“It is not an exaggeration to say that the position an individual takes on the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is a near-infallible guide to their general view of the world. Those who believe that Israel is the historic victim of the Arabs – and that its behavior, while not perfect, is generally as good as could be expected given that it is fighting for its existence against an enemy using the weapons of religious war – typically have a rational, non-ideological approach to the world, arriving at conclusions on the basis of evidence. Those who believe that Israel is the regional bully hell-bent on oppressing the Palestinians, and who equate it with Nazism or apartheid, are generally moral and cultural relativists who invert truth and lies, right and wrong over a wide range of issues, and are incapable of seeing that their beliefs do not accord with reality.” Indeed, such commentary is not only “not an exaggeration,” but it is also one of the precise and pointed conclusions of Melanie Philips, the British journalist, self-described “agnostic although traditionally minded Jew” (only a Jew could possibly concoct such a unique self-description) in her insightful 2010 book “The World Turned Upside Down: the Global Battle over God, Truth and Power.” Taking as her starting point the relentless war against Israel and the Jewish people, she broadens her focus to encompass similar departures from reality inherent in positions of the left on religion, culture, science, morality and values itself. In short, the war against Israel is a major battlefield in a wider war – against traditional conceptions of God, truth and historic moral norms – and all relate to an abandonment of reason and the denigration of truth. That phenomenon is generally perceived by Israelis and other supporters of Israel, who wage a valiant but unsuccessful struggle to “educate” the world on the justice of Israel’s cause. The inversion of reason is patently clear, even most recently. The world community failed (and still fails) to condemn Arab rocket attacks on Israel’s southern towns and cities, which continue as recently as…today. Those attacks prompted Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead in 2006, which resulted in some civilian casualties among Gazans used as human shields by their terrorist hosts. So the world condemned…Israel for attacking civilians, Israel for using Arab civilians as human shields, and Israel for defending itself – while offering no alternative. Most of the Arab dead were terrorists, a few hundred were civilians caught in the crossfire, and the total dead numbered some 1300 – that is, about one-quarter of the number of Syrian civilians who have been murdered by the Syrian government in the last half-year without drawing any condemnation from an international body. This is more than hypocrisy – it is a pathology that perceives Jews, and to some extent the Western world and its value system, as inherently guilty no matter what the charge or the facts. But the examples are legion. The flippancy with which the world embraces accusations of Israeli massacres, or notions such as the “illegality” of an occupation (even though the sovereign from whom Israel captured those territories in a defensive war – Jordan – has long abandoned its rights to that area, and such concepts are not applied anywhere else on the globe) or even the disproved death of the Dura child in 2000 are all evidence of a soaring flight from reality. Reason, truth, justice and morality are today currencies in search of a market that traffics mainly in relativity, emotions, fantasies and feel-good politics and lifestyles. The same departures from the real world are noticeable in other spheres. Science, in some respects, has abandoned its traditional processes in order to promote what some perceive as desirable social goals. This is most manifest in the alarmism of global warming, the ridicule and professional excoriation of dissenters, and the pronouncement that the issue of man-made climate change is “settled.” Really? “If a scientific argument is said to be “over,” settled though a “consensus” of unchallengeable conclusions, it stops being science and turns instead into dogma.” This, despite the fact that hundreds of scientists have dissented from the dogma, and been denounced as heretics in turn. Furthermore, she notes, “scientific triumphalism” has presumed to pronounce on matters beyond its ken, especially metaphysics and religion. Believers in intelligent design are derided, even as evidence of a Designer is far more plausible than the alternative. Worse, the denigration of God is repugnant but also misplaced, as, logically, the Creator of nature stands outside of nature and is therefore not subject to “proof” through nature. We “know” G-d through His deeds. Although it is reasonable to assume based on available evidence that the universe had a Creator or Rational Designer, our acceptance of G-d stems from His reach into history, especially Jewish history. That, indeed, is the famous comment of the Kuzari as to why the Decalogue begins with “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt” and not the G-d who created the world. The scientists who are in the forefront of the new atheist movement (too many of them are Jews) have abandoned both reason and humility in their hostility to the idea of G-d. Scientific believers – common throughout history and still prevalent today – need not apply to their club, even though, “at the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly…Atheism, by contrast, holds that the world comes from a random and therefore irrational source….” That hostility, and those of others who denigrate and castigate every religion except for one (see below), is born of the secular inquisition that has elevated the “privatization of morality” (Philips has a gift for phraseology) into a sacrament. All moral norms are repudiated, in effect reproducing a 14th-century heretical Christian sect of libertines known as the “Free Spirits.” Its modern incarnation has warred against the very concept of sin, seeking to de-stigmatize promiscuity, illegitimacy, and homosexuality. Again, dissenters from liberal Orthodoxy are figuratively burned at the stake, either shunned by society or mocked by the mass media. For some it is professional suicide, like the Italian politician whose nomination as EU Justice Minister was rejected in 2004 because he had once called homosexuality a “sin.” Dissenters are demonized, not engaged in dialogue. The assertions are considered self-justifying and self-explanatory, and all critics are denounced as “–phobics” of one variety or another (xenophobes, homophobes, Islamophobes, etc.). The favored religion is, ironically, Islam, for which no criticism is tolerated. Free speech codes in many countries have been amended to criminalize criticisms of Islam; such forbearance is not afforded any other religion. One is not allowed to point out the violent tendencies of the modern Muslim, who is then justified in becoming violent against the utterers. Truth is turned on its head. One must robotically repeat the mantra of “Islam, the religion of peace,” even if all evidence points to the contrary. Yale University, publishing a scholarly work on the Danish cartoon controversy, refused to allow the book to re-print the very cartoons in question – deference that is not shown to any other religion or ideology. The left – the home of feminists, homosexual activists and the similarly situated – finds itself, without any sense of its own preposterousness, wildly antagonistic to Israel and sympathetic to its Islamic foes – societies where women seeking liberation and homosexuals are routinely stoned, male supremacy reigns and modernity is repudiated. Modern journalism has been corrupted in that truth and objectivity are disdained in pursuit of a “greater truth” that prefers advocacy to reportage. Religious authority has been undermined, with alternative lifestyles becoming mainstream and the basic family unit torn apart and demeaned. Taboos have become taboo. Anything goes. “Feelings” matter more than responsibility, morality, education or accomplishment. Barack Obama was propelled to the presidency by cultish worshippers who ignored traditional modes of analysis and were swept away by fantasy, charisma and a contrived articulacy. “He made them (Americans) feel good about themselves; he stood for hope, love, reconciliation, youthfulness and fairies at the bottom of the garden.” His radical associations and incoherent political musings did not matter; he was the American Princess Diana. And his Cairo speech – in embracing the Arab narrative of Israel’s creation and fantastic notions of the Arab contributions to civilization – was “a startling example of this genuflection to the forces of irrationality and antimodernity.” These movements, taken together, represent an attack on Western civilization and a denial of reason, even as they claim to be fostering reason and saving civilization. Indeed, the left in all its forms is utopian, “warriors in the most noble causes. The greens believe they will save the planet. The leftists believe they will create the brotherhood of man… And the Islamists believe they will create the Kingdom of God on earth.” They are totalitarians who brook no deviation, and who seek to attain their ends through manipulation and/or coercion. They advocate the “totalitarianism of virtue.” Unusual for a self-described agnostic, Philips extols the “marriage of religion and reason in Judaism,” lauding the Bible as the fount of all truth and morality – and reason. Those who perceive a conflict between religion and science understand neither very well. Those who dismiss the Bible’s account of creation forfeit the clearest understanding of man’s origins and purposes. And she rightly identifies “learning” as the “very highest calling” in Judaism – learning, with all its questions, arguments, challenges, resolutions – and reason. It is unsurprising that many of Israel’s enemies – from radical Islam, to the progressive Christian churches, to atheists and leftists of all stripes – often inhabit the same moral and intellectual universe. And make no mistake about it: the old cliché about being anti-Zionist and not a simple old Jew-hater (once known as the anti-Semite) is dead and buried. Those who hate Israel – the modern incarnation of the Jewish people, the center of the Jewish national idea – hate Jews. That some of them are also Jews should not be surprising to anyone who recalls the torment caused to medieval Jews by Jewish apostates. Anyone who claims to love Jews but hates Israel – just hates Jews. “Israel” is a fig leaf, much as the euphemism “anti-Semite” was once utilized to prettify Jew hatred as well. Rare is the analysis of modern politics and culture that will be as meaningful and pointed a century from now. Melanie Philips has succeeded remarkably in identifying the ideology that links all of Israel’s enemies – and in defining our era and its perils. And our challenge: “In repudiating Jewish teaching and its moral codes, the West has turned upon the modern world itself. In turning upon the State of Israel, the West is undermining its defense against the enemies of modernity and the Western civilization that produced it. The great question is whether it actually wants to defend reason and modernity anymore, or whether Western civilization has now reached a point where it has stopped trying to survive.” If the battle is to be fought and won on conventional terms, “The World Turned Upside Down” will have been the clarion call that awakened modern man from his political slumber and moral obtuseness.
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- Great Rabbis of the 20th Century, Part 18: The Chazon Ish, Rav Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 12: Crisis and Faith, the 1990's [audio]
- Introduction to Selichot: Old Me, New Me [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 11: Build-Up and Breakdown, the 1980's [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 10: Darkness and Light, the 1970's [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 9: Golden Opportunity - The 1960's [audio]
- How to Love Every Jew [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 8: 1950's - Return and Restoration [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 7: 1940's - Devastation and Renewal [audio]
- A History of Israel, Part 6: 1930's - The Gathering Storm [audio]