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When evil is in the eyes of the beholder

On the 'genocidal liberalism' of Western academia

I was invited by a friend to address his Political Science class at a local university on the subject of Israel. Following my talk, I was thunderstruck by the comment of a female student. Fingering the large cross that she wore, she exclaimed: “Palestinians have every right to employ terror because they are oppressed. Terror is the weapon of the desperate and the weak.” Struggling to maintain my Rabbinic and professorial composure, and in wonderment that she experienced no cognitive dissonance in uniting her Christian faith with her justification of terrorism, I responded: “Few people have experienced oppression as have African-Americans through enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and the degradation of their humanity. What if Martin Luther King had told young African-Americans to strap on bombs, enter white-owned restaurants, city market places, and white family celebrations, and blow themselves and white people to kingdom come? Would he have been right to do so?” The student, in thrall to the hobgoblin of little minds, was at least consistent as she unhesitatingly answered, “Yes.”

When I told her that there is never any justification for terrorism, she looked at me with that expression that the young reserve for their misguided elders: a brew of bafflement, scorn, and pity.

I regret that I did not ask the student if she supported the mass murder of innocent civilians on 9/11. After all, America supports the “occupation” and enables Israeli “subjugation” of Palestinians. Wasn’t the World Trade Center a legitimate target, given the “justifiable” Arab rage against the West, of which Israel is a grafted-on “colonial outpost?”

Having taught at universities for several decades, I can sadly attest that this young woman’s position is hardly exceptional. I have confronted her views over and again, though they have never lost their ability to leave me nonplussed. The trope upholds the “right of the indigenous and oppressed Palestinians” to employ terror against “the greatest threat to world peace” because the “desperation of occupation” leaves them no other option in fighting the on-going “destruction” of the Palestinian future through on-going atrocities visited upon the Palestinian present.

It is not only the students, of course, who have liberally imbibed the Palestinian Kool-Aid, but many of their teachers, as well. In a new book titled “Global Palestine,” Dr. John Collins of St. Lawrence University dismisses Israel as illegitimate, justifies attacks on Israeli civilians as expressions of legitimate resistance, and excoriates Israel’s neurotic search, based on imaginary threats, for an unrealizable security. Israel, he says, has adopted a siege mentality that is far out of proportion to any peril.

I have known such academics, and heard of many more, who parrot the Hamas playbook and identify with a broad coalition of victim-hoods. I wonder what prompts them to bestow the angelic halo of “freedom fighter” upon satanic barbarians. Perhaps they romanticize the terrorist, these “poets” of revolution. Doing so may provide a respite from the intramural squabbling that is the curse of academia. Perhaps it is fodder for daydreams spun during interminable, meaningless departmental meetings. Perhaps it is a relief amidst the grubbing for grants, chasing after tenure, and cranking out unreadable papers. Perhaps it is as simple as the academic seeing the terrorist as a person of action, something he aspires to be in his Mitty’esque fantasies – the equivalent of wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt under the tweeds.

Students and teachers sanitize terrorism as the understandable response to Israeli “politicide.” They have, of course, no explanation for the fact that every withdrawal from “occupation,” every diminishing of the Israeli presence, provokes more terrorism. The bloodthirsty post-Oslo attacks wreaked by Palestinians are too messily inconvenient to be considered in their cause-and-effect scenarios. Gender-apartheid, the crushing of dissent and the culture of incitement that are pandemic and endemic in Arab lands offend their sense of irony. They are worthy heirs of the left-wing academic, Harold Laski, of whom it was said that he substituted “rhetoric for thought.”

Why can’t these professors and students understand that terror is an evil means to an evil end? Why don’t they know, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, that terror “is not the weapon of the weak against the strong but the weapon of the ruthless against the vulnerable?” Because evil is not a category in their philosophical vocabulary. The only absolute in their universe of moral relativism is that Israel absolutely has no right to exist. Everything else is a matter of subjective judgment. “You think that terrorism is evil,” they say. “You are entitled to your opinion but please do not try to impose your personal views upon me.”

While Israelis scrape their children off the streets and sidewalks, the walls and windows, students and academics shrug and fatuously say, “What else could the Arabs do? It’s terrible that the Israelis have forced the Palestinians to act in this way. But please do not call these ‘uprisings’ by ‘militants’ evil.” Evil, just like beauty, is to them in the eye of the beholder. It all depends on the circumstances!

It might be comforting to suppose that these students and professors who inhabit the ivory tower of Babel, who subscribe to what David Frum called “genocidal liberalism,” are few and far between, just as it is comforting to think that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a few bad apples. But this would be hijacking the truth. In the wasteland of academia, those who demonstrate a complete lack of moral discrimination are numerous and influential.

In critiquing the French essayist Salmasius’ “Defence of the King,” John Milton raised a vital question:

Why are there so many academics who are eager to embrace tyrannical regimes, while there are so few intellectuals who can or will defend Liberty?

From the 17th Century to our 21st Century, Ain kol chadash tachat ha-shamash, There is nothing new under the sun.

About the Author
Rabbi Mark S Miller served as Senior Rabbi of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, California, for thirty-five years. He is now Rabbi Emeritus of the Reform congregation. He has long supported Israel's right to determine its own destiny, free of interference by Diaspora Jews.