Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Power, Morality, and How to Write About Them

Here are two articles with similar themes but very different tones. The first, the editorial of this week's Forward, bemoans the clash of morality with Realpolitik in two recent Israeli decisions, one regarding Israel's bowing to Turkish pressure and essentially denying the Armenian genocide of 1915, and the other to turn Darfurian refugees away from the border. The second is Eliyahu Salpeter in Haaretz, and he's bemoaning a longer list of items all of which sully the memory of the Holocaust; prominent on his list are the two items that so aggravated The Forward.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but something bothered me about the Forward piece and didn't with Salpeter. Nothing scientific, and you are welcome to disagree with me.

The Forward uses hand-wringing hyperbole:

History usually passes from one era to another in a slow, glacial process, too gradual to be discernible until the change is complete. There are times, though, when the change happens in an instant, like a flash of lightning splitting a summer night. Such was the birth of the atomic age at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 62 years ago this month. Such was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of communism, when Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank in Moscow and defied the tyrants, 16 years ago last week. And such, we may learn to our sorrow, is the end of the post-Holocaust era in Jewish history. That age may have evaporated last week in a haze of wrenching moral contradictions, as the imperatives of remembering and resisting genocide collided with the needs of Israeli security.

This is not serious. The Turkish story has been going on for decades, and some day the international community - or maybe merely the United States - will tell the Turks to knock it off, at which point the Turks will knock it off, and in any case they'll stop twisting Israel's arm because if the Americans call a genocide a genocide, who cares what the Israelis say. Israel's treatment of the Darfurian refugees is outrageous, but a bit of perspective can be called for: The real outrage is that there's a genocide going on there, and that before it there was a larger one in the Congo (4 million dead), and before that another one in Southern Sudan (2 million dead), and in Rwanda (800,000 dead). In all of these cases, Israel's ability to make a difference has been minor, at best.

Salpeter's tone is not agonized, it's angry. He's not kvetching that some unmaintainable moral standard has been desecrated, he thinks his (our) political leaders are cynical bastards, pardon my language. What can I tell you? I prefer the anger to the agonizing.

1 comment:

Kai Seyffarth said...

Yaacov, I see your point. You quarrel with the tone of the Forward article, not with it's content.
Nevertheless: I did the following exercise - substitute "German" for "Turkish" and "Jewish" for "Armenian" and re-read the statement of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. You'll see immediately how disgusting it is.

Shana tova,