I read a scary JPost article (do sign up, it's worthwhile).
"How could you report the war in Iraq if you sided with the Americans?"
"How can you say that George Bush is better than Saddam Hussein?"
These are some of the milder questions I received from an audience of some 150 undergraduate students from Tel Aviv University's Political Science Department. The occasion was a guest lecture I gave last month on my experiences as an embedded reporter with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division during the Iraq war.
Tel Aviv, if you didn't know, is one of Israel's major cities. Yes, that's right, these questions are coming out of Israel.
"Who are you to make moral judgments? What you say is good may well be bad for someone else."
"I am a sane human being capable of distinguishing good from evil, just like every other sane human being," I answered. "As criminal law states, you are criminally insane if you can't distinguish between good and evil. Unless you are crazy, you should be able to tell the difference."
I quoted that in full because Caroline is saying something important very eloquently here, using an argument I hadn't heard before.
"Did you learn that in Russia?" I asked.
"No, here," she said.
"Here at Tel Aviv University?"
"Yes, that is what my professors say," she said.
I don't know what to add yet. It speaks for itself, and I'm pretty speechless both.
The article goes on to mention that Western Universities are known for radical leftism, but she thought in Israel of all places it would be better, as all the students had served in the IDF (it's required by law -- apparently for girls too, though I hadn't known that).
It then complains about the influence of the radical left in the ranks of Professors.
And points out some Israeli Professors have signed petitions to boycott Israel (sheesh!). One Professor wrote a refusal to serve letter for some military people.
Do go read the rest of the article; the whole thing is good.
OK one flaw in the analysis is that it overestimates the ability of teacher's to teach students. Few enough ever learn math, and most of those more in spite of their teachers than because. Why should it be different with politics?
I'm reminded of a southpark episode, where Kyle goes to Jewbilee, a camp for Jews. Rabbis from all the various sects of Judaism are present ... including one from the anti-semitic sect. He proceeds to try to summon a demon or something like that.
Oh well, I suppose all I have to say is that identifying problems is an important step towards solving them, and that I posted this because I want everyone to know about this problem.
Thank you for these articles, and your commentary - I've been interested to read them.
I appreciate that you took the time to give feedback.
Several interesting points here.
It would seem that the discussion is about the oft misunderstood difference between journalism and straight reporting. Of course journalists have the right to opinions, including those regarding moral judgements, and they may be absolutely right. If they are reporting as straight news, they may write quite differently. One of the largest areas of press and public confusion today is over this vital difference.
Personally I prefer journalism.
As to whether the Tel Aviv professors are anti-semitic or not, it would be worthwhile to observe more closely their actions as well as their statements. It is possible that they are trying in their own feeble way to get the students to think by espousing a minority, or radical view of debate. If this does not lead to their statements being challenged by students, then they have failed miserably. If they are actually anti-semite one might wonder what they are doing in Tel Aviv University, teaching, the subversives. Stranger things in academia have been seen.
However, the larger point is about journalism. Caroline's argument is flawed. I wish that it were not, but it is. Moral judgement has little to do with sanity, unfortunately. Stalin was not criminally insane, he was just a successful evil criminal who killed off all the opposition. But no problem, as a journalist Caroline has every right to state her opinion, adamantly, and she may be right in her personal moral judgement.
Journalists need only to be clear that they are taking a moral and, or journalistic stand. It is allowed, even encouraged. Occam's razor of journalistic clarity suffices.
Since i prefer journalism to straight reporting, I would say journalistically that those professors are heretic nincompoops and that the students deserve better. Or if I would be writing a caustic editorial, I would say that they all should be drawn and quartered and roasted on a spit for their evil opinions, or something a little more humane, lose tenure perhaps. But that would be dangerously satirical editorialism. I hope no one would take that literally. Wrath and ridicule would likely be more than enough.
Stalin never said anything like "Who are you to make moral judgments? What you say is good may well be bad for someone else." Quite the opposite, in fact. This denial of the existence of right and wrong is characteristic of two classes of people and essentially no one else: a certain type of insane criminal, and mainstream Western intellectuals.
So I think her argument does make perfect sense.
Her first statement makes perfect sense as it stands, a competent(sane), already presumptively moral person, therefore capable of distinguishing good from evil, who happens to be writing journalistically and speaking about the news. We could not function as human beings without moral judgements. The world would be a very inhospitable place without moral judgements. Enough said.
Criminal law really has nothing directly to do with it unless she happens to be an authority in Israeli criminal law and wants to expound on that as a legal expert. That does not appear to be the issue, non compos mentis pertaining to comission of a crime and assessment of guilt, although she appears to indirectly refer to that concept to bolster her point. Overkill. (Now the students will be even more confused).
"Unless you are crazy, you should be able to tell the difference" is irrelevant, having made the first point, competent human beings are capable of distinguishing good from evil.
Criminally insane v.s. "crazy" might be a better phrase. However that judgement, and meaning of that phrase belongs in a courtroom. Flawed in that sense, western intellectuals withstanding. No one is on trial here, unless for the civil "crime" of moral stupidity, student, or "crimes" of mainstream professorial postured ignorance. Perhaps the latter should be, but that is another post altogether. (Said with tongue in cheek.)
but even when people *try* to refrain from making moral judgments, THEY FAIL TO!
if there is a fight between good and evil, and you talk about it while refraining from clarifying who did good and who did evil, then you've judged the good guy evil, and the evil guy good.
like when leftists report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least for any article i've read, what you find is moral judgements like "Israel is wrongly killing palestinians".
so like why the fuck are these students surprised that somebody is willing to *openly* make moral judgements when *everybody* already makes moral judgements? i'm guessing they didn't think about it. they aren't trying to take their criticisms and see where else they apply.