Professor Levine in the NYT

In today’s Times, a UMASS Amherst philosophy professor, Joseph Levine, an academic advisor to Jewish Voice for Peace, published an article arguing in favor of BDS.  You might wish to read the article:

Below is the response that I sent to Professor Levine. I hope you might forgive any excessive snark.

Dear Professor Levine,

Congratulations on authoring this week’s NYT anti-Israel article!!

You’re right on calling out Schumer for his Torah-based argument for Israel’s legitimacy. Happily, the Zionist project, for the most part, was anti-religious and therefore not Torah-based. (How the settlers use Torah is another story.) Mr. Schumer was either engaging in rhetoric knowing his AIPAC audience, or ignorant of Jewish history (no surprise, if so), or both. Your obligation, if you were being honest, would have been to make the point in your article that I just did. But instead, you, a philosopher, a man of reason, chose to hit below the belt because you could. (You’re a philosopher, not a historian, I know, so appeals to history are out of your ken.)

You, too, however, seem ignorant of Jewish history, it would appear. The Jewish presence in Palestine throughout the ages was constant, and the Arab presence, until the Jews began settling the land and produced employment opportunities, was fairly shallow (though always outnumbering the Jews). So the image of a mass of citizens being overwhelmed by rampant colonizers isn’t exactly in accord with reality. Your enthusiasm in making a (problematic) Rawlsian argument (and the likely ignorance of Rawls on the part of the editor you worked with) overshadowed your need to check out history.

You probably didn’t have space enough (though this did seem to be a longer than average op-ed) to point out the various attempts to accommodate the Jews or the Arabs. (No fewer than five serious peace offers over a span of nearly sixty years.)

Nor did you bother to point out the historical and sociological complexities of the Israeli Arab situation. But you might have pointed out that, in theory at least–as it is a firm principle of Israeli democracy, that Arabs in Israel possess equal rights.

Any limitations on that fact are to be protested and adjusted. Some of this is happening even under the Netanyahu administration. Meanwhile, it would certainly have been worthwhile to point out the rising standard of living of Israeli Arabs and the constancy of polling among them that shows a surprisingly high degree of satisfaction with their lives in Israel. But the fish you have to fry are too big for subtlety.

Meanwhile, I’ve recently been informed of a new BDS movement seeking to delegitimize a different government due to real genocide and radical displacement. A worldwide effort to force this country to disband due to its illegitimate founding is gaining traction, especially in Europe and Massachusetts. However, the United States of America is resisting this BDS movement with all its (considerable) strength, and the likelihood is that the US won’t return the country to its original owners. Obviously a fiction for a point, nonetheless, Professor, you might consider championing this far more legitimate cause. Might make it to the front pages of the NYT again.

How in Hades is it even possible to question the legitimacy of a reasonable democracy that has just passed its 70th anniversary? Do you actually believe it “reasonable” to imagine the dismantling of a thriving nation of 9 million people?

And although an argument from authority is one of the worst of the philosophical fallacies, I note that you are an academic advisor for Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that I and many of my rabbinic colleagues find utterly reprehensible in its irrational and angry views of the situation in Israel-Palestine. Your membership in this club betrays the innate unreasonableness of your thinking on these matters.

So, again,Professor, I congratulate you on your presence on the front page of the Newspaper of Record, (your mom’s kvelling, I’m sure) and wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Shalom,
Rabbi Phil Cohen Ph.D.

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2 Responses to Professor Levine in the NYT

  1. rabbiphilcohen says:

    For some reason, the link, which appeared in the original posting failed to appear in the printed blog post. Here it is https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/opinion/is-boycotting-israel-hate.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

  2. Truly, a tour de force and marvelous letter. I should not worry about attitude on your part; we’re talking about deconstructing an entire state and democracy here and I should hope a wee bit of attitude shines through. It does. Thank you.

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