Israel’s Moral Retirement

Feeling they have accumulated a moral fortune, the Jews feel free to lecture the world while doing what they please.

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You've worked for decades and are dreaming of a peaceful retirement? Hope you're not in a hurry about it.
You've worked for decades and are dreaming of a peaceful retirement? Hope you're not in a hurry about it. Credit: Reuters

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is opposed to ratifying the international Arms Trade Treaty on the contention that it could do damage to the import and export of arms to and from Israel. The provisions of the treaty do not permit the export of arms if it is known that they will be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, attacks directed at civilians or other war crimes. Israel has signed the treaty, but for it to come into force, it must be ratified by the legislatures of at least 50 countries. Ya’alon has supported Israel’s signing onto the treaty, but not ratification by the Knesset, because it would require the country to conform to the treaty’s provisions.

Israel is not opposed in principle to the concept that a group of nations would come together to dictate binding standards on member countries. In fact, Israel very much enjoys dictating standards to the world. It just isn’t so enamored of subjecting itself to them. It’s possible that the root of this Jewish double standard lies in the distortion of its founding myth, the idea of the chosen people. In our national reincarnation, we believe that we enjoy moral immunity that is guaranteed a priori without having to subject ourselves to international treaties.

But when it comes to others, it’s a whole different story. They are not only morally inferior to us, but also carriers of the anti-Semitic gene that causes them to try to exterminate us again and again.

We feel bound to warn humanity of the dangers inherent in a nuclear world, chemical weaponry, the rise of right-wing extremism and racism. But heaven forbid we should deprive ourselves of any of those privileges. The problem, you see, is not the weapons or convictions themselves, but rather who holds them.

We are Jews and rational human beings, so our possession of nuclear weapons need not worry anyone. It’s others who must be subject to treaties, bound by laws and punished by sanctions. The fact that Iran, for example, is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has also ratified it, while Israel as is its wont, signed it but has not carried out the ratification process, doesn’t change the truth one bit: Iran is the chemical threat, never Israel.

And does our moral advantage imply that we have any responsibility for the rest of humanity? God forbid. The Jewish people are acting as if they are in moral retirement. Neither oppression of the Palestinians nor torture permitted by law nor a cruel migrant immigration policy will put a dent in the moral fortune they have accumulated or in the interest they are now living off. Assuming we accept an economic model of the moral realm and that people can accumulate moral capital by their deeds and then retire, one might then ask: What have the Jewish people done to earn their supposed moral fortune?

After all, the Holocaust was something perpetrated upon us, so how can it have become evidence of our moral superiority? Since it was established, Israel has been careful to avoid intervening in the conflicts of others. An initiative on the part of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to send Israeli troops in the Korean War was stopped in its tracks. And during the period of the dictatorship in Argentina, when a general of the country’s Montoneros underground asked Israel to intervene, even for the benefit of Jews in the country who were being persecuted by the regime, Israel declined.

At the very minimum, Israel could have maintained economic neutrality, but instead it sold weapons to the Argentine junta. It also sold weapons to South Africa under apartheid, to Zaire under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and to Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet. And it could be just a matter of time until documents leaked by rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that are now being reviewed by human rights organizations around the world reveal other instances of morally apathetic cooperation with the world’s perpetrators. Clearly, pinning moral responsibility on Israel, even indirectly, for crimes committed by countries using the weapons and know-how that it sold them would be a sort of logical contradiction, almost certainly attributable to anti-Semitism.

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