Sam Harris’s Immoral Arguments for Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians

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by Neil Godfrey

Hello Vridar, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again. I’ve been far afield exploring new ideas and old. Time to leave self-indulgence aside for a moment and return to share a few of them. (Though my hiatus was not all self-indulgent insofar as some of my time was also taken up exploring new ways to be actively involved in various causes that I care about.)

Marcus Ranum describes himself as “a computer security specialist, consultant, gamer, crafty artist, photographer, soap and cosmetic experimenter, and all-around surrealist” but whatever one makes of that we all owe him a huge thank you for the enormous effort he made to take on point by point Sam Harris’s justification of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, most recently on display on the Gaza border while leaders congratulated themselves on the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. I have attempted to take on Sam Harris’s arguments in small bite-sized morsels, addressing just one or two salient details at a time. But Marcus Ranum has had the tenacity, the patience, the stamina, to take up each one of Sam Harris’s points that he made in another one of his rambling, contradictory, mealy-mouthed justifications for any bloody action taken against Muslims on Israel’s border. (“Mealy-mouthed” because he will drop in contradictory phrases in hopes you won’t notice the barbarism implicit in his words and that will enable him to protest that you were “taking him out of context”. Marcus R dissects it all leaving Sam H stark naked in the end.)  See

Sam Harris on “Why is That You Never Criticize Israel?”

Bookmark the page now but be sure to return to it when you have a good hour to digest it slowly as it deserves. Needless to say, my complaint is not personal. Sam Harris is a nobody who is given way too much publicity for no clear reason as far as I am concerned. My concern is that Sam Harris is articulating the arguments that are all too common everywhere else and whose assumptions and inhumane values, along with outright ignorance, bigotry, not to mention simple logical deceit, need to be addressed and smacked down.

Some of the points addressed (you’ve heard them all before):

  • the small size of Israel contrasted with the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Arabs/Muslims
  • the evil nature of the Koran compared with other holy books, and the evil attitudes and behaviours it nurtures in Muslims
  • the persecuted history of the Jews and current anti-semitism
  • the essential goodness of the Israelis though they have sometimes committed crimes etc because of the hardness of their enemies
  • the world is unfair in singling out Israel for its crimes and ignoring the Palestinian crimes
  • hardships inflicted on the Palestinians do not justify their lust to kill all Jews
  • Palestinians are collectively responsible for Hamas’s crimes because they voted Hamas to power
  • Hamas and Palestinians would kill all Jews if they ever had the chance, or certainly reduce them to ghettos.
  • Israel always goes to maximum lengths to avoid civilian casualties (apart from a few exceptions who are always dealt with by Israeli courts) while Hamas and Muslims target civilians
  • Arabs/Muslims use human shields but Israelis don’t (apart from rare exceptions in particularly dangerous operations)
  • Israel sidelines its religious extremists while Muslims are ruled by them
  • Muslims in the Middle East simply don’t want to live in a peaceful secular society and want to destroy such societies
  • And so on….

Speaking of Sam Harris — his name popped up (regrettably) in an article by Andrew Norman who was disagreeing with Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s view that humanism has bequeathed humanity a terrible legacy:

The Meaning and Legacy of Humanism: A Sharp Challenge from a Potential Ally

I was unaware of this debate over humanism raised by Harari so that’s another world for me to learn more about. But my point for now is this paragraph by Norman:

So your portrayals of humanism worry us greatly. Given the size of your platform, you could, without meaning to, undo decades of good work. I ask, respectfully, that you walk back your characterization of humanism. Perhaps you can find another designation for the family of views you have in mind (“human-centrism” for example, or perhaps “sapiens-sanctifying”). By taking these modest steps, you would earn the gratitude of a large and growing humanist movement and might well find a sizable and receptive audience for your ideas. (Humanist organizations have provided sustained support for other public intellectuals, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, and Daniel Dennett.) Your work deserves to be celebrated alongside the work of these avowedly humanistic thinkers—rather than dismissed because of an unfortunate terminological choice. We’d appreciate your help undoing the damage you’ve done to the humanist cause.

My bolding, of course. I’m not aware of the political views of Goldstein and Dennett but I do not like the idea that the first three public intellectuals named as defenders of humanism are Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. I have loved and learned an enormous amount about evolution, biology, the mind, language, human nature from the latter two, but I shudder to think of them as being representative of what I would consider genuinely humanist values. Pinker has shown himself to be a defender, even “lover” of, western liberal democracies (sure they are better than totalitarian states but that’s damning them with faint praise, surely) and Dawkins and Harris have posted avalanches of ignorance and bigotry about social and political (humanitarian) issues. Will Sam Harris really go down in history as one of the leading public intellectuals of our time? Then again, our time is a time when a known sociopath and criminal can be elected President of the world’s most powerful nation.

I had hoped to finish on a saner note since learning of a “new” book on Hamas that I had hoped by now to read. It is titled Getting to Know Hamas (2012) by Shlomi Eldar (I learned of it reading an article by Eldar on Hamas’s vain attempt to have Israel agree to a cease-fire prior to the Gaza demonstrations.) But damn. I found out it is only published in Hebrew!

Now, I see comments have been posted. Must catch up.



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Neil Godfrey

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3 thoughts on “Sam Harris’s Immoral Arguments for Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians”

  1. Sam Harris argument can be summarized in one sentence he wrote :

    “Sam Harris: I’ve debated rabbis who, when I assume that they believe in a god who can hear our prayers, stop me in mid-sentence and say, “why would you think I believe in a god who can hear prayers?” So, there are rabbis – conservative rabbis – who believe in a god so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about him, and therefore nearly every concrete demand on human behavior. And there are millions of Jews – literally millions among the few million who exist – to whom Judaism is very important, yet they are atheists; they don’t believe in god at all. This is actually a position you can hold within Judaism, but it’s a total non-sequitur in Islam or Christianity.”

    He hides the fact that the ability to be an atheist comes from Christian nations and he is trying to present Judaism as the higher religion of all abrahamic religions.

    When ever I see a paragraph like this, I remember this paragraph (p.26) from the book“Jews in Byzantium” http://www.brill.com/jews-byzantium

    “A quick deliverance from the yoke of Christian Rome was, as we have seen from Rabbi Issac’s saying, an aspiration for the future. A similar sentiment was voiced by the renowned fourth-century Babylonian sage Rava, who adopted the terminology of the biblical laws concerning leprosy and applied them, metaphorically and suggestively, to the current state of affairs: “That is the meaning of the verse, He has turned all white” (Leviticus 13:13, BT Sanhedrin, 97a). Rava compared heresy to leprosy this way: just as when leprosy has completed its spread throughout the body, then-quite paradoxically-it is healed and is ready to be purified, so too when heresy (i.e. Christianity) has completed its takeover of the empire, then the time of redemption will finally come.” “

    And this (p.24-5)

    “By this textual adaptation, not only was the estimated time of the End of Days postponed but, paradoxically, the Jews joined with the Christians in seeking to hasten the transformation, though from opposing motives. After all, prominent Church fathers (such as the Caesarean Origen) also believed that salvation would come about only as a consequence of the spread of the Christian faith
    among all the nations of the world.”

    Of course for an immoral atheist like Sam Harris leprosy is Christianity and Islam, he ignores the fact that Judaism is waiting fill the gap.
    He ignores that the Nazi laws are equal with the Jewish laws and so on.
    And as he follows the Jewish propagandistic rhetoric in his arguments, I can safely say that he is just another tool of the Jewish delusion.

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