Amalek Debate ‘A Perversion’?

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Jeffrey Goldberg initially responded to my Amalek post in what I thought was a pretty gracious and thoughtful manner, but the sheer volume of later commentators weighing in to challenge Goldberg’s interpretation seems to have gotten to him, because this is pretty ridiculous:

In any case, this whole debate is a perversion, and not only because genocide is the specialty of other religions, and not Judaism. Iran has called for the elimination of the Jewish state, and seems to be building nuclear weapons that could make that a reality; Israel simply seeks to protect itself from a country that wants to exterminate it. If Israel does strike Iran, it would bomb military targets while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, already has a long and distinguished record of murdering Jewish children. There’s simply no equivalence here. Yes, Israel does various idiotic and immoral things. But it isn’t, even on its worst day, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of which religions, exactly, is genocide the “specialty”? I’d argue that it’s more of a “specialty” of human beings to seek and find justification for all kinds of cruelty in their religious texts — as Goldberg himself is surely aware from his reporting on the settler movement. It’s offensive and wrong to suggest that mass murder is the special province of any particular religion.

No one that I’m aware of is asserting an equivalence between Iran’s actions and Israel’s. The issue here, at least as I see it, has to do with the invocation by an Israeli government official of a deeply resonant religious-historical symbol with disturbingly violent and malevolent connotations — precisely the sort of thing that we tend to freak about when it comes from the other side, but downplay or apologize for when it happens in our own political cultures. I think Andrew Sullivan nailed it when he wrote “you cannot avoid a religious war by invoking a religious genocide to explain your intentions.”

I’ve actually found the whole extended discussion on Amalek to be very interesting and informative — Gershom Gorenberg’s extended treatment of the subject is particularly good. Goldberg’s attempt to short circuit the debate, however, by calling it “a perversion” seems rather un-bloggerly.

Regarding Goldberg’s claim that Iran “seems to be building nuclear weapons,” the current view of the U.S. intelligence community, as reaffirmed by DNI Dennis Blair on February 12, is that Iran has not restarted nuclear weapons design and weaponization work that it halted in late 2003. This isn’t to say that Iran’s nuclear work gives no reason for concern, it clearly does, but given Goldberg’s own significant past role in over-hyping threats emanating from the Persian Gulf region, he should probably be more careful about this.