Thursday, August 21, 2014

The end of the Enlightenment?

A funny thing happened to me this week, but its implications are anything but funny.

My occasional pen-pal Phil Weiss, he of the Mondoweiss website, that lair of American-hating Antisemites, wrote to tell me he was troubled by a short message I posted a few weeks ago on Twitter. This may be the time to admit that contrary to what you might think given our rather different public personas, Phil and I are cautiously civil with one another in private. We're not close buddies, and many months can go by with nary any contact between us, but when we are in contact it's usually civil, and sometimes even almost friendly. If it weren't for his absolutely totally inexcusably repulsive website. i.e. in another life, he and I might even be friends. Anyway, as I say, he was troubled by that message and wished me to explain. So I did. Next thing I knew he had posted our exchange on his website (perhaps he thought I knew he was going to do this though in the past he hadn't and he didn't say he would).

As of this writing, 24 hours later, 136 of his readers have commented on the post. I used to follow his commenters regularly, so I can say that the comments were rather subdued compared to standard viciousness at Mondoweiss. They mostly agreed that I'm a Nazi, and Israel's being a Nazi state is a given at that website, but not a single one of them made any intellectually interesting challenge to my note.

(The reason I used to follow them by the way, was to learn about contemporary anti-Semitism. When I was researching my doctorate many years ago the Nazis I was following were mostly dead and I learned about them from documents. The Mondoweiss hordes are alive and active, and I can provoke them and learn how they respond).

A few hours later, Elder of Ziyon copied the entire exchange onto his fine website, perhaps as a public service so people might read it without giving Mondoweiss the traffic. And here's the point I'm meandering towards: that the precise same set of arguments, actually, a cut-and-paste copy, is comfortable at two diametrically opposing websites. Phil put my mail online to demonstrate to his gang how far gone those Israelis are; Elder put it online to demonstrate how defensible Israel's actions at war are. Both readerships came away with the conviction they're right. Let it be clear: there's no moral equivalence between the two groups. Phil himself isn't quite an antisemite, but the crowd he travels with and hosts are indistinguishable from the swamp of European Jew-haters at the turn of the 20th century, plus Twitter. Elder's readers are the profoundly despised Jews themselves (and many comrades in spirit). Yet most of the people in both groups live in the US, and just about all of them, I suppose, live in Western countries which were formed by the Enlightened philosophers of the 18th century.

Those Enlightenment philosohers were complex fellows who had many thoughts (some of them hated Jews, for example). Yet one of the most fundamental thoughts they had was about the power of reason. They were convinced that humans could use words to understand reality in universal ways, which is to say, in compelling explanations and concepts which would make sense to any thinking person irrespective of their ethnicity, gender or social status (none of those terms existed in the 18th century).

They were wrong, it appears. Words don’t have the power to create anything resembling universal mutual comprehension. Since the Enlightenment is the fundament of the democratic West, this is a problem.

Anyway, here's the Mondoweiss link; here's the Elder of Ziyon one, and here's the entire text, up now also at my own place.
The original tweet:

Phil's mail to me:
This strikes me as a somewhat crude slogan– given that you’re an intellectual at the highest level.

And secondly, you omit me in your declaration of what “The Jews” do. I’m a Jew and I don’t want to be part of a collective that makes these types of determinations. And I feel great concern about having anyone — even the distinguished state archivist of a “warring nation” — announce to my non Jewish neighbors how many children I need to kill to keep my nation going. It’s actually a kind of blood libel– again from a distinguished state archivist.

Also: what does it mean to be a “warring nation”? Really, is that a category that any citizen would embrace? The history of “warring nations” doesn’t offer a lot of hope. It seems to me you are making Israel a Sparta [cribbing Hannah Arendt]. Or as my friend Golda once said to me in Rehavia, We’re going to have one war after another after another, till they accept us. It’s not a vision for a future. Yet 95 percent of Israeli Jews have embraced the Gaza onslaught out of this understanding. Which only increases the responsibility of American Jews to say, Not in my name!

And my response:
1. The Jews: It is an objective and implacable fact that Zionism is the largest and most significant Jewish project in at least 2,000 years, probably more. There are non-Jews who are Israeli citizens, there are Jews who intensely dislike Zionism, there are even a handful of anti-Zionist Jews in Israel. None of these facts can change the fundamental truth: in Zionism the Jews set out to re-create a national existence on the political playing field, in their ancestral homeland, and Israel is its expression, or outcome, or whatever you wish to call it. The fact that about 50% of the world’s Jews live in Israel strengthens this, (the proportion will soon tip over to more than 50%), and the fact that a majority of self-identifying Jews among the non-Israelis are Zionists, bolsters its strength, but doesn’t change it. You can’t have Jews pining for Israel over millennia and then going there, and not have it be the most important development in all those millennia.

You can rail against this for every remaining day of your life (until 120, as we Jews say), and it still won’t make the slightest difference, not even if you gather around you thousands or tens of thousands of like-minded American Jews. I think it was Abe Lincoln who once said in court something about the strength of a fart in a blizzard or some such. Live with it, Phil, because there’s nothing you can do to change it. Nothing.

(Apropos numbers: there were more Jews at the funeral of Max Steinberg last month, which I blogged a bit about, than all the committed Mondoweiss Jews together, and it was just one funeral).

2. Will defend themselves: Look, I know you’re convinced Israel is the once and always, perpetual aggressor. Of course this doesn’t explain how if we’re such aggressors the Palestinians keep multiplying and acquiring new assets such as the PA, parts of WB, all of Gaza, international standing etc etc. We must be really really bad at getting our job done. But as we both know, you and I can’t agree on the basic facts of this point, so let’s leave it as I said: A majority of the Jews worldwide and a total majority in Israel know we’re defending ourselves from enemies who would eagerly destroy us if they had the power, just as happened in the past. (Lots of non-Jews agree with us, by the way, either because we’ve got them under our thumb as you see it, or because it’s a simple fact, as I see it).

3. Even if it means killing: My PhD was about Nazis, and I know more about them than most people, so Godwin’s Law doesn’t apply to me. I can speak about Nazis as a scholar, not a demagogue. So here’s a thought experiment. Say that in order to end Nazism you had to kill 70,000 (not a few hundred) innocent, non-German civilians, Frenchmen, say. Would that be defensible? 70,000 dead French civilians, all innocent, many children, to end Nazism and as a by-product also end the Holocaust? Would that be moral? Permissible? Defensible in some later discussion? I ask because it’s not a thought experiment, it’s what the USA and UK did in 1944 as they went through France so as to destroy Nazism in Germany. Some goals, my friend, justify even horrible side effects, or collateral damage, or whatever you wish to call it. The reason being that the alternative, of allowing Nazism to stay in place, would have been far worse.

So If Israel has to chose between its own safety or refusing to kill any innocent bystanders whatsoever, we’ll choose to defend ourselves. You bet. Of course, we can seek shades of gray, alternatives of greater or lesser destruction, and we can argue about those and indeed, we must seek them and argue about them. But the basic framework remains solid. Our safety is to be assured even if there’s a price to it, even if some innocents die. As few as possible, hopefully, but the inevitably some, yes.

4. Just like every warring nation in history: Simple. Every single nation in human history, including in the 21st century, which finds itself at war, has one of two options regarding the moral dilemma in the preceding paragraph. Either it accepts that it will kill some innocents in order to protect ts goals, or it doesn’t care. The Syrian don’t care. ISIS certainly doesn’t care. The North Vietnamese probably didn’t care, so far as I can tell. I don’t think the North in your Civil War much cared. The US in WWII didn’t care at all when it came to German civilians in bombable towns. Hamas certainly doesn’t care – well, actually it does. It regrets it doesn’t manage to kill more Jews and Arabs who live among them.

Americans nowadays do care, as do the British, and a small handful of other mostly enlightened nations, Israel among them. Yet whenever they chose to go to war, they also accept they’ll be killing at least some innocent bystanders – and they then do. In Serbia in the 1990s, in Kuwait in the 1990s, in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s, and yes, I’m sad to tell you, against ISIS in 2014 (and 2015? 2016? 2025?). No-one has existentially threatened the US since the 19th century, or maybe even ever. Which isn’t to say the US hasn’t fought just wars. But they were never about its very existence. And in every one of them they have killed civilians. Tragic, but true. And as long as the US continues to be at war, for whatever reasons, it will continue to kill civilians. As few as possible, one hopes, and one assumes they’ll take great efforts to limit the numbers, but to pretend you can go to war and not kill civilians is being willfully blind.

Israel, unlike the US, faces enemies who proudly broadcast their intention to destroy it, in the most basic meaning of the word “destroy”. So Israel must choose: will it defend itself even if thereby some number of innocent civilians die, or will it not defend itself, and thereby large numbers of its own civilians will die.

The answer is clear. Any other answer would be immoral.

So, that’s it. I know your methodology, and that of your fans. You’ll now turn to all sorts of other objections and whatabouttery. But I’ve responded to the questions as you posed them, and that’s enough. The whatabouttery is, by definition, about other matters.


Silke said...

An analysis by the New York Times looked at the names of 1,431 casualties and found that

"the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza's 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided."

also to be remembered in Gaza everybody up to the age of 18 is considered a child (what about the 19 year old?)

I am sure genuine children die in Gaza as they do in every conflict but I can't help suspecting that when it comes to reporting on Israel the use of children is rather generously applied.

Right now I find it striking that in German media nobody seems to be bothered about the snippets of Ukraine's politicians' (including the president) rather belligerent language while everybody seems busy to accuse Netanyahu of whatever their wet dreams tell them.

Anonymous said...

To call Elder's readers as "profoundly despised Jews themselves" is dishonest. Out of 22 current comments to the article only a handful of commentators can be considered crazy right wingers. Compare that to Phil's 143 commentator's majority of whose comments are openly anti-semitic. The ratio of crazies is quite different. IMHO.

SerJew said...

The Enlightenment was/is a project. It war too optimistic and naive in many ways. But the modern counter-enlightenment, or Endarkment, has made huge strides through the post-modernist hoax. For these people there´s no objectivity, no truth and reason is just a weapon of hegemonic elites. It´s all about "texts" or "narratives" and they claim to side with the "opressed" that, somehow, is the "right" side. The intellectual and moral bankruptcy of these people is boundless, as with the Marxists and I have the impression that don´t even believe what they say.

David said...

Yaacov, I am glad that you put the exchange up here. Do you mind if I take a lengthy quote from your original message to Weiss for a post on Facebook? I would like to cite some of the material on the killing of civilians in war but I want to make a limited point rather than engage with the full debate with Weiss. I will include a link to this post, of course.

NormanF said...

I should like to note I am the one who alerted the Elder to this exchange of yours that initially appeared on Mondoweiss for which he gave me credit. I too, follow Mondoweiss if only to learn how anti-Semites and Israel haters think of Israel - and its typically one dimensional. So much for the Enlightenment.

And I've let the Elder know of your follow-up observations, which are fine indeed. I fully subscribe to them and it appears reason itself is becoming endangered in the West even as it never took root in the Middle East and the lands of Islam where unbridled fanaticism of both mind and spirit is the rule.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Interestingly, it was you who made a Nazi analogy in the first place, comparing the need to defeat the Palestinians to the need to defeat the Nazis (which, by the way, verges on Holocaust denial).

All references to Nazism in the comments over at Mondoweiss were only made in connection to that analogy of yours. No one said that you yourself are a Nazi, and not a single one of the comments is antisemitic.

SerJew said...

Good grief, Fake Ibrahim al Berto Miraya de Mierda is still wanking around...

Anonymous said...

This is Fake Ibrahim
I wonder if he is related to the Miyara who appropriated the twins Reggiardo Tolosa during the dictatorship? That would explain a lot of his Jew hatred.

Yaacov said...

HI Silke! Log time no talk! Good to see yo're still around, and still being uncommonly intelligent.

David - be my guest, of corse.

Yaacov said...

Thanks, Norman!

Yaacov said...

HiFake-Ibrahim-Alberto! W'eve been out of touch for, what, three years? Such a pleasant period.

Thought experiment for you: who do you think will be around longer, Mondoweiss or Israel?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Hi there, Yaacov! What's three years? As the tango says, twenty years is nothing!

I think Israel will be around longer (which doesn't prove or disprove a thing).

Now some useful information for you: A number of years ago Facebook wasn't that popular. Nowadays, however, you have people with any last name on that social network -- including Miyara.

It turns out Miyara is a Moroccan last name.

So, and for your satisfaction, if you still think (as apparently you do) that I'm Alberto Miyara (which, as always, I'm not confirming or denying), I am an Arab after all, just as I said all along. Popper and my humble self rest vindicated.

Yaacov said...

You already confirmed, Alberto. Yo've forgotten. And having a name which once was connected to Marrocco is a rather tenuous source of idnetity.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Although you're not particularly endowed with logical skills, I expect you to understand the difference between confirming and failing to deny.

I never said that I was born in an Arab country. I told you I'm an Argentinian of Arab descent, which is what I am.

You spoke about the "likelihood that there is nothing particularly Arab about him [i.e. me]". But if I am who you think I am (which I don't confirm or deny), there is something very particularly Arab about me -- my last name.

Will you have the decency to apologize?

SerJew said...

Hey Miyara de Mierda aka al Berto Gusano, are you still writing porno-poetry or just the standard anti-Semitic junk?

BTW, with the help of Cristina la Loca, your Argentina may not survive another year.

Barbara Mazor said...

So many interesting things to say.

The first interesting thing about the Mondoweis Commentariat is that they don't hold Arabs to the same high moral standards that they hold Jews. This basically betrays a colonialist attitude, a pervasive racism towards Arabs.

Today, Yaacov had a twitter exchange with Scott Roth. Scott challenged Yaacov on the use of the Nazi epithet at Mondoweis. So I went to review the comments. I could only get through about 10.

Here is comment 3:
"Lozowick doesnt get that Israel is the Nazis in this situtation.
If you’re a delusional zionist cult member you cant be very intellectual."

The comments are more general ad hominem attack than substantive argument. People who are woefully uninformed. One should not expect intellectual challenge from the intellectually challenged.

Feature article at MW today is about an article by Henry Seigman in which he "explicitly likens Netanyahu’s ideology of Jewish exceptionalism to the ideology of the Nazis."

2nd feature article is about an alleged Jewish guy from Harvard who intentionally trolls Israel/Palestine discussions with anti-Semitic remarks to expose anti-Semites. His remarks are indistinguishable from the Mondoweis commentariat. Maybe they should hire him as a writer.

Hi Silke.

David said...

Silke, ditto to what Yaacov said. Where do you hang out these days (in web space, of course)?

Yaakov, thanks. I want to think a bit about how to present the material so it might be a couple of days before I put anything up. Not that you will notice, I suppose, as I gather that you do not Facebook. In any case, I have started following you on Twitter, where you seem to be enjoying yourself. I cannot bring myself to try to condense my thoughts into tweets, but I do follow various users to keep up with the rapidly developing situation with Gaza.

Silke said...

thank y'all for the welcome

I hang out nowhere these days while still following the news and getting more and more depressed by the trend German media are pursuing. I.e. I feel more and more ashamed of being German the same way I did almost 60 years ago.

Here is an example of what I notice, it's from the BBC but believe me the BBC when compared to German media is fair.

The rebel-held city of Luhansk has been without running water, power and phone communications for 20 days as government forces hold it under siege.

Nowhere I have found even a question that includes or implies the word "unproportional"

Most disgustingly Rudolf Dre├čler (former German ambassador to Israel? and considered a firm supporter of Israel) is quoted by Deutschlandfunk (as close to BBC as German radio can get) as saying BOTH sides aren't yet weak enough to be willing to compromise. IMHO that translates to Hamas must kill a lot more Israelis before ...

Sylvia said...


I am uncomfortable with "Jews will defend themselves" (nothing to do with the narcissistic concerns of that antisemite).

But there are Bedouin, Druze, Christian Arab soldiers defending Israel.I am fairly certain they do it not for the sake of Judaism's survival. They're defending their families, their tribe, their community, their way of life and the country that makes it possible.

Bombs and mortars landed in Rahat just as they did in Sderot and Tel Aviv. Those rockets do not distinguish between Jew and non-Jew and in neighboring Bedouin villages I know they're not sleeping any more than I am.

You make a brilliant argument but I don't entirely agree with the premiss.

"Israel will defend its population despite the fact that innocent civilians might be killed in the process" is about how the majority feels.


Drop a sign of life somewhere every once in a while. You had many of us worried.

David said...

Silke, I am sorry that you find yourself forced to feel so negatively about your country. I am not too happy with American foreign policy right now and have not been for a long time (basically since Bill Clinton) but I do not think that the depth of my feeling is the same as yours.

I hope that the decline in your writing for the web has not been driven by anything really bad. I have found myself with fewer and fewer web sites to visit and on which to comment over the last few years, the retirement of Yaacov's blog having been a particularly serious blow.

Facebook can be useful for staying in touch and for discussions with like minded people. I keep track of Snoopy the Goon of the Simply Jews blog and Petra Marquardt-Bigman there. If you are already on Facebook or decide to be, you can find me there by my real name (without the middle initial).

Take care,
David E. Sigeti

Silke said...

Hi Sylvia

I apologise (I am getting on in years but nothing serious) - as to worrying I can't stop worrying ABOUT YOU whenever the news hit me - having "met" you makes it very very personal for me especially since the older I get and the more eccentric behaviours I permit myself the more aware I get of what the influences of getting bombed at are.

In defence of Yaacov's premise I'd say he couldn't foresee that his e-mail would be other than a personal one and thus I read it in the context of Jew talking with Jew.

That said I had another premiss popping up, when reading it i.e. that Israelis have managed to organise a state where for example I would have my appendix removed without any of the quality fears I'd have anywhere else on the Mediterranean coast.

IMHO achievements in making civilian life possible give strong support to a right to exist - why jump off a winning horse?

Silke said...

Hi, David,

it isn't the state (at least I hope so) it is what judging by what the media publish must be public opinion.

BTW this rather old one I found this morning via the BBC-website and of course I ask myself why pieces like that in the mass media are close to being the needle in the haystack - notice this is from 16 days old and I at least haven't noticed it getting spread in mass media.

As to Facebook I despair of it - each time I try the site I leave it in a hurry in a state of high confusion - it is way beyond my powers of understanding - seriously.

The only reason why I couldn't help getting into it again is that the reporting on Ukraine hitting civilians and their politicians promising strong man action so widely diverts from reporting on Israel that I lost self-control of my self-promised net-abstinence.

YOSEF22ADAR said...

Mr Lozowick please check your mail

Barry Meislin said...

Yaacov, I don't even know why you bother to deal with that sick little puppy.

It is not possible to deal with depravity.

One cannot argue with a

You may think you can, but it's not possible.

(Unless you enjoy getting your words twisted beyond comprehension; unless you delight in the stench of his perverted logic---well then, go right ahead.)

Everything, as you have discovered---everything---is distorted through the prism of his deranged worldview.

Let him---and them all---stew in their highly-cultivated, self-righteous hatred.

May they reap the rewards of their animus.