The Limits Of Universalism


Fallows, in a post about the effectiveness of Israel’s US-financed Iron Dome, excerpts a moving letter from an American rabbi in Jerusalem about huddling in an air-raid shelter during a Hamas rocket raid. In a follow-up post, Jim notes that,

After quoting his message, I said that from past correspondence I knew the writer to be a person of broadly universalistic, rather than narrow, human sympathies. Although he had sent his note before the latest horror of the four Palestinian boys killed while playing on the beach, I said that I knew he must be aware of the fear and grief on both sides—with the great disproportion of the recent death and grieving occurring among the Palestinians.

Not so fast. The rabbi wrote back indignantly:

I was taken aback by your juxtaposition of my comment to your reporting of the deaths of the Palestinian children the next day. Those deaths were beyond horrible and tragic. But I found it very troubling that you sought to create a perception of parity between my experience and perspective and the death of Palestinian innocent civilians on the other. The death of those innocents lies at the feet of Hamas who began this terror offensive and continued it despite the Israeli government’s agreement to adhere to a cease fire.

The idea that there is any parity between those civilians sheltering from rockets in Israel and civilians enduring the bloody and largely unprotected siege of Gaza is something that takes the rabbi aback.

(Photo: Palestinian hospital workers prepare the body of six-year-old Osama Al-Astal, who was killed in his home along with his four-year-old sister and two relatives following an Israeli air strike, ahead of his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014. By Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images.)