Home/Daniel Larison/How Terrorism Becomes “Entirely Defensible” (III)

How Terrorism Becomes “Entirely Defensible” (III)

Jonathan Tobin answersthecriticismsof his defense of alleged Israel-MEK cooperation:

All seem to agree Israel’s alleged use of the MEK to kill Iranian scientists is an act of terrorism, and this makes Israel a state sponsor of terrorism. They also believe it is terribly hypocritical of those of us who denounce terrorist attacks on Jews and Israelis to think it is okay to knock off those working on Iran’s nuclear program.

As Paul Pillar wrote the other day, assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists are acts of terrorism whether the MEK is involved or not:

With or without confirmation of details of this story, the assassinations are terrorism. (The official U.S. government definition of terrorism for reporting and statistic-keeping purposes is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”)

The attacks also fit the legal definition of international terrorism according to U.S. law. If true, the alleged use of the MEK for these attacks removes all doubt that these are acts of terrorism. If Israel has sponsored these attacks, it has sponsored acts of terrorism. The question is whether it is acceptable to employ terrorist tactics and terrorist groups against certain states. Should we apply one moral standard that condemns terrorism in all its forms without exception, or do we say that there is one standard for our government, allies and clients, and another for other states? Tobin comes down clearly in favor of a double standard. That wasGreenwald’s point from the beginning.

It isn’t true that Tobin’s critics are setting up a moral equivalence between the governments of Israel and Iran. Tobin makes the charge that the other critics and I are indulging in such moral relativism for the purpose of “delegitimizing” Israel, but it is Tobin who wants one standard for judging Israeli behavior and a very different one for judging Iranian behavior. What all of us are saying is that there is a moral and legal equivalence between different acts of terrorism, and that the victims of terrorist attacks are equally human. The lives of Iranian civilians have just as much value as the lives of Israeli civilians. The former don’t become more expendable because their government is authoritarian, abusive, and supports Hamas. If it is wrong and illegal for one group or state to commit acts of terrorism, it must be wrong and illegal in all cases. The reasons for the acts shouldn’t matter, and neither should the justifications. Either we reject the amoral logic that the ends justify the means, or we endorse it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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