It seems rather obtuse for someone to resign from a foundation which bears their name, but in some circumstances it seems entirely justified. This is the tack taken by University of Rochester president Joel Seligman in a terse statement, describing his reaction to the recent resignation of Arun Gandhi from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence (which is now situated at the University of Rochester):
I was surprised and deeply disappointed by Arun Gandhi’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post blog, “On Faith.” I believe that his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester. In particular I vehemently disagree with his singling out of Israel and the Jewish people as to blame for the “Culture of Violence” that he believes is eventually going to destroy humanity. This kind of stereotyping is inconsistent with our core values and would be inappropriate when applied to any race, any religion, any nationality, or either gender.
University presidents are a curious breed, in large part tasked with finding big donors and implementing ‘big picture’ programs across entire educational institutions. As a result, they are sometimes easy targets for backlash–I remember the former President of my own alma mater, declaring at a commencement speech that all previous graduating classes amounted to “mush in, mush out” and was hounded from that post (directly into a cushy job in the Business School). It seems unlikely, however, that Mr. Seligman will face any sort of flak for his official statement on Arun Gandhi’s resignation.Examination of the original post does not seem to reveal a deep-seated hatred for world Jewry, as many of his critics in the comments section seems to suggest but a kind of benevolent academic buffoonery. Mr. Gandhi could have, however, made his comments a bit more nonspecific and less pointed–one doesn’t have to assume much to read the post and think Arun was simplistically blaming terrorism on the world’s Jewish population and accusing the same population of overplaying concerns which, in his opinion, have long exhausted their instructive content:
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience — a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.
Taking the Norman Finklestein position certainly doesn’t help matters, as Finklestein found himself without a job due to the backlash generated by his strident condemnations of groups like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress and individuals like Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz for this alleged pimping of Holocaust suffering for material gain. It’s not a line that will start many conversations but rather many one-sided flames–even as a ‘thought experiment’ it seems too offensive to too many people to be a viable origin of constructive and instructive dialog. There are, however, some very obvious errors.
Gandhi’s statement is rife with analytical sinkholes: conflating Jewish identity with agreement with Israeli policy and actions, comparing the people of the occupied territories and Israel with fratricidal snakes, and creating a concept which he does not care to expand but quickly assigns to, “Israel and the Jews.”
The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit — with many deadly snakes in it — and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship? Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
It was here that my casual regard for Mr. Gandhi began to waver. What could he possibly think could be achieved by assigning blame to “the Jews” for a “culture of violence” that he doesn’t care to define? Especially if this “culture of violence” will bring an end to our world?
I had thought that proponents of non-violence would mostly speak in vague terms, extolling the virtues of non-violence over violence, invoking some sort of deity/divinity/saint to buttress their claims of the primacy of non-violent methods and leave it at that. How did Arun find his way into the very contentious topic of Israel? Again, I found a set of questions floating to the top of my mind:
Is non-violence really the best solution in all situations/contexts? If it is not, is there any point to stumping for the cause?
Is Arun Gandhi finished in the world of academic discourse? (if he ever inhabited it to begin with?)
Does the doctrine of non-violence, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, really represent the death of a Jewish state?
Arun Gandhi issued an apology after the initial uproar which addressed many of the points I raise above–however, I don’t believe for a second that it’s entirely sincere. He’s not apologizing for the sloppy analysis which pervades his original post, but correcting what he sees as misreadings of the same. Whatever the case, what he wrote initially will always be available to the net-going public and skeptics who do not buy his apology will forever abound.