Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Yours a Selective Morality?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Yours a Selective Morality?

Article excerpt

Dear Dr. Weisel:

I've just read three of your most recently published books: the collection of essays, From the Kingdom of Memory(1); the extended interview with Phillipe de Saint-Cheron, Evil and Exile(2); and your reprinted television dialogue with John Cardinal O'Connor, A Journey of Faith.(3)

I found myself reacting with mixed emotions to these eloquent statements of your faith and your memory of the Holocaust. On one level, I was profoundly moved. You are able, both by your eloquence and by your intimate witness to the horrors of the Nazi atrocities, to convey a sense -- a sense that I fred wrenching and almost unbearable -- of the Holocaust as human tragedy rather than simply as historical event.

Yet, on another level, I was left empty and deeply disappointed. I had a feeling of something incomplete, a sense that your morality is selective, encompassing Jews and, with a great and very genuine magnanimity, all other oppressed peoples except Palestinians, the people in the world whose lives are most affected by Jews.

Justice or Realpolitik?

I find that with most people who count themselves firm friends of Israel it is impossible to discuss the Palestinian question in terms of justice and morality. Palestinians are assumed to be the party that has wreaked injustice on Jews, and so justice and morality are thought not to apply to them. Yet when these friends of Israel find themselves, as they do increasingly of late, on the defensive about the morality of Israeli treatment of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, their usual course is to resort to realpolitik. After all, they say, the world order is determined by force of arms, and questions of justice and morality do not enter in; Israel has the upper hand, it controls the land and the people, and the Palestinians must simply learn to live with this; Israelis are only defending themselves in any case.

This is an evasion. The tendency to speak about justice for Jews but to change the subject, or the ground rules, when the subject is justice for Palestinians is an attempt to avoid responsibility, an effort to treat Jews as more innocent, in some way better, than others, certainly than Palestinians, and this is unacceptable. Since you are probably the greatest moral spokesman for the Jewish people today, I think you, above all, must be able to treat justice as an absolute, a whole that cannot be applied to one people in greater measure than to another.

Although I spoke of reading your works on two levels, I don't actually believe one can separate levels of justice and morality. Morality is indivisible, as I'm sure you would agree, at least in the abstract. I'm therefore disturbed that, while you demand morality and justice for Jews, you do not demand these qualities of Jews in their treatment of Palestinians.

No Answers, Only Questions

You frequently say that there are no answers, only questions. Perhaps, then, rather than presuming to lecture you with my answers, I should pose questions. My first and most pressing is this:

How can you reconcile your repeated statements that "a mute conscience is a false conscience,"(4) that the "opposite of love is not hate but indifference,"(5) with your indifference to the Palestinians' situation, and your mute failure to speak out against injustices against Palestinians committed by Jews in the name of Jewish security and the preservation of a Jewish state?

Is it that Palestinians are less worthy than other peoples, or is it that because Jews have suffered they must be given more latitude than other peoples? You have said it is only natural that, because you are a Jew, "Jewish fears, Jewish needs, Jewish crises" are your first concern.(6) But can it be "natural" for Palestinians to accept that Jewish fears and Jewish crises supersede their own fears and crises? Do you consider it natural for Black South Africans, with whom you have expressed solidarity, to concede priority to White fears and crises? …

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