LA Times Un-Solves the “Jewish Problem”

The Los Angeles Times published on March 15 two Op-Eds about Zionism. One, by Judea Pearl, argues that anti-Zionism is hateful and a “dangerous threat to lives, historical justice and the prospects of peace in the Middle East.” The other, by Ben Ehrenreich, argues that, “put simply, the problem is Zionism,” and calls for an end to the Jewish state.

By hosting on its opinion pages this type of debate on Israel’s existence, the Los Angeles Times unfairly applies a different standard to the Jewish people and Israel than it does to other nations and nation-states. It outrageously casts self-determination as something that perhaps should be taken away from the Jews. In doing so, the newspaper moves to un-solve the “Jewish problem” that, after thousands of years of persecution, pogroms and mass murder against the Jewish people (and after scores of years of struggle by early Zionists seeking an end to this oppression), was finally and all-too-belatedly solved with the realization of Jewish national rights in their ancestral homeland, Israel.

To argue whether the Jewish people should be “allowed” the same rights as other nations is both immoral and dangerous.

Our society has fortunately moved beyond mid-20th century moral debates regarding, for instance, full civil rights for African Americans. Today, it would be absurd to open the pages of a newspaper and read contrasting Op-Eds about whether black Americans should have the same rights as white Americans.

Why, then, does the Times still entertain the anachronistic question of whether the Jewish people should have the same national rights as other peoples? As early Zionist David Ben Gurion once explained, Zionism rests on the principle that “we Jews are just like other human beings, entitled to just the same rights; that the Jewish people is entitled to the same equality of treatment as any free and independent people in the world.” This fact should be beyond dispute.

And yet the newspaper lends credence to such discrimination by publishing Ben Ehrenreich’s Op-Ed, which calls for an end to Israel and suggests that, instead of having one small corner of the world where they can determine their own destiny and defend themselves, Jews should embrace being subject to the often-abusive whims of host countries. “To be Jewish, I was raised to believe, meant understanding oneself as a member of a tribe that over and over had been cast out, mistreated, slaughtered,” he writes. “Millenniums of oppression that preceded it did not entitle us to a homeland or a right to self-defense that superseded anyone else’s. If they offered us anything exceptional, it was a perspective on oppression and an obligation born of the prophetic tradition: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to cry out at the oppressor.”

Ehrenreich is free to understand his Jewishness as being little more than membership in a group of perpetually mistreated and slaughtered outcasts. Like all Jews, he can live where he chooses, and need not avail himself of the rights his coreligionists gained with the success of their national liberation movement, Zionism. But it isn’t his right to deny other Jews the option to exercise their right of national self-determination, and much-needed collective security, in their ancestral homeland. Ehrenreich complains that “to question … the Zionist tenets on which the state is founded has for too long been regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy.” It isn’t blasphemy; it’s immoral — just as it would be immoral to argue against civil rights for African Americans after they finally gained what they had always deserved.

Many will find that Judea Pearl’s Op-Ed convincingly counters Ehrenreich’s thesis. He warns, among other things, that “the anti-Zionist plan to do away with Israel condemns 5 1/2 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal defenselessness in a region where genocidal designs are not uncommon.” But while the newspaper will likely defend its decision to promote Ehrenreich’s views by pointing to its publication of Pearl’s column, this argument falls short.

As Judea Pearl himself explained several months earlier (see here and here),

I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of American readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of opinion articles calling for the dismantling of Israel as evidence that the arguments and conclusions presented are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of editors whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat-Earth type deformities. …

In fairness to the editors of some newspapers, articles calling for the elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles discussing the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. But, ironically, this “balance” [between articles calling for the elimination of Israel and articles calling for its continued existence] is precisely where the imbalance occurs, for it gives equal moral weight to an immoral provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, and most Jews in the world view as an assault on their personal dignity, national identity and historical destiny.

Tellingly, the above was written after the LA Times published a May 2008 Op-Ed also calling for an end to Israel. This puts the newspaper’s Op-Ed count over the last year as follows: Pieces calling for stripping the Jewish nation of self-determination and sovereignty — two. Pieces calling for stripping any other nation of self-determination and sovereignty — zero. Editors should reconsider this immoral and dangerous discrimination.

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