The Economic Dimensions of Democratic Politics

In an op-ed last week, The New York Times editor, David Leonhardt, advised voting for a Democratic Party candidate for president based on the enthusiasm he or she excites in you, but also on how well the candidate’s program appeals to economic populism.  “A substantial majority of Americans favor a populist agenda — higher taxes on the rich, better federal health insurance, more government action to create good-paying jobs and so on. The Democrats did so well in the midterms partly because of the populist campaign many of them ran…I think their best chance of winning in 2020 involves a campaign centered on fighting for working families.”

Over the next few blogs and reviews of several recent books on contemporary economics, I want to put forth an argument that, whatever the value of the first criterion for casting a vote to select a Democratic Party candidate, I suggest that, while fighting for working families is certainly legitimate, and both sides make a claim to do so, that should not be done on the back of populist economics. For what you sow, so shall you reap.

Republicans say their program of reduced taxes not only helps the rich but benefits the working individual by creating more jobs, creating a need for workers and a need to compete for workers which in turn will lead to higher wages for them. Democrats who follow Leonhardt’s lead think in terms of minimum wages, rules to strengthen collective bargaining, taxation policy that redistributes wealth rather than offering incentives for accumulating it and sometimes protectionism. Republicans supposedly support a balanced budget and then run up deficits their Democratic opponents are afraid of lest they be accused of ruining the economy. Republicans, therefore, set aside PAYGO, the congressional rule that increases in spending be matched by cuts elsewhere, when it suits them. The G.O.P. 2017 budget did precisely this.

Projecting an image of a Democratic Party in fear of budget deficits places restrictions on righting the wrongs of the past through increased benefits and laws to redistribute income. This was the position of Nancy Pelosi’s critics when she ran to be speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi, however, resisted their criticism and resolved to abide by PAYGO. However, economists like Paul Krugman argue that austerity and budget restrictions impede economic growth and lead to economic stagnation by ignoring or setting back the need to invest in infrastructure and in human resource development for example. I want to question whether either approach is better or worse, or even whether a choice has to be made in the face of the globalizing technological economic forces driving modern economies.

This Central debate within America has to be set within what is taking place on the global level. Richard Haas, and many others, look upon what is happening with an apocalyptic lens. The liberal world order, which began in the seventeenth century and was greatly expanded and refined after WWII with a set of institutions, is at the beginning stages of disintegration. That order was based on an idea of promoting the economic well-being of everyone on this planet by constructing an international system based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country within a world order.

One factor that has contributed to the disintegration has been the very instruments seen to be the culmination of integrating the whole planet, namely the internet and, more specifically, social media. For what set out to enhance worldwide communications has created a crisis for open societies and the freedom of the mind that was the pillar of the liberal world order. George Soros as Cassandra has written that, “The current moment in world history is a painful one. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Donald Trump would like to establish his own mafia-style state but cannot, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it. Not only is the survival of open society in question; the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. The rise of leaders such as Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Trump in the US have much to do with this. Both seem willing to risk a nuclear war in order to keep themselves in power. But the root cause goes even deeper. Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow, while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and is now at a low ebb.”

Soros is far from alone. Who would know better than John MacWilliams, who heads the Department of Energy where the internet was invented? He insisted that whenever we interact on a telecommunications device, someone not invited is listening. In fact, many are listening. Michael Lewis in The Fifth Risk, which I will review, dubs this the first risk. When married to the fifth risk, the failure to manage this (and other risks) by denigrating management in favour of ideology, by denigrating knowledge in favour of ignorance, offers the anti-intellectual tools to destroy the modern liberal order.

Why the increase in quasi-fascist and fascist states? Because the policeman (America) of the world has given way and surrendered the responsibility of regulation. Democratic values were viewed initially as being protected by military interventions and crusades. That resulted in a propensity to concentrate power in hegemonic states, unfortunately.  International institutions were created to foster a world of interdependence that could counteract that propensity. The result, as Joseph Nye and others argue, was an unprecedented level “of prosperity and the longest period in modern history without war between major powers. USsis leadership helped to create this system, and US leadership has long been critical for its success.”

However, in our digital age, giant, mostly American, platform companies have turned the greatest political power ever seen on this earth into an impotent giant as companies, that initially played an enormous role in innovation and liberalization, have fallen into the hands of interests which are primarily transactional, focused on promoting consumption rather than liberty in what Yanis Varoufakis dubs “the relentless commodification of privacy.” That, they argue, has made privacy and individual autonomy no longer possible. Innovators, like Mark Zuckerberg, have lost control of the Frankenstein they created.

Pseudo-knowledge – actual false claims – become the headlines people absorb and think of as knowledge. The weighing and evaluating of conclusions are set aside in favour of mass appeal. Sound bites are the clowns of this pseudo-cognitive world, sweeping minds and feelings into mass hysteria. Stop the merry-go-round. I want to, I need to, get off.

However, when it comes to the real world, our material world, our world as understood through economic science, the conclusion that the world is going to hell in a handbasket is offset by the cheery remarks of a leader that the country has the lowest unemployment levels and extraordinary rates of growth of that economy, blissfully ignoring the forces building up. Many if not most analysts see a collapse on the horizon. The volatile Wall Street stock market is just the foreplay for a 2020 depression that will make 2008 look like a blip on a screen and even the mode of management in 1929 seem like a cakewalk.

The fiscal policies of the U.S. are viewed as unsustainable. The period of sustained and synchronized growth has lost steam and is nearing a collapse, Unlike 2008 and 1939, governments no longer have the tools to reverse course according to Nouriel Roubini and Brunello Rosa.

2019 is supposed to be the tipping point with the U.S. running up unprecedented deficits, China has responded to the American-initiated trade war with even looser fiscal and credit policies as Europe limps badly as it still tries to recover from the centrifugal fragmenting forces threatening to throw a united but fragile unity into dozens of pieces. The protective devices of banking unification are proceeding too slowly and are too weak. Fiscal policy coordination is inadequate as political rifts and schisms grow exponentially. Political uncertainty across Europe, especially in the mainstays, France and Germany, grows as the domestic drivers of economic growth weaken and exports suffer because of the American-led trade war with China on a macro scale and the cancellation of the American decision to lift sanctions on Iran decrease trade on a more modest level.

Why? For many, the new communications system and the digital age are not the primary villains. Neoliberal ideology and “public choice” theory emphasizing the reversal of the regulations introduced following the 2008 crisis, are. The dominant economic model is becoming totally incongruent with the actual historical patterns on the ground which demand and need much greater intervention and management of the economy rather than greater anarchy. In spite of many efforts in place, the policy direction is working in reverse even though, in Europe, there is at least a plan in place to counter these trends and to maximize economy strengths in ingenuity and high-end manufacturing.

We have a communications crisis. We have a fiscal crisis. We have a governance crisis. In a globalized economic world with a pressing need for global management of a natural climate crisis of unprecedented proportions coming at us, we need more integration, not less, more governance not less, more regulation not less. But the signs of an emerging system of global governance are all pointing in the wrong direction. The tide of increased global trade that has contributed so much to rising worldwide prosperity is in retreat as the global trade game has shifted from free trade to increasing reliance on mercantilism, that is, regulation and intervention precisely in a way it is not only not needed, but is destructive to the international order. And central banks can no longer cope with the variety and size of the challenges that states face.

The startling part of it all is that we are just on the edge of vast improvements in productivity resulting from the digital age as machines not only replace the need for our muscle. Artificial intelligence is on the brink of displacing many levels of decision-making that can be better managed by electronic rather than by human intelligence. Look at how out of synch economic policies are. Tax policies in the U.S. and elsewhere increase inflation and impede investment just when more intelligent management of the economy is needed, not less. Most of all, there is public discord that grows as economic inequality grows and as the graduates of even our universities no longer see a route to owning their own homes unassisted by inherited family wealth.

In other words, the problem is not just economic disruption, but an earthquake taking place in our institutions of governance both domestically and internationally. On the macro scale, even as Democrats re-energize themselves in America, the institutions of liberalism and democracy appear to have weakened so much that salvation appears almost impossible. On the micro level, our youth face a housing crisis and young families face an eviction crisis as they face mortgage renewals at rising rates that they cannot support. At the same time, all my moves, all my plans – for travel, for work, for leisure – to eat, sleep and be merry – are being tracked as advertisers both monitor and target our desires. The surreptitious mapping of our habits and desires work to erode autonomy and individuality. Freedom then becomes reinvented as celebrity. Glitz and glamour displace gravitas and critical reflection. And opinion displaces fact as a foundation for decisions.

On a more mundane, but the most painful level, debt is punted down the line to future generations. Further, the problem is not only the exploding federal debt, but, as Carmen Reinhart has written, the high issuance of corporate collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), the new temptress on the financial runway that has pushed corporate bonds aside. High-yield corporate debt instruments are the emerging market within the U.S. economy, but the rapid rise is even greater in Europe where yields are even higher. Of course, these are of very different order of magnitude than in 2008, but they hit the productivity rather than consumer side of the market. Thus, these could be the equivalents of the high-interest poorly secured bundling of mortgage obligations in the first decade of this century that led to the 2008 financial crisis as the money is borrowed by weaker corporations and with more questionable valuation of the collaterals. And the debt is arranged through third tier lightly regulated banks. Do all capital surges end badly?

Unprecedented unemployment levels, owing almost entirely to the rapid increase in the service sector, in the atomized environment of outsourcing, does not produce increased income resulting from increased competition for workers. Expected increases in income have not been forthcoming. Thus the rise of Trump in America, of the Brexit fiasco in Britain, of Macron as a fleeting shooting star, not to count the quasi-dictatorships in Russia, China, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines and Brazil, to list some of the major ones which still exclude totalitarian oppressive regimes such as North Korea or Myanmar, and imploding governments such as that of Venezuela, are all part of this trajectory towards disaster.

The rise of populist political parties and leaders with increasing influence almost everywhere threatens economies that depend on facts, on analysis, on knowledge-based decisions instead of whims and ignorance. Trump and other leaders on the right avoid comprehensive and coherent policy platforms for they are impossible to come by in an era dominated by ignorance and impulse, lies and braggadocio. Agility declines. Rigidity sets in.

Other Cassandras, such as George Brown, appear as optimists, for they still believe that steps can be taken to save the world from the collapse of a liberal globalization and a planet destroyed by climate change. How appealing then are the corrective measures promoted by The New York Times editor, David Leonhardt? There are two: based on enthusiasm in a candidate for public office who excites you; and choosing on the basis of how well thought out a program the candidate offers that simply appeals to economic populism. I will argue that they feed the beast rather than stopping it in its tracks.

Reviews of economic books follow.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Competition for Recognition Part V The Moral Compass: Division on the Political Right

Is Donald Trump a by-product of the failure of liberalism which sold out to identity politics and the politics of resentment in accordance with the views of Jordan Peterson? Is Donald Trump, as Dummitt declares, the most triumphant exponent of “Be true to oneself” and representative of those who feel unrecognized and who are willing to defy social convention from the right? Dummitt declared that the moral compass in the modern world on the left as well as on the right, was rooted in the authentic self – “to thine own self be true” – rather than, say, custom or religious edicts. Is this accurate?

Whether or not the above is true, will the winner in this competition be the side which invokes the morally superior identity? If conservatives favour market and individual freedoms versus excessive bureaucracy and taxes, while the left liberals attack social and religious conventions that impose restrictions on sexuality, gender and race, is the present polarization simply a fundamentalist evangelical conflict between two definitions of moral purity and the claim that each is the real outsider, the real excluded, while each should provide the moral compass for the modern world?

If this depiction of the core of current polarization is accurate, can that polarization be overcome by avoiding the dichotomy of left and right and giving priority to traditional liberal and/or conservative references, say citizenship or to an overarching social order, that is, making a strong shared identity more basic than the identity quests that divide us? Such a solution would once again prioritize our customs and shared values that emphasize the rule of law, free speech, the right of self-expression and public civility. Or do we have to reach back further in our history, into the biblical narrative, a narrative of constant tension between ethical imperatives and historical propensities?

As I see the American political battleground, a four-way fight is underway. On the right, for now, the populists have won. On the left, the Left Liberals remain in charge, but the democratic socialists are in the process of mounting stronger and stronger challenges.

The overall battle can be represented by the following chart:

 

  Democratic socialist Left Liberal Conservative Populist
Substance Benefits Protections Markets Identity Wars
  Group rights Civil rights Human rights Foetal rights
Process Challenge incumbents Defend Incumbents Surrender

Incumbency

Challenge incumbents
  Voter registration Voter registration Voter Suppression Voter Suppression
Overview Class war Common membership Common membership Cultural War
  Resentment – Identity Politics Appreciation Appreciation Resentment – Identity Politics

Tomorrow, I will focus on the battle on the left. Today, attention is focused on the victory of right-wing populism over traditional conservatism in the internecine war on the right.

I begin with modernity and the moral purity of the economic right as best expressed by Friedrich A. Hayek. (See Individualism and Economic Order.) One type of individualism [economic] leads to freedom and spontaneous order. The other type of individualism [cultural] leads to a controlled economy and imposed order rooted in collectivism according to Hayek. For many, this implies that the only collectivist challenge comes from the left. However, there is a collectivist, a nationalist, challenge that comes from the right.

The Trump presidency is a case of deliberate inauthenticity, a case of wearing the mantle of market freedom, but organizing a takeover by collectivists who are nationalists, that is, by a group identified by their common loyalties. Order is imposed by a singular leader claimed to embody the nationalist spirit even if the actual spirit consists of lies, degradation of customs, racism, degenerate language and de facto narcissism. The playbook and the philosophy of fascism has not fundamentally changed since Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, set down the tenets of fascism in the book, The Doctrine of Fascism that he ghostwrote for Benito Mussolini.

Gentile misinterpreted Hegel and put forth what he called a neo-Hegelian view that extolled collectivism and denigrated individualism. There was no objective reality or reference points external to the self. Hence, this variation of the proposition, “To thine own self be true.” The true subject was not an abstract “I,” an individual postulated as an abstraction in an ideal world where that “I” enjoyed a full panoply of protections. The true subject was embodied, was an actual individual, a concrete rather than abstract individual. There was no true manifold objective world and no true abstract individuality. Truth was to be located in the subject, the heroic subject that asserted agency on behalf and in the name of the national collectivity. The objective world was only a projection of that individuality. Experience is only a product of what is projected; objectivity does not provide boundaries for this narcissism in the name of the collective.

There are no lies since the only truth that exists is that projected by the mind of the “wise” leader as the divine is conceived of as immanent in such projections. The leader is the “truest” believer in himself. The objective world must conform to this form of subjective Being.

Let me make these abstractions concrete. Ryan Costello lost his seat (the 6th Congressional District in Pennsylvania) in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections (see The New Yorker, 12 November 2018). He is an example of a traditional or moderate Republican, a conservative centrist. He was willing, even eager, to have government catch up with technical advances in renewable energy. He was willing to work with the Democratic opposition across the aisle to improve health-care delivery and introduce reasonable immigration controls.

“And then Trump gets elected. And the norms of politics all just blow up and you’re trying to figure out how to orient yourself when the rules don’t apply anymore, and you’re allowed to say and do things which used to be disqualifying.” Trump lied. Repeatedly! Often! Daily! Without due process, Trump banned entry to persons from seven Muslim countries. Without due process, Trump took away the White House press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta. Costello wanted the Mueller investigation into election collusion with the Russians to go forward without any political interference. But the leader of his party, the president, denounced the FBI as corrupt, denounced the press for spreading fake news, insulted black female reporters while insisting on decorum at White House press briefings.

Costello faced a choice. Complicity with Trump or disloyalty to the Republican Party that had been taken over by Trump and his followers. He chose to walk a tightrope, generally ignoring the depths of degradation of his party’s leader, occasionally publishing on Facebook his own dissent towards Trump’s latest malfeasance when it became too extreme, but expressing no interest in condemning or censoring the president in the House. He chose not to accompany Jeff Flake of Arizona into the political wilderness. He allowed fear to determine his choices.

However, he faced chaos from the left as well as the right and barely escaped being shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter who critically wounded the Majority Whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, at a Republican charity baseball game. However, the bulk of artillery aimed his way came from the right even as he tried to sidestep Trump’s racism and Trump’s ignoring and ignorance of the Constitution and the rule of law. Costello faced either the ire of the voters in Pennsylvania or the ire of the President who would back an alternative Republican candidate in the primaries in Pennsylvania’s sixth district. He avoided the latter only to see his political career destroyed (at least for now) by the former. His principles of balanced budgets, free trade, upholding the Constitution, the rule of law and the separation of powers had all crashed and burned much earlier as prudential silence morphed into the “habitual muteness of the acquiescent.”

The politics of total war against party dissidents and politicians with backbone and character meant that reasonable compromise was no longer the language of politics. Extremism, zealotry and populism were. Conspiracy theories were floated in the air like hundreds of sky lanterns, even though everyone knew they were fire hazards. Republicans moved from being the upholders of institutions and their values to participating in the destruction of norms and institutions and engaging in voter suppression and gerrymandering. Shock value and publicity seekers usurped the role of thoughtful and reflective independent minded politicians.

But the roots lay in those same institutions. For the core issue of getting a foothold on the race to power depended most on the commitment of a core group of party members in a district and/or actually recruiting those members for the nomination. In a far less democratic Canada, constituency nominations depended, in most suburban ridings, on getting one ethnic group, or an alliance of two ethnic groups, who could deliver the signatures to party membership and their votes on nomination day. 1-2% of eligible voters could choose the candidate for their party, and, depending on the national race, could coast to victory.

In the USA, the nomination depended less on getting the support of a core of party members in a constituency party meeting (as in Canada) than on winning a popularity contest in a political primary, that is, in electioneering that never stopped and depended on the energizer batteries of politics – money and human time. The kind of publicity adopted depended on the intellectual, policy and publicity silos of your side. Decency, rationality, objectivity and a primary concern with truth had largely been shovelled into the ashbin of history, though to different degrees and with respect to different key issues. Core support came from two sometimes overlapping sources: evangelical Christians who had already subscribed to surrendering the individual self to a higher “divine” self, who appeared immanently in history; and resentful white Americans who felt they had lost their place in history.

Totally contrary to Christopher Dummitt, the core reference point has been neither authenticity nor moral purity, but expediency, opportunism and ambition. People’s rule had replaced party rule and the people were no longer an aggregate of individual voters, but an ideological tribe in which the members demonstrating the greatest zealotry won over the mob. Rallies, not debates, became the central focus of an election campaign by both the socialist left and the populist right.

However, on the right the collectivists, the nationalists, emerged victorious. Each day that passed witnessed the defeat of another compromiser, of another compromise, of another part of objective reality. Climate change impelled by human activity, according to Trump, was not a major contributing cause to the tremendously destructive fires that so recently laid waste to enormous tracts of land and even a whole city in California. The fact that these were not forest fires but largely shrub lands, the fact that, in any case, forests were not managed primarily by the State of California but by the federal government that owned the majority of forest tracts, the fact that “sweeping forests” was not an idea passed on by the Finnish Prime Minister as a forest management tool or that it was even a useful one, did not matter. Trump, as usual, mouthed off in ignorance and pronounced that there would be no more such fires. More than that, he pronounced his own personal view of nature as simply an extension of his own wishes rather than an independent reality.

“I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, and we’re going to have a forest that is very safe.”

 

 

 

 

Descent into Hell: Parshat VaYeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

The problem with old age is that we spend far too much time seeing doctors and trying to keep an old and decrepit chassis working. Ignoring times spent in labs for various blood and urine tests, for x-rays and Dopplers, echograms and neurological tests, this week alone I saw my general practitioner, my heart doctor and my sleep doctor. And today I head to the Toronto Western Hospital to have my eye measured to prepare for surgery and the removal of cataracts.

Not only do these visits take time, but when I meet old friends, we spend too much time reciting and comparing our ills. But it is not only with friends. Yesterday, I was on the phone talking with my youngest son for about two hours – he lives in Vancouver – and he was upset that I had not kept him up to date on my health and my treatments. And then there are the visits – to friends who have really serious health issues. I miss them. I want to see them. I want them to keep going even as I tire of the effort to keep going myself. Illness consumes time.

Why then bore you with such issues? Because I could use some help. I visited my sleep doctor yesterday – or perhaps it was the day before. I, to my surprise, had not seen her for quite awhile. I went to check whether my CPAP breathing mechanism that I use at night was set at the correct pressure. I made the appointment before I found out that taking a diuretic pill once a day got rid of the excess water in my legs and lungs that evidently accounted for why I had been feeling so tired. Hence, the breathlessness I had been experiencing. Perhaps that is why I was even more cheerful when seeing her than I perhaps usually am.

She told me that she likes to see me and missed me. How often does a doctor tell you that? Patients with sleeping problems are normally grumpy and melancholic. They feel sleep deprived and wish they could sleep more. In contrast, she said, I seem to be the rare – very rare evidently – a patient who comes to see her who is upbeat, tries to tell funny stories and cheers her up. I do not complain about lack of sleep for the fact that I need much less sleep pleases me enormously as it allows me normally to get my blog written before breakfast.

However, this time I had a real problem. I had a horrible nightmare early in the week. I had watched the news and the frightening fires in California where flames skipped over three football fields in minutes. I watched on television as families in cars escaped through walls of flames when they could barely make out whether they were fleeing the fire or getting into it. The children in the car were panicky as a father tried to reassure them that they should calm down. They would escape, he insisted. They evidently did so; that is why we could watch their car video that they had made.  Unfortunately, perhaps 200-300 did not escape.

I had gone to sleep about 10:30 p.m. and instead of waking up around 3:30 a.m., I woke at 11:45 p.m. I woke shaking. I could not get back to sleep. I also could not write. This is very unusual for me when I can be sitting at my desk writing within 60 seconds of waking up. I also do not usually remember my dreams. My sleep rhythm is unusual since I enter a deep sleep almost as soon as I put my head on my pillow – perhaps it can take as much as 30 seconds. And when I wake up, I am not drowsy but fully awake. But this past week, I could not write for two mornings in the aftermath of that nightmare. I missed writing two blogs.

However, this dream – or, rather, nightmare – was vivid in my memory. I was shaking when I awoke. In that dream, I had been in Africa working when I received a phone call that there was an enormous fire in the region where we lived back home – and home seemed to be California rather than Toronto. The caller told me that they had not been able to locate my wife and my two youngest children. In the dream, they were 6 and 9 years old at the time – so the dream was set almost 25 years ago.

I immediately flew home and began looking for them. The dream consisted almost entirely of that search – a futile search for I never found them. I passed houses with flames 30-40’ in the air. I passed cars engulfed in flames and tried to peer into them to see if my missing wife and two youngest children were in those cars. The dream went on and on, searching and searching but finding nothing. But the most peculiar part of the dream is that when I walked endlessly among these flames, I was freezing cold. I felt like an iceberg – assuming an iceberg can feel. I was frozen and never warmed up.

I told my sleep doctor that the dream had stayed with me all week, not only because it had been so horrific and because it had shaken me up so much, but because I could not figure out what it might mean. I usually find I can find an interpretation that seems to make sense. However, in this dream, the only thing that seems to have been clear was that the videos of the flames and the children in the escaping cars had probably set off the dream. Nothing else.

Of course, my sleep doctor was not a dream doctor. Her expertise was in the mechanics of sleep and not its imaginary content. I did not expect her to help me interpret the dream. I merely wanted to explain my physical tiredness succeeded by relief via a diuretic and then my mental tiredness brought on by a dream. I welcome any efforts at interpretation. In this there remains hope. For my readership offers me the opportunity and the audience to try to understand that dream.

But it is not my dream that I want to write about, but Jacob’s.

 

10 And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went to Haran.   י

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה:

11 And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.   יא

וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵֽאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא:

12 And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.   יב

וַיַּֽחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹֽרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ:

13 And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.   יג

וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְהֹוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֘ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵֽאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ:

14 And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed.   יד

וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּֽעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָֽרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כָּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ:

15 And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”   טו

וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָֽנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֨יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַֽהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ:

16 And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].”   טז

וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַֽעֲקֹב֘ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי:

17 And he was frightened, and he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   יז

וַיִּירָא֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מַה־נּוֹרָ֖א הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְזֶ֖ה שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם:

18 And Jacob arose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it.   יח

וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם יַֽעֲקֹ֜ב בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָאֶ֨בֶן֙ אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֹתָ֖הּ מַצֵּבָ֑ה וַיִּצֹ֥ק שֶׁ֖מֶן עַל־רֹאשָֽׁהּ:

19 And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city.   יט

וַיִּקְרָ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל וְאוּלָ֛ם ל֥וּז שֵֽׁם־הָעִ֖יר לָרִֽאשֹׁנָֽה:

20 And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear;   כ

וַיִּדַּ֥ר יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב נֶ֣דֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֨נִי֙ בַּדֶּ֤רֶךְ הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽנֹכִ֣י הוֹלֵ֔ךְ וְנָֽתַן־לִ֥י לֶ֛חֶם לֶֽאֱכֹ֖ל וּבֶ֥גֶד לִלְבֹּֽשׁ:

21 And if I return in peace to my father’s house, and the Lord will be my God;   כא

וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י וְהָיָ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י לֵֽאלֹהִֽים:

22 Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.   כב

וְהָאֶ֣בֶן הַזֹּ֗את אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֨מְתִּי֙ מַצֵּבָ֔ה יִֽהְיֶ֖ה בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֑ים וְכֹל֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּתֶּן־לִ֔י עַשֵּׂ֖ר אֲעַשְּׂרֶ֥נּוּ לָֽךְ:

Jacob had his dream while lying on the ground with his head on a rock. I was in bed with my head on a pillow. In Jacob’s dream, there is a ladder connecting heaven and earth. In my dream, earth has become a fiery hell. In Jacob’s dream, angels skip up and down the ladder; it is a sulam with the same numerical value as Sinai that adumbrates Moses’ encounter with God at Sinai. Jacob wakes from his dream in amazement. I woke from mine in anguish, despondent, dejected and wretched.

In my dream, I plod along horizontally. There is no skipping, just despair. If God stood over Jacob in his dream revealing himself to Jacob and promising that the land on which he rested his head will be given to him and his progeny, there was no God in my dream. No angels and not even Satan. I was alone in my dream, very much alone. And I walked in a landscape that no one would want to inherit.

Jacob flees his life of cheating his brother and wrestling away Esau’s birthright and blessing. Finally, between his home and that of his uncle, he is able to lie down and have a dream. But in my dream, I can only wander endlessly and aimlessly. I cannot even look forward to wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok River.

When Jacob awoke from his dream, he entered into a covenant with God, namely that, as long as God was with him and protected him and guided him, as long as he gave Jacob food to eat and a garment to wear, Jacob would remain His loyal servant. There was no one in my dream protecting my wife and children. There was no one guiding me as I trudged along amongst the flames and through the smoke without direction. And I felt only cold. Where Jacob had seen the house of God and the gate of heaven, I wandered the streets of hell.

The next morning after the dream, I went to synagogue and recited the kaddish. It was my mother’s Yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death eighteen years ago. It was morning and I recited the Shaharit prayer, the morning prayer that Abraham had supposedly established. Though I went through the motions and had amiable conversations with my friends, my heart was not in it. And it was a prayer for my mother. I felt more like Isaac, but in a paved over field with burning houses and cars on all sides. But in my dream, there was neither any prayer that poured out of me, nor conversation either. I saw no one. I asked no one. I searched, but the streets were deserted. It was certainly not Jacob’s evening prayer for there were no encounters at all.

In fact, the smoke was so thick, I could not tell whether it was morning, noon or night. It was true hell for the different times of the day had been obliterated. And I did not ask God to take me out of the darkness of that day into the light. Was this a world that God would inhabit, for it was truly a scorched earth unsuited to bring forth food, for sustaining animals and allowing beautiful yellow and purple flowers to grow. It was a world of gray on gray except for the brilliant red of the flames. It was a world that no one owned and no one would even want to own. The world was indeed illuminated, but not by the sun’s light, not by God’s light, but by the darkness and the flames that make up hell.

The celestial spheres, the sun and the moon, were blocked out by billowing black and grey smoke. And there was no one in charge of a world headed towards hell. God had abdicated. God had also fled the flames and abandoned His responsibilities. And I could not find my wife or my youngest children. Instead of the darkness providing an ambience for intimacy, there was nothing. There was nothingness. There was no God to embrace me in my fear, in my terror. There was no God with whom I could even make a deal, draw up a covenant, one in which we could exchange mutual promises and obligations. I did not feel, as I usually felt, when I awake in the very early hours of the morning and would write until I saw the light of day beginning to form outside of my picture windows in my study. I was not merely insecure, tired and wary as Isaac always seemed to be. I was petrified and identified with Jacob who loved bright colours and innocent jokes to cover up his profound terror. Deep down, he felt hopeless and was in despair, for a night of intimacy with his God had been lost. It was a night in which, except for the flames, all cows were both black and dead.

There was no progress in that dream, from hope to worry and trepidation. Instead of God turning on the lights, the flames were subsiding and left only burned out collapsed homes and frames of vehicles in a bleak landscape. Would the lights come on again? Would I see my wife and two youngest children again? I was so obsessed that I could not even thank an unknown God that my older children were safe and living elsewhere.

I pray every day that God renews His creation if there is a God and if God is still working at His job. I pray that each day will be a brand new day, a day full of creativity, a day of renewal when the world is always experienced anew. But the world had died. It had been torched.

I have never been concerned with whether God existed or not. The issue was never for me whether I believed or did not believe God existed. The issue had always been whether I believed that if God existed, that I was worthy of His faith in me. But in that bleak landscape, I feared that I had lost the faith in myself, the real faith that sustained me, that the world was and would be born anew every morning with a different pattern even though the elements were identical, that at night the angels ascended and descended the ladder in continuous motion, like elves, to renew the world for another day even though fascists and Nazis driven by the politics of resentment were in pursuit.

Will my family, will all families, be so blessed as I have been blessed? Will they even have a ladder to climb?

From Is to Ought

Ben Rhodes The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, New York: Random House, 2018.

In the Prologue of Ben Rhodes memoir, he describes how, in his last meeting with any head of state, Barack Obama passed the torch onto Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. “You’re going to have to speak out when values are threatened.” Trudeau promised that he would “with a smile on my face. That is the only way to win.” Obama was an American, a liberal American, who believed that morality framed coercion and military might. “American leadership depended on our military, but was rooted not just in our strength but also in our goodness.” (25) And that goodness was built into institutions and laws but backed up, if need be, by force. (48)

A smile would not do the job. Yet Obama, flummoxed in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and emergence of autocrats around the world, conscious that his best ally, Angela Merkel, had been severely wounded, could only reach out to a Canadian leader who led with a smile and not even a soft voice. Further, and more importantly, Canada did not carry a big stick.

The real mantle of leadership had been stolen by Donald Trump, a would-be autocrat. He was willing to meet with other autocrats around the world – without any preconditions – North Korean, Russian, Turkish, even Iranian. Trump was blasted in the liberal press for doing so. Yet, when Ben Rhodes joined the Obama presidential campaign, his Democratic contender also had promised to meet US adversaries without conditions. As Rhodes wrote, “[T]he reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is somehow punishment to them, which has been a guiding diplomatic principle of this [the Bush] administration, is ridiculous.” (12) Hillary Clinton, Obama’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, disagreed. She called Barack Obama naïve. Republicans, the same ones who as sycophants and toadies, defended Donald Trump when he did it, called Obama much worse.

Diplomacy without preconditions was not the only tactic Trump stole from Obama. “Turn defense into offense.” (18) “Restore America’s standing around the world.” (22) When Trump ran on a version of the latter, Obama made fun of the slogan, “Make America great again.” “America had always been great,” insisted Obama.

There is, of course, a difference between Obama and Trump. For the latter, such diplomatic meetings are simply transactional and the Donald believed that he was and is master of the deal. Obama believed, and his legacy – the Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris climate agreement for which leadership had been passed to China and Xi Jinping, the negotiations with the military junta in Myanmar – proved it, that diplomacy rather than inter-personal deals work. But a diplomacy capable of setting aside mindblinding and politically binding assumptions. In every single case, Donald Trump in his first two years in office proved that he was the master of and replacing professional diplomacy with personal transactional gestures.

The destruction of many of Obama’s overseas achievements had as much to do with personal animosity as Trump’s propensity for demolition, and both certainly more than the absence of any substance in his foreign policy. Donald Trump had been a leader in the blatantly racist “birther” movement, the false claim that Barack Obama had not been born in the US. Obama had folded before the media onslaught and finally acceded to releasing his longform birth certificate. That quieted but did not close down the flow of fake news. More importantly, a few days later after the birth certificate release, Barack Obama had his revenge at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In a series of spot-on jokes, he humiliated Donald Trump in the media and before the American public. “No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing.” (132-133) Trump’s unwinding of Obama’s many successes was Trump’s revenge.

The Obama administration did have its own share of failures – dealing with Russia over Georgia (inherited from Bush), Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria, as well as Syria itself and, of course, the disastrous Libyan initiative, the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the incoherence of the US policy towards Egypt, and the fiasco of Afghanistan that I wrote about in the Farrow book review. What is worse, Obama and Rhodes knew that, “the Taliban could not be defeated so long as it had political support in Afghanistan and a safe haven in Pakistan.” (73)

Obama had kept Robert M. Gates on as Secretary of Defence and initially backed the failed strategy of counter-insurgency in an arena in which it could not and did not work. Vice-President Joe Biden was the only individual in the administration who consistently and persistently opposed a troop surge and argued that the US military was jamming Obama. (65-6) So what was Obama’s rationale if America was not going to defeat the Taliban? “We need to knock them back to give us space to go after al Qaeda.” (75) The troop surge was approved.

But perhaps Egypt was even more telling than Afghanistan. Obama and Rhodes knew that in a repressive society like Egypt’s, a democratic election would probably lead to the victory of an Islamist Party, the Muslim Brotherhood. (54) Yet the Obama administration backed the removal of Mubarak and fell back on the position that America would “judge any political movement by whether they choose to act and govern in a way that is consistent with democratic principles.” (55) But what if that political movement, though noisy in its demonstrations, was marginal in its political depth and the real choice was between two other movements – one rooted in the military and the other in the religious establishment? How should America act when faced with a Hobson’s choice when, in the end, military coercion was the real and only power? That same effort to achieve a balance between two incompatible political perspectives would prove to be the root of the Obama administration’s enormous but fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

It would also be at the root of Rhodes’s failure to comprehend the limitations of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Rhodes expends few words on the doctrine and I cannot elaborate n it here, but it is clear that he aligned with Samantha Power (82) and, to some extent, Susan Rice, who believed that the R2P had to be a bedrock of American foreign policy – that is, liberal state had the right to intervene with force when a state persecuted its own citizens or could not protect them from other s bent on destruction. Obama never bought into it. Rhodes in his book never explains why except to suggest that Obama was more a realist than the small idealist cohort he had working for and with him.

However, R2P was fundamentally flawed. This doctrine had originated as a Canadian initiative. It advocated the right of any foreign power to intervene when the government of a state targeted its own people. Within a very short time after its formulation, it was adopted by a unanimous vote of the United Nations. Except the vote was only unanimous because the heart of the doctrine had been cut out. Humanitarian intervention would only be permitted with the approval of the state being targeted. Once again, sovereignty trumped moral principles.

Further, it could and never would be applied in the Chinese mistreatment of the Uyguars or even the military junta mistreatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Sanctions certainly. But not coercive intervention. In the easiest situation possible, with a UN peacekeeping force on location and the government perpetrators on the ropes in its fight with a Tutsi-led military force, the world had failed to intercede and stop the genocide in Rwanda. Diplomatic exhortation and lofty principles were no substitute for action on the ground.

Perhaps Obama’s greatest success in the domestic arena – not the Affordable Care Act, but the salvaging of the world economy – was also his greatest failure and paved the way for the rise of Trump. This was in the domestic arena and not foreign affairs to which Ben Rhodes had dedicated his talents. The 2008 economic crash was a direct product of President Bush and, to some degree, his predecessors. Obama inherited an economic mess.

Ben Rhodes wrote the following words for Barack Obama. “Jobs have disappeared, and people’s life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet…So let’s be clear: What we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.” (33) Ben made Obama sound like a Marxist. Talk about hyperbole! The 2008 economic crash, the greatest since the depression, was the final epitaph for capitalism, not just for a failure in banking regulation. Capitalism had completely failed. This is how the statement sounded.

However, the philosophy referred to was not capitalism but one version of it – trickle-down economics and deregulation. Further, even on that there was no final verdict. In fact, Barack Obama in part made possible the restoration of that capitalistic ideology to pre-eminence after two years of his presidency and totally cleared the road from any blockage to it by contributing to the election of Donald Trump. How? Precisely by overstating the failure and understating the consequences of the 2008 economic crash. Not just jobs, but hundreds of thoUSnds of them were wiped out. Millions of families not only faced foreclosure but were, in fact foreclosed upon when Obama bailed out the banks without helping those who bought homes that were now financially under water.

Ben Rhodes was a foreign policy speechwriter and adviser and was not up on domestic policy let alone economic policy. There is an enormous problem with trickle-down economics, but that was NOT the issue in the 2008 economic crash. Rhodes not only failed to hit the target, but grossly understated the effects on the average American just as he overstated the implications of the crash for capitalism. In his memoir, he never seemed to notice this oversight.

Unfortunately, the same disposition applied to foreign policy. When North Korea tested a ballistic missile in the very beginning of Obama’s presidency when he was in The Czech Republic, Ben Rhodes added a few sentences to Obama’s address to the Czech people. “I sat at my computer inserting a strongly worded warning to the North Koreans about the isolation they’d face for continued nuclear and missile tests.” (42)

When Trump was in the same position, he threatened fire and brimstone and then met with Kim and called him a wonderful guy who likes me. Greater isolation! North Korea had survived for years, though barely, against the greatest international deep freeze applied to any foreign state in the post-WWII period. And the country still persisted in its nuclear and missile development program. Rhodes’s and Obama’s threat rang totally hollow at the time. More significantly, eight years later, Ben Rhodes failed to notice let alone be self-critical of such a shortcoming. And this in spite of the deep faith of liberals, like Barack Obama, who held a progressive view of American history and “the capacity for self-correction” (43) to which Obama (and Rhodes) attributed America’s purported exceptionalism. But what if this purported exceptionalism rested as much on the failure of America to be deeply self-critical and to truly engage in self-correction at a fundamental level?

Louis Menard wrote a review of Rhodes’s book and claimed it traced the evolution of a political junky from an idealist to a realist. Unlike Farrow’s book, Rhode’s memoir is indeed a book in which observation and self-reflection are woven together by a fine writing style, but one which only records faces and clothes and settings when they are directly pertinent to the narrative. But Menard is wrong. The shock is that Rhodes never became disillusioned about his ideals. Tired, certainly. Sometimes depressed. At other times simply resigned. But he is indefatigable in holding onto his ideals. That is perhaps why Obama loved him. That is certainly why Rhodes worshipped Barack Obama.

As with his previous co-authored book with a former congressman, Lee Hamilton, (Without Precedent: Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission), Rhodes’s book is a very inside story, but of the day-to-day crises and pro-active stances of the Obama regime from the campaign through eight years in the White House. During that time, Ben Rhodes began working as a speechwriter and foreign policy advisor for Obama in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President and ended up serving for eight years as deputy national security advisor with oversight over speechwriting, public communications and relations as well as undertaking specific diplomatic missions himself.

During that time, according to Rhodes’s reflections on his service and the Obama administration, the arc of history did not move from idealism to realism but, rather, a realization that “the world (w)as (and is) a place that could – in some incremental way – change.” (421) As he ends his memoir, at “I was a man, no longer young, who – in the zigzag of history – still believed the end of his service to Obama, to the American nation and to his own ideals, in the truth within the stories of people around the world, a truth that compels me to see the world as it is, and to believe in the world as it ought to be.” The book is not about the decline of his ideals, but increasingly focuses on the actual challenges to those ideals and the efforts made to overcome those challenges.

Holbrooke, with his idiosyncratic personal characteristics for a diplomat and his pursuit of realism in the conduct of foreign relations, was Farrow’s flawed hero. Barack Obama is Rhodes’s idol, an idol he did not worship from afar, nor even merely up close to reveal the crevices that began to appear on Obama’s boyish good looks, but one whose mind and heart and guts Rhodes entered into wholly and without reservation, even in the odd moments when he disagreed with his leadership on a particular issue.  Rhodes learned to focus on a small portion of the grains of sand on the earth than on the even greater number of stars in the sky.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Rashid Khalidi (2020) The Hundred Years of War on Palestine

A Review by Howard Adelman – Part I

I have not seen Rashid Khalidi for over two decades. When I saw him recently in a webinar on his book The Hundred Years of War on Palestine run by The Harvard Divinity School, he has aged much less that I have. He looks great. And he is even clearer and more articulate than I remember. He is a first-class scholar and historian and I have always learned a great deal from him.

This book is clearly very different than Khalidi’s numerous scholarly tomes. It is personal, part family memoir, but also has a clear central political thesis. Khalidi has articulated a position that he has held over the years in a way that is more powerful and more emotional precisely because it is so overtly personal.

Khalidi has never gone along with the mantra that the dispute over Palestine has been a conflict between two national groups each with legitimate claims to the same land. Jews, he argues, certainly have an historical link to the land and especially to Jerusalem, but they have no claim rooted in rights. Instead, for Khalidi, the conflict has been a long colonial war of settler colonialism in which one group, the Zionists, has been propped up by one colonial power after another.

The explicit Zionist purpose was to have that national group displace another as the civil polity in a region – Palestine. The ingathering of Jewish exiles was intended to supplant the local population by those who mouthed words of peace and the slogan ‘Do No Harm,’ such as David Ben Gurion and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They were hypocrites, unlike Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. The mouthers of the prospect of peaceful replacement knew that such a displacement enterprise would cause a great deal of harm. (I will examine this fundamental claim in greater detail at the end of this series of reviews.)

One of the strengths of the Khalidi thesis that has such a wide purchase among Palestinians is that it does not deny the pogroms and persecution that motivated Jewish relocation from Europe. He also acknowledges the blockages to resettlement in the West. But he refuses to accept the assurances of Zionist leaders at the time that the migration of Jews to Palestine would neither be an invasion nor an imposition on the native population. Instead, he characterizes Theodor Herzl as arrogant, ignorant and disingenuous; Herzl blamed all sources of harm on the resistance of the native Palestinians.

Palestine was not an “empty” country. Zionism, for him, was a Jewish colonization movement which offered the world a narrative line that whitewashed its history of its willingness to sacrifice the local population and to paint itself as simply another anti-colonial uprising. For Khalidi, since colonization had such a bad odour after WWII, the Zionists had to reconstruct their tale even when it is historically clear that their immersion into counter insurgency lasted a very short period. The true story is that Zionism was a stepchild of British imperialism. Further, it only succeeded because of the massive economic and political support behind the enterprise.

Benny Morris, who was the first to document the intentional ethnic cleansing underway, became a revisionist in the twenty-first century asserting that Jews had no other choice. It bequeathed a “them or us” moral dilemma. What Khalidi argues in the vein of Edward Said is that the war was as much a discursive battle as a fight on the ground. Which side would control the dominant narrative? For the tropes underpinning each side were irreconcilable. And the Zionists had the Hollywood propaganda machine behind it – Leon Uris’ Exodus as a novel and a film providing the most explicit example of the propaganda of one side.

The myth, which is what he calls it, of immigration to Palestine as the only option to prevent Jewish annihilation, is countermanded by the fact that other options for relocation were offered to Jews by the Imperial powers – Uganda and Argentina for example. And the Zionists considered each one seriously, but then opted for Palestine. That alone is proof for Khalidi of the complicity of Zionism and imperialism. The real story is how, because of its partnership with great powers, the Zionists managed to establish the dominant narrative of its success into a tale of liberation by a genuine nationalist movement.

The creation of Israel was no different that the creation of Australia, of Canada, of New Zealand and especially of the United States. It was a settler movement built and developed at the expense of the indigenous population. The major difference is that, in Palestine, the native population was not devastated by contagious diseases and not as bereft of other actors to support its cause. Hence it struggled and survived to challenge the Zionists. Thus, in spite of Zionist designs, in spite of its anti-assimilationist underpinnings and the artifice of its nationalism, the opposition of the indigenous population refuses to wither away and die. This is the Khalidi thesis.

And, for Khalidi, every historical step reinforces that thesis, whether it be Jewish collaboration in suppressing the Palestinian revolt from 1936-1939 that killed, wounded or captured anywhere from 10-17% of the adult male population of Palestine and gave the Zionist the manpower advantage in the 1948 war, the 1967 war in which every expert who really knew the strength of the forces on each side predicted an easy Zionist victory, the 1982 exile of the Palestinians from Beirut, the explicit objective of the 1982 war, and Oslo, the greatest fraud perpetrated against the Palestinians in the whole history of the conflict, for, in the name of peace, a Zionist colonial settler enterprise was not only legitimized but given a moral cover, international endorsement and American military backing. 

Part of this argument over narratives and the discursive war is to claim that when Britain became exhausted in the 1939-1948 period and withdrew from the trenches and the de facto collaboration, the Americans took their place. Israel could take no steps that did not have the wholehearted backing of the Americans. The Americans were fully and knowingly complicit in the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 that drove the PLO out of the region and that made an unsuccessful effort to make Lebanon a puppet and satrap of Israel.

With Oslo and the effort to craft an accord, the gap between America and Israel kept re-emerging. Americans viewed the enterprise of settlement and displacement as having an iron ceiling while the right-wing Zionists recognized that the matter would be settled in the end by facts on the ground and not American diplomatic posturing. The key was to control both the land and the people.

Israel had the narrative advantage that it could give the whole colonial enterprise a Biblical cast with a very wide appeal in the Christian West. This extracted external support for an imposition enterprise even in the days when colonialism had been sentenced to international death. The Jews could and did argue that they had a genuine historical connection to the land and that Jewish presence of the land had been continuous – a very different colonial tale than that of the American pioneers of the Canadian and Australian and Kiwi settlers.

They also had the advantage, according to Khalidi, that the Palestinian leadership repeatedly betrayed the Palestinian population. But the times have changed and the pace of change has picked up. In universities, the BDS movement is continuing to gain support. Within the redeemed Democratic Party, on the verge of winning re-election in both the Presidential office and the Senate, allies of the Palestinian cause have experienced a resurgence and the old order Zionists apologists are being forced into retirement.

What a plethora of assumptions in creating this alternative discourse. They have revived the will of Palestinian youth to re-engage in the enterprise of resistance, but this time with a network of support and anti-colonial attitudes in the West, for there is a natural synergy between movements like Black Lives Matter and anti-Zionism. Resistance can displace resignation. To what degree do these premises and the narrative built upon them enjoy enough resonance to strengthen the resistance to Zionist hegemony?

Let me list the revisionist assumptions and tropes.

  1. The territory of Palestine was not empty.
  2. The conflict is not a fight between two nationalisms with opposing claims to the same land, but a long-term colonial enterprise of resettlement and local displacement.
  3. The Zionist only won their victories because of support from strong imperial powers.
  4. The explicit purpose of Zionism from the beginning was to displace a local population by a settler population.
  5. All Zionist narratives describing the peaceful intent of the settlers are false fronts to disguise true intentions; they knew that they could only achieve their aims by causing harm to the locals.
  6. A Palestinian population with a nationalist idea of self-determination was already present in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century when Jewish Zionism had its modern birth.
  7. Zionism was a stepchild first of British then of American imperialism.
  8. Zionist success depended less on enterprise and ingenuity from within than on extensive political and economic support from without.
  9. The war on the ground was matched by a discursive battle between competing narratives.
  10. Zionism and Palestinian self-determination are irreconcilable.
  11. Zionism was boosted by the highly influential American Hollywood propaganda machine.
  12. Zionism discarded its narrative of partnership with the powerful in favour of a liberation movement when colonialism fell into disfavour after WWII.
  13. In contrast to settlement colonialist movements in the West, the indigenous movement for self-determination did not suffer the enormous loss of population from disease, but it did suffer a huge manpower loss in its war with the British from 1936-1939 that put it at a great disadvantage in the conflict that followed WWII.
  14. From the start, the Zionists enjoyed a logistic advantage over not only the local population but the Arab states in the region.
  15.  The Palestinians were not only overwhelmed by settler colonialism but by incompetence and corruption of their own leadership.
  16.  The movement for Palestinian self-determination is gaining new momentum with the rise of the people in the West against their own elites and against settler colonialism that delivered so much harm to not only indigenous populations but to mistreated minorities.

My response will follow in a series of separate blogs.  

Refugees and Higher Education

Part V: The Impact on the Education of Canadian Students

There are a myriad of recent initiatives using modern instruments and methods underway, such as the installation of Wikipedians-in-residence to enhance both the quality of the Wikipedia at the same time as it assists in its most effective but also critical use, including the severe shortcomings of its editorial process. Rather than downgrading the level of knowledge which students access, the process of engagement can involve them deeper in the process of producing quality learning materials while, at the same time, teaching students how knowledge can be subject to biases. This is but one of many examples.

Many of these initiatives are designed to reduce attrition rates that result from a variety of factors from the amount of debt students accrue in gaining a higher education to the student’s lower GPA score and the quality of teaching offered these students. Motivation is also a key factor. When it comes to refugee students, the motivation to do well and to complete a course of studies is very high. Further, the strong motivation rubs off on native students. Ironically, the higher the percentage of more motivated students, the lower the attrition rate and the greater the effectiveness of college education. This is especially true when the native students can experience a degree of responsibility for and involvement in bringing refugee students on campus. 

Currently, as Maclean’s Magazine reported in 2018, the drop-out rate of students in Canada from universities varies from 10% at Queen’s to over 50% in a few institutions. York University is the mean where the drop-out rate is 27.5%. The average drop-out rate from first year is 14%. This represents a very inefficient use of resources.

What is needed is a better pipeline, one connecting potential refugee learners on one end and universities with an absorptive capacity at the other end, one connecting native students at the latter end with very highly motivated refugee students at the other end. As one prominent scholar involved with distance education serving refugees has remarked, this global situation “resembles an hourglass: one bulb is filled with thousands of institutions with great and growing absorptive capacity, while the other bulb is filled and filling with millions of potential refugee learners. The bulbs are connected by a thin neck through which refugees trickle like solitary grains of sand to universities while the knowledge from the world’s universities trickles through the neck one lesson at a time to refugee learners in the global south.” The issue is how to widen the neck?

“How do we turn the trickle into a flow, with students going one way and knowledge and capacity-building investments go the other?  Is there a model that can overcome the collective action problems endemic to higher education (HE) in the global north while investing in HE education in host countries?  How do we strengthen the system so it is sustainable, adaptive, and resilient enough to sustain the flow?”

In 2018, about 1.8 million native students attended postsecondary institutions in Canada. This number has been relatively constant since 2011. If the number remained constant, if the foreign student population also remained constant at 600,000, if by 2025 120,000 PSSV students were added to this total, then PSSV students would eventually constitute only 5% of the total postsecondary student population in Canada, a relatively insignificant increase in enrollment. Total foreign student enrollment would be about 30%.

With 642,000 foreign students, Canada is now the world’s third-leading destination of international students. Study permits for 404,000 international students took effect in 2019 alone. PSSV students would constitute a relatively small proportion of the student visa population. At the same time, to both select those students as well as incentivize young refugees, Canada, with partners, would run a distance education program at the post-secondary level for refugees. For every nine students educated overseas, one student would be brought to Canada. At the same time, with the skills acquired, refugee youth would be in a much better position to enter the knowledge economy in their countries of asylum.[i]

If there are 30 million refugees in such situations, if half of them are of school age (15,000,000), if 1,500,000 can be assisted to graduate from secondary school each year, if Canada takes on the responsibility of distance higher education for 10% of them, or 150,000, if 20% of them enter Canada on student visas (30,000) each year, then students in the PSSV program would constitute about 5% initially of students in Canada on student visas.

We need to connect institutions of higher learning in host countries where refugees in significant numbers are located with institutions that are able and eagerly willing to enhance their online learning capacities. Knowledge can travel down the pipeline one way. So can students eager to acquire and participate in field experience. Research and students can travel in the opposite way. At the same time, the capacity for higher education in the region will be significantly enhanced.

What we need to do is couple universities and colleges, students and faculty, universities and civil society organizations at one end with institutions of higher learning and service organizations at the other end to make higher education available to refugees in a far more extensive way. The coupling process entails expanding the private sponsorship model initiated and developed in Canada.[ii] Student bodies would be asked to sponsor not just a few students as they do now, but an institution like York could sponsor 500.

Students would organize into groups of at least five to enlist partners in the private sector who would put up the costs for each student sponsored. Costs could be significantly reduced if volunteer sponsors offered students free room and even possibly board. Courses would be offered in refugee camps and refugee areas through both distance learning and intensive in-person support locally.[iii] Online is most effective when it is coupled with high-dosage teaching that MOOCs currently miss.[iv] From the achievement of those students, selected ones would be accepted for sponsorship. In this way, educational possibilities would connect with economic opportunities and in turn with membership openings not only in sponsoring societies, but in local societies that can benefit from the skills acquired.

The model entails the following nodes that need to be connected:

  • Relevant research centres, such as the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, linked in a mega-university network of parallel institutions in the same and adjacent areas of a megalopolis, such as: Ryerson University Centre for Immigration and Refugee Studies; Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies and the Global Migration Research Institute in the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto; Dr. Christopher Kyriakides who holds the Canada Research Chair with the Department of Sociology and Professor Vic Satsawich at McMaster University, the former working on the intersection of media and refugee policy and the latter on the intersection of organization and refugee policy and also include Charles Carlo Handy, the Founder of McMaster University’s Graduate Migration and Mobility Network; the Centre for Studies in Social Justice, University of Windsor; CERIS, Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University; the Centre for Migration and Ethnic Relations in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies at Western University; Culture and Language Studies at the University of Waterloo; International Migration Research Centre (IMRC), Wilfrid Laurier University; Development Studies at the University of Guelph which would include faculty such as Prof. Monique Deveaux in U of G’s Department of Philosophy.
  • a number of journals that publish refugee scholarship: Linkages would be fostered by the use of existing networks and journals such as Refuge: Canada’s Journal for Refugee Studies; Journal for Refugee Studies; Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration; Journal for Ethnic and Migration Studies; Journal of the Global Migration published by the Munk Centre; 

 Griffith Journal of Law & Human DignityJournal of International Migration and Integration;

  • Linkages with nearby community colleges with relevant programs which often do far more to integrate first-generation learners and migrants than do the elite institutions;
  • Linkages between those centres and the student councils at those universities as well as among those student councils as students are envisioned as the backbone for delivering the sponsorships;
  • Linkages with municipalities in which those higher learning centres are located to enhance the capabilities and opportunities of a mega-region now considered the key locus of business and economic development while allowing refugees to join knowledge economies to the benefit of both the resettlement countries and the refugees themselves with the additional side effect that some of these refugees will return to help others gain an education and enhance the economic prospects of both the host and possibly home states;
  • Linkages between businesses and social service organizations with the student councils active in the program.

It should be noted that without such linkages, there is a propensity of businesses to exploit refugee labour for profit purposes in the guise of providing skill training. In the move away from humanitarian resettlement responses, wealthy countries have instead invested in countries of first asylum to abet border enforcement and institute economic development zones such as in The Jordan Compact. However, economic gains have been minimal and, taking advantage of their immobility, refugees are used to make a profit at the expense of their well-being.[v]

In contrast, the purpose is to significantly enlarge the necks of the pipeline joining the refugee population centres with the university-urban partnerships so that global emergency zones become both the target of providing educational opportunities and a source for talent to feed the economic growth of a mega-region. Refugees acquire a gateway and sponsorship centres acquire a creative and highly motivated source of talent.

To achieve these synergies requires an increased investment in distance learning and the technology related thereto, the organization of sponsorships in the global north and the creation of and partnership with higher learning centres in the global south in areas of high concentration of refugees. This would be an excellent application to the goals of the Open Societies University Network (OSUN) located at Bard College and funded by the Soros Foundation, the goals of which are to:

  • Foster critical thinking, open intellectual inquiry, and fact-based research to strengthen foundations of open society amid authoritarian resurgence
  • Educate students to address tomorrow’s global challenges by getting to know other societies from the inside
  • Expand access to higher education at a time of growing inequities
  • Counteract polarization by promoting global research collaboration and educating students to examine issues from different perspectives and advance reasoned arguments[vi]
  • Bolster efforts by universities in challenging environments to build their own capacity through global partnerships to make greater contributions to their societies.

Foundations with existing programs already in place will have to be approached. Further, a media campaign will be necessary to demonstrate how this will be a win-win situation for refugees and the receiving country.


[i] The access to higher education significantly improves the chances for young people. Cf. Caitlin Nunn, Sandra M. Gifford, Celia McMichael, and Ignacio Correa-Velez (2017) “Navigating precarious terrains: reconceptualizing refugee youth settlement,” Refuge: Canadian. journal on refugees. 33:2, 45-55. https://refuge.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/refuge/artic le/view/40462 

[ii] For a review of this program, see Refuge, a special issue on private sponsorship, co-editors Johanna Reynolds and Christina Clark-Kazak https://refuge.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/refuge/issue/current

[iii] “Refugee camps versus urban refugees: what’s been said – and done,” Cristiano D’Orsi, The Conversation (November 3, 2019). This news report summarizes the ongoing confusion on the policy front regarding camp vs. urban refugees.

[iv] MOOCs miss much more. The decision in 2016 by Coursera to open a track for vulnerable populations (Coursera for Refugees) was well-intentioned but misbegotten.  It not only recycled and marketing of a partial solution, it made assumptions about learners that are at best tenuous, and at worst misleading.  Some would say unethical.  As one economist in the African Development Bank, “please, no more MOOCs!”

[v] Julia Morris (2020) “Extractive Landscapes: The Case of the Jordan Refugee Compact,” Refuge 36:1.

[vi] Hopkins, G., L. Buffoni (2019) The IGAD Kampala Declaration on jobs, livelihoods, and self-reliance: from declaration to reality,” PalgraveCommun 5, 157.  The article emphasizes the crucial importance of planned and active participation, inclusion and collaboration of all parties to enable a high-level meetings and fora to prioritize an approach to discussions which creates enabling contexts of formal but inclusive dialog. https://rdcu.be/bYI6r

Refugees and Higher Education

Part IV: Initiatives Already Underway

MOOCs aside, a number of online efforts and consortia have emerged targeting new educational opportunities for refugees. Those initiatives can be enlisted as partners. There are those that facilitate stakeholders through consultation but do not provide program content or bridge institutions, such as the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium that functions as an exchange of best practices and promotes and coordinates quality higher education in conflict, crisis and displacement zones through connected learning to make accredited higher education accessible to refugee and other displaced learners.

This is as serious a problem as content. The lack of access is called the “digital divide.”[i]

Then there are the academic programmers that provide the content and curricula:

  • Education for Humanity sponsored by the ASU and Norwegian Refugee Council to provide digital English Language courses in a blended learning format to Syrian refugees residing in Amman; ASU provides a one-year “Global Freshman Academy” consisting of online courses offered in partnership with local NGOs (focusing on Uganda and Jordan)
  • Southern New Hampshire University Global Education Movement (GEM) partnered with local institutions like Kepler in Kigali, Jusoor in Amman as well as partners in South Africa, Lebanon, Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi providing online coursework leading to associate’s or bachelor’s degrees for refugee learners in partnership with Jesuit Worldwide Learning
  • Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access (PADILEIA) King’s College London working with Kiron and other universities to target needs of Syrian learners in Jordan and Lebanon offering both blended and online-only courses with partners such as Al al-Bayt University and American University of Beirut, as well as Kiron
  • MIT ReACT Hub launched its first program in Jordan with a certificate in Computer and Data Science
  • REACH at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Research Education and Action for Refugees Harvard Graduate School of Education which aims to foster welcoming communities and quality education in settings of migration and displacement.
  • InZone at the University of Geneva initially led by Barbara Moser-Mercer, in Kakuma (Kenya), Asraq and Za’atari camps (Jordan), with human rights, history (GHL), and translation courses
  • Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) from the Center for Refugee Studies led by Professors Wenona Giles and Don Dippo[ii] which focuses on language and education training working closely with partners in Kenya, WUSC, and more recently the University of British Columbia; it recently graduated its first cohort of students with a MEd from York University[iii]
  • The Jesuit Digital Network (JDN) developing a new-generation online platform for sharing digital educational resources and hosting multiple global and local learning communities to create, deliver, and continuously improve digital educational material, including digital learning objects, learning communities, and new generation online courses from middle school through post-graduate courses
  • Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins and Jesuit Worldwide Learning with a unique model of integrated partnerships that sustains programs in development, leadership, and liberal studies
  • Microsoft offers free training and curriculum resources to help humanitarian organizations deliver training that will help refugees gain digital literacy and computer science skills
  • OSUN and the Bard Network with a global reach with educational partners in locations around the world such as a multitude of fugitive universities in Lebanon (GHL), Jordan (AQB and GHL), Nairobi (AQB, GHL, Rift Valley Institute) and Bangladesh (Brac University)[iv]
  • Princeton’s Global History Lab with a 22-partner network within OSUN, with refugee programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Iraq, Uganda and in Europe (Paris, with Sciences Po, Berlin/Potsdam, and Athens with Panteion University).[v]

There are also aggregators which pool content, connect to partners and design articulated pathways or learning clusters to make them available to universities for entrance, such as Kiron Open Higher Education based in Berlin with a great deal of experience at creating systems for refugees to enter German higher educational institutions. The European Commission and the Directorate General Joint Research Centre maps and analyzes MOOCs and free digital learning programs for migrants and refugees. Here: Higher Education Supporting Refugees in Europe, based in the Mediterranean Universities Union, is another aggregator.

A specific combination of organizations with active local partners that offer accredited degrees while engaged in local capacity building and attending to the material and social needs of refugees seems to work best. “Refugee students in Dadaab described as critical, but not singular, the assistance provided by UNHCR and its NGO partners, particularly in building schools, hiring and paying teachers, and providing scholarships for higher education. Within these support structures, refugee students drew on a complex web of locally and globally situated relationships.”[vi] There is a need to create integrated learning systems that invest in programs that open gateways and create links between sectors and stakeholders.

Fixed costs are on the rise, income is declining as well as investments in technologies and methods of teaching to counteract the results. The benefit, however, may be the increased pressure to move both to a new model and a much broader and reconceptualized vision of the university. What has emerged as a competitor to the consumer model has been a very different university, one that addresses global issues and not just problems in one’s society, that engages students in active learning in the application of what they know and in the extraction from that action to enrich the body of knowledge informing them. It is a university in which the whole idea of the university as a sanctuary has come tumbling down and the process of embedding universities and colleges into the societies that sustain them is completed.

It is a university engaged in partnerships with business, with civil society organizations and with the larger world and where the foremost problems are worldwide – climate change, refugees and, yes, pandemics at a time when knowledge is more free-flowing than ever, students and scholars more mobile, both physically and electronically, and when teaching and research have both transcended local or national boundaries. Tentatively and for convenience, I have dubbed it the Welcoming University, though a better term would be very welcome – no pun intended.

These trends are already well underway. Waterloo University innovated in partnering with businesses so that students and researchers can split their time between academia and business.[vii] The practice has broadened from computer science and engineering to other fields and has been copied by many institutions. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the 2020 Elevate Technology Conference in Toronto painted a picture of Toronto as a research-driven innovation hub that’s collaborative, inclusive and uniquely Canadian driven by artificial intelligence research at the University of Toronto and in universities in the mega-region as well as close ties between post-secondary institutions and industry players. Hence, Google Brain Toronto in partnership with the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence as well as federal and provincial governments. At Vector, academia and industry work together to support both applied and fundamental AI research. Such partnerships are not without their hazards. The cancellation of Quayside was a serious blow to this collaboration.

Ride-sharing giant Uber plans to invest $200 million into a new Toronto engineering lab, Microsoft plans to open a new office in downtown Toronto. Chip-maker Intel plans to set up an engineering lab north of the city that focuses on graphics processing units, or GPUs. Companies, from LG to Nvidia,  plan to set up new AI-focused research labs in Toronto in connection  with U of T.

In the U.S., Google has offices in many universities and co-hires faculty; Cornell Tech’s new campus on Roosevelt Island is buoyed by many private sector joint ventures; Pfizer created a biotech campus in Boston in 2014 with a specific aim of being able to liaise and partner with the region’s powerhouse universities; Philips Healthcare followed suit to initiate a Cambridge MA the next year for the same reason.  Long before COVID, universities turned to complex partnerships to fund training and applied research in the pursuit of coveted intellectual property.

The eclipse of the national social service autonomous university in favour of an international interconnected global one means new pathways for learning, new models of learning and new modes of producing knowledge. It also moves universities and colleges from support roles in society into central actors in the emergence of a welcoming society, a knowledge and information-based society and one, more specifically, that can serve as a route for refugees to gain the security of membership in a state via their accomplishments in higher education.

COVID-19 has emerged as an inflexion point in this transformation. That is because of the development of online learning which COVID-19 has forced into a central place from its peripheral role in the very recent past. Distance online learning allows university and college courses to be delivered directly to refugees in camps and in urban areas where they may have temporarily self-settled but without the legal security of membership in the state. COVID-19 has spurred and will spur even greater massive investments in online learning.

There will be feedback on the institution, its nature and the way it fulfills its mission as well. First, many universities will be receptive to thinking outside and beyond the four-year educational box, including more programmatic innovation and accessibility for refugee and at-risk migrants while allowing them to combine schooling and work in the process of resettlement. Second, the internalization of distance technologies will enable pathways to develop that lead all the way to the source of the conflicts that produce and contain the global migrant crisis. Third, partnerships are the future. While the focus will largely be on businesses, universities are linking with each other, joining forces with NGO’s and philanthropic organizations to extend their sprawling internship and civic-engagement missions.

At the same time, because of closures, and, more importantly, shifts back and forth in closure plans, variable costs have increased that could have been invested in new teaching tools and skills to suit online learning. At the same time, incomes may decline as students drop out unwilling to pay high fees for an inferior product.

However, if monies are invested in new teaching tools and new technologies, there are long-term savings. Universities will be able to play a dual role, not only in addressing a social problem on a global scale but also in allowing student refugees to acquire higher and marketable skills. At the same time, the student and faculty body in our universities, with the support of society, can lead in the provision of private sponsorship to a proportion of those refugee students in the global south to migrate to cities of the global north.[viii] Private sector partners will have to invest their share based on both longer time horizons that learning and open experimentation require as well as broadening their global vision to deal with humanitarian crises.

The current idea of the university is ill-suited to this purpose as anything but a peripheral role. They are too de-linked, too decentralized, too competitive and too resistant to a top-down approach to higher education. The private sponsorship of refugee students led by universities and colleges will greatly accelerate a process of transformation already underway. Into what? An institution propelled to change from the bottom up based on partnerships of students and faculty. A coalition- sustained higher education system rather than one in which universities have to anticipate the needs of society based on guestimates. A university system in which not only universities and colleges enter into more partnerships much more frequently, but where they conjoin with municipalities, with businesses and with social institutions (NGOs) to enhance the quality of their graduates and ensure a much higher percentage of them graduate.


[i] Leung, Linda (2018) Technologies of Refuge and Displacement Rethinking Digital Divides, Roman and Littlefield. Refugees as a group have received scant attention as technology users, despite their urgent need for technological access, as a minimum for tenuous links to family and loved ones during displacement. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498500029/Technologies-of-Refuge-and-Displacement-Rethinking-Digital-Divides An article in Toronto Life by Raizel Robin (“Class Dismissed”) describes the digital divide within Toronto when the school board tried to adapt distance learning to the absence of classroom education when schools were shuttered. There turned out to be two digital divides, one by about one-third of households, overwhelmingly immigrant, who lacked a computer to which their child could have a dedicated use and about 10% who even lacked internet connectivity. The second was one among teachers, many of whom were computer illiterate, found distance education alienating and were wary of mastering the skills. The Board had to deal with the lack of technology: “they would need to transition to remote learning” and “they had to make sure all 250,000 students…would have a functional and up-to-date computer…Once the kids were finally set up with computers, it became apparent that a quarter of the board’s teachers didn’t know how to use the TDSB-supplied online teaching software or needed a refresher.” (64-65) To complicate the situation further, the teachers’ unions were at war with and were not cooperating with the Board. If you understand the extent of the difficulties that deeply sabotaged the effort to introduce distance education in pre-tertiary schools in a sophisticated region like Toronto, imagine how hard it will be to set up distance learning in refugee camps and in urban areas where refugees have self-settled. Fortunately, as discussed in this paper, we have now had far more experience with distance education for refugees than Toronto has had for its elementary and secondary school pupils.

[ii] See their chapter in Susan McGrath and Julie Young (eds.) (2019) Mobilizing Global Knowledge: Refugee Research in an Age of Displacement. See also Susan F. Martin, Rochelle Davis, Grace Benton and Zoya Waliany (2018) “Working paper: International Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees,” as part of the KNOMAD Working Paper Series of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD). Multidisciplinary knowledge is used to generate policy options, the latter, in particular, focused on responsibility-sharing. http://www.knomad.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/KNOMAD%20WP_International%20Responsbility-Sharing%20for%20Refugees.pdf

[iii] https://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2020/05/28/york-university-to-grant-masters-degrees-to-first-cohort-of-refugees-in-kenya/  

[iv] Work is underway on child exploitation and protection in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees, but the focus of this paper is on career paths for refugees in their later teen years. For work on the former, see Bina D’Costa from the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, & the Melbourne Social Equity Institute on Migration, Refugees and Statelessness. For an overview of the Rohingya crisis, see the report of Bob Rae, currently the Canadian ambassador to the UN, at IRIN news.

https://www.irinnews.org/in-depth/myanmar-rohingya-refugee-crisis-humanitarian-aid-bangladesh. Also  Ashrafuk Azad and Fareha Jasmin (2013) “Durable solutions to the protracted refugee situation- The case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh decades in the making,” Journal of Indian Research, I:4, 25-35.

[v] See also Asad Hussein, who moved from being a refugee to attending Princeton University as a student, “Chasing the Mirage, from Nairobi to New York City,” New York Review of Books, 4 April 2020. http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/asad-hussein

[vi] Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Negin Dahya, and Elizabeth Adelman (2017) “Pathways to Educational Success Among Refugees: Connecting Locally and Globally Situated Resources.” American Educational Research Journal 54:6, December, 1011–47. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831217714321.

[1] See Sanchit Mittal (2020) “Canadian Contribution to the Global Refugee Crisis,” MBA Vancouver Island University. https://www.academia.edu/keypass/amhnMElHMnNlcXRHT0k2NW5wVU9sZzVFd0Y3QTZSbkUwYVZnY3pYejhKTT0tLTZWUzN5Y1NTQXZRek5FU0lrVTFvUlE9PQ==–3bd838bd769e3a0ef642e4691b2395991cb6c26d/t/bvH43-NWouApr-yrVJ/resource/work/38999592/Canadian_Contribution_to_the_Global_Refugee_Crisis_MBA_541_Corporate_Social_Responsibility?email_work_card=thumbnail

[viii] See Migration Policy Institute (2018) “Decision: Private Refugee Sponsorship: Concepts, Cases and Consequences.” See also Bose, Pablo and Lucas Grigri (2018) PR4: Refugee Resettlement Trends in the Midwest. Refugee Resettlement in Small Cities Reports. University of Vermont. May. This report shows the importance of cities in the effort at resettlement and offers evidence that, in the US, the experience of coastal cities is currently being replicated in cities in middle America. http://spatializingmigration.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/RRSC_PR4_Midwest_Resettlement.pdf. Finally, the scholarship on India is very instructive. Cities are engines of economic growth greatly enhanced by migration. That growth is enhanced when migrants are assisted and undercut when obstacles are put in the way of refugees and migrants. Cf. Samaddar, Ranabir (ed.) (2018) Migrants and the Neoliberal City. Orient Blackswan https://www.orientblackswan.com/BookDescription?isbn=978-93-5287-290-9&txt=Samaddar&t=d See also the pact on the rights of urban refugees entered into in November 2017 by the International Organization for Migration and the umbrella group United Cities and Local Governments, which included 150 cities around the world.

Refugees and Higher Education

Part III: The Changing Mission of the University

The beginning of the pipeline of resettlement for refugees are the camps and urban areas in countries of first asylum where refugees congregate. The proposed terminus is the university for PSSV students. I now want to put such a proposal within the context of the changing idea and function of the university and then within the context of the current inflexion point as a result of the most important influence on the course of higher education in recent years – the COVID-19 pandemic. I will then review the initiatives universities have undertaken, particularly in the last decade, to actually address the refugee issue. I will then place such a proposal within a context of prospective actual numbers and then practically within a framework of how such a program can be initiated and institutionalized.

In the nineteenth century, the university could be characterized as a Sanctuary of Truth[i], a sanctuary because it was held aloof from society as the inheritor of the wisdom of the ages to be transferred to the political and moral leadership of society. It was a sanctuary of truth because it presumed that it was the repository of inherited truth rather than a locus for discovering new truths. Relative to the society around it, the university served as a place for ossified thoughts and ideas. A very small percentage of students attended universities; there were no community colleges.

In the English-speaking world, the idea behind such a vision of education was articulated very clearly by Matthew Arnold in his 1869 volume, Culture and Anarchy. Culture is the study of perfection in order to resist the forces of anarchy extant in a changing society that valued the work ethic and what he called “money-making.”  It was an exercise not simply in praise of great poetry and literature, but in contempt for popular culture and what he dubbed “philistinism.” Such a pursuit was driven, not by greed or by the need to acquire credentials or even to master a specialty, but by a moral and social passion for doing good. A man – and university students were males – was to be valued by his inherent nature and not by striving to become someone or fulfill some role and especially not anything governed by the measure of commercial success. “Our prevalent notion is…that it is a most happy and important thing for a man merely to be able to do as he likes. On what he is to do when he is thus free to do as he likes, we do not lay so much stress.” It was a philosophy of education for the leisure class, for those destined to rule and ensure that the exercise of liberty did not descend into anarchy.

A parallel set of ideas was applied by Cardinal John Henry Newman in his 1873 volume The Idea of a University in which he integrated ideas articulated in two earlier volumes of essays from 1852 and 1859, the latter with the same title as the 1873 volume. In those essays, he articulated his conception of the nature of knowledge, the role of faith in service of such knowledge and the application of both to the liberal education of university students in opposition to the specialized development of defined skills. Higher education was necessary in order to develop a young person’s understanding of the world.

As a believer in liberal and free scientific enquiry unencumbered by oppression and censorship, questioning dogma and wrestling with the struggle between faith and reason (a general preoccupation of the nineteenth century trying to free itself from the shackles of institutionalized religion), he appeared to be a man ahead of his time. What is most interesting about Newman is that he was descended on his mother’s side from Huguenot refugees while his father as a banker was thoroughly immersed in the world of commerce. The social inflexion point that challenged universities simply rooted in the expression of one faith was the Great Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849; one million died and an estimated at least another million migrated abroad.

Newman led the battle against dogma and in favour of intellectual analysis in partnership with a moral conscience. Though he had converted to Catholicism, he opposed the idea of the university as a vehicle for spreading the Catholic faith, but also education that simply focused on training young Irishmen in real world skills for employment in the emerging industrial society.

In the aftermath of World War I, pressures already widely extant in higher education and already implemented in the United States, led to a new vision for a university, The Sanctuary of Method. The university was still a lofty sanctuary for the few – at most 3% of the population – and for instilling a common culture for a leadership class, but the stress was now placed on the discovery and recognition of new “truths” as skepticism about any inherited truth became widespread. The emphasis was placed on mastery of a particular intellectual methodological skill set – whether in writing history, undertaking English criticism or in electrical engineering and medicine. It meant also mastering a set of books that were classics in the field – whether Grant’s Anatomy or Ham’s Histology or the classics of English literature. The university became the repository for the professionalization of different fields and displacing the moral amateurism of The Sanctuary of Truth. Inculcating a set of values became a side story rather than a major focus of the university.

In the 1960s in Canada, the university underwent another radical transformation from a Sanctuary of Method to a Social Service Station, a model that had been developed much earlier in the United States. The model took shape with the move to the forefront of social science studies – economics, sociology, psychology, political science, anthropology – and, more importantly, the shift in focus of the university from a primary obligation to acculturate a social leadership class to one centered on addressing social problems. With that shift came an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies accompanied by the fissures that emerged in disciplinary departments on the core methodology to be taught and the core material to be mastered.

We are now in the throws of a new radical transformation of the university. There was a fear that out of the Social Service University would emerge a university that, instead of stressing the production of skilled workers for society’s needs and research addressed to society’s problems, there would emerge a university as a supermarket offering consumers a range of courses to satisfy individual interests rather than a focus on development of a specific discipline or a broader interdisciplinary perspective to help resolve social ills. The model would be one based on a consumer rather than a producer society.

That the fear is real is demonstrated by the following shifts:

  • The current pressure on universities and colleges to open just as there has been pressure on and from the consumer product and service economy to open in spite of the pandemic still not under control; in the U.S., the pressure became so great that a great many universities opened to disastrous results in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan as well as other institutions.
  • The pressure of the Baumol effect or Baumol’s cost disease, that is the rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no or low increase of labor productivity, in response to rising salaries in other positions with higher labor productivity, growth as is the case with teaching salaries at universities and colleges where the cost of services rise rapidly because they cannot be made more efficient.
  • Declining provincial (and, in the U.S., state) funds below Great Recession levels so that increased costs combined with shortages are passed onto students in fees so that students acquire greater debts to attend; as debt loads increase, so do attrition rates, thereby compounding the problem for both students and institutions; in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for college tuition and fees were 1,411.16% higher in 2020 versus 1977 (a $282,231.63 difference in value and an average inflation rate of 6.52% per year); in Canada, Statistics Canada announced in 2016 that on average, undergraduates paid 40 per cent more in tuition than they did 10 years previously.
  • The attempt to compensate for these declining sources of incomes with foreign students who pay full costs; however, with COVID-19 (as well as international political tensions with China), this source is subject to sudden and dramatic declines, especially pronounced in the U.S.
  • The pressure of additional non-academic costs that increase as a proportion of overall costs to ensure students receive more comprehensive support and ensure “customer” satisfaction; in the U.S., this pressure has even been greater with universities offering better food plans, better amenities, etc.
  • The shift to market-based solutions that solve some short-term problems but aggravate long-term ones and create new challenges, especially increasing student debt loads so that, in the U.S., student debt is greater than debt on consumer credit cards and for auto loans combined: (only mortgage debt exceeds student debt).
  • In the time of COVID-19, students increasingly question the return value, especially as more and more courses are taught by low-paid adjunct faculty and graduate students. (In the U.S., in 1970 80% of courses were taught by full-time faculty.) In Canada, the current figure is 27.5% on average taught by part-time faculty; though in very small colleges like Mount Allison University, 88% of courses are consistently taught by full-time faculty; this is the clear exception rather than the norm.
  • Poorly prepared on-line courses that fail to take advantage of the benefits of the new technology.
  • The resistance of many if not most faculty to the introduction of online courses and more self-directed learning models because of heritage biases and the resistance of young part-time teachers to the believed threat to their employment opportunities – hence the extreme shortfall in investment in enhanced productivity in both teaching and delivery of learning materials.
  • Universities reduce or wave fees when online courses are offered just at the time when there needs to be much greater investment in such courses to improve the quality and expand the delivery so that combined pressures on the bottom line of universities and colleges to costs will be significantly reduced over time.
  • Yet for many, the pressure will focus on pushing for greater and larger subsidies so that tuition can be lowered and more full-time tenure track positions created; given the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario plans to cut tuition fees for college and university students by 10 per cent for the 2019-2020 year and hold them constant for 2020-2021. At the same time, local and provincial polities have their own financial crises.

There is an irony in all of the above. Higher education institutions are facing their greatest economic crisis of the past few decades precisely at a time when the educational premium they confer is most valued. Universities are coveted at the same time as they have become so traumatized and challenged to deliver on their mission by broadening access even more, raising the quality of teaching by taking advantage of new technologies and even expanding the leading edge of research in a very competitive environment with more claims on scarcer public resources.  With respect to teaching, the application of psychology, the development of teaching and learning design, the development of international programs, the rise of MOOCs and online technologies have all had an effect, but most of the possibilities remain untapped.

Nevertheless, the process of transformation is underway as the last vestiges of the sanctuary university are torn down with innovations in extra-mural learning: internships in NGO’s and labs, civic engagement and service, teaching in prisons, reaching out to refugees and at-risk migrants near and far, not to mention the boom in study and work abroad. What is being considered here is not retrenchment but transformation to the next and higher stage and the effort to overcome the sclerotic systems resistant to reform while the economic costs outpace the ability of society to support the old model.                


[i] See Howard Adelman (1973) The Holiversity: A Perspective on the Wright Report, New Press for an expanded characterization of the different stages of the university articulated in this paper.

After the Flood Was Over – Parashat Noah

Last week in Torah study we discussed God being an all-knowing and a perfect being. Certainly, this is clearly the preeminent conception of God in the Christian Gospels. (1 John 3:20); Matthew 10:30) One member of the group asserted that God is omniscient and knows everything. Does not Psalm 139 assert, “Lord you know it all?” (4)” Does not Psalm 147 say, “His understanding is infinite? (5) Psalm 139 is even more detailed:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (1-4)

Another member of the group cited the passage, “I shall be who I shall be.” When Moses queried God’s identity, Hashem answered, “I shall be as I shall be.” I am the God of revelation. I am Becoming, not Being. The Noah story of the flood would seem to support the latter interpretation, for God says that he believes he made a mistake in creating humanity. Further, after He wipes out much of the world in the flood, he learns that there is no restart button. And he promises never to do that again, for expecting perfection in humans was a mistake.

Let us go along with the latter line of interpretation and the notion that God’s knowledge is not unlimited as a result but, as Psalm 44 states it, “He knows the secrets of the heart.” (21) He is the most empathetic one around. Is that what it means to say that God knows the hearts of men? God’s knowing does not mean that God knows everything that is, that was and that will ever be, but that God is capable of knowing what you are feeling.

In the Babylonian Atrahasis Epic from which the story of the flood was drawn, the god Enki organized humans into a new order because in the old order humans were noisy, whining complainers. And there were too many of them. In Genesis, the flood is a punishment for human sin rather than a result of the gods’ annoyance at the overpopulation and noise humans make. Most significantly, in the Babylonian epic, limits were set on human reproduction, but in Genesis, humans were instructed to be fruitful and multiply. Why the difference? In turn, in Genesis God promised that there would be no flood and mass extinction in the future.

What was wrong with the first arrangement a few generations earlier that was set on the sixth day of creation? The flood takes place following a seven-day warning (7:4 and 7:10) just as the god Enki told Atrahasis that the flood will come on the seventh night. Why seven days or nights? Further, why was Noah allowed to take his children aboard the ark, but the animals came in two by two (6:18), seven pairs of clean animals and only one pair of each of the unclean ones as in the Babylonian epic?

No sooner is the world totally reordered when God recognizes that the reforms did not work. Evil emerged again. God now proclaimed that he would work with what he had and never again extinguish almost everything to start all over again. God had learned a lesson. Had humans? Had man?

Let’s go back to the first arrangement. Adam is a nerd. God says and there is. Adam is made in the image of God. He imitates. He gives things names and they come into being as distinct objects. Adam may have a bountiful mind, but he has a shriveled heart. He does not even recognize that he is lonely. And when he is offered a companion, he objectifies her. Further, he treats Eve as if she were just a physical extension of himself and he sees himself as just a mind. He has no heart. He has no desires. He even objectifies his own body as Other. It is an erect smooth talking snake who seduces Eve. Adam does not do it. He as Other does it.

Adam knows how to serve God with his whole mind but not his whole heart. In fact, he does not even recognize he has a heart, that he is an emotional being. And he sees God only as middat ha-din, a God who metes out justice, and not a God of mercy, middat ha-rahamim. God is Elohim and not YHWH, the inscrutable God of mercy. If God is too soft, if God is too merciful, everything will get out of hand. The world must be ruled with tough love.

YHWH, not Elohim, saw “how great was the evil of humans on the earth, for every design of their hearts was only evil all day long. YHWH regretted that he had made humans on the earth, and his heart was pained.  YHWH said, “I will wipe out humans, whom I created, from the face of the earth … for I regret that I made them.” (6.6-6.8) How come the source of evil was in their hearts and not in their minds if the original problem was the result of the mind not recognizing that Adam had a heart and had feelings?

The answer is not too hard to find. Feelings without the counterpoint of thought, feelings without critical reflection, lead to evil all day long. Thought without feelings leads to the mindblindness of Adam. The lesson is that man is made in the image of both Elohim and YHWH; his life will be a struggle to reconcile two such opposite attributes.

Regret comes from the heart. So does the will to destroy what you regret creating. However, reason and judgement intervene. God finds Noah who for some reason is worthy of salvation. But the text reads: “But Noah found favour in YHWH’s eyes.” (6:8) Not in Elohim’s eyes. Elohim limited the infinitude of emotional destruction. But it was left to the heart to find Noah, to find a male that was full of caring and empathy. Elohim could not perform that task. YHWH’s heart was pained. His heart has been broken. That is why He wanted to destroy humans. But it is that same heart that recognized Noah as a man with a great heart. God is full of delight. He is willing to try again.

I shall be who I shall be. God’s mind recommends that he changes his heart from regret and resentment to delight in heartfulness. God has a change of heart. God grows. God develops a greater understanding that perfection is a false standard. God promises never to repeat that act of widespread extermination ever again. God savours the smell of the pure animal and we see why a seventh pair of clean animals had to be brought aboard the ark.

Noah built an altar for YHWH. He took one of every clean animal and every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  YHWH smelled the soothing aroma, and YHWH said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the earth because of humans, for the designs of the human heart are evil from their youth. Never again will I destroy all life as I have done.’” (8:20-21)

In the Gilgamesh story drawn from the same Babylonian Atrahasis Epic, Enlil destroys and Enki saves. Enlil is angry, not Enki. What angers him is not the evil humans do but that there are too many of them and they are too noisy. Enlil is a narcissist who decides on what he should do by what affects him. Enki is the superego that berates Enlil for his self-centeredness, for sending the flood, for destroying the wicked. In the Torah, rather than two unchanging divine beings with specific characteristics, the divine has opposing forces operating within and through each wrestling with the other, God learns and can be a better witness for man.

Such an interpretation fits with textual criticism that sees the story as a melding of a J text featuring YHWH and a P text featuring Elohim. In J, in one’s emotional life, there is an ongoing internal dialogue. In P, what happens is a consequence of external forces. In P, creation is undone as the waters from the heavens merge with the waters from the deep. P plans and calculates. Every plan devised by the mind without considering the emotions is “evil all the time.” In J, the flood is a result of a surfeit of water, a plethora of tears that are the basis for all life. Emotion is key and brings about both creation and preservation as well as remorse and destruction.

Then why does the story end with Noah planting a vineyard and getting drunk? Why does he end up naked so that his two sons, Shem and Japhet, have to cover him up? Why is Ham not involved in the cover-up? Why, when Noah wakes up, does he bless Shem and Japhet but curse his grandson, Canaan, the son of Ham, to serving as a slave to his brothers?

If God at the beginning of the story thought that it was the earth that was corrupt and filled with lawlessness and, therefore, decided to end all flesh, how, in the end, does the heart end up on top, as the source of mercy? By God recognizing that he was wrong about the source of evil. The very idea of eliminating evil is a conceit. And Noah, a righteous and good man, is the proof. After the ordeal, Noah understandably cut loose and went on a bender. He appreciated the concern of two of his sons for his embarrassment (great!), but then punished his other son by cursing his grandson. Noah clearly still had a great deal to learn. He had not learned how justice had to be tempered with mercy.

God also had a great deal more to learn and teach in the balance of the Torah.

Refugees and Higher Education

Part II: The Refugee Crisis

For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the current refugee situation, this material will be familiar. Yet it is important to review it as a prologue to reconceiving the role of universities in tackling the problem. Of the millions of refugees worldwide, almost 17 million are of relatively recent vintage and represent at least two-thirds of the refugees worldwide. The list below includes the largest movements but leaves out a number of refugees – Yemenis, Libyans, Nigerians, Central Americans, Congolese, Eritreans, etc.:

Syria             6.6 million

Venezuela      5.2 million

Afghanistan   2.7 million

South Sudan  2.2 million

Myanmar    ­  1.1 million

Somalia          .4 million

Iraqi                .25 million

Total            17.45 million

Why is Yemen not included? The answer: because though there some refugees from Yemen, this is primarily a humanitarian crisis, one that is currently growing much worse. In Yemen, 3.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes and 80% of the population (24 million) are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations refers to Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis on earth. Severe storms, a destroyed economy, COVID-19, an immanent famine and continuous Saudi-led airstrikes makes Yemen ill-prepared to deal with the massive cutbacks about to take place in UN programs. However, as horrific as the situation is, Yemen refugees are not the prime target of these blogs since there are not enough of them. Just over 16,000 Yemenis sought refugee status in 2018 in Jordan, Egypt and Germany. Yemeni refugees will undoubtedly benefit from the program proposed, but as a side effect rather than a primary focus. The proposal does not address the very severe issue of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Venezuela is a possible target, even though, in the end, the program proposed will not primarily apply to Venezuelan refugees. That is because of the level of education of the refugees and the fact that most have self-settled in the adjacent countries or the USA.[i] There may be a modest program since Venezuelans in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the immediate neighbours,[ii] tend to have the lowest educational attainment, but they are also the oldest cohort in age. Those who traveled to nearby Ecuador and Peru tend to be young, but one-third hold a technical degree or higher. Venezuelans who moved to other countries farther away (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay) are more likely to be older on average with high levels of educational attainment, over half with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Those who went to the US form the smallest cohort and are the richest group. Many are dubbed migrants rather than refugees. Only 5% of all of these groups would consider returning. They were (and continue to be) in flight from a failed state and government rather than from a war and violent conflict, the source of the other “official” refugees.

Very few of the latter could claim a well-founded fear of persecution and ask for resettlement as a matter of right. In the case of Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees, in a mass migration from January 2015 to March 2016 that continued until 2019, almost 1.7 million refugees migrated either across the Mediterranean Sea or overland through Southeast Europe.[iii] In 2016, 750,000 in 2016 filed asylum requests in Germany. In March 2019, the European Commission declared the “migrant” crisis to be at an end even though most refugees remained in dire straits in the countries of first asylum. In spite of initial forebodings and some security problems at the beginning, the program was a tremendous success[iv] though critics have placed the effort within a securitization and deterrence context.[v] 

There is another major difference between refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq versus those from Somalia, South Sudan and Myanmar. The latter are mostly in camps. The former group have overwhelmingly settled in urban areas.[vi] This difference directly affects how universities can play a role in helping refugees. It also affects possible, even likely obstacles, when the solution is applied to some camps. [vii]

Of the three durable solutions, my focus will primarily be on resettlement. However, one cannot look at resettlement and ignore voluntary repatriation and settlement options in adjacent countries of asylum, if only because a country like Canada has a policy of considering an applicant for resettlement only after first being satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect, within a reasonable period of time, for the refugee applicant to obtain another durable solution.

Let me begin with the prospects of repatriation for Arab refugees from Syria and Iraq (without excluding refugees from Yemen described above and from Libya where wars have also produced refugees). “The prospects for early repatriation of refugees who have fled conflicts in Arab countries in recent years do not yet look promising. The conflict in Yemen is at a stalemate; Libya is wedged in a power struggle between two military/political factions; Iraq is struggling to recover from decades of instability; and Syria remains a country at war.”[viii] There is a limited trickle of return, but any organized large-scale repatriation seems premature. Further, the possibility of naturalization currently is closed, especially given the weakening socio-economic situation in host countries. Prospects of resettlement are also miniscule.

I will suggest that integration in countries of first asylum can best be facilitated through the postsecondary student visa route. In 2019, roughly 1% of refugees worldwide were enrolled in some form of tertiary education prior to resettlement[ix]—compared to 37% of non-refugees.[x] There is a huge gap between demand and opportunity between the global refugee regime and the global higher education regime. Fortunately, the networks developed on refugee research can be used as a basis for improving the network of refugee higher education.[xi]

Canada accepts refugees as permanent residents under its Refugee Resettlement Program for humanitarian reasons to align with its international obligations to protect those in need and reunite refugee families. This report suggests that the pathway of private sponsorship, facilitated by dedicated civil servants as was the case in the flow of Indochinese refugees in 1979-80[xii], can be replicated in the 2020s using a new pathway of private sponsorship for student refugees who are sponsored to come to Canada on student visas. UNHCR has actively promoted the search for such pathways whereby actors to find new ways to bring refugees to safety as well as to rebuild public interest and consensus around the importance of protection. New pathways will not only benefit refugees but discourage irregular migration.[xiii]

Many other countries have programs or plans underway[xiv] to copy the Canadian private sponsorship initiative.[xv] “Amid the divisive debates over migration in Europe, national governments broadly agree on the need to provide safe, legal ways of entry for refugees. The Global Compact on Refugees endorsed by the UN General Assembly provides “a basis for predictable and equitable burden and responsibility-sharing” based on a firmer mechanism for that responsibility sharing. However, development can no longer be the critical vehicle for change as was featured in the past. We suggest that access to higher education is.[xvi]

One initiative that could help achieve this aim is the private sponsorship of refugees whereby communities or individuals take the lead in helping refugees to find jobs, language courses, and other services. Some even envision creating new private sponsorship pathways[xvii]. This kind of initiative, put on the map by Canada and now piloted in different parts of the globe, could work in Europe if planned and implemented carefully. However, civil society and engaged individuals[xviii] are the bedrock of any such program; EU-level oversight should not be heavy-handed.[xix]

In the existing Canadian program, based on targets to focus efforts where needed, these refugees are referred to the Canadian government by IRCC, the UNHCR, other authorized agencies or by a private sponsor in Canada where the refugee can be slotted into the privately-sponsored refugee (PSR) program which pays most of the costs for resettlement[xx] rather than the government-assisted refugee (GAR or Quebec GAR) program which provides full government assistance. There continues to be strong support in Canada for this mode of settling refugees.[xxi] According to a UN Global Trends Report, Canada did relatively well in opening its doors to refugees but not in terms of its past history or the dramatic need. Canada did relatively well in comparison to the Trump Administration’s policies in the US. However, on a global level, Canada’s position does not seem as positive.[xxii]

In addition, there is the Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR) program[xxiii] where government assisted refugees may benefit from sponsor support and Joint Assistance Sponsorship (JAS) for government-assisted refugees with exceptional needs requiring extended support. Canada also select cases for priority and special processing referred for urgent protection, vulnerable cases, public policies, applicants who are persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity expression (SOGIE-LGBTQI) and other groups requiring special attention.

One purpose of this proposal is to recommend creating a special class of refugees who enter Canada on student visas and only, subsequent to the completion of their studies, become eligible for landed status. These students will be privately sponsored by student organizations partnered with faculty, civil society partners and accepted by postsecondary institutions. This has the benefit of mobilizing students and faculty eager to play an active social role in welcoming and settling refugees arriving on student visas. These might be designated as the Privately Sponsored Student Visa (PSSV) class.

The point of such a program is to use education as not only a vehicle of upward mobility, but of horizontal mobility to end protracted refugee situations over time. Currently, the Canadian Student Refugee Program (CSRP) (administered by World University Service of Canada) receives far more applications than places available. CRSP supports 130 refugees per year. WUS provides a critical foundation on which to build and should definitely be a partner in the scheme proposed.


[i] Diego Chaves-González and Carlos Echeverría-Estrada (2020) “Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Regional Profile,” Migration Policy Institute.

[ii] Cf. Dany Bahar and Sebastian Strauss (2018) “Neighbor nations can’t bear costs of Venezuelan refugee crisis alone.”  https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/neighbor-nations-cant-bear-costs-of-venezuelan-refugee-crisis-alone/

[iii] For an experiential account in 2015, cf.Heaven Crawley, Franck Duvell, Katharine Jones, Simon McMahon and Nando Sigona (2018). Unravelling Europe’s Migration Crisis: Journeys Over Land and Sea. Policy Press. https://policypress.co.uk/unravelling-europes-migration-crisis

[iv] Philip Oltermann (2020) “How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off,” The Guardian, 30 August. He tells the specific story of Mohammad Hallak, a 21-year-old Syrian from Aleppo studying computer science at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences.

[v] Susana de Sousa Ferreira (2019). Human Security and Migration in Europe’s Southern Borders. https://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9783319779461

[vi] For a comparison of the two possibilities, see Betts, Alexander, Remco Geervliet, Claire MacPherson, Naohiko Omata, Cory Rodgers and Olivier Sterck (2018) Self-reliance in Kalobeyei? Socio-Economic Outcomes for refugees in northwest Kenya. University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre and the World Food Programme. This study compares outcomes for refugees from South Sudan who are now in two places in northwest Kenya, the Kolobeyei settlement established in 2015 using a self-reliance model and the older Kakuma camp that uses more of an ‘aid model’. https://www.refugee-economies.org/assets/downloads/Self-Reliance_in_Kalobeyei_website.pdf

[vii] When Howard Adelman was part of the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, we studied the attitudes of NGOs to resettlement and integration of Burmese refugees in Thailand. There was (to us) a surprising resistance. A number of reasons were offered, but a major one was the vested interest of NGOs in humanitarian services to refugee and the concern with disrupting services in the camps because the best resettle first. Further, enhancing critical thinking skills of refugees create a possibly of providing leadership for disruptive behaviour as refugees mobilize themselves. Thus, agencies may prefer traditional “charity” work to tertiary education.

[viii] Ibrahim Elbadawi, Roger Albinyana, Belal Fallah, Maryse Louis, Samir Makdisi and Jala Youssef (2019) “Repatriation of Refugees from Arab Conflicts: Conditions, Costs and Scenarios for Reconstruction,” FEMISE Euromed Report, p.8. See also Samuel Hall (2018) Syria’s The author concludes that returns to Syria should neither be promoted nor facilitated Spontaneous Returns Study. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/SH1-Syria%E2%80%99s-Spontaneous-Returns-online.pdf

[ix] ESPMI discussion series analyzes the effects of disrupted education on school-age refugees: “What are the most significant impacts of disrupted education on refugee children & youth and what are solutions to address them?” https://espminetwork.com/discussion-series-disrupted-education/ According to UNHCR, 50% of refugee children attend primary school, just 22% of refugee adolescents receive a secondary education.

[x] [x] UNHCR. “Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis.” Geneva: UNHCR, 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/steppingup/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2019/09/Education-Report-2019-Final-web-9.pdf

[xi] Cf. McGrath, S., & Young, J. E. (eds.) (2019) Mobilizing Global Knowledge: Refugee Research in an Age of Displacement, University of Calgary Press.  The essays by academics and practitioners reflect on the emerging global collaborative research network and the efforts to bridge silos, sectors, and regions to address power and politics in refugee research, engage across tensions between the Global North and Global South, and engage deeply with questions of practice, methodology, and ethics in refugee research. https://press.ucalgary.ca/books/9781773850856/ 

[xii] Molloy, Michael J., Peter Duschinsky, Kurt F. Jensen, and Robert J. Shalka (2017) Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980. McGill-Queen’s Press.

[xiii] Triandafyllidou, A., Bartolini, L., Guidi, C.F. (2019) “Exploring the links between enhancing regular pathways and discouraging irregular migration: a discussion paper to inform future policy deliberations,” International Organization for Migration, Discussion Paper.  https://publications.iom.int/books/exploring-links-between-enhancing-regular-pathways-and-discouraging-irregular-migration-0

[xiv] A 2020 Migration Policy Institute Europe policy brief examines refugee private sponsorship programs as one route increasingly used as a complementary or alternative resettlement pathway. Such initiatives empower community groups, civil-society organizations and even private individuals to take on some degree of responsibility for helping refugees settle and integrate into their new society, and even in some cases to identify and prepare refugees for travel. Interest in refugee sponsorship is booming, with a range of countries joining Canada, which pioneered the concept and has seen more than 306,000 refugees sponsored by private or community groups since 1978. Argentina, Australia, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom have launched or committed to start such initiatives. The brief, Refugee Sponsorship Programmes: A global state of play and opportunities for investment, was released in advance of the 2019 Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which launched a new three-year resettlement strategy, including a commitment to expanding access to complementary pathways such as sponsorship and, presumably, private sponsorship of student refugees on student visas.

[xv] Audrey Macklin, a prominent refugee researcher, and her colleagues, after refugee migrations reached a moment of ‘crisis’ in 2015, started investigating the realities of resettlement and responses to precarious migration. Their respective research projects explored questions of private sponsorship and community resettlement from the perspective of various actors and access to higher education for young adult refugees as well as various other topics related to private sponsorship. See the workshop they ran at the University of Toronto on “Lived Learning as Researchers: Reflections on Migration Research,” 30 March 2020.

[xvi] Refugee Law Initiative’s 9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series, Speaker: Professor Penelope Mathew, Griffith University, Date: 19 November 2018. Matthew was Dean of Law at Griffith from 2014-2018. https://soundcloud.com/refugeelawinitiative/leaving-no-one-behind-a-look-at-the-global-compact-on-refugees

[xvii] M. The Expert Council’s Research Unit (SVR Research Unit (2018) What Next for Global Refugee Policy? Opportunities and Limits of Resettlement at Global, European and National Levels. Berlin. https://www.svr-migration.de/en/publications/resettlement/

[xviii] For a more critical approach to private sponsorship as an expression of neo-liberalism, cf. Enns, T. (2017). The Opportunity to Welcome: Shifting responsibilities and the resettlement of Syrian refugees within Canadian communities, Dissertation, University of Oxford This dissertation asks: to what extent have local and individual resettlement efforts been shaped by a rhetoric of “welcome”, and to what extent have national policies and practices of refugee resettlement reconfigured the scales of responsibility? It starts by providing a revisionist history of refugee resettlement in Canada, it then contextualizes the latter within the recent Syrian resettlement effort, and assess the national, community and individual responses and responsibilities—with a particular focus on the community-led response within the Region of Waterloo. It argues that the Syrian example has revealed manifestations of neo-liberalization, regarding who determines one’s right to resettlement, and on whose shoulders the moral and economic impact of resettlement rests. https://www.academia.edu/37800132/The_Opportunity_to_Welcome_Shifting_responsibilities_and_the_resettlement_of_Syrian_refugees_within_Canadian_communities

[xix] Cf. Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe prepared with ICF International for the European Commission’s Directorate General for Home Affairs prepared by Hanne Beirens and Susan Fratzke. These are a potted version of their words.

[xx]Cf.  Ilcan, S., Thomaz, D., & Jimenez Bueno, (2020) “Private sponsorship in Canada: the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the Kitchener-Waterloo region,”. IMRC Policy Points, Issue 17; see also Suzan Ilcan, Diana Thomaz, and Manuela Jimenez Bueno. (2020) “Private Sponsorship in Canada: The Resettlement of Syrian Refugees in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region,” International Migration Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University. https://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=imrc

[xxi] A majority of Canadians continue to see Canada as an international role model with 86 per cent of respondents saying the country can have a positive impact on world affairs, both in 2008 and in 2018. 25% of respondents think the most important contribution the country can make to the world is accepting immigrants and multiculturalism, a shift from ten years ago when peacekeeping topped the list. Consequently, the survey estimates that two million adult Canadians were involved directly in the sponsorship of refugees, with another seven million who knew someone who did. In addition, a majority of those surveyed believe Canada should either increase the number of refugees accepted over the next two years or continue to accept the same number. Cf. the 2018 survey by Francesca Fionda forEnvironics Institute for Survey Research. https://www.thediscourse.ca/data/canadians-see-welcoming-refugees-as-our-top-international-contribution-survey-find

[xxii] http://carfms.org/blog/the-un-refugee-agencys-report-shows-that-canada-should-welcome-more-refugees/

[xxiii] The BVOR program was introduced in 2013 as a modified version of private sponsorship and middle ground between sponsorship and government-assisted resettlement. While the program was met with criticism and skepticism that the government was off-loading more resettlement responsibility to private sponsors, the Syrian crisis significantly impacted and changed the Canadian resettlement landscape. Labman, S., & Pearlman, M. (2018) “Blending, Bargaining, and Burden-Sharing: Canada’s Resettlement Programs,” Journal of International Migration and Integration, 1-11.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12134-018-0555-3

Refugees and Higher Education

Part I – An Introduction and Overview

Traditionally, there have been three paths to resolving long-term refugee situations: repatriation; settlement in counties of initial asylum; resettlement[i]. This paper focuses on the use of higher education[ii] to facilitate the latter two options[iii] while enhancing the benefits if refugees can and do repatriate. Education becomes the lynchpin to membership for refugees and addresses what is so agonizing and so intractable about the global migrant crisis: exclusion from membership in a society dedicated to their security.[iv]

Without a solution, millions are deprived of their human capacities and condemned to the margins of the international system. The United States, which used to be the leading nation providing resettlement opportunities, has slipped badly under the administration of Donald Trump.[v] Other states overtly subvert efforts of refugees to get a higher education; Hungary is a case in point.[vi] However, in others, access to higher education proves to be transformative[vii].

This series of five blogs reviews the current refugee situation in which the prospect of resettlement has declined precipitously,[viii] though this is one of many initiatives to widen the portal.[ix] Local integration has become more difficult; it has encountered even more obstacles than were already in place and, in most recent cases of refugee outflows, repatriation has seemed more unlikely even when conflicts have significantly subsided. Part II offers an overview of the current refugee situation.

Part III reviews the evolution of the university related to tackling social issues and the impact this has had on the nature and role of the university. In addressing the refugee problem. this situation is placed in the context of both the current global situation of refugees and the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has had an impact on recently arrived refugees[x]; in Canada, some 7500 refugees with PR visas slated for resettlement were also left in limbo as their flights were cancelled or postponed.[xi] After reviewing the development of the idea of the university in the modern period, our interest zeroes in on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education in relationship to refugees overseas. Fortuitously, with all the horrors visited on society by the pandemic, the latter has had, as a byproduct, an important impact in the possibility of enormously expanding the role of institutions of higher learning in tackling the refugee crisis.

Part IV reviews the involvement to this date of universities and other organizations in efforts to alleviate the refugee situation through making higher education accessible. Though these efforts have been very marginal to the overall crisis, they have multiplied significantly in the last twenty years and point to a much broader, more frontal and more central role in resolving the crisis of protracted refugee situations, often called refugee warehousing when those refugees are held in refugee camps.

Part V draws on the discussion of local rather than overseas partners that will be a requisite to advancing such a program. These include other universities and community colleges (including student organizations), NGOs, businesses, philanthropic organizations, the federal and provincial levels of government, but also, and very significantly, municipal government.[xii] This section will offer the outline of a program for offering refugees advanced education in a more comprehensive and organized way tied to programs of resettlement and local integration.[xiii] It will also advance an organizational frame for linking these institutions to advance such a program.

Overview

What follows is a summary statement of the basic elements in initiating such a program.

  1. Higher Education offers a lynchpin to membership for refugees both in countries of first asylum and in countries of resettlement.
  2. Universities and colleges can make higher education accessible to refugees.
  3. There has already been significant expansion of efforts to bring higher education to refugees.
  4. Distance online learning allows university and college courses to be delivered directly to refugees in camps and in urban areas where they may have temporarily self-settled but without the legal security of membership in the state.
  5. Expansion of access to such programs from 1% of refugees worldwide to one-third should be the goal.
  6. Demand must be matched with opportunity.
  7. Integration in countries of first asylum can best be facilitated through the postsecondary student visa route.
  8. At the core of the proposal, a special class of refugees who enter Canada on student visas would be created.
  9. Subsequent to the completion of their studies, they would become eligible for landed status.
  10. This might be called the Privately Sponsored Student Visa (PSSV) class.
  11. This Canadian initiative would be expanded as a mission to the rest of the world.
  12. Universities would both select those students as well as incentivize young refugees.
  13. Canada, with partners, would run a distance education program at the post-secondary level for refugees.
  14. University student organizations would sponsor refugee students for student visas and facilitate resettlement.
  15. University student bodies would partner with civil society to sponsor the refugees.
  16. Key elements of private sponsorship would be:
  17. A dedicated government entry stream;
  18. Student organization of business-family sponsorships
  19. Role of businesses:
  20. Scholarships
  21. Jobs
  22. Training
  23. Networking
  24. Private sponsorships for housing and food.
  25. UNHCR has actively promoted the search for such new pathways to find new ways to bring refugees to safety as well as to rebuild public interest and consensus around the importance of protection.
  26. The Global Compact on Refugees endorsed by the UN General Assembly provides “a basis for predictable and equitable burden and responsibility-sharing” based on a firmer mechanism for that responsibility sharing.

The Consequences of Such a Program

  1. The program would accelerate the transition of universities and colleges from support roles in society into central actors in the emergence of a welcoming society, a knowledge and information-based society and one, more specifically, that can serve as a route for refugees to gain the security of membership in a state via their accomplishments in higher education.
  2. If Canada takes on the responsibility of distance higher education for 10% of refugee students seeking a higher education, or 150,000, if 20% of them enter Canada on student visas (30,000) each year, then students in the PSSV program would constitute about 5% initially of students in Canada on student visas.
  3. For every nine students educated overseas, one student would be brought to Canada.
  4. With the skills acquired, refugee youth would be in a much better position to enter the knowledge economy in their countries of asylum.

To be continued


ENDNOTES

[i] Adèle Garnier, Liliana Lyra Jubilut, and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (eds.) (2018) Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance.

[ii] For a study of the role of education at lower levels in Canada for refugees, cf. Ratković, S., Kovačević, D., Brewer, C. A., Ellis, C., Ahmed, N., & Baptiste-Brady, J. (2018). Supporting refugee students in Canada: Building on what we have learned in the past 20 years. Report to Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Brock University, St. Catherines, ON.

[iii] Cf. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (2018) Protecting the Promise of a Generation: Education for Refugees and the Forcibly Displaced. The report calls for policymakers, donors, and other decision makers to prioritize education for refugees and displaced people. As the report argues, based on the Jesuit organization’s long experience with refugee education, “education can have transformational, life-saving impact.” This is also true at the tertiary level.

[iv] UNHCR (2019) Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis. This report tells the stories of some of the world’s 7.1 million refugee children of school age under UNHCR’s mandate. In addition, it looks at the educational aspirations of refugee youth eager to continue learning after secondary education. It also highlights the need for strong partnerships in order to break down the barriers to education for millions of refugee children. https://www.unhcr.org/steppingup/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2019/09/Education-Report-2019-Final-web-9.pdf

[v] Until the advent of the Trump administration in 2017, the U.S. was a leading country in resettlement, even though the US refugee program served US interests and values. Cf. Kerwin, Donald (2018) The US Refugee Resettlement Program – A Return to First Principles: How Refugees Help to Define, Strengthen, and Revitalize the United States. Report. Center for Migration Studies. The report outlines the achievements, contributions and integration of 1.1 million refugees who arrived in the United States between 1987 and 2016 and asserts that the US refugee resettlement program should be a source of immense national pride because it has saved countless lives, put millions of impoverished persons on a path to work, self-sufficiency, and integration, and advanced US standing in the world.

[vi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/09/punishing-tax-stops-refugees-studying-hungarian-universities-180902213913584.html

[vii] Bailey, Lucy and Gül İnanç (2018) Access to Higher Education: Refugees’ Stories from Malaysia. Baton Rouge, Florida: CRC Press. This book contains stories from a small group of successful refugees who have managed to receive higher education in a context where their existence is not recognized and where most refugees lack access to even basic education. Until 2015, no refugees in Malaysia were able to access higher education, and they were unable to attend government schooling. Since then, six private higher education institutions have agreed to open their doors to refugees for the first time. This book identifies the factors that aided these refugees. It charts the challenges that they and their communities have faced. The stories are framed by a discussion of the situation that refugees face in accessing education globally

https://www.crcpress.com/Access-to-Higher-Education-Refugees-Stories-form-Malaysia/Bailey-Inanc/p/book/9781138495128

[viii] There were 20.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2019, but less than one per cent of refugees are resettled each year. The resettlement spots offered by countries in 2018 were less than half the level in 2016. Only a small number of states take part in UNHCR’s resettlement program – U.S., Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Nordic countries. Resettlement states provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. During the Global Refugee Forum that took place in Geneva, 16-18 December 2019, EU member states made pledges for resettlement efforts in 2020, backed with financial support from the European Commission. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) hosting the event estimated the global resettlement needs at 1.44 million. A delegation of MEPs called for more ambitious resettlement efforts. https://www.ecre.org/global-refugee-forum-eu-ms-pledge-30000-resettlement-for-2020-meps-urges-more-ambition/

[ix] Clair Higgins (2019)Policy Brief: Safe Journeys and Sound Policy: Expanding protected entry for refugees,”, Kaldor center for international refugee law. https://www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/Policy_Brief_8_Protected_Entry.pdf,

[x] As examples of such recent foci see the following 2020 studies: Hojati, Z. (2020) “Post-Covid 19: The Need to Revisit Canada’s Work Regulation Toward Professional Immigrants;” Yael Schacher & Rachel Schmidtke (2020) “Harmful Returns: The Compounded Vulnerabilities of Returned Guatemalans in the Time of COVID-19”; Yvonne Su, Yuriko Cowper-Smith & Tyler Valiquettem (2020) “LGBTQI+ Populations Face Unique Challenges During Pandemic.”

[xi] https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/dap hne-bramham-covid-19-challenges-refugees-and-those-helping-them-to-settle/

[xii] The synergy among business organization, municipalities and refugee support organization was confirmed in a Dutch study. Ruben Munsterman (2019) Amsterdam’s Hire-a-Refugee Program Takes On Tight Labor Market,” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-26/amsterdam-s-hire-a-refugee-program-takes-on-tight-labor-market

[xiii] Such a program can play a critical role itself in integration. Cf. Jay Marlowe  (2018) Belonging and Transnational Refugee Settlement: Unsettling the Everyday and the Extraordinary, https://www.routledge.com/Belonging-and-Transnational-Refugee-Settlement-Unsettling-the-Everyday/Marlowe/p/book/9781138285453

The Trial of the Chicago 7

I told one of my daughters that I was going to write a review of this film after seeing it this past weekend and would compare my memory of what happened to the film. She emailed me that Vanity Fair had beaten me to that approach. In fact, Jordan Hoffman’s article in the 16 October issue, “The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Wildest Things the Movie Left Out” is different. I do not want to write a review about what was left out as much as about what was in the movie that seemed to be at odds with my memory. Hence, the Alert.

Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed The Trial of the Chicago 7 as well as Moneyball and a host of other films such as the 2010 film about the initiation of Facebook, The Social Network.In The Trial, he made a film about one of the momentous moments of my life, the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and the long trial that lasted from April of 1969 to February of 1970, which both enraged me and made me cry. Sorkin turned it into a comedy, a tragic-comedy, but a comedy nevertheless. An all-too-earnest Tom Hayden, the head of The Students for Democratic Action (SDS) and author of the infamous Port Huron Statement, became the straight man for Abbie Hoffman’s stand-up comedy and satirical riffs.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abby as only Cohen could, as a wiseacre rather than a brilliant and insightful clown and master of the sight gag. He did offer one example of the latter. He and Rubin wore judicial robes into court. The judge ordered them to take the robes off. They did. Underneath, in the film, they reveal police badges pinned to their chests. In history, I believe they wore yellow stars. If this was the case, I do not know why Sorkin made the switch except to underplay the Jewish role in the protests and to provide a greater link with the present.

In reality, Abbie Hoffman was known as the co-founder of the Youth International Party, the Yippies, but he was also one of the progenitors of identity politics in his claim that we are constructed by the media we watch and the myths embedded in that media. At the other end of the spectrum was Rennie Davis, played by Alex Sharp, as Hayden’s owl-eyed pedantic sidekick whose notebook becomes the star of the day at the end of the trial. Did something like that happened halfway through the actual trial? I don not recall. However, putting it at the end was a great emotional way to end the movie.

I remember Rennie Davis, not as a nerd, but as a brilliant strategist and tactician who played a far more important role in writing the Port Huron Statement with Tom and in developing the practices of the American New Left. He was assigned a peripheral role in the film.

Cohen has his own sidekick, another Yippie who became a Yuppie. Jerry Rubin, played by Jeremy Strong, comes across as a naïve idealist and romantic rather than as Abbie Hoffman’s cynical but very realistic clever buddy. I understood that Strong had really immersed himself in studying the period and the character of Jerry Rubin so I cannot guarantee that my memory is correct.

The movie, while drawing on the actual transcript of the trial and the events that took place, is not a historical documentary. Certainly the horror of the American Vietnam War and the draft to enlist sufficient soldiers as fodder for that fruitless battle in Indochina provide the background, but until the very end, the Vietnam War slips well into the backroom in favour of courtroom antics that turns an institution, supposedly the repository of justice, into a theatre stage as Richard Nixon, as the hidden puppet master for a malicious prosecution, pursues revenge against dissidents. Further, we know it could not be a representation of the actual trial, which was an exercise in chaos as well as injustice, while the movie reconstructs the courtroom battle as much more of a polished and orderly affair, though with volcanic eruptions paced throughout.

The central event in Chicago was the organized attack by Mayor Daley’s “police” against the counter-cultural hippies and pro-democratic protesters trying to get their message to the attendees at the Chicago 1968 Democratic convention and the wider American public. The past is used to speak to the present – the conflicts in Minneapolis over the killing of George Floyd (“I can’t breathe”), the seemingly endless confrontations in Portland, Oregon, Jacob Blake’s killing in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Breonnna Taylor’s “execution” in Louisville, Kentucky, Ahmaud Arbery’s killing by police in Brunswick, Georgia, Rayshard Brook’s death in Atlanta, Georgia at the hands of police, Dijon Kizzee’s murder in Los Angeles, and a myriad of confrontations with “officers of the law” across America.   

These did not start in 1968. Chicago 68 was an echo fifty years after the Red Summer of Chicago 1919. Nor will they end in 2020. Nevertheless, “the times they are a changin’.” For 38 were killed in the 1919 riots. Over 500 were injured. The police turned their backs and arrested Blacks for defending themselves from their white assailants. 1968 was mainly a white affair. Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, was in Chicago at most for two days during the confrontation. And his visit had nothing to do with the Yippie celebrations in the park or the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) protesters. In 2020, the demonstrators have been black and white and came from all age groups, not just youth.

However, in 1968, the property destruction of white areas, such as the Gold Coast Historic District where Michigan Avenue, the key street where the confrontations took place, terminates, had been enormous. That was largely the responsibility of the Weathermen, a radical breakaway from SDS. I never learned why Mark Rudd and John Jacobs, the founders, were never charged. For these Columbia University radicals were the real instigators of the destruction. Further, in contrast to the destruction in Chicago on rich white consumer shopping, the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1920 totally destroyed the black parts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The perpetrators were primarily white mobs. Following the Rodney King killing by police, the 1992 Los Angeles Watts riots were a response to the acquittal of the four cops. 60 died.

In comparison, in spite of the extensive media coverage of the Chicago police brutality, their use of tear gas and clubs, relatively, it was a tame affair. This was not a credit to the police and Mayor Daley, whom Senator Abraham Ribicoff rebuked for using police as Nazi thugs, but because the protesters had been well-trained in using non-violence, even though a great deal of property destruction took place on the sides – but not by followers of the main people accused. Further, Daley had mustered 12,000 police, 2,500 National Guardsmen and 1,000 intelligence officers borrowed from the FBI and other agencies. A military corps was on standby. And there were only an estimated 5,000 protesters and counter-cultural exhibitionists. In contrast, in this past year, 14,000 people were arrested. Millions protested. Further, no mayor today would dare do what Daley did; he gave his officers orders to shoot to maim. On the other hand, in the case of the Chicago 1968 riots, 8 cops were indicted. I do not know whether they were convicted

To-day, because protesters are much better behaved, and so are most police forces, over 90% of protests have been without incident. Nevertheless, the movie speaks to the present, a present characterized by deep divisions between the democratic left and the officious and indifferent right. But in 1968, the schisms within the left were as deep or even deeper than the divide between the defenders of the Vietnam War and its critics. Only then, the presidency was occupied by a truly malevolent figure, while in the present, the occupant in that high office is an incompetent and ignorant clown full to the eyebrows with mendacity on public display everywhere. Nixon’s lies were covered up in a pretense of honesty. Donald Trump could not display honesty even if one could find a trace of it in his anatomy.

The racism and prejudice are, however, underplayed as a sideshow to the main drama, the confrontation of peace protesters with police with billie clubs, with tear gas and a total indifference to the rights of peaceful protest. The system is corrupt and the blindfold on Lady Justice comes to represent deliberate blindness rather than very carefully preserved impartiality. The period makes today’s events look like a comedy festival in which keystone conspirators threaten to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and even assassinate her. Back then, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. And the Yippies were the keystone anti-cops.

Sorokin succeeds in part because of the writing, in part because of the direction and mostly because he was able to attract a terrific cast. However, in the end he succeeds so well because he constructs a courtroom drama that both evokes sympathy for a bunch of characters, many of whom are personally unattractive, as collectively they subvert formal but totally inauthentic authority, each in his own way.

Other than the corrupt office of the Attorney General, which is represented by a sincere and seemingly honourable prosecuting attorney, Richard Schultz, and his silent and dishonourable boss, the central source of that inauthentic authority is a caricature, Judge Julius Hoffman, played brilliantly by Frank Langella. There is not the slightest attempt to show that he represents the rule of law as he is characterized as using his perch to bully the defendants and their attorneys. Shades of today’s Trumpian days, he is an enforcer rather than a judge, a stand-in for the Nixon administration and John Mitchell as the Attorney General playing William Barr, determined to use the Chicago 7 as exemplars in his new law and order regime.

Except for the most enraged, the most frustrated and, in the end, the most intemperate of those on trial, Bobby Seale, when the rule of law finally peaks its forehead above the theatre boards, reveals himself as the one most victimized. When he is chained up and gagged, as well as beat up by the courtroom bullies there to enforce decorum, the thin, wispy prosecuting attorney who represents the state, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Schultz, in contrast to his appeasing boss, Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie), does have his own humanity and backbone as much as he disagrees with and condemns the actions of the leaders of the protest. He moves for a mistrial in the case of Bobby Seale to the enormous consternation of the comic book judge and the trial becomes that of the Chicago 7.

I did not recall Ramsey Clark (played by Michael Keaton), who was the U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson, taking the stand at the end of the trial and declaring that his department’s investigation of the protesters found no evidence of either a conspiracy or intent to engage in violence. And the testimony was explosive. But, of course, under the direction of Judge Julius Hoffman, the jury never heard it.

I realized that the drama did not work because it simulated events at the time, though a great many of those events were included. Nor did it work because Aaron Sorkin tried to make the characters resemble the historical figures who were on trial in 1968. They are not simulacrums, but fictional creations in their own right. They are his characters, though they bear a resemblance to actual history, but not an exact one to the historical figures.

Bobby Seale, head of the Black Panthers and played by Yaha Abdul Mateen, never had legal representation. He did have an adviser, Fred Hampton, I believe a co-founder of the Black Panthers. He is played by Kelvin Harrison. Fred was neither a lawyer nor on trial, He was assassinated by the police during the trial. He was the one who insisted that the Black Panthers keep their distance from the anarchistic and opportunistic so-called radical whites. Together, Bobby and Fred demonstrated the roots of Black Lives Matter as each complements the other. But I do not recall knowing Bobby Seale, though, of course, I knew of him. 

I did not know William Kunstler either, but I did have a powerful memory of him and it did not correspond at all to the character of the lead defence attorney in the film. William Kunstler, as I recall, was a flamboyant and thoroughly unconventional courtroom lawyer; for me, in the film he was made over into a very serious, very learned, very compelling, very clever and extremely frustrated man of the law. In real life, he was a very serious man on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union. He co-founded the Law Center for Constitutional Rights. But he was a big man. He had been a major in the army during WWII. He was a brawler. He was a rumpled mess, but a very colourful character. He was also a poet. As interesting as the character was in the movie. I barely remembered him as the guy I recalled. I heard that Jeffrey Sweet’s play, kunstler, does a far better job of depicting the real historical personality.

I knew David Dellinger from his writings in Liberation for I was a pacifist in the late fifties and early sixties, but I had never met him, though I had been at a conference with A.J. Muste and Bayard Rustin and he must have been there. I would have liked to have met him for he was a pacifist, an anarchist and an experimenter with intentional communities. He also hated bureaucracies. He was, if I recall, a down-to-earth kind of guy whom I did not recognize as the suited pacifist and demonstrator in the movie. I had liked him even though I never met him because he seemed decent, reasonable, affable and never took himself too seriously. If my memory is better than the film, where he comes across as a stuffed shirt misfit in the yippie and student protest movement of the sixties, this was perhaps the greatest misrepresentation in the film. I remember that when he became enamoured with Fidel Castro, he fell totally out of favour with me so that by 1968, I had lost respect for him. But that said more about me than him.

The only person depicted in the film that I ever met was Tom Hayden, though I had seen both Rubin and Hoffman at a demonstration. Eddie Redmayne played Tom as a very serious small “l” liberal who laughed too little and scolded too much. He played the role of the superego of the group and apparently the most intellectual, though he was wise enough in the film to understand that Hoffman was much smarter than he ever thought. I remember him as very tolerant and proud of the wide variety of personalities and positions in the New Left and never imagined him as a hectoring person. Further, he was much more playful. I think that this was the way he should have been portrayed when he let the air out of the tire of the police car.

I remember one thing about the events that stood out and which Sorkin tried to capture in Abbie Hoffman’s humour. When Judge Julius Hoffman tried to make clear that he was totally unrelated to the plaintiff, Abbie Hoffman cracked, “Dad, why hast thou forsaken me.” (The movie may have had a slightly different version, but that is the one I recall.) Later in the movie, Hoffman quotes the Gospel according to Matthew; I have no memory of that. What I recall is that he told a lot of Yiddish jokes, I believed at the time, to embarrass the judge who tried so hard to resemble a WASP. I wish I would and could have remembered more of Hoffman’s Yiddish wit.

In mid-film, when Abie Hoffman takes the stand, the judge asks him to state his name. “Abbie.” “State your last name.” “My grandfather’s name was Shaboysnakoff, but he was a Russian Jew protesting anti-Semitism, so he was assigned a name that would sound like yours.” Later in the film, Hoffman cracks, “”You are a shande für de Goyim.” (You are a disgrace to gentiles.) Hoffman then shoved the knife in. He added, “You would have served Hitler better.”

The Jewish element was ever present in real life in the whole protest movement, but only glanced at in the film. Hoffman, Rubin and Lee Weiner, 3 of the 8, were Jewish. So was the legal cohort on all Sides – Judge Hoffman, Richard Schultz, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass (Kunstler’s associate played by Ben Shenkman). And Mark Rudd and John Jacobs, the Columbian University radicals from the Weathermen, who were not in the film, were both Jewish. Jacobs would have been a great addition to the film given his arrogant pugnaciousness and sneering personality. It would also have accounted for the property damage in a clearer way.

I cannot even remember many of the other representations of the trial that I have seen over the years. One was a documentary. Another was a docudrama. One was a satire. And, of course, there is Woody Allen’s Bananas which I have seen twice on TV recently. I believe there may have been others. But in spite of the differences with my memory, Sorkin’s film clearly made the strongest impression on me by far.

VIII. One or Two States – The Oslo Accords

A quarter century after the Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) face a legitimacy crisis. The PA failed to bring about peace, justice, and self-determination for the Palestinian people. Failure of leadership marked the Palestinian struggle during the twentieth century from the British Mandate, the 1929, the 1936-1939 uprising and the loss of the war with the Zionists, even with the help of five invading Arab states. The Palestinians were the most serious losers in the Six Day War.

In the aftermath, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on 22 November 1967. The preamble specifically refers to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Paragraph One “Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires…withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Pedantically, some argue that it does not specify “the” territories and thus can mean just some withdrawal. However, conjoined with the preamble, such an interpretation seems to be a distraction, especially since the French version includes the definite article “des” before “territories.” And French, along with English, is an official language.

Conjoined with other clauses referring to “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of every state in the area (my italics), a different argument is made. Palestinians did not have a state. The only state in the region referred to can be Jordan. However, when Jordan gave up its claim to the territory in 1988, with the exception of guardianship over the Holy sites in the Old City, then the West Bank, though occupied by Israel, was no longer the territory of another state but disputed territory. As the Israeli Ambassador told the Security Council at the time of Resolution 232, “I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State (my italics) on all matters included in that resolution.”

On the other hand, successive Security Council resolutions, such as 1515 in 2003, presumed by most governments that the captured territory in the West Bank was occupied territory of a proto-Palestinian State. Such is the problem with equivocation in peace agreements intended not to clarify but to obfuscate and cover up differences in order to get an agreement. In 1994, the Secretary of State of the United States, Madeleine Albright, informed the UN Security Council that it did not recognize 242 as referring to Palestinian occupied territory. Instead, sovereignty had to be determined through negotiations. However, Secretary of State Rogers in 1969, while admitting that the reference was not to “all” the territory, had insisted that adjustments to the border could be made but could not be “substantial.”

Yet Resolution 1515 makes clear that the objective was two independent homelands by means of two states, not just one state and another autonomous polity – Israel and Palestine. Palestine was to be contiguous and viable. However, it did not specify that Palestine would have all the territory that Israel captured in June of 1967. Further, the President of the U.S. insisted in 2004 that Israel’s borders had to be defensible ones, specifically echoing the Alon Plan language. Ever since 1967, various parties have weighed in on the issue, including those who helped write it. It became clear that the resolution was as disputable as the border.

In 1970, when the PLO tried to stage an uprising against King Hussein of Jordan in Black September, they were defeated and driven out of the country into Lebanon. Thus, when Jordan, as well as Egypt, weighed in on the Israeli side against the PLO, it seemed that politics as much as language determined the interpretation. The Palestinians gained nothing from the 1973 Yom Kippur War as Israelis moved right and became super-conscious of their security needs. Resolution 338, passed in its aftermath (15 June 1973), reaffirmed 232 but without clarifying the dispute over its meaning. In fact, it muddied the waters further because the lack of clarification was interpreted to mean that the degree of withdrawal was to be negotiated.

Again, when Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, flew to Israel to take part in negotiations in Jerusalem to forge the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Agreement (1979), the Palestinians lost considerable leverage, even though the deal was considered a stab in the back and a betrayal of their cause across the Arab world. Yasser Arafat mistakenly pronounced that, “it would not last.” It has lasted, even though prominent Egyptian leaders remained critical of the deal. The Egyptian government repeatedly asserted that the terms of the “cold peace” would be kept.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo I Accord. In the aftermath, on 26 October 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in the Arava Valley crossing between Israel and Jordan, hence the name, the Wad Araba Treaty. It was perhaps the biggest impetus to the Israelis and Palestinians crossing the finishing line and signing the Oslo II Accord in Taba, Egypt in 1995. The Oslo Accords are not peace agreements, but the start of a peace process based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 that gave the Palestinians the “right to self-determination,” recognized the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people  at the same time as the PLO recognized the State of Israel.

Finally, a two-state solution seemed within reach. But the Accords themselves did not bring a Palestinian State into existence. Palestinian self-government is not the same as Palestinian sovereignty. A process was started. After Oslo I, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement provided that the issues outstanding would be settled in preparation for signing a permanent peace treaty that would end the conflict before May 1999.

In sum, the OSLO Accords:

  • Created the Palestinian Authority (the PA)
  • Acknowledged the PLO as Israel’s negotiation partner
  • Specified that borders had to be negotiated
  • Mentioned that the status of the Israeli settlements was to be resolved
  • Similarly, so was the status of the Old City and East Jerusalem
  • The Palestinian right of return had to be negotiated
  • Israel’s security and military presence in all those areas had to be determined.

Instead of a state, Oslo created a tripartite division of the West Bank into Area C (60%) controlled administratively and for security purposes by Israel; Area B (22%) controlled for security purposes by Israel but administered by the PA, and Area A (18%) with the PA assuming both security and administrative control by a strengthened police force, while Israel continued its military control of all external borders. Oslo did not lead to a Palestinian state. Instead, increasingly, Palestinian critics of Oslo claimed it legalized creeping annexation.

In 1967, of the 2.5 million Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the population of Palestinians in the West Bank, excluding the Old City and East Jerusalem, was just under 600,000 of whom about 100,000 were refugees from the 1948 war. Almost thirty years later, Areas A and B alone in the West Bank consisted of about 2 million Palestinians. However, whereas Area C in which most of the settlements were located, originally held 600,000 Palestinians, that number has been reduced in 2020 to less that 150,000 at the same time as the total population of both Gaza and the West Bank has increased to 4.8 million (2 million of them former refugees and their descendants from Israel), with 2.8 million in the West Bank.

The final boundaries were not determined. The degree of sovereignty of the PA was not determined. The timing of the phases of withdrawal of the Israeli military and the assumption of greater authority by the Palestinian Legislative Council was not determined. However, Oslo specified that, “Area ‘C’ means areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.” Excluding any reference to Jerusalem or the evacuation of settlements, these became subjects for further negotiations.

The deadline for resolving all of the above remaining issues by May 1999 was not reached. In fact, there was not very much progress in that direction. The first Palestinian Intifada ended with the signing of Oslo I. Violence erupted on 29 September 2000, first in the Old City and then spread to the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza when it evolved into widespread terrorism targeting Israeli civilians in buses and cafes. For Israelis, Oslo became a dead letter that failed to deliver security. For the Palestinians, Oslo became a dead letter because it failed to lead to an independent sovereign Palestinian state. And all the while, new settlements were started; old settlements were expanded. Palestinian critics of Oslo understandably began to see Oslo as merely a cover for the creeping annexation underway.

By 2020, Oslo had turned from a great success to an enormous historical failure. The question of Two-States which Oslo appeared to settle was reopened and a One State solution was back on the table, particularly since the whole area of Mandatory Palestine now consisted of over 13 million, half Jews(6.9 million) and half Arabs (6.5 million). Though Jews had a razor-thin majority, the Arab population in the area was projected to outstrip that of the Jews even though the birthrate had dropped from 7 to 5 children for each Palestinian mother, for the birthrate among Jews, including the ultra-Orthodox with a high birthrate, was much lower.

The reality is that the fight over territory, the fight over political boundaries and political organization of the territory is more a fight over demography than anything else.

VII. One or Two States – The Alon Plan after the Six Day War

Palestinian and Arab intransigence is often blamed as the main reason for the perpetuation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, Israel has its own red lines. Refugee return and the unwillingness of Israel to return to the borders recommended in the UN Partition Plan were the two main obstacles for Israelis. This position made anything but the partition of the territory into two states with no return of refugees the only acceptable solution for the majority of Jewish Israelis. The victory in the Six Day War in 1967 turned that preference into an absolute. The new options were:

  1. A one-state solution in which the refugees returned; all captured territory was returned to the Arabs and the status quo ante before 1948 was re-established;
  2. A two-state solution based on either a) the UN partition plan, or b) a return to the Green Line of 1949, return of refugees, opposition to the destruction of Arab villages as well as negating the settlement of Jews on that land;
  3. A two-state solution in which Israel returned de jure to the Green Line but de facto built a secure larger and defensible perimeter around the state, retained the Old City and refused to admit the refugees;
  4. A one-state solution advocated by a small minority on the right that entailed annexing all the territory captured;
  5. A binational state;
  6. A confederation (economic and political) of two independent states.

Number 1 was the dominant position of the Palestinian leadership. Number 2 was the preference of a minority of moderate Palestinians and the option of Mapam (an acronym of Mifleget HaPoalim HaMeuhedet lit, the United Workers Party) and the far Left. The Labour Party favoured the third option. Likud preferred the fourth. A few utopians favoured the fifth and some Israeli intellectuals advocated the sixth.  While the Palestinian leadership largely held onto a different option altogether (number 1 or 2 (a) above), in effect, Israelis were left debating the other different options for peace among themselves.

Mapam had been part of Ben-Gurion’s coalition in 1948 as the second largest party with 19 seats. Then it supported both Jewish-Arab coexistence and refugee return. The subsequent history of Israel witnessed the withering away of this Leftist Party as well as a gradual retreat from its outreach to the Arabs. That dissolution began in 1948 with the split in the Kibbutz movement when 5 of 27 proposed new settlements were built on captured Palestinian territory. Mapam conceded to those settlements on previously-owned Palestinian land, but with one condition – there had to be sufficient land remaining to resettle the returning Palestinian refugees. However, Mapan soon agreed to conditions being placed on Palestinian refugee return as well – they agreed to no return until the state of war ended and, even then, only when returnees pledged to honour that peace.

Mapam was not part of the next coalition when the number of seats it held fell to 7 then rose to 9 when it regained some favour with Prague Spring in 1953 when it became disillusioned with the Soviet Union. By joining with other far Left parties, it retained single digit numbers, but gradually diminished both in status, strength and position as the Labour Party grew into the ruling party based on an Israeli-defensive posture. Further, while Kibbutz and Mapam members were the leading officers in the Israeli army in 1948, even that position for party members diminished gradually over the years.

Yigal Allon had been a commander of Palmach, leader of the forces that shelled the Altalena when it tried to land and deliver its shipment of arms exclusively to the Irgun. He had been a general in the new IDF and one of the leaders of Mapam.[1] After the end of the Six Day War, in July he presented and got acceptance for the idea of new defensive borders on Arab lands with pioneering kibbutzim in the advance as security settlements – the Allon Plan. Supposedly, the plan was intended, not to upset the then demographic balance, but to guard that new defensive border. That meant that the position safeguarding Arab-owned land and welcoming the return of refugees had become rhetorical only. At the same time, Allon called for the establishment of Palestinian autonomy with economic, cultural and military ties to Israel. In 1967, after the Israeli victory, Allon proposed annexing Gaza and transferring the refugees there to Jordan.

In the Allon Plan, Israeli sovereignty was to be extended beyond the Green Line with a 10-15 km. wide strip along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea and to include the Latrun salient, Gush Etzion and East Jerusalem within Israel. He also initiated the rehabilitation of the Old City and the creation of settlements in east Jerusalem – beginning with French Hill adjacent to the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus.

The settlements along the Jordan River were initiated by 20 fortified settlements (nahals), of which three had already been established in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War. There would also be an upper Jericho and an upper Hebron settlement. The total population of Palestinians in the area to be annexed was only 20,000. 600,000 was the estimated population of the rest of the West Bank.

That meant incorporating one-third of the West Bank into Israel. The only difference between the Allon Plan and subsequent versions endorsed by the Establishment Right was the creation of a ream of settlements by the Right and expanding the land to be annexed by Israel to the whole of Area C of the Oslo Accords, that is, to two-thirds of the West Bank. Further, Allon opposed returning the balance of the land to Jordan and instead favoured a two-state solution west of the Jordan River. The only major change that took place since the Allon Plan of 1967 was the shrinking of the territory of the land available for the Palestinian state. Hence, the charge of creeping annexation.

For example, that Palestinian territory remaining was divided into three parts – Gaza, a rump around Hebron and a larger one around Nablus in the north.  Thus, while the Palestinians demanded a return to the Green Line, the core debate in Israel was over how much of the West Bank was to be incorporated into the Jewish State, initially primarily for defensive purposes, but increasingly to satisfy demographic goals. In Gaza, there was the issue of what to do with the Palestinian refugee population from southern Israel, a population that had grown to 200,000. It was proposed that they be resettled in Jordan in return for granting access by Jordan to the Haifa and Ashkelon ports.

In 1968, the CIA presented its intelligence analysis of the Allon Plan for the White House and the State Department. As it summarized the Allon Plan, it proposed a partition of the West Bank, “an Israeli Security Zone on the West Bank and an Arab Sector that includes the most populous areas of the West Bank…administered as an “autonomous” Palestine entity or returned outright to Jordan.” It, therefore, was not really or literally a Two-State solution. The CIA Report concluded that, “If no settlement with the Arab states is forthcoming, Israel appears ready to complete the Allon Plan without regard for the inflammatory impact that implementation would have on neighbouring Arab states.” The words could have been taken from the 1938 Woodhead Report, only the reference was to the impact of land purchases and continuing Jewish immigration into Palestine.

The vast bulk of the West Bank – excluding the areas attached to Jerusalem – eventually held 450,000 Jewish settlers. The Allon Plan also proposed to annex the Golan Heights and establish 32 settlements there, with ten already initiated before the Allon Plan was agreed to by the Cabinet and the Plan released to the public. The Allon Plan intended to retain large areas of the Sinai Peninsula, more particularly a strip down the Gulf of Eilat down to Sharm-el-Sheikh (Shayke) with tourist areas established along that coast.

The return of the entire Sinai took place in three steps:

  1. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 which Israel eventually won, but only after the loss of over 2,500 lives and many more wounded;
  2. The Sadat initiative offering to come to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel provided all of the Sinai was returned;
  3. The Begin-Sadat Peace Agreement between Egypt and Israel which provided for the return of all of the Sinai.

As for the breach with the Green Line, the Lines of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, the CIA Report had this to say. “The Armistice Demarcation Lines were simply cease-fire lines and are unrealistic (my italics) as permanent national boundaries. They cut off hill villages from traditional farmland; they deny access to the ports and the fishing grounds of the Mediterranean Sea; they isolate people in a subsistence economy from sorely needed services, sources of employment, and potential markets.” The perpetuation of the subsistence economy using the Green Line as a partition line was the point of my initial foray into solutions following the War of Independence.

The Allon Plan only made the dependency status of the Palestinians remaining in the West Bank even more precarious. Further, the CIA argued that, because of new methods of warfare, the terrain on the east of the Jordan River and the exposure of the new settlements to attack, the appropriation of land and the planting of settlements failed to provide the security that the Israelis sought.

What is most noticeable about the 1967 Allon Plan is that Trump’s peace plan of 2020 by and large followed the contours of the Allon Plan in which it was proposed to annex one half of Area C or 30% of the West Bank territory into Israel.  In slightly over fifty years, the United States came to back a plan very similar to Allon’s, except it was adjusted for all the settlements that had been built in the last fifty years.

Munir Nuseibah argued that the Trump Plan now lent legitimacy to the land Israel had already seized both in Jerusalem and its surroundings as well as in the rest of the West Bank. “What the Trump deal provides is an opportunity for Israel to argue that this annexation was legitimate, as it is now recognized by the world’s largest superpower. Such a position provides Israel with further cover to seize Palestinian land and dispossess Palestinians in order to create a demographic Jewish majority in the city.”


[1] He was from Kibbutz Ginosaur on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and I happened to attend his huge funeral there in in February 1980 when I was living in Israel and teaching a course at Hebrew University. He had died suddenly and unexpectedly while he was campaigning against Shimon Peres to lead the Labour Party, then dubbed the Alignment..