What Justice Demands: Has Trump Read This Book?
I write neither to praise Trump nor to scorn him so please do not jump down my throat. It just seems to me that President Trump has been operating in a way that corresponds somewhat with the conclusions to Elan Journo’s book: What Justice Demands. Let me first tell you why I think that and then provide a general review of the book.
Journo argues that the United States should be supporting Israel — on principle — because Israel is a just society, a society that offers freedom and civil rights for all her citizens. This is in contrast with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) that is a tyrannical regime that cares not a whit for the common people. Journo writes:
What justice demands of us in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a principled stand in support of Israel—along with everyone else in the region who seeks genuine freedom, including among the Palestinian population—and a stand against the Palestinian movement and its cause. [page 182; emphasis added]
And what has Trump done in this regard? He moved the American embassy to Jerusalem. And then he cut aid to UNRWA and East Jerusalem hospitals (you should not worry, the PA has lots of money and they certainly know how to sponge off of the rest of the world). And most recently he announced closure of the PLO offices in Washington, DC. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of these decisions as that is beyond the scope of this book review. Suffice it to say that these actions appear to be exactly the stand against the Palestinian movement that Journo promotes in his book, “Palestinian movement” being the term he uses for the leadership that exploits the Palestinian Arab people as pawns in the movement’s battle to eradicate Israel from the map.
It is interesting that Trump is openly challenging the Palestinian Arab “narrative” and moving pieces around as if he is playing chess. We can only wonder where this will lead. But it seems to be clearly a statement in support of Israel and a questioning of the place of the PA leadership (PLO and Hamas) in the resolution of the conflict.
Review of The Book — What Justice Demands
I admit that the Table of Contents and the reviews I read of the book did not entice me to read it. A priori, it felt to me that it was going to be a treatise on Israel’s right to exist. Comparisons of Israel versus our neighbours, the freedoms we have and they do not, cannot be used to justify the existence of any nation. If that were the case, then there are many countries around the globe that can be said to have no right to exist.
In any case, I could not stand by idly as someone who apparently looks for anything alive on the Internet into which to sink his parasitic claws and suck out the life with lies and exaggerations tried to spin an evil web around Journo’s book. Therefore, before I even had What Justice Demands, I reviewed Exposing a Zionist Hoax, exposing only a small number of the many lies within it.
After a brief communication with the author, I learned that the purpose of What Justice Demands was to argue that American foreign policy should favour Israel as a matter of justice, and not play so evenhandedly as has been the tradition until now. Therefore, when Elan Journo offered to send me a copy of his book, I happily agreed.
Note the book’s subtitle: “America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” — “America” can mean lots of different things. Had the subtitle read “American Policy and. . . ” or “American Interests and. . . ” I think I would have been better prepared to read the book with Journo’s intent clearly in mind.
According to the Ayn Rand Institute website, where Journo works, he:
. . . specializes in the application of Rand’s ethics of rational egoism to public policy issues, and his research and writing focus on American foreign policy.
In What Justice Demands, he attempts to share with us how that theory should inform USA relations with Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Very briefly, rational egoism suggests that people need to act in their own self-interest, but in a way that is rational. And what is rational? It includes a number of virtues, such as honesty, respect for facts, integrity, sense of justice, independence, productiveness, and more. It recognizes the place of emotion in our lives but argues that decisions must be made based on rational thought rather than emotional reactivity. (You can read more about rational egoism here.)
Unfortunately, the book did not seem to hit its mark. While reading it, I constantly had to remind myself that it was about American foreign policy regarding our part of the world and not about our right to exist. I think I got lost because he only briefly stated the philosophical foundations within which to consider his material and that was buried in the final section. He began the book talking about history instead. And I have read a lot of history.
I needed a framework within which to reflect upon the information he was presenting and measure it up against his perspective, understand it within his theoretical approach. Perhaps this is less of a problem for readers who are unfamiliar with our part of the world, or who have heard only the anti-Israeli-pro-Palestinian propaganda, for whom much of this information is new and so the book opens them up to viewing the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict in a novel light.
For me, I began to get what he was aiming at only after reading up a bit on rational egoism in order to write this review. And then I was quite disappointed at the missed opportunity that this book represents.
I got that Journo was bringing concern for historical truth, integrity and respect for individual freedoms to his analysis of the Israel-“Palestine” conflict. But that could have been accomplished in far fewer pages than he used up in this effort. And I believe that that is only part of rational egoism; I want to know what other aspects of the approach can be brought to bear (and those that perhaps cannot) in understanding what American policy should be in our part of the world. Perhaps it is there, in the book, but if I have to scour the book to look for it, then I think Journo has not presented it well.
The chapter I found most interesting was the final chapter: “How the American approach must change”. Here he analyzes a number of critical historical events in which the American government chose to seek balance in their approach to the conflict rather than making a principled stand for justice. This is the crux of What Justice Demands. Had it been at the beginning, I think I would have got what he was saying right off the bat and that would have allowed me to digest differently the detailed information provided in the other chapters. As it was, I kept asking myself what his point was — it could not merely be that Israel has morality on her side; it must be more than that. In any future revisions, I suggest breaking this chapter in two and having the first part open up the book and the final section close the book.
But something else is missing for me. At the end of the book, Journo makes this statement:
We know what’s at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We know the moral character of the adversaries. We know the price of negating moral judgment: our persistently unjust policy has undercut Israel’s moral standing and our own regional interests, while empowering our enemies. [page 234, emphasis added]
What are American regional interests? It is pie-in-the-sky to think that the United States should work toward freeing all the peoples of the Middle East so that they can live under regimes that respect their civil rights (as, in another part of the book, Journo claims to want); after all, been there, tried that. It is realistic to accept that the USA has to cooperate with countries it finds distasteful when interests of justice and other American interests (such as oil, strategic considerations concerning Russia, the spread of ISIS) are in conflict. What can rational egoism offer in such situations? And how does the Israel-“Palestine” conflict come into play within the overall regional chessboard that Trump is now managing if interests of justice take on a greater role in foreign policy?
If Journo’s intended audience is the lesser informed population, then this book fills a need. But I think he could have expanded the discussion as I noted above in order to include in his audience the historically informed reader who wants to reflect more deeply on why and how standing with Israel is in America’s best interests.
A Final Note
I have the feeling that Elan Journo sees the recent passing of the Nation-State Law in Israel as risking our moral standing. I base this on an interview in which he has the opportunity to discuss objections to What Justice Demands where he makes the following statement:
I reject the idea that any group of people can lay claim to collective proprietorship over some tract of land on the grounds, not of the moral-political principle of property rights (even in rudimentary form), but rather on the basis of having merely been born on it or having ancestral links to it. Such assertions are, in my view, baseless. An assumption underlying such assertions is that one should think of in terms of collectives, rather than individuals. This is a recipe for strife, which the principle of property rights obviates. Moreover, such collectivist claims to land based on heredity or ancestral links often reflect a xenophobic, or worse, motivation: the desire to exclude “outsiders” precisely because they differ from your racial or tribal group.
He does not respect collective rights to the land on the basis of historical facts — he would not consider it relevant to consider the relative rights of an indigenous population (Jews) versus those of a long-standing migrant population (that began with the Muslim Conquest). Rather, he looks at what kind of state each collective builds or would build.
In other words, perhaps Journo would have had no problem with Israel having been set up in Uganda or anywhere else. The establishment of Israel anywhere but on the Land of Israel would have made Israel into, not the re-establishment of our ancient indigenous nation, but the settler-colonialist project many claim she is on her own historic territories. Journo seems to be implying that if that settler-colonialist project created a democratic, vibrant, free society then we would have morality and justice on our side even if the indigenous Ugandans did not agree and even if we did a better job of maintaining civil rights for all in contrast to South Africa.
This ignores the fact, of course, that Israel anywhere but on the Land of Israel has no legitimate right to call itself a Jewish state. And Israel anywhere but on the Land of Israel could legitimately be asked (nicely or otherwise) by the indigenous population to leave. And then we Jews would be back to where we started — wandering the globe without a home. And then Uganda-Israel would lose favour with the likes of Elan Journo who would claim that it had lost its moral standing by violating the rights of its Jewish citizens. But we would still be wandering the globe without a home.
I am proud to be a member of my tribe. I want to protect our exclusivity within Israel as we have succeeded in doing over 2000 years without Israel on the map. This does not mean I am against considering Journo’s examination of American interests and policy within his philosophical framework; on the contrary, I find the mental exercise invigourating. And I hope he puts out a new edition of What Justice Demands that will provide a more substantial treatment of the topic from the perspective of rational egoism.
Feature Image Credit: Image of Elan Journo by photographer affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute (Ayn Rand Institute) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons