American Philosophers Should Condemn the War in Gaza (guest post)


“American academic philosophers should speak out to condemn the Israeli assault on Gaza.”

In the following guest post, Matthew Noah Smith, associate professor of philosophy at Northeastern University, argues that American philosophers and the American Philosophical Association have strong reasons, as academics, to condemn the war in Gaza and call for a sustained ceasefire.

This post is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.


Hazem Harb, “Dystopia is Not A Noun 1” (detail)

American Philosophers Should Condemn the War in Gaza
by Matthew Noah Smith

1

American academic philosophers should speak out to condemn the Israeli assault on Gaza. At the very least, the American Philosophical Association (APA) should issue a statement condemning Israel’s wanton destruction of every university in Gaza, its destruction of most other educational institutions in Gaza, and its use of violence which continues to threaten all remaining forms of education and research in Gaza. Additionally, there are many in Israel who threaten to silence critics—even Jewish Israeli critics—of the war on Gaza. A statement condemning these practices could be issued on the very narrow grounds recognized by the APA.

In fact, the APA should issue a statement calling for a ceasefire. Just as it would be appropriate for the APA to issue a statement calling for greater funding for the humanities on the grounds that such funding is, all else being equal, necessary for the advancement of philosophy in the US, the APA should issue a call for a ceasefire since, all else being equal, the only way for research and education to begin to be repaired in Gaza is for the Israeli assault on Gaza to end. For, Israel not only has destroyed but it continues to destroy both the material and social bases of Gazan civil society. Palestinians in Gaza cannot rebuild their most basic educational institutions, much less their universities, so long as the Israeli assault on Gaza continues.

2

The October 7th attack on Israel, in which approximately 1100 people were killed, was a horrifying war crime. The subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza is also a horrific moral catastrophe. As of this writing on February 8, at least 27,000 people have been killed and 67,000 have been wounded. The vast majority of those killed and wounded are civilians, with up to two-thirds of them being women and children. War crimes have almost certainly been committed. The International Court of Justice has also issued a preliminary ruling that it is plausible that Israel is committing a genocide (as the term is defined by international law).

Furthermore, even if all military operations immediately ceased today, experts believe hundreds or perhaps even thousands more will probably die as result of the war. For, Israel has also destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, including nearly its entire health care system, and has caused both a famine and a widespread shortage of potable water. Finally, Israel has traumatized—in the most intense and horrible sense of the term and not in the recently deployed sense of causing “psychic harm”—at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Palestinians who have so far survived  through this terrible war.

In short, Israel is committing a terrible injustice and may be committing a genocide. There is also good evidence that Palestinians in the West Bank are targets of new and intensive forms of violence. The Israeli public has expressed broad support for the war in Gaza. They have also elected a succession of increasingly racist governments, with the last government having been accused of being anti-democratic and threatening the rule of law.

This injustice alone is sufficient for every person of conscience to speak out. But, as we know, many academics do not wish our professional associations to weigh in on generic injustices, no matter how serious. Rather, for the APA to have a conclusive reason to speak out, the injustice must be directly related to our professional lives. Ten thousand murdered children is not enough.

3

So, what is this special reason for philosophers to collectively as philosophers call for ceasefire, instead of as individuals, members of some social justice group, or members of a labor union, and so on?

We should do this because of the Israeli policy of totally destroying every Gazan university and almost every other educational institution in Gaza. This is a direct attack on the very possibility of a university education, to say nothing of the humanities. Israel has also been credibly accused of silencing critics within its own academic institutions. At least one teacher has been arrested for posting critical views on Facebook. Israel has targeted communities of scholars of which we are a part. We, as academics, are therefore directly implicated in this war. So, we, as academics, ought to collectively express our moral outrage.

Public expressions of moral disapprobation at attacks on university education is par for the course for philosophers. It is not some unusual demand to care about what isn’t relevant to our lives as academics. When Australian Catholic University shut down the Dianoia Institute, there was, among the community of philosophers, a public outrage and a call to action. Similar expressions and calls to action have occurred in response to university leaders, state legislators, and other powers-that-be proposing cutting philosophy departments or laying off tenured staff. When would-be dictators such as Victor Orban attacked the Central European University, there was public support for CEU. The APA has issued many statements against proposed cuts to university programs. These are but a few prominent examples.

It is entirely consistent, then, for academics to respond publicly to and with horror at the total destruction of the entire Gazan educational ecosystem. In the near future, there is unlikely to be anything in Gaza we would recognize as a university education (at least for Palestinians—it remains to be seen whether Israel will colonize any portion of northern Gaza with Jewish settlers). We should, as educators, protest that.

At the very least, then, our professional organizations should issue public proclamations against the destruction of universities in Gaza. But, such proclamations are insufficient. If we oppose the destruction of educational opportunities of Gazans, then we should oppose not merely the fact that they have been destroyed  but also the threat that the remaining ones will be destroyed. Furthermore, we should  oppose the affirmative effort to ensure that these institutions cannot be rebuilt. To that end, then, we as philosophers should call for a ceasefire.

4

The horrible war in Gaza has been widely supported by the Israeli public. Any Israeli of conscience should welcome outside pressure on their country for the sake of pressuring it to stop the injustice. Even if this pressure is modestly costly, it is a burden every Israeli of conscience should be willing to bear for the sake of justice. It is especially the case that, given the very high levels of support for violence against Gazans and the concomitant difficulties of internal organizing, Israelis who seek an end to injustice are probably morally required to welcome outside help, of whatever peaceful form, in their efforts at ending the war and seeking justice for those who suffered as a result of the war.

Many Israeli academics are not in fact innocent bystanders. Many have gone out of their way to provide intellectual cover for the war effort. They have rushed to publicly defend the assault on Gaza and have dragged their feet to condemn the injustices, if they have condemned them at all. Any of their complaints about the negative esteem associated with such statement expressing outrage at the Israeli conduct of the war are not especially morally salient.

Furthermore, it is objectionable to treat minor setbacks in esteem Israeli academics might suffer as a result of expressions of disapprobation at the horrible injustices committed by Israel as worthy of greater consideration than the suffering of Gazans. The greatest injuries are being suffered by Palestinians, not Israelis. It is one thing to have a professional organization issue a statement, and another thing altogether to have one’s entire educational system destroyed by the Israeli military.

Anglophone philosophers are mostly white people who don’t know many Palestinian philosophers. Most do know, or at least read, Israeli philosophers. We therefore are more apt to take up the perspective of Israelis than of Palestinians. As a result, we are more apt to sympathize with the setbacks suffered by the occupiers than the setbacks suffered by the occupied. Were we to center our reasoning on the Palestinian experience—to begin with concern for the most vulnerable, the ones who are currently suffering terribly—then our attitudes might be different. Americans might be less inclined to offer concessions to comfortable Israeli academics whose feelings at hurt when they read their foreign colleagues are disgusted by Israel’s destruction of every Gazan university.

5

What about Hamas? Shouldn’t we condemn Hamas too?! Perhaps. But Hamas has not blown up universities. Hamas has not engaged in a systematic, sustained effort to destroy other educational institutions. But, if Hamas’s wanton violence on October 7th warrants our professional association issuing a statement, then we do not need to seek the narrow grounds discussed above for the APA to condemn Israeli violence.

Should the APA offer solutions to the violence? No. The APA does not issue detailed budgetary proposals for, e.g., the Australian Catholic University or the West Virginia legislature. We might call for proper funding but we needn’t be more specific. Similarly, the APA needn’t develop a plan for how Israel will protect itself from future paroxysms of brutal, disgusting violence directed at it by those Israel oppresses through the Occupation. It merely needs to call for a basic cessation of the destruction, which is what calling for a ceasefire would do. Similarly, the question of the hostages is, per the narrow grounds under consideration here, moot, even if it is in principle morally urgent.

6

The APA should issue a statement condemning the near total destruction by Israel of Gaza’s educational institutions, including all its universities, and should also call for a ceasefire. This is the minimum we can and should do as a professional academics in the United States.

 

Hedgehog Review
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

58 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jason Brennan
22 days ago
  1. The issue of open borders is many orders of magnitude more important than the war in Gaza. (This is not to understate the war in Gaza in any way.) It’s not even close.
  2. The APA should not take a stance on open borders, in part because that’s its place and in part because the issue is controversial, even though the evidence for one side is pretty overwhelming.
  3. If the APA should not take a stance on a easier, higher stakes case (like Open Borders), then it should not take a stance on harder, lower stakes cases (like Gaza).
  4. Therefore, the APA should not take a stance on Gaza.

QED.

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
22 days ago

Sorry, 2 should say “…that’s not its place…”

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Jason Brennan
22 days ago

And yet the APA actually issued a statement on solidarity with the people of Ukraine (fortunately without even needing a blog post arguing for its need).

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Yazan Freij
21 days ago

Yes, the APA is a joke.

This is actually another reason for the APA not to take a stance.

  1. The APA is a joke.
  2. The war in Gaza is serious.
  3. The APA taking a stance makes that stance look bad because it’s being issued by a joke organization.

Not quite as strong as my first argument thought, which is decisive. Anyone who disputes my first argument should be stripped of the right to vote in national elections.

junior faculty
junior faculty
Reply to  Jason Brennan
21 days ago

I am strongly committed to the idea that universal suffrage is a requirement of justice. But I have to admit, reading your arguments does often make me doubt the wisdom of giving everyone the vote.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  junior faculty
21 days ago

Oddly particular comeback to a rather general joke.

Kassiopeia Bernays
Kassiopeia Bernays
Reply to  Meme
20 days ago

I think this is a reference to Jason Brennan’s opposition to universal suffrage!

Jason Brennan
Reply to  junior faculty
17 days ago

I win either way!

Jason Brennan
Reply to  junior faculty
17 days ago

By the way, JF (love the cowardly pseudonym), I think there is really something to this.

I, Jason Brennan, should not have political power over others. However, I am much better suited to welding political power over others than almost everyone else alive, because I am in fact smarter, wiser, better informed, more rational, and more moral they are. But if I should not have power, then most others shouldn’t either.

So, while you intend to dis’ me, you’re right! I suck at politics, but nearly everyone alive is even worse. That’s why democracy is bad.

Scott Paeth
Reply to  Jason Brennan
17 days ago

I question your second premise.

Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Jason Brennan
22 days ago

I’m not a philosopher and thus have no standing to say what the APA should or should not do.

That said, I disagree with the assertion that the situation at the U.S. southern border is “many orders of magnitude more important than the war in Gaza.” Both situations involve humanitarian crises, but in terms of civilians being killed or injured in large numbers, and widespread famine being threatened, the situation in Gaza seems, if anything, more urgent. One could say the U.S. has a more direct interest in the border situation, but that doesn’t make it more important from the perspective of the scale of harm being done.

In any case the statement that one situation is “many orders of magnitude more important” than the other seems to me unwarranted (to put it mildly).

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
22 days ago

I don’t think Jason’s first premise is restricted to ‘the situation at the US southern border’. This restriction makes it much easier to dismiss the comparative claim but it’s a restriction that you, not Jason, added. I don’t have a firm stance on the comparative claim but it’s plausible that at least an order of magnitude more people, most of whom are poor, are affected by immigration policies globally.

Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
22 days ago

I take your point, at least on the issue of my misreading his premise. I guess he assumed that everyone would know that he has co-authored a book, In Defense of Openness, that argues for open borders, among other things. But I didn’t know that until just now. Anyway, I appreciate your correcting me in this respect.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
22 days ago

There is no need to attribute such an assumption to Jason, whose argument is perfectly understandable and plausible (if unsound) without the context of his book, aside perhaps from doubling-down on your own misreading.

Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Meme
22 days ago

You’re right I suppose that I shouldn’t have attributed to him the assumption that everyone knew about his book. It’s just that his otherwise slightly cryptic comment becomes more clear in the light of the book, at least to me. I don’t see how this “doubles down” on a misreading.

Last edited 22 days ago by Louis F. Cooper
Meme
Meme
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
22 days ago

I read your comment as “okay, I misread him–but really it’s still his fault for assuming we’d all read his book.” However, my reading is unfairly critical, and I see your point. My apologies.

Jason Brennan
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
21 days ago

Open borders, as in the position (which I hold) that countries around the world should have allow open migration with almost no restrictions, treating immigration between countries as on par with immigration inside them.

The academic literature in econ says it would, conservatively, increase world product by 50% and lead to massive gains for the world’s poor and rich alike.

Junior Faculty
Junior Faculty
Reply to  Jason Brennan
22 days ago

2 and 3 are both false. Smith’s article article provides compelling reasons to doubt both of them. Moreover, the first conjunct of 2 just begs the question. Smith is arguing that it very much is the place of the APA to advocate for things that affect philosophers. And whether the issue of open borders (or a ceasefire) is adequately controversial to block the organization from issuing a statement depends, in part, in how many people are convinced by Smith’s argument here. If enough of the APA membership agrees that we should advocate a position, on either issue, then its no longer too controversial (in the relevant sense of “controversial”).

Of course, the degree of controversy of the two issues is independent, which is a reason to doubt premise 3.

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Jason Brennan
22 days ago

Even if the comparative claim is true with regard to the overall good or bad involved (dubious), I took the OP to be arguing that the APA has a special obligation here due to the destructive effects of Israel’s war on Gaza’s educational institutions in particular.

Richard Y Chappell
Reply to  Moti Gorin
22 days ago

One could probably modify Jason’s first premise to claim that the specifically educational harms of closed borders are greater than those of the war in Gaza. My worry is that any sufficiently large-scale political problem is apt to have effects on education. But I’m not sure that we should want the APA to take a stand on all large-scale political problems.

The OP references the view that “the injustice must be directly related to our professional lives.” I guess my thought is that to count as relevantly “directly” related, it can’t just be that there’s educational fallout from some larger policy or action. Like, it would be weird to protest the bombing of Hiroshima specifically on the grounds that the atomic bomb destroyed educational institutions, alongside everything else. That’s too indiscriminate. The injustice of war doesn’t seem sufficiently targeted at educational institutions.

(Though silencing of academic critics could surely qualify as a sufficiently targeted assault on our professional values.)

Moti Gorin
Moti Gorin
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
21 days ago

To be clear, my comment wasn’t meant to lend support to the claim that the APA should (or should not) issue a statement about Gaza. I don’t have strong commitments about this one way or the other, though I lean toward the view you articulate. But I think if Brennan’s objection is to work, he’d have to argue (as you suggest) that the educational harms of closed borders are greater than those of the war. The OP was not making a simple and unconstrained consequentialist argument.

Platypus
22 days ago

If you think Netanyahu trembles before the might of the American Philosophical Association, I don’t know what to tell you. An APA statement would be cheap talk from political nobodies. You’d need a soft head for that kind of thing to change your mind.

If philosophers want to help, they should be aiming for moral persuasion — which requires open and honest conversations.

And we can already see some results. As of this month, half of America believes that Israel has “gone too far,” up from 40% last November. Keep talking to independents. Try to emphasize the most effective talking points. No one is going to listen to the APA, but the people in your life might actually listen to you.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Platypus
22 days ago

No one thinks Netanyahu is waiting for the APA to decide his course of action (restricting this to Netanyahu is the usual blame shifting to absolve the millions that aid and abet these crimes). The point is that philosophers must strive for moral clarity as a profession and statements like this do shift the discussion. Half of America would not believe Israel went too far if not for the constant noise, statements, objections, and moral condemnations issues by everyday Americans and American organizations.

Platypus
Reply to  Phineas
22 days ago

Respectfully, I think conversations are more persuasive than APA statements.

And I agree that we all have a responsibility to do something, especially if we live in countries that give military aid to Israel with no strings attached. But we have to be strategic. The APA has essentially zero influence over the people we need to influence — namely, persuadable moderates and pressurable political elites.

An APA statement might give us the feeling of “moral clarity,” but there are better ways to build support for peace.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Platypus
22 days ago

Why should it be one or the other? We can continue to advocate and influence the people we need to influence and release a statement as a profession condemning the violence.

Platypus
Reply to  Phineas
22 days ago

Fair point!

But if we want the APA to release a statement, we would either have to (1) get philosophers to agree on it, or (2) alienate some APA members.

I don’t see much hope for (1), and while (2) isn’t the end of the world, it’s not very good for the APA.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Platypus
22 days ago

It will never be 100% agreement, just as I’m sure it was not when the APA released statements about Ukraine or the defunding of certain programs. The APA guidelines (linked by the author) make it clear how and when a statement can be made, so if it meets those requirements, I don’t really see why it should matter.

Anyone getting alienated over a statement condemning such violence should ask themselves some questions.

Gil
Gil
22 days ago

The author failed to mention the extensive use of civilian facilities by Hamas which is the main reason why they are bombed. It is troubling and we should demand explanations from the IDF, but the mere fact that some buildings were bombed does not suggest anything about the moral or legal status of the military action.
Hamas is shooting at school and other Israeli facilities, but even if it didn’t, Hamas targeted, slathered and raped civilians on October 7th, there’s no need to any additional information to declare it as a moral and war crime.
Yes, public atmosphere in Israel is terrible, but it is party because of the horrific nature of the attack in October 7th, which this post seem to belittle. This is not an excuse but rather an explanation of the current state of affair, which should be taken into account.
In any case, no one has pointed out to any specific war crime, not to mention genocide (which is not something you “may” do as it is an intentional process).

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Gil
22 days ago
Last edited 22 days ago by Yazan Freij
Gil
Gil
Reply to  Yazan Freij
22 days ago

Those are not evidence, but mere allegations based on hearsays for very serious crimes, I hope they are not true and if they are I hope the responsible people will be hold accountable. The only exception here is the amnesty international report about the use of torture in terror investigation in the west bank. This one is probably true but it had little to no connection to the war.
For the record, I’m not trying to defend the war in Gaza, nor do I deny the horrible situation in Gaza. You can condemn Israel perhaps for using too much force or not taking enough actions to ensure the safety of civilians, but showing footage of the destruction of Gaza does not even begin to prove any war crime, let alone genocide.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Gil
22 days ago

 hope they are not true and if they are I hope the responsible people will be hold accountable

Oh don’t worry, The Hague is waiting.

but showing footage of the destruction of Gaza does not even begin to prove any war crime, let alone genocide.

I would bet the ICJ had more than compelling evidence to order preliminary rulings and not dismiss the case for genocide, so as we speak Israel is under trial for genocide, but what do I know?

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Yazan Freij
22 days ago

I meant order provisional measures*

Gil
Gil
Reply to  Yazan Freij
22 days ago

You don’t have to wonder about the evidence the decision was based on, all you have to do is read the decision.
It is mainly based on UNRWA statements about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and on (unfortunate) quotes made by Israeli officials, which none of them can be directed to genocidal intent.
If that was the case, than the court would order a ceasefire.
Anyway, the ICJ wasn’t presented with any compelling evidence more than you and I.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  Gil
17 days ago

You are wrong. The ICJ could (as per its jurisprudence) only order a cessation of military operations if they could not find that any such operations–in any form–would be possible, without their constituting genocide. Since there is a way for Israel to conduct military activity in Gaza without committing genocide, the ICJ could not order a ceasefire. That does NOT mean the present operations do not constitute genocide (issuing from the relevant intentions, etc). This will be determined at the “merits” stage of the case. The recent ruling found that the court could actually advance towards that stage, because, for at least one reason, the repeated statements–which you call “unfortunate”–are not only plausibly expressive of genocidal intent, but plausibly action-guiding for the IDF.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Gil
22 days ago

It is also striking how testimonies of Israelis are considered evidence but those of Palestinians are ‘hearsay’. Also, Israel is actively prohibiting, until this point, any international investigators, human rights organisations, or international press (if not embedded with and censored by its troops) from enetring Gaza. It is not surprising really that you only have ‘heresay’ then.

Gil
Gil
Reply to  Yazan Freij
22 days ago

Gazans are living under the rule of terror organization, they cannot speak freely about their situation. I am not basing my views on hearsays as I personally know October 7th survivors and victims. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to, I know what the truth is, and it is not based on hearsays.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Gil
22 days ago

Gazans are, indeed, under terror. Such extensive bombing and 1.5M people uprooted, homes destroyed, surely cannot help…

Gil
Gil
Reply to  Phineas
22 days ago

I never said it wasn’t terrible, I didn’t even say it was justified, why do you have to believe we are monsters jesus

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Gil
21 days ago

So we should discard all of Gaza’s Palestinians’ first-hand testimonies as being out of fear of Hamas and thus completely falsified? Is this really the healthy epistemic attitude of (some) philosophers?
On the other hand you conveninetly ignored my point about Israel preventing any investigators from International or human rights organisations as well as press from entering Gaza. So, the situations is as follows: We should not believe Palestinian victims because they are afraid of Hamas and no one from the outside should come and investigate. Sounds like a recipe for never achieving justice and it is shameful for anyone to think otherwise.

andy
andy
Reply to  Gil
18 days ago

I really think that it is morally incumbent on people like Gil who have specific evidence of “the extensive use of civilian facilities by Hamas” and that this “is the main reason why they are bombed” to disclose this evidence to the public instead of keeping it a secret.

Phineas
Phineas
22 days ago

Thank you for this thoughtful post, Matthew. Philosophers must be clear in condemning such crimes as a profession, especially when it seems like there is no moral clarity with so many in the profession trying to defend, minimize, or justify the brutalization of an entire people.

Daniel
Daniel
22 days ago

One thing I’ve been struck by, in following philosophers’ discussions of the Israel-Gaza War, is how often the discussants seem to be working from quite different factual premises. One virtue of the ICJ proceedings is that they necessitate the creation of a credibly-sourced factual record. We can disagree about what ought to be done, but let’s be clear about what’s currently being done.

This is from pages 55-56 of South Africa’s application (footnotes omitted). Full text is here: Application instituting proceedings and Request for the indication of provisional measures (icj-cij.org)

“Israel has left Gaza City’s main public library in ruins. It has also damaged or destroyed countless bookshops, publishing houses, libraries, and hundreds of educational facilities. Israel has targeted every one of Gaza’s four universities — including the Islamic University of Gaza, the oldest higher education institution in the territory, which has trained generations of doctors and engineers, amongst others, — destroying campuses for the education of future generations of Palestinians in Gaza. Alongside so many others, Israel has killed leading Palestinian academics, including: Professor Sufian Tayeh, the President of the Islamic University — an award-winning physicist and UNESCO Chair of Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences in Palestine — who died, alongside his family, in an airstrike; Dr Ahmed Hamdi Abo Absa, Dean of the Software Engineering Department at the University of Palestine, reportedly shot dead by Israeli soldiers as he walked away, having been released from three days of enforced disappearance; and Professor Muhammad Eid Shabir, Professor of Immunology and Virology, and former President of the Islamic University of Gaza, and Professor Refaat Alareer, poet and Professor of Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the Islamic University of Gaza, were both killed by Israel with members of their families. Professor Alareer was a co-founder of ‘We are Not Numbers’, a Palestinian youth project seeking to tell the stories behind otherwise impersonal accounts of Palestinians — and Palestinian deaths — in the news.

Israel has damaged and destroyed numerous centres of Palestinian learning and culture, including: the Al Zafar Dmari Mosque and Center for Manuscripts and Ancient Documents; the Orthodox Cultural Centre; the Al Qarara Cultural Museum; the Gaza Centre for Culture and Arts; the Arab Social Cultural Centre; the Hakawi Society for Culture and Arts; and the Rafah Museum — Gaza’s newly opened museum of Palestinian heritage, housing hundreds of cultural and archaeological artefacts. Israel’s attacks have destroyed Gaza’s ancient history: eight sites have been damaged or destroyed, including the ancient port of Gaza (known as ‘Anthedon Harbour’ or ‘Al Balakhiya’) — the archaeological site of a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery listed on both the Islamic Heritage List and the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List. Israel has also destroyed Gaza City’s ‘Old City’, including its 146-year-old historic houses, mosques, churches, markets and schools. It has also destroyed Gaza’s more recent history of more hopeful times, including the Rashad al-Shawa Cultural Center — site of a historic meeting between United States President Bill Clinton and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat 25 years ago — and an important cultural hub for Palestinians in Gaza, with its theatre, library and event space. And Israel is destroying Gaza’s future academic and cultural potential: alongside the Palestinian schools it has damaged or destroyed, the 4,037 students and 209 teachers and educational staff it has killed, alongside the other 7,259 students and 619 teachers it has injured.”

This was filed on December 29.

TF79
TF79
22 days ago

This is a thoughtful approach for addressing the role of professional associations and similar groups – if only others were half as thoughtful in the seemingly incessant call for Everyone to make Statements about Everything. I found the narrower arguments about the direct targeting of universities and education to be very persuasive, and certainly seems like the sort of thing that would (and should) be in the scope of APA and other academic entities to issue a statement on. I’m less convinced about the argument that the broader call for a ceasefire (or to “condemn the Israeli assault on Gaza”) because it would assist universities return to research and education is as clearly within scope (e.g why not call for the unconditional release of all hostages on the grounds that it would hasten an end of hostilities and thus a return of research and education, etc).

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  TF79
22 days ago

I’m not sure if you’ve followed the news (and English language media seems to be bad at covering this) but Hamas have offered an all-for-all exchange of hostages as early as Oct. Increasing pressure on the Israeli govt will make the probability of them agreeing to such an offer or at least engaging it seriously that much higher.

Keith
21 days ago

The claim that “The horrible war in Gaza has been widely supported by the Israeli public” is not actually shown by the linked survey, which does not even ask that question and whose focus is much narrower. The evidence is likewise thin that “many Israeli academics” are complicit; I have seen quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. Just look at the petitions raised by the Elephant group (Shira Klein, et al) and others.

It is enough to expose the monstrousness of Israel’s government and military in this abominable war. There is no need to demonize its people, especially on such thin evidence. This kind of talk will stigmatize Israeli academics and visitors, many of whom oppose the war, who’ll be forced to apologize for their nationality or stand suspect of the complicity the OP imputes here. A bad road to go down. No objection to the rest of the post, though.

Daniel
Daniel
Reply to  Keith
19 days ago

I certainly agree with you about the need not to demonize an entire people– whether Israeli or Palestinian.

On the empirical question of support, however, the evidence is unfortunately pretty clear that the war against Gaza is supported by a high majority of the Israeli Jewish population.

(1) For example, an Israeli Voice Index survey from November indicated that 94.1% of Israeli Jewish respondents thought the IDF was using either an “appropriate” amount of force (36.6%) or “too little” force (57.5%) against people in Gaza.

https://time.com/6333781/israel-hamas-poll-palestine/

(2) Likewise, a January Tel Aviv University survey indicated that 94.2% of Israeli Jewish respondents thought the IDF was using either an “appropriate” amount of force (50.8%) or “too little” force (43.4%) against people in Gaza.

https://en-social-sciences.tau.ac.il/sites/socsci-english.tau.ac.il/files/me
dia_server/social/peaceindex/2024-01-findings.pdf?utm_source=palesti
ne.beehiiv.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=how-95-of-jewis
h-israelis-support-a-plausible-genocide

(3) And a Channel 13 Israel survey conducted within the last two weeks indicated that 70% of Israeli Jewish respondents answered “Yes” to the question “Should the humanitarian aid that is transferred to Gaza be stopped?”

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israeli-opinions-on-fighting-with-hamas

Keith
Reply to  Daniel
17 days ago

Please read the second paragraph of my short comment, which you apparently missed; it was the main point. If you agreed, as you seemed to begin by claiming you did, you wouldn’t have said everything else you said here (or were you faking?).

Daniel
Daniel
Reply to  Keith
17 days ago

Let me get this straight.

You say that a particular survey doesn’t show wide support for the campaign against Gaza.I point to three surveys conducted over the duration of the campaign against Gaza, all of which show wide support for that campaign.You respond by insinuating that I am demonizing an entire population (or at least “faking” it when I disavow demonization).
This is not constructive. It must be possible to have a discussion about what is after all a relevant empirical fact, namely how popular is the campaign against Gaza within key Israeli demographics, without resorting to ad hominem attacks or speculating uncharitably about other people’s motives.

Last edited 17 days ago by Daniel
Keith
Reply to  Daniel
11 days ago

As I said before the site update (which accidentally deleted my comment), there are two different types of objections I’m raising to the poll cited in the OP. The first, far less important, was that it did not quite show the “popularity” alleged, for reasons that become obvious when you follow the link (I didn’t follow yours, but I scrutinized that one closely).

But the second problem is that their punchline — the point they seek to prove — is basically that a certain population is bad (or barborous, or cruel, or overly sympathetic to barbaric or cruel policies, etc. etc. which all come to the same). I have the same objection to polls on how widely Palestinians support Hamas attacks, which were once used to demonize the Palestinians in general.

I do not doubt that we can discuss “empirical” studies about such things as, say, which ethnic group’s members disapprove least of violent crime, or have the lowest IQ, or the highest arrest rates, or which nationals display the least amount of cooperative dispositions on some scale or other. The field [sic] of “race science” arose for these purposes. But the costs of these empirical “inquiries” are high: for one, the innocent in the maligned group emerge suspect and stigmatized, forced to apologize or distance themselves from their people, if they even get the opportunity.

Indeed, this particular conflict would be far less violent and deadly if people on both sides refrained from seeking to link the street to the state, making individuals answerable for the actions of their leaders in Jerusalem or Gaza. As I said, it’s a bad road to go down.

A dues-payer
A dues-payer
21 days ago

I think the war in Gaza has been a moral disaster and agree with calls for a ceasefire, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for the APA to issue a statement.

If a statement by the APA is meant to speak for its members, then it won’t do so, because as we can see in the comments section, many APA members wouldn’t agree (either partly or wholly) with the statement. They might even publicly disavow it, which would be an embarrassment, since then the APA would not seem to be acting in the interests of its members. In this sense, an official statement would be unlike an open letter, since only the signatories of those letters accept responsibility for the letter’s content.

Open letters, as we’ve seen in recent years, have their own liabilities and costs. Presumably, though, those are costs which signatories accept when they sign an open letter. APA members who would rather not stand behind an official statement — for whatever reason — would be expected, as members of the organization, to endorse the statement in part. This strikes me as unfair, even though I think a statement condemning Israel’s conduct in the war would be correct.*

There’s another face of this sort of liability that’s worth mentioning. Our political culture now partitions everyone into “sides” of every controversy, and everyone on a given side is expected to defend or endorse, at least a little bit, any point that could be (rightly or wrongly) attributed to the side’s “position.” This is absurd. Nobody wants to defend the dumbest shit that someone on their “team” has said, but many people feel some social pressure to do so. Professional right-wing podcast dopes like Ben Shapiro collect paychecks to run interference like this for their side, and we can all agree that this is one of the worst aspects of contemporary political culture. Why would we want to turn every APA member into *unpaid* defenders of the APA statement?

*(To clarify my own view, I’ll add that October 7th was barbaric and not some form of legitimate resistance. Israel has a right to self-defense, to some extent. But this isn’t the point of my comment; my comment is concerned with the responsibility a professional organization has to its members.)

Leslie Glazer PhD
21 days ago

Philosophers as philosophers should argue a point, and do so with great charity and sympathy for opposing arguments. They should not as philosophers simply take a position, even if as citizens they of course may have to.

Philosophers should condemn unjust war, and in the current war being discussed, argue for whether the war is or isn’t just, laying out considerations on both sides. And, here one could argue that the war of Hamas against jews and the west is not just, that the war of israel against hamas is just, even while pointing to how and in what ways the way israel is enacting their war is not just because some/many are harmed that are not part of the war between hamas and jews or israel and hamas.

Philosophers should condemn Jihad and Jihadi Islam. To not do so is to annul any grounds for philosophical argument about any of these matters. Philosophers should stipulate the values of enlightenment and liberality in all its forms— freedom of speech and thought, of religion and form of life, rationality and democracy. To not do so is again to undermine ones own position as able to argue anything meaningfully

Philosophers should advance the proposition of the ultimacy of value, of the good, the true and beautiful, and of the virtues, including compassion and peace. But, at the same time realizing that in this world we are confronted with finitude and at times evil, which require of us much

but lets stop with virtue signaling and just get on with the work

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
20 days ago

You need to present arguments that Hamas is waging a war against Jews and the West, and not the nation-state of Israel. You also need to present an argument why Israel’s war is just – after all, just war theory does give a people like the Palestinians subject to occupation and apartheid the right to defend themselves. Over 250 Palestinians were killed in just 2023 before October 7th, and some thousands (many of them children) are held indefinitely without trial – it sounds an awful lot like hostages. If Israel is justified in their war because a 700 civilians were killed and 250 were taken hostage, is Hamas justified because every year a few hundred civilians are killed and thousdands are taken hostage? One must strive for consistency.

Your comments on Jihad and Jihadi Islam are a bit confusing. I often worry philosophers are ill-suited to veer even slightly outside their narrow areas of expertise, and it seems to be the case here. Jihad is a central concept to Islam. Must philosophers denounce and condemn Islam? If that is the argument, please lay out what you understand Jihad to be and why philosophers should condemn some 2 billion people.

Charlie Martel
Charlie Martel
Reply to  Phineas
18 days ago

Sharia is, and has always been an imperialist apartheid normative order. It has never offered legal and political equality to dhimmis or infidels; and, indeed, the idea full legal and political equality is (and has always been) antithetical to it.

Furthermore, various key, essential aspects of Jihad are not too complex to be entirely condemned as being fundamentally incompatible with Western values. The work has been pointed about by experts in fields outside philosophy.

Additionally, the fact that there are over one billion adherents of Islam is of course no reason to think that that belief system ought to be immune from criticism. If there were one billion Nazis that would not render the national socialist belief system immune from criticism. And the idea that Islam is a religion, centered upon a faith in a creator god, is also no reason to think that that (man-made) belief system is immune from criticism and complete condemnation.

andy
andy
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
18 days ago

Lol no philosophers should not condemn “jihadi Islam”, whatever that is, nor “ advance the proposition of the ultimacy of value” (??).

Grad Student
20 days ago

Can someone explain this line of reasoning to me?

“Just as it would be appropriate for the APA to issue a statement calling for greater funding for the humanities on the grounds that such funding is, all else being equal, necessary for the advancement of philosophy in the US, the APA should issue a call for a ceasefire since, all else being equal, the only way for research and education to begin to be repaired in Gaza is for the Israeli assault on Gaza to end.”

I just don’t see how this follows; the only apparent parallel between the two cases is that they involve ceteris paribus reasoning. The goal of the APA is to advance philosophy in the US, so it makes sense for them to take actions that advance philosophy in the US. I don’t believe that it is a stated goal of the APA to repair research and education in Gaza, so I don’t see the relevance of the comparison.

For the record, I would not be opposed to the APA making such a statement. I simply do not see how the quoted passage provides any reason to think that they ought to do so. As philosophers, we should strive to support our beliefs with strong arguments.

Last edited 20 days ago by Grad Student
Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Grad Student
20 days ago

I understood there to be a hidden premise that the APA should care about the advancement of the humanities and philosophy simplicter. This is why they mention the Australian Catholic University and the situation with Hungary.

CHEYNEY RYAN
CHEYNEY RYAN
20 days ago

Professional organizations speaking out against the war:

“On Dec. 1, UAW, one of the largest unions in the country, made history when it released a ceasefire statement. Other influential unions, such as the United Electrical WorkersAmerican Postal Workers Union, and 1199SEIU (United Healthcare Workers East), and countless other smaller unions have also released similar statements. On Jan. 22, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the second-largest public service employees union in the country, also released a call for a ceasefire.”  

I agree entirely with Matthew’s position, though I don’t think we need to single out the special harm to academics in Gaza any more than the UAW singled out the harm to autoworkers in Gaza. If people think the APA is not the best venue for voicing protest, fine – – as long as you are looking for a better venue. (The “human shields” argument, by the way, is nonsense. How does the fact that Hamas is using civilians as human shields justify starving them to death, denying them water, etc.?)