How Many Israelis Must Die Before Israel Is Allowed To Defend Itself?

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Swedish FM Margot WallstromSweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, made headlines last week when she described Israel’s defense against terrorist attacks as “disproportionate.”  This followed her claim that defense against terrorists constituted “extrajudicial executions.”

Although the Swedish Prime Minister claimed that Wallstrom’s comments had been misinterpreted, the official English language translation of her comments as reported by Reuters seems clear:

And likewise, the response must not be of the kind — and this is what I say in other situations where the response is such that it results in extrajudicial executions or is disproportionate in that the number of people killed on that side exceeds the original number of deaths many times over.

(The Prime Minister’s follow-up comments didn’t exactly make things better.)



Wallstrom’s description of Israel’s defense as “disproportionate” echoes many of the claims that we heard in the summer of 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. In both cases, the claim is based on tallying up the number dead on each side, and concluding that the death toll on the Israeli side is not high enough to justify the death toll on the Arab side, without any regard for the question of who instigated the attacks.

In other words, in both cases, the complaint, at its essence, is a complaint that not enough Jews have been killed.

The implication of Ms. Wallstrom’s comments is that she believes that Israel will only justified in killing in defense of its citizens after more Israelis have died. The right to self-defense, however, including the right to kill in self-defense or defense of others against an attack that a reasonable person would perceive as a potentially lethal attack, is a feature of all modern legal systems. While the law does include a concept of proportionality, the number dead on each side is not the measure of whether a response is proportional.

Only when the State of Israel is involved does the right to self-defense become subservient to subjective evaluations of the attacker’s competency and the likelihood that the attacker could have achieved his goal. How big was the knife used in the attack? How true was the aim of the rockets? Why was Israel not better at defending itself in a way that would cause less harm to the attacker?

The idea that Jews, individually or as a state, do not have the same right to defend themselves from potentially deadly attacks as any other people underpins many of the criticisms directed at Israel from the European and American left. Complaints about “disproportionate” death counts are a form of eviscerating Israel’s right to defend itself. How many Israelis must die before Israel is allowed to defend itself? If Israel must respond to attacks with one metaphorical arm tied behind its back, the result will surely be that more Israelis – Jewish and non-Jewish – will die.

The State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is the only state on the planet faulted for defending itself on the grounds that not enough of its own people have died.

Note: This is just a blog post. It is not intended as, nor does it constitute, legal advice. 

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