Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Can one morally condemn Israel?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/04/2011

How true is this equation?

Does the ferocious moral condemnation of Israel mark a recrudescence of the most ugly of Western diseases anti-Semitism? Or is it a legitimate, if crude, criticism of a nation’s policies? Where does one draw the line? How does one judge?” (Richard Bernstein, “The Word: the Ugly Rumour or an Ugly Truth?“, New York Times, August 4th 2002).

I stumbled on this quote today while reading an interesting book: Politics and Religion in France and the United States” (Hardgreaves, Kelsay & Twiss, Lexington books, Lanham 2007). The questions Richard Bernstein asks are blatantly rhetorical, they are not meant to be interrogative but exclamatory and accusatory. But if taken seriously, at face value, they will undoubtedly prove to be important (and even necessary) for all people interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First, we should reformulate the question to rid it of its implicit accusation and its central slur. When Richard Bernstein speaks of “ferocious moral condemnation of Israel”, his informed public will undoubtedly read “Israel-bashing”, “singling out”, “unfair”, “biased”, “disproportionate” and “one-sidedness). He is actually implicitly referring to the familiar accusation of  “differential and discriminatory treatment of Israel. As Richard Bernstein only alludes to this argument, I’d rather set it aside and stick to the core of his question. If you are interested in a counter argument, check this article by Richard Kuper: Singling Out Israel. Now let’s grapple with the unwarranted smear: Anti-Semitism as a Western disease. There’s something explicitly essentialist and organicist in comparing anti-Semitism to a virus and labelling it “European”. It implies that a specific prejudice acts like a living organism, and an infective one too, always ready to multiply within a specific host, Europe. This metaphor is obviously misleading for a person who wants to understand the development of any prejudice, and even more for one who wants to fight it. So not only this metaphor makes insulting insinuations, but also nonproductive and to some extent counterproductive ones. After dealing with the implicit accusation and the explicit slur, let’s reformulate the first question in the following manner: “Is the moral condemnation of Israel legitimate or anti-Semitic? How can one draw the line? What does one judge?“. I won’t try to answer these three questions (I hope to do that another time), however, I’ll try to enumerate the other questions that need to be addressed in order to answer them:

1. Is any moral condemnation of Israel anti-Semitic? Many Israelis and supporters of Israel seem to think so. So it’s important to look into the reason behind their belief? Could it be a form of patriotism, a belief in Israeli exceptionalism, is it related to the holocaust…

2. What makes a moral condemnation of Israel anti-Semitic: the first question already takled two possible answers: the fact that it’s a moral condemnation or that it’s aimed at Israel. Here, we are left with three other possibilities: the language (or wording), the recurrence of the condemnation, the identity of its utterers?

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