With the simple (and simplistic) phrase “blame on both sides,” Donald Trump has again ignited the world, and especially the Jewish world. Most Israelis would never have heard of a sleepy town like Charlottesville, but it has featured on the front page of The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, and more, as the epicentre for racism and anti-Semitism (of which we know all too well), and in the process has added new terms like “antifa” and “alt left” to the growing modern lexicon of extremities.
Trump should have unequivocally condemned the white supremacist rally, which ended in violence and death. Banners with messages like “Jews will not replace us” are totally unacceptable. That ought to be simple and and obvious.
But sadly, things are never that simple. Trump’s words (and not just this latest pronouncement) have been analysed in more detail than a complex passage of the Talmud: What did he actually mean? Is he a fascist? An antisemite? Is he ‘dogwhistling’ to the far right? Is he crazy? How crazy is he? How close to the brink of nuclear war are we? What steps need to happen to impeach him? How many incidents will “confirm the worst” about him?
Frankly, I’ve stopped caring. The words of the Talmud are worthy of intense scrutiny and examination. The words of Trump are not. If Trump said it was night, the progressive left media would say it was day, and take ten different articles and angles to explain why. I’m over it. It ceased being about what he says or does a long time ago – it’s about who he is and what represents. The media coverage of Trump is not able to serve the purpose of informing the public and helping them form opinions.
Trump is a politician, an opportunist, a wheeler-dealer, and his many failings as a person and as a leader have been compounded by a hostile White House that has sought to sabotage his every move.
That’s far more than I wanted to write about him in this post, because something far more significant is going on here, and believe it or not – it isn’t all about Trump.
It comes down to that phrase: “blame on both sides”. Depending on how much progressives hate Trump, and depending on their ability to self-reflect, Antifa is anything from a noble group of anti-fascists to a dangerously violent group that can lead the left astray.
The problem here is that a bunch of seriously bad white supremacists demonstrated and were confronted not just by a peace-loving moderates, but also by a violent group from the opposite end of the political spectrum – a volatile mix according to witness accounts.
Extremists vs moderates that ends in violence: easy.
Extremists vs extremists that ends in violence: complicated.
Blaming “both sides” establishes a moral equivalence which is simply not there. But how do you condemn Antifa for their role without appearing to support the white supremacists? You can’t.
This is where it stops being about Trump and America, and is actually about Israel.
Every time there is a terrorist attack against Israel and a response, the media reverts to the standard “blame both sides”, and speaks about the “cycle of violence”. Time and again we see absurd headlines like “Palestinians killed in violence” where they forget to mention that said Palestinians were perpetrators of a stabbing and posed an imminent danger to civilians.
Declaring a moral equivalence between Israel and the terrorists who attack her has been standard practice for decades.
But now in the US, far right clashes with far left, and calls of moral equivalence are suddenly condemned. In this case, it’s in part because for the left, anyone who opposes the far right is a hero, and anyone who doesn’t fully condemn the far right is as bad as them.
All of this highlights the arbitrary and inconsistent card Israel is dealt.
Terrorists attacked Israel, and the world responded by declaring a moral equivalence. But when terrorism struck elsewhere, they quickly learned to call it for what it is (yet still not applied this to Israel). Here, we see another lesson for the world on the dangers of drawing a moral equivalence in a complex conflict. Will they ever learn?