Gaza — Facts Vs. False Equivalence

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

I am writing this column on Monday night. I am sick to my stomach after seeing a network TV newscast of a young Palestinian girl lying paralyzed in a hospital in Gaza, the victim of Israeli bombs. I see other children in the hospital. My eyes are tearful. I feel pain in my chest. I finally have to turn away from watching.

I have long believed in the rights of Palestinians to have their own independent, sovereign state, ever since I was a young boy. My father and I stopped discussing the subject because he was so adamant in distrusting the Palestinians and could not imagine they would honor any peace agreement.

I mention this so that what I am about to write is not put through the prism of those who assume that all pro-Israel Jewish Americans are insensitive to the plight of the Palestinians and the suffering of the children during this terrible tragedy of the Gaza crisis.

But there is no escaping the stubborn, indisputable fact that one cannot equate an intentional act of aiming rockets at civilians (Hamas) and with innocent people getting killed in the course of self-defense (Israel). One simply cannot.

There is no disputing that it is Hamas’s intent — it is Hamas’s policy — to destroy the state of Israel and to use terrorism to achieve that goal. That is a fact. It is also a fact that Hamas houses the rockets set to be launched into Israel within civilian facilities such as hospitals, schools, and residential complexes, and reportedly blocks many of those civilians from fleeing. That is a double war crime.

Then Hamas intentionally aims its rockets at Israeli civilian populations. That is a third war crime. And Hamas intentionally blocked its civilians, injured and needing medical assistance, from accessing an Israeli emergency hospital set up at the border. That is inhumane and cruel.

As former President Bill Clinton said recently, Hamas “has a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own [Palestinian] civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.”

In contrast, it is a fact that Israel does everything it can, in the course of defending itself from Hamas rockets, to avoid civilian deaths. What army sends texts and phone calls to warn civilians of its intentions to attack and implores them to leave before the attack? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked a relevant question on the same network news program Monday night: If this were the U.S. being attacked by terrorists just across the border, aiming its rockets at U.S. cities, with the rocket launchers hiding among civilians, what would the U.S. do?

But in watching U.S. and international media coverage of the Gaza intervention, there is no question that this distinction is not fairly reflected. Nor is there equal coverage of the fright and horror of Israeli families and children living daily, hourly, under the threat of  rockets falling from the sky, aimed at killing them.

I know that anti-Israel advocates argue that the country is committing war crimes when it targets civilian areas to destroy rocket launchers and tunnels.

But the double standard is clear. Since American soldiers, planes and drones killed insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unintentionally killed civilians and children in the process, do Americans accept the characterization that our armed forces are committing war crimes?

The media coverage of this tragedy has facilitated and enabled Hamas’s strategy of intentionally putting its civilians and children in the way of incoming Israeli strikes as human shields. These cynical tactics are only meant to encourage media coverage of the horror of their deaths. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren wrote recently, journalists must not “allow themselves to act as accessories to Hamas’s murderous strategy that delegitimizes Israel and prolongs the Palestinians’ suffering.”

At the very least, every time journalists report on the horror of civilian injuries and deaths in Gaza, I believe they are ethically required also to report the fact that Israel tries to avoid such civilian suffering, while it is Hamas’s policy and intent to kill civilians — Israelis as well as Palestinians.  

Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).