Albert Wachtel

Blind moral certainty


There are facts that can change reasoning minds, but others, convinced of their moral righteousness, cheat and lie, thinking their corruption moral because it advances their “righteous” cause. They are beyond help.

That’s what the supporters of Christianity as a religion did about 2,000 years ago, demonizing Jews to separate the church from the sect of Judaism that Jesus’s early Jewish followers and pagan converts took it to be. The vicious practice found rich soil, and though it was dug up temporarily a little less than 2000 years later after the mid-twentieth century Holocaust, the weeds of anti-Semitism are spreading again. They sprang to life in many zones as the late twentieth century approached and are vastly multiplying in the twenty-first.

Two examples from the not too distant the past:

At the dawn of the twentieth century, inheriting anti-Semitism as a form of morality, the French military and legal system chose to condemn a young Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, of treason instead of the Christian traitor whom they knew to be guilty. Exposing them publicly, Emile Zola got Dreyfus freed. But not exonerated. And Zola, the great French Naturalist, was convicted of criminal libel for the deed. He had to flee to England to avoid arrest.

That horrific display of moral certainty by the French military and judiciary crested in Germany with the Nazi madness of contradictory lies, at once asserting that Jews were taking over the country and were inferior.

They were defeated, but the Holocaust that accompanied the war horrified enough of the world for anti-Semitism to quiet down. Now the attitude and the big lies that framed it are back. In Washington D.C., Donald Trump, even before the assault on the Capitol, unleashed extreme right supporters who were boiling with hatred of Blacks, Jews and people of color generally. After the January 6 assault on Congress, many of those haters were arrested. But others are still free.

Indeed, many people in Congress are worrisome. Fortunately, with President Joe Biden in office, past connections to the White House of White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis and racists is over. The moral certainty that cloaked their outrageous detestation goes with them. But they are still grumbling, a very large minority.

Sadly, anti-Semitism on the left, which eventually deigned to support centrist Joe Biden to force Mr. Trump out of office, is now flourishing. Its moral certainty like that of the other extreme is an inherited disease. “Jews are white,” some of them chant, thinking that a moral condemnation. But it is neither moral nor entirely factual. Though they are few, Jews come in a multitude of national, political and racial colors. And like all other people they count the good, bad and indifferent among them. Bayard Rustin, the great Black advocate of equality for Blacks and other minorities, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, and the teacher of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., embraced Jews, as did Dr. King and their passionate young colleague who grew into yet another moral giant, the late Senator John Lewis.

Aware of this, some left wingers shift to anti-Israel lies. Among other things they assert that it has inordinate influence on the American government. They also craft the historically false argument that Israel failed to offer the Palestinians a nation.

That Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, is a crucial American ally is true, but influence generally flows to Israel from America. And the failure to create a Palestinian state, sadly, is the responsibility of the Palestinians. Israel’s past centrist and leftwing leaders on several occasions offered the Palestinians a country on the West Bank but were turned down.

Beleaguered by false accusations and unjustified attacks, even from Europe and the Americas, and looking back at two thousand years of criminal moral certainties that led to tortures and genocides over the centuries, issuing into the criminal “moral certainty” of the present, Israelis elected and reelected rightwing governments over the past 12 years. Assaults on the country, ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians, who rejected several offers of nationhood, a contemporary version of diseased moral certainty, perhaps with the intent of destroying the Jewish nation, led to those rightwing elections.

The time has come for both the right and left to inoculate themselves against the disease of moral certainty. Let us all look back at the grand examples of Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis. Let us remember the inspiration that brilliant Black slaves took from the ancient Jewish escape from slavery and from the prophets who followed that escape.

Let all who want equality for our Black, brown and otherwise colored brothers and sisters, non-heterosexuals and any other people denied the rights and opportunities that we should all share, embrace one another and march forward, Great numbers correctly pursuing a great cause cannot be denied.

About the Author
Albert Wachtel , a PROFESSOR EMERITUS at Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, writes essays on politics, social and literary situations and short stories, often concerning Jews and Israel. His ongoing lectures, short and long are available at YouTube: ProfessorWachtel