Monday, August 22, 2011

What's Eating Raimond Gaita?

"There is always a litmus test to assess a person's intellectual and moral courage. In the West, especially in America, this litmus test is provided bt the Middle East issue. The intellectual and moral cowardice of Western intellectuals on this issue is stunning. Paradoxically, by censoring their views on Israel, they have done great damage to Israel by failing to point out to it the sheer folly of remaining in perpetual conflict with its neighbours. The next time any Western intellectual calls upon the rest of the world to show courage by speaking 'truth to power' he or she should lead the charge by speaking 'truth to power' on the Israel-Palestine dispute." Kishore Mahbubani

I notice that Australian ethicist Raimond Gaita seems to be attracting some attention, his sequel to his 1998 memoir Romulus, My Father, called After Romulus, having just been launched at a 3-day conference devoted to his life and works at Adelaide's Flinders University. Gaita is also the editor of Gaza: Morality, Law & Politics (2010), a volume of essays. While I haven't yet read Gaita's contribution(s) in the aforementioned book, I have read his rebuttal to Michael Brull's critique of his position on the Palestine problem. Both may be found at the Independent Australian Jewish Voices website ( Frankly, Gaita's rebuttal does not exactly inspire me with much confidence in the man. Some examples:

"In my lecture [on Slow TV] I suggested that it is misleading to call the Palestinian Arabs the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine because in the context in which it is commonplace to call Israel a colonial-settler state, it implies that Jews who came to Palestine and established political institutions there had no more right to do so than the British and other white settlers had the right to do so in Australia - no right at all, in fact."

By suggesting that Israel is not really a colonial-settler state, and that the Palestinian Arabs are not really indigenes (without saying what it is or who they are), Gaita is engaged in a bit of special pleading vis-a-vis other colonial-settler states such as the United States and Australia. Why?

"It is true that the balance of my talk was pro-Israel insofar as I argued against a bi-national state in favour of a two-state solution and insofar as I devoted more time to defending Israel against critics than I did to detailing Israeli injustices against the Palestinians. My lecture was the 3rd in a series... whose audience had, in the previous 2 lectures, shown palpable hostility towards Israel. Ghassan Hage... was to speak the next week and I knew he would argue, passionately, an anti-Zionist case. The audience at the series did not need more criticism of Israel."

More special pleading. Why (when he's admitted elsewhere in the text that the Palestinians were "dispossessed") does he feel this need to defend the indefensible?

"Though I denied that 'Zionism is intrinsically racist, that racism is of its essence', I acknowledged the 'probably true claim that for racist reasons common in colonial settler states the full humanity of the Palestinian Arabs was at best only partially visible to early Zionist settlers' and 'that racism against the Palestinian Arabs [probably] now goes deep in Israeli society'. And more."

Putting aside the fact that he's aleady baulked at recognising Israel as a colonial-settler state, why is he splitting hairs here? And what gives with that risible circumlocution: "...the full humanity of the Palestinian Arabs was at best only partially visible to early Zionist settlers"?

"I said in my talk that if one goes by their words, the millions of Muslims throughout the world hate Jews with a murderous ferocity. I take that to be a statement of fact."

What an extraordinarily sweeping generalisation for a man of reason, a 'philosopher', to make.

Gaita seems to be quite conflicted on this issue. So what is it that's eating him? I believe the following letter to The Australian Jewish News of 3/12/10 provides the answer. I quote it in full (quite apart from the issue at hand, it provides a fascinating insight into what goes on at Zionist functions), directing a number of questions and comments to Gaita along the way:

"The letter by the federal president of Jewish National Fund (JNF), Grahame Leonard (AJN 19/11), is astonishing for the fact that it publicly expressed regret that the JNF had invited me to speak at a fundraising dinner in Sydney on November 8, and also because it implied that in speaking as I did I betrayed the good faith of the NSW leadership."

You attended the fundraiser of an arm of the state you know is guilty of "war crimes and crimes against humanity" (to use your own words from the earlier text)? Do you even know anything about the JNF and its role as an agent of Zionist colonisation and Palestinian dispossession? And you're surprised at their response when you deviate from the script, which demands nothing less than platitudes and/or gushing praise for their state-idol?

"I said nothing on that night that I had not said in... publications known to those who invited me... Nor did I say anything that is in substance different from opinions expressed by many Israelis, including Amos Oz and David Grossman. The accusation that I had betrayed the good faith of anyone in the JNF is as baseless as it is insulting."

I wonder; do you feel the need to confine your opinions on this issue within parameters set by Israel's loyal (ie soft Zionist) opposition, as exemplified by the likes of Oz and Grossman? If so, what ever happened to speaking out without fear or favour, surely the essence of free and frank discussion?

"Perhaps, though, it is not the relatively moderate political opinions that I expressed, but the fact that I expressed political opinions at all, that offended Leonard. He says that JNF is an 'apolitical' organisation. I doubt that many people will believe that, but be that as it may: no-one who was at the dinner or who had even read the ad for it could have failed to realise that the discussion was always intended to be political... Was anyone surprised when (to unfailing applause) two of the panellists repeatedly attacked Goldstone and human rights groups that had pretty much unanimously accused Israel of war crimes if not crimes against humanity? Or, when General Yaacov Amidror finished his concluding remarks by saying (again to resounding applause) that the world loved Israel only when it bled, but Israel would not bleed in order to earn the love of the world. Of course not. I therefore draw the unsurprising conclusion that the federal president of JNF cannot tolerate even relatively moderate criticism of Israel's conduct, even though the same criticism is voiced by some of its most distinguished patriots."

Exactly! You were invited as an adornment, a pretty face, a trophy intellectual if you will. You were not expected to say anything (even mildly) critical of the object of Leonard and Co's affection. There can be no deviation from the party line with these people. And you didn't understand this before you accepted the JNF's invitation to speak?

"The report to which Leonard's letter is a response (AJN 19/11) refers to the fact that my wife is Israeli. I do not recall saying that in the discussion, but it is true: her family on her mother's side lived for at least 8 generations in Jerusalem. I went to Sydney for 3 days from London in the midst of a lunatically busy schedule... only because Israel matters to me in large part because my wife's truthful love for Israel matters to me."

There you have it. Can we really expect Gaita to call a spade a spade on this issue when he's carrying that kind of baggage?


raimond gaita said...

Since you address your questions to me in the second person singular, I'd be prepared to answer them and to comment on other things said in the blog. But only if I know who you are, so that I can address you in the same manner.

Raimond Gaita

MERC said...

Merc Mercurious, Raimond. Fire away.

Anonymous said...

Ethicists for Ethnic Cleansing.

Anonymous said...

I have returned to this article in vain. I was drooling at the prospect of you publishing your full name, address, date of birth, car registration number and employer for the
tantalizing privilege of hearing more from young Raimond.

Alas, it seems not to be. Can't you see a 'Generous Offer' when it comes knocking?

Knocking down the door that is, not by young Raimond of course. Young Raimond, I believe, included in his study of 'ethics' great truths from the finest Talmudic traditions.

Of course there is no resemblance between young Raimond and those 'others' more familiar with 'fighting terror' and 'self-defence'.