“False equivalency” is designed to obscure accountability.
This last statement should sound obvious. But we inhabit not-so-obvious public spaces. Consider the following commentary by Sen. Bernie Sanders (NYTimes, Saturday, May 15):
‘Israel has the right to defend itself.’
“These are the words we hear from both Democratic and Republican administrations whenever the government of Israel, with its enormous military power, responds to rocket attacks from Gaza.”
Sanders begins his opinion piece with a ‘false equivalency’ and ends his piece without moving beyond its inherent limitations:
“We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.”
The reader is left rudderless.
Sanders’ issue is not the ‘false equivalency’ that Israel retains the right to defend itself. As if only Israel, not the US nor any other nation is removed from exercising the right to defend itself.
No. The ‘false equivalency’ is that ‘defense’ is to be perceived as not the same as ‘war;’ concealing the notion that only Israel retains the right to war.
Consider that Sen. Sanders’ piece occupies the “opinion” side of the NYTimes editorial pages. Consider that the underlying frame of Sanders’ piece is the notion that ‘out of war comes diplomacy,’ ‘out of chaos comes reckoning.’ Consider that in our current repressive political space, Sanders’ views have been characterized as “anti-Semitic.” Take these “considerings” and turn them over: Sanders’ “opinion” leaves no room for expanding the discussion and the ensuing narrative. By ticking off what’s preventing a meaningful discussion of alternatives, Sanders exhausts the reader’s imagination.
Sadly, Sanders is not alone.
In social and political spaces once less occupied by “false equivalency,” leftist intellectuals discussed peace. Now we — and I, too — gravitate toward discussing strategy. We sound more and more like Shakespearean conspirators whispering within castle keeps. We are obsessed with realpolitik rather than reporting on the barriers to human progress.
Hope resides in shared struggle. Hasn’t the pandemic taught us that?