Hist 133D-2001, sample journal entry (by Prof. Marcuse, UCSB)
1. LA Times, Sat. Sept. 1, 2001, p. A3: "Obstacles Abound for Racism Forum"
As the UN conference on racism starts in Durban, South Africa, one of the big issues is reparations for past wrongs, especially slavery and other atrocities committed by European colonial regimes. A second major issue is the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, since the former accuse the latter of "racist practices and laws." UN secretary-general Kofi Annan tried to formulate a compromise by acknowledging that the Jewish people "have been victims of antisemitism in many parts of the world, and in Europe they were the target of the Holocaust, the ultimate abomination. Ö Yet we cannot expect Palestinians to accept this as a reason why the wrongs done to themódisplacement, occupation, blockade and now extrajudicial killingsóshould be ignored, whatever label one uses to describe them." [129 words]
Analysis. For me, this is a fairly clear-cut issue. Annan is right on target: Victims of crimes have no special license to commit crimes. They may deserve special consideration and protections because of the traumas they received, but not immunity from prosecution for the wrongs they commit. While this principle is simple when applied to individuals, it does become more complex (but also less clear?? Ė thatís what Iím thinking about in writing this) when applied to states or national communities. The Jews in Israel are not all the Jews in the world, and the Jews in the Israeli government and populace who support those policies are not all the Jews in Israel. And of course even of those supporters of such "ethnic cleansing" (see below for my thoughts on using this term!) perhaps only a minority have experienced antisemitism, and certainly only a tiny fraction have any firsthand experience with the Holocaust. And on the other side, although vast numbers of Palestinians have suffered tremendously under the policies, that neither gives them license for a blanket condemnation of all Israelis or all Jews, nor does it justify the atrocious acts of terrorism they commit. Not that I have any brilliant or easy solutions about what they should do.
A couple of thoughts. First, Primo Leviís (an Italian chemist whose writings about his experiences in Auschwitz made him famous) disarmingly obvious insight that the Nazi concentration camps were not schools where anyone learned good behavior. Why should we hold the victims of crimes to a higher moral standard? Why should we expect them to be especially empathetic, understanding and tolerant? On the contrary, we understand when brutal murderers turn out to have been the victims of abuse when they were children. Many Jews, Israelis especially, identify themselves with the victims of the Holocaust. They suffered under brutal force, and thus learned to react with brutal force. How to break the cycle of violence? That is something I hope to learn over the years as I teach this course.
My second thought has to do with my use of the term "ethnic cleansing." I know itís very loaded to apply it to Israel, coined as it was by the atrocity-perpetrating Serbian leadership. I know some of my students will be outraged that I apply it to Israeli policies. On the one hand I believe you have to call a spade a spade. On the other hand I donít want to turn people off by politicizing this course from the outset. As I write this Iím considering avoiding the topic altogether, selecting another article to start off this sample journal. I hope by writing these thoughts Iíll challenge the students who feel outraged to respond, to think through their arguments and try to convince me. If, in a safe, free-speech country halfway around the world, some intellectuals canít come to an understanding about the use of certain terms to describe specific policies, how can we expect existentially challenged people to do so. I hope that weíll get close to the bottom of such issues in this course. [513 words]