A stupid way to protest Israeli policy


This incident came up over the weekend:

It’s just plain wrong-headed to mob a religious figure to get your point across. It’s crass, useless, and likely damages your cause.

Marches, banners, whatever - but keep the old ugly phantoms of anti-semitism out of it.


If only, but history says unlikely.


Sam Harris’ response to the pile-on is perhaps one of the most humane and balanced I’ve ever read:


I disagree there is much balance there. He’s reserved enough to say no killings are above criticism, sure. But he still excuses everything in terms of motives and broad stereotypes. The one side is Israel taken as a whole, and they want peace and to try to preserve civilian life. The readiness for collective punishment, the ghettos, the members of government who talk about wiping Palestinians out all either don’t come up or at least aren’t central to the conflict.

Instead the only thing driving the conflict is the other side, which as usual is Hamas rather than Palestine, dedicated to wiping out every Israeli man, woman, and child. How much damage they actually do, that they currently support a two-state solution while Likud does not, don’t come up because they fantasize about doing more. And of course the people getting blockaded and shelled are only incidentally part of it, so we need never question how such extremists find their support.

Better to consider what ISIS is doing in Iraq. Are they part of this conflict, or even friendly with Hamas? It doesn’t matter, because it shows the type of people they are. The actual war of two radical parties hammering one another’s civilians stops being the point, and it’s all submerged in Western Democracy versus Islamism. Where no peace can be hoped for, and everyone needs to side with one or the other, a few hundred dead children or not.

Harris is a good writer, but I don’t think trying to contextualize things in terms of a conflict of civilizations that eclipses all the actual decisions leading to actual deaths is humane or balanced. For this I would rather hold with PZ Myers who, for all the threat from radical Islam, doesn’t suddenly forget those choosing to hurt civilians.


I actually quite like the way he portrays the fledgling state of Israel. Sort of disorientated with it’s own actions.

I’m not sure I quite read as much ‘grand-scheme of-things’ as you although I’ll acknowledge it’s there. Impractical to a statement such as his?

At least I think that’s what you mean.


I thought…

we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise

…was a rather clever indictment of the religious nutcases on both sides. Not just the sides of Hamas and Israel, but in drawing a comparison to the situation we in the West (I assume you live in a ‘Western’ country (lol)) are also afflicted by; war-like, religiously influenced governments who also react with extremism to the muslim world.


The truth is, we are all living in Israel.

We are all afflicted by that troubling issue.


Just as a point of order, Judaism does not have any analogous concept of "desperate to get into Paradise. We have a concept of martyrdom but it is restricted to cases where a Jew is killed for being a Jew and or not renouncing their faith even under torture or threat of death. Add onto that that our concept of the afterlife does not map at all to the Paradise/Heaven concept of Islam/Christianity. To put it as simply as possible, we don’t get pie in the sky when we die.


I was aware that there were differences and did go and look up what I could, finding references to ‘The world to come’, where…

According to religious Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to the Seven Laws of Noah is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come, the final reward of the righteous.

And from: http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven

But then, I had to actually look these up so I’m obviously not conversant with the details of the subject.


The jewfaq site is one I often point people to, As far as what an Orthodox Jew may believe about the world to come, the sentence before that is very important:

because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion.

We really don’t have a clear idea what it will be like as a whole whereas Christianity and Islam both do have dogma in this regard, thus my “does not map” comment above.

That aid, “our” religious nut cases are not fighting for the same reason as “theirs”. We are most definitely not happy to die in these wars as we see that God is interested in how we live not how we die.


I still read it as ‘people willing to perform egregious actions to secure a place in their religions reward-after-death’ and feel that the promulgation of such a mode of thinking infects a disproportionate number of people.

Specifically he says ‘get to’ not ‘get into’ and I would still argue that the religious underpinnings of the motivations for those people committing war crimes is the central issue. Not the degree and methodology or the particular structure of belief in whatever specific reward is forseen.

The differing reasons or degree of happiness of those willing to kill and be killed for their ends seems like a moot difference in the context of war crimes and poltical-religious politiking.

I would add, the reason I’m reading it like that and not so partisan, even myself using the descriptor ‘balanced,’ is because Sam seems to take great pains to criticise (and then note that he is being critical of) both sides.


But that’s just it, he really doesn’t. He criticizes actions by both sides, but his main point throughout seems to be to deny agency to one. Israel has done criminal and brutal things - because they have been brutalized. They kill children - because they are made to. He doesn’t like what’s happening, to be sure, but they must not be considered as primarily responsible. They’re puppets of fate and so outside the kind of blame you would normally give them.

And Harris reserves that for Israel. He doesn’t frame Palestine the same way, though you could, maybe even more so now that they’ve been turned into a ghetto with scarce room for moderate movements. They’ve been left shut up, blocakded, and periodically shelled by a country that has likewise elected an extreme government that doesn’t recognize their right to be there. That war criminals find support here is not surprising; do we then say it’s because they’ve been criminalized?

But I think the notion of puppets made to smash each other is a hopeless and amoral way to look at it. Harris’s concern is all about primary responsibility, who threw the first stone. But conflicts like this aren’t suddenly imposed, they are escalated and maintained by factions on both sides who make the choice to do so. Both alike should be held to do what they can to wind things down instead.

Hamas are guilty for the rockets they fire, and Likud for the cities they shell. The continued killing needs to stop, and both have been reinforcing it instead. The responsibility not to rests on both.


That doesn’t mean you can’t condemn specific actions on the part of the Israelis.

And, of course, acknowledging the moral disparity between Israel and her enemies doesn’t give us any solution to the problem of Israel’s existence in the Middle East.

Rather than denying agency to Israel I think he is pointing out a broader context (which you also seem to take issue with) which Harris believes informs the actions of the two sides.

Perhaps he is turning his gaze to a broader context and if the article was specifically about why he shouldn’t do that… fine. But he is not making the argument for the denial of agency, he is, at worst, focusing on an issue subsidiary to the glaring in-your-faceness of the current conflict. Perhaps this could be seen as unwelcome, perhaps a distraction but perhaps it is the dark core to the conflict that wont be immediately resolved through any currently proposed solutions.

Should we only be focused only on the conflicts so close at hand, is it that improper to also consider the seeds of the wars that sprout and flourish and is he incorrect of his assessment of Palestine’s attitude towards Jews as a whole?

I’m not sure being concerned with remaining cognisant of what he calls the moral disparity is the same as denying Israel’s agency.

Whilst I appreciate the soundness of your reasoning and even agree with you that he could have made an effort to be specifically critical of Lukid’s warmongering, I also feel that your assessment of the importance of staying on a particular thread of reason within the broader topic might be amplifying the surety with which you ascribe Harris’ supposed denial of agency ‘for’ Israel (as in ‘on their behalf’).


Maybe, but I have a tough time seeing how it could be taken otherwise. Am I wrong in seeing that he doesn’t criticize what Israel does except where he calls out what has made it happen, from the settlements to the suffering imposed on Gaza?

And a broader context is one thing, but I think the seeds he’s picking are a false narrative. I don’t think he’s wrong that Palestine is full of anti-Jewish sentiment. Is that a seed, or should we consider how it grew to the point where groups like Hamas became popular?

The mirror sentiment is thankfully less pervasive, but you will find enough people who argue for collective punishment against Palestinians, who treat their lives as inherently less valuable, who think they might be evicted en masse - I’ve even heard they don’t have rights. If those attitudes are connected with support for groups like Likud, do we consider how things grew to that point, or is it another seed?

What exactly are we tracing back to find? The history of this conflict is very clear, and I think the only real question is how far back to start. But at one point there was a Zionist movement who wanted to make a homeland without much thought to who was there, and there were a lot of Arabs there who somewhat tolerated Jews in smaller numbers but didn’t care to see more immigrate. Things have escalated from there.

Sure, you can look at this in terms of Islamic extremism, just as you could look at it in terms of a colonial power. But trying to assign moral responsibility from those single perspectives - and Harris clearly does - doesn’t work. Conflicts like this aren’t like flowers that grow from one odious seed, they are like creeper vines that spread and root where people let them, and pretending otherwise gives a distorted picture.


Then you are still subject to a misunderstanding or willful misinterpretation of the situation. The concepts of martyrdom or willfully sacrificing ones own life in combat are so completely different in the Judaic context as opposed to others. “Get to” or “get into” don’t really differentiate in a meaningful way for us since the afterlife is not in any way a primary focus of Judaism. We don’t actively seek death as to do so is to ignore many of God’s commandments regarding sanctifying life.

There are of course places in the Talmud which speak of certain actions meriting a place in the world to come but these statements do not over ride the commandments to sanctify life. There are also Torah/Talumd laws of war by which we must conduct ourselves and while under extremely limited conditions a “suicide mission” may be authorized provided there are volunteers (many of which will be rejected under laws of war as to who may serve in an army and the type of war, for example a man with dependents may not volunteer for this type of mission), this is completely different from “martyr brigades” or “suicide squads” which are completely forbidden in our system.

In contrast, Islamic jurisprudence from the Quran/Haddath specifically endorses these and promises immediate entry to an afterlife which is dogmatically defined. Furthermore the widows and children of such martyrs are mandated to receive more charity support than those of a mere fallen soldier.

I’m going to choose not to address the rest of your comment since you have chosen to use loaded language to color the issues. I’m only interested in explaining the difference of religious systemic thought in this discussion.


And it is how Israel deals with these people—their own religious lunatics—that will determine whether they can truly hold the moral high ground. And Israel can do a lot more than it has to disempower them. It can cease to subsidize the delusions of the Ultra-Orthodox, and it can stop building settlements on contested land.

I think this quote encapsulates Sams attribution of responsibility to the Israeli State and criticism of that delusional behaviour which the Ultra-Orthodox Israelis are building 'to’ward. Rather than the Paradise that Muslims get ‘into’.

However, upon re-re-re-reading the final paragraph I will admit I have incorrectly imputed the sentiment of the above quote into the way in which he meant the metaphor to be taken.

This is a criticism of the entire stated point of his blog. He is framing it, from the start, in broad strokes. “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?”
Just as I have made the mistake of imputing motivations into his behaviour, have you. The evocation then criticism of vivid, seed images of puppets smashing each other sure seem ludicrous enough to descry but I think you go too far in your appropriation of Sam’s intent for the promotion of your criticism of the tone of the conversation at large, which you have too-quickly judged him guilty of promoting.


Well, that’s my answer to your question as to whether it is appropriate to consider the seeds of these wars. As for my interpretation of Harris’s point, I can only ask again: am I wrong in seeing that he doesn’t criticize what Israel does except where he calls out how their enemies have made it happen?

Edit: Also, did you read Myers’s criticism I linked above?


The first quote in my post demonstrates a criticism of what is a contributing factor on the part of the religious ‘crazies’ that the Israeli state props up. I can’t be any more specific than that, I’m afraid.

He is obviously arguing from a specific point because of his background, but he obviously also feels it’s a point worth making, to be cognisant of.




No but I am now! hehe

Although I am immediately overcome with false equivalences and straw men… not looking good

Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation,

Oh sheesh, why do you like this guy?

And please, please stop characterizing specific groups with specific issues and causes with global Islamism. I despise that religion myself, but that does not mean you can simply lump Palestinians under the thumb of Israel with Muslims in Iraq or unsourced claims that Muslims use their own children as shields, or complaining about ISIS when talking about the events in Gaza. Let’s start by recognizing that Palestinians have legitimate grievances, as Harris tacitly acknowledges, and not ignoring them under the umbrella of simply declaring them wicked and deserving of all that they get.

Just! Oh FFS!

The second article is not so hyperbolic but relies on a third to displace much of it’s content.

There is a lot to be critical (of Israel) of, I don’t disagree; but the hyperbolic tension those articles float in on is problematic.


I don’t always, and I won’t say I like everything he said there. But I thought the main point - and this was where I happened to see it argued - is an important one, that we care about and hold people responsible for what they actually do.

For the first sentence you quote, you’re right. Harris doesn’t say the Palestinian suffering is no big deal, he explicitly says otherwise, so it is wrong to say so. He does, though, say Israel is not “primarily to blame”, and if that isn’t saying what they do is no big deal, it also isn’t holding them to task for it. You’ve said you don’t think he is denying them agency, so I am curious what you make of this primary blame, because I’m not sure what else it might mean.

For the second paragraph you quote, I actually don’t see what’s so wrong. I guess that Harris doesn’t actually say the Palestinians deserve what they get, only that it is happening because of things they did? But the rest doesn’t seem terribly far from the mark; Israel is responsible for significant harm to the Palestinians, because it’s chosen to blockade and shell them, and ISIS is not involved.

I guess the way to put it is that it is not really fair to Harris about the degree, but it does call out what I think is wrong in his arguments. As far as hyperbole, there may be too much, but I don’t think it’s more so than equating the conflict with ISIS and then viewing everything through that lens. Hamas are horrible terrorists, but they’re not behind hundreds of deaths this year alone.


Thanks. It is always a pleasure when someone says this rather than rages in an internet discussion.

One further thing I would like to point out though. You mention above:

I’m unclear what you mean by this but would like to mention that generally the ultra-Orthodox (correct term being haredim) differentiate on religious grounds between the State of Israel and the commandment to live in the Land of Israel. The haredim will generally not be supportive of the State as it is not run according to Torah law and the interpretation being that until the Messiah comes, having a nation in the biblically granted Land of Israel is forbidden, yet still living in the Land of Israel is meritorious. Seems like hair splitting but that is something we excel at :smile:


We get dead.