Relativism: From Israel to Einstein

By Paul Eidelberg

One can only wonder how a Jewish state, surrounded by hostile Arab-Islamic regimes, can survive when the educators of its political and military elites do not believe in the absolute justice of Israel’s cause. Professor Harkabi, who once served as head of the Israel Army Staff and Command College, concludes Arab Attitudes to Israel with this demoralizing remark: “The study of the [Arab-Israel] conflict reveals the relativity of the attitudes of the parties.” Influenced by such relativism, former General Ehud Barak, during his campaign for Israel’s premiership, was quoted as saying (in the United States) that had he been born an Arab, he would have been a terrorist!

Raised and educated in this decadent atmosphere, Tel Aviv University professor of philosophy Asa Kasher, under the authority of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and with the acquiescence of then Chief of Staff Barak, erased the words “Judaism” and “Zionism” as well as “Eretz Israel” from the Soldiers Code of Ethics! Who but minds afflicted by demophrenia would want to transform the Jewish state into a multicultural “state of its citizens”?

Israel is not multicultural America, the most powerful nation on earth. There relativism can permeate every level of education without immediately endangering that democracy’s existence—especially with benign Canada and feeble Mexico on its borders. But minuscule Israel, with Arab-Islamic dictatorships as neighbors, can hardly afford a diet of moral relativism. Yet this has been the fare of countless Israeli students.

Thus, in his book The Middle East, Israeli political scientist Yair Evron teaches: “Only by avoiding questions of right and wrong and also by limiting oneself to an analysis of patterns of behavior and strategies in conflict, can we approach this complex [Arab-Israel] conflict not in any emotional or apologetic way but scientifically and analytically.” We see here a tension between the apparent needs of “science” and the needs of society. To persevere in the Arab-Israel conflict, the people of Israel require steadfast belief in the justice of Israel’s cause. But for academics to preserve their “scientific,” i.e., academic credentials, they must adopt a morally neutral attitude toward that conflict. But wait! Evron’s book was published in 1973. To appreciate the pernicious impact of his relativism, come with me to the year 2003, and let us see what has happened to students attending Israeli universities.

Caroline B. Glick, an editor and gifted writer of The Jerusalem Post</em., addressed some 150 political science students at Tel Aviv University, where she spoke of her experience as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division during the Iraq war. Any person not corrupted by moral relativism would favor, as she did, the U.S. over the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Yet the general attitude of her audience was expressed by a student who asked, “Who are you to make moral judgments?” Now ponder this exchange between Ms. Glick and a student who spoke with a heavy Russian accent:

Student: “How can you say that democracy is better than dictatorial rule?”
Glick: “Because it is better to be free than to be a slave.”
Student: “How can you support America when the U.S. is a totalitarian state?”
Glick: “Did you learn that in Russia?”
Student: “No, here.”
Glick: “Here at Tel Aviv University?”
Student: “Yes, that is what my professors say.”

Ms. Glick spoke at five liberal Israeli universities. She learned that all are dominated by moral relativists who indoctrinate their students and ban “politically incorrect” publications. The deadly consequences are clear: “A survey carried out by the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute on Israeli attitudes toward the state [indicates that] … a mere 58% of Israelis are proud of being Israeli, while 97% of Americans and Poles are proud of their national identity.” Ms. Glick concludes: “Is it possible that our academic tyrants have something to do with the inability of 42% of Israelis to take pride in who they are?”

One might think that moral relativists would adopt a neutral attitude in the conflict between Jews and the Palestinian Arabs—as political scientists like Yair Evron might have done back in 1973. To the contrary, today’s relativists have demonized Israel. Never mind the well-known fact that Arabs use their own women and children as human bombs. Because moral relativists—typically liberals—cannot acknowledge the enormity of evil, they not only ignore the genocidal intentions of Israel’s enemies, but they identify Jews as the cause of the conflict! Moral relativism has thus produced moral reversal!

Moral Relativism and Relativity

The relativism of the physicist differs profoundly from that of the moral relativist or pluralist. The theory of relativity denies the classical notions of absolute space, absolute time, and absolute motion; it does not deny the absolute. Far from excusing an easygoing pluralism, it appeals to scientists by virtue of what Einstein calls its comprehensive simplicity. The theory would explain “all events in nature by structure laws valid always and everywhere.” Indeed, “Without the belief that it is possible to grasp reality with our theoretical constructions, without the belief in the inner harmony of our world, there would be no science.”

As for Einstein himself, one may find in his philosophical ruminations expressions of moral relativism, but not in his sober and somber moments. In Out of My Later Years, first published in 1950, he writes:

I am firmly convinced that the passionate will for justice and truth has dome more to improve man’s condition than calculating political shrewdness which in the long run breeds general mistrust. Who can doubt that Moses was a better leader of mankind than Machiavelli?

But two pages later one reads:

I know that it is a hopeless undertaking to debate about fundamental value judgments. For instance, if someone approves, as a goal, the extirpation of the human race from the earth, one cannot refute such a viewpoint on rational grounds.

Evident here is the influence of logical positivism on Einstein, who wrote those words only five years after Hitler and his followers had murdered six million Jews and almost six million non-Jews. It was as if positivism had erased everything in the vastness of his rational mind with which to condemn this evil. And yet he did condemn this evil, moreover, in words the government of Israel should heed in dealing with Hitler’s successors! Thus, in a message honoring the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto, Einstein declared:

The Germans as an entire people are responsible for the mass murders and must be punished as a people if there is justice in the world and if the consciousness of collective responsibility in the nations is not to perish from the earth entirely. Behind the Nazi party stands the German people, who elected Hitler after he had in his book [Mein Kampf] and in his speeches made his shameful [genocidal] intentions clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding.

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