Aftermath of Israeli Airstrike In Gaza, Palestine

People check buildings destroyed in an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement continue.

(Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Dante in Gaza: The Craven Choir and Faithless Angels of a Dying World Order

The poet called it “the great refusal,” this decision not to take a side. And by sides, I don’t mean Israel or Hamas. I mean the side that represents law, diplomacy, and international institutions, and the side that represents lawlessness, hatred, and brute force.

Western leaders have been speaking in double-talk since the bombing of Gaza began, but no amount of newspeak can hide their real message. When it comes to the “rules-based order,” they’ve let us know the rules don’t apply to them.

I’ve known some of these people in my time—the diplomats and lawmakers, the pundits and politicians and advisors and analysts. Their manners are impeccable. They always use the right pronouns. They speak of human rights, but their actions shout the truth their lips refuse to whisper.

The world hears them loud and clear.

They’re the people Dante wrote about in the Inferno, the “sad souls who live without infamy and without praise” between Heaven and Hell, the ones who will march forever with “the craven choir of those angels who were neither rebellious nor faithful to God, but only to themselves.”

Dante called it “the great refusal,” this decision not to take a side. And by sides, I don’t mean Israel or Hamas. I mean the side that represents law, diplomacy, and international institutions, and the side that represents lawlessness, hatred, and brute force. The side that honors life, and the side that exults in death.

Western leaders have become more fastidious about including words of sympathy for their victims, but they’re fooling no one.

Joe Biden mourned the children and talked about what their parents will miss about them: “the bend in his smile, the perfect pitch of her laugh, the giggle of your little boy — the baby.”

Oh, he didn’t mean Palestinian babies.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said this in 2022:

“We’ve put diplomacy back at the center of American foreign policy, to help us realize the future that Americans and people around the world seek ... To build that future, we must defend and reform the rules-based international order – the system of laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that the world came together to build after two world wars to manage relations between states, to prevent conflict, to uphold the rights of all people.”

Fine words. But Israel is in open defiance of that rules-based order, and has been for decades.The leader of the world’s largest international institution, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, said Israel’s Gaza attacks were an illegal “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” The spokesman for UNICEF said, “Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It is a living hell for everyone else.”

But these bastions of “the rules-based international order” go unheeded by the faithless angels of the global order. As these institutions are traduced and ignored, the Secretary is promoting a phony “humanitarian aid” deal that sets aside less than 3 percent of its $106 billion for the people of Gaza while funding tens of billions of dollars for weaponry, including billions more for Israel’s killing spree.

An official in Blinken’s State Department said, “No one has the right to tell Israel how to defend itself.” But Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the US envoy for combatting antisemitism, was not rebuked for what should be understood as an expression of contempt for international law.

Laws exist for a reason. If a neighbor hurts my child, should I go over to his house and slaughter his entire family? Anyone who uses Lipstadt’s phrase is declaring support for lawlessness, for the trampling of international institutions, for brute force over civilization. Yes, Hamas also violated international law. But we have never financed Hamas (except indirectly, through Netanyahu’s government).

The people making Lipstadt’s argument forget that Americans have sovereign rights, too; one of them, surely, is the right not to participate in war crimes.

With US complicity, Israel has ignored international law for so long that nobody remembers: Israel was created by international law. Without law, only military might can preserve it. If the United States stops funding and arming it—as polls suggest it might someday—how long can Israel survive? Its defenders should think about that.

The American double standard has become a bitter joke to the rest of the world. From the same speech by Blinken:

“... (T)he foundations of the international order are under serious and sustained challenge. Russian President Vladimir Putin poses a clear and present threat. In attacking Ukraine three months ago, he also attacked the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, enshrined in the UN Charter, to protect all countries from being conquered or coerced.”

The once-vaunted “soft power” of US diplomacy has become fodder for grim comedy.

Meanwhile, the West’s diplomatic culture is now poisoned so deeply that people who want to do the right thing have to apologize for it. “Not all the Palestinian people are terrorists,” said European Union diplomat Josep Borrell Fontelles as he called for diplomatic measures.

Not all? Half the people in Gaza are children. Who wasn’t a terrorist, the toddlers?

I sympathize with Borrell. He thought it necessary to soften his comments to the point of absurdity, and in this climate I’m sure he was right. Some diplomats, like Craig Mokhiber and Josh Paul, have chosen the side of justice. Others are laying low to preserve their careers. They are the ones of whom Dante writes:

they now commingle with the craven choir
of those faithless angels who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.

Meanwhile, the State Department offered sweet words on October 20:

“Our message to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and all around the world is clear: we see you, we grieve with you, and we mourn every loss of innocent life.”

“We see you.” That’s the same thing President Biden said to victims of antisemitism and Islamophobia: “To all of you hurting, I want you to know: I see you. You belong.”

That was on October 19. Three days later he said this: “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.” That is the opposite of “seeing.” But then, what’s a few hundred kids, give or take?

Western leaders have become more fastidious about including words of sympathy for their victims, but they’re fooling no one. Come to think of it, they’re not the faithless angels of the global world order. We are. We are the ones who tolerate this brutality in our name. We are the ones who must stand up and stop the killing. History will all of us accountable.

tones of anger, words of suffering,
and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands-
-all went to make a tumult that will whirl
forever through that turbid, timeless air,
like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls.

“Don’t wait for the Last Judgment,” said Albert Camus. “It takes place every day.”

Ceasefire Now.

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