Moral relativism, moral equivalence, and historical revisionism

The trinity moral relativism, moral equivalence, and historical revisionism aimed at Israel is poorly camouflaged anti-Semitism.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

OpEds Matthew Hausman
Matthew Hausman

The progressive failure to appreciate Israel’s existential concerns was reflected by the international uproar over the Knesset NGO Transparency bill, which would require Israeli NGOs receiving at least half their funds from foreign governments to register as foreign agents and identify their funding sources.  The liberal Jewish establishment has claimed the law will have a chilling effect on speech, though it does not seem as concerned about entities that support anti-Israel boycotts and lawfare.  It seems strange that advocates for Israel would express greater outrage for legislation mandating disclosure requirements than organizations that may be financed by hostile governments or foreign interests. 

If progressives find the law conceptually repugnant, why did they not condemn attempts to target conservative organizations in the United States?  Why was the liberal establishment silent when Obama’s regulatory proxies sought donor disclosure requirements for conservative groups and denied tax-exempt status to pro-Israel nonprofits?  Progressives have never seemed troubled by disclosure laws that have been on the books in the U.S. for the better part of a century.

The “Foreign Agents Registration Act” was passed by Congress in 1938 to require those representing foreign interests in a “political or quasi-political capacity” to disclose their foreign relationships, sources of funding, and organizational activities in order to enable “evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons.”  It was signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal allies never questioned its impact on democracy or free speech.  Though the bill now before the Knesset may differ in certain respects, any concerns over content and scope should be handled through Israel’s legislative process.  Foreign critics cannot seem to accept this, however, and their denunciations seem shrill and disproportionate.

Progressives often reprimand Israel for taking actions to defend her sovereignty or preserve her Jewish character, often reflecting an antipathy for Jewish historical rights that is rooted in the progressive holy trinity of moral relativism, moral equivalence, and historical revisionism.  

Moral relativism is often employed by leftists to justify their obsessive criticism of Israel, rationalization of Arab-Muslim rejectionism, and support for Islamists.  They believe that standards of right and wrong are malleable, and that public morality and ethical standards are culturally subjective.  This outlook rejects the concept of universal morality and holds that actions cannot be judged as inherently evil, no matter how egregious.

Islamist terrorism is not considered wrong by moral relativists who deem it a culturally organic reflection of the society that spawns it.  Many on the left take it a step further by ennobling terrorism as a reaction to western provocations.  They see no inconsistency in condemning Israel for defending herself against terrorists who view the mere existence of a Jewish state as offensive.

It seems that in order to be consistent, though, moral relativists should likewise not condemn actions that can be considered organic expressions of Israeli society.  The use of moral relativism to condemn Israel while exonerating terrorists is incongruous, and its proponents often claim their view is really one of moral equivalence.  But this does not explain their unbalanced hatred.

Moral equivalence assumes ethical parity between parties in conflict and holds that their actions cannot be judged out of context from each other.  Justifications for the conduct of one are applied uniformly to allThis theory is often used to legitimize Arab-Muslim rejectionism.  But whereas true moral equivalence holds all parties in moral equilibrium, terrorism against Israel is seen as justified against her presumed illegality and the false perception of Arab-Muslim victimhood.  

Israel’s actions are rarely condoned because she is considered a rogue state, while Islamic radicals are given moral license because they are perceived as redressing genuine grievances.  If such a view were applied to all conflicts, no sovereign nation would ever be able to defend itself from aggressors presumed to be morally justified. 

The neutral exercise of moral equivalence is dishonest in its balancing of self-defense with the aggression that provokes the response.  However, the lopsided application that presumes Israeli illegitimacy is even more egregious because it rests on a false narrative that depicts Israel as a colonial state, the Jews as strangers to the Mideast, and the Palestinians as having the most ancient connection to the Jewish homeland.  This narrative requires historical revisionism to create a political mythology that repudiates Jewish history. 

Those who portray Arab-Muslim hatred of Jews as an understandable response to historical wrongs evoke a past that never really existed.  Though rejectionism is rationalized as a reaction to Jewish mistreatment of Arabs and Muslims, Judaism has never incited against Islam and Jews have never subjugated Arabs.  Jews have always been the persecuted minority, whose ancestral land was usurped through jihad.  Despite the canard that Israel displaced an ancient nation and culture, it is undeniable that a sovereign state of Palestine never existed and that Palestinian national identity is a modern political creation.

Revisionists are quick to deny the scripturally based anti-Semitism that has existed in Arab-Muslim society for generations and to ignore how Jews have been persecuted, harassed, and massacred since the rise of Islam.  The concept of benign tolerance for “people of the book” in general – and Jews in particular – is inconsistent with the historical reality.  Jews in Islamic society lived a subservient existence as long as they paid the jizya (poll tax) and accepted their lowly status. 

Progressive critics tend to obscure the traditional intolerance of “infidels” with false claims of Jewish chauvinism.  Sometimes this reflects ignorance or naïveté, but more often it smacks of anti-Semitism.  Ironically, those who champion the credo “all hatreds are equal” seem to have no problem justifying Jew-hatred as political speech, or blaming Jews for bringing it on themselves.  They deny malicious intent by alleging a false affinity with Jewish values, which they claim actually support their negative views of Israel.

For many Jews on the left, the descent into self-rejection starts subtly – often with a repudiation of traditional values and observance in favor of secular political priorities.  The nontraditional movements have enabled this dynamic by raising progressivism to the level of religious obligation, and by institutionalizing a version of tikkun olam that lends a sympathetic ear to those spouting revisionist narratives and which endorses causes (e.g., Palestinian nationalism) that threaten Israel’s Jewish continuity.  

The debate regarding Syrian refugees is indicative of this mindset and reflects a faulty grasp of Jewish history.  Many progressive Jews support President Obama’s plan to bring in thousands of refugees without restriction, even though immigration and intelligence officials admit there is no way to vet them properly or weed out terrorists.  Obama’s Jewish acolytes often claim an ethical obligation to support him because of putative similarities between Syrian refugees today and Jews during the Holocaust, but this comparison is false and misleading. 

Jews were not marked for genocide during the Holocaust because of their political affiliations, economic status, or religious beliefs.  Whether rich or poor, capitalist or communist, traditionally observant or heretical apostates, Jews were murdered solely on the basis of blood and ancestry.  In contrast, many Syrians today have left their country because they backed the wrong faction, joined the wrong party, or lost their homes and livelihoods.  Some simply seek escape from a war zone.  However, none are threatened by a government extermination program based on race, ethnicity or nationality.  Though Yazidis and Christians are killed by ISIS if they refuse to convert, they are not among the refugees seeking entry to the U.S., and have actually received little sympathy from the administration. 

Progressives also seem to forget that Roosevelt actually did little to rescue Jewish refugees.  In fact, he refused to relax immigration restrictions until far too late, which assured a higher death toll by war’s end.


Some who endorse Obama’s refugee policy also support anti-Israel NGOs and left-wing Jewish groups that encourage boycotts and undermine Israel’s national integrity.  Similarly, progressive post-Zionism falsely claims fealty to Jewish ideals while debasing the foundations of Jewish nationhood.  Neither represents true Jewish principles or priorities.

Those progressives who claim to criticize Israel out of love, respect, or the Jewish spirit of self-reflection are motivated by none of these impulses.  Their bias against Israel is philosophically predetermined and ideologically fixed – regardless of how they justify their preordained conclusions.  Israel should give them no credence, and the Diaspora should recognize their blather as inconsistent with normative Jewish history and values.