TruthOut interviews Temple University Professor Emerita of English, American Studies and Women’s Studies Carolyn L. Karcher, who has just edited a book about Jews who used to be Zionists and then decided that they were to moral to allow Jews the right to self-determination.
The book is called “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation.”
Since Judaism is a topic I take seriously, I was curious as to how these people – mostly members of Jewish Voice for Peace – look at Judaism.
The answer is given by the author in the interview:
What is entailed in reclaiming Judaism from Zionism exactly? Could you tell me what it means to “reclaim Judaism from Zionism” as it pertains to this book, in particular?
As I see it, ethical precepts lie at the heart of Judaism: pursue justice, love the stranger, love your neighbor and repair the world. Obviously, all of these ethical precepts are violated by Zionist policy toward Palestinians. And so, what happens when Judaism is married to (or hijacked by) Zionism is that the protection of the Jewish people, the physical survival of the Jewish people, takes precedence over the religion’s ethical teachings.
This professor defines Judaism as a series of cherry-picked brief ethical statements, the last of which is not even in the Torah: “pursue justice, love the stranger, love your neighbor and repair the world.”
This is pre-school level ethics. These “progressives” idea of Judaism does not go beyond what a five year old could understand.
I’m reminded of a joke:
On a transatlantic flight, a rabbi sat next to an astrophysicist. The scientist said that he felt that there was no reason to study the Torah in depth, because it can be summed up with the idea of “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” Everything else beyond that was a waste of time.
The rabbi replied that he didn’t see the purpose of studying astrophysics in depth either, because it could all be summed up with “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.”
To boil down Judaism to a series of ideas no more sophisticated than a nursery rhyme is offensive to any serious Jew. Tens of thousands of Jewish scholars have pored over the source materials and commentaries on Judaism – its laws, ethics, philosophy – for millennia. Ethical questions have been debated and argued over, with arguments that span generations. And these arguments are anchored in Jewish texts and history that in many ways gave the Western world the ethical framework that we are so familiar with.
That is not the only offensive thing Karcher says in that brief section. When she says that “the survival of the Jewish people takes precedence over the religion’s ethical teachings” she is saying that the survival of the Jewish people is not an ethical idea to begin with!
Karcher and her JVP buddies look at real Judaism as an impediment to their puerile versions of “morality.” After all, Abraham and Moses and David fought wars; God punished entire nations – but that version of Judaism holds no moral weight to these moral lightweights.
For her, and presumably her co-authors, there is only one moral imperative, and it is the kindergarten version of morality. They are showing not only ignorance but also breathtaking arrogance.
The questions that come up in real Judaism, and in real world Zionism, are not the pre-school level precepts JVP pretends they are – but how to balance competing ethical rules.
How to treat Palestinians while still protecting the lives of Israelis? Do you choose to attack a house with a terrorist inside from the air or from the ground, endangering more troops? Do you open the border on Jewish holidays when there is a history of attacks on those very holidays? Do you allow online incitement to go unchecked or do you arrest the ones who are advocating murdering Jewish civilians? Is it moral to abandon Jewish nationalism to give way to Palestinian nationalism? Is a 1% chance for a major terror attack enough to inconvenience 1000 people? Is administrative detention a moral choice sometimes? What is allowed in espionage?
These are hard questions. Israel has ethicists as well as rabbis who grapple with these sorts of issues. The IDF has moral codes based on these decisions, and the Israeli court systems apply them to every situation.
No Zionist claims that Palestinian Arabs do not have human rights. Not one. The questions of how to deal with this population of people, some of whom want to destroy you while others want to just live in peace with you, are what every thinking Zionist has to consider.
Those taking the moral high road, pretending that they have the only moral viewpoint yet don’t have the slightest grasp of Judaism or ethics are the immoral ones.
It is not ethical to decide that Israel is wrong and then finding “ethical” arguments to support that position, while purposefully ignoring the arguments that would make you uncomfortable. It is an insult to the very idea of ethics. It is an insult to generations of Jews who take their faith seriously. It is an insult to Israelis and Zionists who struggle with where to draw the line for competing ethical directives. It is an insult to the very field of ethics. The cover of her book, showing a Torah whose teaching are directly in contradiction to her “Jewish ethics,” is offensive and insulting, as is the title.
The Torah says sometimes you have to go to war. The Torah says you must prioritize the lives of your people over your enemies. “Loving the stranger” does not include people who want to murder you.
In truth, the “ethics” espoused by Karcher and JVP are unethical and immoral. All the proof we need is Karcher’s statement that protecting Jews and the Jewish people is not an ethical imperative, but “tikun olam” is – the immoral idea that one should prioritize others before your own people. Taken to the extreme, Karcher’s stated “ethics” would mean that she must fly to Gaza to try to save Palestinian lives (“love the stranger”) while her own daughter starves to death (“physical survival of the Jewish people.”)
When your morals are that simplistic, they are not moral.
Karcher, and her JVP friends, should be ashamed.
If they had any real sense of morality, they would be.
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