The "crossfire" mentality that defines public discourse today has the obvious problem of ignoring the fact that most of us land somewhere in the middle, turning every debate into a shouting contest between the extremists who generate passion and ratings, and rarely reflecting the views of the majority in the middle. I've been saying for years that it might be just as entertaining, and certainly more productive, to see where ideological opposites find common ground. But until someone actually attempts it, we will keep spiraling down into extremism and incivility.
That, in my mind, is bad. What's worse is that our crossfire, right and left, mentality can create a sense of equivalence when there is no basis for it.
Survivors and deniers do not belong on the same platform.
Evolution is not debatable.
Israel and Hamas do not stand in the same shoes.
Poor Israel. Until the past day or two, the death toll scoreboard so widely reported in the media was running so lopsidedly in Israel's "favor" that Israel was being chastised because too few of its soldiers and civilians had died. But that is not for want of trying.
Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into Israel, one so close to Ben Gurion airport that American airlines were banned from flying there. Israel is being punished for investing in shelters (where families are literally living) and building a sophisticated missile defense system — in other words, for protecting its people. Hamas uses children and families as human shields for terrorists.
Israel gets cast in the eyes of the world as an aggressor, but this is not about conquering foreign land. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. This war is about finding and destroying the tunnels that were built to smuggle terrorists and weapons into Israel — more of them than anyone expected and some of them clearly built to target Israeli communities.
Israel is seeking to defend itself, seeking to stop the rockets and attacks. Hamas is seeking to destroy Israel, and they are willing to sacrifice their own wives and children to do it.
So how did Israel become the aggressor?
The murder of three Israeli teenagers was followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen. Equivalent? No. The Israelis suspected of murdering the Palestinian boy have been arrested and charged with terrorism. The Palestinians responsible for the death of the Israelis? If they ever are identified, it doubtless would be to celebrate them.
There are real human beings suffering on both sides. The fact that a father would use his child as a human hostage hardly means that the child deserves to die. If a ceasefire could be negotiated, if the tunnels can be shut down, if an international body can disarm Hamas, the people of Gaza would be infinitely better off. They might be able to share in the economic growth and energy of the Israeli economy, instead of living in dire poverty. Their children could sleep safely at night, instead of worrying about whether their homes will be targeted and whether their parents will protect them.
Israel wants peace. Gaza desperately needs it. And yet its leaders prefer to fight Israel, to send rockets that mostly miss, to expose their children to missiles that mostly don't miss — rather than recognize Israel and make peace.
And Israel is to blame for that?
A friend forwarded an e-mail to me from a relative in Israel, a wise and thoughtful e-mail, not from a "hawk" or a "hardliner," but from a man who is living with sirens in the background and wondering how it is that the world press could be painting Israel as the villain in this fight.
It is a troubling question. I don't like any of the answers. Maybe it's just the crossfire culture. Or maybe it's because it's Israel.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)