Tony Kushner: Latest Victim of Jewish McCarthyism

Briefly: Playwright and cultural icon Tony Kushner was kicked off the list of honorees and John Jay College because Jeffrey Weisenfeld is Captain McWitchHunt. Fascinating. Here’s hoping someone throws water on JW so that he melts into a steaming puddle of vindictive intolerance. (h/t MondoWeiss )

Tony Kushner
c/o Heat & Light Co., Inc.
cc: President Jeremy Travis

The faculty and students of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 Tenth Avenue New York, NY, 10019

May 4, 2011

To Chairperson Benno Schmidt and the Board of Trustees:

At the May 2 public meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which was broadcast on CUNY television and radio, Trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld delivered a grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding the state of Israel, concocted out of three carefully cropped, contextless quotes taken from interviews I’ve given, the mention of my name on the blog of someone with whom I have no connection whatsoever, and the fact that I serve on the advisory board of a political organization with which Mr. Weisenfeld strongly disagrees. As far as I’m able to conclude from the podcast of this meeting, Mr. Weisenfeld spoke for about four minutes, the first half of which was a devoted to a recounting of the politics of former President of Ireland and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson that was as false as his description of mine.

Ms. Robinson, however, was not on public trial; I was, apparently, and at the conclusion of Mr. Weisenfeld’s vicious attack on me, eight members voted to approve all the honorary degree candidates, including me, and four voted to oppose the slate if my name remained on it. Lacking the requisite nine votes to approve the entire slate, the Board, in what sounds on the podcast like a scramble to dispense with the whole business, tabled my nomination, approved the other candidates, and adjourned. Not a word was spoken in my defense.

I wasn’t told in advance that my willingness to accept an honorary doctorate from John Jay would require my presence at a meeting to defend myself. As far as I know, no one who might have spoken on my behalf was notified in advance. I’m not a difficult person to find, nor am I lacking in articulate colleagues and friends who would have responded. For all his posturing as a street-tough scrapper for causes he believes in, Mr. Weisenfeld, like most bullies, prefers an unfair fight.

But far more dismaying than Mr. Weisenfeld’s diatribe is the silence of the other eleven board members. Did any of you feel that your responsibilities as trustees of an august institution of higher learning included even briefly discussing the appropriateness of Mr. Weisenfeld’s using a public board meeting as a platform for deriding the political opinions of someone with whom he disagrees? Did none of you feel any responsibility towards me, whose name was before you, and hence available as a target for Mr. Weisenfeld’s slander, entirely because I’d been nominated for an honor by the faculty and administration of one of your colleges? I can’t adequately describe my dismay at the fact that none of you felt stirred enough by ordinary fairness to demand of one of your members that, if he was going to mount a vicious attack, he ought to adhere to standards higher than those of internet gossip. Mr. Weisenfeld declared to you that, rather than turn to “pro-Israel” websites, he’d gleaned his insights into my politics from the website of Norman Finkelstein. I find it appalling that he failed to consider a third option: familiarizing himself with any of the work I’ve done, my plays, screenplays, essays and speeches, for which, I assume, the faculty and administration of John Jay nominated me for an honor.

It would have taken very little effort to learn that my politics regarding the state of Israel do not resemble Mr. Weisenfeld’s account. I don’t intend to mount a full defense of myself or my opinions in this letter, an effort on my part which an honorary degree ought not to require. But I can’t allow myself to be publicly defamed without responding:

  • My questions and reservations regarding the founding of the state of Israel are connected to my conviction, drawn from my reading of American history, that democratic government must be free of ethnic or religious affiliation, and that the solution to the problems of oppressed minorities are to be found in pluralist democracy and in legal instruments like the 14th Amendment; these solutions are, like all solutions, imperfect, but they seem to me more rational, and have had a far better record of success in terms of minorities being protected from majoritarian tyranny, than have national or tribal solutions. I am very proud of being Jewish, and discussing this issue publicly has been hard; but I believe in the absolute good of public debate, and I feel that silence on the part of Jews who have questions is injurious to the life of the Jewish people. My opinion about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong statement of support for Israel’s right to exist, and my ardent wish that it continue to do so, something Mr. Weisenfeld conveniently left out of his remarks.
  • I believe that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing, a conclusion I reached mainly by reading the work of Benny Morris, an acclaimed and conservative Israeli historian whose political opinions are much more in accord with Mr. Weisenfeld’s than with mine; Mr. Morris differs from Mr. Weisenfeld in bringing to his examination of history a scholar’s rigor, integrity, seriousness of purpose and commitment to telling the truth.
  • I won’t enter into arguments about Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people since 1948, about the security fence or the conduct of the IDF, except to say that my feelings and opinions – my outrage, my grief, my terror, my moments of despair – regarding the ongoing horror in the middle east, the brunt of which has been born by the Palestinian people, but which has also cost Israelis dearly and which endangers their existence, are shared by many Jews, in Israel, in the US and around the world. My despair is kept in check by my ongoing belief in and commitment to a negotiated conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.
  • I have never supported a boycott of the state of Israel. I don’t believe it will accomplish anything positive in terms of resolving the crisis. I believe that the call for a boycott is predicated on an equation of this crisis with other situations, contemporary and historical, that is fundamentally false, the consequence of a failure of political understanding of a full and compassionate engagement with Jewish history and Jewish existence.
  • I am on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and have remained there even though I disagree with the organization about a number of issues, including the boycott. I remain affiliated because the women and men of JVP are courageous, committed people who work very hard serving the interests of peace and justice and the Jewish people, and I’m honored by my association with them. I have a capacity Mr. Weisenfeld lacks, namely the ability to tolerate and even value disagreement. Furthermore, resigning from the advisory board of JVP, or any organization, to escape the noisy censure of likes of Mr. Weisenfeld is repellent to me.
  • Mr. Weisenfeld attempts to cast me as a marginal extremist, a familiar tactic on this particular issue. It’s a matter of public record that this is not the case. I’m coeditor of a volume of essays on the crisis in the middle east, which includes among its 58 contributing authors many rabbis, two US Poet Laureates and two recipients of the Jerusalem Prize. I’ve had a long and happy affiliation with such organizations as the 92nd Street Y, The Jewish Museum and the Upper West Side JCC. My work has been recognized by such groups as The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, The Shofar Center, The Central Synagogue and Brandeis University (one of fifteen honorary degrees I’ve received). I state this not to present credentials, but because I refuse to allow Mr. Weisenfeld or any other self-appointed spokesman/guardian to diminish the depth or meaningfulness of my connection to the Jewish community.

I accepted the kind offer of a degree from John Jay College not because I need another award, but because I was impressed with the students and teachers there – as I have always been impressed with CUNY teachers and students – and I wanted to participate in celebrating their accomplishment. I did not expect to be publicly defamed as a result, and I believe I am owed an apology for the careless way in which my name and reputation were handled at your meeting.

I decided long ago that my job as a playwright is to try to speak and write honestly about what I believe to be true. I am interested in history and politics, and long ago I realized that people uninterested in a meaningful exchange of opinion and ideas would selectively appropriate my words to suit their purposes. It’s been my experience that truth eventually triumphs over soundbites, spin and defamation, and that reason, honest inquiry, and courage, which are more appealing and more persuasive than demagoguery, will carry the day.

Sincerely,

Tony Kushner

Tony, if you are reading this, thank you for responding publicly. You give of yourself in so many ways; a large public of Jews and non-Jews is paying attention and feeling gratitude.

203 Responses to “Tony Kushner: Latest Victim of Jewish McCarthyism”

  1. Do you know where I can listen to the podcast of the event?


    Jason · May 5th, 2011 at 5:28 am
  2. Tony Kushner writes: “that democratic government must be free of ethnic or religious affiliation…”

    I have no argument with his opinions as stated here in this post.
    But having been many times to Sweden, a tolerant democratic state – would Tony take issue that it is affiliated with a specific church? What about England where the King may not be Catholic. There are several other such cases.

    Even in a country such as Switzerland – the Mosque minaret law was passed. In France it is the Muslim head-cover law.

    I am not trying to justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.

    I am saying that religious affiliation is not the factor to determine the protection of minorities.

    I would imagine that he would prefer that those states be free of religious affiliation.

    I would prefer to see a separation of religion and politics in Israel. Indeed, I work daily toward that goal.

    But is the problem in Israel an affiliation with a specific religion? I would suggest it is the abuse by the State of the affiliation that is the problem.

    I would assert that Israel has an issue of “the tyranny of the minority.” But this is not a direct result of the religious affiliation. It is a result of an abuse of that affiliation.


    Meir Eynam · May 5th, 2011 at 7:16 am
  3. Was Carol Greenwald also at that meeting? See the next post- is someone cloning these clowns?


    Adam · May 5th, 2011 at 10:31 am
  4. JTA posts a rather one-sided overview- how could they not report Kushner’s public response?

    www.jta.org/news/article/2011/05/04/3087546/cuny-nixes-kushner-honorary-degree-over-anti-israel-statements


    Adam · May 5th, 2011 at 1:48 pm
  5. I often wonder how many people who quote Benny Morris have actually read him, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited” especially. It is a long and comprehensive study, and its conclusions rarely match the rhetoric of those who lean on Morris’ credibility, but not the content of his work, in public debate.

    Furthermore, Morris has continued to illuminate his field, and our historical understanding, bringing ever more context to the fore through such works as “1948″.

    I am always surprised that those who reference Morris most – and always in a general way – seem to have read and understood his work least.


    Victor · May 5th, 2011 at 8:09 pm
  6. How is Morris part of this?
    I did read his book on the refugee problem. It is scholarship, and a bit different than some of his later ideological pronouncements.


    Jew Guevara · May 5th, 2011 at 8:14 pm
  7. point 2:

    I believe that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing, a conclusion I reached mainly by reading the work of Benny Morris, an acclaimed and conservative Israeli historian whose political opinions are much more in accord with Mr. Weisenfeld’s than with mine; Mr. Morris differs from Mr. Weisenfeld in bringing to his examination of history a scholar’s rigor, integrity, seriousness of purpose and commitment to telling the truth.


    Victor · May 5th, 2011 at 8:24 pm
  8. You should follow up with his “1948″. It is a fundamental text.


    Victor · May 5th, 2011 at 8:28 pm
  9. “Ethnic cleansing” is not a description, or a charge, that Morris applies in any of his works. The refugee problem stemmed from a multitude of factors, local, national, economic, political, cultural, military and so on (and this is not an exhaustive list) over the course of many months. There was no authorized expulsion program or directive, in either the Yeshuv’s pre-war planning or during the course of the fighting. There was general confusion on the subject throughout the Hagganah’s ranks, and much depended on local conditions and commanders. The only unity on the subject in the Yishuv and the State of Israel which followed was that refugees would not be allowed to return, and would be prevented from doing this by force, if necessary. I’ll be happy to type up the first few paragraphs of Moris’ conclusions to “Palestinian Refugee Problem…”

    But as for the refugees themselves, I seem to remember Morris saying something along the lines of, there was not just one reason for the departure of a fruit vendor in Haifa. It wasn’t just the loss in business, the weeks and months of snipers and shelling and siege to which both communities were exposed, the defeat of Haifa’s Arab militia, the prospect of life under Jewish rule or anticipation of Jewish revenge attacks for Arab aggression, or orders from Arab leaders/armies/High Committees to leave the war zone (in Haifa, this order was made on April 22), or rumors or Jewish massacres, or the fact that tens of thousands of the Arab elite left early in the war, leaving the rest of the Arabs leaderless… it was all these things, together, cumulatively, over time, that depopulated Arabs from most cities. In the countryside, the situation was based on local conditions, etc. etc. etc.

    This wasn’t Bosnia/Serbia style “ethnic cleansing”, with soldiers dropping from the backs of army trucks, rounding civilians up, killing the men in the local forest and raping the women, which is where the term was coined and most famously applied. To suggest otherwise doesn’t demonstrate Kushner’s much vaunted “commitment to telling the truth”.


    Victor · May 5th, 2011 at 8:48 pm
  10. “Ethnic cleansing” is not a description, or a charge, that Morris applies in any of his works.

    and Kushner didn’t claim that it was… He wrote, “a conclusion I reached mainly by reading the work of Benny Morris.” That is to say that based on Morris’ scholarship, Kushner came to his own opinion that “the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of Israel was ethnic cleansing.”


    Justin · May 5th, 2011 at 10:08 pm
  11. Right, and so I wonder how someone who has actually read Benny Morris could reach such a grotesque conclusion, from any objective standpoint.


    Victor · May 5th, 2011 at 10:21 pm
  12. The Forward reported on a fascinating debate between two genocide scholars, both fighting tooth and nail over whether Israel had committed genocide in Israel. The spat between scholars occurred across the pages of academic journals, conferences and interviews. As typified by most spats of this topic, one called the other anti-Semite/anti-Zionist and the latter in turn called the former a Zionist apologist/Judeo-supremacist. One argued for a strict definition of “genocide,” while the other argued for a broader definition.

    But both scholars agreed one thing was definitely true: Israel had committed ethnic cleansing.

    Read it.

    I can hardly believe that Kushner is anything but a thoughtful human being for making similar considerations. To me, the case of Weisenfeld blocking CUNY from issuing the man an honorary degree (his fifteenth, for crying out loud) is another case of the Jews insisting Jewish phobias be the center of the world. Embarassing and grossly out of place.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 5th, 2011 at 11:34 pm
  13. I remember as a soldier coming across a political newspaper distributed by ‘Ghandi’s’ party, which advocated ‘transfer.’ In this paper, he argued that removing Palestinians from Israel was part of a Zionist tradition. The paper used quotes from founding father’s, officers in 1948, and journalistic accounts.
    The idea that someone could argue today, that Palestinians were not, at least in part, ethnically cleansed, feels fantastical. It’s not like public figures haven’t actually claimed this to be true and admitted their own role in it.


    Jew Guevara · May 6th, 2011 at 12:10 am
  14. KFJ and JG,

    I am familiar with the genocide debate. I am likewise aware that certain Israeli factions have an interest in presenting “transfer” as essential to Zionist ideology. Neither are relevant to the concern I raised.

    By his own admission, Mr. Kushner did not come to his conclusion that ethnic cleansing occurred based on the genocide debate referred to by KFJ, or some out-of-context quotes peddled by pro-Arab propagandists. He claims to have done so on the basis of research on the subject by the preeminent scholar of the field – Benny Morris. However, Morris never draws such conclusions, and the evidence he presents discounts “ethnic cleansing” in all but the most incomprehensibly broad sense of the term.

    With such broad license for the term, it would not be a stretch to proclaim that “white flight” from American inner cities is a form of “ethnic cleansing”, brought on by crime, corruption, falling property rates, poor public services, etc.

    Either Kushner has not really read Benny Morris and is lying, or he has taken liberties with the facts presented by Morris in a sloppy, unreasonable manner.

    I have heard this nonsense far too many times, with Morris’ work obviously cited by those who have never read it. Before leaning on the work of a scholar, is it too much to ask that one read that which is being cited as proof? Is it?


    Victor · May 6th, 2011 at 1:11 am
  15. Victor, it is entirely possible to read Morris and conclude that ethnic transfer took place. The real arguments are over whether or not it was planned entirely in advance or the result of military and field imperatives.

    The argument around ethnic cleansing can be made without a single reference to how Palestinians ended up outside of Israel’s borders. Legally speaking, the mere act of preventing refugees from returning to their villages is enough to constitute ethnic cleansing, as this violates international law regarding the right of individuals to return to their home.


    Jew Guevara · May 6th, 2011 at 8:35 am
  16. Legally speaking, the mere act of preventing refugees from returning to their villages is enough to constitute ethnic cleansing, as this violates international law regarding the right of individuals to return to their home.

    So we’ll just have to keep violating “international law” (whatever exactly that means.) How will we sleep at night?


    Jonathan1 · May 6th, 2011 at 9:16 am
  17. J1, you’ll sleep fine, as most Israelis and Jews do. Until one thing leads to another and our past behavior generates consequences of sufficient power and lethality that it can no longer be ignored.
    It wasn’t too long ago that Palestinian efforts to keep Israelis awake at night were pretty darn successful. We are sowing the seeds for another chapter.


    Jew Guevara · May 6th, 2011 at 10:17 am
  18. It wasn’t too long ago that Palestinian efforts to keep Israelis awake at night were pretty darn successful. We are sowing the seeds for another chapter.

    I’ll agree with this. You don’t need me to list all of the mistakes the Israelis have made over the years, including the Netanyahu government.

    However, we deserve to have some red lines too, in negotiations. I don’t think no right of return is asking too much.

    And if it is asking too much then what’s the point of making a deal that wouldn’t even end the conflict?


    Jonathan1 · May 6th, 2011 at 10:23 am
  19. “ethnic transfer”

    …has a bit of different ring to it than “ethnic cleansing”, which smacks of racial sterilization. Is it possible that my points doth penetrate? ;)

    As for refugees returning to their homes, this is not necessarily a “right”. The ICC ruled several years ago that Greek Cypriots were not entitled to claim property from which they were expelled by the Turks, or was it the other way around… Clearly, “international law” is fickle, and generally all the more sensible on everything not relating to Israel.


    Victor · May 6th, 2011 at 10:26 am
  20. So we’ll just have to keep violating “international law” (whatever exactly that means.) How will we sleep at night?

    Jonathan1, would you really say that so glibly if it were rephrased as “So we’ll just have to keep committing ‘ethnic cleansing’ (whatever exactly that means.) How will we sleep at night?”

    JG’s point is important: if the only way to create a ‘Jewish state’ (i.e. a majority-Jewish state) was to remove the bulk of the non-Jewish population (either by forceful expulsion, or at the very least by not letting those fleeing a war-zone return afterwards, which comes out functionally to the same thing), would you still say that such an action was justified?

    That is, if you were forced to make a choice between “elimination of the non-Jewish population, and having a ‘Jewish state’” or “refraining to engage in the elimination of the non-Jewish population, and not having a ‘Jewish state’”, which would you choose?

    If you would choose such elimination, then be up front about it. But then also be clear about what sort of moral system this would fall under.


    ben azzai · May 7th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
  21. @ben azzai.

    You are correct that I do have issues with the entire concept of “International Law.” I think it is a crutch used too often. There is no exact definition as to what it is. There is no enforcement mechanism. There is no substantive agreement as to which countries shall abide by which legal theories. Everybody just picks and chooses whatever clause from whatever document suits the purposes of their argument, and then they say to their intellectual opponent, “oh, so you are now advocating for illegal acts,” as if these documents dropped from the sky to begin with.

    JG is doing it here regarding refugees and, btw., it’s not so hard to make a compelling argument that the West Bank settlements are “legal” under the Geneva Conventions. So?

    JG’s point is important: if the only way to create a ‘Jewish state’ (i.e. a majority-Jewish state) was to remove the bulk of the non-Jewish population (either by forceful expulsion, or at the very least by not letting those fleeing a war-zone return afterwards, which comes out functionally to the same thing), would you still say that such an action was justified?

    You and I had this exact conversation last August, I think. I’m saying yes, I do think it is justified to not allow back refugees and their descendants.

    That is, if you were forced to make a choice between “elimination of the non-Jewish population, and having a ‘Jewish state’” or “refraining to engage in the elimination of the non-Jewish population, and not having a ‘Jewish state’”, which would you choose?

    Thank God this isn’t the choice we are faced with. A treaty with the Palestinians that does not include a “right of return” does not necessitate a state of Israel with no non-Jewish population.

    But, to put all of my cards on the table, I think the border should be drawn so that the Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem, and in parts of the north and south would have their citizenship transferred from Israel to Palestine, a process which might disenfranchise 1/2 million human beings. I’ve always been up front about that. (btw, as it stands Gaza is simply not big enough, but it’s borders could easily be tripled by expanding them southward, into the Sinai.)

    If you would choose such elimination, then be up front about it. But then also be clear about what sort of moral system this would fall under.

    The moral system is hopefully ending the century-old conflict between national movements over the same piece of land by partitioning that piece of land into two political entities: Palestine and Israel. Palestinians in their Diaspora would have the right to move to Palestine.

    I can see where you’re going with these questions, but I’ll let you ask the follow-up . . .


    Jonathan1 · May 7th, 2011 at 1:32 pm
  22. Is Kushner confusing Benny Morris with Ilan Pappe?


    shmuel · May 7th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
  23. J1–yeah, as I was writing, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have been repeating myself! But anyhow:

    That is, if you were forced to make a choice between “elimination of the non-Jewish population, and having a ‘Jewish state’” or “refraining to engage in the elimination of the non-Jewish population, and not having a ‘Jewish state’”, which would you choose?

    Thank God this isn’t the choice we are faced with. A treaty with the Palestinians that does not include a “right of return” does not necessitate a state of Israel with no non-Jewish population.

    I disagree with you: the creation of a ‘Jewish state’ (again, defined as a state with a dominant Jewish majority) did precisely necessitate eliminating a large proportion of the non-Jewish population: the area designated as the proposed Jewish state by the UN partition plan in 1947 was 40% non-Jewish. Without eliminating a large proportion of that non-Jewish population, the state would not be ‘Jewish’ in the sense desired by the political Zionist leaders. So, the choice was either forced elimination (by refusing return of those who fled a war-zone) or no ‘Jewish state.’ The Israeli leaders at the time decided that having a Jewish state was ‘worth it,’ even if required ethnic cleansing.

    If you think I’m misrepresenting the situation, please correct me. But, if my description seems correct, then the choice still stands: either ethnic cleansing, or no ‘Jewish state.’

    Again, in this specific case, we’re talking about the choice from 60 years ago, not from today–but one’s answer to this nevertheless indicates the moral principles that one is working with. So, what say you?


    ben azzai · May 7th, 2011 at 5:14 pm
  24. @ben azzai.

    Ok. Correct that the discussion about where to go today is a much easier one from a moral standpoint.

    It seems like I lend more credence than do you to the context of the 1948-49 Arab exodus (or my interpretation of it), but ultimately you are correct that the “Jewish state” would have turned out very differently without that emigration.

    So, I would say that the state was indeed worth it, even though that involved ethnic cleansing. That’s the position from which I come.

    (I do think that the emergence of a viable Palestine today would end any guilt from that ethnic cleaning, although I realize that isn’t your point.)


    Jonathan1 · May 7th, 2011 at 6:47 pm
  25. I wrote:
    I lend more credence

    correction:

    I give more weight. (for BZ)


    Jonathan1 · May 7th, 2011 at 6:59 pm
  26. So, I would say that the state was indeed worth it, even though that involved ethnic cleansing. That’s the position from which I come.

    Thanks for being up front about your position. Could I ask a couple of other questions? First, do you expect others to see such an act of ethnic cleansing as just? That is, is it something that you would think non-Zionists should also see as just? Or is it something that you would think was unjust if you didn’t consider yourself a Zionist?

    Also, if you think that such ‘effective transfer’ was legitimate 60 years ago, would you also think that the same principles would be legitimate today–e.g., if the non-Jewish population of the ‘Jewish state’ got ‘too high’?

    Finally, do you think that ethnic cleansing is a legitimate tool for nationalist movements generally? Would you apply the same standards to other groups as you would in the case of the founding of the Israeli state?

    Sorry if I’m being overly question-y, but clarifying the underlying principles involved seems important for the discussion.


    ben azzai · May 7th, 2011 at 7:17 pm
  27. @shmuel,

    That would make infinitely more sense. But Pappe lacks the scholarly credibility of Morris.

    @Jonathan1,

    I don’t know if you follow Yaacov Lozowick, but he wrote a fairly good piece about “international law” that you may enjoy.

    @ben azzai,

    I really don’t mean to wade into this very repetitive and ultimately circular discussion you’re having with J1, but you made a comment I thought was interesting, regarding justice, and our need to take into account what other peoples consider just. My question is… well, why?

    Consider that different societies have different ideas of what constitutes justice. Certainly, in the history of our own people, including in Arab lands, justice was often meted at our expense. Must our people pay a dhimmi tax to live in the Middle East? No? But shouldn’t we take into account what other people consider to be justice?


    Victor · May 7th, 2011 at 10:26 pm
  28. Victor,

    I guess I had in mind something like ‘that which is hateful to you, do not do to another.’ So, if someone sees the ethnic cleansing necessary to create a ‘Jewish state’ as just or legitimate, I was wondering whether that same person would see it as equally just or legitimate if, for instance, Jews were on the receiving end. Or, is the action only just/legitimate if done by Jews, but unjust/illegitimate if done to Jews?

    Most modern nationalisms, it seems to me, ultimately operate on the basic principle of ‘might makes right.’ And this seems a little bit different from Hillel’s principle. So, if one is operating by the principle of ‘might makes right,’ that is one thing, but then I think it’s good to be clear about that, and not to make claims about ‘justice’ or ‘the Jewish ethical tradition.’ Hillel’s dictum seems to put a damper on a lot of actions that one might want to do; but if we’re going to go ‘beyond’ it, we should say so.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 7:51 am
  29. ben azzai,

    You’re talking about “ethnic cleansing” in the abstract. I guess I’m just wondering what your sense of justice would look like if it was your Jewish family stranded in the basement of a home in the middle of a Jewish-Arab civil war. Would you be pontificating these questions or praying to G-d that the Jewish soldiers defending your family’s life held the line and pushed the enemy back, and as far back as possible – them and their wives, and their kids and their whole g-ddamn jew-hating society that brought this war on your family, and sniped your friend the grocer in the head and raped that poor jewish girl during the riots last year. I’m inventing narrative for effect, because that’s what a civil war looks like.

    This entire decontextualized approach you have to history is pure pie in the sky. These were real people dealing with a serious situation of communal survival. Whatever they did, G-d bless them, because the Jews survived and thrived, and that’s where their responsibility lay – a responsibility the Jewish community of Palestine elected them to carry out.

    For G-d’s sake, you spoiled rotten, cuckolded from birth children, may we Jews only have such problems as worrying about whether the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed or not.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am
  30. Finally, do not confused “Jewish ethical tradition” with Ghandi’s self-flagellation. We Jews fight wars and kill people to defend ourselves, without question or reservation. There is nothing forbidden by halachah when Jewish life is at stake – not torturing combatants to extract information, not execution of prisoners, not ethnic cleansing, not even wholesale genocide. Even rape of the enemy’s women is accepted, if discouraged (yefat toar), and there is no problem taking slaves and booty.

    So please, save me Hillel’s singular dictum, whose context you’re oversimplifying and misapplying in the extreme. If Hillel has been alive in 1948, he would have led the Hagganah.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 11:12 am
  31. There is nothing forbidden by halachah when Jewish life is at stake

    Actually, there are three things…


    BZ · May 8th, 2011 at 11:31 am
  32. There is nothing forbidden by halachah when Jewish life is at stake

    Actually, there are three things…

    Thank you, BZ, for emphasizing this. Just to be spell it out– those three things are: idolatry, bloodshed, and sexual immorality.

    Victor, this is the key difference between modern nationalism and classical rabbinic Judaism (both of which may perhaps be different in certain ways from Ghandi’s philosophy).

    Modern nationalism says: any action is permitted in order to ‘defend the nation.’

    In contrast, classical rabbinic Judaism says: no, some things are not permitted. It is better to die than to commit those actions. (‘Be slain rather than transgress.’)

    So, while your description of the violence necessary to ‘win a civil war’ could be accurate, all I am saying is that it differs from classical rabbinic Judaism, which says that not everything is permitted, even if they might seem ‘necessary.’ If you want to adopt modern nationalism, fine, but don’t project it onto classical rabbinic Judaism.

    But, this is a very good discussion to have, since I feel that in general the gap between rabbinic Judaism and modern nationalism with regard to ‘killing for the group’ is often glossed over.

    (And, I’ll also note that ‘cuckolded from birth’ [= unmanly?] has often been attributed to the rabbinic ethos by numerous groups–including, notably, many early Zionists.)


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 12:09 pm
  33. @ben azzai

    First, do you expect others to see such an act of ethnic cleansing as just? That is, is it something that you would think non-Zionists should also see as just? Or is it something that you would think was unjust if you didn’t consider yourself a Zionist?

    That’s tough for me to answer, because I only see the world through my own eyes. (because it’s relevant, I’m someone who grew up in the USA, but has spent most of my somewhat brief adult life in Israel.)

    Further, I do think it’s important to consider the context of how that ethnic cleansing occurred in 1948-49:

    There were two national movements staking a claim to Israel/Palestine, and the Jewish national claim was certainly a strong one, IMO. A deal was on the table to partition the land into two states in 1947. The Jewish leadership accepted that plan and the Arab leadership rejected it. A bloody civil war thereafter erupted, a war in which it wasn’t always so clear if the Jewish community would survive. When the British left that small Jewish community was then attacked by 5 standing Arab armies, which led to a war in which 1% of the Jewish community was killed in about 10 months of fighting (and most of the world was maintaining an arms embargo on that Jewish community.) During that war Jewish communities were ethnically cleansed–in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem’s Old City (Hebron had been ethnically cleansed of Jews a decade earlier.)

    There weren’t large, orderly plans to expel Arabs, but when the opportunity arose, the Jewish forces certainly expelled Arabs, and on a handful of occasions used violence to do so. Also, there were instances where the local Jewish community pleaded with the local Arabs to stay, but to no avail (Haifa, for instance.) After the war’s conclusion, the new state of Israel didn’t not allow the refugees to return, and razed their former homes and expropriate private land, etc. The refugees for the most part were placed in camps controlled by Arab regimes, who purported to maintain their war against the new Israeli state because of those very refugees’ plight.

    This very general history of those years is my perspective, which is relevant because you’re asking how I view things.

    So, I would think that 50% of non-Zionists would view the Israelis’ actions as just, and 50% would not. (Although I would think the Israelis were just even if I thought no non-Zionist would agree.) This doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of that story that I don’t think were awful, but not much in life is not complicated.

    Also, if you think that such ‘effective transfer’ was legitimate 60 years ago, would you also think that the same principles would be legitimate today–e.g., if the non-Jewish population of the ‘Jewish state’ got ‘too high’?

    I think that what happens in the insanity of an existential war is different than what happens in the context of somewhat “normal” times. So, I don’t think ‘effective transfer’ is legitimate today. Although, I am stating that I do think that hundreds-of-thousands of Palestinians should be ‘transferred’ to Palestine, as part of a partition treaty. If you count that as “ethnic cleansing” then I suppose I count that as legitimate–although under a political transfer nobody would lose their home and most might not even lose their jobs.

    Finally, do you think that ethnic cleansing is a legitimate tool for nationalist movements generally? Would you apply the same standards to other groups as you would in the case of the founding of the Israeli state?

    I really don’t know–every situation is so different. It’s almost like we’re taking it for granted that Israel would win that first war. Let’s not forget that Yigal Yadin (I think) told Ben-Gurion that the Jews had a 50% chance of surviving that first war, and the US State Department predicted a slaughter. And, what would have happened had Israel allowed in hundreds-of-thousands of people in 1949, after the Jewish and Arab communities had been involved in an intermittent civil war for decades? What kind of violence would have happened in the 60′s, or today, if millions of Palestinians had moved to Jaffa and Haifa? I don’t know for sure but I contend that it’s not a huge exaggeration to claim that much more blood would have been spilled. My point is that there is a difference between what happened in 1948 and what would happen if Israel were tomorrow to invade Jordan and to start orderly expelling Ahman’s residents and tank-point. I just see that difference and I don’t think that ben-azzai sees a difference.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 12:09 pm
  34. those three things are: idolatry, bloodshed, and sexual immorality.

    Idolatry, murder and sexual immorality. Killing is different from murder, but you group it together under “bloodshed”. You absolutely can kill, and indeed, MUST kill during a threat to your life; you simply cannot commit murder.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 12:35 pm
  35. Victor, this is the key difference between modern nationalism and classical rabbinic Judaism

    I’m not talking about “modern nationalism”, but rabbinic Judaism. Read Rambam’s Hilchos Melachim, where he makes clear that during an obligatory war (a war fought to defend Jewish lives and communities), we are not allowed to show mercy to an enemy (by, say, leaving one exit for them to retreat by). My memory fails me, but it’s possibly we cannot even offer them terms of surrender in such a case, but must kill them all outright.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 12:40 pm
  36. J1, this is helpful. And it’s not true that I ‘don’t see a difference.’ It may be that I might not judge it to be ‘a difference that makes a difference,’ but I’m not sure of that. My main concern is getting clear on the particular facts of the situation that is to be assessed.

    I guess my main question that still remains is whether the ‘necessity of ethnic cleansing’ preceded (and perhaps contributed to) ‘the insanity of an existential war’. That is, if one’s initial aim is to establish a majority-Jewish state in an area that is already largely populated by non-Jews, then you’re going to have to engage in ethnic cleansing, regardless of whether the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants are hostile or not. Even if they are peaceful, they still prevent the possibility of a majority-Jewish state (or ‘a state intended for Jews’), and so they must be removed.

    So, in this sense, the necessity for ethnic cleansing was already in place even before the civil war began.

    So, my sense is that probably more than 50% of non-Zionists would not be likely to see this as just. I feel most people would say: “If the only way to establish a ‘Jewish state’ in this area is through ethnic cleansing, then the aim of establishing a ‘Jewish state in this area is not legitimate.” Or do see things differently?

    I’ll also note that my analysis of the necessity of ethnic cleansing applies specifically to establishing a ‘Jewish state’ in that area. The establishment of ‘Jewish cultural autonomy’ would not require ethnic cleansing. But, once the political Zionists had decided that a ‘Jewish state’ was necessary, it doesn’t seem to me that there was another option other than ethnic cleansing. And so if the only means to one’s desired goal seem manifestly unjust, it seems that rather than pushing through with the means, one should re-think the goal.

    Granted, I realize that many of the early Zionists may not have foreseen what was to come (although Jabotinsky did), but in general the notion of establishing ethno-states seems to jump pretty quickly to collective violence.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 12:40 pm
  37. If you want to adopt modern nationalism, fine, but don’t project it onto classical rabbinic Judaism.

    That’s what I’m trying to explain: Rabbinic Judaism has no problem waging war, ferociously, and all the more so in preservation of Jewish life and property. Show me a single dissenting opinion. I’m on my cell and apologize for all the snippet responses.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 12:48 pm
  38. Victor,

    You may very well be right about Rambam (I’d have to look more closely), but his notion that “a war fought to defend Jewish lives and communities” falls under the category of “obligatory war” is an innovation on his part and does not seem to have a clear basis in classical rabbinic literature. If the category of ‘war’ is activated, then ethical restrictions could be different–but classical rabbinic literature did not allow for such an ‘easy’ activation of the category of war. And I would say that this difference is linked to classical rabbinic literature’s view of the infinite value of individual bodily life, which Rambam may not have shared.

    And also, it most certainly is ‘bloodshed’ (= שפיכות דמים) that is prohibited. There may be certain instances where this may be overridden, but “killing/harming bystanders for the sake of ‘collective self-defense’” is not one of them. So, just as we shouldn’t project modern nationalism onto classical rabbinic literature, we also shouldn’t project Rambam onto classical rabbinic literature. I’m not saying which one is ‘better,’ just that there is a difference.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 12:58 pm
  39. A couple relevant passages:

    Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehozadak: It was decided by a majority vote in the upper chambers of the house of Nitza in Lod: for every transgression that is in the Torah, if a person is ordered: “Transgress and you will not be killed!”, he should transgress and not be killed–except for idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed.

    Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a: A man came before Rava and said to him: “The governor of my town has ordered me: ‘Go and kill so-and-so; if not, I will kill you!’” [Rava] answered him: “Be killed, but do not kill. For how do you know your blood is redder? Perhaps that man’s blood is redder.”


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:02 pm
  40. That’s what I’m trying to explain: Rabbinic Judaism has no problem waging war, ferociously, and all the more so in preservation of Jewish life and property.

    Yes, classical rabbinic Judaism may not oppose war in principle–but it also requires divine sanction through the Urim and the Tummim, which seem to be out of stock on amazon.com nowadays.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:05 pm
  41. In a world where the ethical imperative to ‘do what is right if the situation was reversed’ is in force, Jews have a chance to thrive and survive anywhere. In a world where the ethical imperative is replaced with ‘do what is necessary for your own group to meet it’s needs even if that is bad for another group’ then Jews will be unsafe and insecure everywhere.
    What we have is an even worse situation. A world in which the leading nations are formally, if imperfectly committed to the ethical imperative, but where the Jewish state is openly committed to violating it using 19th century nationalist logic. In such a world, Jews are transformed from a light unto the nations into a dark and spreading stain of hypocrisy.

    Opponents of Zionism are sometimes so angry at this that they reject any Jewish collective rights. Jewish opponents sometimes do act and speak as though they have a special hatred for their own kind, the one kind of hatred they feel entirely legitimate to wield. This anti-Zionist Jew is motivated by a sincere desire to ensure the safety and continuity of Jews and Judaism for another 2000 years. As it stands, the destruction to our character and reputation brought on by Israel – and Victor’s ethical logic – are in my mind the single most dangerous threat to our long term survival.

    I see ‘Jewish survival’ as a precious thing that must be rescued from the occupation, Israel, the settlers, right wing Zionists and the imperial mindset that stands above us, bloodthirsty and violent, echoing the noises of Romans, Cossacks and Germans as they sought to destroy us.

    I am in that basement, fearful of the civil war raging outside, and praying to god that someone, somehow, destroy the root menace responsible for the terror, rape and murder: the hold of nationalism and land-worship, the false prophets in Jerusalem, the self-righteous smugness keeping our grip firm on the rifles and billy-clubs deployed against the Palestinians.

    I’ll do my part. I am not alone. We appear to be weak right now; but as long as right makes might and not the other way around, we shall prevail.


    Jew Guevara · May 8th, 2011 at 1:12 pm
  42. I should also say: when Rambam talks about ‘Jewish kings going to war,’ it’s not at all clear that he intends this as something that is going to take place prior to the messianic era. I’m not saying that you couldn’t stretch it that way if you wanted to–but I just don’t think that’s what Rambam had in mind. But, I’m not absolutely sure about this, so if you have textual evidence to the contrary, I’d be interested in seeing it.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:15 pm
  43. That is to say, my sense of Rambam is that his support for ‘mass violence in war’ may have been partially grounded on the fact that he intended it is something almost entirely, if not entirely, theoretical rather than practical.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:19 pm
  44. I see ‘Jewish survival’ as a precious thing that must be rescued from the occupation, Israel, the settlers, right wing Zionists and the imperial mindset that stands above us, bloodthirsty and violent, echoing the noises of Romans, Cossacks and Germans as they sought to destroy us.

    …and rescued from Rambam, apparently.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 1:22 pm
  45. something almost entirely, if not entirely, theoretical rather than practical

    Right, just like the rest of his Hilchos. Have you read Mishnei Torah, ben azzai? It is nothing if not absolutely practical. It is the core, essential, practical directives of every mitzvah. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to whip out Hilchos Melachim on Jewschool. Time to find it again…


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 1:24 pm
  46. Victor, perhaps I expressed myself poorly. What I meant to say was: my sense of Rambam is that his support for ‘mass violence in war’ may have been partially grounded on the fact that he intended it is something almost entirely, if not entirely, theoretical rather than practical in terms of the pre-messianic era.

    So, yes, entirely practical in the general sense. But I still maintain that he didn’t seem to have viewed it as something practical for the pre-messianic era. And, my sense it that this is at least part of the reason why he was able to sanction ‘mass violence’ so easily–it’s a lot easier to do so if you don’t anticipate it being applied prior to the messiah’s arrival.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:29 pm
  47. I should also say: when Rambam talks about ‘Jewish kings going to war,’ it’s not at all clear that he intends this as something that is going to take place prior to the messianic era

    First, yes, it’s Hilchos Melachim, laws of kings. On the other hand, Rambam derives the laws from the wars fought by previous kings of Israel, so it’s not only applicable to “messianic times” and there’s really nothing stopping a Jewish king from being selected today. He wouldn’t be a Davidic king, but he would still be king.

    But second, as someone who likes to draw parallels – as you did with J1, asking him if ethnic cleansing was good enough then, shouldn’t it be good enough now – I’m surprised that you would make this point. You’re saying that all the things Rambam permits – including genocide – are perfectly OK should they happen in the messianic era, whereas today we can’t commit genocide? What is going to change between now and the messianic era to empower us to commit genocide with “justice”, in your mind? Put yourself in that box, and I’ll tape it shut ;)

    But I will whip out hilchos melachim and we’ll get down to business.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 1:33 pm
  48. As I said, I am on my cell so I may be missing a post of yours before responding. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get home, read through Hilchos Melachim and any reference texts and write something comprehensive up on the subject, so that we can start this up from more than conjecture built on speculation and faulty memory.


    Victor · May 8th, 2011 at 1:35 pm
  49. You’re saying that all the things Rambam permits – including genocide – are perfectly OK should they happen in the messianic era, whereas today we can’t commit genocide? What is going to change between now and the messianic era to empower us to commit genocide with “justice”, in your mind?

    A fair point. Let’s just say that I’m not quite sure at this moment in time–could you check back with me again once the Messiah arrives? (If in some sense I mean this not-seriously, in another sense I mean it seriously.)

    I think in general a large part of classical rabbinic Judaism is about ‘things that are not possible now but will be possible when the messiah comes.’

    However, things becoming ‘possible’ does not mean that they will happen or ought to happen. I think the classical rabbinic approach is largely: “No war until the messiah gets here. Once the messiah gets here, things will be different–oh, but then it will be a time of peace.”

    And, in terms of Rambam in particular, he does not seem to be a big fan of animal sacrifices. And yet he still says that they will be reinstated in the messianic future. So, in his case as well, I think that it is easier for him to approve of something that he doesn’t necessarily see as practically relevant in the foreseeable future.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 1:42 pm
  50. That is, if one’s initial aim is to establish a majority-Jewish state in an area that is already largely populated by non-Jews, then you’re going to have to engage in ethnic cleansing, regardless of whether the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants are hostile or not.

    @ben azzai

    The problem is that we’ll never know what would have happened had the Arabs gone for a deal in 1947. Maybe it would have ended up as a bi-national state in the Jewish-intended entity. Maybe there would have been a voluntary Arab emigration to the Arab-intended entity. Maybe there would have been a Jewish population boom. Maybe there would have been a much larger Jewish immigration, without the hardships of war. Maybe they would have worked out a way of having a Jewish “cultural autonomy” and an Arab “cultural autonomy” within that Jewish-intended entity.

    We’ll never know. We know for sure that the Zionists never went for ethnic cleansing after 1948. (on a macro level, as I’m certain that some here will talk about specific houses in eastern Jerusalem, where the Palestinian population has nearly tripled since 1967, as continued Israeli ethnic cleansing.)

    Really, I thought your next question was going to be would it have been ok for Israel to have expelled the majority of West Bank Palestinians in 1967 (or to have not let those who had fled return if there had been a massive flight.) My answer for that would have been I really don’t know if that would have been ok either.

    There are two ways to look at my answers: either as moral cop-outs; or as a recognition of the morally confusing world in which we all exist.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
  51. And as a side note, I’ve always found it interesting that concepts of nationalism are always dismissed in this forum as per se causes of violence and suffering.

    We can open up another discussion on that, but it’s a bit strange to me that none of the observant Jews/rabbis-in-training in these neck of the woods ever notices that not a few people have made those types of arguments about organized religion.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 3:48 pm
  52. We know for sure that the Zionists never went for ethnic cleansing after 1948.

    Wait, wasn’t the initial debate in this thread about whether the Zionists went for ethnic cleansing in 1947-1948? So are we now in agreement that they did so?

    And you also don’t seem to be disagreeing with my main point the only way to establish a ‘Jewish state’ in that area at that time was through ethnic cleansing. Yes, the various things you mention could have made things different–but then a ‘Jewish state’ would not have been established at that time. And since the political Zionists were apparently set on establishing such a state (quite apart from non-Jewish hostilities), then ethnic cleansing was unavoidable. And so my point still is: I don’t think that many non-Zionists would think that was a just means to that goal.

    I’m not interested in calling your answers a moral cop-out; I’d prefer to give the benefit of the doubt in terms of moral judgments. However, I’d want to be clear on precisely what the situation is that we’re evaluating, and in this regard the goal of a ‘Jewish state’ in this context seems to be a recipe for violence.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 4:13 pm
  53. We can open up another discussion on that, but it’s a bit strange to me that none of the observant Jews/rabbis-in-training in these neck of the woods ever notices that not a few people have made those types of arguments about organized religion.

    Also a good point–sure, organized religion and nationalism seem like they can both give rise to mass violence.

    However, I think that one can call classical rabbinic Judaism a form of ‘organized religion’ and a form of ‘nationalism.’ But it seems to have been a form of both with specific theological factors working against mass violence. So not all nationalisms and all organized religions are the same–it depends (among other things) on whether or not they affirm the principle of ‘might makes right.’


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 4:16 pm
  54. And, not to say that classical rabbinic Judaism is ‘all good’ by any means (cf. its attitudes towards women, for a start). However, at the same time, there are certain problems that it did not seem to have, especially with regard to ‘might makes right.’


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 4:32 pm
  55. Wait, wasn’t the initial debate in this thread about whether the Zionists went for ethnic cleansing in 1947-1948? So are we now in agreement that they did so?

    In terms of our particular discussion I haven’t disputed that ethnic cleansing–by your definition–occurred in 1947-1949. I’m not sure why you think I have.

    And since the political Zionists were apparently set on establishing such a state (quite apart from non-Jewish hostilities), then ethnic cleansing was unavoidable.

    I have to disagree here. If there had been a large-scale, voluntary Arab emigration, from Israel to Palestine, in the years after 1947 then there would have been an Israel with an overwhelmingly Jewish population. The same goes for a larger Jewish immigration. Maybe the Zionists would have gone for a bi-national state (like Mapam wanted,) and then the entire argument over Zionism would now be an academic exercise.

    I don’t know if it’s fair to discuss things that didn’t happen historically as unavoidable certainties–re: even had the Arabs gone for a deal in 1947 ethnic cleansing certainly would have occurred.

    If I had said in May 2000 something like, “If Al Gore wins the popular election in November then in 2011 we’ll have a president named Barak Huessein Obama ordering the killing of Osama Ben Ladin in Pakistan, as the US will still be involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, Governor Schwartenegger will be doing his best to pull California out of debt. Also, Facebook will lead to revolutions throughout the Arab world. And, Jewish settlers will still be trying to rehabilitate themselves after Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s 2005 decision to remove all Gaza settlements,” then you probably would have had me talk to the nearest mental health official ASAP–who would have been completely confused about this Facebook concept.

    Obviously this isn’t a pinpoint analogy, but history has a way of surprising us.

    And so my point still is: I don’t think that many non-Zionists would think that was a just means to that goal.

    Maybe. I’m not sure what this proves though.

    and in this regard the goal of a ‘Jewish state’ in this context seems to be a recipe for violence.

    Not necessarily prospectively.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 4:46 pm
  56. So not all nationalisms and all organized religions are the same–it depends (among other things) on whether or not they affirm the principle of ‘might makes right.’

    So we don’t disagree on this.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 4:48 pm
  57. In terms of our particular discussion I haven’t disputed that ethnic cleansing–by your definition–occurred in 1947-1949. I’m not sure why you think I have.

    No, you’re right–but I think that was the dispute further up the thread (long, long ago), with regard to Kushner’s assertion of ethnic cleansing.

    I don’t know if it’s fair to discuss things that didn’t happen historically as unavoidable certainties

    This is a good point–sorry if I made it sound like that was what I was saying. At the same time, one can say that certain things in history make other things more likely. Yes, if there had been a large-scale voluntary emigration of non-Jews, then ethnic cleansing would not have been necessary. And if all non-Jews had suddenly been transformed into butterflies, then ethnic cleansing would not have been necessary. But if we’re talking realistically, when you have a European nationalist movement coming in and expressing a goal of establishing a majority-Jewish state in that area at that time, do you really think that that’s a goal that was realistically attainable without violence and ethnic cleansing?

    Again, many of the Zionists at the time would have admitted that ethnic cleansing was ‘worth it.’ And, say what you like about the tenets of political Zionism, at least it’s an ethos. But we should at least admit that it’s an ethos that involves the affirmation of ‘might makes right.’ One can certainly argue that that’s what it takes to survive in this godalmighty world, but then at least we’re clear about principles.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 5:06 pm
  58. Yes, if there had been a large-scale voluntary emigration of non-Jews, then ethnic cleansing would not have been necessary. And if all non-Jews had suddenly been transformed into butterflies, then ethnic cleansing would not have been necessary. But if we’re talking realistically, when you have a European nationalist movement coming in and expressing a goal of establishing a majority-Jewish state in that area at that time, do you really think that that’s a goal that was realistically attainable without violence and ethnic cleansing?

    It sees that the question on one level is: Has Israel been worth it considering that it was built partially on the basis of a mass exodus in 1947-1949. To that I would answer: yes, because that mass exodus took place in a context that was so abnormal and for the most part wasn’t of the Jews’ making.

    On another level the question is: Zionism, by its nature, necessitated ethnic cleansing. Thus, is Zionism worth it, or does “might make right.”

    This is where we seem to have a fundamental disagreement, because I don’t know how you can assert that ethnic cleansing was a foregone conclusion.

    I brought up the Sharon analogy because people would have thought you nuts in May 2000 if you had said that Sharon would have actually become PM, and he would have pulled up every Jewish settlement in Gaza in 2005, with the enthusiastic support of Ha’aretz’s Yoel Marcus and much of the Israeli Left. So, who knows what might have happened in 1948?

    It might have just ending up being a bi-national state, with two strong ethnocentric cultures. Maybe without the human and material costs of war, an Israeli-Palestinian nation would have discovered natural gas in the Mediterranean back then and become a regional economic power, rivaling the Saudi royal family. Maybe Nasserism never would have taken hold without the Palestine rallying cry. I don’t know.

    We do know that the Zionist movement was very divided even over the bi-national question, as Mapam was a very strong force, even until the infamous Prague Trials of the 1950′s. We know that the Revisionists movement was still very powerful until 1948, when Ben-Gurion used the opportunity of civil war with the Arabs to launch a civil war against his Jewish opponents. Without that Arab-Israeli conflict, then, maybe the Irgun-Haganah feud would have caused the implosion of the Zionist movement. The point is that Zionism might have morphed into something entirely different than it became had the Arabs gone for partition in 1947.

    And I again bring up 1967 as an indication that ethnic cleansing might not have occurred in 1948. In ’48 much of the world was with Israel, which was a weak, infant state-in-the-making. In 1967 MOST OF THE WORLD was with Israel, which was by then a regional military juggernaut. Yet Israel didn’t expel the Palestinians from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza–and if I’m not mistaken Time Magazine suggested Israel do so at the time (when Time Magazine really mattered.) Of course that doesn’t mean that Israel would not have carried out expulsions in 1948, regardless of the circumstances, but it at least leaves doubt (to me.)

    Let’s answer your question in another way: Does a state of the Jews always justify the means? Or, does right always make might?

    To me the answer is an emphatic no. And the same can be said of every Israeli government. If that weren’t the case wouldn’t Israel already have unleashed a nuclear attack on Iran, and expelled most of the Arabs residing west of the Jordan River by now?


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 6:05 pm
  59. “Israel didn’t expel the Palestinians from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza”

    Israel expelled more than 200k through a combination of forceful expulsions (parts of the Old City in Jerusalem, Latrun area) and the decision to prevent entry to those who happened to be outside of Jerusalem at the time of occupation (because they were students, working abroad, etc.)

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_Palestinian_exodus

    I think you are on safer ground when you say that Israel refrained from a complete expulsion.


    Jew Guevara · May 8th, 2011 at 6:31 pm
  60. @JG

    I take a bit of issue with those facts to some part, but your point is well taken.

    Nonetheless, Israel was easily in a position to expel the Arab community–in its entirety– from Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. And that just didn’t happen.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 6:38 pm
  61. European nationalist movement

    Btw., when push comes to shove Zionism is a movement that is rooted in the Tanach above all.


    Jonathan1 · May 8th, 2011 at 6:40 pm
  62. This is where we seem to have a fundamental disagreement, because I don’t know how you can assert that ethnic cleansing was a foregone conclusion.

    J1, I still don’t understand the counterfactuals that you keep raising. The Israeli government could have allowed those who fled to return after the ceasefire (as Simon Rawidowicz, among others, insisted that they should). The main reason that they did not allow this is that they wanted to maintain the ‘Jewish state’ that they had achieved, and if they allowed refugees back, then it wouldn’t be ‘Jewish’ in the same way. So the Zionist leaders clearly rejected binationalism even afterwards, when they had a chance to take it up.

    In other words, both before and after, they held that having a ‘Jewish state’ legitimized ethnic cleansing. This is not primarily about ‘security concerns,’ but about nationalist ideology.

    So, I still don’t feel that you’re answering my question: if the only way to attain a ‘Jewish state’ is through ethnic cleansing, would you suspend your desire for the former, since the ethical cost is too great, or does the supposed need for a ethno-national ‘Jewish state’ outweigh the ethical cost?

    And again, would you then say that the same principles held if the same acts were committed against Jews rather than by Jews?


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 6:42 pm
  63. European nationalist movement

    Btw., when push comes to shove Zionism is a movement that is rooted in the Tanach above all.

    No, I would say that when push comes to shove Zionism is movement that is rooted in 19th century ethno-nationalism.

    Pretty much all the violence in the Tanach comes at the direct command of God. Whereas Zionism based itself in the ‘national will’ of the völkisch collective.

    Sure, you can point to ways in which the Zionists drew upon the Tanach for their purposes, but I really don’t think that historically that was the primary factor.

    In any case, classical rabbinic Judaism had a conception of the ‘nation’ that was decidedly different from modern nationalism.

    And to the extent that Zionism did draw upon the Tanach, it did so while explicitly rejecting the rabbinic conception.

    So let’s not go blaming the Tanach for the sins (or triumphs, to some) of modernity.


    ben azzai · May 8th, 2011 at 6:56 pm
  64. My apologies on interrupting this riveting discussion but the college has reversed its decision and is now giving Kushner the honorary doctorate.


    ML · May 8th, 2011 at 11:41 pm
  65. there’s really nothing stopping a Jewish king from being selected today. He wouldn’t be a Davidic king, but he would still be king.

    Really? Nothing stopping it, huh? Why not Davidic (what if s/he was a direct descendant of ol Dovid Melech)? Silliness!!


    ML · May 8th, 2011 at 11:43 pm
  66. @JG – WikiPedia is a poor choice for backing facts regardless of your position…

    @ALL Is Tony Kushner owed a fat apology or what?


    Adam · May 9th, 2011 at 12:33 am
  67. J1, I still don’t understand the counterfactuals that you keep raising. The Israeli government could have allowed those who fled to return after the ceasefire (as Simon Rawidowicz, among others, insisted that they should). The main reason that they did not allow this is that they wanted to maintain the ‘Jewish state’ that they had achieved, and if they allowed refugees back, then it wouldn’t be ‘Jewish’ in the same way. So the Zionist leaders clearly rejected binationalism even afterwards, when they had a chance to take it up

    In other words, both before and after, they held that having a ‘Jewish state’ legitimized ethnic cleansing. This is not primarily about ’security concerns,’ but about nationalist ideology.

    Let’s put it this way: We know that many in the W. Bush Administration were hellbent on taking out Sadaam Huessein’s regime from Day One. So, would you argue that the Iraq War was a foregone conclusion, regardless of what happened on Sept. 11the? Maybe they would have found a way to go into Iraq anyway; maybe they wouldn’t have. We’ll never know.

    Yes, the Zionist leaders rejected a right of return after 1949. But this was already after the demographic change inside of Israel was a fact. The Zionist “victory” was indeed a large Jewish majority inside of the Green Line.

    But, again, that demographic reality resulted from a war thrust upon the infant Israel. And here it’s becoming a bit repetitive, because I’m arguing that we don’t even know how the Zionist movement even would have developed had that war not occurred. The bi-national movement was severely weakened because of that first war’s traumatic effective; the movement to keep on fighting for all of the Land west of the Jordan was weakened because of events during the War.

    In other words, we don’t know for sure if the Zionist leadership would have legitimized ethnic cleansing had there not been a war because we don’t know for sure if the Zionist leadership would have legitimized ethnic cleansing had there not been a war–because there indeed was a war.

    I keep raising 1967 because I would think if Zionism naturally leads to ethnic cleansing to ensure an overwhelmingly Jewish state then the Zionists would have expelled the vast majority of Arabs from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967–when nothing was stopping the Zionists from doing so but themselves (that’s only a very slight exaggeration.)

    If Zionism naturally leads to ethnic cleansing to ensure an overwhelmingly Jewish majority then a very smart politician named Meir Kahane would have become a political force in the late 1980′s. However, the Israeli Supreme Court stopped him from doing so, with the tacit agreement of the vast majority of the Israeli people–meaning the people respected the Court’s decision (in the Zionist Israeli system of government.)

    So, I still don’t feel that you’re answering my question: if the only way to attain a ‘Jewish state’ is through ethnic cleansing, would you suspend your desire for the former, since the ethical cost is too great, or does the supposed need for a ethno-national ‘Jewish state’ outweigh the ethical cost?

    I do think I’ve answered your question. I don’t think a ‘Jewish state’ is worth any price to pay. I don’t think tomorrow Israel should launch a nuclear war on Iran, even though that would go a long way in ensuring the ‘Jewish state’s’ survival. Regarding ethnic cleansing, I don’t believe that we should start going into homes this afternoon in Hebron and Um el-Fahm and Jaffa and rounding up families at gunpoint and expelling them.

    On the other hand, if this afternoon Iran launched a strike against Israel, with the assistance from a Syrian and Hezbollah attack from the north and a Hamas and Eyptian Muslim Brotherhood attack from the south, and this triggered a violent Palestinian uprising throughout the West Bank, and such a war legitimately put Israel’s PHYSICAL existence in danger, then I would be very sympathetic to the argument that Israel would be justified in carrying out an ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, or at least justified in not allowing the return of refugees if they flee in large scale because of such a war.

    I just can’t give you the one size-fits-all answer you seem to be looking for.

    And again, would you then say that the same principles held if the same acts were committed against Jews rather than by Jews?

    If the roles had been reversed in 1947-1949 I can’t imagine arguing that Palestine would be forever sullied.

    Let me turn the question around on you though: What if the borders had been drawn in a different manner in 1947? Or, what if we could know for sure that most Arabs would have voluntarily moved to Palestine after a 1947 deal, which would have resulted in an overwhelmingly Jewish Israel without violence? What if tomorrow there is a new treaty, under which the Palestinians would agree to a right of return to the new Palestine, and the Israeli government would contribute to the international fund established to rehabilitate Palestinian refugees?

    Would you still claim that Zionism is an illegitimate movement? Is the problem Zionism itself or is it what happened in ’48?


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 1:48 am
  68. In any case, classical rabbinic Judaism had a conception of the ‘nation’ that was decidedly different from modern nationalism

    If you noticed I wrote “Tanach” and not “classical rabbinic Judaism.”

    I realize that the modern Zionist movement was in many ways similar to other 19th-century nationalist movements . . . but on the other hand I’m surprised that you seem to be discounting the reality that for thousands of years Jews prayed three times a day in Hebrew for a return to Zion.


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 1:52 am
  69. Would you still claim that Zionism is an illegitimate movement? Is the problem Zionism itself or is it what happened in ‘48?

    J1–I still think you are missing my point. Most of the people who were expelled and were not allowed to return had not declared any kind of war on anyone. They were civilians fleeing from a war zone, and then their property was confiscated and they could not return to their homes because they were not Jews. That, in most people’s books, would simply be called ‘theft.’ It was not predominantly for ‘security’ reasons–it was because the very presence of non-Jews would undermine a ‘Jewish state.’

    So all I am saying is: I really don’t see why most non-Zionists (and/or Zionists operating with a more universal notion of justice) should see such an act as justified. The main question is not about ‘Zionism’ (a term which can obscure more than it clarifies) but about ‘expulsion and theft.’


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 3:21 am
  70. And yes, I agree that the Israeli state did not engage in ‘total’ ethnic cleansing–but I don’t think that is relevant in this case. I order to have a ‘Jewish state’ (= predominant Jewish majority), they needed to remove a large proportion of the non-Jewish residents. They did not need to remove all of them. So, I would say that the Israelis did have qualms (whether moral or simply political) later on and did not want to engage in full expulsion. So, even if you want to attribute moral sensitivity, they were moral enough not to engage in full expulsion once they had already engaged in sufficient expulsion to guarantee a ‘Jewish state.’

    I never claimed that they were interested in ethnic cleansing ‘for its own sake’–rather that they were willing to engage in ethnic cleansing to achieve their ideological goals. Yes, they probably cared about ‘human rights’ or ‘basic decency’ or ‘justice’ on some level–but this took second place their desire for a ‘Jewish state’ (which is not even a clearly desirable desire in the first place).


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 3:31 am
  71. Or am I misrepresenting the historical situation?


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 3:31 am
  72. If you noticed I wrote “Tanach” and not “classical rabbinic Judaism.”

    I realize that the modern Zionist movement was in many ways similar to other 19th-century nationalist movements . . . but on the other hand I’m surprised that you seem to be discounting the reality that for thousands of years Jews prayed three times a day in Hebrew for a return to Zion.

    The thrice-daily praying involves a request that God would restore them to Zion. The substitution of ‘the nation’ for ‘God’ (see: Mi Yemalel vs. Psalm 106) is very much a function of 19th century nationalism.

    And the Bible also places a strong emphasis on God’s actions. I suppose you can (and the Zionists did) read the Bible and bracket out all the parts about “God’s action”, but that to me doesn’t really seem like a function of ‘the Tanach itself.’

    Again, I’m not denying that the Zionists ‘drew upon’ the Bible on some level, but lots of people can do that, and for their own various purposes.


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 3:39 am
  73. The thrice-daily praying involves a request that God would restore them to Zion. The substitution of ‘the nation’ for ‘God’ (see: Mi Yemalel vs. Psalm 106) is very much a function of 19th century nationalism.

    Ok. I think I just view the restoration to Zion as a process which would lead to national sovereignty, in a way that you don’t. And I do reason that the restoration was in some sense inevitable–so maybe that’s just my messianic tendencies–which you might not share.


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 8:49 am
  74. J1–I still think you are missing my point. Most of the people who were expelled and were not allowed to return had not declared any kind of war on anyone. They were civilians fleeing from a war zone, and then their property was confiscated and they could not return to their homes because they were not Jews. That, in most people’s books, would simply be called ‘theft.’ It was not predominantly for ’security’ reasons–it was because the very presence of non-Jews would undermine a ‘Jewish state.’

    This is a relatively long back and forth, but I think you’re misreading my words actually. I’m not claiming that ethnic cleansing happened for security reasons–and I’m not sure why you keep implying that I am. I’m saying that ethnic cleansing happened in the context of a war for existential survival, and that awful things happen in wars, and that awful things result from wars. I also contend that sometimes very just movements–Zionism, IMO–lead to certain terrible consequences. During WWII the allies bombed Dresden, but IMO WWII was a very just campaign. Similarly, the Zionists committed “theft” of the property of hundreds-of-thousands of Arabs in the early 50′s, but that doesn’t mean IMO that the Zionist project hasn’t been in certain ways overall successful, or that the project was unjust to begin with.

    Further, it’s not as if the Zionists didn’t suffer from that war–1% of the entire population was killed in ten months. You could argue that this widespread death was a result of Jewish nationalism, which would necessarily lead to violence in the context of that day. But I could counter that such widespread death was a result of the decision of 5 Arab nations to invade a fledgling country.

    So all I am saying is: I really don’t see why most non-Zionists (and/or Zionists operating with a more universal notion of justice) should see such an act as justified. The main question is not about ‘Zionism’ (a term which can obscure more than it clarifies) but about ‘expulsion and theft.’

    Ok, so what I’m saying is:

    The Zionism that emerged in the 19th century was and is a just movement because (a) many worthwhile things resulted from Zionism (b) IMO nationalism is in some sense our natural tendency as human beings, and I’m not sure why there is always an implication in this forum that we’d all get along splendidly were it not for nationalism; thus I don’t see what it’s so radical to claim that Jews have the right to national self-expression in the sense that other nations do (c) and, my own somewhat messianic tendencies, which others here might not share.

    And, again, you are arguing that your problem with Zionism is that it was bound to lead to ethnic cleansing. And my response to that is that we can’t say for sure that it was bound to lead to ethnic cleansing, because we can’t say for certain what would have happened had the Arabs gone for a deal in ’47.

    And, again, your response to that seems to be that the Zionists did indeed commit ethnic cleansing in ’48 and that this is the sin which can not be forgiven. And, again, my response is that I personally can forgive that sin to a great extent, not only because so many positive things have resulted from Zionism, but because that war was thrust upon us and we suffered dearly too, and because people lose greatly in war.

    To this, I think your reply will be that the Zionists ultimately started that war because Zionism would inevitably lead to violence. To this, I would reply that the Arabs ultimately started that war by not accepting the Jews’ right to sovereignty.

    And I personally will be able to forgive ourselves completely for ’48 when we complete a treaty for a Palestinian state, to which Arab refugees could return.

    So, I have to ask you again: When PA President Barghouti and Israeli PM Deri stand on the White House law in 10 years, shaking hands after just signing an end-of-conflict treaty, which deals with a resolution to the refugee issue, would you then accept Zionism as a just cause?

    If the answer is no, I have to ask if you think that the USA should be disbanded because of slavery or the deaths of millions of Native Americans centuries ago?


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 9:24 am
  75. A few comments on the exchange between ben azzai and Jonathan1

    1. I don’t accept the argument that “if one’s initial aim is to establish a majority-Jewish state in an area that is already largely populated by non-Jews, then you’re going to have to engage in ethnic cleansing, regardless of whether the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants are hostile or not.” There are obvious other ways to accomplish that aim, namely, by bringing in a group of immigrants larger than the original majority. 1 million European DPs + 1 million Sefardim would have changed the demographics of a partition-plan sized Israel and made it into an overwhelmingly Jewish state without one Palestinian having to leave. Interestingly, the aforementioned Jabotinsky made such an argument in his essay “The Arab Angle- Undramatized,” where he argued that Zionism’s goals could be accomplished without any Palestinians having to be removed from their land (although he did think that the Jews would need to use force in order to establish themselves in Palestine, he explicitly writes that they would not need to commit ethnic cleansing). www.jabotinsky.org/multimedia/upl_doc/doc_191207_140807.pdf
    He says similar things in his essays “The Iron Wall” and “The Ethics of the Iron Wall,” available at the same site.

    2. As far as I can tell, the working assumption of most Zionists at the time was that a Jewish State was absolutely essential for Jewish survival, without such a state, Jewish existence would be untenable. I personally don’t see this as such an unreasonable belief, even in hindsight, and I certainly don’t think it was an unreasonable belief for someone to hold then. So even if Ben Azzai is right, and ethnic cleansing was unavoidable, then the choice, as the Zionists saw it, was incomplete, ad hoc, ethnic cleansing vs. national suicide. At the very worst, I would say that any “ethnic cleansing” that the Zionists committed is, at worst, not different than stealing someone else’s property in order to save your own life, something that rabbinic halakha allows, according to most opinions.

    3. My sense is that mot of the community here on Jewschool believes in redistributive justice- progressive taxation, affirmative action, etc. The basic premise of all of these ideas is that it is ok to take away some things and privileges from those who have (rich people, white people, etc) and give them away to those who don’t have (the poor, historically oppressed minorities). The average American liberal supports policies which would have the state engage in this sort of redistribution even against the will of those who currently have, and is willing to use state-sponsored force (jail, etc) in order to make them. It would seem to me that, on a national level, the Jews of the first half of the 20th century were the ultimate “have-nots,” while the Palestinians were part of a larger Muslim and Arab world that were certainly “haves.” Even on their own, they were certianly “haves” relative to the Jews. Why shouldn’t the principles of redistributive justice apply here as well, especially considering the fact that the majority of Zionists were only asking for part of the land and not the whole thing?

    4. Ben Azzai’s understanding of Hillel’s dictum seems to me to lead to some strange conclusions. I imagine that if the shoe had been on the other foot, and the Palestinians were being mass-murdered in Europe and second-class citizens throughout the Middle East, they would have certainly appreciate it if the Jews who made up the majority of the population of Eretz Yisrael would have made some room for them to have a sovereign entity of their own to rectify their terrible situation. They probably would have found it hateful had the Jews rioted in order to prevent them from immigrating to their ancestral homeland. Thus, according to Hillel according to Ben Azzai, the Palestinians of 1936-1939 should have acted the way they would have wanted the Jews to act if the situation had been reversed, and become Zionists. This seems absurd to me, but why doesn’t it follow from what Ben Azzai argued?


    Mas · May 9th, 2011 at 9:56 am
  76. Apologies if someone has already said this (its a long thread) but Morris has used the term ethnic cleansing to refer to the events of 1948, not in his books, but in his famous Ha’aretz interview with Ari Shavit www.counterpunch.org/shavit01162004.html (scroll down for the actual interview)


    joseph Finlay · May 9th, 2011 at 10:29 am
  77. 3. [...] Why shouldn’t the principles of redistributive justice apply here as well, especially considering the fact that the majority of Zionists were only asking for part of the land and not the whole thing?

    Within a democratically-elected polity where these policies are supported by the electorate and permitted by protections of individual rights, why, certainly. But one group just deciding to evict another ethnic group, that’s straight up ethnic cleansing.

    And if we say that perceived “national suicide” by one national group gives them the right to impose violent solutions upon another national group, well, that’s uncomfortably close to German nationalism’s rationalizing of anti-Semitism. I assume we don’t want to support that line of thinking, nor do I think that’s what you were suggesting.

    Bottom line, ethnic cleansing with good intentions seems to be a Level 9 Unacceptable instead of a Level 10 Unacceptable. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 9th, 2011 at 11:54 am
  78. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    What’s news with your efforts to work against the AIPAC Man and to support greater American cooperation with the Mubarak and Assad regimes, btw.?


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 11:58 am
  79. Whoomp! There it is.
    We’re gonna need some ice for that burn ;)


    Victor · May 9th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
  80. Kung Fu Jew:

    “Within a democratically-elected polity where these policies are supported by the electorate and permitted by protections of individual rights, why, certainly. But one group just deciding to evict another ethnic group, that’s straight up ethnic cleansing.”

    So basically, the have-nots are not allowed to seek redistributive justice on their own through their own power, but have to go through some sort of democratic process. Why wouldn’t going to the League of Nations and the UN satisfy that condition? And if you say that the democratic process has to be within one polity, how should one go about redressing an inequitable division of land and sovereignty among nations? Or are you saying that an unequal distribution of resources is not ok within a given country, but is ok on an international level?

    “And if we say that perceived “national suicide” by one national group gives them the right to impose violent solutions upon another national group, well, that’s uncomfortably close to German nationalism’s rationalizing of anti-Semitism.”

    I assume that at least a large part of what was wrong with the German nationalist anti-semitism is that it was totally delusional- the Jews of Germany posed no threat to them whatsoever. The problem with what you are saying is when the perception of “national suicide” is closer to reality. If the Zionists were right about the condition of the Jewish people then and a sovereign state really was essential to Jewish survival, you would be advocating that the Jewish people (or at least, large portions of it) be placed in extremely grave danger in order to make sure that Palestinians will be 100% assured to not lose anything. I am not sure that your stand is more moral than that of the Zionist political leadership, and I definitely think it is unrealistic to think that any group would ever hold themselves to that principle.

    You don’t seem to have a problem with settlers being forcibly removed from their homes in order to ensure the viability of a future Palestinian state. Isn’t that an example of one group imposing a violent solution on another in order to ensure their own survival and interests?


    Mas · May 9th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
  81. Do any of you ever stay on topic? The issue at hand is Tony Kushner and CCNY’s decision. Do you have anything to say about that or what?


    Adam · May 9th, 2011 at 4:47 pm
  82. Did I win the prize for longest thread ever on JS? I think my next post will be about how President Katzav’s rape conviction makes it clear why feminism has no place in independent minyanim until after Israel is dismantled. With a vegan kugle recipe.


    Jew Guevara · May 9th, 2011 at 5:27 pm
  83. Shouldn’t I get that prize for starting off the whole debate with my principled stand for intellectual honesty, justice and truth? Make it pineapple kugle, please.


    Victor · May 9th, 2011 at 6:00 pm
  84. Do any of you ever stay on topic? The issue at hand is Tony Kushner and CCNY’s decision. Do you have anything to say about that or what?

    Here is what we have to say about that: None of us give a damn about Tony Kushner and/or CCNY.


    Jonathan1 · May 9th, 2011 at 6:17 pm
  85. A vegan kugel recipe sounds good–and Victor’s pineapple rec would also be tasty.

    But I could counter that such widespread death was a result of the decision of 5 Arab nations to invade a fledgling country.

    J1, you do know that something like 300,000 people fled from/were expelled by the Zionists before declaration of the State of Israel? So it wasn’t simply in response to ‘armies invading a fledgling country.’

    But I think we may be talking past each other on this point, although I do appreciate the back and forth.

    I’m more interested, though, in your reference to messianism, which could indeed account for potential differences between us:

    so maybe that’s just my messianic tendencies–which you might not share.

    Could you say more about this? Discussion about messianic seems like a topic that hasn’t been pursued as much on this blog. Perhaps one of the editors could start a post/thread about it.

    Ok. I think I just view the restoration to Zion as a process which would lead to national sovereignty, in a way that you don’t.

    No, I’d agree that in classical rabbinic Judaism, restoration to Zion would lead to a form of ‘national sovereignty’–but in that understanding, God was conceived of as the one who would bring it about–rather than by human beings on their own initiative committing ethnic cleansing with big guns.

    But again, your view of messianism may be related to this. It may be that you see humans as able to initiate the violence that classical rabbinic Judaism reserved for God alone.

    Also, Victor, did you have a chance to look up hilchos melachim yet?


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 8:14 pm
  86. Ben Azzai,

    I searched for an hour. I think a friend borrowed it over pesach. We were having an argument over Jewish female leaders (i.e. queens), of which there is an example in Hilchos Melachim, and the last time I saw it was on his lap. Anyway, I’m trying to get my copy back, at which point we will pick this back up.

    I’m really trying to stay out of your discussion with J1, but from your last comment, I’m wondering if you’ve read a comprehensive history of the 1948 war, which could account for some apparent misunderstandings, like this:

    J1, you do know that something like 300,000 people fled from/were expelled by the Zionists before declaration of the State of Israel? So it wasn’t simply in response to ‘armies invading a fledgling country.’

    This is a very decontextualized statement. By the time the Arabs armies invaded, the Jews and Palestinians had been at it for six or seven months of civil war. No kidding many Arabs left – tens of thousands of the elite left early – as the losing side in the civil war.

    Second, Arab armies had been arming, gathering and their leaders threatening to invade if a Jewish state was formed for months prior to the declaration of independence, and the Zionist leadership had to not only win the civil war, but to prepare the country for invasion.

    Transfer in may have been conducted in strategic areas – such as around Jerusalem and the road leading to it, border areas, etc. – to enable the defense of the country by clearing threats to freedom of travel on the roads (to enable resupply), and freeing up forces for repelling the Arab armies, as opposed to having to guard a potentially restive Arab population which had just lost a civil war and might be all to happy to rejoin the conflict.

    In other words, there are all sorts of context that you seem to be missing, not to mention the perspective of 1948, without knowing the outcome in advance. You should really read Benny Morris’ “1948″. You can get a used copy cheap on Amazon.


    Victor · May 9th, 2011 at 8:42 pm
  87. [...] with 86+ comments of serious talk in a civil and respectable manner going on here recently, I must post here an item of frivolous [...]


    The Pants of David? | Jewschool · May 9th, 2011 at 9:02 pm
  88. @J1 At least this comment thread is unified on that one point.


    Adam · May 9th, 2011 at 9:22 pm
  89. In other words, there are all sorts of context that you seem to be missing, not to mention the perspective of 1948, without knowing the outcome in advance.

    Yes, you’re right that it’s important to incorporate as much context as possible. However, I was responding to J1′s emphasis on ‘response to invading armies.’ As you say, civil war was already going on, in which Zionists already involved in violence, some of which was initiation, and some of which was response. But despite the various elements of context, the fact still remains that mass expulsion was necessary to establish a ‘Jewish state.’ And I think most of the ‘founding generation’ of the Israeli state would have agreed with this–it is just more ‘embarrassing’ nowadays.


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 10:05 pm
  90. But, my greater interest lies in your thoughts on Rambam, once you recover your copy!


    ben azzai · May 9th, 2011 at 10:08 pm
  91. Oh don’t worry, that’s one discussion I can’t wait for ;)


    Victor · May 9th, 2011 at 10:22 pm
  92. The Mishneh Torah is available online- www.mechon-mamre.org/i/e500n.htm


    Mas · May 10th, 2011 at 2:41 am
  93. Yes, you’re right that it’s important to incorporate as much context as possible. However, I was responding to J1’s emphasis on ‘response to invading armies.’ As you say, civil war was already going on, in which Zionists already involved in violence, some of which was initiation, and some of which was response.

    @ben-azzai.

    Again, this is a long back-and-forth, but I think you are misrepresenting my words just a bit. Here is how we started above.

    I wrote:
    There were two national movements staking a claim to Israel/Palestine, and the Jewish national claim was certainly a strong one, IMO. A deal was on the table to partition the land into two states in 1947. The Jewish leadership accepted that plan and the Arab leadership rejected it. A bloody civil war thereafter erupted, a war in which it wasn’t always so clear if the Jewish community would survive. When the British left that small Jewish community was then attacked by 5 standing Arab armies, which led to a war in which 1% of the Jewish community was killed in about 10 months of fighting (and most of the world was maintaining an arms embargo on that Jewish community.) During that war Jewish communities were ethnically cleansed–in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem’s Old City (Hebron had been ethnically cleansed of Jews a decade earlier.)

    There weren’t large, orderly plans to expel Arabs, but when the opportunity arose, the Jewish forces certainly expelled Arabs, and on a handful of occasions used violence to do so. Also, there were instances where the local Jewish community pleaded with the local Arabs to stay, but to no avail (Haifa, for instance.) After the war’s conclusion, the new state of Israel didn’t not allow the refugees to return, and razed their former homes and expropriate private land, etc. The refugees for the most part were placed in camps controlled by Arab regimes, who purported to maintain their war against the new Israeli state because of those very refugees’ plight.

    This is the context in which I view the ethnic cleansing that occurred in ’47-’49.

    No, I’d agree that in classical rabbinic Judaism, restoration to Zion would lead to a form of ‘national sovereignty’–but in that understanding, God was conceived of as the one who would bring it about–rather than by human beings on their own initiative committing ethnic cleansing with big guns.

    Regarding messianic thoughts, I guess somewhere deep down I believe that the Jews were bound to return to Zion, as part of the natural continuation of the Jewish “story.” I can’t say for certain where God’s hand is involved in history, but I would imagine God is everywhere to some degree. Maybe this has been our generation’s chance to bring Moshiach and we’ve screwed it up. I don’t know. Are you saying that in your understanding of rabbinic understanding we will see a smokey cloud one day, hear Charlton Heston’s voice, telling us what to do exactly?

    (It’s really not simple to discuss such matters, because understanding of God’s nature is above most of our pay scales, as the expression goes.)

    And I would like to know you answer to the following (since we are getting so personal):

    So, I have to ask you again: When PA President Barghouti and Israeli PM Deri stand on the White House law in 10 years, shaking hands after just signing an end-of-conflict treaty, which deals with a resolution to the refugee issue, would you then accept Zionism as a just cause?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 3:41 am
  94. @ben azzai:

    And, at some point it seems like you have my by the tail by pointing out that the “Jewish state” as we know it would not have emerged without the ethnic cleansing of hundreds-of-thousands of Arabs in ’47-’49.

    My response to that has been that Zionism was and is a righteous movement that has been incredibly successful (even considering our many failures,) and that to some degree justifies the tragedies which occurred as part of the state’s birth. Further, that ethnic cleansing occurred in the context of an insane, existential situation which was thrust upon us because the Arabs did not go for a deal in 1947–so this reality to much degree justifies that ethnic cleansing, IMO.

    Your response to that is that ethnic cleansing was the natural progression of the Zionism that emerging in the 19th century.

    And this is where I think I have you by the tail, because my reply is that we can’t say for sure how events would have unfolded had the Arabs gone for a deal in 1947. Others and I have pointed out various scenarios by which the Arabs might not have been expelled. I’ve also tried to point out the unpredictable nature of events from just this past decade. I’ve also pointed out later opportunities for ethnic cleansing and brutal war when the Zionists resisted the chance, which lends some weight to the idea that Zionism doesn’t necessarily lead to ethnic cleansing or a “might-makes-right” policy.

    Perhaps all of my arguments are weak but, again, I have you by the tail here a bit, because there is no way for either of us to prove that history which didn’t happen would have occurred for certain.

    I’m not sure how you can hold a movement responsible for crimes it hasn’t committed.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 3:56 am
  95. @J1 At least this comment thread is unified on that one point.

    @Adam. Excuse my rudeness. Tony Kushner should be able to say what he wants, but maybe his opinion isn’t so authoritive on this subject.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 4:01 am
  96. Whoomp! There it is.
    We’re gonna need some ice for that burn ;)

    @Victor:

    I’m not going to go after anybody in this forum on those issues anymore (although I’ll criticize politicians on these matters.)

    But I would hope that JG, KFJ, and Justin, who have taken some real nasty cheap-shots at me over the years, might show a bit more humility in future arguments.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 4:27 am
  97. Again, this is a long back-and-forth, but I think you are misrepresenting my words just a bit.

    J1, sorry if I was misrepresenting–it wasn’t my intention. And yes, the long back-and-forth can sometimes make focused exchange more difficult.

    And I would like to know you answer to the following (since we are getting so personal):

    So, I have to ask you again: When PA President Barghouti and Israeli PM Deri stand on the White House law in 10 years, shaking hands after just signing an end-of-conflict treaty, which deals with a resolution to the refugee issue, would you then accept Zionism as a just cause?

    OK, if we’re getting personal, I guess in the situation you described it would depend on a) whether the handshake represented the result of a mutual and just agreement, rather than the result of one powerful side forcing something on a weaker side (see, for examples, J. Soloveitchik’s “Confrontation” with regard to ‘the many’ and ‘the few’). And b) it would depend upon what sort of states those ‘two states’ were. It’s not clear to me that a ‘Palestinian state’ set up as a mirror image to the current conception of a ‘Jewish state’ would be so great–I don’t think I’d want to be a minority group in either one. I don’t think the desire to set up a ‘Jewish ethno-state’ on the 19th century model is that healthy either for the Jews who live there, the non-Jews who live there, or the Jews who live elsewhere. There are lots of other social models to choose from, and I really don’t think many people would think that the ‘ethnocracy’ model is so great unless they were already pre-committed to it.

    So when you ask what it would take for me to accept Zionism as a just cause, I’ll have to paraphrase F. Gump, and say: a just cause is as a just cause does.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 6:06 am
  98. Your response to that is that ethnic cleansing was the natural progression of the Zionism that emerging in the 19th century.

    No–that is not what I’m saying. ‘Zionism’ could have taken a number of different paths (e.g. ‘Jewish homeland’ is not inherently the same as ‘Jewish state’, a ‘binational state’ is not the same as a ‘Jewish state’). What I’m saying is that the insistence on establishing a ‘Jewish state’ in that place at that time seemed to have required ethnic cleansing. And that the insistence on maintaining a ‘Jewish state’ is thus also bound up with continued violence. A ‘Jewish state’ is a very specific thing, involving specific power structures–it does not simply mean: Jews living in a country and doin’ their Jewish thing in their own Jewish free time.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 6:13 am
  99. Regarding messianic thoughts, I guess somewhere deep down I believe that the Jews were bound to return to Zion, as part of the natural continuation of the Jewish “story.” I can’t say for certain where God’s hand is involved in history, but I would imagine God is everywhere to some degree. Maybe this has been our generation’s chance to bring Moshiach and we’ve screwed it up. I don’t know. Are you saying that in your understanding of rabbinic understanding we will see a smokey cloud one day, hear Charlton Heston’s voice, telling us what to do exactly?

    (It’s really not simple to discuss such matters, because understanding of God’s nature is above most of our pay scales, as the expression goes.)

    Thanks for detailing some of your messianic conceptions. I think that your account is probably not that different from a lot of people’s. In the past century or so, there has been a widespread immanentizing of the messianic idea, often influenced by Hegel (as, for instance, Rav Kook was).

    Prior to this, the classical rabbinic understanding was that Israel should not seek to bring about their own redemption through the use of humanly-initiated violence. And this also has an earlier pedigree in the Tanach. Both of these instances (and especially the rabbinic) anticipated a future restoration, but also insisted that might does not make right, and that humanly-initiated violence and bloodshed are not legitimate Jewish means for achieving the envisioned Jewish end. Now, you may say that the rabbis were silly for having faith that such a thing could come about without initiating violence on their part, but my sense is that their sense was that if the choice was between violence and bloodshed for the sake of a ‘Jewish state,’ and refraining from such killing and therefore having to suspend their goal, they sided firmly with the latter option. In their view, the ends simply do not justify the means.

    And, even someone like Rav Kook, as far as I know, never said that killing and bloodshed were legitimate means for achieving a ‘Jewish state’–it was more his son who transmogrified his father’s ideas.

    So I would really say that it is a drastic modification of the Jewish messianic idea. Shabtai Zvi and his followers seem to said that acts of sexual immorality had a legitimacity for the sake of redemption. And so Zionism seems to have opted for saying that bloodshed is legitimate in the pursuit of redemption. And, call this what you like, but it definitely seems to be a departure from previous ethical-theological conceptions.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 6:34 am
  100. I use my ‘humility mode’ when posting under my real name. ;)


    Jew Guevara · May 10th, 2011 at 7:51 am
  101. To bring this back to the starting topic, Tony Kushner needn’t be authoritative on any subject about Israel in these matters. What matters isn’t that Kushner is right or wrong, although his views are held by many scholars, historians and every day Jews. There are plenty of ridiculous things American Jews believe which are untrue — on the right, on the left — but which nonetheless motivate our support of a Jewish state, Israel and its present policies.

    What is germane to the Kushner-Weisenfeld snafu is that one set of Jews is out to punish anyone with divergent views from their extreme positions — that Israel is nothing but innocent, pristine, and has never done wrong. To even participate in the very debate that every commenter on this post is having is reason to excommunicate each and every one of us from Jewish life. Worse, as in the case of Tony Kushner, to punish them in their non-Jewish lives, careers and relationships. (Think of barring Goldstone from his grandson’s bar mitzvah.)

    And these days the “delegitimization” fears are empowering and fueling these minor voices, paralyzing people from even getting near Israel issues.

    From Jonathan1: My response to that has been that Zionism was and is a righteous movement that has been incredibly successful (even considering our many failures,)

    See, if ethnic cleansing and similar failures are permitted SO LONG AS the state produced is successful (in what ways we’re measuring that, I’m not certain, but regardless), then we’re justifying every ethnic cleansing ever conducted. This leads us to say things like: “Good thing we annihilated those Native Americans — America is so successful!” The comparison makes this premise untenable.

    …that to some degree justifies the tragedies which occurred as part of the state’s birth. Further, that ethnic cleansing occurred in the context of an insane, existential situation which was thrust upon us because the Arabs did not go for a deal in 1947–so this reality to much degree justifies that ethnic cleansing, IMO.

    Most Jews didn’t live in Israel at the time (and still don’t) so claims to national existential threats are false. But regarding fears of BEING ethnically cleansed by the Arabs, then self-defense was justified. But self-defense does not require expelling villages or preventing refugees’ return. Ethnic cleansing is never self-defense, not when we’re talking about women, children, elderly and the majority of human beings who are never hostile combatants in any conflict.

    To me, I read Jewish history very loud and clear: ethnic cleansing is just never justified. I can’t help but read these conversations about ethnic cleansing as a tool of state building and be led to permit every pogrom against the Jews in states where we weren’t wanted. Including the Holocaust. And here I include the founding of the United States — yet I’m not accused of being anti-American by believing we did, in fact, cleanse the Native Americans and that it was a mistake.

    To permit it is immoral to me. People have a right to life that supersedes a nation’s right to exist. This is like saying that corporations have a right to exist which should trump real human life. No dice, to me.

    And all of this is not to say that Israel doesn’t exist now and that I won’t fight for her continued existence. But the horribleness of the past is where Tony Kushner and I will likely agree.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 10th, 2011 at 10:01 am
  102. Last point: Israel would still exist with a Jewish majority if Israel had stuck to the UN partition plan. It only required ethnic cleansing if it wanted to be…bigger. That is an option the early leaders of the state chose to take.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 10th, 2011 at 10:04 am
  103. As Alex Stein writes, and as KFJ demonstrates, the deconstructionist chic is in deep vogue with the left today.

    Echoing Jonathan1, the equivalent would be to examine how it’s possible for a liberal, progressive American Jew to have pimped himself out as a fanboy for the regimes of tyrants who, like Assad today, are slaughtering their people in the streets. This is an option that some young, Jewish American progressives chose to take.

    Is KFJ responsible for every child raped by Iran’s Basij militia? On a scale of one to ten, would his responsibility be nothing, or somewhere in between? What does it say that he has urged that we negotiate, and thus strengthen a regime of thugs who rape children as an “aid to victory”?


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 10:37 am
  104. So when you ask what it would take for me to accept Zionism as a just cause, I’ll have to paraphrase F. Gump, and say: a just cause is as a just cause does

    On a side note, I’ve never understood that “stupid is as stupid does line.” (really.) Could somebody explain it?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:14 am
  105. @KFJ

    See, if ethnic cleansing and similar failures are permitted SO LONG AS the state produced is successful (in what ways we’re measuring that, I’m not certain, but regardless), then we’re justifying every ethnic cleansing ever conducted.

    That’s not what I wrote. I wrote that specifically regarding the events of 1947-1949 that:

    Zionism was and is a righteous movement that has been incredibly successful (even considering our many failures,) and that TO SOME DEGREE justifies the tragedies which occurred as part of the state’s birth.

    @KFJ–Do you think that the bombing of Dresden justified every mass killing of civilians during wartime?

    I also wrote that:

    Further, that ethnic cleansing occurred in the context of an insane, existential situation which was thrust upon us because the Arabs did not go for a deal in 1947–so this reality to much degree justifies that ethnic cleansing, IMO.

    To which KFJ responded:

    Most Jews didn’t live in Israel at the time (and still don’t) so claims to national existential threats are false.

    You don’t think there was an existential threat to the Jewish community in Israel at the time? There were cases of food shortages and a long siege on Jerusalem. Most of the world was imposing an arms embargo on the Jewish community. There was all sorts of sabotage on Jewish-owned commercial areas. The road were constantly under sniper attack. Hebron had already been ethnically cleansed of Jews a decade earlier.

    Before the declaration of statehood, Yigal Yadin gave Ben-Gurion a 50% chance of Jewish victory–”victory” meant survival of the community. And many international assessments, including the State Department’s, predicted a slaughter.

    And in May, 1948 5 standing armies invaded the infant Israel, and in the course of 10 months of fighting 1% OF THE ENTIRE JEWISH POPULATION WAS KILLED.

    That wasn’t an existential threat?

    But self-defense does not require expelling villages or preventing refugees’ return.

    Nobody here is claiming that it occurred in self-defense. We’re claiming that it occurred in an environment and as part of a situation which was not the Jews responsibility, and that the Jews then took advantage of the opportunity to change the nature of what the state would be. And we’re claiming that all sides lose in wars and many not so nice things result from wars–like having 1% of your entire population killed.

    Maybe that’s what the fundamental difference of opinion is here. Some of us are saying that given the circumstances that it was ok what happened in ’48, and some of us are saying that it wasn’t ok.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:31 am
  106. I can’t help but read these conversations about ethnic cleansing as a tool of state building and be led to permit every pogrom against the Jews in states where we weren’t wanted. Including the Holocaust.

    This is what ben azzai has argued as well–that if we excuse such actions in the past then we are on our way down the slippery slope of committing pogroms and holocausts.

    The glitch in this theory is that Israel has never come close to committing holocausts and pograms over the last 63 years. You can say that Israel is a failed project, for many reasons, but it has become a society of mass murderers? An Arab judge very recently convicted the Jewish former president of rape. Is that the path of the Nazis?

    Last point: Israel would still exist with a Jewish majority if Israel had stuck to the UN partition plan. It only required ethnic cleansing if it wanted to be…bigger. That is an option the early leaders of the state chose to take.

    The Arab leadership was going to accept the UN plan and the Jewish leaders weren’t?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:37 am
  107. People have a right to life that supersedes a nation’s right to exist.

    Did the Jews in Israel/Palestine have a right to live, because there were not a few sticky moments back in the late 40′s?

    Did the Palestinians who lost their homes lose their right to live?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:39 am
  108. I use my ‘humility mode’ when posting under my real name. :)

    Atah gadol, achi.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:44 am
  109. Now, you may say that the rabbis were silly for having faith that such a thing could come about without initiating violence on their part, but my sense is that their sense was that if the choice was between violence and bloodshed for the sake of a ‘Jewish state,’ and refraining from such killing and therefore having to suspend their goal, they sided firmly with the latter option.

    God forbid that I would ever challenge the rabbis’ wisdom, but I do in some sense agree with the stream of thought that we entered a new era in Jewish history with the emergence of modern political Zionism, and some of our religious understandings had to accomadate that new era. And, I think that sentiment is somewhat buttressed by the violent reality we suffered in the Diaspora over the past few centuries.

    @ben azzai

    It seems that ultimately there is just a fundamental difference here between beliefs and understandings of the role of the Jews in the world, in a contemporary context.

    I’m not sure if one of our sides can thus “prove” away the other.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 11:51 am
  110. And, because I unfortunately have to be away for a few weeks–since we’ve all become so personal–one last point.

    I think this thread had gone on for so long because we are discussing things that are too often glossed over in the wider Jewish world, where somehow the concept has developed that Israel’s problems began on June 5, 1967.

    What’s more, and what’s more astounding, is the school of thought which has become ingrained throughout Europe and in the State Department: that a great deal of the problems in the ENTIRE Arab world can be solved by returning to the reality of June 4, 1967.

    (Unbelievably, the American NSA gave a speech making that assertion just two years ago, and he reiterated that sentiment a few months ago.) In light of recent developments–and even before that really–such theories can be classified as intellectual insanity.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  111. I can’t help but read these conversations about ethnic cleansing as a tool of state building and be led to permit every pogrom against the Jews in states where we weren’t wanted. Including the Holocaust.

    This is what ben azzai has argued as well–that if we excuse such actions in the past then we are on our way down the slippery slope of committing pogroms and holocausts.

    The glitch in this theory is that Israel has never come close to committing holocausts and pograms over the last 63 years. You can say that Israel is a failed project, for many reasons, but it has become a society of mass murderers? An Arab judge very recently convicted the Jewish former president of rape. Is that the path of the Nazis?

    J1, I think you’re misreading both myself and KFJ — the point is that if you justify ethnic cleansing done by Jews, then you are, in principle, also justifying ethnic cleansing done to Jews. The fact that the Israeli state has not engaged in a total cleansing is beside the point. If a state decided to expel most of its Jews, but let some remain behind, would that be justified, because they didn’t engage in complete expulsion? Once you start realizing that, in terms of the concept of justice, that ‘turnabout is fair play,’ then things start scarier (if they didn’t already). As Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” If you really take seriously the notion that God does not show favor in mishpat, then it’s a lot harder to justify the ‘group egoism’ that prevails in most nationalist assumptions.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 1:18 pm
  112. God forbid that I would ever challenge the rabbis’ wisdom, but I do in some sense agree with the stream of thought that we entered a new era in Jewish history with the emergence of modern political Zionism, and some of our religious understandings had to accomadate that new era. And, I think that sentiment is somewhat buttressed by the violent reality we suffered in the Diaspora over the past few centuries.

    In my opinion, talk of a ‘new era’ is really scary and disturbing. Basically, it means: we suffered a lot, so now we received a new dispensation to engage in more killing and oppressing that was previously legitimate. And so those who still think that ‘might does not make right’ has not been abrograted are backwards and blind folk clinging to the ‘old covenant.’

    I think you’re right that this is linked to a form of messianism. But in general, just because most of the other nations dove into this ‘new era’ of nationalism does not mean kenesset yisrael ought to go along.

    If you do want to uphold this idea of a ‘new era,’ you’re right that neither of us can ‘prove away’ the other. But it nevertheless seems important to at least acknowledge that the ethical-theological values and understanding of the new dispensation mark a sharp break, or indeed reversal, of the basic ethical outlook that characterized rabbinic Judaism (i.e. the way in which the latter refused the ‘might makes right’ assumption and thereby suspended the insistence on immediate national sovereignty). But then at least we’re on clearer grounds for conversation.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 1:29 pm
  113. My last points, because I really do need to go:

    the point is that if you justify ethnic cleansing done by Jews, then you are, in principle, also justifying ethnic cleansing done to Jews

    No, I am justifying the principle that ethnic cleansing is SOMETIMES not an absolute moral sin.

    Basically, it means: we suffered a lot, so now we received a new dispensation to engage in more killing and oppressing that was previously legitimate. And so those who still think that ‘might does not make right’ has not been abrograted are backwards and blind folk clinging to the ‘old covenant.

    That’s quite a jump for you to assert that this is the meaning of ‘new era.’ I think a better definition of new era is that our natural environment as Jews is the Land of Israel, and we are going to become more proactive in changing our reality, and in hopefully building an exemplary society in the Land.

    ((I keep writing over and over and over and over again that I don’t always think “might makes right.”))

    And so those who still think that ‘might does not make right’ has not been abrograted are backwards and blind folk clinging to the ‘old covenant.’

    I clearly haven’t come anywhere near to writing something like this in this stream.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  114. Ok, I promise this is final point:

    the point is that if you justify ethnic cleansing done by Jews, then you are, in principle, also justifying ethnic cleansing done to Jews

    It’s almost as if ben azzai and KFJ would be talking about if it’s ok to justify a killing: And there would be a situation where a man walking down the street a dangerous neighborhood–in which he had already been mugged three times–shot and killed another man who was approaching him at night with a long object in his hand, and the second man didn’t answer the first’s warnings to stop. Then the police found out that the second man was a deaf person holding a sub sandwich.

    Maybe that’s justified killing, maybe it’s murder, maybe it’s homicide. But it seems as if ben azzai and KFJ would state that if I justified that killing I’m justifying all killings, and perhaps I’m somehow saying that Charles Manson’s actions were also morally acceptable.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
  115. No, I am justifying the principle that ethnic cleansing is SOMETIMES not an absolute moral sin.

    So are you saying that sometimes past expulsions of Jews were morally justified? Again, turnabout is fair play.

    ((I keep writing over and over and over and over again that I don’t always think “might makes right.”))

    No, the point I’ve been trying to make is that the alternative view is that might never makes right. Whatever it makes, it doesn’t make right on a moral-conceptual sense. Simply having the power to do something never makes it just. And on the level of groups and collectives, how much the more so–and the fundamental point is that there is a qualitative distinction between groups and individuals–you can’t simply jump from ‘individual self-defense’ to ‘group self-defense’: they are not the same thing, and you’d need to treat them each distinctly. So your analogy about the mugger is neither here nor there.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
  116. To put it differently: the whole point of ‘justice’ or ‘rightness’ is that it should be something that you’d still say was ‘right’ or ‘just’ if you were on the receiving end, rather than on the giving end.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
  117. So are you saying that sometimes past expulsions of Jews were morally justified?

    How can you equate the context of a civil war and mass invasion, and the many very different reasons why Jews were expelled from lands in the past? You have no concept of context; you’re thinking in abstract terms, which are near irrelevant to daily life.

    Context is the difference between living your life, and refusing to leave the house because you might step on an ant, or run over a squirrel with your car. But animal abuse is wrong, right? So you got in the car knowing full well that it was perfectly capable of running down a squirrel. It doesn’t matter, in the abstract, if you intended to run down that squirrel, but you left yourself no option but to kill an innocent animal, you murderer! Now you’ve made it justifiable for animals to kill you.

    Or, whatever. No one would never apply this incomprehensible, deconstructionist, intellectually dishonest logic to any subject other than Israel.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
  118. Victor, I think that the majority of people would not think that the expulsion of Jews from various countries was just, nor would they think that the expulsion of Palestinians was just. They can both be unjust, without having to be ‘exactly the same.’ If you want to think that the latter expulsion was just because it took place in the context of a ‘civil war’, that’s fine, but I just don’t think that many people who attempt to approach the question impartially would concur. Do you really think an impartial observer would agree with you?


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
  119. Yes, that’s exactly right. An impartial observer with access to the facts and context will determine that the nascent Jewish state acted reasonably well, given the circumstances.

    I am wondering if you are such an open-minded observer, however. Have you read an impartial account of the war, ben azzai? How about two of them? You keep discounting the context, but as usual, you do so in an abstract sense. Get your hands dirty. Learn about the war and its aftermath before you cast judgement. Is that too much to ask?


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
  120. Because we’re getting so personal: I’m trying to get some sleep because I have Miluim–hence I keep saying last time– but I think I should respond.

    So are you saying that sometimes past expulsions of Jews were morally justified? Again, turnabout is fair play.

    There was ethnic cleansing of Jews from Gaza in 2005, which I think was 100% justified.

    To put it differently: the whole point of ‘justice’ or ‘rightness’ is that it should be something that you’d still say was ‘right’ or ‘just’ if you were on the receiving end, rather than on the giving end.

    And, it is a long stream, but I clearly wrote above: If the roles had been reversed in 1947-1949 I can’t imagine arguing that Palestine would be forever sullied

    No, the point I’ve been trying to make is that the alternative view is that might never makes right. Whatever it makes, it doesn’t make right on a moral-conceptual sense. Simply having the power to do something never makes it just. And on the level of groups and collectives, how much the more so–and the fundamental point is that there is a qualitative distinction between groups and individuals–you can’t simply jump from ‘individual self-defense’ to ‘group self-defense’: they are not the same thing, and you’d need to treat them each distinctly. So your analogy about the mugger is neither here nor there

    Do I take this to mean that you believe it criminal that the US entered WWII and defeated Nazi Germany?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
  121. Victor, do you agree that the expulsion of the 750,000 Palestinians and the refusal to let them return to their homes was at least somewhat related to the Zionist goal for a ‘Jewish state,’ which required a dominant-majority Jewish population? I’m not talking simply about ‘conduct in war’. I’m talking about an active nationalist ideology. I think many of the Zionists at that time would have said: “yes, we expelled the Palestinians and did not let them return, because we wanted a predominantly-Jewish population.” That is a basic factor, and I really don’t think that most impartial observers would think that the desire for an ethnically purified state justifies the expulsion of those of the ‘other’ ethnicity.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 4:10 pm
  122. That is a basic factor, and I really don’t think that most impartial observers would think that the desire for an ethnically purified state justifies the expulsion of those of the ‘other’ ethnicity.

    Then how to you explain that Israel was in many ways the darling of the Western world (and of the international Labor world) until ’67?

    Although I’m not sure that we can classify the “impartial observer” or why that even matters?


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 4:28 pm
  123. Then how to you explain that Israel was in many ways the darling of the Western world (and of the international Labor world) until ‘67?

    Um, maybe because of a Western bias towards those perceived of as Westerners and against those perceive as non-Western (= Oriental). And maybe because the facts weren’t as well known/acknowledged at the time (see the first point). I don’t think the international Labor world had yet realized the ways in which political Zionism, as an ideology, is a far cry from liberal democracy. I think more people at the time saw the Israeli state as a nice, kibbutz-y type of place, and for whatever reason didn’t perceive the ways in which political Zionism, as a ethnonationalism, has a heavy dose of non-equality built into it with regard to those in the ‘out group’.

    But what is your sense of why the State of Israel was the darling up to that point? How would you account for it?


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 4:49 pm
  124. But what is your sense of why the State of Israel was the darling up to that point? How would you account for it?

    Probably because something like I don’t think the international Labor world had yet realized the ways in which political Zionism, as an ideology, is a far cry from liberal democracy. I think more people at the time saw the Israeli state as a nice, kibbutz-y type of place, and for whatever reason didn’t perceive the ways in which political Zionism, as a ethnonationalism, has a heavy dose of non-equality built into it with regard to those in the ‘out group’.

    I’m still not sure as to why we should give so much weight to the ‘impartial observer,’ though.

    And I’m a bit surprised that I took the time to respond to you above (below Victor’s comment) and you don’t seem interested in responding to me.


    Jonathan1 · May 10th, 2011 at 5:20 pm
  125. “yes, we expelled the Palestinians and did not let them return, because we wanted a predominantly-Jewish population.”

    This is the difference between myth and fact, ben azzai. The preeminent scholar of the period – Benny Morris – has researched and published extensively on this subject over the course of 30 years. This quote you have invented is just that – your invented quote, not grounded in reality. You simply haven’t educated yourself about the conflict. You draw conclusions based on your own mindset and frame of reference, without understanding the historical context.

    That is a basic factor, and I really don’t think that most impartial observers would think that the desire for an ethnically purified state justifies the expulsion of those of the ‘other’ ethnicity.

    This is an abject strawman, a fantasy born of ignorance. No serious Zionist thinker who played a part in the creation of the State of Israel had a program for a “an ethnically purified state”. These people were dealing with reality, not with sanitized, abstract, and forgive me, but ignorant versions of it.

    We really shouldn’t even be having this discussion. How can we? You need to read 1948. You’re speaking with people who have devoured historical content from the time period for half a decade, and have made up their own minds. Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon, Abba Eban, Sari Nusseibei… their memoirs and biographies litter my bookshelf, and those of many more.

    I remember the first book I read on the conflict, in 2004, Benny Morris’ Righteous Victims – I would recommend it as a good start. Those first two hundred pages – the Yishuv, the riots, the Mandate years – I was shaking, afraid to discover some untold horror, afraid that we Jews, that our forefathers, acted in the wrong, that we provoked the Arabs into generational war.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I discovered was that the Jews that came before were very much like us, today. They acted with sensitivity and compassion, with idealism and vision. The Jewish leadership responded to challenges that would snap our finest, today, like twigs, and with strength and conviction and yes, a real sense of justice and moral necessity – not for the sake of the Arabs, but for the righteous dignity of our people. These people were true giants who achieved against impossible odds, always within a hair’s breadth of defeat, always with unparalleled creativity of mind and dedication to purpose.

    Zionism has been one of the most inspired, most ethically grounded, most intellectually anchored, bloodless and necessary national liberation movements in human history. It is a magnificent thing to behold, that our people did this.

    Read, ben azzai. Read.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 5:36 pm
  126. J1, sorry for not responding to your question. You had asked “Do I take this to mean that you believe it criminal that the US entered WWII and defeated Nazi Germany?” When I said ‘might never makes right’, this means: just because one group has the power to defeat another, doesn’t inherently make it right. In order for an act to be right, it must also be just on its own grounds. So, if I have the power to knock down a little kid and take his candy, that power doesn’t mean that the act is just. But also, if I have the power to tackle a bank robber, that power *also* doesn’t mean that the act is just. Either act is just or unjust based on its own merits, and on whether you’d also think it was OK if you were on the receiving end–so the power to act (i.e. ‘might’) never makes anything more right.

    So if the US was right to enter WWII, one should evaluate this based on the merits, not on the basis of whether one has an emotional tie (positive or negative) to the US. And if the Zionists were right to engage in the expulsion/non-reentry of Palestinians, one should evaluate this based on the merits, not on the basis of whether one has an emotional tie (positive or negative) to Jews or to the State of Israel.


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 6:40 pm
  127. “yes, we expelled the Palestinians and did not let them return, because we wanted a predominantly-Jewish population.”

    This is the difference between myth and fact, ben azzai. The preeminent scholar of the period – Benny Morris – has researched and published extensively on this subject over the course of 30 years. This quote you have invented is just that – your invented quote, not grounded in reality.

    Victor, you are right: there is a difference between myth and fact. Let me quote Mr. Morris himself: “If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.”

    Frankly, I think this sounds pretty much like my ‘invented’ quote.

    No serious Zionist thinker who played a part in the creation of the State of Israel had a program for a “an ethnically purified state”.

    See the B. Morris quote above. Now, I will adjust my initial statement for accuracy’s sake: it need not be the case that the goal of political Zionism required a fully ethnically purified state. It just needed a largely ethnically purified state. This is the definition of a ‘Jewish state’, in the political Zionist understanding! And if you think that is a justified thing, fine, but I don’t think that I was being inaccurate in my description.

    Does this fit in with your understanding of Morris’s argument?


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 6:49 pm
  128. Your selected quote by Morris represents his personal opinion, not the conclusions of his research. This is why Morris is a professional, a scholar, and someone like Pappe isn’t. Morris doesn’t inject his personal opinions into his historical research.

    No serious Zionist thinker who played a part in the creation of the State of Israel had a program for a “an ethnically purified state”.

    See the B. Morris quote above.

    Your Morris quote doesn’t demonstrate what you purport it to demonstrate. Namely, there was no Zionist program of ethnic cleansing or transfer, which is made clear by Morris’ research. Morris is expressing a personal opinion, a desire or wish that Ben Gurion HAD planned for and conducted ethnic cleansing. However, there was no such program approved by the Zionist leadership and given over as operational directives. There were preferences, local conditions which necessitated this or that, etc., but there was no intent to cleanse the state of Arabs or non-Jews. Transfer and out-migration occurred in the messy context of a civil war, a point you continue to skirt in favor of the clarity of abstract principles.

    Now you’re moving the goalposts, saying that Zionism didn’t need a full ethnic cleansing, just a sufficient ethnic cleansing. That doesn’t take into account that “political Zionism” already HAD a 60% Jewish majority in the areas designated to the Jewish state by the UN. The Zionist leadership already WON a state, at the international political level, that the Jewish community could accept.

    The Jews accepted that plan, and were in the process of welcoming hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from around the world, further tilting the demographics in favor of the Jews. So, ethnic cleansing was never a prerequisite for “political Zionism” or for Jewish self-determination. The massive resources expended on a war of self-defense by the Yeshuv could have just as easy been expended accommodating the hundreds of thousands of refugees, some of whom lived in tent cities for years.

    This entire argument could be avoided if you just read a concise history of the civil war and the Arab invasion. Seriously, stop commenting here, go to Amazon and buy the book, it’s like $4 used.

    That’s exasperation in my voice, and exhortation. Read 1948, please.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 7:31 pm
  129. To be clear, for the uninitiated, the Morris quote referenced above by ben azzai is from an interview of the historian published on Haaretz and elsewhere, and does not reflect Morris’ work product, as the interviewer makes clear in his introduction.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 7:37 pm
  130. Don’t do it for me, ben azzai; do it for yourself. Do it because you deserve to know what happened. You deserve to have the facts; you deserve to learn the context. I’ll loan you the $4 if you can’t afford it.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 7:55 pm
  131. Now you’re moving the goalposts, saying that Zionism didn’t need a full ethnic cleansing, just a sufficient ethnic cleansing.

    Victor, I’d already been saying this–see the discussion above. So I’m not moving any goalposts.

    And I wasn’t basing myself on claims about ‘explicit plans’ for ethnic cleansing: I am simply saying, that is what happened, de facto, marked most forcefully by the refusal to let refugees back in.

    Look, people fled from a friggin’ war zone. Mightn’t you have done so too? And then they were not allowed back to their own homes on the basis of their ethnicity. And the reason they were not let back is intimately tied up with the Zionist desire to have a ‘Jewish state.’ I really don’t think this is that controversial.

    Your selected quote by Morris represents his personal opinion, not the conclusions of his research.

    No, the main part of the quote was not simply a ‘personal opinion.’ What he said was: Ben-Gurion carried out a partial expulsion (i.e. the 750,000 refugees), but not a full expulsion (i.e. some Palestinians remained in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean). He is stating that as an historical assertion. The ‘personal opinion’ part has to do with Morris’ wishing that it had been a full expulsion.

    Morris never denies that an expulsion took place. And, I’ve read his book, although perhaps not as closely as I could have, and perhaps I could look back at it. But I don’t think he gives you what you think he gives you.

    Can I ask you something now? You seem to want to deny that ethnic cleansing took place. Does this mean that if ethnic cleansing had taken place, then this would cast doubt on the notion that political Zionism was the “most inspired, most ethically grounded, most intellectually anchored, bloodless and necessary national liberation movements in human history”?

    If you are concerned to deny ethnic cleansing because you view ethnic cleansing as grossly immoral, then I agree with your moral principle, but disagree with you about the facts of the matter. There are a number of Zionists who would admit that what happened can be properly described as ethnic cleansing, but are ultimately fine with this because they think that ethnic cleansing is justified by the overall goal of a ‘Jewish state’. (In fact, I think this is J1′s position.)


    ben azzai · May 10th, 2011 at 8:04 pm
  132. @J1 No offense taken. My point is that this threat has drifted way off-topic here. Now that the Honorary Doctorate is in fact being awarded, the question remains: do you feel that is appropriate or not?

    Tony Kushner may not be the authoritative voice on Israel and its creation, but he is actually THE authoritative voice on Tony Kushner and his views on Israel and its creation…


    Adam · May 10th, 2011 at 8:30 pm
  133. Look, people fled from a friggin’ war zone. Mightn’t you have done so too? And then they were not allowed back to their own homes on the basis of their ethnicity. And the reason they were not let back is intimately tied up with the Zionist desire to have a ‘Jewish state.’ I really don’t think this is that controversial.

    Every assumption you make here is faulty.

    1) People didn’t flee from a war zone. They fled from a civil war in which their side was losing, i.e. a war in which their ethnic and religious community took part in. This wasn’t a war between the Zionist leadership/Hagannah and the Arab High Committees, but between the Jewish and Arab communities. With minor exceptions, Arab villagers hosted Arab armed forces and contributed fighters and supplies to the war effort. The Arabs of Haifa or Jaffa were not passive observers caught in a war zone, but participants in a struggle between two communities. The Arab community of Palestine initiated hostilities against the Jewish community of Palestine, and was defeated to the point of really cultural and communal disintegration, which it had desired to impose, and much more, on the Jews of Palestine.

    2) As this was a civil war, a war between two ethnic communities, it becomes self-explanatory why the community which was victorious would not want to potentially reignite and prolong the war by reintroducing the community it had just fought a civil war with back into the area. Ethnic cleansing and transfer were never a necessity for Jewish sovereignty, but naturally the absence of a large, hostile Arab population that would need to be monitored freed up resources for the mammoth challenges that lay ahead.

    No, the main part of the quote was not simply a ‘personal opinion.’ What he said was: Ben-Gurion carried out a partial expulsion (i.e. the 750,000 refugees), but not a full expulsion (i.e. some Palestinians remained in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean). He is stating that as an historical assertion. The ‘personal opinion’ part has to do with Morris’ wishing that it had been a full expulsion.

    3) Take that quote in the context of the entire interview, and also in the context of his professional research. He qualifies such opinions deeply. For example:

    Are you saying that Ben-Gurion was personally responsible for a deliberate and systematic policy of mass expulsion?

    “From April 1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit order of his in writing, there is no orderly comprehensive policy, but there is an atmosphere of [population] transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps understands what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created.”

    In April, the Yishuv had already been at war for about 5-6 months. It took five months of civil war, and the spontaneous exodus of many Arab villages, for Ben Gurion to accept the notion of transfer – not as policy, again, but as a preference, and certainly a preference in strategic areas. Morris during the interview, again:

    There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.

    That’s called military necessity. April, remember, is one month prior to the Arab invasion of Israel. In that one month, the Hagannah, a rag-tag force drawn from scrawny Holocaust survivors and mystics from Kurdistan, speaking a dozen languages, was tasked with rationalizing the Yishuv’s defensive lines and preparing itself to face several well armed, well trained, professional armies, even as it faced an international boycott on arms. This was no time for abstract principles and squeamish knees. Eight hundred thousand Jewish lives were on the line.

    What Morris demonstrates in this interview, fairly conclusively, is that Ben Gurion, had he the ideological conviction that Zionism necessitated mass ethnic cleansing of Arabs, would have done so. Instead. Morris faults Ben Gurion for insisting on transfer of the Arab population only in those areas where military necessity and national survival were at stake (by April, some 300,000 Arabs had left of their own accord), and even then, not on a policy level, but level of preference, dictated by local conditions and circumstances.

    I maintain two principles. First, that Morris’ research cannot be leaned on to support the notion that ethnic cleansing was committed as a matter of policy Jewish forces in the 1948 war, because this is not found in his research.

    Second, that no policy of ethnic cleansing existed, or was ever considered necessary for the fulfillment of Zionist aspirations. As I have explained, the political victory at the UN gave the Zionists a 60% demographic majority, even before masses of Jewish immigrants would have streamed into the country. The Yishuv was perfectly content with what it got at Lake Success. No Arab exodus was necessary for Jewish sovereignty (which was one of your feature points until only recently).

    Once the Arab community in Palestine launched a war of aggression against the Jews, winning a war between two communities required a zero-sum defeat of one and not the other, and the Arabs were defeated. Thank G-d for that. They were not bound and trucked to the border like sheep in their hundreds of thousands. Having been defeated, and fearing that the Jews would do to them as they had planned to do to the Jews, they walked away. And thank G-d for that.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 9:13 pm
  134. And just to seal that point, since you brought Morris’ interview up, in this interview, Morris says that the choice in 1948 was genocide (of the Jews) or ethnic cleansing (echoing the language of the interviewer, of the Arabs).

    Now, is that his opinion, or a statement of historical fact? Because if you consider it a statement of historical fact, then I wonder just what your moral system of justice has to say about what can and must be done to abort an act of genocide.


    Victor · May 10th, 2011 at 9:31 pm
  135. This is definitely the longest thread ever, civil or not. Vegan AND pineapple, please. (I’ve no more to add)


    KRG · May 10th, 2011 at 10:16 pm
  136. Where is my prize?


    Jew Guevara · May 10th, 2011 at 10:43 pm
  137. Victor, I think it is more than a little bit racist to say that all 750,000 ‘Arabs’ wanted to ‘murder all the Jews,’ and that therefore it was legitimate to steal their land and homes. Something doesn’t compute.

    Having been defeated, and fearing that the Jews would do to them as they had planned to do to the Jews, they walked away.

    Yes, good thing nobody was expelled from their villages by force of arms! That would be terrible. It’s good that everybody just left on their own accord. And they didn’t even want to come back afterwards! (If they had wanted to return, the Zionist leaders surely would have welcomed them with open arms.)

    I really think very few people are going to buy that line.


    ben azzai · May 11th, 2011 at 4:38 am
  138. Don’t forget the Palestinian Communist Party and it’s friends across the Middle East who stood by the partition plan and called for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the 47-49 period.
    They suffered severe repression in Jordan and Egypt. Noting that both Jordan and Egypt had militaries essentially run by British advisors, one can conclude that to a large extent the war was fought on behalf of British and Arab monarchists interests against Arab nationalism.
    You’ll find that the argument used within the Arab world at the time for why they were invading, was to stop the expulsion of Palestinians, which was already generating a wave of refugees. Simply put, they calculated that a limited war with Israel that would stop the expulsions would prevent hundreds of thousands of impoverished refugees from impacting on their economies and political systems.
    Much of the refugee problem was the result of Israel’s decision to adjust the boundaries of the partition plan unilaterally.
    Of all the problematic moral issues we might look at we find the ‘internally displaced’ Palestinians who were allowed to remain in Israel, but prevented from returning to their villages. So many of the arguments for why expulsions might have been moral or necessary flounder here.
    A second ‘irritating’ issue is: why does the Israeli government keep the land ownership records of land taken over by the state after the expulsions a state secret? All of this data exists, is known to researchers, and yet cannot be viewed. Because even if the expulsion is justified, the naked land theft and erasure of property records has no military rationale. The legal transformation of land owned by X into land owned by the state is an economic decision, not a military one, especially when X is across the border living in a refugee camp.


    Jew Guevara · May 11th, 2011 at 10:13 am
  139. ben azzai,

    I think it’s (not a little, but completely) racist for Arabs to have fought the 1948 war to deny the Jews their national sovereign rights. Once again, you’re all over the map and less in touch with reality than ever before. It’s really quite disheartening to see you regress, from an intellectual standpoint.

    I suppose this is why you didn’t answer Jonathan1 when he asked you if it was just for the Allies to defeat Germany in WWII. After all, I’m sure not EVERY Germany soldier and citizen supported Hitler’s program, right? You’ve just ignored every argument you didn’t like and moved on to a hyper-simplistic moral paradigm utterly removed from reality. Bravo? You win?

    Here’s where we are:

    1) You claimed that ethnic cleansing was essential to Zionism. Jonathan1 and I have proven that it wasn’t, not in whole and not in part. You haven’t addressed the defeat of your arguments here in the least.

    2) You claimed that there was a program of ethnic cleansing, and then you changed your mind, after it was proven that there was no such program, and decided it was “de facto” ethnic cleansing (although I think “post festum” might be more what you meant, as in, after the fact, it was determined to be ethnic cleansing). I’ve leaned on the work of the best scholar in this field to demonstrate that there was no program. You introduced this point again and again, and I refuted it each time with factual detail – detail you haven’t challenged.

    3) You claimed that ethnic cleansing, to use your terminology, is always wrong, and challenged Jonathan1 to step on your landmine and demonstrate when it isn’t wrong. Because he is very honest, and not engaged in a propaganda war, he admitted that he would be in favor of ethnic cleansing in an existential conflict where the Jewish community in Israel was facing genocide. Aha! You got him, the poor, honest, pro-ethnic cleansing for breakfast, lunch and dinner sap.

    And yet, as I’ve called you out on this point, asking you what actions are morally permitted for a community facing genocide, your feeble response is that, oh, well, it’s racist to say that they were facing genocide until I prove that every single man, woman and child, 70 years ago, wanted to exterminate the Jews. *Epic Eyeroll

    Whether it’s racist or not – talk about trying to shut people up – has no bearing on whether it is true. The preeminent scholar of the civil war believes the Arabs were intent on genocide. This is what they said and wrote, very plainly and publicly; this is what their armies were prepared for. This is the problem the Jewish leadership was facing and attempting to deal with.

    But you seemingly can’t be bothered by such complexity. You evade the moral dilemma and regress into your context-less, pseudo-justice shell, which is not moral in the least. It’s disappointing, really. Jonathan1 is willing to stand by his beliefs, even when it isn’t easy to do so. Are you?

    JG, the Palestinian Communist Party was insignificant. It’s “friends” around the Middle East, like it, were Soviet lackeys. It follows that everything else you wrote about Zionist “expansionism” is and “internal displacement” is counterfactual, refuted by every account of the war and its aftermath. But you know that, which is why you write it, to be difficult and edgy. You win.


    Victor · May 11th, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  140. A second ‘irritating’ issue is: why does the Israeli government keep the land ownership records of land taken over by the state after the expulsions a state secret? All of this data exists, is known to researchers, and yet cannot be viewed. Because even if the expulsion is justified, the naked land theft and erasure of property records has no military rationale. The legal transformation of land owned by X into land owned by the state is an economic decision, not a military one, especially when X is across the border living in a refugee camp.

    This is a major point, which I totally agree on.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 11th, 2011 at 12:44 pm
  141. Because even if the expulsion is justified, the naked land theft and erasure of property records has no military rationale.

    KFJ, JG… Purely hypothetical, walk in someone else’s shoes moment: If you had been in the Zionist leadership, in a position to make such decisions, would you have destroyed these records? Yes, of course, you both would have instantly committed hara kiri, but I’m saying, put yourself in the historical context. Would you have destroyed them? I’m just curious.


    Victor · May 11th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
  142. @Victor.

    Now I’m stuck writing from a remote location, but this whole argument is wild–relatively speaking.

    There are a number of Zionists who would admit that what happened can be properly described as ethnic cleansing, but are ultimately fine with this because they think that ethnic cleansing is justified by the overall goal of a ‘Jewish state’. (In fact, I think this is J1’s position.)

    @ben azzai,

    I must admit that I’m a bit confused as to some of our conversation.

    I keep writing that for me the ethnic cleansing–by your definition–that occurred between ’47-’49 was not an absolute moral wrong (you might argue that there are only moral rights and wrongs, with no gradation possibly–that’s your right of course, no pun intended.) My opinion is mainly because of the context in which that ethnic cleansing occurred, and also to a SMALL degree because Israel has in many ways become such a success, despite its shortcomings.

    [And I've noting that there are time when ethnic cleansing of Jews wasn't a complete moral wrong, IMO--2005 in Gaza-- and also 1948-49 in Jerusalem's Old City and Gush Etzion, and in Hebron too--I guess I just accept that communities and civilians often lose in wars--and KFJ and JG do not.]

    Of course I would understand if you argued that my reasons are not valid, and I’m taking an immoral view.

    What I’m confused about is that you seem to insist that I’m arguing that ethnic cleansing was justified because it led to the Jewish state, and it would have been justified REGARDLESS of the circumstances.

    Earlier, you seemed to be arguing that I was saying that the Jewish state is always right, as long as it has the physical power–or “right makes right.”

    And earlier, you argued that those who buy into the stream of thought that says we’ve entered a new era of Jewish history are implying that those who don’t buy into that concept are somehow gullible and, further, the new era means (again) that might always makes right.

    In fact, I would never make such a claim, because I have great intellectual respect for the school of thought that says we actually haven’t entered a new era, and that modern political Zionism is a wrong path–I just personally take a different view.

    So, it’s probably because this is such a tangled discussion, but I’d hope you’d be a bit more careful in paraphrasing my points in the future, because you do seem to be attempting to subtly delude my arguments’ strength in a not completely fair manner.


    Jonathan1 · May 11th, 2011 at 4:16 pm
  143. You’ll find that the argument used within the Arab world at the time for why they were invading, was to stop the expulsion of Palestinians, which was already generating a wave of refugees.

    Similarly, you’ll find that the argument used within the Arab world during the past six decades for why they couldn’t make any political reforms was because their citizens were so furious about Palestine.


    Jonathan1 · May 11th, 2011 at 4:26 pm
  144. Victor, the records weren’t destroyed. They are secret. Huge difference.
    I dated a researcher who explained the whole thing some years ago. The records are locked away to make it harder for refugees and their representatives to research precisely what was taken and to assess the current value of the theft, much as Jewish organizations do in Europe.


    Jew Guevara · May 11th, 2011 at 4:36 pm
  145. JG, that’s self-explanatory. What I’m asking is, had you been in a position of leadership, circa, say, 1951… would you have had the records destroyed?


    Victor · May 11th, 2011 at 5:04 pm
  146. I also wonder if it’s common for the victorious community in a civil war in which a transfer of populations occurred to keep records of property ownership by the community which was defeated. I suppose we would have to ask if the Turks kept such records in Cyprus, though perhaps that is not entirely equivalent, as the Turks invaded the island to take sides in a civil war. And yet, the ICC ruled that Greek Cypriots expelled by the Turks (this was in what, 1974?) were not entitled to return to claim their properties or be compensated for it.


    Victor · May 11th, 2011 at 5:08 pm
  147. Communists and Nazis seemed to have kept many records…. we know this because Jews are claiming property taken in the 30s and 40s.


    Jew Guevara · May 11th, 2011 at 5:16 pm
  148. It always comes back to the Nazis. So you don’t want to answer the hypothetical, JG?


    Victor · May 11th, 2011 at 8:20 pm
  149. Were I in Palestine in pre-state days, I would have joined those who were defending universal rights and a joint Jewish-Arab agenda. This group was not numerous, but it existed, as it does today.
    Were I powerful, I would have worked to support the creation of Palestinian national institutions inside Israel and started a program of accepting the return of x refugees per year, until everyone was where they wanted to be. But that’s easy for me; I’m not a Jewish supremacist, and wouldn’t have considered the needs of Palestinians to be any less worthy than the needs of Jews. I would have been strategizing around the central question of Jewish existence in the Middle East: how do we become a desired, necessary part of the region with strong popular allies, instead of a military presence at odds with the vast majority of Arab Muslims.


    Jew Guevara · May 12th, 2011 at 8:51 am
  150. how do we become a desired, necessary part of the region with strong popular allies, instead of a military presence at odds with the vast majority of Arab Muslims

    You mean like the Copts? Or maybe the Kurds? Or the Alawites? Or the Shiites? Give me an example of a model Middle Eastern minority that you would like to emulate, JG.


    Victor · May 12th, 2011 at 10:58 am
  151. The Armenians? You’d like to argue that the only way for a minority to survive long term in the region is by military strength. I would argue that all of the minorities you mention have been vastly more successful than say, the crusader kingdoms.


    Jew Guevara · May 12th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
  152. And how have these minorities fared in recent times? The Armenians have a country, and their numbers in the rest of the middle east are insignificant. The Kurds have now developed their own private army and are living in a semi-autonomous fashion. The Alawites took over the Syrian state and stacked the officer corps and intelligence services with their own – an Alawite people of 7 million controls a country of 25 million Sunni Arabs. The Druze in Lebanon have a heavily armed militia to defend Druze villages. There are 10 million Copts in Egypt, and near weekly burning of their churches, rampant murder of their people at a moment’s notice. Thousands of them are evacuating Egypt. How long until those that remain either arm themselves or find another place to live, as did the Lebanese Christians?

    JG, if anything, the minorities in the Sunni Arab world are seeking to emulate the Jews. Our people have demonstrated that a minority in this region need not cower in disgrace and plead for their lives and livelihoods before Sunni Arab mobs.

    But again, you haven’t answered the hypothetical I raised. It’s ok, you don’t have to. I was just curious.


    Victor · May 12th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
  153. If you had been in the Zionist leadership, in a position to make such decisions, would you have destroyed these records?

    Absolutely not. And a hundred times no. One does not murder truth for convenience.

    Let’s also clarify a misnomer gone unchallenged so far, which is that removal of settlers from Gaza or the West Bank settlements is not ethnic cleansing. The removal of Israeli citizens from illegally-built settlements will occur whether they are Jew, Arab, or another race. Otherwise, making Germany give up the countries it had conquered in WW II and moving their citizens back within Germany proper would be “ethnic cleansing” of Germans from neighboring countries.


    Kung Fu Jew · May 12th, 2011 at 6:42 pm
  154. Let’s also clarify a misnomer gone unchallenged so far, which is that removal of settlers from Gaza or the West Bank settlements is not ethnic cleansing.

    Otherwise, making Germany give up the countries it had conquered in WW II and moving their citizens back within Germany proper would be “ethnic cleansing” of Germans from neighboring countries.

    Ironically, these are examples of ethnic cleansing under the definition ben-azzai proposed to begin this conversation, which was: either by forceful expulsion, or at the very least by not letting those fleeing a war-zone return afterwards, which comes out functionally to the same thing

    What is the confusion on this?

    It’s just a bit hard to follow all of the changes to the “rules of the game” which are going on here.

    What’s more, I’ve said that the ethnic cleansing (by the definition I thought we were working with) of Jews from Jerusalem’s Old City, Gush Etzion, and Hebron was justifiable,IMO.

    (Maybe that didn’t count as ethnic cleansing either–because it happened to Jews and not to Arabs–that’s sort of the real definition, no?)

    What hasn’t been challenged so much is ben azzai’s claim that the Zionists would have ethnically cleansed the Palestinians from the Zionist state, even if that state had emerged within the Partition Plan borders.

    And I’m saying–again–that ethnic cleansing might have happened anyway. Under most concepts of those borders the state would have been around 55% Jewish, before any Jewish immigration. But I’m admitting that ethnic cleansing might have happened–but also ethnic cleansing might not have happened. We’ll just never know because none of us own a time machine.


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2011 at 7:45 pm
  155. It’s funny you mention Germany and Germans, given the 20 million ethnic Germans who were ethnically cleansed in the years following WWII.

    Of course, even making this comparison is dishonest, as Germany conquered the territories in a war of unprovoked aggression, and Israel conquered them in a war of self-defense. Further making your comparison incomprehensible is that millions of ethnic Germans – the same ones who would be ethnically cleansed after the war – lived in various areas of Europe legally prior to the war.

    And, of course, the entire basis of your argument is the simple legal untruth, no matter how popular – sometimes justice isn’t popular – that Israeli villages and cities in territories conquered by Israel in 1967 are illegal. These communities are, of course, indeed legal, under both Israeli and international law. That various governments and populations consider these communities illegal is a matter of their own interests and convenience, not law of justice, and here on Jewschool, we don’t murder truth and justice for convenience.

    One does not murder truth for convenience.

    We’re not discussing matters of convenience, but war. Would you “murder truth” (*eyeroll) for the sake of preserving human life?


    Victor · May 12th, 2011 at 7:59 pm
  156. These communities are, of course, indeed legal, under both Israeli and international law.

    Only Israel calls them legal. Not even the United States does.


    Kung Fu Jew 18 · May 13th, 2011 at 12:36 am
  157. Germany conquered the territories in a war of unprovoked aggression, and Israel conquered them in a war of self-defense.

    Under international law, there is no circumstance when you can expand your borders by force, either by offense or defense. This is another legal canard used by the Israeli right and only the Israeli right.


    Kung Fu Jew 18 · May 13th, 2011 at 12:47 am
  158. @Victor,

    Now do you see why “International Law” is a waste of time, and an intellectual crutch?

    Everybody–at least in this forum–just makes their own particular argument, and picks a particular clause from a particular document that supports their opinion, and then says that “XYZ position is the legal one.” Of course “XYZ” position happens to always be their own opinion.

    These communities are, of course, indeed legal, under both Israeli and international law.

    Only Israel calls them legal. Not even the United States does.

    This is another legal canard used by the Israeli right and only the Israeli right.

    hahahahah. This is a another trick of the trade we see often in Jewschool. I’m sure that KFJ would agree that the the settlements are “legal” if the majority of world’s communities said so. The same goes for expansion of borders.

    What kind of system of justice is this? The litmus test of guilt is whether most people in the world think you’re guilty?

    Ethnic cleansing is ALWAYS wrong, just as long as I think that the circumstances surronding that ethnic cleansing aren’t legitimate?

    It’s basically impossible to have these conversations if the “rules of the game” are going to fluctuate according to the whims of ba’s, KFJ, and JG’s desires.


    Jonathan1 · May 13th, 2011 at 2:41 am
  159. Stop murdering the truth and butchering justice, KFJ.

    Jonathan1, I never needed convincing that international law is essentially illegitimate, a form of post-electorate, unaccountable tyranny of the elite. My argument with you has been whether or not we need to deal with it as it is, and with the role it plays, or to pretend it doesn’t exist and lampoon those who do.


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 4:42 am
  160. J1 and Victor,

    If ‘international law’ has no real legitimacy in your eyes, then wouldn’t it stand to follow that the UN partition plan (as an instance of international law) doesn’t provide any legitimacy for the State of Israel either? Seems like you’re wanting to have it both ways.

    By your standards, there would be no inherent justification for the Palestinians (or anyone else) to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel. So one could view all Palestinian resistance simply as ‘a war of self-defense’ (in Victor’s words) against European colonialists who came and stole their land to set up a ‘Jewish state’ by unjust force, and who were able to convince the (‘illegitimate’) UN to put a stamp of approval on it. It doesn’t seem like such a narrative would be that difficult to construct on the basis of your principles.


    ben azzai · May 13th, 2011 at 4:59 am
  161. ben azzai,

    If ‘international law’ has no real legitimacy in your eyes, then wouldn’t it stand to follow that the UN partition plan (as an instance of international law) doesn’t provide any legitimacy for the State of Israel either? Seems like you’re wanting to have it both ways

    Agreed. The UN partition plan does not provide any legitimacy for the state of Israel. What provides Israel’s legitimacy is that we’ve been able to establish a state and that that state acts legitimacy (IMO.) If you argue that Israel is an illegitimate state because of its policies (I’m surprised you haven’t brought up the occupation) then I’d be very sympathetic to your point.

    We keep bringing up the UN Plan not because the UNGA passed it, but to point out that a deal was on the table in 1947 that one leadership accepted it and one didn’t. It was their right not to accept that Plan as well, but it’s hard to ignore that decision’s effect on history.

    By your standards, there would be no inherent justification for the Palestinians (or anyone else) to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

    Agreed. I don’t think there is an “inherent justification.” I would argue that the best way forward is an end-of-conflict partition treaty, but if the Palestinians don’t want to go for that it is their right–but they might have to suffer the consequences of such a decision, as we all do.

    So one could view all Palestinian resistance simply as ‘a war of self-defense’ (in Victor’s words) against European colonialists who came and stole their land to set up a ‘Jewish state’ by unjust force, and who were able to convince the (’illegitimate’) UN to put a stamp of approval on it.

    Ok. Thank God it isn’t my job to develop the Palestinian narrative. If they want to keep this war going based on that outlook I understand, but obviously I have a different outlook vis-a-vis European colonialism and Zionism.

    Even if that vote had gone another way in 1947, the Zionists really might have tried to set up a state anyway. That isn’t some secret.


    Jonathan1 · May 13th, 2011 at 6:47 am
  162. @J1 No offense taken. My point is that this threat has drifted way off-topic here. Now that the Honorary Doctorate is in fact being awarded, the question remains: do you feel that is appropriate or not?

    @Adam.

    I don’t think anybody here is challenging his right to voice his opinions, or claiming that he shouldn’t receive the Honorary Doctorate.


    Jonathan1 · May 13th, 2011 at 6:51 am
  163. www.haaretz.com/opinion/a-bad-decision-1.361426

    Shabbat Shalom.


    Jonathan1 · May 13th, 2011 at 10:52 am
  164. Ben Azzai, the UNGA resolution which “authorized” the state of Israel to be formed wasn’t a matter of international law, but international politics. The UN doesn’t enforce law, it provides a platform for nations to pursue their geopolitical interests in a global context. If the UN’s rulings had the force of law, then the Soviet Union, back in the day, or the Muslim Block today, would vote the USA or Israel out of existence.

    What makes you think that the UN enforces international law? Why do you think international law even exists? Because some bureaucrats and thinkers in Europe say that it does? Did you vote for someone who created a rule of international law? On what basis are these laws in legal effect? If a law in whatever jurisdiction you live isn’t working for you, if it is fundamentally flawed based on your experience, you can elect different representatives to change it. Can we do this with international law?


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 11:38 am
  165. The UN is mob rule, a platform for bullying the weak. Those with power and friends manipulate and flaunt its institutions without fear of reprisal. Where is the Goldstone commission for Russia’s invasion of Georgia? 2500 civilians were killed on the first day, hundreds of Georgian women were raped by russian forces. Not even a peep of accountability from the UN, or the EU, or anyone else. Russia gets to kill and rape, to invade a sovereign member state without pretext, to shell entire cities of civilians, and dares anyone to challenge its capacity to do so. Go ahead, ben azzai, challenge their capacity to do so. Devastate Moscow with a recital of international law. And that is just one example.

    The US is a more benevolent and fair minded bully than others, which through the sheer colossus of its mights sometimes forces other bullies into a semblance of fair play. We should never be deceived by what the UN is, however, or what the mob is capable of when given the opportunity. Might doesn’t make right in this world, but it does make life comfy.


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  166. Might doesn’t make right in this world, but it does make life comfy.

    Victor, this is a very understandable attitude to have. If everyone is going to base itself on mob mentality and the use of force, why shouldn’t the Jews do so also?

    The only thing I’d ask for, though, is to acknowledge that this attitude is different from the position of classical rabbinic Judaism, which, in your terms, held that it was better to be righteous than to be comfy.

    According to the original Ben Azzai, referring to the idea that all human beings (Jews and non-Jews) were created in the image of God: “You must not say, because I have been put to shame, let my neighbor also be put to shame.” (Genesis Rabbah 24:7)

    and: R. Abbahu said: “A person should always strive to be rather the persecuted than the persecutors, as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and piegeons, and yet Scripture made them alone eligible for the altar.” (BT Bava Kamma 93a)

    and, in Pirke Avot: Be a tail among lions rather than a head among foxes. (m. Avot 4:20).

    (And, these aren’t just cherry-picked!)

    Cleaving to such principles might not be likely always to lead to ‘physical security,’ and it would be very difficult to construct a modern nation state without subordinating them in the name of the ‘national interest.’ So, I can fully sympathize with the early Zionists who felt it necessary to reject rabbinic Judaism–but at least they had the honesty to do so, without trying to claim that rabbinic Judaism supported their goal of ‘might makes comfy.’


    ben azzai · May 13th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
  167. Russia gets to kill and rape, to invade a sovereign member state without pretext, to shell entire cities of civilians, and dares anyone to challenge its capacity to do so.

    Again, this may very well be what ‘normal nations’ do. But the trouble is that classical rabbinic Judaism had a very ‘abnormal’ conception of Israel’s duties, and had this strange idea that serving God (which, in their mind, meant not killing and not raping, as well as not bowing to idols) took priority over the desire to attain or maintain political sovereignty.


    ben azzai · May 13th, 2011 at 1:05 pm
  168. ben azzai, you seem to be conflating “international law” with G-d’s commandments, both as Noahide laws and the Torah. They are not equivalent, my friend, either in statues, or in merit, for reasons that should be obvious.

    My point is not that Jews should not be righteous, even uniquely righteous, but that “international law” is not justice, it is essentially injustice – a fickle mob of self-interest and deceit. In our world, the Jewish people must be BOTH righteous, and sufficiently strong to impose justice on the unlawful. Might and power do not decide if you are righteous – that is up to you – but they determine the reach of your righteous justice.


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 2:08 pm
  169. Btw, I am intrigued by your repeated reference to “classic Rabbinic Judaism”. As opposed to what, Kingly Davidic Judaism? You seem to have a fascination and bestow a certain curious eminence on the self-effacing righteousness of the dis-empowered. Rabbinic Judaism existed in a period of relative Jewish political and military weakness, but not by choice, and the sages were no pacifists, and certainly not in cases where Jewish life was at stake. I wonder how positively bound you are with this poetic, but unpractical frame of mind.


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
  170. And you are taking R. Abbahu’s quote out of context.

    R. Abbahu said: “A person should always strive to be rather the persecuted than the persecutors, as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and piegeons, and yet Scripture made them alone eligible for the altar.” (BT Bava Kamma 93a)

    Listen to the daf yomi. The more correct translation is not “persecuted” and “persecutor” but the pursued, and the rodef, the pursuer.

    The issue is like this: G-d always helps the one being chased by the rodef, and not the rodef. R. Abbahu is not instructing people to prefer persecution as some twisted lifestyle choice, but to not persecute others, because those who persecute others, G-d does not assist.

    It’s not, I can either be the persecuted or the persecutor, and must choose one. No, you should be neither persecuted nor the persecutor!


    Victor · May 13th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
  171. Cleaving to such principles might not be likely always to lead to ‘physical security,’ and it would be very difficult to construct a modern nation state without subordinating them in the name of the ‘national interest.’ So, I can fully sympathize with the early Zionists who felt it necessary to reject rabbinic Judaism–but at least they had the honesty to do so, without trying to claim that rabbinic Judaism supported their goal of ‘might makes comfy.’

    @ben azzai.

    To try to come a bit full circle. Maybe here is what our argument is about. Can you at least acknowledge that the early Zionists (and also those not few early Zionist rabbis) didn’t conceptualize an Israel that would have to subordinate all values to ‘national security.’ You might argue that this subordination (if it exists) is the natural progression of Jewish nationalism.

    Ok, fair enough. But it is coming across like you are flippantly dismissing Zionists as “those who think the state’s existence justifies any and everything.” If that were the case wouldn’t Israel simply launch a nuclear strike on Iran tomorrow.

    What’s more, would you agree that the “golden age” of rabbinic Judaism was also a time of varying degrees of sorrow for the Jewish communities from which those rabbis emerged? Is it a rabbinic Judaism concept that Jews MUST be stepped on?


    Jonathan1 · May 14th, 2011 at 1:34 pm
  172. To say that survival excuses criminal behavior is to say that criminal behavior is a moral value sanctified by how dearly we love our own.

    And this is what one of the characters in ‘Here and There in Eretz Yisrael’ meant when he said, ‘let my sons call me a monster for what we had to do in making Israel safe and secure.’ He meant, I’ll happily bear the burden of guilt and shame after I’m gone, if only my crimes ensure happiness for my children and grandchildren.

    But of course…. they don’t. In the long run, the sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the sons, especially where the Promised Land is concerned.


    Jew Guevara · May 14th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
  173. To say that survival excuses criminal behavior is to say that criminal behavior is a moral value sanctified by how dearly we love our own

    Obviously, we are all just talking past one another.


    Jonathan1 · May 14th, 2011 at 4:56 pm
  174. Can you at least acknowledge that the early Zionists (and also those not few early Zionist rabbis) didn’t conceptualize an Israel that would have to subordinate all values to ‘national security.’

    J1, yes I can certainly admit this. I never meant to say that ‘national security’ represented the only value for early Zionists. And, indeed, I would guess that many early Zionists did not think that a ‘Jewish state’ would require subordinating all values to the state itself. In fact, if we’re talking about religious Zionists in particular, the general attitude across the board–prior to, say, the 1930′s–was that while a ‘Jewish state’ was a legitimate goal, it would be illegitimate to pursue that goal by means of violence or war. See, for example, Elie Holzer’s essay “Attitudes Towards the Use of Military Force in Ideological Currents of Religious Zionism” in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.

    Where later secular Zionists (and then some post-1930′s religious Zionists) differed was in thinking that the goal of a ‘Jewish state’ meant that forms of military violence were a legitimate means to that goal. And this is where they differed most sharply from earlier rabbinic conceptions. And so this notion of ‘the end justifies the (military) means’ is where the ‘subordination of values’ occurs.

    What’s more, would you agree that the “golden age” of rabbinic Judaism was also a time of varying degrees of sorrow for the Jewish communities from which those rabbis emerged? Is it a rabbinic Judaism concept that Jews MUST be stepped on?

    Yes, lots of sorrow, not disagreeing. It need not be a rabbinic concept that Jews MUST be stepped on–however, it was indeed a rabbinic concept that Jews should not step on others for the purpose of avoiding being stepped on themselves. And so that would mean that sometimes the Jews would be stepped on. But they held that it was better to serve God by not stepping on others through violence, and to accept the suffering that sometimes accompanied that stance.


    ben azzai · May 14th, 2011 at 5:40 pm
  175. @Victor: In our world, the Jewish people must be BOTH righteous, and sufficiently strong to impose justice on the unlawful.

    Victor, this is simply an incorrect portrayal of chazal. They most certainly did NOT say that the Jewish people must be ‘sufficiently strong to impose justice on the unlawful.’ Their whole underlying point is that during the era of exile (i.e. until the coming of the messiah) Israel’s task was to engage in righteousness (i.e. Torah and mitzvot), and to set aside the notion of imposing justice on the unlawful. In particular, political sovereignty and military force (prime means of imposing justice on the unlawful) were set aside until the coming of the messiah.

    Again, you might think that such a stance is foolhardy and naive ‘in our world’ of competing nationalisms. As I said, I could fully understand why someone might want to reject this stance (I’m not even sure that I would fully support it myself). But, nevertheless, chazal thought differently, and saw that stance as the task of Israel in this unredeemed world.

    (On this notion in general, you might want to look at, for instance, Jacob Neusner’s Vanquished Nation, Broken Spirit: The Virtues of the Heart in Formative Judaism.)

    If you think differently, I challenge you to show textual evidence from classical rabbinic literature to support your claim.


    ben azzai · May 14th, 2011 at 5:51 pm
  176. Btw, I am intrigued by your repeated reference to “classic Rabbinic Judaism”. As opposed to what, Kingly Davidic Judaism?

    No, by classical rabbinic Judaism, I mean ‘chazal’ i.e. the texts from the editing of the Mishnah through the editing of the Babylonian Talmud. And, notably, chazal did not see themselves at odds with King David–they simply saw David’s political sovereignty and military action as appropriate to the period before the destruction of the Temple, whereas after the destruction of the Temple, they held that God had suspended (but not rejected) Davidic kingship until the coming of the messiah.

    Rabbinic Judaism existed in a period of relative Jewish political and military weakness, but not by choice, and the sages were no pacifists, and certainly not in cases where Jewish life was at stake.

    I never said that the classical rabbis were ‘pacifists.’ They did have a notion of self-defense. However, while supporting forms of defense of individual life, they strongly rejected the use of war and violence for the seeking or maintaining of political sovereignty in the pre-messianic era. So they did not reject all violence–rather, it was specifically ‘political violence’ that was rejected. But the latter was indeed rejected, and not simply by force of circumstance, but as a fundamental underlying ethical-theological principle.


    ben azzai · May 14th, 2011 at 5:57 pm
  177. It’s not, I can either be the persecuted or the persecutor, and must choose one. No, you should be neither persecuted nor the persecutor!

    You are right that ideally one should be neither persecuted nor a persecutor. However, R. Abbahu’s position (as that of classical rabbinic Judaism generally) is that you should not engage in persecution of others (e.g. killing or theft of land) simply because you think you are doing so in order to avoid persecution yourself. In other words, if your efforts to avoid persecution would involve persecution of others, then it is better to be persecuted than to be a persecutor. And this rabbinic notion is directly relevant today, and it is relevant in ways that, unfortunately, come into conflict with the desires of political Zionism.

    But again, all you have to do is abandon the rabbinic attitude, and then you’re home free (as it were)!


    ben azzai · May 14th, 2011 at 6:02 pm
  178. Where later secular Zionists (and then some post-1930’s religious Zionists) differed was in thinking that the goal of a ‘Jewish state’ meant that forms of military violence were a legitimate means to that goal. And this is where they differed most sharply from earlier rabbinic conceptions. And so this notion of ‘the end justifies the (military) means’ is where the ’subordination of values’ occurs.

    Ok. So this is where you and I just disagree, and this is where I understand the rabbis’ view, but I do buy into the concept that we have entered a new era at some point during this last 150 years.

    I don’t want to see anybody stepped on, but I also can’t accept a concept that Torah means simply allowing ourselves to be stepped upon, if we have a means to prevent that. [and we'll never know have Chazal would have ruled up these matter. We do know for sure that "rabbinic Judaism" really emerged after the Jews were physically defeated and beginning to scatter over the world]

    Again, I don’t know how we can prove each other wrong–other than to say that you think the Jewish world took a wrong turn with Zionism, and I don’t.


    Jonathan1 · May 14th, 2011 at 6:05 pm
  179. Jonathan1, I don’t think that we disagree all that much. If you want to say that we’ve entered a new era, then certainly a lot of new things could be permitted. But this would mean a rejection of the rabbis’ position of not engaging in bloodshed for the pursuit of political sovereignty. But I also would say that such a new position is tied up with some very questionable ethical attitudes and also with some dangerous elements of false messianism. But again, I can certainly see how the turmoils of the modern era could easily make such things seem necessary.

    As you say, there is no way for us to ‘prove the other wrong’ with regard to this new turn. But I do think that but the problems and distortions are greatly exacerbated if one thinks that one is in keeping with previous rabbinic tradition.

    I don’t want to see anybody stepped on, but I also can’t accept a concept that Torah means simply allowing ourselves to be stepped upon, if we have a means to prevent that. [and we’ll never know have Chazal would have ruled up these matter.

    Here, though, I still have to disagree. If you say you can’t accept such a concept of Torah, that is one thing. You say ‘I don’t want to step on anybody, but I will do so, reluctantly, if the alternative means that we would be stepped on.’ This is an understandable position, although I think it is ultimately bound up with a group egoism that undermines ethics. However, the rabbinic position, while perhaps unacceptable, nevertheless differs, and says: better allow oneself to be stepped on rather than to step on others (see R. Abbahu above). This may be a hard saying, but it is part of the rabbinic understanding of exile/galut (a term which might also be translated as: ‘getting stepped on’). So, in a sense, chazal did already rule on this matter–but, you’re certainly right that it is possible that they might abandon their ethical stance were they alive today. We can’t know one way or another in that regard, but I’d think we could at least agree on the basic stated position of classical rabbinic literature.


    ben azzai · May 14th, 2011 at 6:32 pm
  180. I haven’t yet read through this entire recent exchange, on my cell as usual, but I’d like to make a quick point. Today’s events on Israel’s borders really separate the wheat from the chaff. ben azzai, if I’ve understood you correctly, would never sanction the use of force, in any form, to defend Israeli sovereignty. After all, according to your interpretation, “classical rabbinic judaism” doesn’t allow violence to be used in any form except personal defense (i.e. communal defense and its extension, national defense are not merely not permitted, but actually abhorred).

    So, were ben azzai in charge, today the State of Israel would have ended. First dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands and finally millions – the Horde, I don’t mind calling it, if only to disturb your overall sensitivities – would have carelessly swarmed through the country’s undefended borders. And ben azzai would be very happy, knowing that the Jews were once again on the receiving end of persecution.

    I don’t know if some people can internalize concepts such as self-defense without ever experiencing the necessity for them, and maybe not even then. Maybe they will happily go to their graves in self-delusion, like the early bolsheviks who killed themselves at Stalin’s request, for the sake of the party. Some consider this Ghandian mental conditioning an excess of empathy – a reluctance to use violence even in self defense, out of empathy for those on whom violence will be inflicted. I think it’s quite the opposite, a startling lack of empathy. When you lack the will to protect your family, your problem is not an excess of sensitivity.


    Victor · May 15th, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  181. Dear Horde:
    Welcome home! Let us construct a new way, together.

    I note with interest that the horde was unarmed and did not include soldiers. Sort of like the mobs that crossed over the Berlin Wall to see long lost friends and relatives. When they went to bed, it was back home in the East, but reality had changed forever.


    Jew Guevara · May 15th, 2011 at 12:31 pm
  182. If you want to say that we’ve entered a new era, then certainly a lot of new things could be permitted. But this would mean a rejection of the rabbis’ position of not engaging in bloodshed for the pursuit of political sovereignty.

    It would indeed. I don’t think that’s a secret. But will you acknowledge that a rejection of one rabbinical position does not necessitate throwing of the yoke (as it were) of rabbinical Judaism in its entirety?

    But I also would say that such a new position is tied up with some very questionable ethical attitudes and also with some dangerous elements of false messianism.

    Fair enough. But I would say that the orthodox (with a small “O”) position is tied up with some very questionable ethical attitudes about parents not prevented their own children’s death, when preventable, if you see what I mean.

    But I do think that but the problems and distortions are greatly exacerbated if one thinks that one is in keeping with previous rabbinic tradition.

    I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. Are you saying that the Zionist perspective is necessarily that the rabbinic tradition no longer has ANY value, especially regarding the Zionist rabbis? Perhaps you are saying that modern political Zionism is a deviation from previous rabbinic tradition? I don’t think the ladder point is some secret, though. And, again, it only really carries weight with those who disagree with Zionism. It’s also not a secret that previous rabbinic tradition was a deviation from what was once orthodox Judaism.

    So, in a sense, chazal did already rule on this matter–but, you’re certainly right that it is possible that they might abandon their ethical stance were they alive today. We can’t know one way or another in that regard, but I’d think we could at least agree on the basic stated position of classical rabbinic literature.

    We aren’t really disagreeing. Zionism in a sense is the idea that we’ve entered a new era; anti-Zionism (or non-Zionism) says we haven’t. These aren’t earth-shattering revelations here.


    Jonathan1 · May 15th, 2011 at 1:10 pm
  183. But will you acknowledge that a rejection of one rabbinical position does not necessitate throwing of the yoke (as it were) of rabbinical Judaism in its entirety?

    Yes, rejecting one position need not mean a rejection of rabbinical Judaism as a whole. However, in this case, it seems to be a quite major change–completely altering the notion that sovereignty would be restored only with the coming of the messiah, and along with that adding the notion that pursuing/maintaining the State creates a new realm of permitted bloodshed (which was one of the three things that one should ‘be slain rather than transgress’). So my main point is that at the very least, it should be acknowledged how sharp of a departure from previous rabbinic ethics this represent.

    I myself support, for instance, an gender-egalitarian conception of Judaism, which also marks a departure from certain traditional conceptions. But I’d want to be up front about that and not claim that chazal were feminists. In this case, though, it doesn’t seem like this change entails such a sharp change in the ethics of bloodshed.

    But I would say that the orthodox (with a small “O”) position is tied up with some very questionable ethical attitudes about parents not prevented their own children’s death, when preventable, if you see what I mean.

    Yes, you could argue that it is important for parents to prevent their children’s death. However, I don’t think it is ever permissible for a person to prevent their own child’s death by causing the death of another person’s child!

    Perhaps you are saying that modern political Zionism is a deviation from previous rabbinic tradition? I don’t think the latter point is some secret, though. And, again, it only really carries weight with those who disagree with Zionism.

    No, I think that the fact of the deviation is a bit of a ‘secret’ nowadays, and especially with regard to the ethical changes that it entails. The early Zionists who espoused power-politics (as well as those who opposed them) recognized the conflict between the rabbinic ethic and modern ethno-nationalism. But today, many people want to think of themselves as holding onto rabbinic Judaism and political Zionism at the same time, without acknowledging/recognizing the ways in which this sharply alters the former. And this in turn causes even greater distortions with regard to both political evaluation and rabbinic ethics.

    But, if you do acknowledge the sharp change, then I don’t think we disagree on this matter, although I would still want to emphasize the strong group-egoism elements that are inherent in the modern nationalism of which political Zionism partakes.


    ben azzai · May 15th, 2011 at 8:20 pm
  184. ben azzai, if I’ve understood you correctly, would never sanction the use of force, in any form, to defend Israeli sovereignty. After all, according to your interpretation, “classical rabbinic judaism” doesn’t allow violence to be used in any form except personal defense (i.e. communal defense and its extension, national defense are not merely not permitted, but actually abhorred).

    Victor, let me clarify my position. Classical rabbinic Judaism does conceive of a notion of permitted national defense. However, it holds that such actions take place only in the context of a standing Temple with the Urim and the Tummim, and/or in a time of direct divine command through prophecy. So, in the period of exile, it limits violence to the realm of personal defense, as you say.

    But, I admit that there is a bit of a confusing point: it says that violence in national defense is permitted only with the restored Temple, but it also holds that political sovereignty will come about only with the coming of the Messiah, i.e. at the same time as the restored Temple.

    But what the Zionists brought about was a form of restored (psuedo-)sovereignty prior to the messianic era, which seems to create the need for violent national defense. The classical rabbis never made a judgment on this matter: i.e. they never said how to respond if some weirdos do act to restore a form of Jewish political sovereignty.

    So, on one hand, they don’t rule out national defense in the context of political sovereignty, but on the other hand, they say that the only legitimate form of political sovereignty will be the ethically-perfected form of political sovereignty which will not engage in unjust actions. So it’s really not clear how they would respond to the clearly ethically-imperfect present-day State of Israel, but my sense is that they would not throw in the towel and say, ‘sure, go ahead and kill for this shouldn’t-have-been State.’

    But, while you might argue differently, do you at least acknowledge the problem I’m describing? I.e. that, at the very least, the classical rabbinic texts do not straightforwardly support bloodshed for defending national sovereignty in the pre-messianic era?


    ben azzai · May 15th, 2011 at 8:32 pm
  185. ben azzai,

    Perhaps you are not aware that, classic rabbinic philosophy aside – or, actually, very much in focus – there is an actual halacha on the matter of communal defense in a time of golus (i.e. without a Temple), whether within or outside of Eretz Yisrael. I know it by heart: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 329:6. I will give you some time to research the matter before making any further statements.


    Victor · May 15th, 2011 at 9:28 pm
  186. And look for it’s source in Gemara: Eruvin 46a.


    Victor · May 15th, 2011 at 9:38 pm
  187. err… 45a.


    Victor · May 15th, 2011 at 9:38 pm
  188. Victor, you didn’t respond as to whether the problem I described is indeed a real problem, in your opinion. Did you agree with my description?

    As to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 329:6, I think you had brought that up previously, in an earlier exchange. I’ve had time to look at it more closely since then. Since I’d been making claims about classical rabbinic literature (= chazal), we could look at the gemara that the Shulchan Aruch draws upon, namely BT Eruvin 45a. I certainly don’t see where you’d derive ‘killing for national sovereignty’ from that passage–can you tell me what you had in mind? But yes, let’s get into the texts!


    ben azzai · May 15th, 2011 at 9:40 pm
  189. …oops, guess we cross-posted.


    ben azzai · May 15th, 2011 at 9:41 pm
  190. 329:6 is not a matter of national sovereignty, but of communal self defense, of pikuach nefesh. A major feature of Zionist thought is the need for Jewish self-defense, a Jewish army to defend Jewish lives on Jewish time and Jewish money. You seem to disengage Jewish sovereignty from Jewish security, and Jewish security from preventing loss of life. They are necessarily intertwined.

    at the very least, the classical rabbinic texts do not straightforwardly support bloodshed for defending national sovereignty in the pre-messianic era

    329:6 is a direct rebuttal to your statement. Communal self defense is not merely permitted, it is obligatory, even on shabbos, even if the enemy comes merely to take straw, and not threaten lives.


    Victor · May 15th, 2011 at 9:56 pm
  191. I don’t want to get in the middle of the textual discussion here, because you two are clearly much more qualified than I to go over its ins and outs. I’ve been reading all of the comments with quite a bit of interest, and I want to jump in here:
    Victor: You seem to disengage Jewish sovereignty from Jewish security, and Jewish security from preventing loss of life. They are necessarily intertwined.
    Victor, it seems to me like you’re saying that Jews can never really be safe by allying with others – that we ultimately have to be enemies. Do you see that as the necessary conclusion to your point that Jewish lives can ultimately only be protected by Jewish sovereignty? I’m honestly interested in your thoughts here; I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to trick you into saying something “wrong.”


    renaissanceboy · May 16th, 2011 at 12:22 am
  192. rb’s question is interesting–I could expand it (not meaning to co-opt his question) by asking: could it be possible that seeking to maintain Jewish sovereignty in fact represents a form of endangering Jewish lives? Perhaps abandoning the structure of an Jewish ethnocracy might be a better way defending Jewish lives.

    Victor, with regard to your ‘straw and stubble’ claim: First, let’s focus on BT Eruvin 45a, if that’s OK with you.

    Now, looking at that text, I’ll note two things: first of all, it never says you can kill bystanders in seeking to defend oneself. Even if you describe the situation in Eruvin 45a as ‘communal self-defense,’ it is still qualitatively different from ‘defending national sovereignty.’ My sense of classical rabbinic Judaism is that it is always forbidden to defend yourself from one person by killing (or even humiliating) a third person.

    In contrast, the nakba and the establishment of a ‘Jewish state’ involved the killing and expulsion of many, many people who were not seeking to attack Jews. Now, I imagine you might want to group ‘all the Arabs’ together, and say that they were ‘collectively endangering’ Jews. But this seems like an extremely dubious extrapolation from that rabbinic text. I say again: classical rabbinic Judaism does seems strongly not to support the notion of ‘collective punishment’ that would be a necessary accompaniment for your notion of ‘defending national sovereignty.’ Rather, from the rabbinic perspective, the nakba would appear to be a collective of straightforward instances of murder and theft, even if *some* of the killings involved could be potentially be described as forms of self-defense. The main point is that the goal of the Zionists was not to ‘defend Jewish lives’–rather, their goal was to establish a ‘Jewish state,’ and their actions corresponded to this latter goal. And, many of the actions today also correspond not to ‘defending Jewish lives’ but to ‘maintaining a Jewish ethnocractic structure.’

    What do you say?


    ben azzai · May 16th, 2011 at 4:10 am
  193. Secondly, the gemara’s description of a ‘border town’ seems to be pointing back in time to a situation of national sovereignty, prior to the destruction of the Temple. So what precisely do you see as still applying to the situation exile?

    Yes, the gemara says that Nehardea is ‘like a border town.’ But it isn’t clear what precisely that means. Do you really think that it means you can just go and kill somebody who’s stealing straw from your backyard?!

    So please spell out a little bit of what you take the passage to mean. I take it primarily to mean that in the ‘border town’ situation, one can violate the Sabbath more readily. But I don’t take it to mean that one can engage in additional types of killing beyond what would be permitted on the weekdays, and so this passage itself would not be an ‘extension’ from individual killing to communal killing. That is, I take it to be about a ‘new’ form of justified Sabbath violation (hence its inclusion in tractate Eruvin), and not to be about a ‘new’ form of justified killing.


    ben azzai · May 16th, 2011 at 4:18 am
  194. So my main point is that at the very least, it should be acknowledged how sharp of a departure [modern Zionism] from previous rabbinic ethics this represent.

    Your emphasis is noted, although, again, I don’t think this is some earth-shattering revelation.

    I myself support, for instance, an gender-egalitarian conception of Judaism, which also marks a departure from certain traditional conceptions. But I’d want to be up front about that and not claim that chazal were feminists. In this case, though, it doesn’t seem like this change entails such a sharp change in the ethics of bloodshed.

    I also support such a concept, although I don’t enjoy gender-egalitarian minyanim for the simple reason that I spend most of the time looking at the females (I’ve never understood why that admission is sometimes taken as neanderthal.) However, you must acknowledge that to most of the “rabbinic Judaism” world of today (ie, the Heredi world) there is no difference between gender-egalitarian minyanim and modern political Zionism–they’re both mistaken deviations from Halacha, as it were, and they are both equally transgressive.

    However, I don’t think it is ever permissible for a person to prevent their own child’s death by causing the death of another person’s child!

    I just wish I had the exact solution to such questions.

    Maybe we should end on this note . . . or you can have the last word . . .


    Jonathan1 · May 16th, 2011 at 12:12 pm
  195. Victor, it seems to me like you’re saying that Jews can never really be safe by allying with others – that we ultimately have to be enemies. Do you see that as the necessary conclusion to your point that Jewish lives can ultimately only be protected by Jewish sovereignty?

    I think there are some false premises here. First, we are a very old nation. There are very few nations, and certainly in the European-Mediterranean-Middle East Region, with which we Jews have not had to struggle, in one form or another. And by nations, I am referring to national groupings, not 19th century style nation states.

    But focusing on the Jews is really myopic. No national grouping has escaped conflict with its neighbors. In the language of political science, we would say that nations, or national groupings, don’t have allies, they have interests. In the language of my birthplace, Russia has two allies – her army and her fleet. Because national groupings tend to localize geographically, their interests begin to solidify over (and become hostage to) their geography.

    For example, coastal areas tend to develop maritime trade. Population centers tend to develop in valleys and plains, but this exposes them to threats of nomadic marauders and foreign invaders. Mountainous areas are more insular, less wealthy, less prone to trade, exchange of cultures, and very difficult to militarily dislodge. One of the classic geopolitical fault-lines is a mountainous area or desert adjacent to a thriving coastal plain or river valley civilization. The thriving coastal plane or valley will experience waves of nomadic invasions and conquests by distant empires. Many empires have been build on the force of militaristic nomadic cultures which took over the reigns of an existing, strong, wealthy flat-earth civilization. The Arabs are a case in point.

    On the other hand, conquering a desert or mountainous people is nearly impossible, and reaps little reward. It took to Central-Asiatic Turks 400 years to solidify control over Asia Minor, and they didn’t have problems with international law. Russia has been fighting to control the Caucasus, or to hold them at bay, for 300 years, if not more. Rome failed to hold the nomadic northern tribes at bay. And so on. So, geography is a fixed condition around which interests evolve. It is not the only condition, but it is a primary one.

    All this is to demonstrate, in poli-sci speak, that nations do not have allies, they have interests. So, here comes your question – will we Jews ever have permanent allies? Can we ever count on anyone except ourselves? Of course, we can trust them as far as we can throw them. Nations, and national groupings, are our allies so long as they share our interests. The US may share much culture and identity with Israel, but its support for the Jewish State only became profound after 1967, after Israel irrevocably proved its value to the distant superpower as the strongest state in the Levant, first capable of denying the Soviets dominance over the Western Mediterranean and the approaches to the Suez, and then as an anchor to Egypt, guarantor of Jordan and block to Syria. As US aid grew, Israel lost a measure of independence over its interests, in deference to US ambitions.

    As US interests have changed post Cold War, Israel has needed to adapt to maintain US favor. In general, Israel – and by this I mean the historical Jewish political presence in the Levant – has had three incarnations: the Davidic Model, the Assyrian Model and the Persian Model. In the Davidic Model, the Jewish state is truly independent, able to exert military and cultural influence around its periphery at will. In the Assyrian Model, we try to be Davidic, miscalculate our strength horrendously and fail, with disastrous consequences. Our nation is looted, our people are butchered and exiled, and we lose even a semblance of sovereignty. In the Persian Model, we play off the largess of a distant superpower with an interest in sponsoring or aiding some form of our sovereignty. But because the interests of distant powers are not always our own, it requires a constant tension, flexibility and creativity to keep their interests aligned with ours.

    Today, we have an interesting case. In theory, Israel in its third incarnation is really at an unprecedented level of power, able to militarily and culturally exert itself at will – the Davidic Model. On the other hand, it faces constraints and longer term problems which can only be resolved by a distant superpower acting in concert with our interests – the Persian Model. We are very strong in the short term, and in the regional geography of the Levant, but in the medium and long term have massive vulnerabilities really beyond our capacity to resolve them independently. The nation is precariously hinged on the strength of David, and looming threats which necessitate some creative ingratiation with the Persia of our day.

    So, the question you raise is much more complicated from a polisci standpoint, not taking into account intangibles, such as those popular on Jewschool – emotions and sensitivities and so on. From a polisci standpoint, the only role these intangibles serve is either towards national cohesion, or national disarray. When the Jews have squabbled and fractured, we made ourselves less attractive as allies for a distant power and more attractive as targets of conquest and have endangered both our sovereignty and our lives.

    To answer you conclusively…

    1) Victor, it seems to me like you’re saying that Jews can never really be safe by allying with others – that we ultimately have to be enemies.

    Not at all. We need not be enemies, but we need not be allies either. Just because we want to be allies doesn’t mean it is in the interests of others to desire such an alliance. Between allies (which are always temporary) and enemies (which are also always temporary) is the dispassionate many with whom we can do business, exchange culture and so on. But don’t expect them to send aircraft carriers when our cities are burning, G-d forbid, even if they think the Jews are just plain awesome.

    2) Do you see that as the necessary conclusion to your point that Jewish lives can ultimately only be protected by Jewish sovereignty?

    What does “ultimately” mean? None of us can know the future. In the Jewish past, sovereignty was no guarantor of survival. But neither has a lack of sovereignty guaranteed us anything. Sovereignty is not merely a way to preserve lives through collective self-defense, which it is, but a basic drive of every national grouping, an attempt to self-actualize, to blossom with our full creative fervor in our own people’s cultural juices.

    The Zionist desire for sovereignty is a direct product our millennium long national experience, both in Europe and in Arab lands. Israel is a response to our people’s flagrant insecurity, to the injustice and humiliation and rape and death we have witnessed, without the means to rectify wrongs in our image. Are the 22k Jewish lives lost to defend Israel in the span of 70 years worth it? We can look at the lives lost in the 70 years before Israel was created, but that reduces it to a numbers game, a wretched exercise. With the span of our experience, we can at least say this – these lives were lost for a purpose that was important to our people, which we defined. Our future was not imposed on us by the whims of capricious tyranny. We gave expression to our hopes and embraced our destiny.


    Victor · May 16th, 2011 at 12:13 pm
  196. could it be possible that seeking to maintain Jewish sovereignty in fact represents a form of endangering Jewish lives? Perhaps abandoning the structure of an Jewish ethnocracy might be a better way defending Jewish lives.

    I will address this from the perspective of Chabad, with which I am affiliated. Chabad, as you may know, and like most of observant Jewry, was deeply opposed to the Zionist project in its infancy. I don’t want to get into the reasons why. It should be noted that Zionism today is really a different movement from the Zionism of the late 1800s and early 1900s. No Zionist today is speaking of throwing off the yolk of Torah and mitzvot, but that was the prevalent language at the time.

    Anyway, Chabad opposed Zionism, and it would take a real ignoramus to claim otherwise. At the same time, Chabad never shied away from a Jewish presence in the land. As early as 1788, under the leadership of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Chabad had established a Tzedakah organization – Colel Chabad – which is the longest continuously operating charity in Israel. If memory serves, it was originally based out of Hevron, down to the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the city during the Arab pogrom in 1929.

    Furthermore, if you read portions of Tanya, I’m thinking specifically of Igeret Hakodesh, you will note the vital spiritual nature of providing charity in the land of Israel, as opposed to elsewhere. Tzedakah in Israel has a different spiritual effect, you might say a more potent effect, than tzedakah given elsewhere. The Alter Rebbe placed immense emphasis on giving Tzedakah to Jewish communities in Israel, in addition to local tzedakah.

    So, Chabad did not take part in the creation of the State of Israel, and indeed, opposed the various socialistic and modernistic movements which brought the state about. Immediately after the state’s creation, however, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was neck deep in Israeli policies, helping to push through the system whereby observant Jews could set up their own educational institutions. At the time, remember, observant Jewry was decimated, and socialists wanted to erase the “old, weak Talmud Jew” through education.

    Once Jewish sovereignty had been achieved, Chabad’s general approach has been two fold. First, to not get tangled up with the state’s politics and factions, to not be corrupted by state institutions and become ingratiated with them. In other words, to work with everyone, but to be a servant of no one. In this spirit, everyone from right wing to left wing Israeli politicians visited with the Rebbe, and his shluchim worked with all Israeli governments to improve Jewish education and activities in schools, the army and so forth.

    The only time that the Rebbe vocally supported an Israeli politician was with Shamir, on the issue of withdrawal from territories, and the moment Shamir betrayed the principles on which he had campaigned, the support was withdrawn.

    The second point on which Chabad has been active with the State is unflinching dedication to the principle of pikuach nefesh, preservation of life. The Rebbe was really the first to coral the halachic opposition to territorial withdrawal (though he wasn’t a poskin and relied on others to issue rulings), based not on the sanctity of the land, or our love for it, but solely on the principle of preservation of life – both Jewish and Arab.

    One might think there is a contradiction. On the one hand, Chabad did not support the creation of the State of Israel, and on the other, it vehemently opposed any efforts to relinquish territories captured in war against the Arabs. In the way of the Gemara, “there is no difficulty”. Chabad opposed the secular socialism which spawned Israel as a state. Once a state had been established, however, comprising first of hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews, it no longer mattered how it came about – the survival and security of that Jewish community, and indeed, it’s prosperity and growth, “from strength to strength”, in the style of the Rebbe, became sacrosanct.

    As I wrote about before, in Israel, the security of the Jewish people residing in the land is intimately tied to the stability of the sovereign entity in which they reside, and the military force that sovereign can field in defense of Jewish communities in the land. For Chabad, and in terms of halacha, because Chabad’s approach has since been adopted by all observant streams of Judaism – all of which were once opposed to a State of Israel – pikuach nefesh necessitates a sovereign State of Israel.

    Chabad has never made the leap that others have, to consider Israel as the “Jewish State”. No, the State is not a “Jewish State”, and it doesn’t function according to Jewish law. It is a secular state with a large number of Jews and some of its laws have a Jewish character. The halacha that is applied – Orach Chaim 329:6 – would equally apply in any other context where Jews could mount a defense, say in Babylon, which is where the Halacha is originally drawn from, or Yemen, where Jews have fielded armies even in exile, or in Mecca/Medina, where Jewish tribes fought the Arabs, as it says in the Koran.

    For many centuries, in Europe, Jews were not capable of mounting a defense against attack. Halacha dictated that they not provoke an even greater disaster by attempting to defend their homes and lives. It was tactical pacifism. However, the Jews now have the means to defend themselves, and are therefore obligated to do so by Jewish law.

    could it be possible that seeking to maintain Jewish sovereignty in fact represents a form of endangering Jewish lives?

    What you are really asking is this: does Jewish sovereignty provoke the nations?

    The Rebbe had an interesting response to this. He used to say that the goyim never needed an excuse to persecute us before, and they don’t need one now. The argument for a thousand years had been the opposite, that because the Jewish people didn’t have a land and a country, they provoked disdain and attack on themselves by their weakness and servility. So now that we finally have a land and a country, you change all the rules of the game and tell us to: forget about before, now you have a country and we will persecute you because of it.

    Perhaps abandoning the structure of an Jewish ethnocracy might be a better way defending Jewish lives

    Because not having a “Jewish ethnocracy” worked out great, just as long as you discount the millions of Jews who perished in the last two millenia. I recently finished “Constantine’s Sword” by James Caroll. At the end, in evaluating the terms of Catholic repentance for sins against the Jews he makes a startling observation. At the time of Christ, Jews were 10% of the population of the Mediterranean civilization which gave birth to Europe, which then populated the Americas. Were those numbers to have held up without Roman genocide and Christian persecution, we Jews would today number some 200,000,000 people.

    So, yes, through our exile and dispersion we have managed to preserve our culture, faith and traditions, but the costs we have borne are incalculable and irretrievable. What would another 10 million Jews mean for Jewish culture, identity and faith. What would another 100 million Jews have done to our history and security? These outcomes were made impossible by a lack of a Jewish sovereign who could defend Jewish rights and lives. We not have an opportunity to seek another future.

    Disregarding what you consider a “Jewish ethnocracy”, the issue is actually not very much up to serious discussion. Halacha, the embodiment of the will of our Creator, dictates our actions, from how we wrap tefillin to how we must defend Jewish lives. In the present circumstance, tactical pacifism is not an option. We have the possibility to be strong enough not only to win our wars, but so strong that the nations around Israel are dissuaded from even contemplating war, thereby saving lives on all sides. Why anyone who seeks peace would not want to preserve Jewish and Arab lives is beyond my understanding.


    Victor · May 16th, 2011 at 5:10 pm
  197. Because not having a “Jewish ethnocracy” worked out great, just as long as you discount the millions of Jews who perished in the last two millenia.

    Victor, as I’ve said, while preserving life is a central principle, my sense of chazal is that they would not justify causing the death of in innocent non-Jewish child even if it would help in defending the lives of many Jews. One simply cannot take innocent life in order to preserve life. This is why rabbinic Judaism rejects the Moloch-notion that modern nationalism cannot help but enact. Yes, that rejection could very well lead to Jewish suffering, but chazal would rather suffer than shed innocent blood.

    In the present circumstance, tactical pacifism is not an option.

    I am not talking about pacifism. I am simply talking about the refusal to shed innocent blood, even for an supposed ‘greater good’.

    I don’t see any justification for such bloodshed in classical rabbinic Judaism, and you still haven’t said how BT Eruvin 45a would provide that sort of justification. But, I do want to hear what you have to say.


    ben azzai · May 16th, 2011 at 7:44 pm
  198. One simply cannot take innocent life in order to preserve life.

    Who claimed otherwise? Why would you even think that I, much less halacha, would wish to take innocent life? It shouldn’t even need to be said that this is strictly forbidden. At the same time, we must make some necessary distinctions.

    First, a pursuer is not innocent. We have an obligation to prevent a rodef from completing his task of murder by any means necessary. There is absolutely nothing we can’t do to them to stop them, including taking their life.

    Speaking strictly theoretically, this is all the justification – it’s actually less a justification than an obligation – Israel needs to go on a killing spree in a variety of Arab countries, to kill Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others who plan attacks on Jews, wherever we find them. Nor do we really need proof that the rodef will attack today, or tomorrow. It’s enough that the rodef is in pursuit – we are commanded to stop him. And it is sufficient to know that the rodef has killed before to assume he will kill again. We don’t need to wait for him to put on his uniform, write a declaration of intent and publish it online.

    Now, it’s true, we must pursue the least violent path to stop the rodef. Or rather, the rodef must be stopped in increasing levels of severity. If we trip them and they continue we can punch them. If we punch them and they continue we can beat them. If we beat them and they continue we can maim them. If we maim them and they continue we must kill them. This isn’t an choice, it is an explicit obligation.

    The implications are severe. Right now there are rodefs in Gaza, planning operations to end Jewish lives. We are commanded by Torah law to stop them by any means necessary, yet here you and I are, talking, doing nothing. What is our complicity, if we don’t act to stop them? If we urge that Israel negotiate with Hamas while Hamas bombards Jewish homes, what is our halachic complicity with the attempted murder of our people?

    There is another distinction we must make. In pursuing the pursuer, in stopping the rodef, are we allowed to inadvertently take innocent life? Can we bomb the car the rodef is in if his children are in the back seat? Frankly, I don’t know enough about the subject to answer conclusively.

    I suspect the answer is that there is a substantive difference between a war and what we would call today a “police action”, such as to stop an individual rodef. If there is an individual rodef, we likely must make all possible distinctions to avert unnecessary loss of life (but only among the innocent!). In a case of war, there are probably no reasonable restrictions. In a case of self-defense (an obligatory war, by halachic standards) if an enemy force regroups in a village, we can don’t need to go in house to house, but we should carpet bomb the entire village rather than risk the lives of our soldiers.

    If the Jews fight a war of self defense, on the back of my accumulated knowledge, and I still need to find my Hilchos Melachim, I would say that until the enemy sues for peace on our terms, there are no practical limits. So long as there is a danger to Jewish life we must break their capacity and will to kill us, without restraint, and as quickly and actually as ruthlessly as possible. The reason for this is that if we show restraint, and this emboldens them further to continue the fight, we have just desecrated the principle of pikuach hanefesh, on both sides. The faster we end it, the more life we preserve all around, and in the future, because we will instill fear to attack us in others.

    I was once at a private farbrengen with a great Rabbinic authority presiding. A truly great, warm, compassionate and immensely sensitive Jew, who has done innumerable good in the world. War is not his life’s work, and I had never heard him speak on this issue in the past. His take on the question of Jewish self defense, which was asked by a yeshiva bocher, was like this: our responsibility is to end the threat to Jewish life as quickly and permanently as possible.

    I’m paraphrasing: We must make sure that the enemy equates waging war against the Jews with their own certain death. For six days we unleash the worst hell imaginable and burn the ground from under them. We destroy every emblem of their power – cultural, religious or otherwise – to demonstrate that their gods and science will not save them, and that their only choice is surrender or death. When they are broken and shattered, and the threat they posed to our lives has been neutralized, we restore normal life and trade to them as quickly as possible.

    Again, no one, not in Torah, not in halacha, and not I, have ever suggested that we hurt innocent people deliberately, so I don’t know where you are getting this information. But in a case of a war of self-defense, until the enemy is broken and sues us for peace (and according to Rambam, in a war of self-defense, we cannot accept their surrender), there are no practical restraints on what we must do to end their will and capacity to fight.

    If all this sounds terrible, it is because it is, and purposefully so. The goal is to avert bloodshed, and to end it as quickly as possible. Those who wish to murder our people should know, loud and clear, and in advance, how we will deal with them.

    I’ve been doing a lot of writing today, obviously, so I will have to get back to you on Eruvin 45a.


    Victor · May 16th, 2011 at 9:00 pm
  199. Nor do we really need proof that the rodef will attack today, or tomorrow. And it is sufficient to know that the rodef has killed before to assume he will kill again. We don’t need to wait for him to put on his uniform, write a declaration of intent and publish it online.

    Where do you see this in chazal? My sense is that when they talk about the rodef, they are talking about *immediate* ‘hot pursuit,’ not ‘anticipated pursuit.’

    In pursuing the pursuer, in stopping the rodef, are we allowed to inadvertently take innocent life? Can we bomb the car the rodef is in if his children are in the back seat? Frankly, I don’t know enough about the subject to answer conclusively.

    This, I think, is the crucial point–and I posit that chazal would say, NO!, you cannot kill children in pursuing a rodef! Where are you getting this from?

    In a case of self-defense (an obligatory war, by halachic standards) if an enemy force regroups in a village, we can don’t need to go in house to house, but we should carpet bomb the entire village rather than risk the lives of our soldiers.

    I don’t know where in chazal you’re seeing this–it sure doesn’t seem to be from Eruvin 45a, which does *not* mention ‘war.’ You are making huge leaps that may make sense in the context of modern nationalism, but NOT in the mindset of chazal. This notion of ‘chazal gives the go-ahead for carpet bombing’ is ludicrous.

    I would say that until the enemy sues for peace on our terms, there are no practical limits.

    This is a complete abandonment of ethicality. Yes, this may be ‘how war works,’ but it is not how Jewish ethical thinking works. Again, bring textual evidence, rather than constructing these ‘total war’ concoctions.

    our responsibility is to end the threat to Jewish life as quickly and permanently as possible.
    …even if this requires killing little children.
    Again, I realize that this way of thinking has a certain consistency to it in secular military thinking, but unfortunately Israel is forbidden to take innocent lives. You keep re-enacting the Moloch principle.

    Again, no one, not in Torah, not in halacha, and not I, have ever suggested that we hurt innocent people deliberately, so I don’t know where you are getting this information.

    No, my point is that one cannot engage in action that you know will hurt innocent people. There is no grounds in classical rabbinic thought for excusing yourself by claiming that you are not doing so ‘deliberately.’ If you are essentially certain that innocent people will be hurt by your action, this is legally equivalent to hurting innocent people deliberately.

    I state again: TEXTS, TEXTS, TEXTS, show me some TEXTS. It seems like you have absorbed a strong dose of modern nationalist-militarist thinking, and this is not the type of thinking that I see in chazal. So, please, prove me wrong, but do so through texts.


    ben azzai · May 16th, 2011 at 10:48 pm
  200. No, my point is that one cannot engage in action that you know will hurt innocent people. There is no grounds in classical rabbinic thought for excusing yourself by claiming that you are not doing so ‘deliberately.’ If you are essentially certain that innocent people will be hurt by your action, this is legally equivalent to hurting innocent people deliberately.

    This is nonsense. Intent is a major factor in Jewish law. I’ll throw your own statement back at you – show me some TEXTS that say we cannot harm innocents inadvertently in the context of war, or a pikuach nefesh situation. Or, rather, that the prospect of hurting innocents inadvertantly should prevent us from stopping the rodef from committing murder.

    And yes, I will do my part to coral the texts. I’d like you to do the same.


    Victor · May 16th, 2011 at 11:00 pm
  201. So far, I’ve introduced the concepts of rodef, pikuach nefesh and a specific halacha (329:6) to this conversation. And I intend to examine Eruvin 45a before responding to you. I’ll ask that you do more than simply throw around the terms “chazal”, “classic rabbinic judaism” and “jewish ethics”, while accusing ME of secular nationalist-militarist thinking! Haha! Show me where you are getting your ideas, in chazal, in “classic rabbinic judaism”.


    Victor · May 16th, 2011 at 11:06 pm
  202. Hi Victor,

    Some key texts in the notion that one cannot kill an innocent person to save one’s life:

    Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehozadak: It was decided by a majority vote in the upper chambers of the house of Nitza in Lod: for every transgression that is in the Torah, if a person is ordered: “Transgress and you will not be killed!”, he should transgress and not be killed–except for idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed.

    Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a: A man came before Rava and said to him: “The governor of my town has ordered me: ‘Go and kill so-and-so; if not, I will kill you!’” [Rava] answered him: “Be killed, but do not kill. For how do you know your blood is redder? Perhaps that man’s blood is redder.”

    BT Pesachim 25a: We may heal ourselves with all [forbidden] things–except for idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed.

    Mishnah Ohalot 7:6: We do not set aside one life for the sake of another life.

    Palestinian Talmud, Terumot 8:10: If a group of people were walking on the road, and gentiles encounter them and say: “Give us one from among you so that we may kill him–if you do not, we will kill all of you!” — Even if they will all be killed, they should not hand over a single Israelite.


    ben azzai · May 17th, 2011 at 3:13 am
  203. In terms of the idea that ‘If you are essentially certain that innocent people will be hurt by your action, this is legally equivalent to hurting innocent people deliberately,’ see, for instance, BT Shabbat 75a, where R. Simeon refers to the (sarcastic) principle of ‘cut off his head but let him not die.’ (This is the notion of pesik reisheh.) I.e. if someone says, “All I did was cut off his head–I didn’t intend to kill him!”, that person is held liable as if they had in fact intended to kill him, since you know essentially for certain that if you cut off a person’s or animal’s head, it will die.

    Thus, in your example cited above, when you ask, “Can we bomb the car the rodef is in if his children are in the back seat?” it would seem to be a prime instance of this principle. You can’t say, “All I did was drop a bomb on the car–I didn’t intend for the children in the back seat to die!”, this claim is invalid, since you can be pretty confident that dropping a bomb on a car is just as likely to kill the children as the ‘rodef.’ So, you’d still be guilty of murder, it would seem, even if your ‘intention’ was simply to stop the rodef.

    So, yes, in general, intent is a major factor in Jewish law. However, so is realistic judgment of consequences. And so Jewish law does not allow the bullshit excuse employed in modern warfare/killing, wherein ‘collateral damage’ is considered legitimate as long as you *claim* that you weren’t ‘intending’ to kill civilians. Classical rabbinic law says: no, you can’t deliberately engage in an action that you are essentially certain will cause harm to others–regardless of your ‘conscious intent.’

    So, this indicates that there are indeed certain situations in which “the prospect of hurting innocents inadvertantly should prevent us from stopping the rodef from committing murder.” And yes, this may make engaging in warfare quite difficult. But then this is a problem that you should take up with chazal themselves, who were apparently not ‘hard-minded’ enough to allow killing the rodef ‘by any means necessary.’ Again, one is forbidden to take life (apart from the direct rodef), even if your intent is to preserve other lives.


    ben azzai · May 17th, 2011 at 7:29 am

Leave a Reply

If your comment does not immediately appear, do not freak out and repost your message a dozen times. Please note that all new visitors must have their first comment approved by the editor, and you must provide a legitimate e-mail address and use the same username for the system to "remember" you. The editor maintains the right to refuse comments deemed inappropriate or unhelpful. Users who repeatedly delve into ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behavior will be banned.

Trackback (Right-click & 'Copy Link...') | Comments RSS

"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik