Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder

Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder: Fisking Crypto-Supersessionism

Jostein Gaarder, the Norwegian science writer, novelist and children’s writer has written a thunderous prophetic denunciation of Israel that articulates well the moral posture of Europe when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s reach and vehemence prompted many complaints and accusations of anti-semitism. Gaarder apologized for perhaps having spoken in a moment of haste and outrage.

He admits he could have phrased himself with more precision, but that it would be too much work to do anything about it now. He also states that what he wrote, was motivated by “disgust for the war, and the wrongdoing of the Israeli army”.

The prophetic cry was published on August 5, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of the Qana bombing and the international outrage based on what we now know was systematically distorted numbers and staged photos, all designed to arouse precisely the kind of moral outrage so eloquently expressed by Gaarder. Thus his response represents a good gauge of the power of the media’s narrative on people’s thoughts and emotions.

The following is an open-letter fisking, asking Jostein Gaarder to take the time and effort to reconsider his hasty vehemence, explore the underlying assumptions and emotions that drove his prophetic language, and finally, examine the possibility that he might have been the dupe of demopaths… a phenomenon that Europe can ill afford these days.

God’s chosen people

Jostein Gaarder, Aftenposten 05.08.06

From the Norwegian by Sirocco

There is no turning back. It is time to learn a new lesson: We do no longer recognize the state of Israel. We could not recognize the South African apartheid regime, nor did we recognize the Afghan Taliban regime. Then there were many who did not recognize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing. We must now get used to the idea: The state of Israel in its current form is history.

I am aware that you later argued that – in true prophetic style – this was meant as a warning, a call to the Israelis to repent, and not an end to Israel which, you believe, will happen if they continue along their (self-)destructive path. But surely you can understand that the formulation seems somewhat ineluctable… as if you had not the slightest hope or expectation that they might listen. This really is a form of “writing off” Israel.

In any case, I think there’s still a Serbian country and as far as I know you were not in favor of invading Iraq, so your two other cases — far worse and more deliberate than anything Israel did in Lebanon — have not led to disappearance nor, I presume, to calls for their disappearance from you. You need to ask yourself why you have a particular vehemence about Israel. On the scale of offenders out there in the world today (Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia), Israel is really low down, even if we accept every claim that came out of Lebanon.

We do not believe in the notion of God’s chosen people. We laugh at this people’s fancies and weep over its misdeeds. To act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity. We call it racism.

This language may surprise some American audiences, unfamiliar with the humiliating and mocking dimension with which European anti-Judaism so commonly expresses itself — the honor-shame language of public mocking. But after a relative hiatus in public after the Holocaust, since 2000 this spirit is common in the lands. In any case, derision aside, this particular comment leads us to a discussion of the nature of chosenness that can be very difficult and touchy… a discussion that Jews normally do not challenge Christians and Muslims about because these later monotheistic religions do not come out well in the comparison. But since this matter of chosenness seems to lie at the core of your complaint, Mr. Gaarder, let us grab the nettles.

Let’s begin by agreeing in principle, if not in tone of contempt, that certain forms of “chosenness” can be extremely arrogant and offensive – and, from the perspective of a just and tolerant civil society, highly destructive. (That they are “stupid” as you claim, only really makes sense from a fairly elevated perspective (i.e., “might makes right is immature and counterproductive”). Unfortunately many actors in the Arab-Israeli conflict, like Yasser freedom-from-the-barrel-of-a-gun” Arafat and his Jihadi successors would find neither stupid nor morally objectionable. Rather than use a silly term like stupid for so weighty and frightful an impulse I would suggest arrogant and oppressive notions of chosenness.

In any case, the form of (specifically monotheist) chosenness that is here denounced as arrogant and stupid, and certainly objectionable, is the imperialist form: “We, the chosen people have the one true faith; God has chosen us to bring it to the world, and if others do not respond appropriately to our true message, we have the right to subject them to our rule and humiliate them as a tangible sign of our God’s glory.” This kind of monotheistic sense of election is best described by its political formula: “one God, one king/emperor/rule, one faith.”

This imperialist formula of political monotheism lies at the ideological heart of most of the most violent religious wars — Jihad, Crusades, Holy War — and some of the most powerful empires of the last 2000 years: Roman, medieval German, Umayyad, Abbasid, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, British. Perhaps the single most violent and destructive of all chosenness episodes – the Nazis – although not monotheist, nonetheless expressed the most violent version of a racist, hate-filled notion of national (racial) election on record.

Permit me, if you will, Mr. Gaarder, a few quick comments about the history of this idea. It begins in Christianity, and finds its full measure with Eusebius’ remarks about Constantine: God’s image on earth, the ruler of the world as God rules in the heavens. It so pervades most Christian thought until the Protestants, that books have been written assuming that this is the only form of political monotheism (Peterson, Fowden). And it particularly characterizes a form of Christian self-awareness known as supersessionism: “We have replaced the Jews as the chosen people; we understand the true message of the Bible; we “sit on top of” (literal translation of the verb supersedeo) the Jews.”

This form of chosenness is everything that a liberal and progressive opposes. It is hard zero-sum: “We are right because you are wrong; we are good because you are bad; we have the true message because you Jews, in your stiffnecked literalism misunderstand your texts; God chose us because he rejected you.”

Such a hegemonic reading meant that for most of Christian history, the faithful had to read the Jews not as they were – a living and evolving religion and people with exceptionally interesting things to say – but as props on the Christian stage, as relics of a period before the torch had passed. German scholars thus refer to the Judaism of Jesus’ time as “Spätjudentums” — late Judaism — when it was really fairly early in Judaism’s lifespan (about 1500 years into what is now a 3500 year existence).

The reason I go into some detail here is that as you will see below, I think you are caught in precisely this kind of supersessionism, and one of the clearest signs of it is your profound lack of knowledge about Judaism, a natural consequence of needing the Jews to play a specific and negative role in your self-perception. A friend of mine called this “invidious identity formation”: “My self-esteem comes from your worthlessness,” a characteristic emotion of the kind of honor-shame calculus in which my honor comes from your shame. Given the commitment to very high moral standards that I detect in your prophetic cry, I assume you would consider such invidious and small-minded emotions profoundly unworthy. We don’t make ourselves look bigger by making others look smaller.

Now one more point before we get back to the Jews. There’s an even more noxious form of chosenness that sometimes appears for relatively brief moments that represents a danger to everyone including the believers themselves. In this form of “apocalyptic chosenness,” members passionately believe that they have been chosen by God to bring about a world-wide conquest that demands vast destruction and even genocide in order to bring about the messianic kingdom of imperial dominion that their “God” has promised them.

For example, there is an apocalyptic hadith in Islam which has become extremely popular these days:


The Day of Judgment will not come about until the Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them), until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: Oh Muslim! Oh Abdullah! there is a Jew behind me, come on and kill him.

Messiahs and their followers who believe that they are their God’s agents in this destruction and conquest, that they must “destroy the world in order to save it,” you get mass murderers who, uncontrolled, can leave dozens of millions dead in their wake, men like Hong Xiuquan, the Mahdi of Khartoum, Hitler, Mao, etc. This is precisely the kind of religious passion that every religion that wants to claim participation in a world culture of religious tolerance has to renounce. Especially in an age of nuclear weapons, we cannot afford such base and violent notions of chosenness.

So let’s return to the historical record which may surprise you. As far as noxious forms of chosenness (arrogant, imperialist, racist), the Jews actually have the best historical record (i.e., fewest examples) and the Christians and Muslims the worst (with the Muslims way out in front at this turn of the 3rd millennium). For every case of Jewish religious zealotry resorting to violence to impose its notion of chosenness (initial conquest, Jewish war of Independence to which you make reference below, Bar Kochba rebellion), we have literally myriads of examples among Christians and Muslims. Both religions, for most if not all of their almost 2000 and more than 1400 years of their respective existences, predominantly interpreted their notion of chosenness in consistently, one might even say dogmatically, aggressive, arrogant, domineering fashion over those who did not share their view of chosenness. In Christianity it’s called “the humiliated remant” (the Jews humiliated as proof of their crime of deicide), and in Islam it’s called the Dhimma (Jews and Christians humiliated to illustrate the superiority of Islam).

So we may agree completely that there are noxious notions of chosenness, just as there are noxious forms of monotheism. But to confuse all monotheism and all chosenness with this kind of attitude is to make a serious, one might even say, potentially fatal category error because it means one cannot distinguish constructive from destructive forms of both chosenness and, more broadly, monotheism. And in order to understand why the simplistic approach to “chosenness” can be problematic, we need to be aware of a very different definition of chosenness, one that is positive-sum and beneficial to both the “chosen people” and to their neighbors.

The opposite of this arrogant, zero-sum notion of chosenness as warrant for conquest and rule, for privilege, is a positive-sum notion of chosenness as responsibility. Here one is “chosen” to observe certain ethical standards, regardless of whether one’s neighbors respond favorably or not. This form of chosenness constitutes an obligation to meet certain moral standards; chosenness as responsibility rather than privilege.

Being chosen in this sense is considerably less attractive for many people since it’s far more demanding with far fewer advantages. Here political success is rare, hence control of one’s environment minimal, dependence on others for whom dominion is a sign of superiority, and humiliation at the hands of others a common phenomenon. And the Jews have learned to live creatively with this oppressed status for millennia without developing the kind of enraged fury that one finds so commonly among certain subaltern people now raging against every perceived conspiracy to humiliate and destroy them.

Whereas in the noxious form of chosenness, one’s political success (at any cost in life and destruction on all sides of the conflict) assures the chosen of dominion (or heaven for “martyrs”), in this form, success with “others” can only come voluntarily, only in the success of others: “through you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Here God’s honor is manifested not by the military victory and political dominion of his “faithful” but by the manifestation of God’s ethical demands in the behavior of believers, regardless of their reward.

This notion of chosenness is positive-sum: the “other” benefits from one’s own ethical behavior; and the chosen benefit from that ethical interchange. This form of chosenness is actually highly beneficial and welcome from everyone who believes he or she is chosen, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew. In this sense, more than one people can be “God’s chosen” because more than one people “take on” God’s heavenly yoke of self-control and moral restraint, of concern for other human beings.

The political formula for this kind of monotheism is “No king but God”: God is radically different from man, and just as he cannot be “imaged” by earthly images, so his rule over man cannot be represented in the rule of man over man. So instead of a political order imposed from above by intimidation, societies in which people develop God’s kingship can become increasingly free because responsible. The voluntary acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven makes people responsible as self-regulating autonomous moral agents, and therefore they can grant each other the freedoms that an earthly monarchy cannot. Indeed, I’d argue that modern democracies (and, more generally, civil society) is based on this attitude.

And while this form of monotheism is not unique to Judaism – there are powerful Islamic and Christian variants – it is a key notion in Judaism. Indeed even as Eusebius formulated iconic imperial monotheism for Christians in the early 3rd century, the rabbis were embedding the phrase “no king but God” into their daily and yearly liturgy, meant for recitation by all Jews. Thus even as Christians were pursuing just the kind of chosenness you reject, Jews were pursuing something very different. And because of Christian supersessionism, they could not see the Jews as they were.

Limits to tolerance

There are limits to our patience, and there are limits to our tolerance. We do not believe in divine promises as justification for occupation and apartheid. We have left the Middle Ages behind. We laugh uneasily at those who still believe that the God of flora, fauna, and galaxies has selected one people in particular as his favorite and given it funny stone tablets, burning bushes, and a license to kill.

Again, let us agree in principle. There should indeed by limits to tolerance, especially for a notion of chosenness which is a license to kill, which is a justification for occupation and apartheid policies, which is a throwback to the Middle Ages. My only quibble on that point is that, as a historian of the Middle Ages, I would recommend caution in assuming how much we “moderns” have left those ages and their passions behind. Part of our problem is that we assume we’ve completely overcome the medieval legacy and can act accordingly, when it may be that a) we Westerners (especially you Europeans) have not really left the Middle Ages behind, b) by pretending you have you do not even recognize when medieval attitudes drive your emotions, and c) by so acting as if all that medieval stuff were gone (except of course among those stiff-necked Jews) we actually increase the power of some of the worst medieval passions.

What I find most disturbing about the above statement, though, is the targeting of the Jews as the culprits – the obvious referent of “funny stone tablets.” (They certainly inspired the French revolutionaries who promulgated the “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” the foundation – I presume – of your own moral commitments to human rights and dignity.)

rights of man tablets

But why the Jews? I understand from your text that you think they have done terrible things, some of which may be the product of mistaken reports, a point we can return to. But even if we grant that all you think the Jews have done, is not the worrisome actor here from the perspective of noxious forms of chosenness and violent contempt for the rights of others… the Muslims?

It is Islam which, today claims that the God of flora, fauna and galaxies has selected Muslims as His exclusive favorite, and given it a license to conquer, to massacre unto genocide, and to install apartheid laws that discriminate against non-Muslims. Any brief moments attending to what Jihadis like Hizbullah and Hamas do and say in their native tongues, reveals a terrifying world of open, raw, ferocious genocidal hatreds. Nothing in current Christian or Jewish circles – except the worst of Christian Aryanism – can compare for morally base notions of chosenness.

But somehow, you do not think that worthy of mention. Can you explain why? (I ask, because one of the problems here is how highly sensitive Christians get to Jewish moral trespass, and how they fall silent in the face of ghastly behavior from others, especially their Jewish neighbors.)

So let me ask you to try a thought experiment. I presume from your tone that this will be difficult, but let me appeal to the scientific and philosophic spirit in the man who wrote Sophie’s World: try understanding what’s going on in the Middle East with a different working hypothesis. Certainly there are enough anomalies here to warrant such a mental exercise, and certainly the stakes are high enough to make all possibilities worthy of consideration.

What if the Israelis’ behavior – from the “occupation” in 1967 to the wall of the first decade of 2000 – does not derive from imperialist Jewish notions of their chosenness, but defensive measures against a highly aggressive and imperialist Arab-Muslim sense of chosenness? I know this sounds unlikely and apologetic, but I would argue as much about the information you unquestionably accept from your Arab and Muslim sources. So, if you can, humor me, please.

If your analysis is right – the Jews’ notion of chosenness is the problem — then your anti-Zionist solution might make some sense. But if you are wrong – that is, that it’s the Muslims’ notion of chosenness that has made this problem insoluble – then your solution promises to be a disaster. Having misread the source of the violence and shutting down the Israelis, you will give wings to the very forces of hatred and arrogance that you find intolerable (at least when they show up among Jews). This will bring down terrible crimes not just on the heads of those poor Jewish refugees of a dismantled Jewish state for whom you beg mercy, but all those Muslims now in the grip of’ vicious men who think that Islam is a religion of war, and hatred, and death.

And not far behind the unfortunate victims of your misjudgment, lies the fate of your own moral value system. How long do you think the values of mercy, respect, moral courage, freedom and justice that your prophecy invokes will survive the victory of the Jihadis who harass Israel on every side and even now set their sites on Europe, the West as well. Indeed, horribile dictu, around the world, Islamic societies have bloody borders with all its neighbors.

Do you really think Europe is immune to these aggressive currents? If we look at the notion of chosenness embedded in Global Jihad, Europe constitutes at least as much the target of their chosen mission – the whole world under Shariah – as the Israelis. And now that we live in an age of astonishing telecommunications, these sentiments resonate the world over. Muslims demands for a Sharia state in the midst of nation states of Europe shares this same sense of chosenness even as it cheers and sometimes copies the violence of apocalyptic groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.

You can listen to the voices that dismiss this argument as a Zionist plot, ignore these powerful and publicly dominant Islamic strains of chosenness and the immediate and instrumental violence they engender. Instead you can focus almost exclusively on Israeli violence, which you see not as a response to this external aggression, but intentionally driven by a noxious Jewish sense of chosenness. But you do so at your own peril. Misreading this situation is not cost free, as pleasing as it may be for you to morally excoriate the Israelis. Indeed, in so doing, you may be missing important elements of the larger picture, a picture that includes the fate of Europe as well as the Middle East. Believe me, I don’t think you’d like to live in a Sharia-ruled Europe.

Now the (over-)attention to the Jews may have its reasons. It makes a certain unhappy sense to want to dump on the Jews morally. There is a certain moral Schadenfreude in being able to say, “You Jews, 2000 years you were oppressed, and no sooner do you get power than you do it to someone else.” The extreme logic of this thinking, heavily promoted by the Palestinians, is that they are the new Jews, and the Israelis the new Nazis. One can well imagine the appeal of such a ferocious irony to many people who find the Jews a particularly frustrating people, and even more to those who might feel bad about their role, however passive, in the Holocaust.

But at some point those who can’t distinguish invidious comparisons (“Aha! We knew it all along. We Europeans are more moral than the Jews!”), and therapeutic rhetoric (“Let’s not criticize the Muslims, they need encouragement.”) from reality assessment (“What are the real sources of hatred and violence?”), will go down in history as a fools. Such foolish elites populated Western Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries, men who spoke and wrote precious words as their civil society fell apart around them, and a brutal culture of honor and shame and blood vengeance took over.

One might object that the late, Christian Roman empire was hardly an egalitarian civil society, but even so, it was far more sophisticated and civic than the tribal warrior culture that took over. For these Germanic warriors, the Sermon on the mount recited as, “blessed is he who takes vengeance for he shall have peace,” and Jesus “would not have been crucified” if they had been there to protect him. In such a brutal culture, thoughtful and literate men fled to monasteries to escape these brutes. I don’t think that this is a fate Europe should wish on itself for the coming centuries.

We call child murderers ‘child murderers’ and will never accept that such have a divine or historic mandate excusing their outrages. We say but this: Shame on all apartheid, shame on ethnic cleansing, shame on every terrorist strike against civilians, be it carried out by Hamas, Hizballah, or the state of Israel!

Again, we agree. Murder is bad, the murder of innocent children, despicable, morally revolting. And anyone claiming divine or historic mandate for such murderous deeds deserves condemnation. But again, despite tossing in Hamas and Hizbullah at the end of the paragraph, your target seems to be Israel.

And yet of the three “culprits,” the Israelis least fit your profile. It is the Jihadi Muslims who openly embrace a rhetoric of divine sanction for the most odious child-murder, not only in justification of the random murder of innocent Israeli, American and European children, but in the spiritual and physical murder of their own children as suicide killers, child sacrifices on an altar of hatred. These folks not only openly espouse their chosenness as a “warrant for genocide”, they celebrate the murder of children publicly, and encourage their public to relish the very moment of revolting violence.

On the Israeli side, attitudes differ dramatically. You cannot find a trace of the open embrace of killing children intentionally, of celebrating the death of innocents, or teaching hatred and a cult of child sacrifice. Do Israeli soldiers sometimes kill innocents? Yes, what army has not? Do they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it? Yes. Do they apologize even when it’s not clear they’re responsible? Yes. Although it may anger you to hear it, no army in the military history has so risked its own soldiers’ lives to spare the lives of civilians among the enemy as the Israeli. These are measurable and verifiable assertions, not wild claims.

But let us pause a moment on this issue of murder, that is the intentional killing of people. Not all killing of innocents is murder; and only two approaches do not consider the distinction valid. At one extreme, the most primitive cultures of blood vengeance do not distinguish between intentional murder and accidental manslaughter: if you kill my relative, for whatever reason – even if he attacked first – I kill you or one of your relatives. At the other extreme, Christians have a tendency to ignore this distinction from an extremely high and pacifist morality that views all violence with overwhelming horror.

This moral attitude, which reflects the extraordinary moral demands of Christianity’s founder (e.g., Sermon on the Mount), appears in their mistranslation of those funny tablets’ command on the matter: What in Hebrew reads, “Thou shalt not murder,” in Latin and the thousand vernaculars that Christians have translated the Hebrew Bible into, it reads, “Thou shalt not kill.” (There are “heretics” in the Middle Ages who are burned for refusing to kill a chicken based on their reading of the mistranslation.) Given what you say in your prophetic cry, you clearly side with high pacifism and not blood vengeance.

But when you look at the situation in the Middle East, you seem to forget that few people share your high moral standards. Here we have people who, by your moral standards, represent the basest moral position imaginable, people who openly embrace murder of civilians – children! – and who look for every reason to stir up hatred. And as anyone knows, hatred comes far more easily when one imagines that the “other” has done damage “on purpose,” in the case of killing, murdered. As a little girl said when her aunt burned her arm cooking, “That’s okay auntie, you didn’t mean it.” When it’s by accident, it’s a lot easier to forgive; when it’s on purpose it calls out for vengeance if only to deter further violence.

If a five-year old can understand the difference, why do adults like you deliberately exclude the distinction and accuse Israel of murdering children. No documented case of Israelis deliberately murdering children exists (it is the heart of the unfounded libel around al Durah). Given the violent hatreds that teem among terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hizbullah, and how ready they are to accuse Israel of deliberately murdering their people even as they sacrifice their own, do you not think you should pause before jumping to conclusions that can only incite more hatreds?

After all, virtually every attack on Israeli civilians is intentional, the target of Muslim violence. And these attacks derive specifically from what you despise: the Muslim sense of chosenness, that they were chosen by Allah to kill every last Jew at the end of time. If you were wrong about Israel, falsely accusing them of murder in front of murderous enemies, would that not consist of incitement to murder, again, precisely what you deplore?

However, the state of Israel, with its unscrupulous art of war and its disgusting weapons, has massacred its own legitimacy…

This statement presumably reflects complete credence in the dominant Mainstream Media version of events in Lebanon. You, Mr Gaarder, have taken as accurate that which the Arab photographers and journalists who consider themselves combatants in the war against Israel have produced, the echoed by your media, who are addicted to the narrative of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian (and now Lebanese) David. Given the gathering mountain of evidence that many of these images are fabricated – especially those at Qana, which is presumably the major provocation for your prophetic outrage – don’t you think you need to pause before jumping in with both feet?

Israel’s “unscrupulous art of war” here is nothing other than the selective and credulous attribution of accuracy to what Arab media produce. Few statements better illustrate why Pallywood works: it appeals to precisely this thirst for ammunition to use against Israel. How treacherous the ground on which your moral indignation stands!

It has systematically flaunted International Law, international conventions, and countless UN resolutions, and it can no longer expect protection from same. It has carpet bombed the recognition of the world. But fear not! The time of trouble shall soon be over. The state of Israel has seen its Soweto.

Again we find the classic tropes of “progressive” anti-Zionism, invoking interpretations of international law as if they were already decided, and a UN whose deep corruption on both an ideological and fiscal scale goes unmentioned. This statement is a good example of a trajectory that we can draw from Muhammad al Durah to Durban to Jenin to the divestment and boycott campaigns. I understand you feel fully justified in your position. But as we shall see, not only is there important evidence you are mistaken, but that if you are, the consequences are truly frightening for everything you hold dear.

We are now at the watershed. There is no turning back. The state of Israel has raped the recognition of the world and shall have no peace until it lays down its arms.

This is choice language. Although you claim this is a warning, your judgment of Israel is remorseless. No turning back, no mercy, no relenting… and from a man who claims the moral high ground. Add to it the extraordinary claim that by laying down its arms Israel will have peace, or perhaps you mean that Israel will be destroyed but the world shall have peace. Do you, Mr. Gaarder, really believe this? Most Israelis would find this really malicious double-speak. But maybe it’s a reflection of some profound confusion, some feverish pacifist dream divorced from all reality.

Again, please put on your scientist’s thinking cap: What if the Israelis are not the problem? Will feeding them into the maw of global Jihad quiet the flames? Did giving Hitler Czechoslovakia work? If you are wrong, you have not only sacrificed the Jews – again! – but at your own peril. Does it make sense to be so supremely confident in your (and your media’s) judgment when so much is at stake, both existentially and morally?

Without defense, without skin

May spirit and word sweep away the apartheid walls of Israel. The state of Israel does not exist. It is now without defense, without skin. May the world therefore have mercy on the civilian population. For it is not civilian individuals at whom our doomsaying is directed.

I take this as a partial answer to my question. Spirit and word obviously applies to the moral spirit and the thunderous words with which you, Mr. Gaarder and your approving audience believe you all speak. May you have the power of the word to bring down Israel’s (evil) defenses.

Israel is (read: should be) without defense, without skin… in other words, the way the Jews were before the Holocaust, during the times of pogroms which, you have assured us, were the justifiable reason for a Jewish state that could defend itself. Now, because in defense of their people, Jews have killed some civilians – again, nothing that any country at war has not done – you want them defenseless again. Defenseless Jews certainly appealed to the Judeophobes of the Middle Ages who legislated that they could not bear weapons.

Here’s where we come to the crux of the issue of judgment about what is happening in the Middle East. The Israelis believe that they are surrounded by genocidal enemies. You, Mr. Gaarder, seem completely unaware of the evidence for this: are you aware of this. Have you ever visited Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI to see how the Arab and Muslim media speak of Israel and of Jews? If this is even partially true, then the defenseless posture you call for is a recipe for the slaughter of Jews. Of course no less a moral giant than Gandhi advised Ben Gurion to try non-violent resistance to the Nazis. Are you suggesting the same? Why not suggest it to the Lebanese? Disarm entirely and Israel will never again attack you.

And yet, even as you call for a situation that will likely trigger massive civilian massacres – just what your morality abhors – you add a touching concern for the “civilian individuals” of Israel, may “the world” have mercy on them. Never mind that the surrounding enemies of Israel do not think there are any civilians and want to kill them all. Again we are faced with two possibilities: you genuinely pray for mercy for the Jews in Israel even as you demand that they be defenseless, in which case you are at best a fool; or this is hypocritical piety, crocodile tears shed as a moral posture even as you demand the holocaust of the Jews you so despise.

We wish the people of Israel well, nothing but well, but we reserve the right not to eat Jaffa oranges as long as they taste foul and are poisonous. It was endurable to live some years without the blue grapes of apartheid.

I’m sure the people of Israel are touched by your pious wishes, and I hope you can understand if they don’t rush to thank you for your benevolence.

And if you don’t like the moral taste of Jaffa oranges, please, take them from some other country you think is morally superior to Israel… hopefully at least a place with no capital punishment. But while you’re at it, let me recommend that you watch out for the poisons that flood the media you so readily imbibe. They may be far more toxic, and their effects far more dangerous.

They celebrate their triumphs

We do not believe that Israel mourns forty killed Lebanese children more than it for over three thousand years has lamented forty years in the desert. We note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs like they once cheered the scourges of the Lord as “fitting punishment” for the people of Egypt. (In that tale, the Lord, God of Israel, appears as an insatiable sadist.) We query whether most Israelis think that one Israeli life is worth more than forty Palestinian or Lebanese lives.

Now we return to the theological subtext of your moral tirade, and we find familiar phenomena: gross ignorance and malevolent projection. In particular, the phrase “We do not believe…” is quite striking. On what basis do you not believe? Because the Israelis who apologize look like used car salesmen? Or because it is so vitally important to your moral outrage that they have done this killing on purpose – murder – that you cannot allow them the possibility that it was both accidental and regrettable? Why do you believe whatever the Lebanese sources – partisan, manipulated, and/or intimidated by Hizbullah – tell you, but you refuse to believe Israeli spokesmen, even on so personal issue as their feelings?

Some of the answer seems to come with your immediate switch to the biblical account; and here we come face to face with your (unconscious?) supersessionism. The invocation of the Israelite celebration at punishment meted out to Egypt is particularly interesting. First, the only incident you can refer to relates the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Re(e)d sea, since at no other time in the narrative do the Israelites rejoice over the plagues that Pharaoh sends (they even shared some of them). Apparently you are not aware of the famous rabbinic tale of how the angels came to sing their morning song and God rebuked them, saying: “Forbear! My children [the Egyptians] are in distress, and you would sing!” This is the basis of considerable discussion both religious and political.

So, if we have this level of scruple over the enemy’s soldiers who planned to slaughter and enslave them, why would you, Mr. Gaarder, dismiss so blithely any protests of Israelis that they do not rejoice in the deaths of innocent Arabs? On what basis do you “note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs”? Do you have any evidence of this? Are you aware of how often the Arabs celebrate? Do you care?

Is it that believing the blood libel – Jews murder innocent gentile children – is too important to let relevant information get in the way? Or is it that, however you feel about “fundamentalist” Christianity, you still accept their version of the Jews, no matter how that image has been distorted by a chosenness concept that cannot see the Jews for what they are, but needs to see them as the negative “other”?

Certainly, your confident dismissal of what the Israelis say about themselves, and your resounding silence about what Israel’s Muslim enemies say about themselves, suggests that you are not interested in an “I-thou” relationship with either group. And given what you say, it certainly seems that you are not dealing with real Jews, or that you know anything about Judaism and the Jewish ways of reading the biblical text. You are projecting your negative reading on to them and condemning them for your projections. The Jews have to be your fall guy; the Muslims just embarrass you. You can see neither for who they are, but only for who you need them to be.

This profoundly negative and projective reading of the “God of the Old Testament” is a common feature of zero-sum supersessionist Christianity: our God, of the New Testament, is loving and forgiving, but your Old Testament God is vengeful and violent. Of course the post-modern reality is otherwise. This Christian “grand narrative” of personal superiority at once underestimates the place of apocalyptic vengeance that lies embedded not only in the terrifying cataclysmic drama of Revelation, with its rivers of blood, but also the pervasive present of a loving and forgiving God in the Hebrew Bible. An understanding of the multiple narratives within both — let’s add Islam — all three monotheistic traditions reveal a far more complex and interesting dynamic at work… one in which your projections — are these from your Christian upbringing or from anti-clerical Enlightenment atttitudes? — produce far more heat than light.

But there’s more to this than just misreading the Jews. This rabbinic reading of the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea offers insight into a key issue about the relationship between text and religious culture that accepts those texts as sacred. You have read the text as a fundamentalist (simple, literal, violent version), and assume that the Jews reads it your way. But the rabbis, for whom the God of the “Old Testament” is not primarily a God of vengeance, but one of love, have read it according to their understanding, just as they read “eye for an eye” as a form of egalitarian law handled by compensatory money damage payments. Here the Jews have read a compassionate God into the story, who weeps even over his chosen people’s worst enemy — the God of positive-sum for whom everyone counts; whereas you a (former?) Christian sees an insatiable sadist. Is your portrait of the Jews and their God a projection?

And yet this difference helps us address the larger and very troubling question of sacred texts and religious movements. Do anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament mean that Christianity, the religion of love, is inevitably committed to hatred? Or do the violent Jihadi passages in the Quran mean that Islam, the religion of peace is inherently violent and warlike? The point is not what the text says, but how people – individuals, communities, elites – read them.

So now let me answer your question about the value of another’s life. First of all, there are no people at war who do not treat their own people’s lives as more valuable than that of the enemy and their own civilians more valuable than that of the enemy. Caring about one’s neighbors is a moral luxury that civil societies can afford, and it does wonders for everyone’s well-being. But in the martial world of hard zero-sum it is not even possible without being suicidal.

Second, if we must make invidious comparisons about who cares more about the others’ life, what do we do when we discover that a) Israelis care more about Arab innocents than Arabs care about Israeli innocents — pin-point bombing vs. deliberately random bombing; b) Israelis care more about Arab innocents than Arabs care about Arab innocents — trying to avoid civilians vs using civilians as shields; andd c) Europeans like yourself care most about Arabs when the Israelis have killed them, not about Arabs killed by Arabs, or any other civilians killed by non-Israelis — where’s your outcry over the bombing of an orphanage by Sri Lankans in pursuit of Tamils? Are you calling for the dissolution of Sri Lanka?

And last, but not least, are you aware that, when it comes to reporting about casualties in the Arab world, forty can be one?

For we have seen pictures of little Israeli girls writing hateful greetings on the bombs to be dropped on the civilian population of Lebanon and Palestine. Little Israeli girls are not cute when they strut with glee at death and torment across the fronts.

Again we come face to face with your credulity and adoption of the Arab victim-Israeli demon narrative. Your account, like the Arab one, shows no empathy. These girls, who had been confined in shelters for days, who were encouraged by the press to write on the warheads, and who wrote messages Nasrallah, the man responsible for bombing them – civilians – at random, are not “strutting with glee at death and torment across the front.” Worse, your eagerness to see the Israelis in the worst light, comes hand in hand with your studious avoidance of any mention of the grotesque spectacles of children dressed up with suicide belts, and the rejoicing at the deliberate killing of children that one finds so commonly among Arab Muslims.

If this kind of behavior bothers you, why are you not mad with grief at the moral catastrophe that has befallen the Arab world and risks spreading to the Muslim world – taken over by an elite spreading a cult of death and murder? And why would you want to disarm the very people these people rejoice at killing?

The retribution of blood vengeance

We do not recognize the rhetoric of the state of Israel. We do not recognize the spiral of retribution of the blood vengeance with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We do not recognize the principle of one or a thousand Arab eyes for one Israeli eye. We do not recognize collective punishment or population-wide diets as political weapons. Two thousand years have passed since a Jewish rabbi criticized the ancient doctrine of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He said: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

You may not realize it, but you’ve now stepped fully onto the stage of the classic Christian supersessionist reading of the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. “Old Testament”). Presumably your first sentence means we don’t grant moral authority or acceptability to Israel’s statements about why, in principle, it is at war. The second implies that the principle thus rejected is: “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”

But as far as I can make out, you’ve made a classic double error. First, the carnal interpretation of an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (a real eye for a real eye…) has nothing to do with Jewish readings of this text. Jewish literature, from the biblical texts onwards makes it clear that this is not a call to mutilation — Jews abhor that — but to monetary compensation. On the contrary, the principle embodied in the expression “eye for an eye” is one of equity – any man’s tooth is worth another’s. And this egalitarianism is at variance with virtually every other law code until modern times, in which the eye of an aristocrat counted for far more than the eye of a freeman, a fortiori, of a serf).

In other words, Jews, for millennia now, have renounced blood vengeance, unlike every other people (especially in the Mediterranean), including most periods of Christian and Muslim history. Indeed one can correlate closely the period of Christian culture’s enduring commitment to blood vengeance and their period of supersessionist theology, and correspondingly the period of renouncing blood vengeance with a willingness to shed supersessionist hegemonic claims. The people who have the hardest time renouncing blood vengeance, who carry it out not only on their enemies, but on members of their own households, are the Arabs. They are the ones who teach their children to hate the Jews (and Christians) so much that it is a blessing to blow yourself to shreds killing as many of them as one can.

So I don’t understand what’s going on in your mind, Jostein. Here you are, aggressively accusing the Jews of blood vengeance and murderous drives which they renounced – at least in principle, and significantly in practice – millennia ago. At the same time, you pass over in virtual silence the disturbingly plentiful evidence that the much larger number of people who have declared the Jews their ultimate enemy – to be exterminated – openly espouse and cultivate precisely this blood vengeance and these murderous instincts in their children. Now these are traits that you abhor and on the basis of which you condemn Israel to annihilation as a state and Jews to statelessness as a people.

And the framework in which you put this denunciation of Israel is a religious discourse, again classic supersessionism. If only the Jews had listened to their rabbi (obviously you mean Jesus even though it could have been Hillel three generations earlier) who tried to get them to give up blood vengeance! But you know so little about the Jews now, or then.

So my question to you is: Are you a straight and narrow-minded Christian supersessionist, out to get the Jews regardless of what else is going on because your self-image depends on it? Or are you unaware that that’s what you’re doing… unaware of the immense weight of Christian supersessionism – a form of chosenness that we both agree is arrogant and unacceptable – in your thinking?

And the Arabs and Muslims in all this? Do you really believe that all this hatred and violence is really “merely” a response to Israeli crimes? Or do you really not know about this hatred and violence.

We do not recognize a state founded on antihumanistic principles and on the ruins of an archaic national and war religion. Or as Albert Schweitzer expressed it: “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

The quote from Schweitzer seems like it needs a bit more context and detail, but if I can extract the meaning you wish to give it, it apparently means that humanism is treating human life as so sacred that one would never willingly sacrifice (another’s) life in order to achieve an instrumental goal. If this is the meaning, then few cultures on the planet can compete with Israel for its dedication to life, even another’s life.

But by the same token, there is no culture right now in the world more harshly non-humanist by Schweitzer’s definition than the Arab-Muslim world, where not only killing others is one of the first resorts for solving disputes, but now they even teach their own children to kill others for the sake of the “cause.” This is a cult of death.

So viewed impartially, this statement of principle in which “anti-humanist” states do not deserve recognition means two things:
1) all Arab states are illegitimate (not to mention Sri Lanka, North Korea, most Muslim nations, many African ones…)
2) if we want to hold up to these states an example of humanism despite the highly anti-humanist trend in the surrounding cultures, that would be Israel.
And yet, as obvious as these things might seem to me, they seem not just foreign but unthinkable to you. What is happening here?

It’s reminds me of the paradox of European thinking about the death penalty as a measure of humanistic achievement. The USA is inferior to Europe because they still have such an archaic and blood-vengeful practice. Europeans like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who go to the US and get involved in executing people by law should lose their citizenship. But when Europeans turn to the Middle East, they revile the only country that, with the exception of Adolf Eichmann, has never imposed the death penalty and they glorify cultures in which we find men killing daughters and sisters, executing accused collaborators in the streets, murdering rivals and enemies. How inconsistent can you get before you notice the problem?

Compassion and forgiveness

We do not recognize the old Kingdom of David as a model for the 21st century map of the Middle East. The Jewish rabbi claimed two thousand years ago that the Kingdom of God is not a martial restoration of the Kingdom of David, but that the Kingdom of God is within us and among us. The Kingdom of God is compassion and forgiveness.

Two thousand years have passed since the Jewish rabbi disarmed and humanized the old rhetoric of war. Even in his time, the first Zionist terrorists were operating.

Now the supersessionism imbedded in the discussion comes out of the closet into full light of day. Apparently, Mr. Gaarder, you are still fighting shadow debates between Christian supersessionism and (projections of) Jewish beliefs designed to make the Christians feel superior. Are you aware, for example that as early as biblical times, the tradition held that David could not build the temple because his hands were bloodied by wars which were perhaps necessary, but not holy? Are you aware how pervasive the language of peace in Judaism and in Zionism? Do you care?

Typically your supersessionism works in zero-sum terms (“our inner kingdom is good and true, your external one is crude and wrong”), and typically it completely misunderstands what Judaism was about back then and what Zionism is about today. Where is your sense of history? Jesus may have humanized the rhetoric of war, but over centuries and millennia, Christians militarized the rhetoric of peace, and spilled much blood, especially Jewish blood in the process. You present Jesus’ teachings as if Christians caught on right away and Jews turned a deaf ear. Actually the more the Christians accused the Jews of being crude, belligerent distorters of God’s message of love, the more they did just that, with their Crusades, inquisitorial courts and pogroms. Are you not even a tiny bit afraid you might be doing the same thing again?

Israel does not listen

For two thousand years, we have rehearsed the syllabus of humanism, but Israel does not listen. It was not the Pharisee that helped the man who lay by the wayside, having fallen prey to robbers. It was a Samaritan; today we would say, a Palestinian. For we are human first of all — then Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Or as the Jewish rabbi said: “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?” We do not accept the abduction of soldiers. But nor do we accept the deportation of whole populations or the abduction of legally elected parliamentarians and government ministers.

Now it’s impatient supersessionism!

“We’ve been trying to beat (our) sense into you Jews for 2000 years and you still won’t listen! Can you be surprised that we hate you?”

And that vaunted Christian unconditional love and forgiveness…?

Never mind that the story of the Samaritan represents a typically Jewish self-critical tale – Jesus tells his disciples that “we” Jews have neglected poor people in need, and this Samaritan’s kindness is a reproach to us Jews (or as they say in Yiddish, “a shanda lagoyim,” a shame before the gentiles). Never mind that such self-criticism plays a negligeable role (so far) in the Palestinian culture with which you try to make the link. (Imagine, if you will, a Palestinian saying, “you know, we talk about how bad the Israelis are, how about us?”) There may well be Palestinian good Samaritans. I even remember a story about a man who returned two lost Israeli kids. But when other Palestinians murder young hikers brutally in caves or tear Israelis apart in the streets of Palestinian cities before howling mobs, it seems a bit more than strange to frame one’s condemnation of Israel with praise of Palestinians.

Such, apparently, is the workings of supersessionism. The logic does not count; the zero-sum, I-am-right-you-are-wrong resolution counts.

We recognize the state of Israel of 1948, but not the one of 1967. It is the state of Israel that fails to recognize, respect, or defer to the internationally lawful Israeli state of 1948. Israel wants more; more water and more villages. To obtain this, there are those who want, with God’s assistance, a final solution to the Palestinian problem. The Palestinians have so many other countries, certain Israeli politicians have argued; we have only one.

This is an especially nice formula that reveals the degree to which your analysis completely ignores the behavior and attitude of the Arab world. Between 1948-67, it was the Arabs (and Muslims) who refused to recognize the “internationally lawful Israeli state of 1948,” and that refusal produced the war of 1967, preceded as it was by a month of Arabs dancing in the streets of Cairo, Damascus, Amann, and Bagdad chanting “drive them into the sea.”

The vision here articulates the Post-Colonial Paradigm (PCP2) in which Israel plays the role of the ruthless expansionist aggressor that figures so prominently in Arab and Muslim conspiracy theory. Most Arabs believe that the two blue stripes of the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates, and signal Israeli imperial ambitions to establish dominion over the whole Arab world. Okay, Arabs who live in closed societies that brainwash them believe this think it’s true… but educated, intelligent Europeans with access to multiple sources?

The USA or the world?

Or as the highest protector of the state of Israel puts it: “May God continue to bless America.” A little child took note of that. She turned to her mother, saying: “Why does the President always end his speeches with ‘God bless America’? Why not, ‘God bless the world’?”

Aside from the fact that this is taken from a fairly cheesy American movie, few people in the world have as much desire for world peace than the Jews, and few as generous a view of the outside world than the Americans (who devised the Marshall Plan, an unprecedented act of generosity towards defeated enemies). Any school in Israel is filled with pictures and poems about world peace. Indeed, the very notion of Jewish chosenness — “through you all of the families of the world will be blessed” – is precisely about what you seem to think is a high moral plane — a dream about a time when everyone lives in peace. Not to get repetitive but… find me the anti-Zionist Muslim who believes he is Allah’s “chosen” who also wants to bless all mankind (unless his notion of blessing is making everyone a Muslim).

Then there was a Norwegian poet who let out this childlike sigh of the heart: “Why doth Humanity so slowly progress?” It was he that wrote so beautifully of the Jew and the Jewess. But he rejected the notion of God’s chosen people. He personally liked to call himself a Muhammedan.

Sorry to be dense, but I don’t know to whom you refer. In the meantime, let me offer one small answer to his question about why mankind progresses so slowly. It’s partly because people pretend to achieve moral heights that they are not ready for, so when they inevitably fail, things can actually regress. For example Christianity began with the highest of moral demands (forgive seven times seventy, love your enemy) and developed some of the lowest moral standards (culture of hatred, scapegoating and inquisition, holy wars against both infidels and “heretics”). Similar (and more rapid) regression among Muslims who, in the life of the prophet, turned from warning people of God’s coming punishment, to inflicting God’s punishment with their own swords.

And behind these excessive claims to spiritual evolution and their regressions, lies the problem of spiritual envy. When people covet the sacred texts of others and try to seal their theft by annulling any claim of the original culture to its own sacred scriptures, one gets exegetical arrogance among the interlopers who claim to supersede. When people pretend to moral heights they have not achieved, and harshly condemn others not for what they have done, but in order to feel better about themselves, then they confound the moral progress of everyone, rewarding the undeserving and humiliating those who deserve recognition. That’s not a formula for moral evolution.

It is very difficult to overcome the desire to dominate, what Augustine called libido dominandi. It takes both trusting and being trustworthy, both generosity of heart and modesty. And when we fail, the warmongers and the oppressors win.

Much as you think you and your culture embody the best traits, your cruel judgments towards Jews and foolish credulity towards cruel Muslims does not speak well for your actual moral status, and they bode ill for the poor humanity, whose halting steps forward are constantly dogged by fools and tricksters. I know you think it’s because of Jewish stiff-neckedness that things go slowly, but if you had just a bit more modesty, you might begin to see that possibly their stiff-neckedness is a quiet reproach to you that you should seriously meditate on, rather than a sign of their obduracy and your moral perfection.

Calm and mercy

We do not recognize the state of Israel. Not today, not as of this writing, not in the hour of grief and wrath. If the entire Israeli nation should fall to its own devices and parts of the population have to flee the occupied areas into another diaspora, then we say: May the surroundings stay calm and show them mercy. It is forever a crime without mitigation to lay hand on refugees and stateless people.

Do you really think this will absolve you of the forces you unleash with your doomsday prophecy? When in history have Arabs been kind to refugees? And specifically to dhimmi who have revolted (like the Armenians in 1915)? Do you realize that, at best, you have recreated Augustine’s role for the Jew — stateless, homeless, barely protected in degradation? And at worst, you have served the forces of massacre and genocide. Don’t you want to get out of the Middle Ages?

Peace and free passage for the evacuating civilian population no longer protected by a state. Fire not at the fugitives! Take not aim at them! They are vulnerable now like snails without shells, vulnerable like slow caravans of Palestinian and Lebanese refugees, defenseless like women and children and the old in Qana, Gaza, Sabra, and Chatilla. Give the Israeli refugees shelter, give them milk and honey!

In a short but profound book on Envy and the Greeks, Peter Walcott wrote that people who envy like to condescend, to show mercy and generosity to those who are far beneath them, but they hate and cannot abide people who are their competitors. Your extraordinary solution – let the Jews be defenseless and we will protect them with our prayers and give them milk and honey – literally recreates the conditions of envy he describes. Turn the only first rate economy in the Middle East, one flowing with milk and honey on its own, into a 23rd Arab Muslim state with another wretched economy deriving from an authoritarian (medieval) culture of impoverishment, and then put everyone on the dole. Does that not strike you as just a wee bit strange?

Let not one Israeli child be deprived of life. Far too many children and civilians have already been murdered.

I must confess that as a student of Christian-Jewish relations over the last thousand years, this moral tirade delivered in a moment of “grief and anger” stands out as one of the more interesting examples of Christian self-deception and malice. Here you are, in the wake of the mind-boggling Holocaust, still so wedded to your invidious identity formation of supersessionism that you would condemn the Jews to another massacre even as you pray for their souls and bodies. And the terrible irony at the core of your moral outrage is that it is not directed against real Jews doing real things, but against your negative image of who the Jews “really” are.

To look from the perspective of the proverbial Martian come to earth (or a just Judge, or a future historian) weighing the evidence, I think that morally speaking you come off as something of a playground bully picking on the little guy on the block. Scarcely a word of criticism about the atrocious behavior that permeates societies and nations numbering in the hundreds of millions and who have declared immortal enmity to the Jews, combined with ferocious anger at the Jews for doing a tenth of what these enemies do.

Your “moral indignation” will not, I think, wear well. If you and your bully friends succeed in isolating and destroying Israel, then the real victors — not moral Europe, but the Jihadis — will mock both your moral values and your moral pretences. If you fail, people will realize how profoundly unfair you have been in your judgments.Ironically, you take the very notion of chosenness that derives from your own arrogant sense of supersessionism (we are morally superior to the Jews because we [claim to have] listened to that rabbi 2000 years ago and they don’t listen to us) and project it on to the Jews in order to condemn them and deprive them of statehood. This may feel good in the short run, as does most bullying, but false and cruel judgments are not cost free. He who is merciful cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful. And in a world where the cruel are rewarded and the merciful punished, there is little hope for the high moral values you claim to represent.

Now Israelis and Jews cannot really stop you from bullying them. They can cry out in pain, protest in anger, try and mobilize more fair-minded people to defend them. But if you want to be a moral bully, and lots of your readers approve there’s not much anyone can do to stop you, except appeal to your ability to be self critical.

I don’t have a great deal of hope here, since the nature of what you’ve written suggests that you feel prophetic. But let me try to reason with you on the basis of your values.

What you’ve written will, in coming years, stand as a classic statement of how Europe lost its moral compass.

The indictment will include at least six counts:

  • thirsting after idols — images manufactured in the Middle East as blood libels against the Jews — and bowing down to their truth even as the evidence tells you these are false images.
  • using those idols to work yourself into a moral range and demanding suicide of a people who were almost wiped out by a European wave of genocidal hatred less than two generations ago.
  • showering your moral disgust and impatience on a people struggling for their very life against a remorseless enemy
  • ignoring in your obsessive moral calculus of Israel’s sins, this remorseless enemy’s behavior, and the ways in which it violates your own value-system infinitely more than the Israelis violations
  • endangering your own people, culture and civilization in refusing to discuss or reveal to the public the devastating genocidal discourse among Israel’s Muslim enemies, a language that terrifyingly resembles that of your genocidal forebears — blood libel, world conspiracy, genocidal intentions and more…
  • failing to mention to your own culture the danger it runs in allying with genocidal cultural forces — the West is also a target of their hatreds.

Why you do this? That’s for you to figure out. That’s your dark night of the soul, your encounter with your own hardnesses and stiff-neckedness. But what I can tell you is that, from the perspective of a history of civil society and its heroes 1750-2100, you, so far, are going down as a tragic fool, whose anti-Zionist moral convulsions presaged the fall of Europe to Muslim forces in the first third of the 21st century (my barber’s guess). Is this the story of Europe you want to see written? Is this the prophetic role to which you aspire:

Pretentious Genius with Catholic Hatreds Jumps on High Horse and Plays Fool at Height of Terrible Crisis?

Can’t you do more for the generations you teach than this invidious narcissism in which you shoot your own allies in the moral and philosophical quest for a just society, while feeding the real forces of hatred and violence gathering strength?

And you wonder why we advance so slowly?!?!

There’s a famous joke about a man who has died and gone to heaven and an angel shows him around heaven. In one place there’s a field with people in saffron robes dancing and playing musical instruments. “That’s the Hindu heaven,” the angel explains. In other, there are people sitting in lotus positions with the heavens sparkling all around them. “That’s the Buddhist heaven.” In another people sitting around tables, eating, drinking, singing songs and arguing. “That’s the Jewish heaven.” Then they pass between two high walls and the angel says nothing. “Wait,” says the newcomer, “what’s behind these walls?” “Hush,” the angel responds, “that’s the Christians and Muslims. They think they’re the only one’s here.”

The tragedy of both Christian and Muslim anger at Jews for thinking they are the “chosen people” derives from a dual misunderstanding. Both Christians and Muslims rapidly developed the claim that there was no salvation outside their religion — a position Judaism has never adopted. They then projected that invidious zero-sum attitude onto the Jews, whose refusal to convert to their brand of monotheism they took as a direct insult, rather than a justified rebuke for their misunderstanding of what chosenness was about.

You, Mr. Gaarder, whether you know it or not, have fallen prey to such a sad and petty act of bad faith.

In the past, perhaps, Europe could afford such invidious identity formation. Sure it led to Crusades and Inquisitions, but hey, mostly it was the Jews, the heretics and the infidels who bit the dust. And who, in such authoritarian societies, would notice a couple of degrees more of totalitarian tendencies. But today, with democracy, civil society, and weapons of mass destruction, you cannot afford this kind of misguided moral hysteria. Woe to the man zwho cannot tell who are his enemies and who his friends. You bring woe not only onto Israel, but onto yourself and the moral Europe you hope to lead.

Remember, chosenness — and surely the prophet considers himself chosen — is a responsibility.

31 Responses to Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder

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  2. Jostein Gaarder’s Supercessionism

    Solomonia

    I’ve finally read all three parts (in one big essay) of Richard Landes’s fisking of Jostein Gaarder’s piece (previous: Pop Quiz: When does legitimate criticism of Israel cross the line in anti-Semitism?). Augean Stables: Open Letter to J…

    • Kendi says:

      I have to say, I concur with Gaarder’s perspectives. It was Paul, a Jew, who came into Athens to proclaim the ‘one’ god, bringing foreign influence to the ignorant masses of Athens. Jesus was also a Jew, promoting his monotheism.

      God, is not a ‘ONE’. Each individual has a sort of “divine-will” inside of them, so that in a way, each person is god. Because we all are similar enough, sometimes when one person speaks of what they think or feel is good, others can share in that sentiment, and so when one person speaks of what they think is the best or ideal or godly or heavenly, others can relate to it. If person ‘B’ has no words of their own to express the same feelings, they are more likely to borrow person ‘A’s’ words. That doesn’t mean ‘A’ is the only one created in “god’s” image, and that ‘B’ is inferior in all other matters.

      So, then god’s will – is in effect, to each individual — their own will; not the will of some outside entity. When people talk about god with a capital “G”, they are in effect, sneaking their own perspectives and preferences into the habits of other men– and what’s more, it isn’t the adopting of others’ habits that is so evil, but the sly method of which this transference of ideas and ideals happens! When you start putting god outside of yourself in such a way, without transcending the way Spinoza did perhaps, then you are in danger of becoming like a Machiavellian Catholic Prince. And, for the same reason why the Jews hated Jesus, nobody likes a Machiavellian Catholic Prince.

      But one has to admit, even though Jews were democratic and egalitarian towards each other, if you look at ancient laws, they are quite racist and biased against other races — but this is common to all humankind and cultures, not just the Jews; the Christians were racist, the Muslims were racist, even some Native American tribes are known to call themselves “The People” or something of the like denoting a kind of inherent superiority or chosen-ness.

      Each culture and religion professes to be better, and superior to the one next door. But why is it the duty of citizens of humanity, to legitimize one particular culture or religion over others? Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam does this. People like Jesus and Einstein don’t help, by speaking in riddles to confuse the uneducated masses to confound them from the clarity of this truth. Certainly, it can be expected that each person raise their own beliefs to the most high, but why would it be sensical to raise another’s belief to the most high? The problem isn’t Judaism; they are like every other culture to want what they want. The real problem is in the minds of non-Jews, who raise the Jewish god’s will above their own intuitive wills, who raise the Jewish voice above their own voice. The problem, is thereby Christianity and Catholicism and Islam.

      Diversity is a good thing. Respect is also a good thing. Human-kind may still have a chance to exist and leave a legacy of something good in this vast universe, if we remain open to others as WELL AS to OURSELVES. God is not an entity outside of you. We are gods. We are holy, each of us. YOU ARE VALID. YOU ARE GOOD. Love and respect yourself, for you are a child of god, of evolution, of a past, of history, and you are the future.

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  4. [...] Case Multiple-Part Essays PJ (OSM) Media Launch Mainstreaming Conspiracy Theories [...]

  5. [...] Case Multiple-Part Essays PJ (OSM) Media Launch Mainstreaming Conspiracy Theories [...]

  6. [...] Case Multiple-Part Essays PJ (OSM) Media Launch Mainstreaming Conspiracy Theories [...]

  7. [...] Case Multiple-Part Essays PJ (OSM) Media Launch Mainstreaming Conspiracy Theories [...]

  8. [...] and undermine the “faith” of the majoritarian religion (Christians or Muslims) in their supersessionist ideology. Langmuir makes much of the emergence in the later Middle Ages of anti-Semitism in the context of [...]

  9. [...] he is called, is a fierce and spiteful god, whom the Israelis always live up to”) and Jostein Gaarder (”To act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against [...]

  10. [...] he is called, is a fierce and spiteful god, whom the Israelis always live up to”) and Jostein Gaarder (”To act as God’s chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against [...]

  11. [...] Now, I can imagine someone steeped in this kind of unconscious prejudice against Arabs and imprisoned by the walls of political correctness to slide comfortably into a blame-Israel narrative, although I think of Moyers as considerably more intelligent and thoughtful than Jimmy Carter. But I can’t get over that little digression into biblical narrative. That smells a lot to me like residual (and still-powerful) Christian supersessionism. [...]

  12. [...] we’re revitalizing, but Christianity? Will Eagelton also reintroduce supersessionism? (Or did he ever leave it behind?) You won’t be interested in any such promise, you won’t see the point of clinging to it, if [...]

  13. Jack Zohar says:

    I am a Jew. If Mr. Gaader wants to accept God’s choosing of the Norwegians for a change, instead of us, he and they are welcome to it. The choosing had nothing to with us as being better than anyone else. To the contrary, it was perhaps, because we are posessed of all the human frailities that are found among all peoples of the earth. We might be more vocal and obvious than others, but surely not unique.

    We were chosen to proclaim the Deity of the One Living God, and His rule over all that is. If Mr. Gaarder thinks this is an easy task, he had better think this through more thorougly. God’s choosing is a burdensome obligation with more obligation than reward, but His promise to protect us, as a people, seems to have been borne out by many events over the millenia that are essentially inexplicable in a way that reflects the normal human condition.

    Israel was promised to the Jews, and God said He would make it inhospitable to others. For 1,800 years, it almost never rained in the Land of Israel after the Romans expelled most of the Jewish population, but when the Jews returned, the rains also returned, and today, winter deluges are common occurences in that tiny land. No other place on earth experienced anything like this.

    Mr. Gaarder can say what he wants. It might be interesting to replace the word Jew(s) with the word Norwegian(s) in each and every one of his anti-Semitic rants, just to see how mindless and mad his ideas really are.

    • Kendi Kim says:

      Dear Mr Jack Zohar,
      This comment is wrong on two counts: “We might be more vocal and obvious than others, but surely not unique.”

      I don’t think the Jews are necessarily more vocal. As I understand, G-d is not even allowed to be spoken in traditional Jewish culture. It was only with the explications of various scholars throughout history, that we have a more thorough understanding of the things that go on inside of our minds. Therefore, to the contrary, I must conclude that Jews are at times less vocal than others, not necessarily more.

      Secondly, Jews are more unique than you may think. Not everyone would react to the exact same environment/geography and circumstances, in the exact same ways. The “racist problem” stems from the fact that you obviously DO think that your experience and thought-pattern is the standard of measure for the rest of humankind. In other words, you seem to want everyone to be like you, even if it means being neglectful of others. The presumption that Jews are not unique, stops the questions of self-discovery from being even asked to non-Jews.

      Sincerely,
      a vocal and obvious non-Jew, named Kendi Kim

    • Kendi Kim says:

      Dear Mr Zohar,
      one more point.
      You wrote: “Israel was promised to the Jews, and God said He would make it inhospitable to others.”

      Did you ever consider that this simply means that “Israel” is a state of mind, and not a literal geography of earth? If this is true, then what you said earlier again, doesn’t make sense, since you claimed that Jews were not “unique”. Yet, if “Israel” is a state of mind, that is, a psychological “way of being”, then the statement that the state being “inhospitable to others” would be the same as saying that the Jewish “way of thinking” is too different for anyone else to live in accordance with. That means, no one will be able to relate to Jews (ie, the Israeli state of being), rather than the other way around.

      Finally, I think I have heard it said that Judaism started out from polytheistic roots. Consider the wisdom of this, for therein lies the truth of the whole. Consider that there is a world outside of your own monotheistic ego. Consider that the world is synergy between opposing forces, not a monologue with the self. Just consider it.

      Sincerely,
      Kendi Kim

  14. martin j.malliet says:

    Dear Professor Landes

    I discovered your writings only last week (blogs only, I still have to read the “Heaven on Earth” book). I’m not clear in my mind yet, but I think that the thing that I find so convincing is the ease with which you manage to deconstruct the ‘second reality’ in our thinking without the need of too much ‘conceptualisation’.

    As you may know, this idea of a ‘second reality’ comes from Robert Musil and especially Eric Voegelin, who demonstrated it in his lectures on “Hitler and the Germans”. Your Open Letter to Jostein Gaarder is of that same quality, and maybe even more convincing, because it is so accessible.

    Which brings me to the reason why I’m writing to you: would it not be possible to convince Jostein Gaarder to accept your criticism, i.e. to persuade Jostein Gaarder to engage in self-criticism? Transforming the ‘debate’ (with ‘sides’) into a dialogue, to which Jostein Gaarder still has to write the conclusion? And put the dialogue then into a book? The idea came to me when I read on wikipedia (2006 Norwegian Jostein Gaarder controversy) that there was also a controversy between Gaarder’s Norwegian (Aschehoug) and Israeli (Schocken) publishers, which made me think: couldn’t these publishers be made to see the opportunity for a good book? A book that demonstrates the relevance of self-criticism by putting it into practice?

    I don’t think I was myself caught up in PCP ‘second reality’: my thinking was more a mixture of prudence (can I really know and see all there is to be able to judge) and procedure (the burden of proof should be on the Arab accusers and not on the accused), and the tentative conclusion that the burden of proof was not met so that Israel’s position of self-defence is to be accepted, with some afterthought that this conclusion is still too evenhanded because it lets the Arab accusers acting violently without proof too easily off the hook. So it wasn’t difficult for me to let myself be convinced by your criticism. But I nevertheless strongly feel that I should have been able to reason more clearly and consequentially by myself, especially on the afterthought, which now strikes me as central, whereas before it was indeed no more than an afterthought remaining unresolved (and taking different shapes, most often that of “this isn’t just a matter of ‘debate’, it has real consequences for real people, so you must get it right or abstain from judging”).

    [I remember a debate on Belgian TV at the time of the Gaza Flotilla, in which Louis Michel (former Belgian foreign minister and European commissioner) pounded with all his moral outrage on the Jewish guy defending Israel, accusing him and Israel of lying - I don't remember the details and I don't think they matter, I only remember that I switched off the TV and suffocated in helplessness because I couldn't think of a reply going beyond "he (Louis Michel) should be ashamed of himself for acting out like this, because he doesn't have to decide on what is excessive force and suffer the consequences".]

    Which means that I feel some affinity with Jostein Gaarder, especially in his ‘attempt to clarify’, in which I sense an admission of helplessness in his effort to understand political reality with concepts that obfuscate human reality. (No mean thing this helplessness, it ‘broke’ Max Weber as Eric Voegelin quite convincingly argues in “The New Science of Politics”.)

    So I still believe my suggestion makes sense: this is a big thing, and you are a great teacher, why wouldn’t Jostein Gaarder be able to learn from you as I did? And say so publicly?

    Best wishes.

    PS: On the ‘right’ to create a Jewish State in Israel (and on the right to reject a Jewish State in Israel)

    Maybe it is true that this ‘right’ cannot be proven beyond any doubt. But Arabs who make war on Israel, pretending to act in ‘self-defence’ against ‘occupation’ on this ground of insufficient proof, assume that they do not have to carry the burden of proof of their own ‘right’ being violated, i.e. their ‘right’ to an Arab state in all of Palestine (or their right to reject a Jewish State in Israel), a right they cannot prove any better than the Israelis can prove theirs. This assumption that the burden of proof is on the positive act (the creation of the Jewish state) and not on the negative act (the defence of a right that is violated) is unwarranted and probably untenable. However, defending such an unwarrented assumption ‘in court’ is one thing, acting on it with violent means of ‘resistance’ is quite another, and I would think outright criminal. And that’s again the ‘afterthought’ that gets so easily overlooked. It’s strange enough, because it is so big. But as the French say about scams: “plus la ficelle est grosse, mieux cela passe inaperçu”.

    I have this from Anthony de Jasay: rights (or liberties) must not carry the burden of proof, it’s the objection to liberty in the name of a right that is violated that must carry the burden of proof. Saying that there is a needle in the (infinite) haystack (a proposition that can be verified but not falsified) and then implicitly shift the burden of proof to the other side (which can never meet it) is untenable in this world.

    This may be the sense of Western anti-zionism (or anti-semitism) by ‘default’ (your image of 4-dimensional Jews and 2-dimensional Arabs), and it’s pervasive in other domains as well (as ‘rightsism’ shows): making rights and liberties carry the burden of proof which by default is not theirs, and thereby ‘defaulting’ on the burden of proof where it should be laid, namely on the right that is violated.

    Why is the image of the victim so morally powerful? Because it derives its power from this burden of proof that a right is violated. In a world where the burden of proof is reversed, victims can claim to be victims without need of proof, and utter confusion ensues between true and false victims. And the worst of it: the perpetrators can make themselves invisible.

  15. martin j.malliet says:

    Pop Essay on Ethics, Justice, and Politics (starting from a Jostein Gaarder Quote)

    The word ‘ethics’ has a condensed meaning in everyday life which I would like to describe first. It’s a mixed bag of things that are not easy to distinguish clearly and are in the common understanding somehow conflated and thought together.

    My thesis is that what is in there is primarily ethics and justice, which by being mixed up degenerate into politics.

    “Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feelings for the welfare of others.”

    This quote by Jostein Gaarder is, I think, a very good expression of this condensed understanding of ‘ethics’. There is responsibility and reason (pointing to a duty of self-constraint: “you cannot just do whatever comes into your head without thinking about the consequences”), and there are the feelings for the welfare of others (pointing to a duty of self-sacrifice: “you cannot only think about yourself and forget about others”), and there is the overarching idea that being ‘ethical’ means being ‘altruistic’: “we’re in this world to share it and take care of each other”.

    There is of course the well known dialogue between this ‘altruistic’ standpoint “we’re here to serve others” and the sceptical question “and what are the others here for then?”

    I would follow Schopenhauer’s distinction between the ‘duty of justice’ (never to harm others) and the ‘virtue of charity’ (to help others when you can) to say that ‘justice’ and ‘ethics’ are simply two different questions, and that it leads to utter confusion when they are conflated (as they are in this typical condensed understanding of ‘altruistic ethics’).

    Justice is about an order of natural rights (my life, my liberty, my property), and these rights are standing on their own (suum cuique), they are not dependent on each other, nor ‘limited’ by each other. Saying that my freedom is limited by your freedom is confusing: where exactly is the boundary, more to my side or more to your side? What it means is that my freedom in exercising my right is limited by the respect for your right (but not at all by your freedom in exercising your right). And in case of conflict, the burden of proof is not on the right that is exercised (there is a presumption of liberty), but on the objection to liberty in the name of the right that is violated (the one who argues that there is a needle in the haystack must verify the proposition, and cannot shift the burden to the other wide, which can never falsify the proposition).

    Ethics on the other hand have nothing to do with justice, they are about the ‘summum bonum’ for which we live, and justice requires that everybody’s natural right to follow his own mind when making decisions in the matter is respected. So ethics is strictly individualistic (having nothing to do with justice and others), although each individualistic ethic will also be about how to deal with others in questions that go beyond the requirement of justice, such as the virtue of charity.

    The altruistic conflation of ethics and justice leads to confusion and explains the tendency to restate duties of virtue towards others as second order ‘rights to something’ or claims on others. With claims on others being much more interesting than duties towards others, everybody tends to forget about his duties and starts to run around making claims on others, with all minds set on ‘proving’ those second order ‘rights’. It is that game of trying to live at the expense of others which I would call politics (well, admittedly Frédéric Bastiat was first in 1850). And because of the confusion politics has become a question of ‘ethics’. Whereas the question of justice tends to be obscured, and more importantly, justice in practice tends to be superseded by politics.

    What all this means for individualistic ethics is anybody’s guess, as we cannot look into other people’s hearts. But one may have apprehensions, such as those expressed quite some time ago already by V.S. Naipaul in the concentrated formula: “Thirty years of free milk and orange juice have led to an army of thugs.”

  16. martin j.malliet says:

    Simple interrogation dialogue to reveal anti-semitism (of the new type) in critics of Israel

    Q: You defend yourself against the accusation of anti-semitism with saying that legitimate criticism of Israel’s defence policy is not the same as anti-semitism, is that right?

    A: Yes.

    Q: You say that you are motivated by a moral sense of justice that obliges you to speak out against injustice?

    A: Yes.

    Q: Your moral sense of justice has never motivated you to acknowledge that the Jewish State of Israel has since its inception been made the victim of a crime against humanity by all those who made regular and irregular war on Israel in defending their unproven right to reject the State of Israel, is that correct?

    A: Now, wait a minute!

    Q: Answer with yes or no, please.

    A: No! And with good reason!

    Q: Exactly. With Israel being the State of the Jews, do you understand now where the accusation of anti-semitism comes from?

    A: No! And you cannot just insert that allegation about a crime against Israel into my interrogation as if it were a fact.

    Q: Do you mean to say that the declared enemies of Israel, that is those who have made war or still are in a state of war with Israel, or the undeclared enemies of Israel who engage in terrorism against Israel, have a right to reject the State of Israel that is proven beyond any doubt?

    A: That isn’t the right way to put the question!

    Q: Answer with yes or no, please.

    A: No.

    Q: No further questions.

  17. ger cox says:

    I think youre just a NAZI.

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  19. […] witali kosmitów mających rozerwać ich na strzępy. W 2006 r. Jostein Gaarder napisał kredo świeckiego „zastąpienia” przeciwko “wybranemu narodowi Boga”, a Judith […]

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