26 March 2013

On questioning professor Joseph Levine

I wasn't raised in a particularly religious Jewish environment, but these days when I see an article titled like On Questioning the Jewish State that starts with a sentence "I was raised in a religious Jewish environment, and though we were not strongly Zionist, I always took it to be self-evident that “Israel has a right to exist.”", I say to myself: OMG, not another AssaJew* that has seen the light of anti-Zionism, please! But usually my plea falls short of destination (MG), and in most cases, including this one, it is another AssaJew. In this case: Joseph Levine, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he teaches and writes on philosophy of mind, metaphysics and political philosophy.

Professor Avi Bell has done a serious debunking job on that opus. Reading it, I couldn't shake off the impression that prof Bell was (like me) somewhat irked by Levine, which clearly shows in his conclusion:

Levine’s argument is disingenuous and biased, covered up by pretend erudition and a lot of verbiage. It is as intellectually dishonest, illogical and bigoted as the assertion that “Arabs can’t be anti-Semites because they speak a Semitic language.” Levine should be mocked for dressing up his bigotry in pseudo-intellectual demagoguery. The New York Times should be ashamed of itself for publishing the result.
As for the rest of prof Bell's article: if I were prof Levine, I would rather put my hand in a buzz-saw than have to read this review, so devastating it is. For all the good reasons too.

In his "novel" approach, professor Levine distinguishes three elements in what he calls "the principle that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state":
To begin, since the principle has three parts, it follows that it can be challenged in (at least) three different ways: either deny that Jews constitute “a people” in the relevant sense, deny that the right to self-determination really involves what advocates of the principle claim it does, or deny that Jews have the requisite claim on the geographical area in question.
To start with, the "principle" is discussed mainly by rabid Jew-biters - but prof Levine already inoculated himself from a suspicion that he belongs to this group. After all, he used the necessary AssaJew all-protective proclamation. So (he thinks) it clears him on the Jew-hating issue. Not so, as many cases of Jewish Jew-haters in history proved.

Then, the author is quite choosy - he says immediately:
In fact, I think there is a basis to challenge all three, but for present purposes I will focus on the question of whether a people’s right to self-determination entails their right to a state of their own, and set aside whether Jews count as a people and whether Jews have a claim on that particular land.
Being of a generous disposition, prof Levine leaves the part 1 (Jews as a people) and part 3 (Jews and geography) to other anti-Zionists. His side notion "I do so partly for reasons of space, but mainly because these questions have largely (though not completely) lost their importance" leaves some room for additional activity on his side (probably in the future). But one can see that he realized that these two have been already staked out by the likes of prof Shlomo Sand (#1) and several Palestinian deniers of any historical links between them Jews and the locale in question (#3).

And on item #2, somewhat confusingly defined by prof Levine as "the right to self-determination really involves what advocates of the principle claim it does" (go figure what it means), he has a point to make:
My point is that even if we grant Jews their peoplehood and their right to live in that land, there is still no consequent right to a Jewish state.
So, we, the Jooz, already got a magnanimous permission (alas, temporary, but still an permission) from prof Levine to be a people and to inhabit the geographic area in question. But not to have a state of our own. And why is that? To answer this question, prof Levine introduces two new revolutionary categories of "people":
In particular, there is a distinction to be made between a people in the ethnic sense and a people in the civic sense.
And now we come to the crunch:
So whereas there is both an ethnic and a civic sense to be made of the term “French people,” the term “Jewish people” has only an ethnic sense. This can easily be seen by noting that the Jewish people is not the same group as the Israeli people. About 20 percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jewish Palestinians, while the vast majority of the Jewish people are not citizens of Israel and do not live within any particular geographic area.
I don't know why our professor decided to pull in "French people" into his confused and disjointed rumbling, but if he was less lazy (both physically and intellectually) he would have bothered himself to look up something like CIA factbook on France and see a few facts on this specific example, like:
Ethnic groups:
Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Indochinese, Basque minorities
overseas departments: black, white, mulatto, East Indian, Chinese, Amerindian
Roman Catholic 83%-88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5%-10%, unaffiliated 4%
overseas departments: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, pagan
He could also do himself some good by looking up some info on French population of the world. He would definitely benefit from learning a bit more about the "vast majority" of Jews in Diaspora as well. And, while at it, compare the numbers with the ones for (to take on example) that of Irish folks outside of Ireland (The diaspora, maximally interpreted, contains more than 100 million people, which is more than fifteen times the population of the island of Ireland, which had approximately 6.4 million in 2011).

But, after completing this nonsensical, ignorant and misinformed passage, professor gained (in his own opinion, that is), enough steam to wade in:
But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall.
The whole subject could be dismissed by a quote from our Declaration of Independence:
...it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Yes, the implementation of the above is still far from ideal in Israel, one might notice. But we are going there, and now show me a place where the above formulated good intentions are implemented in full, ideally, so to say - and I shall offer you a used bridge in excellent condition for sale.

All in all, I must say that prof Joseph Levine should stay with philosophy of mind and metaphysics. And carefully circumvent any subject that requires even a perfunctory acquaintance with some boring pedestrian facts. In other words - he should let himself stay lazy.

For the common good of all people,  notwithstanding their religious, ethnic, civic or any other persuasion.

(*) A short and easy designation for the characters what start their texts with obligatory "As a Jew, I have to say...".


SnoopyTheGoon said...

This is simply what comes the explosion of the academics industry -- presumptuous asses pontificating publicly, in areas for which they possess little expertise. If J. Levine was anything but the pencil-neck that he is, he would have taken on a project like arguing Alan Dershowitz's case for Israel.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Prof Levine vs. prof Dershowitz: that will be worth watching ;-)