November 2008

Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

Dear Mr. Wallace,

Thank you for your excellent piece on "President Palin". I am thrilled to pass this on (but far less thrilled to have her on the ticket). You hit every point with eloquence.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Unfortunately Sy Schechtman has bought into various special pleading, misunderstandings and disingenuousness. If I may, I will bring this out point by point:

- "...both neo Nazism and anti-Semitism in British upper society has always been a small flickering sentiment not completely quenched in some English affections". Actually, it has always been rare. However, a general disrespect for foreigners, the "other", has been quite common. It's a case of "I'm not prejudiced, I hate everybody"; the same was meted out to French or Italians - and many Jews got it in both World Wars from having German sounding names. Many Jews understandably but mistakenly interpret this as specific antisemitism, and it can be just as harmful in individual cases, but the correct diagnosis matters if only because bad diagnosis leads to bad prescriptions. For what it is worth, one can feel as I do that Israel is a "shitty little state" on the back of its conduct, including its own continuing benefit from and endorsement of past terrorism like the murder of the British sergeants or the kidnapping of Vanunu (or indeed Eichman) in blatant disregard for other countries (who remembers Ugandans killed in collateral damage, and who forgets Mrs. Block?), without at all passing judgment on or taking particular note of Jews in general. If anything, the cosmopolitan Jewish community where I live has really highlighted how diverse the groups of Jews from different parts of the world are, differing one group from another as well as as individuals, complete with their own fair share of lowlifes and admirable people. But Israel now... that, that is a standing testament that terrorism works and that judgment can be deferred almost indefinitely - almost. No doubt not all things will work for ill, in the end, and no doubt not all Jews will choose to align themselves with that tradition, perhaps not even many - but unfortunately that tradition, too, is to be found among the diversity of Jews, and in Israel it has latterly found both form and substance. But this, too, has happened before, and always a remnant remains.

- "Certainly there was no organized Zionist plan to transfer masses of native Arabs". This is both true and utterly beside the point. It was far more like what happened when someone later asked a Watergate conspirator who ordered the cover up. He replied that nobody had, that it was more that everybody somehow knew what to do without being told, standard operating procedure, and nobody ordered a halt. Among Zionists there were some who were even more extreme, like Hillel Kook, and action was taken to stop them; but, by and large, Zionist operations proceeded according to a widespread general understanding, in an ad hoc way without central direction or formal planning, and nobody called a halt.

- " legitimate effort was ever made to repatriate them—or resettle them in the abundant vacant Arab land in the area". For one thing, there was NOT abundant vacant land, any more than Palestine had been empty when Zionists started arriving. What land there was had limited surplus carrying capacity without much more work (Jordan has since done that sort of work, settling Bedouin). For another, the obligations lay on the evictors, not on the unwilling hosts.

- "They have made the desert bloom and Jaffa oranges are sold world wide...". It would be more precise to say, they made more of it bloom (Jaffa oranges were produced even before Zionists), but we really cannot infer that the Palestinians had left it desert. They had just experienced a century of disruption caught between Egypt and the declining Ottomans when massive Zionist immigration started after 1918, and they could easily have restored it without Zionist efforts once they were allowed to - but Zionism and poor Mandate policies prevented that.

- "...if you exclude the enormous oil revenues of the petro rich Arabs teeny tiny Israels international trade, especially in high technology and medical products, outsells the entire totality of the Moslem world...". What, even Indonesia? Even if that is true, GDP is a better measure.

- "...the Oslo Accord, a ten year phased withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces, with the Arabs in control of almost all West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, with Israel having only small security force remaining". The hand is the hand of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob. It is fairly notorious that that was what was promised, but only in name, with all ultimate control reserved to Israel and almost all quiet enjoyment and benefit kept from the Palestinians. I will not substantiate that here but merely refer readers to the wide work on the subject, much of it accessible through an internet search.

- "...But, at the conclusion of the ten year period, when over 90% of the west bank and all of Gaza, was to be returned, Arafat evidently balked, bringing up the right of return of the displaced refugees, which had hardly been on the table for discussion at all". This is disingenuous. The whole structure of the Accord involved only addressing certaing things and deferring others for later handling. Far from that being a belated attempt to bring up something that hadn't been worthy of consideration, it was just precisely bringing up something important at the juncture where it belonged, to which it had been postponed. Not bringing it up and accepting a final settlement - that would have been letting it miss the forum for discussion.

- "Perhaps soon the neighboring climate will adjust finally to the reality of the Jewish presence. They will not be driven into the sea." But isn't that just precisely the view of the Palestinians, who after all are themselves largely descended from earlier Jews who converted? (Ottoman tax records show entire villages converting as late as the 17th century, and genetic studies show the ethnic closeness of Palestinians to Sephardim and Mizrahim - if anything it is the Ashkenazim who are the odd ones out, though they too are genetically connected.)

Yours sincerely,


Hello, Thank you for the refreshing essay regarding natural rights.

This topic has been of particular interest to me ever since a friend, who is a self-described libertarian, was explaining to me the importance of natural rights. I asked him the simple question of "what exactly ARE natural rights?" He pointed me to the Declaration of Independence as some essays on natural rights. All of this information was really quite interesting, however there was always something naggingly suspicious about the entire concept and your essay exposes these suspicions. It is clear that proponents of natural rights ignore (or at least fail to see) the fallacy in their origin. I have often wondered why it is so easy to ingore the origin question, and I realize that this problem may be intimitely linked to the belief in god. For me, anything that predicates itself on the existence of supernatural beings is inherently flawed, since the existence of god is not substantial enough to give it merit. Without the looming presence of the DoI's "Creator", the "self-evidence" would dissolve the entire argument.

This also lead me to read your essay Morality and Truth, in which you complain about the obstacles in debating gun rights. I think you nailed one of my biggest issues right on the head with, "I believe that most moral debate on any topic fudges or avoids the fundamental question of the foundation of moral rules in general and the one we are disputing in particular." When people believe that a right is a natural right, the argument against cannot be won because natural rights are, by definition, untouchable (this is a framing issue). I also see this problem in debates about religion, because the existence of god is inherent in one party's argument. I recently watched a debate ( which was really quite pitiful as a debate, but that's beside the point. What I found interesting was that one of the debaters for the motion (that is, we WOULD be better off without religion) spent his time explaining that god isn't real. I think this is fundamentally important because without god many arguments unravel. Later an audience member actually scolded him for being off-topic! I guess I will end here. I look forward to reading more Spectacle!

Thanks again,

Brian Magnsuon