Jerry Slater, professor at SUNY Buffalo, has published an important essay, A Perfect Moral Catastrophe: Just War Philosophy and the Israeli Attack on Gaza in Tikkun Magazine, examining Israel’s moral claims in pursuing Operation Cast Lead. Slater uses just war theory as the basis with which to explore the justifications for the war and Israel’s general claims about Hamas and Palestinian terrorism. While I am neither a political nor moral philosopher and the arguments advanced do stray into academic territory, Slater’s is a rigorous examination of the logic and moral underpinnings of Israel’s arguments. It deserves close reading by all who ponder the justice of the competing moral claims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The political science professor has published in Tikkun for a number of years, though his views seem to be at variance with what I call the softly critical, but pro-Israel views of Michael Lerner. So I should not have been surprised by the latter’s dipsy-doodle disclaimer in his introduction to the piece on the Tikkun website. Frankly, I’ve been reading all manner of magazines for decades and I don’t think I’ve ever read a stranger editorial comment than this:
We decided that instead of presenting our perspective [on the Gaza war] once again, we would present two partisans, neither of whom reflects the compassionate tone and attempt to understand the other side that we believe is essential if we are ever to move from the “blame game” to the healing. We hoped thereby to document the extent of each side’s inability to hear the suffering of the other side. It is this inability that makes real, tikkunish healing impossible. This healing would be better achieved through the approach outlined by Cherie Brown (see the print edition)…
Lerner seems to be saying: “I know you guys are tired of my bloviating on this subject so, since you’re all so hot and bothered, I’m going to publish two pieces I really hate which represent the conflict, and discussion about it, at its worst.
Why would any editor in his right mind do this or admit to doing it publicly if he did? I believe that he’s done Jerry Slater a deep disservice in insinuating that his piece is a typical piece of partisan hackery, when it is a deeply researched and carefully argued moral tour de force.
Further, Lerner felt so squeamish about Slater’s denunciation of the Gaza war that he commissioned a pro-Israel hack from the American Jewish Committee to “rebut” the professor’s claims. Among other things, the AJC staffer scurrilously claims that Slater believes:
“…unless Israel withdraws completely to its pre-1967 borders, Israeli civilians should be allowed to die.”
One of the worst sins an editor can commit is feeling so insecure about his editorial decisions that he feels he must cover his bases when he publishes a strongly argued moral essay by commissioning a piece that argues the precise opposite. Lerner’s problem is that he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions. You can’t have your cake and eat it too when you’re an editor. You stand for something. You don’t stand for the thing and its opposite.
I’d like Michael Lerner to explain to me why Israel killing 1,400 Gazans, including hundreds of women and children, and possibly committing war crimes requires Jerry Slater to “hear the suffering” of Israelis? In addition, it is false to insinuate that Slater does not acknowledge the moral impermissibility of targeting civilians, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian. But he does not hold the violations of both sides to be equivalent and that is what disturbs Lerner, who would rather find both sides equally at fault.
Not surprisingly, given the above disclaimer, it appears unlikely that Slater will ever publish again in Tikkun. It will be Lerner’s loss. He appears to feel squeamish at scholars who tell it like it is when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He’d rather talk about the latter in emotive terms (i.e. “compassionate,” “healing,” etc.) than rigorous moral or political ones.
Oh and Michael, “tikkunish” is not a word and shouldn’t ever be one. As an editor, you should know that reining in one’s urge to neologize is a good thing.
For the real just war wonks out there, Slater has published a longer version (pdf) of his piece replete with deeper documentation and footnoting.