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 Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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