Particularism Before Universalism
[Here is my take, written a number of years ago on the Jewish divide. Be sure to read "It pays to be Jewish" linked to therein]
by Ted Belman
Everyone is familiar will Hillel’s quote, loosely translated,
“If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
I have always understood this to mean that an individual must make the case for his particular before making the case for the other. Particularism before universalism. Neither should be to the exclusion of the other, but the former, according to Hillel, comes first. One might add that it is only natural to fight for yourself before fighting for others.
The twentieth century witnessed within the Jewish community a flight from the Jewish particular in favour of the universal. As the Jews came out of the ghetto, they shed religion for secularism. They became Communists in Russia, socialists in Europe and liberal Democrats in America.
The Jewish Right wishes to follow Hillel’s dictum by emphasizing the Jewish particular first and then addressing the “other”. Thus, it chooses a Jewish Israel even if it offends the Western notion of democracy. On the other hand, the Jewish Left wishes to do the opposite. It stresses the rights of the other, particularly the “Palestinians”, at the expense of Jewish rights. A case in point is the fence decision by the Israel’s High Court of Justice. The Jewish Right wants Israel to be a Jewish state whereas the Left argues that Israel should be a state like other states or of all its citizens. Binyamin Netanyahu got it right when he said, “Israel is the state of the Jews and not of its citizens.”
In my recent article “It pays to be Jewish”, I argued that Israel, to be a Jewish state, must give pre-eminence to Jewish Civil Law, which flows from the Torah. I implied that freedom of speech should not protect anti-Israel incitement and that persons not loyal to Israel as a Jewish state should have their citizenship revoked and should not be allowed a Knesset seat.
This raised howls of racism from some. But to deny your enemies certain rights is not racism, because it is not based on physical characteristics. It is self-defense, because it is based on their stated intention to destroy you.
Paul Eidelberg, in his important book Jewish Statesmanship, stands against a loyalty oath as the solution,
“It is the height of impudence, of conceit and even of stupidity to grant equal political rights to Arabs in the expectation that they will renounce their religion and 1,300 year old civilization for a ballot box.[...]From the Torah’s perspective, a people is not a random or amorphous aggregation of individuals. The essence of peoplehood is particularism and not universalism – which is not to say that particularism precludes universal ideas and ideals such as ethical monotheism. A living people must have a revered past and a profound sense of collective purpose, embodied in national laws and literature and vivified by national holidays and customs. Such a people will experience similar joys and harbour similar thoughts conducive to friendship. They will feel responsible for each other and respond in righteous indignation to assaults on their national honour. Therein is the heart and soul of a people and the reason why their government will not bestow citizenship on foreign elements whose goals or way of life clashes with their own.”
Thus, the question becomes, are the citizens of a country entitled to preserve their ethnic or religious makeup or their culture? And who is to decide? The Western model says “no”. Multiculturalism reigns supreme, as does relativism. No one’s values are better than the values of others. Everything and everybody is to be tolerated, even those who don’t tolerate you. It is easy to see that this is the ultimate destination of universalism. It seeks to render valueless the particular, whether religious or national. It is paradoxical that the greatest opposition to universalism comes from Muslims, who are the largest intended beneficiary.
While the Left continually excoriates Israel for falling below a standard imposed by them on Israel alone, it totally ignores the reality of the Muslim world. You would think that since the Muslims are most in conflict with their tolerant world view that they should focus on castigating and reforming them. But no, they pick on Israel instead. Could this be anti-Semitism?
When Jews agonize over the survival of the Jewish people, invariably one asks, “Survive as what?” Obviously, if you give up what makes you Jewish, you, as a Jew, are not surviving. The resistance to assimilation is also often referred to as racism, but it isn’t. It denotes love of self. This is healthy. It is the self-hatred of the Jewish Left who strive to deny the Jewish particular that is to be rejected, or at least recognized for what it is.
The same goes for Israel. If Israel would become a bi-national state, it would die as a Jewish state. Even the name Israel could be changed. The Arab Israelis would argue for the Law of Return to apply to them, also. And so on. It will also die as a Jewish state if it doesn’t take steps to preserve its Jewish character. At a minimum, these should include restoring Jewish Civil Law as the supreme law of the land and creating a constitution that permits only Jews to determine its national purpose, character and defense.
I submit that a nation has not only the inherent right of self defense when its national existence is threatened, but also when its cultural essence is at risk. Israel’s enemies deny it both rights. To assert these rights is not racism. Every nation has the right to determine who can emigrate, who can become citizens and what values in its society are inviolable.
Israel even more so. The Torah defines the People of Israel (Am Yisroel) and the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel), and the connection between them and G-d. The People of Israel have a collective responsibility and a mission and a birthright (Israel). Whether or not you believe in G-d, the fact remains that this is the essence of Judaism. This essence has survived for over three thousand years and should continue to survive.
Israel has not only the right to defend this culture, but the duty to do so.