« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#2 — Why Don't I Criticize Israel?

2014-07-27 | 🔗

In the wake of the recent war in Gaza, many readers have asked "Why don't you criticize Israel?" Here is my response. You can read an annotated transcript of this podcast at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel

SUBSCRIBE to listen to the rest of this episode and gain access to all full-length episodes of the podcast at samharris.org/subscribe.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I was going to do a podcast on a series of questions, but I got so many questions on the same topic that I think I'm just going to a single response here and will do and ask me anything podcast next time. The question I've now received in many forms go something like this. Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it the always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians. Now this is an incredibly boring and depressing question for a variety of reasons. The first is that I have criticized Israel and Judaism. What seems upset many people have kept some sense of proportion, there's something like fifteen million Jews on earth at this moment:
there a hundred times as many Muslims. I've debated rabbis who, when I assume that they believe in a god who can hear our prayers, they stopped me mid sentence and say: why would you think I believe in a god who can hear prayers, so their rabbis conservative rabbis, who believe in a god so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about him and for nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior and there are millions of Jews? literally millions among the few million who exist for Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheist believe in God at all. This is actually position you can hold within Judaism, but it's a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity. So, when we're talking about the consequences of irrational beliefs based on scripture, the Jews are the least of the least offenders, but I have said many critical things about Judaism. Let me remind you that parts of the hebrew Bible books like Leviticus and Exodus and Deuteronomy,
Are the most repellent the most sickeningly unethical documents to be found in any religion, they're worse than the Quran they're worse than any part of the new testament? But the truth is most Jews recognize this and don't take these texts seriously. Is simply a fact that most Jews and most Israelis are not guided by scripture and that's a very good thing. Of course there are some who are? There are religious extremists among Jews? Now I consider these people to be truly dangerous and their religious beliefs are as divisive and is under as the beliefs of devout Muslims, but there are far fewer such people for those of you who worry that I never say anything critical about Israel. My position on Israel is somewhat paradoxical. There, quick tions about which I'm genuinely undecided and there's something in my position. I think, to offend everyone.
So it knowledge in how reckless it is to say anything on this topic. I'm never lets gonna think out loud about it for a few minutes. I don't think Israel should exist as a jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion, so I don't celebrate the idea that there's a jewish homeland in the Middle EAST. I certainly don't support any jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible, so I just said that I don't think Israel should exist as a jewish state. The justification for such a state is rather easy to find. We need look no further than the fact that the rest of the world has shown itself eager to murder the Jews at almost every opportunity. So if there were going to be a state organized around protecting the members of a single religion, it certainly should be a jewish state. Now, friends of Israel might consider this a rather tepid defense, but it's the strongest one I've got. I think the idea of a religious state is ultimately untenable. Needless to say, in defending his territories,
our state, the israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things they have, as they are now fought. Wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive loss of innocent life. More civilians have been killed same Garza in the last few weeks, then militants now that's not a surprise. Given the Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth occupying it. Fighting wars in it is guaranteed to get women and children and other non combatants killed. There's probably a little question over the course fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done, things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process, That is made brutal by it, but that is largely due to the character of their enemies. What terrible things the Israelis have done. It is also true to say that they have used more restraint in there fighting against the Palestinians, and we, the Americans and the Europeans, have used in any of our wars.
Even have more worldwide public scrutiny that any society has ever had to, while defending itself against aggressors, the Israelis simply are held to a different standard and the condemnation levelled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they've actually done it is. Israel is losing the PR war and has been for years now. One of the most galling things for outside observers about the current war in Gaza is the disproportionate loss of life on the palace. The inside. This does make a lot of moral sense. Israel built bomb shelters to protect its citizens. The Palestinians built tunnels which they could carry out terror, attacks and kidnap. Let's should Israel be blamed for successfully protecting his population in a defensive war? I don't think so, but there is no way to look at the images coming out of Gaza, especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel and thing.
This is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them and there's no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be. They see these images and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue this is a kind of moral illusion, born of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it. The truth is is that there is an obvious undeniable and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time based on chronic prophecy. When the earth itself will cry out for jewish blood,
Trees and the stones will say: oh Muslim, there's, a Jew behind me, come and kill him. This is a political document we are talking about. A government was voted into power by a majority of Palestinians. The discourse the muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there widespread Holocaust denial there's holocaust denial. That then asserts we will do it for real if given the chance the only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened. It didn't happen, but if we get the chance we will accomplish it. There are children's shows in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere that teach five year olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews, and this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies, and this is something I discussed in the end of faith to see this moral difference. You have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it.
What were the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question because they can do more or less anything they want. The israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? well, it means that when they drop a bomb on a beach and killed, four palestinian children's happened last week. This is almost certainly an accident they're, not targeting children pick a target as many children as they want. Every time a palestinian child dies, Israel edges ever closer to becoming an international pariah, so the Israelis take great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants. Now. Is it possible that some israeli soldiers go Bezerk under pressure and wind up shooting into crowds of rock throw in children course. You will always find some soldiers acting this way in the middle of a war, but we know that this isn't the general intent of Israel. We know that Israelis do not want to kill noncombatants because they could
kill as many as they want and they're not doing it. What do we know if the Palestinians, what would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel? If the power imbalance were reversed? Well, they have told us what they would do for some reason. Israel's critics just don't want to believe the worst about a group like Hamas, even when it did There's the worst of itself: we've already had a holocaust and several other genocides in the 20th century. People are capable of committing genocide when they tell us they intend to commit genocide, we should listen. There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could would every palestinian support genocide. Of course, not but vast numbers of them and of Muslims throughout the world would, needless to say, Palestinians in general, and not just Hamas,
have a history of targeting innocent non combatants in the most shocking ways possible. They blown themselves up on buses and in restaurants, they've massacred teenagers they've murdered olympic athletes. They now shoot Parkers indiscriminately into civilian areas and again, the charter of their government in Gaza explicitly tells us that they want to annihilate the Jews, not just in Israel but everywhere. The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and our enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields, who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does they shoot their rockers from residential neighborhoods from besides, schools in hospitals and mosques, Muslims and other recent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere have used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.
Consider the moral difference between using human shields and being deterred by them. That is the difference. We're talking about the Israelis and other western powers are deterred, however, imperfectly by the muslim use of human shields. In these conflicts, as we should be, it is morally abhorrent to kill non. If you can avoid it, it's certainly abhorrent to shoot to the bodies of children to get it your adversary, but take a moment to reflect on how contemptible this behavior is and understand how cynical it is. The Muslims are acting on the assumption, Knowledge, in fact, that the infidels with whom they fight the very people whom their religion does nothing, but vilify will be deterred by their use of muslim human shields. They consider the Jews to be the spawn of ape. Can pigs, and yet they rely on the fact that they don't want to kill muslim noncombatants. Now I'm at
in reversing the roles here. Imagine how fatuous, indeed, how comical it would be for the Israelis to attempt to use human shields to Detur the Palestinians, some claim that they have already done this. There reports that israeli soldiers have occasionally put palestinian civilians in front of them as they've advanced into dangerous areas. That's not the use of human shields were talk. In about it, egregious behavior. No doubt it constitutes a war crime, but imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous. The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone killing, women and children is part of the plan. Reversing the roles here produces a grotesque, Monty Python skit. If you're going to talk about the conflict in the Middle EAST, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don't think there's any ethical disparity to be found anywhere. That is more shocking or consequential than this, and the truth is
this: isn't even the worst that jihad is? Do Hamas is practically a moderate organization compared to other jihadist groups? There are Muslims who have blown themselves up in crowds of children again muslim children just to get at the american soldiers who were handing out candy to them? They have committed suicide bombings only send another bomber to the hospital to await the casualties were then below up all the injured, along with the doctors and the nurses trying to save their lives ev. Every day that you read about an israeli rocket gone astray or israeli soldiers beating up an innocent teenager. You could have read about ISIS in Iraq, crucifying people on the side of the road, Christians and Muslims. Where is the outrage in the muslim world and on the left over these crimes? Where are the demonstrations? Ten thousand one hundred thousand deep in the capitals of Europe against? I,
This is if Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident. The entire muslim world is inflamed, God forbid, you burn a Koran, write a novel, vaguely critical of the faith, and yet Muslims can destroy their own societies and seek to destroy the west, and you don't hear a peep. Those leaves me really have to sign, and with Israel. Here you have one side which it really could accomplish. Its aims would simply live peacefully with its neighbors, and you have another side which is seeking to implement a seventh century theocracy in the holy land. There's no peace to be found between these incompatible ideas. That doesn't mean you can't condemn Specific actions on the part of the Israelis and, of course, acknowledging the moral disparity between Israel and her enemies doesn't give us any solution to the problem of Israel's existence in the Middle EAST, again granted there're some percentage of Jews who are animated by their own religious huh
area and their own prophecies summer awaiting the Messiah uncontested land. Yes, these people are willing to sacrifice the blood of their own children for the glory of God. But for the most part, they're, not representative, of the current state of Judaism or of the actions of the israeli government, and it is how Israel deals with these people, their own religious lunatics that will determine whether they can true behold the moral high ground and Israel. Can do a lot more than it has to disempower them? It can seize to subsidise the delusions of the Ultra Orthodox and it can stop building settlements on contested land. The incompatible religious attachments to this land has made it impossible for Muslims and Jews to negotiate like rational human beings, and has made it impossible for them to live in peace, but the onus is still more on the side of the Muslims here, even on their worst day,
Israelis act with greater care and compassion and self criticism than muslim combatants have anywhere. Ever and again, you have to ask yourself: what do these groups want? What would they accomplish if they could accomplish anything? What would the Israelis do if they could do what they want? They would live in peace with their neighbors if they had neighbors who would live in peace with them, they would simply continue to build out their high tech sector and thrive. What do groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, and even Hamas, want they want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity? They want to stifle every freedom that dies,
Benton, Educa, Tidan, secular people, care about this is not a trivial difference and had judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way. This kind of confusion puts us all in danger. This is the great story of our time for the rest of our lives and the lives of our children were going to be confronted by people who don't want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise and they're willing to destroy the very. Possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is we're all living in Israel. It's just the some of us haven't realized it. If you find this podcast dyeable, there are many ways you can support it. You can review it on Itunes or Stitcher, or wherever you happen to listen to it. You can share
on social media with your friends. You can blog about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this by subscribing through my website at SAM Harris die org and there you'll find subscriber only content, which includes my ask me anything episodes you also get access to advance tickets to my live events as well as streaming video of some of these events, and you also get to hear the bonus questions from any of these interviews. All of these things in more you'll find on my website at Samharris dot. Org. Thank you for your support of the show this list
Transcript generated on 2019-10-16.