Neutrality does not mean not criticising when criticism is due

Mr Ang Tok Woon, in his reaction to my 20 July letter to TODAY, said that my letter showed my “less-than-neutral stand on the Middle East crisis”.

He went on to say that the “Israeli voice is rarely heard in (the) world”. I wonder if he is aware of the strength and influence of the Jewish lobby in America and Europe and their influence on the mainstream media and global politics. He just needs to google “Jewish lobby” and to understand.

I am neutral on issues regarding the Middle East crisis in general. However, being neutral does not mean refraining from criticising one party or another when criticism is due. I support Israel’s right to self-defence. As a Singaporean, I believe small states have the right to use the necessary force to defend their sovereignty and their citizens from external aggression. I have great admiration for what the people of Israel have achieved against incredible odds, and am grateful for their assistance in helping Singapore build up our armed forces in our early years of independence.

However, what the State of Israel is doing now is definitely not just self-defence. It is overwhelming aggression against its smaller and much weaker neighbours, Lebanon and Palestine. The picture on the front page of TODAY of two Lebanese children with shrapnel wounds from an Israeli missile strike tells a poignant story of the depth of injustice in this current situation.

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4 thoughts on “Neutrality does not mean not criticising when criticism is due”

  1. Hi Gerald,
    Like you I am also neutral regarding the Middle-East.
    Those of my generation used to hero-worship the Israelis who founded a nation against all odds ( sounds familiar no?).
    However recent events like the previous Lebanon adventure in which Sharon was implicated for war-crimes at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps when as Defense Minister ( 1982), he did nothing as the Christian Phalangist militia went into the camps and massacred unarmed Palestinians, taught me that in war, there are no victors, only losers- and these are mainly the non-combatants.
    History teaches us that this latest onslaught will achieve nothing and that only peaceful negotiations and political will to do the difficult- such as compromise, is the only way forward.
    Please visit my blog where I have a short post on “The Cambodian Killing Fields”
    Cheers
    Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

  2. Hi Dr Huang,

    Thanks for your comment.

    It’s interesting that according to news reports, 90% of Israelis support the current action in Lebanon…that means 10% actually oppose!

    I believe every act by a state should be individually judged whether it is morally right or wrong. We should not blindly support or oppose just because of our sentimental or political affinity with one party or another.

    I’ve read your good post on the Killing Fields and have added my own comments.

    cheers,
    Gerald

  3. Just because you have worked in the foreign ministry, you don’t have to be patronising in assuming that I do not know anything about the Jewish lobby, which mercifully is still powerful!

    I wrote the letter in response to yours because of two points: the mention of Singapore’s context and neutral perspective.

    In Singapore’s context, whether we make ourselves out to be Israel of the region or not, we will still be treated with suspicion and animosity. For the sake of appeasing regional sensitivities by excluding opinion pieces by Israelis is, to my mind, obsequious and degrading.

    Your plea for neutrality sounds sanctimonious and disingenuous in a situation where it is near impossible to be neutral. At least, I can say with conviction that I have no wish to be neutral and I regret that Israeli action has thus far been unduly restrained!

  4. I never intended to be patronising, and definitely not on the basis of my previous employment. I’m sorry if you took it that way.

    Let me clarify the intent of my original letter. I asked TODAY for more balanced coverage of Middle East issues. I had never asked for the exclusion of the Israeli viewpoint, nor was I making a “plea for neutrality”.

    Although Mr Emanuel Shahaf is relatively objective in his assessments, it is an immutable fact that he is a former Israeli diplomat. It is insensitive not so much to our neighbours, but to many of TODAY’s Singaporean readers who sympathise with the plight of the Palestinian and Lebanese civilian victims.

    Therefore I suggested featuring more “neutral” writers. By “neutral” I did not mean writers who were completely unbiased in their perspectives (I agree with you that that would be impossible), but that the writers should come from a more neutral background (i.e., not Israeli, Palestinian or Lebanese). However, I had emphasised separately to TODAY that I did not want to see them do a “mr brown” on Mr Shahaf, as I enjoy reading his articles, even if I do not completely agree with all of them.

    You went off tangent from the start when you wrote that I was “less than neutral”. My neutrality (or lack thereof) was never the issue from the beginning. But since you criticised my person rather than my opinions in your letter to TODAY, I felt it was important to clarify (in my blog) that I was not choosing sides in this tragic conflict because of some hidden agenda or bias.

    Lastly, you have accused me of being “sanctimonious and disingenuous”, which due my lack of mastery of the English language, I understand to mean that you are saying I am being self-righteous and dishonest. That’s a rather harsh judgment you have made against me personally, which I do not appreciate.

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