Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Many Faces of Interpretation

A Guest Post by SM

We are now dealing with an interpretation of history.

On the one side: the proposition that some Arabs want peace. Arafat - who certainly said different things to different audiences - could just as well have lied to them as to us. Given that what Arafat usually wanted was whatever was best for Arafat, it seems slightly stupid to assert that he always told Arabs the truth, whilst saying that he never told Jews the truth.

It would therefore follow that suicide bombings and terrorism would not ultimately assist Fatah. And, lo and behold, we find that to be true. Fatah are trying to negotiate with Israel. That supports the idea that some Arabs want peace. It is, obviously, possible to believe that it is all a gigantic con job by people who truly believe that they will then be able to accomplish what no one has done in 60 years and destroy Israel, but that seems irrational.

On the other side: the proposition that no Arab wants peace. Thus suicide bombings began because given the opportunity, this race of homicidal maniacs will take it. This stance is dictated by their religion which, unlike ours, is understandable from reading a straightforward primer in a foreign language.

When these maniacs talk to us it is only to lull us into a false sense of security. We cannot, therefore, affford to trust them. When anyone Jewish dissents from that view they are plainly either naive or - especially if they do not agree when 'corrected' - traitors who want to see Jews die.

There is also another dimension. The first group want to treat the Arabs properly, subject to necessary security considerations (the extent of which are a matter of real debate). However, the second group automatically assume that all Arabs - even those in Israel proper - are at least waiting for a suitable time to kill Jews. The question of equal treatment cannot therefore arise as these people do not fulfil the requirements of being a citizen of Israel. The second group wish to deport or otherwise limit the freedom of people living in a country which grants them equal treatment under the law.

Faced with the fact the adopting the second group's stance means a lifetime of fear and immoral behaviour, one is bound to ask whether their game is worth the candle. The answer is 'no'. If that is what Israel demands then what is the point?

Fortunately, it is not what Israel demands. It is important to understand that these fears are real and, to an extent, well-founded. But they cannot be allowed to govern the way a whole society acts. That proposition cannot be proved, because - as set out above - it is ultimately a matter of belief. But it can be shown to be more likely than not, in three ways.

Firstly, we know that peace works. The idea it will vanish when Mubarak dies is not to be taken seriously - as Egypt's current stance shows. It is, moreover, exactly what was said about Sadat. The inability of the second group to deal with this fact and to learn from it, suggests strongly that their interpretations are unreliable. As interpretation is all they have, we can conclude that they are likely to be wrong.

Secondly, the position espoused by this second group has a convenient benefit for them. It means that the ideology which proclaims land before peace is factually correct. It is always suspicious when an interpretation of events fits the needs of the group asserting that particular interpretation, because they have something to gain from it. The first group does not have this difficulty - they have nothing to gain from asserting that peace is possible, because everyone agrees that the conditions for peace will be difficult to create and do not yet exist.

Thirdly, only one group tries to assert a moral advantage over the other. The second group is the one which calls 'traitor'. The second group is the one that seeks to assert that its contribution to the Army justifies giving it a louder voice than the one to which it is democratically entitled (conveniently ignoring the massive financial and human cost of protecting the settlements). The use of morality to win an argument which is dependent on interpretation is clearly suspect. Either the argument is a good one or it is not. It cannot be made better by asserting that it is being supported by the 'good' people.

Halacha has something to offer here. The position of a Judge who is affected by his judgement is unsustainable. Although that does not, of course, preclude the second group from asserting a view, it means that their view should be treated with suspicion unless objective observers agree. Very few do. I am not here talking about the non-Jewish world, although the massive moral and financial support that governments give - they being brave enough to defy their own media because they actually support the State - are worth more than the dismissive snorts of anti-Semitism the second group are wont to give them. I am talking about Jews. Jews overwhelmingly reject the analysis offered by the second group. They want peace and they believe it will one day be possible. They are prepared to hasten that day by working towards it and they recognise that this means that some things will have to be given up.

Within this first group there are many divisions. But they are tactical, not strategic. Only the second group - small, loud and occasionally vicious - is so rejectionist as to say that peace is not worth bothering about. That Interpretation of events is not one that is supportable. Rather it is imposed on events to serve a view already decided upon.

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