Moral equivalency is alive and well in the left’s distorted vision of Middle East violence, where the targeting of terrorists is equated with the targeting of civilians, and those who send children into the streets to be shot are counted the same as those who are forced to shoot them.

During the Cold War, liberals excused Soviet atrocities with the most strained comparisons.

Thus, when anti-communists complained about the treatment of Soviet dissidents, liberals replied that America had political prisoners, too. But our “political prisoners” had committed real crimes (murder, robbery) motivated by ideology, whereas theirs had merely opened their mouths.

The same muddled thinking is regularly applied to Yasser Arafat’s 11-month rampage. The death of Israeli children is balanced with the death of Palestinian children – never mind how the deaths occurred.

The State Department is among the culprits. Last week, in response to a spate of bombings and continuing its policy of pinpoint strikes against terrorist kingpins, Israel took out Mustafa Zubari.

“Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don’t end the violence but are only inflaming an already volatile situation,” complained State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. The “targeted killing of Palestinians”? Which Palestinians – Palestinian accountants, Palestinian prima ballerinas?

Zubari was the head of a gang called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an affiliate of Arafat’s PLO. This year alone, he was responsible for car bombings in Jerusalem, Haifa and Or Yehuda.

When the United States hit the Afghan bases of Osama bin Laden with cruise missiles in 1998, presumably, Boucher did not consider this “inflaming an already volatile situation.” Would that we allowed our allies as much leeway in dealing with thugs.

Boucher neglected to inform Israel precisely how it should respond to suicide bombs, car bombs and mortar attacks. Equating preemptive strikes on military targets with aggression against civilians is moral equivalence.

But it’s not the worst sort of moral equivalence. That was contained in a commentary by Jerry Long, who’s syndicated by Knight-Ridder.

In an especially nasty outpouring, Long rhetorically wondered what lessons Israel had learned from the Holocaust when it referred to its anti-terrorist policy as “liquidation.” One must question the humanity, if not the sanity, of a writer who equates disposing of suicide-bomber dispatchers with the systematic slaughter of 6 million innocents.

“If Arafat must exert greater control over his murderers, couldn’t Ariel Sharon have come down from his perch above Sabra and Shatila to stop his people from bashing the heads of Palestinian children against stone walls?” Long wondered.

This refers to the killings at refugee camps outside Beirut in 1982 – crimes committed by Lebanese militiamen. (Long apparently believes the Phalangists had converted to Judaism and joined the Israeli army.) When Time magazine implied that Sharon was responsible for the killings, the general sued for libel and was vindicated, not that this stops Israel-bashers from recycling a decades-old lie.

Arafat trains children to attack Israeli soldiers. He has them bused to flash points with stones and firebombs. Frequently, Palestinian gunmen stand behind human shields and fire on troops. As a result, children die. Arafat courts civilian casualties on his side for their propaganda value.

Is this the same as kidnapping two 14-year-old boys who are hiking near their homes, taking them to a cave and stoning them to death? Is it morally equivalent to looking through a rifle scope at an infant in her father’s arms and deliberately blowing her head off?

Is it comparable to ambushing a family on a highway, shooting up their car, killing the parents and wounding the children? Is it akin to walking into a crowded pizzeria at noon and detonating a bomb packed with nails that shred the flesh of toddlers?

Those who excuse such atrocities with, “Oh, well, the Israelis fire rockets at Palestinian police stations (that harbor terrorists),” are only slightly less repugnant than the terrorists themselves.

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