A Failure of Ethics, Empathy and Equality

Alan Wolfe thoughtfully criticizes those on the left who fail to appreciate the moral imperatives for the existence of the State of Israel.

Indeed after several thousand years of persecution, discrimination, mass displacement and exile, massacres, and finally the Holocaust Jews have a right to self-determination and the safety and freedom it provides. But even without such a history of violations of the human rights and welfare of Jews the Jewish people would still have a right to self-determination in the land that has been central to Jewish religion and culture for three thousand years. A history of horrific persecution is not a prerequisite - neither morally nor in international law and international human rights law - for exercising the universal right to self determination. It does, however, powerfully demonstrate the urgency of self-determination for persecuted minorities and makes the case for a sovereign Jewish state all the more compelling, morally and practically.

Although denial of the facts of the Holocaust almost never appears in mainstream intellectual leftist discourse a new form of denial does and it is most pernicious. This form of denial does not challenge the historical truth of the Holocaust. Instead, it is more insidious. It manifests itself in the intellectual, moral, and psychological failure to appreciate that Jewish powerlessness is precisely what has enabled the persecution of the Jewish people and the Holocaust. It lacks empathy for Jewish vulnerability, denies and/or elides its devastating historical consequences, and leaves the Jewish people at the mercy of majorities who even in liberal democracies consistently reveal significant anti-Jewish prejudice and bigotry and cannot be relied upon to guarantee that the rights and welfare of Jewish people are respected. The left, once the champion of the rights of minorities, in the case of the Jewish people has frequently become an antagonist and a participant in their marginalization.

Palestinians have every right to self-determination. It is long overdue. That does not, however, negate the right of the Jewish people to the same. Those who deny the Jewish people the right of self-determination are indeed, as many proudly boast - [as though discrimination on the basis of nationality - itself a human rights violation - is moral and worthy of accolade] anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. But they are also intrinsically anti-Jewish because they seek to deny Jews the right to equal treatment under international law and international human rights law. They threaten the welfare of the Jewish people by advancing efforts to render them powerless and vulnerable to persecution.