The Micronesia Principle

To mark the just-concluded week-long visit to Israel of the presidents of Micronesia and Nauru, I republish below a piece that appeared in Hamodia in 2004.

Micronesia.

A fabulous name which, if it didn’t already exist, would simply have to be invented. Perhaps as the moniker of an exclusive island retreat for top Microsoft executives. Maybe as a medical term describing a very minute memory lapse. Or, can’t you just see it in some children’s storybook as the name of an enchanted kingdom populated by the Little People?

Yet, in reality, Micronesia is none of these things. It is, instead, the name of what is quite obviously a courageous little country that cares not what others think, not even what the whole world thinks, only about doing what is just and true. That is why each time Israel is brought before the bar of justice for one of its manifold perceived sins against the Palestinians or, indeed, the world community, there is a literal handful of countries that unfailingly support the Jewish state. One of these is the United States; another is Micronesia, which, though once a territory under U.S. stewardship, now charts its own foreign policy course.

And so it was again during the recent U.N. General Assembly vote denouncing Israel’s security fence as illegal and immoral. Standing alongside the mighty United States to declare the vote itself to be an immoral, hypocritical farce was that real life version of The Mouse That Roared, Micronesia, together with its equally miniscule neighbor, the Marshall Islands.

This time around, at least, these heroic stalwarts were joined by their large neighbor to the south, Australia. On other occasions, such as the notorious 2003 vote to condemn the fantasy massacre in Jenin, it has been only the U.S., Micronesia and the Marshall Islands in Israel’s corner staring down the dysfunctional “family of nations” on the other side.

The scene of these Pacific backwaters taking on the 150-plus nations — some of which have mid-size cities whose populations alone dwarf Micronesia’s — arrayed against them is really quite funny. But there’s a more serious lesson to be mined here as well, one that might be dubbed the Micronesia Principle. It is the idea that in matters of right and wrong, numbers don’t matter at all, that the whole world can indeed be, and all too often is, very, very wrong.

Jews, more than others, should know this axiom to be true from tragic historical experience. When virtually the entire civilized world (not to mention the significant uncivilized world) stood by blind and mute as European Jewry was being annihilated, that unanimity did not somehow justify their failure to act. And when, in 1967, the very same international community waited on the sidelines to see whether the Arab nations would succeed in their threats to drive Israel into the sea, it was entirely, unequivocally wrong.

But, of course, it is not merely recent history that ought to make Jews keenly aware of their status as perpetual outsiders. Ever since our nation’s iconoclastic progenitor, Abraham, merited the title Ivri denoting, per rabbinic tradition, that he stood “across the river” from the entire then-contemporary world, awash as it was in bloodshed and idolatry, his descendants have likewise borne that name with pride.

And down through the generations, the people that the gentile prophet Bil’am characterized as a “nation that dwells alone” held fast to the knowledge that the great ideas that Judaism introduced into human civilization such as monotheism, the Sabbath, sexual morality and individual human dignity are right even in the face of naysaying, mockery and much, much worse by nations far stronger and more numerous than us. We have always been, one might say, the world’s Micronesia.

And so, one would think that the Micronesia Principle would ring true with members of the Tribe. The problem is that the very notion of making value judgments, of sorting out wrong beliefs and actions from right ones and then ascribing them to specific parties has fallen into deep disfavor in the oh-so-very relativistic contemporary world.

Ours is a time in which asserting the rightness of one’s worldview and forthrightly employing terms like “evildoers” makes one likely to be adjudged guilty of hubris, judgmentalism and — most egregious of all — a simpleminded lack of nuance and appreciation for life’s complexities. No wonder, then, that prominent Conservative clergyman David Wolpe can muse in print: “Is there anyone at this late date still comfortable maintaining that a billion Chinese are simply deluded, a billion Hindus frankly mistaken? Is the pluralistic model of religious truth . . . seriously doubted by most people with learning and experience?” — though, curiously, he was quite comfortable suggesting to a packed temple audience on a recent Pesach past that millions of his co-religionists were indeed mistaken in their belief in the historicity of Torah.

In speaking thus, Wolpe is simply being a good soldier of his movement, which, in its 1988 statement of principles entitled Emet v’Emunah suggested that while the Jewish people have only one G-d, He may well have a special relationship with more than one nation. This paradoxical fear of being not wrong, but right, is, for the liberal Jewish world, not just a religious hang-up, but, rather, a way of looking at the world as a whole, coloring its approach to politics, morality, the arts — all of life’s endeavors.

It is, at base, a chronic inability to break free of the thicket of endless ambiguity that is seen as synonymous with true modernity, as determined by the elites of true modernity themselves. It ought not surprise, then, to find, in the above-mentioned Conservative document’s discussion of the dilemma of evil the following incredible statement: “Given the enormity of the horror represented by Auschwitz and Hiroshima, this dilemma [of reconciling faith in G-d with the existence of evil] has taken on a new, terrifying reality in our generation.” For all its astounding implications, Conservative theologian Neil Gillman noted that “not once in the many internal debates over the wording of this section did any member of the Commission [that drafted the document] question this particular sentence.”

But such are the wages of a deep-seated impulse toward moral equivalence. What begins with an unwillingness to consider that a handful of Jews may possess what a billion Chinese do not ends with an inability to distinguish unmitigated evil from its opposite.

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5 comments to The Micronesia Principle

  • Tal Benschar

    For some reason, I am reminded about the Gemara that states “Hillel mechayev es ha aniim, R. Elazar b. Horkenos mechayev es ha ashirim.” In the future when Hashem judges those who did not learn Torah, people will give all kinds of excuses: the poor will say they are too worried about livelihood to learn; the rich will say they are too worried about their possessions to learn. Then Hashem will point to Hillel (who learned in abject poverty) and R. Elazar b. Horkenos (who was very wealthy) as examples of those who learned despite their situation.

    (Similarly, R. Soloveichik interpreteted a Rashi at the beginning of Vayera that Avraham was mechayev Sodom — Avraham was a tremendous baal chesed who lived in the same environment as Sodom, the most selfish, cruel society on earth. Avraham’s chesed sweeps away any excuse by the Sodomites that it is their situation or environment which caused them to be selfish and cruel.)

    Le’atid lavo, when the nations of the world are called to account for their cruel, repeated, obsessive condemnations of Israel, they will render all kinds of excuses — they were weak, they were strong, they had financial interests, they went along with the crowd, etc. etc. Then HKBH can point to the United States — the strongest and wealthiest nation on earth — and Micronesia — one of the smallest and most obscure. Still, they stood with Israel. That is mechayev all the rest.

  • Ori

    Emet v’Emunah: while the Jewish people have only one G-d, He may well have a special relationship with more than one nation.

    Ori: Does the Torah tell us of all the covenants G-d made with humanity, or only of those that are relevant to us? Does it say anywhere there can’t be other chosen people, possibly chosen for different jobs?

  • Charles B. Hall

    Micronesia is a tiny, poor country with no real natural resources and just over a hundred thousand people. About a quarter of their economy is foreign aid, and most employed persons there work for their tiny government. Perhaps we Jews could help finance and support a tourism industry that really doesn’t exist yet.

  • Ori

    Charles B. Hall, the reason Micronesia doesn’t have a tourism industry is geographic. They are too far away from anybody who is rich enough to want to be a tourist. Long flights are not fun.

    If anything can improve the Micronesian economy, it is outsourcing of information processing of some kind. Distance doesn’t mean that much when you communicate using a satellite.

  • L. Oberstein

    Israel is unfortunately not considered a viable state long term by many nations of the world. Surrounded by enemies with oil, it is expendible. Israel is a small country that doesn’t make it in the game of international politics. This is the same as Kurdistan, Biafra,and a host of want to be smallstates that are overwhelmed by greater numbers and international apathy. Thank G-d, what I just wrote hasn’t happened,but it doesn’t make it less possible, Heaven forbid. This is what many people in the world think and is certainly what all of Israel’s enemies believe. Countering this pessimistic view is that of Shimon Peres that Israel’s brain power will make it a mightly power despite its small size and population.So far, Peres is right, Israel has a very strong army, economy and is far stronger than any of its nearby enemies. However, we delude ourselves if we forget that we are a sheep surrounded by wolves who would devour us in a second if they had even one opportunity. The big worry is that secular Israelis will buy into the scenario above and not believe Israel has a right to exist. This is tragically true of many Jews in and out of Israel. The religious Jew has to believe that Hashem wants Israel to make it.Otherwise, we don’t have what Micronesia has, isolation.