Tsvi Sadan

Proportionality and the Loss of Common Sense

“The Brazilian government vehemently condemns the Israeli bombardment of Gaza with disproportionate use of force.”

What should the proportional action the Brazilian police take when faced with an armed thug trying to break into a house with the clear intention of killing everybody in it? If Brazil’s condemnation of Israel is valid, one or maybe even two or three policemen would be sufficient to take him down. Let’s look at proportionality from a different angle. Suppose for every rocket Hamas fires at an urban Israeli area Israel retaliated proportionally by firing a rocket at Gaza. Would that be considered proportionate? Maybe for Brazil proportionality means an equal number of dead on both sides. Maybe, just maybe, it might allow a 3:1, 4:1, or even 10:1 proportion of casualty to Israel.

Contrary to the world of ideas and make believe, the first thing every sergeant in the real world learns is that the use of disproportionate force is the key to military success. This simple common sense principle does not need any Brazilian ethics professor or military genius. It has been known and practiced from time immemorial. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is still studied today by every officer who aspires to lead armies. It was he and not some wicked Zionist who taught that disproportionality is a prerequisite for any real chance of winning a war. In the third chapter of his book he gives this simple piece of advice: “It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.”

If Sun Tzu is right, what Brazil is demanding of Israel is to lose the fight against a people entrenched in their determination to kill the people “squatting” in their house. By condemning Israel for the use of excessive force, Brazil tries to restrict Israel to a battle it can’t win. In so doing, it condemns the sides to an indefinite fight, thus increasing the number of casualties. If this is Brazil’s sense of morality it must be rejected by every sensible human being—Arab, Jew, or Brazilian. While its condemnation of Israel may be a symptom of anti-Semitic malady, Brazil may merely have lost its common sense. If this is the case, sensible human beings— particularly Brazilians—must do whatever they can to bring Brazil to its senses.


About the Author
Ph.D. in Jewish history. Born in kibbutz; author of the book Flesh of our Flesh: Jesus of Nazareth in Zionist Thought (Carmel, 2008). Freelance writer for the monthly magazine Israel Today.