"I don’t expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people’s suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs...The Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world—in the form of the United Nations—reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists. They call this the “Nakba” or the “Catastrophe.” To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic..."
Eugene Volokh smacks Alterman down, as does Kathy Young in the Boston Globe. First of all, I cannot fathom how Alterman can "include himself" as a supporter of Israel when he appears to oppose its entire existence. Meanwhile, he contradicts himself when he writes the Palestineans "lost their homeland," then, in the same sentence writes that it happened when the UN awarded "half of Palestine to the Zionists." Now, I'm not a math major, but if one loses a half, one still possesses another half, yes? So the Palestineans appeared to still possess one half of their homeland, at least prior to the Arab aggression that led to the Independence War. And of course, this doesn't even get into the implication by Alterman that only Palestineans had a valid claim to the land in question. To argue that Jews have zero legal, historical, or cultural claim to Israel/Palestine as a homeland is such a gross distortion of history it should not even bear mentioning. Only in a morally twisted world could an analyst, in evaluating two valid claims to the same territory, argue that giving the dispossessed party (Jews) part of the land they had been kicked out of in years past would constitute stealing from the party that had managed to possess all the land. To be 100% clear: Claiming Jews "displaced" Palestineans by gaining a state in Israel only makes sense if one believes the Palestinean people have an absolute, complete, and hegemonic right to total dominion over this territory. Such a view is blatantly anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the worst forms of dictatorial oppression.
The moral claims of Alterman are equally sophomoric. As Volokh notes:
"Now let's briefly analyze this: Alterman is not just saying that Muslim groups are not interested in commemorating the harm done to a group that they're now hostile to. (He is partly saying that, which acknowledges that many Muslims are hostile to Jews, and not just to Israel, but that's not all he's saying.) I should say that such a view would be understandable, though not laudable; it's human nature not to much feel the suffering of others, especially if you have some hostility to them.
Rather, he's analogizing the victims of the Holocaust (those who suffering is honored) to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots." It's not the Israelis who are being honored, it's the slaughtered and nearly slaughtered European Jews. Yet somehow they reverse-inherit the supposed guilt of Israelis and other Jews today. Men, women, children butchered in Auschwitz, even ones who had never had much interest in Palestine and who had no opinions at all to Muslims — quite analogous to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots," yes, indeed.
This strikes me as the classic morality of group guilt. Jews of the 1940s are morally tainted by their supposed sins today; we should hate ethnically Japanese because of Pearl Harbor; Jews killed Christ (assume for a moment that this is historically accurate — the hostility to Jews would remain wrong even then) so Jews today are culpable; many Arabs support suicide bombers, so I shouldn't care about wrongs being done to completely innocent Arab-Americans."
Many post-modernist theorists get spectacularly frustrated by the inability of liberal philosophers to see people in terms of groups. This is why. Far too often, group identification becomes the basis for irrational ethnic hatred, with the prejudiced party conflating all of the members of a certain group into a universal, monolithic whole, equally responsible for each other's sins. Jews who live today, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, are responsible for killing Christ. Jews who died in Concentration Camps, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, are responsible for the deaths of the intifada. This makes no sense unless one gives group identification meaning and vitality that overrides the actions of individual members.
When I originally blogged on the Arab boycott of the Holocaust memorial ceremonies, I wrote that:
"Obviously, on a visceral level I'm infuriated that anyone would have the gall to compare the intifada with the holocaust. Anyone who engages in moral relativism at that level of myopia is ethically bankrupt, and deserved to be labeled as such."
I stand by that statement: Alterman is ethically bankrupt. And the subsidiary point of the article holds as well: genocide is rapidly becoming a meaningless term. Consider Alterman's implicit argument: the suffering of Palestineans (we'll assume--though this may be giving him too much credit--that he means innocent Palestineans who are not taking part in hostilities against Israel) in the context of an ongoing theater of war, culminating in the tragic deaths of several thousand people, is morally equivilant to the deaths of 6 million Jews and 5.5 million other persons in a deliberate, planned genocide utterly unrelated to any military objective. Alterman has been, to quote from Mark Graber, "led astray by rhetoric that conflates all forms of disadvantage" into one indistinguishable mass of oppression. In doing so, he trivializes genocide and mass murder by putting it on the same moral status as the incidental death of civilians in a land dispute. This should be intolerable, but in modern society it appears genocide just doesn't mean what it used to.