Public Reasons, Private Reasons
Whenever I write something or give a lecture about Israel — on the human rights situation, international relations, or its domestic politics — someone invariably says to me, “Why are you so against Israel? You’d feel differently if your loved ones lived there or if you thought seriously about the legacy of the Holocaust.”
This is interesting for a couple of reasons:
First, because it’s so obviously wrong. I actually think I like Israel quite a lot (in fact, I also frequently get nasty notes from people who think I’m some sort of rabid Zionist), I have a whole bunch of family living in Israel, and I tend to think I know quite a bit about the legacy of the Holocaust since two of my grandparents survived it and a whole lot of my family did not.
But second, and more importantly, because it’s such a blatant attempt to use private reasons when public reasons aren’t working. When I’m critical of the human rights record of the Israeli government or when I take sides between the various political parties in an election, I’m attempting to use public reasons to sway someone else’s opinion; if I write, for example, that I would prefer a party other than Likud to win an election, my preference is presumably backed by some reason rather than just a feeling. It’s not that I simply dislike Netanyahu; it’s that I can sketch out various ways in which his preferred public policy positions are not in the best interest of the Israeli electorate (to say nothing of non-Israelis). The best response to my claims would be to refute them with other public reasons, to suggest that my own reasoning about what’s in the best interest of the electorate is mistaken for some reason or that there’s a different way to understand the human rights concerns I raise. The worst response is to suggest that I don’t feel deeply enough the tragic history of the Jewish people or that I haven’t established a strong enough connection to Israel.
This type of thinking suggests that — if only I had a more personal connection to Israel, the Holocaust, or maybe even to Judaism — I’d be more willing to ignore the public reasons that I’ve expressed with regard to human rights or public policy matters. But, of course, see #1 above.
Those public reasons aren’t going away, no matter how many family members of mine live in Israel or perished in the Holocaust. In fact, I think it’s important to recognize that I have this connection and that, nonetheless, I can attempt to think somewhat objectively about human rights or war-mongering or the peace process.
So … tell me I’m wrong about negotiations with Iran, or expanding settlements, or whatever else … but use reasons that might convince anyone anywhere, not just someone with your own personal beliefs or history.