Friday, July 31, 2009

Professor Dershowitz: Air guitar moralist

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Reading Preemption, we find our hero, the somewhat compulsive trafficker in sanctimony, Professor Alan Dershowitz, wrestling with the age-old moral dilemma of whether (or not) the end justifies the means:

“The problem can be posed even more concretely in the context of the Holocaust. What if the Jewish underground had credibly believed that if by blowing up German kindergartens in Berlin, they could force the closure of the death camps--that the killing of a hundred innocent German children would save the lives of one million innocent Jewish children and adults? Would this be a morally permissible choice of evils?” 1

When David Ben-Gurion contemplated the peril confronting German Jews during the Nazi era, he came to the following conclusion:

“If I knew that it would be possible to save all the [Jewish] children in Germany by bringing them to over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these [Jewish] children, but also the history of the People of Israel.” 2

I think we may safely conclude that Israel’s first prime minister, were he to consider the “choice of evils” put forth by Professor Dershowitz, would be OK with the good that would result from the “killing of a hundred innocent German children.” Of course, Ben-Gurion would also have been OK with the “good” that would result from the killing of a hundred innocent Jewish children-- just so long as a second group of one hundred Jewish children was able to find safe passage to Israel.

1. Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways, W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2006, pp. 222-223.

2. Yoav Gelber, Zionist Policy and the Fate of European Jewry (1939-1942), Yad Vashem Studies, Volume XII, p. 199.

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