Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, August 10, 2009.
In her August 7 Jerusalem Post column, Caroline Glick rightly says: “for the past 16 years [since the Oslo Agreement], the greatest champion of the view that Israel is a strategic liability rather that a strategic asset for the US, and that the US gains more from a weak Israel than a strong Israel, has been Israel itself. Successive governments in Jerusalem, from the Rabin-Peres government to the Barak, Sharon and Olmert governments, all embraced the Arabist view that regional stability and hence Israeli security is enhanced by a weakened Israel.”
For reasons of her own, Glick does not mention Benjamin Netanyahu in this list of flawed prime ministers. She knows, however, that Netanyahu has adhered to Oslo and has therefore made Israel appear more as a strategic liability than a strategic asset. What could make this more obvious than his supporting a Palestinian state in Israel’s heartland?
But there is a deeper flaw—nay, a western, cultural pathology that emasculates the governments Glick denounces. This pathology underlies the defeatist policy of “territorial for peace” which all Israeli governments have pursued even before Oslo. The pathology I am alluding to is cultural or historical relativism. Spawned in Europe, this doctrine permeates higher education in Israel and in all levels of education in America.
Relativism infected the mentality of Jewish leaders even before the founding of the state. This pathological doctrine has enfeebled Israel’s ruling elites, who have wittingly or unwittingly sapped Israel’s Jewish foundations. Whatever may be said of their good deeds and intentions, these elites have undermined Israel.
Hold on to your seats, but I have in mind (1) Professor Martin Buber; (2) Dr. Judah Magnus, first president of Hebrew University; (3) President Shimon Peres; (4) Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi, once head of Israel Military Intelligence; (5) Professor Asa Kasher, author of Israel’s Soldier’s Code of Conduct; (6) Professor Yuli Tamir, former Minister of Education; (7) Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister; (8) Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, (9) Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; (10) Professor Aharon Barak, former president of Israel’s Supreme Court. This denunciation may shock you, but bear with me, because relativism is destroying the West. Indeed, it has corrupted the mind of Barack Obama.
The clearest definition of moral relativism was stated by Thomas Hobbes: “Whatever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire, that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate or aversion, evil … For these words of good [and] evil … are ever used with relation to the person that useth them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so …”
Moral relativism yields cultural and historical relativism. Both reject any universal or trans-historical standards by which to determine whether the beliefs and values of one nation are more valid than, or intrinsically superior to, those of any other nation. In one form or another, relativism permeates the social sciences and humanities in Israel and throughout the democratic world. Consciously or subconsciously, relativism diminishes a person’s wholehearted conviction in the justice of his nation’s cause. Arabs do not suffer from this malady.
Now, historical relativism, that ideas are culture bound, and that their validity does not transcend the epoch which they shaped, may be traced to Hegel, whose impact on European thought is enormous. A materialistic version of Hegel’s relativism was formulated by the Jewish anti-Semite Karl Marx. European education influenced the founders and faculties of Israel's academic institutions. Historical or cultural relativism is evident in Martin Buber, who said: “There is no scale of values for the function of peoples. One cannot be ranked above another.”
This relativism induced Buber and Magnus to favor a bi-national Arab-Jewish state in Palestine. In testimony before the Anglo-American Inquiry Commission in 1947, Buber and Magnus declared in a joint statement: “We do not favor Palestine as a Jewish country or Palestine as an Arab country, but a bi-national Palestine as the common country of two peoples….”
Now consider Hebrew University Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi, who served as head of Israel’s “War College.” In his book Arab Attitudes to Israel, which he dedicated to both Jews and Arabs, Harkabi concludes: “The study of the [Arab-Israel] conflict reveals the relativity of the attitudes of the parties.”
Harkabi was deemed the mentor of Shimon Peres. Both supported a Palestinian state. In fact, when Peres served as Foreign Minister under the 1993 Rabin government, he applied for Israel’s membership in the Arab League.
Tainted by relativism, Ehud Barak, while campaigning for Israel’s premiership in 1999, was quoted as saying (in the United States) that had he been born an Arab, he would have been a terrorist! When Barak was Chief of General Staff, he did not object to professor Asa Kasher’s revision of the Soldiers Code of Conduct, from which Kasher erased the words “Judaism” and “Zionism” as well as “Eretz Israel”! Unsurprisingly, Barak supports a Palestinian state.
Ariel Sharon, another graduate of Israel’s “War College,” was tainted by relativism. While homicide bombers were reducing Jews to body parts, he said in an interview with Ha’aretz that he does “not to see things in black and white.” Sharon ended by supporting a Palestinian state.
Relativism taints Hebrew University Professor Yuli Tamir, who served as Minister of Education under the Olmert government. Tamir approved a history textbook for Arab children, wherein the 1948 Arab-Israeli War is described as the nakba—the disaster! She also proposed to replace the Bible with Israel’s Declaration of Independence in the swearing in ceremony for new recruits of the Israel Defense Forces. As a founder of Peace Now, Tamir supports a Palestinian state.
So does Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister under the Olmert government. Livni endorsed a Gay Rights parade in Jerusalem. Like Tamir, Livni advocates multiculturalism, a euphemism for cultural relativism—which also underlies “Progressivism.” By the way, Olmert’s Minister of Interior, Meir Sheetrit, proposed a bill to eliminate the Law of Return, without which Israel would become a multicultural society.
Now consider Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. In response to the Obama administration’s objection to settlements, Oren said: “Settlements are not the issue.” “The issue is the recognition of the mutual legitimacy of these two peoples, the legitimate claim to these two states [the Jewish state and an Arab state].” Shades of Martin Buber!
Oren also echoes the moral neutrality of Harkabi. In his book Six Days of War, Oren writes: “My purpose is not to prove the justness of one party or another in the war, or to assign culpability for starting it.” Needless to say, Oren supported a Palestinian state.
A subtle form of relativism was promulgated by Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. Subjective relativism is concealed in his dictum “everything is justiciable.” Thus, in nullifying Knesset legislation permitting the Film Censorship Board to ban pornographic movies, Judge Barak said “nothing can actually be declared por¬nog¬raphy, as one man’s pornography is another man’s art.”
Barak’s aesthetic relativism reminds me of a painting by an orangutan named Djakarta Jim, which was sneaked into an art exhibition in Kansas and won first prize. In Sweden, art critics, deceived about the fact that a painting was by a chimpanzee, praised it as revealing “powerful,” “fastidious” talent and “the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”
Returning to the intrepid Caroline Glick, she addressed some 150 political science students at Tel Aviv University, where she spoke of her experience as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division during the Iraq war. Any person not corrupted by moral relativism would favor, as she did, the US over the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Yet a student, who expressed the general attitude of her audience (as well of her teachers), asked, “Who are you to make moral judgments?” Glick spoke at five liberal Israeli universities. She learned that moral relativists dominate their faculties. The “treason of the intellectuals,” which Julian Benda saw in France before the Second World War, is conspicuous in Israel.
Glick was right to blame certain Israeli prime ministers for making Israel a strategic liability. But more significant than their strategic flaws is the pathological origin of these flaws. For nothing has so undermined Israel as a strategic asset than the cultural relativism of its ruling elites. Relativism can make a nation’s political and military and intellectual elites their grave-diggers.