<em>The Forward </em> Responds


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


12 comments on “<em>The Forward </em> Responds

  1. Ricky Nelson says:

    why we’re think too dificult? all problem mention already be descripted in Qor’an
    we just had to watching, thinking and doing as supposed to be..is The Qor’an will proofing that This will be the truth? that was question for the others(then they will fullfill what descipted it)..just read and think deeply.
    what ever we plan, all about money and power..now all of us just think that who had those both will rule the world, this matters are same way with roman empires aggression…yes there is no democratie but ego, and all will be round and round again.
    Thanks to America who accidential (with their decision to set fire on all of middle east, even the real destination is to reap gold and black gold)proofing that Qor’an is the truth..again and again.
    the trade is better than war


  2. DonS says:

    Deep apologies to Scott Paul for mislabeling him Ron Paul!


  3. DonS says:

    I reread the editorial and Ron’s post and, as an American with a maternal heritage that is Jewish, I find the points that Ron Paul makes salient and lucid, not too nuanced by half, which is the way one (this one anyway) must read the editorial in order to be convinced its really critical not just of Israeli behavior but of Jewish exceptionalism.
    I’ve always thought and been proud in theory that being a Jew means that one understands the dignitiy of all individuals, with none being more worthy than any other. (admittedly that’s a secular interpretation, and many would place more emphasis on Jews as “chosen”). If being chosen includes suffering righteously then you can’t have it both ways; when its time to suffer, you suffer, not just when its convenient or rhetorical.
    Myself, at least since law school days and being awakened to international law vis a vis Israel-Palestine, have never seen Zionism as much else than a political movement, and a pretty cress one at that. However, it’s been pretty well conflated, in my observation, with the meaning of Israel and Judaism in the popular mind, certainly in the mind of most Americans, and most American politicians. That’s a state of affairs that seems to please most everyone in the Israeli lobby just fine.
    The subtleties and talking out of both sides of the mouth have been so well perfected by many Jews who yoke faith and political “realities” that its no wonder most “pro-Israeli” non-Jews just defer to the latest propaganda handout from AIPAC. Jews themselves are no doubt confused.
    I appreciate the notion of trying to redefine what it means as a Jew to have some connection with Israel the state, but for the life of me I can’t see how it can be done. And I’m tired of having the blood of my ancestors hijacked for moralistic purposes not reflected by the actions of that state, the Zionist thugs who manipulate the sad legacy, and even the well meaning do gooders at the Forward on occasion.
    As to the new moral ethic that the editorial says we should examine, trying to follow Goldberg’s assertion, that would have to be either a straw man or a call for Israel and its functionaries to quit stoking the we’re-more-moral-than-thou subplot at every turn. After all that’s where political ethics and its moral basis meets the reality of political action.
    For myself, of the “two pillars of modern Jewish identity”, it has never been a contest. If one loses one’s moral compass, isn’t the “bond” with the state of Israel pretty meaningless?


  4. john somer says:

    The man who coined the word “genocide”, Raphael Lemkin, a Polish jew who lost his whole family in Hitler’s gas chambers, created the term before WW II after studying the massacres in Turkey in 1915 and in Iraq in 1933. I suspect Israel and the jewish community worldwide are trying to “do a Microsoft” on genocide and consider that mass killings of non-jews does not constitute genocide, which is directly opposed to Lemkin’s definition of the word


  5. Llyonnoc says:

    I read through the editorial by JJ Goldberg but was mostly struck by the words, “Remembering genocide is important, but not as important as saving lives today.” In the context of the article the author apparently means that if a Jew is to be endangered (Jews living in Turkey), or a Jewish state suffer in a relationship (Israel/Turkey) then it is best that past genocides committed on other people be forgotten. Surely he was not suggesting that we forget the Holocaust.
    It was not necessary for JJ Goldberg to write that. It has always been convenient to forget genocides. Aside from the Armenian genocide there have been others in the 20th Century like in Cambodia, Uganda and Darfur that we have all but forgotten. Even a genocide arguably greater than the Holocaust took place in the Ukraine in the ‘30s when Stalin forcibly starved five to seven million Ukrainians has been forgotten. Even with the Holocaust and even though the horrors of Hilter’s executioners were suffered by millions other than Jews it seems we have forgotten about those other persons. .
    The difficulty I find with JJ Goldberg’s and Scott Paul’s writings position is that they seem to suggest the Jew is a better person than other people. Jewish ethics demand certain things that others ethical do not require. A Jewish state is somehow superior to other states. Or the suggestion that as an American Jew he can write something about Israel other cannot write.
    I want to suggest to them that a Jew is no better or worse than any other person. (Isn’t there something about all men being equal in some American document.) The Jewish state is no better or worse than any other state. And that Israel should be concerned with saving not only Jewish lives but all lives.


  6. Carroll says:

    Posted by Bill Camarda at September 6, 2007 05:55 PM
    Well here’s one way Bill to simplify both the moral and real world question on Israel.
    Instead of the Israelis and Jews (or anyone else for that matter) asking “Who will be for me if I am not for myself?”….they should be asking “Who will be for me if I am “only” for myself?”.


  7. Bill Camarda says:

    As an American Jew, I deeply admire The Forward. As the husband of an Armenian whose family was driven out of Turkey, I may be more aware of those events than some — and of the memories they stir in those few who still survive, or the many more who heard the horrifying stories first-hand.
    My mother’s family came from a Jewish village in the Balkans which was wiped out by the Nazis. My wife’s family came from a village in Eastern Turkey that was wiped out 25 years earlier. (To further complicate my reaction, as a Sephardic Jew I know that my ancestors were treated better, at most times, by the Ottomans than they were by the Christian Spaniards who threw them out of Spain in 1492, then launched the Spanish Inquisition against those who stayed and converted — innovating a new form of anti-Semitism which denied even apostates the hope of tolerance, and led through myriad winding roads to Hitler’s death camps.)
    Forgive the personal reflections. To get to the point, finally: I read The Forward’s editorial today a few hours after reading the New York Times review of Mearsheimer and Walt’s new book. The juxtaposition hit me hard.
    The Forward writes: “The promise of Zionism, from Herzl to Ben-Gurion to today’s Israel, was to normalize the Jewish condition… to bring the Jews back into the rough-and-tumble of history, of real-life struggles as lived by sovereign nations. The idea of Israel as somehow exempt from the rules of realpolitik, from the tough moral choices faced by other nations, was an invention to make the Zionist revolution comprehensible to those of us who did not undergo the revolution. It was an Israel we invented for ourselves.”
    If this is so – if we are in fact moving towards a consensus that Israel has no special moral claims – on what possible basis can one challenge these words of Mearsheimer and Walt? “It is time for the United States to treat Israel not as a special case but as a normal state, and to deal with it much as it deals with any other country.”
    How do we honor the “righteous among the nations” for having the courage to help Jews during the Holocaust, even at grave and immediate personal risk – and then say we have no special obligation to do so for others, even when the risk to us is far more tenuous and indirect, as, for example, in the case of the Darfuri refugees?
    Can we truly find an honorable way forward by abandoning as obsolete our “post-Holocaust moral principles”? Even more broadly, do nations truly have no moral obligations rooted in their histories and values? Does not my America, founded in the Enlightenment, have an obligation to oppose torture wherever it occurs (and not practice it)? Are Henry Kissinger’s ethics truly more appropriate in the 21st century than Elie Wiesel’s?
    I ask these questions sincerely. I’m not looking to trigger the usual reflexive Israel-bashing (or defenses). But I would really welcome reflections from J.J. Goldberg and others struggling with these issues.


  8. Dick Mulliken says:

    This is a really tough call. On the whole I admire the Forward’s stand. I think Israel’s policy here can inhabit a gray area, of not radically trumpeting the reality of Armenian genocide, while in no way pretending it didn’t happen. The important thing is to call to account the AIPAC/Neocon crowd, who are monstrous betrayers of Israel and all Jewry.


  9. Erica says:

    I have a difficult time with both sides, because both pose substantial arguments. But I decided that I cannot agree with Goldberg in the sense that althogh, he is not ignoring the genocide, he still accepts it. There, indeed, grey areas, but this seems all too obvious that countries cannot do business with the rest of the world after atrocious acts such as genocide.


  10. Carroll says:

    There is only one way to read this:
    ” As for the Armenian tragedy, as real as we know it to be, the fact is that Israel desperately needs the friendship of Turkey, its most important ally, and that friendship comes with a painful price tag. Remembering genocide is important, but not as important as saving lives today.
    If anything, the genocide collisions of August should make us 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. In the end, political ethics based on slogans and theories, with no recognition of the ugly choices required in navigating this hard world, are no ethics at all. The task of the post-post-Holocaust era is to forge a new ethic for our new world.”
    JJ Goldberg
    Tortured logic and twisted morality in the defense of the indefensible. The hypocrisy going on in the Israeli and US political cults turns the stomach of honest people.
    JJ needs to be careful what he promotes…self centric “ugly choices” in a “hard world” by the rest of us would have spared the US and the rest of the world the burden of Israel and their supporters.


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