The New York Times, which is, in my opinion, an anti-Israel newspaper, in addition to an anti-anti-boycott editorial, hosts Israeli philosopher Anat Biletzki. And what came to my mind first was the Hebrew slang term: "philosophia b''grush," that is, being a philosopher for a penny, or, it doesn''t cost much to pretend to be smart. It could also be cheap intellectualism.
That''s what came to mind while reading Biletzki''s piece in a column called ‘The Stone,’ "a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless" at the New York Times'' web site. Her essay serves as a forum discussion piece for "humanists and scientists at On the Human, a project of the National Humanities Center." Biletzki is an Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy at Quinnipiac University (which is in Connecticut; I had to look that up) and professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. She has been accused of ''smearing Israel''. Her opinion is that "Israeli occupation of Palestine is the epitome of evil." And so, she is an involved academic: from 2001 to 2006 she was chairperson of B’Tselem — The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Those "rights" are those solely of Arabs; Jews are virtually ignored except to be castigated, maligned and attacked.
When I read the word "The Stone," my immediate thought was that Anat is referring to the stones the Arabs - young and old, men and women, - throw at we Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria (and in Jerusalem). Mobilized journalists, like flotilla activist Joseph Dana does, refer to all that as non-violent resistance as does the LATimes. Then, on second thought, when I saw the word "sacred" in her column, I thought of the Even Shtiya, the "foundation" stone on the Temple Mount where the Altar was, another piece of territory that the Arabs have appropriated for themselves and have been desecrating and working hard to destroy any Jewish connection to that site. No rights for Jews there, either.
B''tselem is funded by a lot of European money (including, it is charged, BDS money) that seeks to subvert democracy. The advantage this financial leverage gave her in her appointment, along with her degree and academic position, along with the support of her comrades-in-strife, is significant but it doesn''t make them just or even correct.
For her, Jews have no "rights" in Judea and Samaria, surely none that possess primacy over the Arabs who invaded the area, conquered it, expelled and disenfranchised the Jewish residents who lived there over the centuries, persecuting them and eventually, during the Mandate period, acted to ethnically cleanse them. Jewish history is invalidated. International legality of Jews therein as awarded by the League of Nations, no less an august body in its time than the United Nations, is ignored and belittled.
And so, that Hebrew phrase, "philosophia b''grush," being a philosopher for a penny, assumes an additional metaphorical meaning as I noted: cheap intellectualism.In her piece, she writes (and excuse the too-too short extracts, which does not do her "philosophy" true justice), after quoting from the book, The Idea of Human Rights, by Michael Perry who is unequivocal about the worthlessness of the secular bunch: “[T]here is, finally, no intelligible (much less persuasive) secular version of the conviction that every human being is sacred; the only intelligible versions are religious” ...Why do we care, or why should we care, if the practice of human rights is born of religious or secular motivation?
Take a look at how we work on the ground, so to speak; look at how we do human rights, for example, in Israel-Palestine. When Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the leader of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, squats in the mud trying to stop soldiers who have come to set a blockade around a village or fights settlers who have come to uproot olive trees (as he has done so often, in villages like Yanoun and Jamain and Biddu, in the last decade) along with me (from B’Tselem — the Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), or a group of secular kids from Anarchists Against the Wall, or people from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions — and he does this on a Friday afternoon, knowing full well that he might be courting religious transgression should the Sabbath arrive — does it matter that his reasons for doing so spring from his faith while the anarchists’ derive from their secular political worldview and B’Tselem’s and ICAHD’s from secular international human rights law? The end-product, the human rights activity, is similar, even identical; but the reason, the intention, the motivation for it are distinctly different. Does that matter?
... religious authority must vacate the arena of human rights...religion, even when indirectly in the service of human rights, is not really working for human rights. Although there is recognition of the human as sacred, it is not the concept of rights that propels the religious person...
The question, we have seen, is what functions as the source of moral authority, assuming that “human rights” are morally based...Who commands us? The question boils down to who or what is the source of moral authority, God or the human being, religion or ethics?...when we disagree — about abortion, about capital punishment, about settling occupied lands — that the religious authority must vacate the arena of human rights. Ah, Anat. But are those lands really "occupied"? What does secular law say? (See here and here and this summation) What does secular history recount of who exactly is occupying what? Can I philosophize over the matter of if Arabs act out of fanatic religious motivation, against Jews per se, against women who they oppress and kill for reasons of "honor," is Biletzki with them despite her own religious/cultural heritage or even lack thereof?
Biletzki notes further:
Had God’s angel failed to call out — “Abraham! Abraham!” — Abraham would have slain Isaac.
But, the point is, he didn''t. He stayed the hand of Abraham. Religion can be a force for good.
She then continues:
...Let me, then, make explicit the definition of religion at the root of my unrest: Religion is a system of myth and ritual; it is a communal system of propositional attitudes — beliefs, hopes, fears, desires — that are related to superhuman agents...For some, the physics that runs the natural world and the ethics that provide for our moral sense are seen to be more ordinary than religious experience. I, on the other hand, can think of nothing more awe inspiring than humanity and its fragility and its resilience.
So, in her negativism, she assumes a superiority that cannot even be justified by secular values but she desires to portray an inferior rights claim for Jews while disregarding the claims of Islam and Arab nationalism.
What is her problem, actually, I argue, is that for Anat it is all politics and ideology.And that comes cheap.