Monday, July 23, 2007

When is it right to discriminate?

Nehemia Shtrasler wrote an article last week for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in which he worried about demographic changes within Israel. Not only is the percentage of Palestinians increasing, but so too is the percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews, whom Shtrasler believes are less likely to serve in the military or join the labour force.

Shtrasler's piece was then attacked by an Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, who believes that any discussion of a "demographic threat" within Israel is illegitimate. Levy found a supporter in the Australian Jewish writer Antony Loewenstein, who wrote the following at his website:

Talking to a moderate Jew today, it struck me yet again that the concept of a Jewish state that equally treats all its citizens is still a challenging concept for many Zionists. "But why can't Jews have just one state that's for them?" I was asked. It's a simple answer. No state can be allowed to discriminate against one race/religion/group over another.

Loewenstein is putting the liberal non-discrimination principle into effect here, but in doing so he is showing a defect in the principle. It doesn't seem reasonable that Jews cannot discriminate in favour of the survival of a distinctively Jewish state. First, it is natural for Jews to regard the existence of their own nation as a significant good, and so they will reasonably act for its benefit and preservation, rather than from a neutralist, non-discriminatory stance. Second, the Jewish state is a means of security for Jews in a region generally ill-disposed toward them. Therefore, to relinquish control over the state, in the name of non-discrimination, seems especially ill-advised.

To uphold a blanket ban on state discrimination, Levy is forced to adopt a number of "follow-on" beliefs. First, he identifies Israel itself not with any particular people or tradition, but with a set of liberal values. He writes that anyone who views the loss of a Jewish majority in Israel as a danger is:

endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts.

So in his view it is not the Jews or the Jewish tradition which give the Israeli nation its character but a liberal principle of non-discrimination. Similarly, Levy writes,

There is no "demographic threat". There is a threat to society's values, which will be determined not by statistics but by the amount of social justice.

By identifying the nation with a set of political values, Levy can then imagine that the non-discrimination principle won't change the essence of the nation. Even if there is a "tectonic" change in the population, the non-discrimination principle will endure, and therefore so will the "nation".

I doubt if I were a Jew that I would find this comforting. My people and tradition would be lost, but an abstract political principle would still carry on. Again, it's not a reasonable view to expect people to adopt.

And anyway, it's not even plausible that a Palestinian dominated Israel would preserve the liberal political principles which Levy identifies with the national essence.

Which leads on to a second issue. Levy needs to explain how the Jews would remain secure if they lost control of the state. His answer is that:

Both the left and right are afflicted with this lethal racism, which stems from arrogance and fear of the other. The right wing is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the natural increase of the country's Arabs ...

Which seems to suggest that there is no objective basis for security concerns; that such concerns are simply an irrational manifestation of racism and fear of the other. Is this, though, a realistic view? Isn't it reasonable for Jews, given the history and politics of the Middle East, to be concerned about their security in an Arab dominated state?

So is it always wrong, as Levy and Loewenstein assert, to discriminate? I can understand that it's appealing to the modern mind to find a moral principle which operates as simply and unswervingly as a law of nature. However, in practice applying the principle of non-discrimination universally as a key value of society leads to an unreasonable and unrealistic politics.

When, though, is it right to discriminate? I won't suggest a complete answer. It's possible however that there are two considerations which we normally apply when determining an answer to this question.

The first is that the discrimination should serve a real good. It's possible to think of a purely arbitrary form of discrimination as unjust, but not so when it is designed to uphold a significant good. For instance, in the case of the argument about Israel, the maintenance of the national tradition might be identified as such a good.

However, what then has to be balanced against this first consideration is the actual form of the discrimination to be applied. If the discrimination serves a trivial good but involves a serious loss to those discriminated against, we are likely to consider it unjust.

So the issue of discrimination requires a more sophisticated treatment than simply asserting non-discrimination as a universal principle. We need to judge the balance between the significance of the good being protected and the severity of the form of discrimination.


  1. By identifying the nation with a set of political values, Levy can then imagine that the non-discrimination principle won't change the essence of the nation.

    So would you think that a nation which defines its essence through a set of political principles is doomed from the start?

  2. Which nation has EVER been defined by a set of political principles - other than by their own liberal elites? There is no such creature.

    Even those countries which would be commonly (and in fact carelessly) identified as such are not.

    The USA has it's constitution, informed by enlightenment ideas, but as a nation it was founded by people with a distinct culture and a shared history and way of looking at the world. Most individuals have a personal, visceral relationship to the idea of their country. Would the rules of the American republic have wrought the same results elsewhere?

    Communist nations throughout the world come closest to the idea of defining themselves through political principles and these have in fact all been doomed. One could argue that was because the principles where pretty cracked to start with, rather than the fact that they tried to do away with other forms of attachment. Once these governments fell or changed however Russia was still Russia, Poland still Poland and the distinct nature of these countries and cultures remained intact.

    It's my belief that these liberal notions of defining nations through sets of general political principles are smokescreens. The elites who feel no loyalty to their own nations subscribe to such ideas but when the wind blows and the smoke clears the nation which was obscured turns out to have been there all along.

  3. Re: 'By identifying the nation with a set of political values, Levy can then imagine that the non-discrimination principle won't change the essence of the nation. Even if there is a "tectonic" change in the population, the non-discrimination principle will endure, and therefore so will the "nation".'

    Excuse me for the following inflammatory comment, but Levy, like all liberals, is a pin-head. He is a pin-head because he assumes the homogeneity of all people, which stands in sharp contradistinction with the liberal principles of "diversity" and "individualism" (another example of leftist cognitive-dissonance).

    Levy would be correct in his views, if the demographic explosion in some sectors of Israeli society (and for that matter, all other Western societies, including our own) didn't happen among people who don't share the same 'political' and 'social values' he and his co-morons trumpet.

    This is just another example how truly dangerous these leftist are, and how more deleterious than the terrorists and their sympathisers to the sheer survival of the West.

  4. The anathematization of the word discrimination is just one more example of how the Left has used linguistic hijacking to advance its own agenda. In point of fact, everyone on Earth discriminates all the time, as to discriminate is merely to prefer one thing or person over another.

    Discrimination by political entities is only of importance when it undermines the Rule of Law: the mandate that law should be uniform over all the persons subject to it. Apart from that, what significance has it? But the Rule of Law is little understood and less appreciated in our time.

  5. Great to see alleged conservatives supporting irrational discrimination. Is it any wonder we are about to hit the political wilderness in a few months time?

  6. Irfan,

    That's a nice set of blogs you're on/run:

    Ihsan; The Aussie Mossie; Madhab al-Irfy; Media Mullah; Qlub Qambakht; RamaDanUnda etc...

    I really hate your types passing themselves off as 'conservatives'. Sure, Osama is conservative, but neither he nor you share our tradition, and it is our tradition that we wish to preserve.

    If you don't like it, get on a plane, we give you the freedom to leave.

    I sincerely hope you exercise that freedom.