The Moral Maze: Israel and Gaza

Last night’s Moral Maze featured regular panellists Matthew Taylor, Melanie Phillips and Giles Fraser, and a newcomer to the programme, Jill Kirby. The witnesses were Colonel Richard Kemp, Mehdi Hasan, Dr Hugo Slim and Ted Honderich.

The first witness, Mehdi Hasan, asserted that the blockade was the root cause of the conflict, and offered the familiar (and problematic) argument that Israel was more to blame because its actions were causing so many more casualties than Hamas’s rockets.  But – the blockade is not purely the responsibility of Israel.  And I wished someone had asked Mehdi if he really thought lifting the blockade would bring peace. Craig, over on Is the BBC biased?, thinks Mehdi Hasan’s ready condemnation of Hamas may have been an instance of ‘taqiyyah’.  While I am perfectly happy to take Mehdi’s word WRT Hamas, I think Michael Buerk was completely correct to ask (in the final summing up) whether one can simply park Hamas, as Mehdi tried to do, and analyse and condemn Israel’s actions in a vacuum.

Richard Kemp was a good witness – I was pleased he dealt so efficiently with an illogical challenge from Matthew Taylor, who asked whether one should not hesitate to shoot a fleeing bank robber who had snatched a small child as a hostage.  Taylor went on ask whether, if you can’t defend yourself without killing civilians, you don’t have a duty to use restraint.  This raises the further question of what ‘restraint’ actually means – I’d like to know what Taylor’s response would be to this article from Dan Hodges.

Professor Honderich was unable to express his views coherently, which was probably just as well as (if I have understood his position correctly) I agree with Melanie Phillips that he is morally depraved.  He claimed Hamas was acting justifiably, and in support of what he called the ‘principle of humanity’, in targeting Israeli civilians.

Hugo Slim thought Israel had shown a fair level of restraint and should be commended for protecting its own civilians so effectively.  However he then argued that a point had now been reached when public concern at the distressing images from Gaza meant a halt should be called to the military action.

One problem with this argument is that public concern seems triggered so much more readily and angrily by the actions of Israel than by many other countries.  Even those who should be reporting the news even handedly are compounding this problem – Jon Snow had to apologise this morning for using an image from Syria in his emotional report from Gaza.

Towards the end of the programme Giles Fraser seemed to have been swayed by the argument of the deplorable Honderich, and appeared to be arguing that it was acceptable to deliberately kill innocents.  I’m not sure that’s really his settled position on the issue, but I sympathized with Melanie Phillips’ baffled outrage at this point of the discussion.

Although Mehdi Hasan seemed like a beacon of logic and moral clarity compared with Honderich, I thought the case against Israel was made pretty poorly.  Perhaps (although of course he would also want to make the case for his country) they should have called Marc Goldberg as a witness.