Clash of cultures’

In the past half-year Amnon Rubinstein has been a candidate for three different posts: president of Israel, minister of justice and chairman of what eventually became the Winograd Committee. In this interview he discusses a number of issues including;

Clash of cultures’

You are describing a worldview that is generally identified with the right wing. Do you also see the conflict in terms of a clash of civilizations?

“I see a clash of cultures. In one dimension there is a national confrontation here. There is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that we have to try to end. But one must also see the broad picture, which the extreme left does not see. There is a clash between a narrative of enlightenment versus a dark narrative. I do not believe in relativity. I see the universal values of the French Revolution as absolute truth. And what I see here is an assault on those values. Islam is not an open society. In the terms of Karl Popper, it is the most closed society conceivable. It is an intolerant society.

“A well-known professor said not long ago that we have to adopt the values of the Middle East in which we live. I would like to ask him which values he is talking about. About the humiliation of women? About corporal punishment? About the hanging of a homosexual a month ago in a city square in Iran? About the flogging to death of a young homosexual in Saudi Arabia? About the Nazi propaganda in Egypt? I really want to know. What values are we talking about? After all, there is not one Arab state that upholds the values of freedom of expression, human rights and minority rights. And across the Middle East the Arab Christian minorities are disappearing at an appalling rate. I am not talking about Jews or about Copts or Baha’is. I am talking about Arab Christians. No one talks about that. There is a conspiracy of silence on that subject. Neither the European left nor the Israel left is addressing these phenomena.

“And when I address them, I am asked what happened to me. What happened to me? Not a thing. I am simply being faithful to my values. I say that one can come out against fascism even if it comes from the Muslim side. That statement itself is considered a betrayal of the liberal principle, but I believe it is the exact opposite. In my view, those who oppose self-determination for the Jewish people are the enemy. And those who oppose human rights are the enemy. They are the enemy because they force women to marry at the age of 14. They are the enemy because they perpetrate coerced circumcision on women. They are the enemy because they persecute homosexuals.

“I am not willing to accept a multicultural approach that says that their culture is like my culture. I do not understand how one can talk about cultural relativism in a generation that saw Nazism and Stalinism. I find it perverse that Jews should advocate such relativism. Is it really possible to say that all the narratives are equal? That the Nazi narrative is equal to the Anglo-Saxon narrative? That the Stalinist narrative is equal to the narrative of the French Revolution?”

Do you consider radical Islam a totalitarian movement? Do you really liken it to national socialism?

“No. I see political Islam as a movement that poses a danger to civil rights, but I do not liken it to Nazism. Nazism was a liquidationist movement. It wanted to annihilate the ‘other.’ Islam does not want to annihilate its enemies, only to rule the world.”

Your remarks will not go down well in Israeli universities.

What happened in our universities is that a small minority seized control of some of the humanities and social sciences departments, and of public discourse. Go to symposia in those departments. Who is represented there? In those discussions the right wing is Meretz. The discourse is from Meretz leftward. But is support for the Palestinians really left wing? Does being left wing mean to support Palestinian nationalism? In my view, that anti-Zionist group is not the left. It is a group that supports the Palestinian narrative and does not always allow the large Zionist minority in the universities to have its say.

“The president of a very important university told me that there are circles in which people who espouse a Zionist worldview will not be accepted. And when Yuli Tamir [the present education minister] signed the Kinneret Covenant [which sought to find common ground among different segments of Israeli society] a fatwa was issued against her and there were calls to boycott her. It’s an unbelievable phenomenon. It damages academic freedom and it is also against the law.

“So I say that something bad is happening in academia here. Something very bad. When some professors sign a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli universities, we have reached the stage of farce. What we have here is an imitation of Europe and America without the balances of Europe and America. There you have a radical pole, but there is also a mainstream and there are conservatives. We don’t have that. Even though there is a Zionist majority, the trauma of the settlements and the occupation silenced the Zionist discourse in academia. Even those who are Zionists are unwilling to defend Zionism.”

Do you never get heretical thoughts – don’t you ever wonder whether Zionism was a mistake?

“I do have heretical thoughts. I ask myself whether the tremendous opposition of the Arab and Muslim world is not sabotaging the prospect of realizing the Zionist idea. But immediately I have counter-thoughts. I prefer the dangers that face us in Israel to the humiliation of being a Jewish minority even in the enlightened West. Therefore I feel strong in my Zionist belief. But I see the international move toward delegitimizing the Jewish state. I see that Zionism is under heavy attack. And I am worried. I am very worried.”

March 2, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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