians for the first eight days of the conflict? What about when Israel trapped thousands of Gazans in the Sinai desert for two weeks by refusing to open the crossing? What about when Israeli jets flattened block after block of residential buildings in Beirut? Did they not expect, you know, residents to be living in there? What about when Israel ordered 800,000 people to become refugees in their own country, or when the IAF bombed a pharmaceutical factory? Was that in an attempt to avoid civilian suffering? In any event, Israel has killed far more civilians compared to combatants than Hizbullah has.

When these arguments have been exhausted, the apologist usually starts repeating themselves or shouting insults.

Ah well, you can but try...


In other news...

- Sheik Nasrallah has announced Hizbullah possess Zelzal-2 missiles with a range of 250km, that could hit anywhere in Israel.

- Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of war crimes:

"Israeli forces have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hizbullah in Lebanon...[We condemn Israel's] disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians...Our research shows that Israel's claim that Hizbullah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel's indiscriminate warfare...Hizbullah fighters must not hide behind civilians - that's an absolute - but the image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong".

Read the report here.

- The IAF has resumed its bombing of Beirut.

- Hizbullah rockets killed six Israeli civilians on Thursday.

- It appears Jews are not just suffering in Israel. Hatred stirred up by Israeli crimes in Lebanon has led to a rise in anti-Semitic crimes around the world, for example in Australia and Rome.

[Cross-posted at The Heathlander]

Tags: Conflict, crisis, Debate, Discourse, Fallacy, Gaza, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Straw-Man, terrorism, war crimes, war on terror (all tags)



Are you being ironic?

I hate Israel? What is that? Is that what passes for debate in your head?

As to your other, actual point...

No, of course I don't think Israel should do nothing. What gave you that impression? In fact I devoted a whole paragraph to explaining that insisting Israel's response be confined to within the law is not the same as denying Israel right to respond at all.

Anything else?

by heathlander 2006-08-03 08:11AM | 0 recs
Apart from the excellent example Mary's just given

...check out the comments in response to this YNet story about Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of war crimes.

They provide a prime example of how the techniques I've described above are used by apologists to stifle debate.

There are 79 comments in total. As en example, let's just take the first 10:

- Comment 1: Commits Fallacy No. 6 (in my article above) by pointing to the crimes of Hizbullah and "otther [sic] Islamic terror groups" in order to defend Israeli crimes.

- Comment 2: Commits Fallacy No. 6.

- Comment 3: Disagrees with HRW's report saying that Hizbullah hiding behind civilians is not responsible for all the deaths, despite providing no evidence. Then goes on to accuse HRW of being biased and financed by "Israel's enemies", again without substantiation.

- Comment 4: Commits Fallacy No. 6.

- Comment 5: Commits Fallacy No. 6.

- Comment 6: Doesn't attempt to provide any kind of argument, even a fallacious one.

- Comment 7: Commits Fallacy No. 6 (is anyone else noticing a trend here...?).

- Comment 8: Commits Fallacy No. 6.

- Comment 9: The only sensible comment in the top 10, stating that children should not be targeted no matter what.

-Comment 10: Accuses HRW of recieving money from Arabs, thus implicitly saying they focus on Israeli crimes and ignore Arab crimes, thus committing good ol' Fallacy No. 6.

In the first 10 comments, just one made a legitimate point. The rest were ad-hominems, straw-men or otherwise fallacious.

That should help gave an idea of just how much debate on this crucial issue is being stifled by techniques such as the ones above. This is terrible, since sensible dialogue is the one thing that can end this terrible conflict.

p.s. check out (for example) Comments 70, 71, 74 and 75, which accuse HRW of being anti-semitic and hating Israel (just like Mary did to me). :)

by heathlander 2006-08-03 08:27AM | 0 recs
Re: The Apologist's Toolbox: Straw-Man, Fallacy an

Israel is fighting a proxy war for General Rove and the NeoCons just as Cuba used to do for the USSR.

by Sitkah 2006-08-03 01:38PM | 0 recs


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