The Crisis of Relativism


With the shocking news of attacks on Monday, of the 80 year old Jewish woman and a Jewish man in his 40’s, both in critical condition after they were stabbed by a 19 year old Palestinian terrorist, it’s hard to know how to even begin making sense of such a tragedy. Or how to make sense of how the rest of the world can sit back and watch it all happen, and remain so quiet. Any bias against Israel in the wake of such brutality is enough to shock any intellectually and morally stable person; the fact of the bias is technically insane, based on abundant evidence; news and reports that serve as artifacts to showcase the extent of it; in high-definition context.

A fundamental core of the general, global bias is the specific language and lens of relativism with which so many view what is happening to Israel, and to Jews across the world. It’s fairly common knowledge that the denial of anti-Semitism is a component of what allows anti-Semitism to take place. Historically, the larger world’s lack of preemptive response to the early signs of anti-Semitism have led up to major catastrophic events, like the Holocaust. But discussions about pre-emptive actions do not cover the scope and impact of inaction; they barely scrape the surface.

In the case of the Holocaust, consider that the majority of Jews were murdered in the final year of the war, well into the allied engagement and invasion of Europe. Clearly this moves beyond a simple absence of engagement, and speaks as to how that absence played an active and defining role in the final outcomes. Perhaps it should suggest culpability too; or at least push us to inquire and analyze how the actions our leaders did not take connect to the pattern of inaction today, and learn from these comparisons, toward new understanding and possibilities. Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the “same thing over and over and expecting different results”. With that in mind, it should be safe to say that what the world has done or has not done in response to genocide against Jews in the past proves that serious changes to how the world approaches prevention are necessary in order to prevent another Jewish genocide.

Considering the climate of today, I wonder about those that self-identify as tolerant, and even progressive; the many people who would be mortified if ever accused of anti-Semitism. I question how they maintain that identity while simultaneously ignore or generalize Israel’s crisis? These questions apply to the many educated and informed people, raised in the civility of democracy, who care about a litany of social issues, domestically and internationally, and yet remain ambiguous or oppositional in regard to Israel. I’ve heard responses that are painful-to-ingest; bold, unexpected attacks on the moral or human-rights integrity of Israel, and the more common pollyanna statements about “both sides needing to compromise”. As if the question was ever related to compromise, or treaties, and not about violence and direct threats of genocide. In this, and many examples, relativism translates into revisionism.

With the the actual facts on the ground as they tragically stand, both types of responses represent a catastrophic failure in logic and morality to various degree, depending on the nuance and specifics to each version of this strange, but ancient trend of relativism, a kind that has participated in the long history of tragedies faced by Jews across the world.

Just as the modern world has a lot of catching up to do with how history is told and taught, no matter how unflattering that may be to the writers of that history, there needs to be more space for a serious dialogue on the role of relativism, or more accurately, the illusion of it. Society must take responsibility to examine the dangerous role this ideology plays in current anti-Semitism, by incident and as a global movement; one that is growing.

As a credit to the so-called virtues of progressive communities of the modern world, it should be a fair challenge to ask for justifications as to the fact and issue of relativism relating to Israel.  Cautiously, I predict many answers will come in the form of thinly veiled anti-Semitism, indicating a more intense version that history posits as a defining quality for the majority. Surprises would be great,  but either way, for the level of general responsibility assumed by the progressive left for “fixing the world”, at the very least it seems fair to ask it’s leaders to consider the danger of being on the wrong side of this fight, of what it means to go against absolute universal truths; that Jewish life, like any other, has value, and the pursuit of genocide against Jews, in its many and well-known forms, is fundamentally evil and detestable to any good person or society.

So in examining the powerful role of relativism as it serves and perpetuates hatred and violence against Jews, the many specific arguments or generalizations deployed against Israel are erroneous against any semblance of truth and reality, and are merely symptoms of a much deeper global sickness. Just as the compounding illnesses associated with a major disease challenge the discovery of etiology and the right treatment, so these arguments complicate and generalize what is in total fact extremely simple, and by doing so, distract the world from realizing solutions, while perpetuating and spreading the disease. On the actual side of this analogy, the simple proof is in the news, and as Jews across the world mourn for the loss of these victims in Israel today, our collective screams are muffled and wiped out, literally overwhelmed by the pounding forces of silence, opposition and misinformation. What is most at stake becomes lost, adding a layer of tragedy to what is already incomparably tragic; an innocent 80 year old woman meeting her death at the hands of a hateful teenager, supported in his crime by his community, an act of cruelty committed for no other reason than because she was a Jew.

About the Author
Raised in Jerusalem, New York City and Paris, Rabbi Barouk completed Smicha and Dayanas at Yeshivat Or Elchonon. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Rabbi Barouk frequently visits New York and has close family in Jerusalem and Paris.