Moral Equivalence as Moral Inversion: A Mediation of the Yawning Chasm

Rabbi Avi Shafran has an interesting meditation on the moral chasm that separates Israeli/Jewish culture from Palestinian culture. This essay seems to date to about 2002, but its points remain relevant today.

In some senses, this gap is so huge, so terrifying to behold, that anyone not wanting to sound like a moral racist by acknowledging it ends up having to take the kind of position that JeffB took in his exchanges with me in an earlier discussion. When I asked him why, if [what he perceived as] Israeli refusal to admit error infuriated him, he was not frothing at the mouth about Palestinian demonizing and refusal to accept any responsibility, he responded:

    In this particular case, I am operating from a very different paradigm than you, a paradigm which leads me to the conclusion that the Palestinians have responded fairly rationally and ethically to the situation. I don’t attribute much blame to them, and consequently see little denial or rationalization.

Few statements illustrate more laconically the moral bankruptcy of the “PCP” take on the conflict, a bankruptcy that, I suspect, derives from the fear of what kind of positions one might have to take if one considered both the Palestinians and the Israelis autonomous moral agents, rather than the Israelis as the evil agents who give the Palestinians no choice. In trying to save Palestinian honor from being tarnished by their morally degrading behavior, PCPers end up robbing them of moral agency.

The piece is clearly a work of Jewish apologetics. The question is not what motivated it, but what it’s value in shedding light on what’s going on. I personally think (unlike many “objective” historians), that morality is a critical issue in assessing both past and present problems.

Immoral Equivalence

Complaints are being voiced in many circles of American Jewry about what is regarded as the disproportionate focus in much of the mainstream media on Palestinian civilian suffering caused by Israel’s response to Palestinian terror.

Not to mention the difference between how the media handles Palestinian suffering caused by Jews and that caused by “fellow” Arabs.

However, less important than whether the media has properly balanced its reportage of the respective suffering of Palestinians and Israelis is something else. Rare in many outlets and absent entirely from some is any portrayal of the screaming moral imbalance in the carnage.

When Palestinian civilians are inadvertently harmed in the pursuit of terrorists (and innocent casualties, tragically, are part of every war), the Israeli reaction is anguish and regret; when Israeli civilians are intentionally murdered, there is self-satisfaction and celebration among Palestinians. Israel takes careful precautions to limit casualties on the Palestinian side; Palestinian bombers aim to slaughter Jews, and regard their successes as tickets to popularity and paradise.

Two points: First, innocent civilians harmed are not part of every war. World War I was low on civilian casualties. They are part of wars in which one or both sides fight from the midst of civilian populations. In this case we have Palestinians seeking to make maximal civilian casualties not only among Israelis (with their various forms of bombing), but also maximal civilian casualties among themselves (by firing from hospital and school rooftops), in order to get that media “advantage.”

Second, Palestinians would claim that this is disingenuous: Israelis at best don’t care about civilian casualties when they do their reprisals and targeted assassinations, and their “anguished regret” is crocodile tears aimed at appeasing public opinion. How much of that is projection, how much disregards the ample evidence of Israelis calling off strikes because it would harm too many civilians…? That’s up to each student of the conflict to decide for themselves.

As Elie Wiesel recently pointed out in an open letter to President Bush, while Palestinian terrorists were hiding explosives in ambulances, Israeli reservists in Jenin were taking up collections to repay Palestinian families for damage done to their homes.

It seems a hard pill for much of the media to swallow, but, bluntly put, the Jews and their enemies today are no more morally equivalent than are the Peace Corps and Al Qaeda.

Compare Islamic authorities’ exhortations to revenge and jihad and Jew-hatred with the words of Jewish fundamentalists like Rabbi Eliyahu Klugman, a lecturer at an Israeli yeshiva whom the Boston Globe interviewed at the scene of a Jerusalem suicide bombing in March: “Vengeance is God’s alone. The Jewish People have never encouraged the exercise of vengeance by human beings.”

Significant point here. Klugman shows a profound faith. He can live in a world where revenge is not carried out. His faith gives him patience. Muslims who resort to violence to carry out their idea of God’s vengeance, show lack of faith: they cannot live with unresolved matters of vengeance. In rabbinic commentary, anger is compared idol worship. The Muslims have made Allah into an idol whom they can invoke to carry out their own uncontrollable needs for vengeance.

La Difference is evident no less in how the dead are treated. Yaakov Ury, a member of ZAKA, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer corps whose members retrieve whatever is left of the victims of Palestinian bombings for burial, was recently asked what is done with the remains of the bombers. His response: “The Torah teaches us that, no matter what people have done, they are still human beings, and each human is created in the image of God. We treat the bodies respectfully, put them in plastic bags, and give them to the army.” Which, in turn, returns the remains to the bombers’ families or to Palestinian Authority officials.

Contrast that with not only how Palestinians treat living Jews but with how they treat their own fellows whom they suspect or imagine to have “collaborated” with Israel. Photographs of such unfortunates’ dead, brutalized bodies being dragged, gaping wounds still oozing, through the streets, or hung by their feet from telephone poles, are rarely featured in the mainstream press. (A happy exception was The New York Sun, which dared recently to feature a so suspended Palestinian corpse on its front page, evoking an angry letter to the editor from a reader whose breakfast had apparently been ruined. Such is the price of truth.

[I don’t know if this is the picture the NYSun put up. This one comes from my own research. Unfortunately, this is a common sight.]

Also contrast what happens in Israeli hospitals with what Palestinian hospitals do to their own children (a fortiori what they’d do to Jews who fell into their grasp). Indeed, Brigitte Gabriel’s first experience in an Israeli hospital, where her Arab mother went ahead of Israelis because her condition was more serious, astounded her.

A recent [2002] New York Times in-depth offering entitled “Anti-Semitism Is Deepening Among Muslims” was a good example of how “open-mindedness” can degrade into empty-headedness. It provided several examples of contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism, including attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, contemporary blood libels, the availability of the notorious forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the Muslim world’s finest hotels and the ubiquity of Nazi-Israeli imagery in the Arab media.

Ever mindful, though, of her allegiance to the journalistic deity of “even-handed objectivity,” The Times’ writer went on to cite a university professor [John Esposito!] as asserting that both Jews and Muslims engage in hatemongering based on skewed reading of their holy books. To reiterate the point in case any readers had missed it, another academic [Seyyed Hossein Nasr] was quoted later in the piece as concurring that attacks on religions take place “on both sides.”

Curiously and tellingly, though, not a single example of any Jewish demonization of Muslims or Islam was offered.

Nor could it have been. The Jewish Bible, of course, predates the advent of Islam by over 2000 years and thus contains no references at all to Muslims. The Talmud is similarly devoid of references to a faith that was only beginning to spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula when that text was put into its final form.

To be sure, many Jews today are understandably concerned with the apparent widespread desire in much of the contemporary Islamic world to deprive us of life or limb, and are reasonably chagrined its current promotion of Jew-hatred.

But there nevertheless are no similar Jewish attacks on mosques or Muslim schools, no Jewish fabrications about Muslims drinking Jews’ blood and no copies of “Protocols of the Elders of Islam” to be found in Israeli or Jewish-owned hotels, or anywhere at all.

With all due respect to the Old Gray Lady and all her cousins in the mainstream media, those are fit-to-print and trenchant facts, worth not only mentioning but mentioning again and again. Because when it comes to understanding the Middle East, they make all the difference.

7 Responses to Moral Equivalence as Moral Inversion: A Mediation of the Yawning Chasm

  1. David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 05/30/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  2. fp/ says:

    forget morla inversion. wanna see reality inversion?
    check out this:

  3. […] rd Landes @ 1:18 am — Print This Post Human interest story that gets at the moral asymmetry of the conflict. (Ha […]

  4. […] ny progressive standards, Israel’s moral superiority to the surrounding Arab nations is so huge it’s literally emb […]

  5. […] emopathic partners among the Muslims, everyone, at some level of consciousness, knows that the West is morally superior in […]

  6. First Justice, Then Peace says:

    “But there nevertheless are no similar Jewish attacks on mosques”

    Um, ever hear of Baruch Goldstein??!

  7. […] what they love more: their own moral purity or an Israel which, for all its imperfections, towers over the depraved cultures that surround it and that loathe its very presence. This raises the key issue about people who think […]

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