The Philosophers’ War on Israel

The academy has a well-known disdain for the state of Israel. Whenever Israel is in the news, you can rest assured that some league of professional academicians is working on a petition condemning the “oppressive” regime of what happens to be the freest state in the Middle East. Yet despite the self-righteous reproach of disgruntled paleontologists at third rate American universities, reasonable people seem to have traditionally been able to recognize just how morally praiseworthy Israel’s conduct has been. As Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard rightly points out, no state facing the existential threats on par with those facing the state of Israel has ever demonstrated the level of respect for human dignity and worth as has the government in Jerusalem (and yes, President Obama: Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, is the capital of Israel).

Given the quite obvious fact that Israel conducts itself in a morally superior manner to its terrorist enemies, one might hope that the academy’s moral philosophers could provide a more rigorous philosophical justification of Israel’s just-war practices. Indeed, what are our ethicists supposed to do if not provide jargony and unnecessarily technical accounts of what all reasonable people know to be obvious moral truths? This naïve trust in the discipline of philosophy came crashing down this summer as some of the world’s most prestigious ethicists produced a series of absurd and sophistic condemnations of Israel’s war in Gaza.

Princeton’s Peter Singer, the world’s foremost intellectual defender of infanticide, argued that while Hamas’ actions are even more morally indefensible, Israel’s disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians deserves our collective rebuke. Jeff McMahan, who now warms a prestigious chair in moral philosophy at Oxford, focused on Israel’s disproportionate military response, while implying that if only Israel ended its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, all anti-Semitic terrorism would end. Yes, because Israel is clearly responsible for the genocidal fanatics who relentlessly seek the state’s destruction. While agreeing that the chief requirement of just war being violated by Israel is the condition of proportionality, Frances Kamm from Harvard raised a further condition of just war, arguing that Israel is in fact deliberately targeting civilians (though she claimed that this does not necessarily render Israel’s actions morally impermissible). Not to be outdone, Yale’s very own Jason Stanley somehow managed to connect the virulent anti-Semitism on the streets of Paris and Berlin to Israel’s “oppression” of its Arabs. The implicit parallelism between Hitler’s mass extermination of the Jewish people and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians speaks to a degree of historical and moral illiteracy to be expected of a 14-year-old’s Twitter feed, but certainly not of a serious moral philosopher in one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

Building off these vacuous condemnations of Israel’s obvious right to defend itself, a group of philosophers and political theorists have begun circulating a petition calling on their profession to join in on the juvenile and morally obscene “academic boycott of Israel.” Curiously, a striking number of the signers of this petition seem to come from Iranian universities. I wonder if they would welcome an academic boycott on their home institutions, seeing as after all Iran is one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terror. No matter, consistency is not much of a concern for these theorists. It’s much easier to just blame Israel.

It is easy to forget that all people, even esteemed philosophers, fall victim to the intellectual fads of the day, and there is no fad more prevalent than the condemnation of Israel. Never mind the fact that the death toll in Syria has reached 175,000 or that ISIS routinely beheads children and crucifies Christians. As Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal incisively pointed out, the West’s outrageous double standard with respect to Israel speaks to its underlying racism toward the Muslim people. But let’s not bother with rigorous intellectual inquiry. No, to satisfy our need for moral self-righteousness, we are lazily content to dump buckets of ice water on our heads and to rant against Israel, which for all its faults remains a singular beacon of freedom surrounded by the desert of Jihadistan.