J.J. Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Forward, says I misinterpreted the editorial he wrote on Israel, the American Jewish community, and the Armenian genocide in my post last week.
The writers and editors at The Forward are a very bright and thoughtful bunch, and I value their contributions to the public debate highly. But having re-read the editorial, I still think I got it right. You read, you decide.
J.J. Goldberg has asked that his letter to me be published. For the sake of an open debate, I would do that regardless of the letter’s content. I’m especially happy to do it this time, though because this is an important letter. First, it recognizes the Armenian genocide and urges Jewish and Israeli leaders to do the same. Second, it makes a general point that needs to be made more often and more prominently: that Jews should not equate the behavior of the state of Israel with basic morality. Here it is:
Dear Scott Paul,
I’m the editor in chief of the Forward. I wrote the editorial that you criticized in the Washington Note last week. I have a feeling you weren’t reading the same editorial that I wrote.
I had no intention of endorsing the denial of the Armenian genocide. I explicitly called it genocide, repeatedly. I wrote of Israel “finding itself – or placing itself – on the side of the deniers,” which is a dirty name where I come from, and I assumed it would mean the same thing to others. I went on to describe the thinking of Israeli political leaders when they made and make that decision, but I certainly did not mean to imply that this was admirable behavior. I assumed that was covered by the single word, “deniers.”
The point of my editorial was to call out those people – a significant proportion of the American Jewish community – who still think that Israel is above reproach, that its behavior is synonymous with morality, and who are therefore in shock when they see Israeli realpolitik clashing with the basic moral imperative of responding to genocide. My point was that Israel is a country like others, for good and ill, and it makes choices on the basis of self-interest, not necessarily morality. It’s certainly happened before that the Jewish religious/cultural value of identifying with Israel has clashed with fundamental moral values of human rights. But it’s never happened in so glaring a fashion, I think, as it did last month, when Israel put itself blatantly on the side of genocide deniers, not once but twice.
That’s why I wrote that it’s time for a new ethic for the post-post-Holocaust world. Jewish identity and religion still demand some sense of identification with Israel, as I have written often in the past. But it isn’t tenable to assume, as so many Jews do, that Israeli behavior is necessarily synonymous with basic morality. What I was calling for is a new relationship between the two pillars of modern Jewish identity that grew out of the Holocaust, finding a way to maintain a bond with Israel while not losing one’s moral compass.
If all this wasn’t clear from the editorial, then I suppose the fault is in my writing. It certainly has nothing to do with the Forward’s governing board, which in any case doesn’t approve my editorials in advance.
If you’re in a position to post this on the Note blog, I would appreciate it. The current thread does the Forward an injustice, intentionally or not.
As I mentioned, I read this editorial differently. I take the editors and publishers of The Forward at their word, but I do want to explain my own reading of the editorial – and why I think others may have read it similarly and come away with the wrong idea.
The editorial explains that the promise of Zionism does not rest in the establishment of a state that runs on Jewish principles, in building security and roots for the Jewish people. It rightly then points out that Israel is not immune to tough choices that pit moral considerations against security and self-interest.
After going on to explain the difficulty and nuances of the debate, it concludes: “genocide is important, but not as important as saving lives today.” To me, that implies that the plight of Turkish and Israeli Jews takes precedence over the memory of Armenian victims of genocide. It then continues, suggesting that we ought to “re-examine the moral principles we have created for ourselves in the wake of the Holocaust, and consider whether they reflect the realities of today’s cold, hard world.” To me, and many other Jews, the moral principles we have created for ourselves in the wake of the Holocaust include acceptance of multiculturalism, embracing and defending human rights, and bearing witness to grave atrocities. The clear implication – at least how I read it – is that these principles are no longer compatible with the political realities with which we live and should be discarded.
I don’t think I implied that the editorial actively endorses denial – it clearly doesn’t. But I’m having a hard time reading it as anything other than a justification for avoiding the topic in the name of “the realities of today’s cold, hard world.”
Again, you read, you decide. And if you interpret the editorial as I do, I hope you take the editors at their word and give them credit for strongly declaring their position and erasing any ambiguities on this blog.
— Scott Paul