Here’s a very interesting profile, by Dan Goldberg in JTA, on famed philosopher Peter Singer. Despite the almost obligatory disparaging comment about dissident Jews – feeling insecure much, Zionists? – I’m pleased the group I co-founded, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, continues to elicit debate:
He’s been brandished “the most dangerous man on earth,” accused of being a “public advocate of genocide” and likened to Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi “Angel of Death.”
Yet he’s also been hailed as “one of the world’s 100 most influential people” and “among the most influential philosophers alive.”
Welcome to the contradictory world that surrounds Peter Singer, the Australia-born moral philosopher who has been a professor of bioethics at Princeton University in New Jersey since 1999. Loved and loathed, one thing cannot be refuted: Singer, 65, has provoked debate about controversial issues such as infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics and animal rights.
Earlier this month, the Jewish-born, Melbourne-raised ethicist was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The citation noted his “eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communication of ideas in the areas of global poverty animal welfare and the human condition.”
Singer, who lost three of his grandparents in the Holocaust, also has stirred debate on key issues that affect Jews, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ritual slaughter of animals, freedom of speech and charity as a means of combating global poverty.
On the ethics of Israel’s establishment, he told JTA, “Clearly there were moral flaws in the setting up of the State of Israel without proper consultation and participation by Palestinians. But that was a long time ago now, and I think that instead of looking backwards, we should try to work out the best solution for all those living in Israel and the occupied territories.”
In 2010 he signed a petition renouncing his “right of return” to Israel because it is “a form of racist privilege that abets the colonial oppression of the Palestinians.”
The petition, issued by the far-left Independent Australian Jewish Voices, an offshoot of a British group, said that “It is not right that we may ‘return’ to a state that is not ours while Palestinians are excluded and continuously dispossessed.”
Singer says he does not subscribe entirely to the views of the dissenting Jewish group, which has been marginalized by the Australian Jewish establishment.
“I take my own stance on what I judge to be right,” he said. “I have sometimes declined to sign statements from IAJV, for example, because I thought they were too one-sided, and while rightly criticizing actions taken by the Israeli government, did not also criticize actions taken by Hamas.”