Can’t Have It Both Ways

Tough by Leon Wieseltier

A war that asked for a quick­en­ing of con­science can­not now ask for a relax­ing of it.…

But what about the death of Israeli chil­dren at the hands of Pales­tini­ans? I resent the ques­tion for its assump­tion that sym­pa­thy is com­pro­mis­ing, a moral defor­ma­tion, a kind of infi­deli­ty; that decen­cy should accept polit­i­cal direc­tion; that you can be sick­ened by Pales­tin­ian chil­dren with guns or by Pales­tin­ian chil­dren in shrouds, but you can­not be sick­ened by both.…

The quan­daries of humane­ness in wartime explod­ed into scan­dal in Israel last week, when Tom­my Lapid, the min­is­ter of jus­tice, report­ed on the radio that at a meet­ing of the Cab­i­net, at which he opposed the demo­li­tion of more Pales­tin­ian homes in Gaza, he had remarked that “I did think, when I saw a pic­ture on the TV of an old woman on all fours in the ruins of her home look­ing under floor tiles for her medicines—I did think ‘What would I say if it were my grand­moth­er?’ ” Lapid’s grand­moth­er per­ished in the Holo­caust, and so the denun­ci­a­tions began. Lapid, it was said, had com­pared Israelis to Nazis, which is to say, he had com­mit­ted the mor­tal sin of moral equiv­a­lence. His words were cer­tain­ly fierce, but they came from his heart and not from his head, and their ori­gins in his heart do not embar­rass them. Plain­ly Lapid does not believe that he sits in a gov­ern­ment of Himm­lers. He mere­ly took pity on an old woman in a cat­a­stro­phe because she remind­ed him of an old woman in a cat­a­stro­phe. If no adver­si­ty can be likened to the Jew­ish adver­si­ty of the 1930s and 1940s, then all the instruc­tion about the moral cen­tral­i­ty of the Holo­caust will have the per­verse effect of strip­ping the Holo­caust of its moral cen­tral­i­ty, since it will no longer serve as a ref­er­ence point in the analy­sis of con­tem­po­rary evil.

Cyn is a proud Mommy & Mémé, professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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