Voltaire Is Still Worth Listening to—Even by Jews

Voltaire has fallen into disrepute of late: for some, because of skepticism about the Enlightenment project he represents; for others, because of his crude anti-Semitism. However, argues Paul Berman, many of his ideas—especially about tolerance, freedom of speech, and the dangers of religious fundamentalism—are particularly germane today. Even when it comes to Jews, writes Berman, Voltaire’s attitude can’t be reduced to a few nasty comments:

Less-than-friendly discussions of Jewish themes do pop up in those fat compendia [of Voltaire’s writings] and keep on doing so. . . . You could argue that, in harping on these points, Voltaire turned his defense of tolerance into an offense against it. . . . Still another argument gets made: if even the great Voltaire displayed, in regard to the Jews, a dreadful prejudice, shouldn’t we hesitate a moment before endorsing his call for universal tolerance? Shouldn’t we harbor a suspicion that even the most inspiring of calls for tolerance are likely to contain a hidden bigotry, if not for the Jews, then for the Muslims? Isn’t [the argument for tolerance] a fake? This last argument has become a fashion. . . .

Voltaire glares in Jewish directions. . . . Sometimes this is because he thinks modern Jewish bankers are swindlers, but mostly it is because, by painting the Old Testament Hebrews in barbarous colors, he hopes to show that New Testament Christianity stands on shaky foundations. Ultimately the Christian religion is his target. . . . About the Jews he says, “One finds in all the history of this people no trait of generosity, of magnanimity, of beneficence”—and yet, “the rays of universal tolerance always emerge.” It should be remembered that, for Voltaire, tolerance is the highest of virtues. . . . There is more than a touch of admiration for the Jews in this one not-very-affectionate remark.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Enlightenment, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, History & Ideas, Tolerance

 

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security