The Truth Teller’s Dilemma

To be fair we should sympathize with all human loss.
We should try to avoid it at all costs.

Anyone who wants to find out what anti-Semites are saying can turn to YouTube.

I wanted to find out for myself. So I entered the words “Jewish Bankers” in YouTube’s search box. I found an endless stream of videos that purport to reveal the “truth” about Jews.

I heard lectures by articulate and convincing speakers. According to them, there is a secretive international cabal of Jews, linked to one another by “invisible threads.” They have plotted for years to control the world, using international financial systems. In this way they have surreptitiously drained billions of dollars of wealth from honest working people all over the world.

In these anti-Semitic videos, Jews’ craftiness is exceeded only by their greed. They have few scruples and work tirelessly to rip-off their own countries in order to amass wealth and concentrate it in Jewish hands. They never contribute anything of value to the societies in which they live. Rather, they steal the ideas and resources of others in order to achieve their evil ends.

Other sets of You Tube videos present the sermons of radical Islamic preachers, many in the U.S. and Europe. One stands out in my mind. An imam, in flowing white robes and speaking with an educated British accent, teaches a room of followers. The Jews, he says, revised the Torah for their evil purposes. They re-worded the Torah to allow Jews to charge interest, but not to their fellow Jews. They use usury as a weapon against non-Jews.

All of this is, of course, an invention.

The Dilemma

These videos are disturbing. Of course I never want to be like these anti-Semites. Although reading and viewing anti-Semitic rants are not pleasant experiences, I have benefitted in one way.

These presentations have forced me to ask myself, “When I criticize radical Islam, as I do in my blogs, am I in any way like these anti-Semites on You Tube?”

I had run into the Truth Teller’s Dilemma.

The Truth Teller’s Dilemma is the ethical challenge that confronts every commentator who criticizes any belief system or any group of people. My ethical dilemma in a nutshell: How can I justifiably criticize radical Islam, its beliefs, practitioners and enablers, without encouraging prejudice, misunderstanding and hate toward Muslims in general?

This is no small concern. Muslims already face prejudice in Western societies and they are at times, targets of harassment and violence due solely to their faith.

Any group of people can be targeted unfairly in this way.

At the same time, no group should be immune from criticism. So for example, I should not hesitate to criticize Islam when it is warranted. Keeping silent about Islam’s shortcomings does no favor to Muslims—-many of whom cannot speak out for fear of retribution. Nor does it help the wider society.

But it just won’t do to cry “Islamophobia” at any criticism of Muslims or “anti-Semitism” at any criticism of Jews.

The Ethical Path

To help resolve the Truth Teller’s dilemma, I propose the following guidelines for critical and ethical discourse. These guidelines, of course, apply to criticisms of every group.

  1. Tell the truth. Although self-evident, this is easier said than done. What is true often depends on where one is sitting. Does the hijab protect women and enhance their feeling of security, or is it an unfair imposition of male chauvinist values? Does Jewish land purchase in Palestine give the purchasers a moral claim to the property, or is it a violation of the rights of previous owners?

Determining the truth is like bobbing for apples in a barrel: Once in a while you’ll get a bite, but most of the time you will have to settle for much less. Who is to say what the truth is?

We should make the effort to be truthful. The purpose of these guidelines is to do just that.

  1. Distinguish between fact and opinion. Fact: In 1922, the League of Nations granted historic Palestine to the Jews for the re-establishment of a Jewish Home, that is, a Jewish state. Opinion: The Jews have the moral right to settle this land. Another opinion: The Arabs have a moral right to reserve these lands for Arabs alone.

Acknowledging the difference between fact and opinion does not resolve the conflict. It just sets the stage for a fair discussion.

  1. Handle generalizations with kid gloves. This is closely related to number 2 above. Generalization: Most terrorist attacks in the world today are motivated by the religious beliefs of radical Muslims.

Although this is true, most Muslims are not violent. Here it is important to avoid ascribing the actions and motivations of a minority to the majority.

  1. Present all the relevant evidence. Don’t cherry-pick facts to support your argument. Man up and admit all the evidence, even that which contradicts your argument or paints your side in a negative light.

Pro-Israel advocates like to quote Mark Twain’s description of 1860s Palestine as a barren wasteland. They do this to argue that Palestine was largely impoverished and uninhabited before the Jews began their return to the land in 1891. On the other hand, Arab apologists point to the fertile and productive Jezreel Valley. They do this to support their argument that the Arabs of Palestine did just fine, thank you, before the mass Jewish immigration.

Jews highlight the extensive Jewish land purchases prior to the Israeli state. Arabs zero in on the properties lost by Arabs when they fled, or in some instances, were expelled from Israel in 1948-1949.

Both sides should acknowledge that both arguments have validity. See Number 1 above.

  1. Be compassionate. Compassion requires viewing every conflict in terms of its human costs. Even if a displaced person (Jew or Arab) has no legal right to residence on or ownership of land, losing one’s home is catastrophic. We should sympathize with all human loss. We should try to avoid it at all costs.
  2. Be fair. Some have argued, correctly, that today many Arabs in East Jerusalem occupy homes that were legally acquired and owned by Jews who were expelled by the Arab Legion in 1948. Should these homes be returned to their original Jewish owners? Should we also acknowledge that many Jews in Israel live in homes that were abandoned by Arabs in the 1948-1949 war? Should we call it a fair trade?

I don’t presume to have an answer. We should make an effort to be fair to both sides.

  1. Be tolerant. Being tolerant means treating fairly those who are not in your group, who dress, act, or worship differently from you, or who do not agree with your views.

Jewish Israelis have been mostly tolerant of the five-times-a-day call of the muezzin—the amplified call to prayers that emanates from the minarets of mosques all over Israel. For their part, Muslims should support the right of Jews to worship freely on the Temple Mount (Haram al Sharif to Muslims) as long as it does not interfere with Muslim worship. After all, the site is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and all have a reasonable claim to the land. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders and the Arab community have not been supportive of this idea. Tolerance for others would create a lot less bad blood.

Pundits, like those on YouTube, who use their platform to promote anti-Semitic lies violate all seven of these guidelines for ethical discourse.

Ethical discourse is less exciting than the fare offered by these hate mongers. Will it win out in the end? I am not optimistic. But we should try.

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Dr. Berger also blogs at: https://realbulletpoints.wordpress.com/
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