Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Defending Yourself While Jewish ≅ Driving While Black

The outrageous disproportion between allegations against Israel and against other countries has been noted many times.  It has been variously attributed to anti-semitism, left-wing bias, European guilt, truckling to terrorism, truckling to Arab oil and so forth.

What I haven't heard pointed out is that this focus on Israel is the moral equivalent of a civil-rights violation.  Western liberals will often want to ignore the disproportion in favor of examining the allegations themselves.  After all, if Israel is actually guilty of the imputed crimes, doesn't that fact stand on its own?

Well, as it happens, at least in American thinking, it doesn't.  If a sheriff's department consistently pulls a disproportionate number of minorities over for speeding, the question of whether they were actually speeding becomes not-merely secondary but actually irrelevant.  When a law is selectively enforced in such a fashion what concerns us is the abuse of power and the probability that ulterior motives are at work.  And the standard for "disproportionate" here is way, way below the disproportionate treatment of Israel.

So the next time some BDS proponent or SJP member lamely explains his focus on Israel with "we have to start somewhere" or "I get to choose for myself which issues to be involved in", tell him you look at him as you would Deputy Redneck rousting someone for Driving While Black, with the same near-certainty that his motives are discreditable and the certainty that he's undermining the system that he's claiming to uphold.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

No, I'm Not Going to Call This "Something Rotten in the State of Denmark"

So the Danish Ambassador defended Europe's holding Israel to a higher standard than it does the Arabs (I'll post the link from The Blaze because the Post tends to charge for viewing its articles).  Jeff Goldberg has made a similar defense in The Atlantic.

This position tends to generate a fair amount of outrage in the quarters one would expect, but it really shouldn't -- at least not for the obvious reason.  If we restate "holding to a higher standard" as "expecting better of", then of course we expect better of Israel.  We'd have to ignore a century of Jewish and Arab behavior to expect otherwise.

It's true that the Europeans' finger-wagging and threats, their holding Israel to a higher standard than not-only the Arabs but themselves, is simply contemptible, and Caroline Glick quite properly lambasted the Ambassador for it.  (Of course the past century also teaches us expect more of the Jews than of the Europeans, but if the Europeans raise that point it should be with an attitude of shame, not superiority.)  Still, bottom line:  We have to admit that we're way better than our neighbors.

No, the problem isn't the double-standard; it's the failure to follow the double-standard's implications.  It's only rational to expect the Palestinians to maintain its desire for Israel's destruction; to have no qualms about lying to us, to themselves and to the world about, well, anything; to encourage violence against our civilian population; to seek to militarize regardless of any negotiated undertakings.  But to give them a pass on their peccancies while insisting that Israel treat with them as moral equals, negotiate on the assumption of their good faith and their desire, and ability, to live peacefully with us, well, that just makes no sense at all.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

A letter I just sent to Representative Steve Israel

[Steve Israel is the congressman of my pied a terre in NY.]

Dear Representative Israel,

I agree with your stance on supporting Israel against Hamas.  I have the strong impression, though, that the Obama Administration is pursuing a policy unlikely to advance American interests.  The turn towards Qatar and Turkey (and away from Egypt now that the Muslim Brotherhood has been ousted); the unnecessary and frankly immoral insistence that Israel "do more" to minimize civilian casualties, when it should be obvious to any unbiased observer that it's already doing more than any other nation, including our own, and would happily call the operation off entirely were its own civilians' safety ensured; the FAA ban that, while it may have been a purely professional decision, still warrants full disclosure rather than what seems to be stonewalling.  All these and more make me very leery of the Administration's grasp of foreign affairs and of the proper way to prosecute American interests.

I don't expect us to police the world; our resources aren't limitless, and there are righteous fights that we must regretfully decline to get drawn into.  But we should at least speak the moral truth, show friendship to those who share our values and at best indifference to those who do not.  I don't agree with Henry Kissinger that "America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests," but with Thomas Jefferson that "The interests of a nation, when well understood, will be found to coincide with their moral duties."

I can't prove that my way will serve us better, but I shouldn't have to.  The burden of proof should devolve on those who want us to behave venally.

I therefore ask of you that, beyond your own personal duties as a representative, you work within your party (which has distanced itself from your stance on Israel) to promote this attitude and its particular application to the Middle East.

Thank you.

Michael Berkowitz

Monday, March 03, 2014

My first Wikipedia edit

To the "popular culture" section of the entry on Road to Mandalay I added a reference to Animal Crackers.

A proud moment.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Response to Peter Ludlow

Peter Ludlow had a piece a couple of weeks ago in The Stone at the NYT.

In it he defends all the recent leakers (Snowden, Manning et al) as brave souls fighting a tyrannical system in the only way they can.  He essentially portrays them as refusing to be "good Germans", and if he doesn't use those words he does start off by quoting Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Ludlow quotes David Brooks and John Bolton making blanket dismissals of the same leakers for allowing their self-confidence to trump their allegiance to their coworkers and compatriots, and to the systems in which they worked.  Ludlow himself all-but-dismisses the possibility that people can police the organizations over which they have authority, a point I'll revisit in a moment.

What they're all ignoring, probably because iffiness makes for bad copy, is that there are no rules of behavior that will make the decision to blow-the-whistle or not into something that can be calculated by a computer.  "Good Germans" were very bad people, not because they they followed orders but because they knew that the orders were evil, that the people they were persecuting didn't deserve it, that they ignored the plight of their neighbors out of fear, not loyalty, and all the other pathologies attendant on the phenomenon.

There are always cases that call for breaking ranks, breaking faith, betraying (perhaps in a narrow sense) your own side.  And there will always be cases where the goal can be accomplished -- perhaps with  great deal of pain and difficulty -- within the system, or where the damage is disproportionate to what's accomplished.

And there's no way to know for certain which situation you find yourself in.

So we can tinker with the laws for the punishment of treason and those for the protection of whistle-blowers, but we're never going to get it exactly right and we'll sometimes misapply what we do have.  This is not only natural, but to an extent desirable:  We want people to think long and hard about tattling and about keeping silent; the consideration should be in proportion to the consequences.

As for Ludlow's vision of organizations as corporate entities with agendas seemingly divorced from those of the people running them, it reads like a tract on Class Warfare and is hard to take seriously.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Another Unpublished Letter to the J'lem Post

To the Editor,

According to Marcie Lenk, the majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens, regardless of denomination, could agree on the just and compassionate society invoked by Isaiah, and this would serve as an expression of the Jewishness of the state.  I find this curious.  Is she suggesting that non-Jews are less interested in justice and compassion than Jews?  No, in fact she says that most societies now share these values.  So what makes them Jewish?  Is it that we invented them, as the Scots did haggis, or perfected them, as the French did rudeness?  Either way, they would constitute a rather anemic expression of Jewishness.

And would Isaiah have smiled upon his countrymen when, having clothed the naked and fed the hungry, they rode their bikes through Yom Kippur, a cheeseburger in one hand and a girl in the other?  Hardly, as Marcie is well-aware.

Another curious point:  Marcie writes that Israel shouldn’t be a theocracy because that is unpopular (“rejected by Israel’s founders and rejected by the government and most of the people of the State of Israel”) and illegal (“freedom of religion and freedom from religion must be protected, as is promised in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty”).  Yet “the Chief Rabbinate does have too much power in cases of Jewish family law”, which power I assume it has by law and by popular support as expressed through our elected representatives.

So, since laws and votes are good when they support Marcie’s position and bad when they contravene it, I have to assume that at base Marcie dislikes the Chief Rabbinate, and possibly Orthodoxy in general, and that all the rest is just window-dressing.