Yair Lapid, Israel’s Minister of Finance and the head of Yesh Atid, Israel’s second largest political party, wrote an article titled The Betrayal of The Intellectual on Huffington Post. The article is worth examining because I think it shows just how disconnected people involved in Israeli politics are from reality. And also because the arguments are so terrible that they deserve a response. His main claim is that intellectuals lack moral conviction and are responding to Israel’s attacks on Gaza out of sentiment. He says:
Too many American and European intellectuals have taken moral relativism to its absurd extreme, falling back upon the ‘validity of every narrative’ and repeating the mantra that ‘every story has two sides.’ They treat those who have a clear moral stance as primitive. For them, if you take a moral stand or choose a side in a conflict you must lack the necessary tolerance to “see the other side.”
It seems a distant memory but not long ago intellectuals did the exact opposite. They were the ones who helped us differentiate between good and evil, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. They didn’t delve into the childhood of Senator McCarthy or ask whether the Germans felt a genuine sense of hardship. The debate wasn’t over feelings but the essence of truth.
. . .
The betrayal of the intellectuals was especially noticeable during the days of the operation in Gaza. Ostensibly, there should be no question as to who enlightened people should support; on one side of the conflict stands a western democracy, governed by the rule of law, which warns civilians before striking legitimate terrorist targets. On the other side stands an Islamist terrorist organization, homophobic and misogynistic, committed to killing Jews, which does all in its power to murder innocent civilians and hides behind its own women and children when carrying out its vicious attacks.
But those intellectuals see it differently. For them, the Palestinians are suffering more and so they must be right. Why? Because they have turned suffering into the only measure of justice.
First I should say that I haven’t heard anyone “falling back upon the ‘validity of every narrative’ and repeating the mantra that ‘every story has two sides.'” It would have been nice if he would have actually used some real examples here.
Aside from that suggesting that there is no clear party who is morally more responsible in conflict, which is a historical claim, is very different from moral relativity, which is a moral theory. Just because you think a situation is complicated and there are mitigating factors doesn’t mean you think that there are no moral facts. It is just means you don’t think it is a moral fact that in some particular situation one party is the good guy and one party is the bad guy. That fact that he equates the two is quite strange.
It is a classic fundamentalist view of the world that sees everything as black and white and separates the world into good guys and bad guys. Intellectuals rightly reject such a shallow view of the world but that certainly doesn’t make them moral relativists. He blatantly just says “We are the good guys and they are the bad guys,” which is pretty much what Sam Harris says as well. It is patently absurd to claim to be the good guys.
Israelis can’t understand why the world doesn’t support them when Hammas is shooting fireworks, I mean rockets, into Israel. The rest of the world sees the moral bankruptcy of Israel’s claim to self-defense, and the United States claim that Israelis have a right to self-defense, when it is the country that is occupying Palestine!
No one disagrees that Israel has a right to defend itself, every person and every country does. But what Israel is doing is not self-defense.
The Palestinians are not right because they are suffering more, they are right because Israel has occupied Palestine in violation of international law all norms of human decency and morality.
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