Recent links…

  1. Descartes’ De Homine (1662) has a few “lift the flap” illustrations — and can be yours for a mere $11,000
  2. What is “relational” about morality? — an exchange between R. Jay Wallace (Berkeley) and Stephen Darwall (Yale)
  3. In economics, “from the vantage point of 1975, Mill… was a famous figure who also systematized classical economics, a high-status position but no more than that. In the 2020s, however, Mill seems remarkably ahead of his time” — Tyler Cowen (GMU) considers whether John Stuart MIll is the greatest economist of all time in Ch.6 of a new, open-access, AI-explorable book
  4. Anscombe: “Professor Stebbing exposing the logical fallacies in politicians’ speeches is a comic spectacle” — Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) comments, interpreting Anscombe with a charity she did not afford her targets
  5. “We are told that these events must be understood in their proper ‘historical context.’ The problem with this argument is that the proposed historical context is selectively chosen.” — David Benatar (Cape Town) on Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinians (via Jean Kazez)
  6. “We are compelled to exercise force by the force that terrifies us. Yet this observation, that we do not possess force but are possessed by it, is significant.” — Oded Na’aman (Hebrew University) with a letter from Israel (via Aaron Garrett)
  7. Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (Maryland) is the winner of the 2023 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture — the prize is $1 million

Discussion welcome.

Mini-Heap posts usually appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, a collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thank you.

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8 months ago

In the linked article, “It’s not the Occupation,” Benatar asserts that when it comes to cycles of violence, “[v]ery often, one side is much worse than the other, even if the better side is far from perfect.” He doesn’t come out and say whether he thinks one side is “much worse” than the other in the Israel-Palestine conflict, though the unstated goal of the article seems to be to demonstrate that Palestinians are much worse than Israelis and the main argument for this thesis is that Palestinian violence against Israelis is at its core xenophobic.

The paragraph after the “one side is much worse than the other” sentence is:

Pinpointing the origin of the Arab-Jewish conflict is not easy, but looking back nearly a century to the 1929 Palestine riots and their origins is instructive.

Benatar wants to explain these riots, which killed 139 Jews and forced Jews out of Hebron. Here is his explanation:

They [the riots] arose from Arab fears of growing Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, against the background of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British had declared their support for the creation of a Jewish state in (part of) Palestine. More immediately, Arabs were alarmed when Jews brought seats and benches (for the infirm) to the Western Wall, along with a divider to separate the sexes, in violation of a 1925 ruling. The Arabs saw this move as a part of the “Zionist project,” which is why it elicited Arab violence. This, in turn, prompted Jewish demonstrations at the Wall, and those demonstrations were among the precipitators of the 1929 riots.

The explanation includes events of various causal proximities to the riots. However, it leaves out some important events that are within the range of those that are included. This is from the Wikipedia entry on the riots, which is Benatar’s own source:

The next day an incident which “in its origin was of a personal nature” was sparked when a 17-year-old Sephardic Jew named Abraham Mizrachi was fatally stabbed by an Arab at the Maccabi grounds near Mea Shearim and the Bukharim quarter, on the outskirts of the village lands of Lifta, following a quarrel which began when he and his friends tried to retrieve their lost football from an Arab girl after it had rolled into an Arab-owned tomato field.[33][34][35] A Jewish crowd attacked and severely wounded the policeman who arrived to arrest the Arab responsible, and then attacked and burned neighbouring Arab tents and shacks erected by Lifta residents and wounded their occupants;[29] the wounded included an Arab youth named ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Hasan who was chosen at random to be stabbed in retaliation.

I don’t bring this up to show that “one side is much worse than the other,” but that Benatar picked the wrong side. Such a question of moral high ground seems, to me, too irrelevant to constructive solutions to be worth pursuing. My point is that Benatar isn’t addressing the question seriously and impartially. If you’re going to discuss the origins of a cycle of violence, it’s irresponsible to leave out the first acts of violence in the cycle.

Benatar draws some conclusions from the 1929 riots. He says that the riots weren’t caused by the occupation because there was no occupation, but only Jews living in the region, and that “[w]hatever one’s feelings about immigration, this was certainly not a state of affairs to which massacres were a justifiable response.” To support the claim that it’s wrong to murder people just for immigrating to your country, he draws an analogy between Jewish immigration to Palestine and Muslim immigration to the US.

Of course the 1929 riots weren’t a “justifiable response” to the situation. However, Benatar’s suggestion that they were a “response” to immigration per se, and his analogy between Jewish immigration to Palestine at the time and Muslim immigration to the US today, obscure the nature of the conflict. In a paragraph I quoted above, while Benatar is unacceptably selective in his historical analysis, he at least acknowledges that the cycle of violence was, in large part, a reaction to the Zionist state-building project: it wasn’t just that the Palestinians didn’t want Jews in Palestine, it was that they didn’t want Jews to build a Jewish state in Palestine. That truism has now disappeared from his analysis and has been replaced by the hypothesis that riots were simply expressions of xenophobia.

This is why Benatar’s analogy between Muslim immigration to the US and Jewish immigration to Israel is so off the mark. Mulims aren’t immigrating to the US to establish their own state (though I remember hyperbolic claims to that effect once being en vogue in the Republican party). If they were, and if they seemed to be making progress towards such a goal, there would be a lot more anti-Muslim violence in the US and US politics would be completely oriented around combating such a nascent state. In such a scenario, anti-Muslim violence wouldn’t be at all justified. But anyone who wanted to understand it, in order to reduce it and find a constructive solution, wouldn’t mischaracterize it as mere anti-Muslim xenophobia.

8 months ago

In the article “It’s not the Occupation” in the second sentence Benatar argues that what happened on October 7th was a pogrom. Was it really? I am raising a conceptual issue here, whether the term “pogrom” accurately describes what happened. I am not arguing that what happened is of lesser evil than a pogrom. I am trying to draw distinctions. If we go with Werner Bergmann’s proposal that a pogrom “should be defined as a unilateral, nongovernmental form of collective violence that is initiated by the majority population against a largely defenseless minority ethnic group”, then what happened was not a pogrom.

8 months ago

Ironically, Benatar (“It’s Not the Occupation”) criticizes others for ignoring important context, but he also does the same thing.

Just to point out a few examples:

He claims that Jewish people can’t be colonizing Palestine, because it is their ancestral homeland. But Zionists recognized that they were colonizers. For example: “In 1891 leading Zionist thinker Asher Ginsburg (Ahad Ha’am) wrote that “when the life of our people in Palestine will develop to such an extent as to push out, to a small or large extent, the indigenous population of the country, then not easily will they give up their place.” This thread is worth reading:

Secondly, he writes that “Israel does continue to occupy the West Bank” while neglecting to note that since the 1970s, and at an accelerated rate over the last two decades, it has constructed settlements there, to the extend that there are now around 700 000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

While Benatar mentions “instances of terror” he doesn’t contextualize this as part of a concerted effort by Israeli settlers to displace Palestinians. Entire Palestinian villages have been terrorized out of the homes; olive groves have been cut down; people have been murdered. To give just one example: “In July 2022, the 100-person community in Ras a-Tin (WB) was pushed after a Jewish settler outpost was established 2km away. Since then, members of the Palestinian community have suffered from verbal abuse, harassment, theft & vandalism of property.”

The fact that Benatar doesn’t mention that these settlements pose an enormous (and deliberate) obstacle to a just peace is an egregious and unjustifiable oversight.

Next, Benatar thinks that those who claim that Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants of Palestine and Israel could live together in one state peacefully are naïve, “especially with antisemitic rejectionists like Hamas in the polity”. Even assuming that Benatar is right in his pessimism (which I hope he isn’t) he lays the blame entirely at the feet of Hamas, without mentioning the xenophobic attitudes on the Israeli far-right. For example, the government minister who is now in charge of the West Bank, B is a self-described fascist who has championed a “Decisive Plan” to “flood” Palestinian areas with so many settlers that Palestinians have no choices but “a life of subjugation under Israeli rule, emigration, or a Shahid [martyr] death”. Bezalel Smotrich – Wikipedia

Benatar also fails to mention that Netanyahu’s far-right government has encouraged the growth of Hamas, and ensured that it maintains its funding, so as to divide the Palestinian movement and claim that they have no one reasonable that they can negotiate with. This article does a great job of collecting the evidence of this: How Netanyahu’s Hamas policy came back to haunt him — and Israel | CBC News

It is disingenuous to claim that Hamas doesn’t want peaceful Palestinian coexistence alongside Israel, whilst not discussing the fact that unfortunately many in Israel don’t want this either. Just a few days before the October 7 massacres, Netanyahu presented a map of the “New Middle East” at the UN, with Gaza and the West Bank absorbed as part of Israel. Germany, U.S. slam Netanyahu’s Middle East map presented at UN (

Finally, Benatar says this: “When we ask what each side of the Hamas-Israel conflict could do differently, it is much easier to say what Hamas could do. It could stop attacking Israel.” This is absolutely a necessary part of the pathway to peace. But it’s not that hard to think of concrete steps that Israel can and must also take: stop enabling extremist groups like Hamas and negotiate seriously with Palestinians towards either a two-state or one-state solution; dismantle the illegal settlements in the West Bank; stop the arbitrary detentions of Palestinians; stop stealing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

It would help though if Benatar started by acknowledging that there are people of good will on both sides (not just the Israeli side, as he tacitly frames things) and that the obstacles to peace don’t just lay on one side. While he champions Israel’s “liberal and democratic freedoms” he assumes (indeed, pretty much states) that Palestinians are neither interested in nor capable of living in a liberal and democratic state. If we’re aiming at the appropriate context to understand recent events, it would help if we didn’t include such chauvinistic assumptions in our assessment of recent events. It’s not that far off from Netanyahu’s (deleted) tweet claiming that Israelis are on the side of light and Palestinians the side of darkness.