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Ethical Asymmetry
July 22, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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Today it was announced that two American citizens (presumably dual-citizens with Israel) were killed in the current fighting in Palestine (a region) or Israel (the de facto government of that region). Of course it is a tragedy when any young person dies, and so I want to express my condolences to the families of Max Steinberg and Nissim Sean Carmeli. Yet I think Steinberg and Carmeli were wrong to join the Israeli army and join in the attacks on non-Jewish Palestinians. I also want to express my condolences to all the Palestinians (including Palestinians who call themselves Israelis) who have had loved ones killed, injured, or driven out of their homes by the current round of violence.

There is a political and legal asymmetry in the treatment of Americans who fight for foreign governments and proto-governments. If the same two boys had gone to fight for justice, that is for the displaced Palestinians in Gaza (not necessarily for Hamas), the U.S. would treat them as terrorists. They could be sent to long prison sentences just for planning to go and fight in Palestine.

Ethics is largely about symmetry. People are ethical when they treat each other with equal respect, including fair dealings in all aspects of life. When people act in an asymmetrical way they are not acting ethically. A classic way of putting this is that we seek "equality and justice for all."

To highlight this question of ethical asymmetry consider two well-known cases from history.

In the United States, even after slavery was abolished, African-Americans and other non-European ethnic groups were discriminated against, both in a legal sense and by many European-descended individuals. Rape laws in southern states were an example of legalized ethical asymmetry: black men raping white women were subjected to far greater penalties than white men raping black women. Segregation laws were inherently unethical, as almost any American can now recognize.

In Germany after the National Socialist Party came to power in 1933 laws were passed discriminating against Jewish Germans. Because Jews did not look different than other Germans (despite Nazi propaganda to the contrary), in order the enforce these asymmetrical laws all Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David. That made discrimination easy.

Palestine was grabbed by the British Empire when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled after World War I. While individuals might discriminate or not, the law under the empire gave equal rights to all citizens, including Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Palestinians not subscribing to a religious sect.

The influx of illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe after World War II changed the dynamics of Palestine even as the British prepared to withdraw. Of course the world showed sympathy for the Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. At the same time, the European Jews were immigrating illegally into Palestine. Arabs resented the illegal immigration and knew that some Jews wanted to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

There is a lot of history in Palestine since World War II, and both the (mainly) Arabic Palestinian side and the (mainly European) Jewish sides have their ways to interpreting the blow-by-blow events (usually leaving out inconvenient facts). To get to the point of this essay, it must fast-forward to the situation today.

The government of Israel does not treat all people within its claimed territories equally. While keeping in mind that many Jews in Israel do not always support their government, it should be plain that by discriminating against Arab Palestinians and promoting the Jewish religion above all other religions, the State of Israel has established itself as a racist, unethical state. It is not that nationalist Jews are totally unethical; but they are asymmetrically ethical.

The P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization) has come to represent a balanced, ethical view, not because they recognize the de facto State of Israel, but because they recognize that all religious and ethnic groups in Palestine should be treated equally under the law. This has been the position of the P.L.O. going back to the 1970s.

Hamas does not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist. I have no problem with that, because I believe no unethical state should exist, and that includes a lot of the states in the region and in the world. I believe the only governments that should be allowed to exist should separate church and state and provide a legal framework of liberty and justice for all.

Nor do I have a problem with Hamas demanding that private property stolen by the State of Israel, or by individual Israeli settlers under the protection of that state, should be returned to the rightful owners. That is simple justice. Only asymmetrically unethical persons disagree with the right to the restoration of stolen private property, and of course the right to live on that property, known in Palestine as the Right of Return.

My problem with Hamas is its subscription to Islam. I don't see Islam as fundamentally different than any other religion. But I believe that Hamas, in power, will discriminate against all other religions. Hamas is no better than the racist, theocratic Jews who run Israel.

So the sad symmetry in Palestine, until more enlightened voices prevail, is a symmetry of hatred, violence, and discrimination.

In my experience unethical people are generally pushier and more grabby than ethical people. It is time for ethical people to step up and do considerably more pushing for ethics in individual behavior and in government. That is true not just in Palestine, but throughout the world.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

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