Saturday, December 28, 2019

Anti-Semitism as a Plot to Kill Jews: Two Counter-Arguments

In the previous post, I made the argument that to be an active anti-Zionist, in practice, means to be complicit in a plot to kill Jews. As such, anti-Zionism should be deemed a form of anti-Semitism. I would like to consider here two counter-arguments. The first is that Israel really is guilty of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Therefore, it cannot be anti-Semitic to tell the truth and stand up for human rights. The second is that I should hold myself to the same standard. If I wish to consider myself self a Zionist who is not anti-Palestinian I should be willing to distance myself from Jewish supremacist Zionists.

What is interesting about the argument that Israel is, in fact, a genocidal regime and therefore it is not anti-Semitic to say so is that, like Princess Leia calling the Empire evil, it is not an argument but a confession. Of course, anti-Semites believe that that they are right. The Nazis believed they were right and their logic was unassailable. If you believed that a Spectra like organization was plotting to take over the world and that the leadership of this group consisted primarily of Scotsmen, you should kill all Scottish people, including little children. Anyone who objects to such genocide is not a humanitarian but a hostis humani generis (an enemy of the human race). Clearly, a definition of anti-Semitism that rested on whether we honestly believe that Judaism is a conspiracy to destroy the world is going to be pretty worthless. We need a definition that is practical and to the point such as are you trying to kill Jews.

Readers may recall the dramatic courtroom climax of A Few Good Men in which Tom Cruise's character cross exams Jack Nickolson's Colonel Jessup as to whether he ordered a man to be Code Reded, hazed.

The scene relies on the idea that there are two conversations that we could have about Code Reds. The first is whether it is sometimes necessary for soldiers to do things that violate conventional morality like torturing fellow soldiers for violating military protocol. It is quite possible that the Colonel is right. In an actual war, we would probably wink and nod at charges of physical abuse and we would not be having this trail in the first place. In an ideal world perhaps, even in peacetime, lawyers who have not been in combat would be grateful to real soldiers and not question how that protection is provided.

The problem for the Colonel is that he is being baited into having this conversation in a military court where this such talk is absolutely counterproductive to his cause. The relevant conversation for the court is the simple factual of whether or not he ordered a Code Red. If he gave those orders, however right he may have been, he is going to jail. Sometimes, one can be right and still lose. Thus, the Colonel's defense becomes his confession.

There is a further lesson in all this. We know that the Colonel is guilty the moment he makes it obvious that he approves of Code Reds regardless of their legality. Even the prosecutor, early in the film, seems to acknowledge the likelihood that the Code Red order was given. This is why he offers a very generous plea bargain that the soldiers only turn down because they refuse, as a matter of principle, to admit they did anything wrong.

In truth, it would not have mattered if the Colonel had actually given the order or even if that order was ever followed. The moment, he allowed his subordinates to believe that Code Reds were acceptable, he was already guilty as even his order not to do Code Reds would be interpreted as ordering one with a wink and a nudge.

If you say that Zionists control the government you are guilty of murdering Jews even before a member of your audience carries out the act. To be guilty of conspiracy, you do not have to actually order anyone murdered.

The second argument is much more challenging. Should I not admit that I am an anti-Palestinian, plotting to kill Palestinians in alliance with Jewish Supremacists. The tempting defense is that the Palestinians are trying to kill us. As we have seen, this is not a defense but a confession.

The only solution is to plead guilty. I may quibble with parts of the Israeli right-wing agenda, such as the nation-state laws, travel bans against BDS supporters, and keeping Netanyahu in office, as I think they are counter-productive. At the end of the day though, I honestly believe that, at present, ending Israel as a Jewish State would, in practice, mean the mass murder of Jews. Similarly, giving the Palestinians an honest state, one in which they could receive weapons from Iran and stop the Israeli army from pursuing terrorists across the border, is also an invitation to make Jewish blood cheap again. This means that our options are the mass expulsion/murder of Palestinians or the continuation of some form of occupation.

Because of this, I readily acknowledge that Palestinians have good reason to hate me and even to kill me. I have entered into a conspiracy to kill them. Make no mistake about it, a world in which people like me are left alive is a world in which Palestinians will have to choose between giving up almost all of their aims of national liberation or dying.

In my defense, I can still claim to be different from most of my anti-Zionist opponents in that I am honest about the moral cost of my Zionism. I do not claim to be some kind of humanitarian. There are some important implications to this. Because I recognize that I am talking about killing people, you can expect me to hesitate and question myself as the consequences of being wrong are nothing less than damnation. Also, because I accept that we are talking about killing because I do not see any better options, I can empathize with the Palestinian who turns to terrorism because he feels his back to the wall. This makes peace possible. You can sign an agreement with your enemy as long as you recognize his fundamental humanity.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Why Is the Rebellion Justified?

In honor of the new Star Wars movie, I would like to pose a question to my non-anarchist readers; why is the Rebellion (whether the original one or the Resistance) justified? Specifically, why are you willing to defend the Rebellion and not the Separatists of the prequels? If you think about it, the Separatists have a much stronger case. The goal of the Separatists is to create a separate government from the Old Republic and live in peace with it, not destroy it. The Rebellion seeks to destroy the Empire.

The tempting argument is to say that the Old Republic is simply incompetent while the Empire is evil. The problem is that this argument actually strengthens the imperial position. First, by making a pragmatic argument you throw away the principled high ground. If the Rebellion is a matter of utilitarian calculus then it is hardly obvious that getting billions of sentient brings killed in a galactic civil war on the off chance that the Rebellion wins and manages to create a functional government is justifiable.

Second, clearly neither the Separatists nor the Empire necessarily accepts this premise of the moral standing of the Old Republic and Empire. Separatists would argue that the Old Republic is bad. For example, it is being run by a Sith Lord. An imperial apologist would point out that the Empire is being run by the same Sith Lord so it cannot be worse than the Old Republic. Therefore Separatists and Imperials would be able to fight their wars and believe they are right.

These two arguments set up the third argument that the very act of Rebel propaganda (the opening crawl) calling the Empire evil undermines the Rebellion's case and justifies every imperial counter-measure. Imagine an alternative New Hope in which the Rebellion captures the Death Star instead of blowing it up. The Rebel leadership meets to consider two choices. Either defeat the Empire by using the Death Star against Coruscant or give up the fight against the Empire. Anyone who seriously believes that the Empire is evil and that the Rebellion is the only hope for the galaxy must choose the first option.

Any Rebellion “moderates” looking at the ruins of Coruscant and wishing to Pontius Pilate themselves by claiming that they support human rights and not mass murder must be a liar or an idiot. The moment the Rebellion called the Empire evil and these people did not turn on the Rebellion, they had signed a pact in blood to blow up planets.

This does not mean that the Rebellion is wrong. If Rebels honestly believe that the Empire is evil and they are willing to follow the logic of their convictions to their Hobbesian conclusions then so be it. As all we know about the Galaxy Far Far Away's politics comes from Rebel sources, we can have no opinion about the Empire. We must proceed on the assumption that the only reliable facts are those harmful to the Rebellion.

Once we accept that the Rebellion is morally tainted by the very nature of their claims against the Empire, the ironic conclusion is that the Empire gets a moral blank check to crush the Rebellion to the extent that it is difficult to plausibly argue that the Empire is evil. Imagine that the blast helmet people object to Grand Moff Tarkin’s “you may fire when ready” order against Alderaan. (This is assuming that we even accept the Rebel claim that the Empire is responsible for the destruction of Alderaan.) Tarkin asks Leia about the intentions of the Rebellion. She would not be able to deny that the Rebellion is a conspiracy to murder billions of people including every person on the Death Star, even the blast helmet people trying her (which is what happens at the end of the movie). The moment she responds, by attacking imperial policy, she is confessing. Whether or not Leia is right or not in killing billions of people is irrelevant to the fact that she is trying to do so.

It is not as if Alderaan and the other Rebel planets are trying to secede from the Empire. On the contrary, they seek to overthrow the Empire even at the cost of murdering all supporters of the Empire. The fact that most people on Alderaan might not be Rebels is irrelevant. The fact that Leia and her father have been so reckless as to endanger the galaxy and their home planet means that they are the ones who are truly responsible for Alderaan’s destruction. Thus, the blast helmets can fire when ready with a clear conscience as they are not required to make martyrs of themselves.

To be clear, this is not a defense of the Empire overall as a political institution. Again, I am neutral in regard to the facts of Star Wars. This is simply a demonstration of the Hobbesian logic of calling the Empire evil and how it damages the Rebel case. I can only conclude that the Separatist cause is justified as it does not require the initiation of violence against the Old Republic. The Rebellion is not justified as it is premised on initiating a war with the Empire. This makes all the atrocities of the war, including the destruction of Alderaan, the fault of the Rebellion. So much for fighting for justice in the galaxy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism? My Response to Mehdi Hasan

Here is a recent Intelligence Squared debate about Israel in which the pro-Israel side loses badly. The problem here is that the motion on the floor is whether anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. Clearly, it is at least hypothetically possible to sincerely oppose Israel without being an anti-Semite. The pro-Israel speakers, Melanie Phillips and Einat Wilf, never adequately address this issue. What they try to do is argue that anti-Zionism itself, as an ideology, is anti-Semitic even if not all anti-Zionists are themselves anti-Semites; such people simply fail to fully understand their own beliefs.

To make things worse, we have Mehdi Hasan in the opposition. Hassan’s chief strength is that he is a Muslim who is clearly not an Anti-Semite despite being opposed to Israel. He understands that there are lines not to cross and he acknowledges that many people on his side cross this line. Paired with Ilan Pappe, whose Jewish identity allows him to be the rabid one, Hasan gets to sit back and be the "moderate," assuring the audience that opposing the Israeli government and even wanting to replace it with a secular Jewish-Palestinian State does not make someone an anti-Semite. Perhaps I am too easy on Hasan due to my dismally low expectations for Muslims when it comes to anti-Semitism. The fact that he does not foam at the mouth is so surprising as to make him a model of reasonableness.

And this leads to one of the reasons why anti-Zionism, in practice, is anti-Semitism. What I never cease to find so shocking about the anti-Zionist movement is the extent that they do not even bother to seriously pretend that they are about anything other than killing Jews. This is different from the contemporary liberal discourse on hate speech where anything said by anyone who is not part of the "woke" set will be interpreted as hateful through a series of increasingly arcane hermeneutics even if it was perfectly acceptable even for Democratic politicians to say the exact same thing just a few years ago.

I am not asking anyone to be on board with Netanyahu or like Zionism. You do not even have to be an expert on Jewish thought or what bothers Jewish activists. All I am asking is that you do not say things that used to be obvious, only a few years ago, that you should not say. I am reminded of the Simpson's episode in which Sideshow Bob is able to be released from prison despite having tattooed "Die Bart Die" onto his chest.


This also is a reason to focus on leftist anti-Semitism, which tends to operate under the banner of anti-Zionism, as opposed to right-wing anti-Semitism even though both are legitimate threats. I expect people on the left to have absorbed political correctness and with it a certain caution with how their words might be interpreted by others. With conservatives, there is much more room to interpret them charitably as speaking in anger. If someone from the left says something that implies murder, they should be taken with complete literalness.

Let us acknowledge two non-contradictory truths. Palestinians have good reasons to not be happy with Israel and have justifiable reasons to use violence. Anti-Zionism, despite its theoretical merits, has come to serve as cover for killing Jews. To be clear, our concern is not people who dislike Jews or say politically incorrect things but people who are actively trying to get Jews killed.

One might argue that when we are dealing with plots to kill Jews we should only focus on those who are literally firing rockets at us or trying to stab us. The reality is that the justification for mass murder is part of the action itself. For this reason, not even J. S. Mill thought speakers egging on angry mobs were protected by free speech. We have the example of Julius Streicher, the editor of the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer. He was hanged at Nuremberg as a conspirator in Nazi crimes despite the fact that he never was in a position to order anyone killed. The Holocaust required the propaganda efforts of people like Streicher. Thus, he was not a martyr to free speech but a mass murderer as guilty as the people who ran concentration camps.

By this logic, we should not treat apologists for Palestinian terrorism as morally any different from the terrorists themselves. If you call for "Zionists" to be murdered and people kill Jews, you have entered into a conspiracy to murder Jews. It does not matter if you are not a Hamas officer and have never been in contact with them. You have helped to create an environment in which terrorists have reason to believe that their actions will not harm their cause. This makes it more likely that attacks will happen. Thus, you are an enabler of terrorism. If we allow either the enabler or the terrorist to operate freely Jews will die.

So what about the honest anti-Zionists out there like Mahdi Hasan? Ideas do not exist in a vacuum. There can be ideas tainted by their historical associations and the people who use them. For example, I believe that making voters pass a civics test could be a positive reform and would support it in any country besides the United States. In this country, literacy tests for voting played an important role in segregation. That history cannot be pushed under the rug. This thinking extends to conservatives and libertarians who wish to talk about state rights. It can be done but you have to be careful.

Let us be clear, this is not the genetic fallacy. I am not saying that tests for voting are bad because of their racist past nor am I suggesting that all people who support them are racists. (Again, I think, in theory, they might be a good idea.) That being said, it is reasonable for blacks to be on the lookout for people who wish to kill them. If the only way you can think to reform elections is through voter tests then it is a signal that you are not a friend of the black community. It does not matter if this is true or not. Blacks would still be justified, as a practical matter of self-defense, in treating you as if you had entered into a plot to lynch them.

Similarly, I would argue that, once we admit that there are anti-Zionists who wish to kill Jews and that these people are more than just a fringe element of the movement, at a certain point the whole concept of anti-Zionism becomes tainted. It reaches the point where, even though a person accepts the essential argument of anti-Zionism as a theory, operating a non anti-Semitic anti-Zionist movement becomes almost impossible.

Every movement, whether libertarianism or anti-Zionism, had its share of deplorables. The key issue is whether it is possible to disassociate oneself from them. This means that you do not praise them, you do not share a platform, and do not act in a way that benefits them. For example, as a libertarian, I have disassociated myself from Ron Paul and the Rothbardian wing of the movement because they are tainted by racism and anti-Semitism. This is the case even I mostly agree with them in terms of policies. It is not even that I think such people are necessarily bigots. Defending them, even though intellectually doable, simply distracts from the legitimate libertarian message of transcending the right and left partisan divide to open our borders and cut government spending on the drug war at home and nation-building abroad.

We might imagine our non anti-Semitic anti-Zionist spending months organizing a rally to denounce Israel’s blockade of Gaza. You better screen the speakers. It is ok if some of them have made inappropriate remarks in the past as long as no one has been party to murder either directly or rhetorically. You want to memorialize Palestinians killed by Israel; fine, as long as you make sure those people were not members of terrorist organizations. And if Hamas or Islamic Jihad start launching rockets the day before the rally, you need to cancel it. Anything less and you can no longer Pontius Pilate yourself. You are a party to a conspiracy to kill Jews.

In a similar fashion, terms that may be innocuous by themselves can become tainted. Take the terms, for example, "intifada," "jihad," and "from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free."

While it is possible to use these terms in ways that do not imply violence. Since they have become code words for violence, you do not get claim your own particular understanding of the term. You use these terms and I have the right to assume, as a matter of self-defense, that you are plotting to kill Jews. 

In this matter, it is important to bend over backward to demonstrate non-hostile intent. Remember that it is your enemies judging you. As a Jew and the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I am not obligated to wait until I am completely sure that you are plotting to kill me. If you choose to call me a Nazi and cooperate with people who are trying to kill me I will assume that you are trying to kill me and wash my hands of any responsibility for your blood.