Criticizing Leadership. Numbers 8:1 – 12:16.Parashat Beha`alotekha.25.05.13.

Numbers 8:1 – 12:16             Criticizing Leadership                                         25.05.13

Parashat Beha`alotekha

by

Howard Adelman

 

The parashah is about lamps (intelligence – 8:2), cleansing the all powerful high priests and Levites (8:6) who had to wash their linen in public (8:21), keeping Passover even for the unclean (9:10), about how the tabernacle is a tent of testimony and that you cannot move when a cloud covers it – you are fixated (9:15-9:23), about the burdens of leadership as indicated by the complaints of Moses to God in response to the people’s complaints against him that he is unable to carry the burden of his people on his back (11:11- 11:15), about the constitution of the Israeli Senate – the council of second thought, especially Eldad and Medad who themselves became prophets and were welcomed as such by Moses and not viewed as illegitimate competitors (11:16-11:30). After all this discussion of intelligence, washing your linen in public, including in the Passover celebration of freedom even for the unclean, the creation of a council of second thought, the emergence of competitive prophets, and the plague on a people getting what they wished for in excess, we then read about Miriam and Aaron criticizing Moses for marrying a Kushite (12:1).

Chapter 12 reads as follows:

12 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lordsaid to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous,[h]like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous.11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us[i] because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

The criticism of Moses is not for his political leadership, nor for his military leadership which has been delegated to Joshua, nor for his religious leadership which has been delegated to Aaron and the Levites, nor for his legislative leadership which has now been shared with a Council of Elders, nor for his prophetic abilities and ability to foresee what is coming for that is now shared as well, but either for his religious intermarriage or for his racial intermarriage for Tzipora was a Kush, in Yiddish, a schwartze, a dark coloured person. She was also, like very many Ethiopian women, reputedly extraordinarily beautiful.

If the criticism was for religious intermarriage, one might think that criticism of leadership might be fully legitimate, especially for the leader of the Jewish people. But it appears not to be for religious intermarriage for, if we recall, when God came to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24-27) en route back to Egypt according to God`s orders, Tziporah circumcised their son Gershom with a sharp stone making Moses “a husband of blood” (Exodus 4:26) thereby, voiding God`s rationale for the murder of Moses.  For Moses had evidently not circumcised his sons, particularly his first born who was consecrated to God. Moses had broken the most sacred covenant. “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, That person shall be cut off from his people.” (Genesis 17:10-14) If Tzipora had not circumcised her eldest son, God would have literally cut Moses off from his people by killing him. Tziporah saved his life and, therefore, saved the Israelites. Perhaps God is angry at Miriam, but supposedly not Aaron, for her racism.

Let`s review the text again. The passage seems to suggest that there is one rule for all the rest and another rule for Moses with whom God speaks “mouth to mouth” and clearly rather than through riddles, dreams and visions. The presumption of Miriam and Aaron that anyone can speak to God and is capable of leadership is said to be wrong. God seems to be offering the principle that there is one role for the people of Israel but his loyal servant, Moses, has a unique role, while still being equally subject to the law. For Moses ìs “faithful in all my house.” However, the punishment meted out to Miriam seems totally out of proportion to what Miriam might have done wrong; she contracts leprosy. Finally, Aaron who joined with his sister, Miriam, in the criticism, seemingly escapes any punishment. How unjust does this all appear!

Look at the story within the context of what precedes it. The portion seems to be about political principles, the principles of governance such as intelligence guiding policy, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, burden sharing, sharing power, constitutionalism and moderation. Is anti-racism to be added to this list?

Other principles seem to be at work such as the political principle of exceptionalism – the norm that there is one rule for the people and another for the leadership. Further, another interpretation is that it is one thing for the people to turn against and criticize the great leader, Israel`s greatest prophet and the selfless shepherd of his people, but this is family. This is not only like Doug Ford criticizing Rob Ford, but Rob Ford`s sister – if there was one – joining in the criticism. And not for allegedly smoking crack cocaine or of not speaking about it, but for marrying a Black! Further, Moses does not even defend himself or Tzpora, his wife, but seems to meekly to let the criticism ride.  And, to repeat, Aaron who joined in the criticism seems to get off without so much as even a reprimand.

At the very least we have to be confused. More deeply, something appears not to be kosher.

Let`s go back to Miriam and Aaron`s criticism. Is it really racist? Perhaps Miriam and Aaron are criticizing, Moses not for marrying Tzipora – a criticism that might have been offered decades earlier, but for abandoning Tzipora, for sacrificing Tzipora for his public dedication to the Israelites. The criticism is not based in racism or abandoning religious continuity, but the irresponsibility of a politician who dedicates his life to a public cause but at an enormous cost, the sacrifice of his family life for a larger political purpose. That would make more sense of why Miriam is targeted for punishment for she was probably the instigator of the criticism in defense of all the suffering wives of male politicians.  

I want to bring one other element into the discussion before I try to make sense of the passage. In parasha Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33)        that we discussed last month as possibly a passage about spiritual impurity expressed in a physical form, for in the midrash, מְּצֹרָע, metzora (leprous) is read as a contraction for motzi shem ra, gossiping about and slandering another. As I wrote then, “Exiling someone from the community can be interpreted as a blessing, as forcing someone to get a rest and go on a retreat. After all, sometimes people suffering a spiritual breakdown need to get away and get out of the community.” Perhaps Miriam is punished for slandering Moses, for accusing him of sacrificing his wife and obligations to his family when he has dedicated his life to obeying God and service to his people. Further, the issue is not about Miriam`s punishment but her therapy and rehabilitation, about welcoming her back into the community after she has become an outcast for unwarranted criticism of the political leader and, therefore, of God and of God`sacrifice on behalf of the Hebrews.

Miriam became “leprous” (מְצֹרַעַת, m’tzora’at) in Numbers 12:1 for being critical of Moses not because he married a Kushite – Miriam and Aaron are not racists – and certainly not for intermarriage for Tziporah like many gentile women in the Torah are exceptional in their dedication to the continuity of the Jewish people. Miriam has slandered Moses by regarding his treatment of his wife critically when it was a necessary sacrifice for the people in the service of God. Moses was someone special, someone who could speak to God face to face, and exceptional leaders need to be respected as such, not as exceptions under the law but as understanding that they must make exceptional sacrifices.

Further, tzara’at is a special disease, an affliction brought on by failure to obey God. (Deuteronomy 24:8-9) or to understand God`s especially appointed one and to comprehend the sacrifices that entails. This failure in understanding and intelligence, this failure to comprehend what is required when one is accountable to an even higher calling than dedication to one`s family, the failure to understand that in addition to the principle of inclusiveness, some must be respected for their exclusive calling, that no matter the degree of burden and power sharing, a true leader in the end must carry an extraordinary burden while being also subject to the rule of law and governed by a principle of moderation.

Advertisements

On Stupidity: Rob Ford and Stephen Harper.22.05.13

On Stupidity: Rob Ford and Stephen Harper                                                         22.05.13 

by

Howard Adelman

Many will be offended by this blog. It is one thing to call Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, and Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, arrogant, insensitive, lacking in principle, full of themselves – you name the characteristic. But to call them stupid is to be abusive and insulting. That is why when I read the many and various articles and commentators and listened to pundits, I cannot recall hearing or reading anyone dubbing them stupid. Pundits do not want their own outrage turned against themselves by their readers or listeners. But the reality is, as Woody Allen cracked, “Some people drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle.”

In Rob Ford’s latest imbroglio over a film of him allegedly smoking from a crack pipe and using derogatory words to depict Justin Trudeau and racist expressions for the teenaged footballers he coaches, and in Stephen Harper’s equally tight-lipped response to the Senate spending scandal and the much larger scandal of the Office of the Prime Minister being used to pay a Senator over $90,000, whatever the evidence for impropriety, unethical behaviour and even illegal behaviour, the greatest sin both men have committed is not even the sin of stupidity, though I believe that is their primary sin, but the sin of thinking that voters are stupid without acknowledgement of their own superiority in that realm.

We must be stupid. We may not have voted for them but we elected them. And we are stupid. For all humans are stupid. Everyone knows that when Confucius said that, “It is impossible to sling mud with clean hands” he was dead right. If we call someone else stupid, we must recognize our own stupidity. Stupidity is the fundamental condition of man, his original sin recognized by both Socrates and in the opening chapters of Genesis in the description of Adam’s behaviour.

Adam was the epitome of stupidity. That does not mean he was unintelligent. Webster’s dictionary is misleading in equating stupidity with unintelligent behaviour or unreasoned action. Adam was the archetypal scientist beginning with the most basic of traits of a scientific mind – classification through noting similarities and differences. Adam was made in the image of God because he brought things into being through language, by giving them names. He said and there was. But while very intelligent, Adam was also very stupid. After all, he did not even know he felt lonely. God had to tell him. And when Eve was created, he was so stupid that he did not recognize she was another person but imagined she was an extension of himself – an essential trait of the most fundamental forms of stupidity particularly characteristic of the male gender. Further, when the erect snake seduced Eve, he objectified that erection and said it was another, an independent being and not himself. “Oscar (or Peter) did it, not me.” The complementary behaviour of projecting onto everyone else one’s own stupidity is then blaming someone else for your own actions and failing to assume responsibility for what you do. This is the essence of stupidity.

“Stupid” is rightfully regarded as a derogatory term because we are stupid. That is why when Liberal MP Scott Brison yelled at Conservative MP Shelly Glover in Parliament to say, “You’re stupid,” the language was called “unparliamentary” and Brison was both ruled out of order and required to apologize. We must not say what we most fundamentally are, especially in parliament. We can say to someone that they are misinformed or deceptively misleading. But we cannot say they are stupid. We denigrate the adjective and demean it lest we have to accept it as our essence. That is why Socrates thought that the most fundamental moral lesson required is that we first learn that we know nothing and are essentially stupid. To make a mistake in reasoning is not being stupid; it is just being illogical. But not to recognize a fact staring us in the face is to be stupid. That is why Forrest Gump is such an intriguing character. He may have had an IQ of 70 – intelligence is measureable after all – but he was not stupid. His mother taught him to be wise. As he says sitting on his park bench, my momma always taught me that, “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Forrest Gump’s mother recognized that stupidity is not a trait, like beauty or intelligence. Stupidity is a practice. It is what we do, not how we are. Stupidity is a form of behaviour and not a reference to our intelligence. Stupidity cannot be measured but we can smell it, taste it, see it and hear it. It is a behavioural characteristic that most assaults us. And the assault was best captured by the response of one Tory supporter to the scandal on a CBC call-in show, “Cross Country Check-up”. “Does Harper think I am a blockhead?” Because that is how we recognize stupidity most acutely – when those who behave stupidly think and say or imply that in questioning stupid behaviour that we are the stupid ones.  

Stupidity is an embodied behavioural trait. It comes out in our sweat, in our pursed lips, in the way we use our tongue and haunch our shoulders. Most significantly, stupidity is the body language of the throat and larynx and emerges in the way we form our words. The most usual expression is stupefaction: “What me! I’m innocent. He – the snake, the Toronto Star, the Chief of Staff – did it.” Anyone else but oneself! That is the grossest language of stupidity. When our thinking is befuddled, when it is drowning in the recollection of stupid behaviour, we say stupid things. “It is ridiculous.” It is deserving of the mockery of a Jonathan Swift. It is not The Toronto Star that invites derision, that behaves ludicrously, but the language of the stupid perpetrator who denies responsibility that is absurd and laughable.

Stupidity is a disease. It can be diagnosed like an illness for it has a set of notable symptoms, an anatomical locale, a particular physiological pattern and a definite genetic aetiology in some. And the disease comes in different types and varieties. But we can take note of the general symptoms first of all in forms of the disease characterized primarily by general denial of what quickly becomes self-evident. The following traits of denial (DEODER) are symptoms of stupidity:

a) Displacement;

b) Evasion

c) Obfuscation;

d) Deception;

e) Egoism;

f) Remorse only for being caught.

Let me illustrate by reference to the behaviour of both Rob Ford and Stephen Harper who otherwise might appear to be at opposite ends of the disease spectrum. Displacement is the characteristic of blaming others for a current brouhaha for which one bears a primary responsibility. For Rob Ford, the fault is laid at the passion of journalists, and, particularly The Toronto Star, to get him. The displacement in his case is characterized by outright dismissal. Stephen Harper’s denial and displacement onto others is cooler, less emotive and more subtle. Look at his statement the day before yesterday. Nigel Wright alone and without the Prime Minister’s knowledge and against the Prime Minister’s ethical principles made the payment to Duffy and he, the Prime Minister, knew nothing about the payment. This is denial by displacement in the most blatant way by telling a partial truth.

Of course, Harper did not know that the payment was made or how it was made. Nigel Wright was Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, his fixer. He is expected to carry out his fixes in controversial and ethically problematic areas without the knowledge of the Prime Minister so the Prime Minister can maintain deniability. The leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, betrays his naiveté and ignorance when he insists that the only way the public can learn about the secret payment is if the key players testify under oath. Harper could testify under oath with impunity and Trudeau fell right into the clever trap of the wily Harper. The denier tells a partial truth, but it is partial and reveals the lie behind it. And it came out in the profession of the higher ethical ground on which he stands. If I had known I would have disapproved it, he said. Precisely! The structure was set up to allow you to say that. But why would you have someone as intelligent and well trained as Nigel Wright in your office if you were so principled and he was so unprincipled? Why would you have someone in your office as your spokesperson defend Nigel Wright days earlier for acting out of the goodness of his heart, out of a generosity of spirit to save the taxpayers money? And why, if you were so ethically upset would you dismiss the whole affair the day before as a distraction? As the Tory caller from the Maritimes on the call-in show remarked, do you think we are blockheads?

Then look at the evasion. “I’m very sorry this has occurred.” Not, in retrospect I apologize for hiring such an unprincipled person as Nigel Wright that he would betray my trust and the trust of the Canadian people. No. Harper apologizes for the occurrence, for an event that embarrasses him but not for creating the context and the conditions that allowed the scandal to take place in the first place. And the irony is all the greater for Nigel Wright evidently has a reputation for being a man of integrity and principle, a straight shooter and not someone who practices displacement onto others and evasive responses.  

Does Harper agree to release all the documents and allow his staff to testify under oath about the circumstances that led to Nigel Wright agreeing to reimburse Duffy for $90,172 in ineligible housing expenses and per diems?  No. The denial is simply ratcheted up several notches so that the displacement, evasion and obfuscation are further compounded by more deception. Of course if he had been asked, he would not have approved the payment. The structure was designed so that he would not have to be asked. “Had I, obviously, been consulted, more importantly I would not have agreed, and it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation.” So why was Wright not asked to resign many days earlier when Harper did know if it was “obviously not correct for that decision to be made and executed without my knowledge or without public transparency.”

Nor is NDP critic, MP Charlie Angus, correct in suggesting that if Harper was unaware of Wright’s repayment, it raises questions about his management of the Prime Minister’s Office. Quite the opposite! That is precisely how top officials have always managed in a position of high office, whether they are Liberals, New Democrats or Tories. At least if you are a “good” manager. And Duffy, a former Capital Hill CBC reporter, could have taken the script right from Harper’s writers. As he said, “Canadians deserve to know all of the facts. I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism. I intend to co-operate fully with the board and with all other authorities and will have no further public comments until those processes are complete.” In the supreme egoism of the denier, there is no remorse for one’s own actions whatsoever, only remorse for the brouhaha.

The rest of the Tory cabal simply join the same chorus. In the House, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, “no one in the government knows about any legal agreement with respect to this payment.” The disease is clearly infectious. For no one was expected to know about any agreements. The question is whether the government will ensure that all discussions and all documents relating to the affair are made public instead of ignoring such requests. And everyone knows that the Senate and the PMO are both masters of their own worlds and can deny access to the RCMP to those documents and records or memories of discussions. You can be assured that the PMO did not have any built-in device to record all conversations for, however sick, no one is as monomaniacal in their egoism as Richard Nixon revealed himself to be in the Watergate scandal.

Thus, though Harper’s process of denial is far more sophisticated than Rob Ford hiding in an elevator and putting Doug Ford up front to insist that he believes his brother, the general locale and pattern of behaviour reveals the same basic elements. Both affairs stink to high heaven and cannot pass the smell test of even my generally insensitive nose. 

Look at the core issue. A mayor is accused of being a druggie. The Prime Minister is accused of having an office that illegally pays monies to Senators without clearance or revelation to an ethics commissioner. This is malfeasance of the highest order. In neither case will those acts be sufficient to force Mayor Rob Ford or Stephen Harper to resign because their backers have been chosen and hand picked and been conditioned to be sycophants and incapable to standing up to the shenanigans of either Rob Ford or Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The reality is that when the ethical and legal rot can be traced directly to the highest centres of power, then the public in a democracy must act to throw the bums out. Though the public is impotent for several more years, it can build its strength of disgust. The real pity is the absence of a leader waiting in the wings who with clarity and principle could step into those empty shoes.

The symptoms and the anatomical locale for the disease must be recognized for what they are. But the diagnosis requires more. Look at the physiological pattern of stupidity. In the case of Rob Ford, he wears it on his sleeve as a badge of honour. Over and over again he insists: “It is just lies after lies and lies.” And he is right. But it is not the Toronto Star that is lying. It is Rob Ford. He is a serial liar.

As The Toronto Star editorial yesterday morning opined: “Beyond any one incident, or gaffe or anecdote, consider Mayor Ford’s overall, long-term conduct…the mayor’s staff, troubled by his drinking, have encouraged him to enter a rehabilitation program.  The Star’s Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan also reported that Ford was asked to leave a gala celebrating the Canadian Armed Forces last month because he appeared impaired… Earlier this month Ford was at another public event where former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused him of grabbing her backside while posing for a picture. …Ford caused embarrassment a few days later when he reportedly showed up disheveled at a gathering attended by several orthodox rabbis and awkwardly delivered a pro-casino rant… Ford hardly ever schedules meetings or events after 3:30 p.m. — a remarkably lax attitude for the chief executive of a $9.4-billion corporation…Then there are Ford’s repeated calls to 911, including an allegation that he resorted to obscenities with a dispatcher; his drunken tirade at a hockey game, inflicted on a Durham couple and flatly denied until overwhelming evidence forced him to confess; and Ford’s no-contest plea on a 1999 Florida charge of impaired driving.  He didn’t tell the full truth about that, either.”

I think that this is a misleading litany, not because the list of failings is incorrect, but because the failings as presented reinforce a portrait of an individual with a substance abuse problem in terrible need of compassion and treatment. What is left out is Rob Ford commandeering a TTC bus so that his Don Bosco football team could be “escorted in safety.” Or Rob Ford advocating subways, subways, subways but offering no mechanism to pay for them and opposing any taxes to do so. Or Rob Ford, against the advice of a city lawyer, not only speaking but voting on a matter in which he was in a conflict of interest. Or Rob Ford, in perpetual campaign mode, pinning magnets on cars. Or Rob Ford bumping into a camera man who has been backed into a corner and then swearing at the camera man for hitting him. So when the Star says that, “What Toronto needs from Ford — what he owes everyone, including himself — is a full and frank explanation of what’s really going on. That’s the essential first step in making it better.” “Full” and “frank” and “explanation” are NOT part of Rob Ford’s repertoire.

Stephen Harper lacks Both Rob Ford’s crassness and his propensity to slip on banana peels. However, Stephen Harper is far more dedicated to institutional stupidity than Rob Ford. He gutted the basis of the Canadian long form census so crucial to collecting comparative data. He let 600 scientists go from Parks Canada who were the backbone of our collection of data on the natural environment. Though I am only really familiar with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department, Harper’s attack on the intellectual basis of policy analysis extended across the government; he closed the libraries and archives of the various departments so that policy could not be based on intelligent analysis by mandarins. Harper appointed an “economist” who knew nothing about libraries to be Canada’s chief librarian and archivist. Daniel Caron, that appointee then had the audacity to run up personal expenses of $174,000 over two years as he dedicated his appointment to cutting $10 million in the budget by laying off staff, cancelling grants to independent archives and ending the interlibrary loan program that made access to much vaster collections available to civil servants. After all, why would they need them if civil servants were not being used to develop policy options based on data collection and analysis or permitted to speak to the public without permission for the dedication to ignorance as the foundation for action had to be insulated from any wider discourse or interaction.   

As Christopher Hume wrote last year when hundreds of scientists protested against “the Death of Evidence,” “Not only was the protest unprecedented, even extraordinary, it struck at the dark heart of the New Canada, a nation more interested in hiding the truth than understanding it, exploiting resources than conserving them. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to search-and-destroy the environmental movement has now been ratcheted up to the next phase; his government has launched a war against science itself, an attack on the collection and analysis of the very data that enable us to comprehend the world of which we are part and on which we depend.”

 

What is the cause of this disease whether it expresses itself in a crass form or in a polished and suave way? The cause, as philosophers and theologians throughout history have recognized, is in all of us, and deepest and most intractable to those of us who wear a costume of transparency or profess profusely about a dedication to accountability. Rob Ford is the authentic man; he is what you see, a fat, sweaty doofus but a real guy’s guy, highly opinionated and lacking a self-critical gene in his DNA.  Stephen Harper has been dressed by the experts and talks in cool and melodious tones. He became Prime Minister and the first act of his government was to table the federal accountability legislation following the Gomery Report and the Sponsorship Scandal. Harper’s changes focused on building a moat against undue financial influence from outside. But who knew that Harper’s expertise would be in building far more important moats, moats against any intellectual influence from within government and intelligent intercourse between government officials and the public. Undue economic influence is not to be equated with undue intellectual influence, but Stephen Harper believes in cutting off both. His major changes to the government were about the latter rather than about the former recommended in the Gomery Report. As Christian Rouillard from the University of Ottawa, an expert in governance and public management, said at the time, “I fail to see how any change of law, or how any additional norms or rules and regulations could make sure that political actors that deliberately choose not to follow the law, will from now on.”

Transparency is as transparency does. Accountability is as accountability does. Stephen Harper has constructed the most secret government in the history of Canada.

When we deny who we really are – especially males with a more pronounced dedication to stupidity – then we will act out in a war against reason. It will be a never-ending war secretly dedicated to the life of non-reason. Only when we recognize that propensity, only then will criticism by others and self-criticism be esteemed and valued.  However, when we inherit an anti-critical gene, then those who carry this handicap will be a danger to us all. Rob Ford’s dedication to non-intelligence is only surpassed by Stephen Harper’s dedication to protecting his esteem for his own intelligence against the intrusions of either his own self-critique or the criticism of others. As the German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote, there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” Or, as one of the greatest scientific minds, Einstein, put it: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

Stupidity is as stupidity does.

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment.21.05.13

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment                                   21.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

I took the weekend off to open the cottage. When I opened my email this morning, Roberta Morris, a former PhD student of mine who has been working in film in California, emailed me in response to my blog on Dan Gertler, and presumably the parts referring to his role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Roberta asked if I would comment on the DRC knowing that I had written extensively on both Rwanda and the DRC. She had just returned from a one-man show on “Heart of Darkness” by Actors’ Gang Theater (Tim Robbins’ company) and a screening of “Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth” released by Friends of the Congo. She had been asked and was considering committing her organization to sponsoring screenings far and wide, but wanted my input on the situation in the Congo and my views of this video. My comments follow. Though I started writing on Harper and Ford this morning, I set that material aside to comment on the film.

 

The plight of the people of the Congo remains dire. The Congolese people have been subjected to enormous miscarriages of justices at least since King Leopold of Belgium received a trusteeship over the territory in 1885 and treated the country as a resource for building his own personal fortune on the backs of the Congolese. Adam Hochschild, author of the very moving and upsetting, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and who is interviewed in the film, depicts the colonization and exploitation of the Congo’s resources. The film is correct that the DRC is rich in an enormous variety for minerals, some both necessary to modern cell phones (coltan) and available uniquely in the Congo. The DRC has been exploited for over a century for its wealth. The Congolese people have not benefitted from that wealth but, instead, have suffered as the victims of that exploitation time and time again.

 

In the film, Dedy Mbepongo Bilamba, a Congolese author commented two years ago on the UN Mapping Report primarily to assert that reports without any follow up action are inadequate. Action must follow. Secondly, he insisted that focusing on “half of truth is lying”.  I will have more to say on the UN Mapping Report within this blog but for now I want to concentrate on the film. The documentary has two major theses in addition to the claim of exploitation of the Congo which I believe is indisputable. First, the agents primarily held responsible are Western powers, primarily the USA, UK and France but certainly also Belgium. Canadian mining companies are also charged with responsibility. There is no mention of the role of Israelis. More directly, the so-called proxies of the United States, Rwanda and Uganda, have provided the military muscle for these exploitive Western imperial powers. Secondly, the motivation for the involvement is the mineral wealth of the DRC. These two theses hold half the truth, and if half the truth is lying, then the film lies. For the mineral resources were used primarily to finance the conflict, to enrich locals, to repay loans for and also the purchase of additional military equipment. If the film distorts, it is a terrible shame because the injustices brought against the Congolese, the war crimes and crimes against humanity need to be emphasized and broadly disseminated.

 

Is that simple story of the agents responsible correct? Is the account of the motivations of external actors accurate and adequate? I think not. In the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR, the USA through the CIA opposed Patrice Lumumba, can be held responsible in part for his assassination and can be charged with installing their own selected candidate, Joseph Desire Mobutu, as President of the country that he renamed Zaire. However, this is only part of the truth. The film in its timeline states that from 1965 to 1997 “The United States installed and maintained Joseph Desire Mobutu in power for over thirty years in spite of a number of attempts by the Congolese people to overthrow him.” There were few serious efforts to overthrow Mobutu. More importantly, as Dan Fahey himself noted in the film, contradicting the film’s own claim, the USA, followed subsequently by other Western powers, abandoned Mobutu at the end of the Cold War in 1989 and did not support Mobutu from 1990 until his overthrow in 1997. The humanitarian crises has many intersecting causes and involves many diverse agents, including competing aims by the countries named. As Fahey has written in his studies of the current situation, comments not included in the film:

  

Over the second half of 2012 and the early months of 2013, Mambasa territory in Province Orientale, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been the scene of escalating violence that is a consequence of brutal gangs running illegal poaching and mining operations coming into conflict with militarized conservation forces. Local politicians, prosecutors, conservationists, former militiamen and civilians tell the story of a devastating conflict driven by armed groups backed by powerful figures in the Congolese army. The violence in Mambasa territory “involved murder, rape, torture, beheading, setting people on fire, cannibalism, kidnapping, sexual slavery, pillaging, arson, threatened assassinations, and the killing of animals.” The principal perpetrators are in a newly formed militia known as Mai Mai Morgan, led by an elephant poacher called Paul Sadala. They are driven, they say, by a desire to protect the land from conservation efforts that give locals limited land use rights and access to resources; however they have committed astonishingly brutal attacks. They are supported, according to the UN Group of Experts and others, by a powerful Congolese army general in the region.

 

Local military forces and acquisitive ambitions of locals are and have been involved. Further, the divisions are often along ethnic lines so, except as an abstraction, it is difficult to speak of a Congolese people as if there is an identifiable group with a common purpose. In the advertisements for the film, the copy states that, “Analysts in the film examine whether U.S. corporate and government policies that support strongmen and prioritize profit over the people have contributed to and exacerbated the tragic instability in the heart of Africa.” In fact, the film has no analysis. Individuals testify that US corporate and government policies are primarily responsible for the support of strongmen in the interests of profits, but this is not a conclusion drawn from any analysis. It is simply a repeatedly expressed opinion. Is the assertion correct? Partially! But insofar as the film claims to uncover the truth by exploring “the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century,” it has more untruth than truth.

 

Let’s begin with the two claims made in the film abut the Rwanda genocide itself. One claim is made by Gregory Stanton after he notes that Hilary Clinton stated that she had one regret with respect to the Clinton presidency, that nothing was done to stop the Rwandan genocide. Stanton goes further and makes two further accusations: 1) Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright knew about the genocide; 2) they did everything to prevent the UN from doing anything to stop the genocide. The first is universally accepted as true but only three weeks after the systematic genocide started on 6 April 1994. In the first three weeks, there is no evidence that Clinton, or anyone else high in the administration, took any serious note about Rwanda so why would they know? The filmmakers or Robert Stanton could have read the writings of or interviewed Michael Barnett who is a professor in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They could also have read Holly Burkhalter, Director of Human Rights Watch, who published a reasonably balanced account of the failures of the Clinton administration with respect to the Rwandan genocide. (“The Question of Genocide: The Clinton Administration and Rwanda,” World Policy Journal) My file of US confidential emails undermines Stanton’s exaggerations.  (On April 15, the US advocated withdrawal of UNAMIR from Rwanda “for their safety” and because it could not fulfill its mandate.) Though we strongly criticized the American position, we did not misinterpret American motives or intentions.

 

During the 1993-1994 year, Barnett spent the year as an exchange government bureaucrat at the United Nations. Barnett was assigned to the Rwandan desk – where else would you put a famous political science theorist but on what was considered the least relevant political desk? He, as he admits in his analysis of his own actions and motives, participated in the decision to keep the US uninvolved in Rwanda when the crisis began to unfold. The explanation was that America had no geo-political interests in Rwanda. Further, as Barnett and as I and Astri Suhrke separately documented, the US did not have to force Boutros Boutros Ghali, then the Secretary General of the United Nations, or Kofi Annan, a subsequent Secretary-General and then in charge of Peacekeeping at the UN, to stay out of Rwanda. The UN had followed that path systematically on their own, though certainly reinforced by the position of the Clinton administration to stay out of wars in Africa, a position itself reified by the Mogadishu syndrome and the disaster in Somalia the previous year. When the Clinton administration did find out and agreed to a peacekeeping force, the American military petty bureaucracy effectively sabotaged the efforts to supply the UN with armoured personnel carriers in a timely fashion. To say the least, Clinton did not do everything he could have to prevent stopping the genocide. He was just sufficiently neglectful to have made the USA complicit as a bystander.

 

Is this a nuance without a substantial difference? Not at all! There is a major difference between the irresponsibility of bystanders, the responsibility of backers of genocidaires and the responsibility of the genocidaires themselves. Further, analysis requires attending to differences and not silly simplifications. There were many agents involved at different levels of responsibility. Some of the agents included the Rwandan Catholic Church – as distinct in this case from the papal nuncio who was one of the exceptional persons who kept warning about the immanence of a massive humanitarian slaughter. See for example, one of the experts on the Rwandan genocide, Tom Lanagan, a colleague of Michael Barnett who has written extensively on the role of the church and has a new book forthcoming on the subject. However, by and large, experts are interviewed who, by and large, reinforce the view that the crises in the DRC is a fallout from the Rwandan genocide and responsibility can be attributed primarily to Rwanda and Uganda as proxies of the USA. Another scholar who could have been used to complicate the picture would have been Scott Straus who has also studied the area and written extensively on it. There are many others.

 

However, there are a minority of scholars and many ideologues who have assiduously worked to shift the blame for the genocide in Rwanda at least significantly onto the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front that invaded Rwanda in 1990. Alan Stam followed the lead of Alan Cooperman, an excellent scholar, and stood against the dominant voices who tended to view Paul Kagame through rose coloured glasses. Stam has upped the critical ante against Paul Kagame. Not only has he joined the genocidaire chorus in suggesting elements of Kagame’s RPF set off the genocide by downing Habyarimana’s plane but he insisted that the RPF not only could have stopped the genocide but deliberately decided not to. This is another half truth that amounts to a lie.

 

Allan Stam has done an excellent scholarly job of tracing and mapping in detail the movements of the RPF troops and claims that Paul Kagame could have moved much faster and saved Tutsis but failed to do so. Further, he claims that the RPF represented a foreign force invading Rwanda. The latter claim should make one suspicious abut his interpretation of his mapping exercise. For it is like calling the PLO working first out of Jordan and then out of Lebanon a foreign force invading Palestine.

 

The RPF was made up of Tutsis who had escaped or been expelled from Rwanda when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy thirty years earlier. They had not been allowed to acquire citizenship elsewhere. Even after serving Museveni in his overthrow of the regime in Uganda, the Ugandan parliament refused to allow them to gain citizenship in Uganda. They were not a foreign army but refugees from Rwanda who adopted military means to insist on their return and overthrow the Habyarimana regime, a common behaviour pattern among stateless refugees. 

 

Secondly, could the RPF have saved many more lives by advancing much more quickly? In my own interviews with American military experts and with Paul Kagame himself, it seems clear that he made a choice. He was a very cautious military strategist. His use of pincer movements by a better disciplined but inferior army in both manpower and armaments to defeat a stronger foe is taught in military schools. It requires proceeding from two sides but allowing an escape route for the fleeing soldiers and then keeping them off balance and preventing their regrouping for a counter-attack.

 

Stam makes much of the fact in his scholarship that Kagame then paused on a crucial line for three weeks when he could have advanced much quicker. The implication was that the pause was responsible for allowing the interahamwe to execute their genocide with impunity. What Stam leaves out was the extended negotiations with the French to prevent a French-RPF clash so that when Operation Tourquoise launched by the French takes place, the two armies would not come into conflict. Further, Stam also leaves out the failure of the French themselves to go beyond the main roads and go into the surrounding hills to save Tutsis who were being slaughtered. Finally, Stam makes much of the claim about both the indefiniteness of the numbers killed while disabusing anyone that only Tutsis were killed. That is a red herring. For the leading scholars on the Rwandan genocide refer to Tutsi and moderate Hutu who were slaughtered in the genocide. 

 

I believe Kagame should have moved quickly to save innocent civilians. Kagame is a hard nosed military man, however, was unwilling to risk his army and the military progress he made to save civilians. That does not make him complicit in their killing and certainly does not lend weight to the charge that Kagame welcomed the genocide of Tutsi to provide a moral cover for his won dictatorial regime.

That was 1994. What about the operations in 1996-1997 with respect to the invasion of Zaire? After the genocide, the defeated FAR (the former army of Rwanda) and their families along with the interahamwe militias fled primarily into Zaire. They took up residency in and control of the refugee camps. As The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report noted,

After moving into North and South Kivu in July 1994, the ex-FAR/Interahamwe used the refugee camps along the Rwanda and Burundi borders as bases and training camps. Using the decades-old strategic alliance with President Mobutu and the widespread corruption within the FAZ to their advantage, the ex-FAR bought back or recovered the military equipment confiscated on their arrival in Zaire and resumed war against the army of the Front patriotique rwandais, which was now the national army of Rwanda, the Armée patriotique rwandaise (APR). (para. 191)

 

The ex-FAR used that control of the camps to milk the international system by enhancing by 25% the number of claimed refugees in the camps and then selling the extra rations on the black market in order to buy more ammunition and some additional arms. They used the camps to launch raids into Rwanda. When these efforts were futile or were defeated, they turned against the indigenous Tutsi in Zaire, the Banyamulenge, and launched a second genocide. This crucial information is missing from the film.  As everyone familiar with Rwanda at the time or through subsequent scholarship knows, Paul Kagame repeatedly warned the international community that if they did not intervene to prevent the ex-FAR and interahamwe from raiding Rwanda and from their new killing spree within Zaire, he would take action. The international community stood by, kept feeding and taking care of the genocidaires along with the other 600,000 plus civilian Hutu refugees from Rwanda. In November of 1996, Rwanda and Uganda launched a full scale invasion against the refugee camps, destroyed them and sent the ex-FAR and interahamwe and their families fleeing east while the greatest part of the civilian refugee population that had been held hostage by the genocidaires walked home back to Rwanda.

 

Laurent-Désiré Kabila had been an old colleague of Lumumba’s and had survived over the decades as a smuggler and self-promoter. Museveni of Uganda knew him and persuaded Paul Kagame to use him as the spokesperson for the invading force to provide a smokescreen that the invaders were Zairean rebels when the most were “volunteers” from the Rwandan and Uganda armies. Kabila promoted himself gradually from spokesperson to the leader of the rebellion. Without the detail, this account is in line with the story of the film. There are, however, several major differences. The United States did not back the invasion of Zaire. Secondly, the three parties – Rwanda, Uganda and Kabila – quickly fell out. When Kabila wanted to go beyond the overthrow of the camps and attack Kisingani, the Ugandans and Rwandese governments said no. He paused and was lucky. The Zairean army fled before he got there so he conquered Kisingani anyway and then went on the long march to capture Kinshasha and set himself up as the dictator. By this time he was not only at odds with both Uganda and Rwanda but those two countries also fell out. In the meantime a new exploitive regime had been installed in Zaire, now renamed the Democratic   Republic of the Congo.

 

Other than the absence of any significant role of the United States in either promoting or stopping the invasion, and the disagreements among the allies, the main difference in this account is in the numbers killed. At the time, based on the inflated numbers in the camps, assertions were made that 600,000 men, women and children had been killed by the Rwanda-Uganda invasion. (Stam at least kept his figure down to a more credible 150,000.) The 600,000 was a ghost number. The death toll was horrendous, with numerous massacres of groups of civilian refugees, many killed deliberately by army units and others killed for revenge by Mayi-Mayi and Tutsi who had earlier been victims of the Hutu, and others murdered by the ex-FAR as documented at length in The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report, but no where near the hundreds of thousands claimed at the time.

 

The repeated figure of six million killed in the DRC to echo the Holocaust figure includes all those who died as a result of  both the first and the second Congo War based on what the expected population might have been starting with inflated figures and then inflated the numbers killed further in this way to claim there was a second genocide perpetrated by the proxies of America, particularly Paul Kagame, who was already held to be responsible for allowing the Tutsi to be slaughtered in Rwanda and was now accused of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Congolese in another far worse genocide. The Rwandan and Ugandan forces can be accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and there were a significant number of civilian slaughters, but there is no evidence that an attempt was made to exterminate the Rwandan Hutu otherwise why were over 600,000 encouraged and allowed to march back to Rwanda and reclaim their homes? In fact, 13,000 were flown back to Rwanda on 22 May 1997 from MbandakaAirport.

 

I could go on. I just find it a double horror to see humanitarian crises and crimes hijacked by ideologues and propagandists. This film does precisely that. Though Friends of the Congo have been a leading organization opposing the exploitation of the wealth of the Congo and the imposition of another dictatorship in that country, and though the organization has been strident in unveiling the role of both Rwanda and Uganda in that exploitation, it has also, as in this film, done so through distortion of the historical record and by a simplistic and neo-marxist interpretation of what occurred, ignoring in particular the deep geographic divide between east and west and the deepened ethnic divisions that have coincided with the long wars. They have also ignored dissident scholarly voices that do not line up with their simplistic message that the invasion of the Congo was organized by the United States and the UK using their proxies, Rwanda and Uganda. They have also exploited the Holocaust by repeatedly asserting that six million have died since 1996.  

 

As advertised, “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.” Unfortunately, because of the lack of analysis, the distortion in the presentation and its utter failure to place the conflict in an adequate historical, social and political context, calls to conscience and action will be largely ignored, not to say that they would not be if a more objective and more penetrating documentary had been produced. This is just another way of exploiting the Congo.

Divine Acts: Parashat Nasso. Numbers 4:21 – 7:89.17.05.13

Divine Acts: Parashat Nasso. Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 17.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

In this longest parashah I am torn between writing about treating alleged adulteresses like the Puritans in New England in the seventeenth century treated witches, or self-denying puritanical Nazirites, or aesthetics and divine acts, about the long list of accounting entries of the sacrifices brought by the various clans or, finally, about God’s voice and communication to Moses. The first two are what I find respectively most repulsive and attractive in Puritanism. The first about adultery and how to find whether a woman is guilty simply arouses my self-righteous indignation about superstition and magic while the second invites by intense attraction to self-denial and asceticism. The discovery of whether a wife is an adulteress through seeing how the suspected wife reacts physically to eating a mixture that contains dirt from the sanctuary floor is just too offensive to any sense of justice. The characterization of a puritanical Nazirite is intriguing because such behaviour, in the end, of consecrating oneself to God through self-denial is not endorsed, a paradoxical outcome that is worth exploring but has little relevance in today’s world. Accounting entries of sacrifices are simply boring. I was left to choose between God’s voice versus the relationship of God’s acts and aesthetics and opted for the latter.

The key verses are 6:22 – 6:27, particularly the famous, well-known and all too-familiar verses 24-27.
כב וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 22 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
כג דַּבֵּר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תְבָרְכוּ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אָמוֹר, לָהֶם. {ס} 23 ‘Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying: On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel; ye shall say unto them: {S}
כד יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. {ס} 24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee; {S}
כה יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. {ס} 25 The LORD make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;{S}
כו יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. {ס} 26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. {S}
כז וְשָׂמוּ אֶת-שְׁמִי, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַאֲנִי, אֲבָרְכֵם. {ס} 27 So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’ {S}
The Kohanim are required on behalf of God to bless and protect, to make His face shine upon and be gracious to the children of Israel as a collectivity to be blessed and protected, to lift up His countenance to the children of Israel and to bestow upon them peace. What are these six divine acts and why these six? I begin with the question about what a benediction is.
‘Bless’ is both the generic term for all six divine acts as well as the term for the first specific divine act. This beneficence is not bestowed on the Nazirite in spite of his acts of self-sacrifice, the story of which precedes this depiction of divine blessing. Further, as Cain and Abel once did, humans offer sacrifices in the quest for a divine blessing in chapter 7 immediately following. Between these two book ends, we find a depiction of the commandment to the priests to bestow a blessing on the community as a whole and each of the children of Israel, on behalf of God without being asked for a sacrifice of self or an animal. This blessing is freely given. If after death, every Jewish male is awarded the honorific title, zikhrono livrakha and every woman zikhronah livrakha, “of blessed memory,” in this case, the blessing has a divine source and is awarded to the living and the dead. The honour is not given by one’s fellow Jews or Israelites but by God and is radically other than the blessing given by humans to God in the beginning of most prayers: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe…”

The closest meaning in English to this type of blessing is “grace,” the free and unmerited favour of God invoked by the High Priest to bestow on Israelites a divine presence to reenergize and protect them from temptation, from moral or morale slippage, to sanctify human ordinary behaviour as distinct from extraordinary sacrificial behaviour and to inspire that individual to achieve even more. Instead of man looking up towards the heavens to beseech God for a blessing, God looks up to man, not to beseech but to bestow a beatific spiritual peace. What is bestowed is God’s favour or grace from sheer kindness. This is not the God of wrath and justice but the God of mercy in which God shares with the Israelites His chen, His favour or graciousness, His mercy and kindness for as Exodus 34:6-7 states, the Lord is gracious (chanun).

I myself have been blessed with six wonderful children and nine grandchildren. All, every single one, has been protected from any significant or serious harm. What if they were not? What if Jews were once again stricken by another shoah? Unlike acts of divine punishment bestowed for sins, favour freely given can also be absent. There are no guarantees. When God smiles on you, is there any difference when Sky Masterson in Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls sings “Luck be a lady tonight”? In this passage, there is a difference because grace is bestowed without beseeching for it. Neither is grace a calculation of probabilities.

Each bestowal is but a further specification of a divine blessing – first, blessing in general, then more specifically protecting the community from harm, then smiling upon the community with special favour as when Israel won the Six Day War and when gas was discovered off the coast of Israel, and even more specifically such gifts were bestowed with graciousness and were not to be reciprocated with arrogance and pride or lording over others, and most intriguing, by God lifting up his countenance giving the community an inner peace for grace is rendered with the total surrender of power over in favour of influence from within. Peace is not only given upon the community but within the community to everyone and not just the righteous and saintly. There are no conditions for such favours.

However translated, the three sentences have a wonderful cadence, expanding in the number of words as the request becomes more specific. “May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord smile upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his face to you and give you His peace.”

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow His favour upon you and grant you His friendship!

Stephen Hawking and the Boycott.16.05.13

Stephen Hawking and the Boycott                                                                         16.05.13

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

Today I want to write about Stephen Hawking, not because I can identify my tiny correctable handicap with his enormous uncorrectable one, but because it is a simpler issue to get back to writing my blog. I myself have boycotted conferences – but only a very few. The last one was at my own university, York, where I had agreed to give a paper at a conference on considering a one state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian problem. I was going to present a paper on why a two state solution was the only reasonable solution and why one state solutions were really opportunities for complete victory by either one side or the other, even when one state solutions were advocated by utopians instead of greater Israel zealots or Palestinian anti-Zionist advocates. I cancelled my participation when the program indicated that the conference would not strictly be an academic conference but would provide a platform for ideological zealots, this time from the anti-zionist side, a development that ran contrary to the promise I was given when I agreed to participate. It was a personal and individual boycott of a particular conference and I never suggested that anyone join me or that others boycott or that YorkUniversity conferences in general be boycotted. I have no objection in principle to academics boycotting a conference.

Stephen Hawking’s position is different in most of these respects except that he too originally agreed not only to participate but to be the headline speaker in a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow 2013. The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow., 18-20 June. This year’s theme asked “whether the quality of leadership – in all realms of human activity – can make a difference. What is the desired dynamic in relationships between people and leaders in the face of powerful processes of change?” This year’s conference was also intended to honour Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.

The conference was not a political conference. Hawking had not agreed to participate under certain conditions and those conditions were breached. He was persuaded to withdraw after enormous pressure was put upon him to withdraw as an endorsement of the BDS Campaign, the campaign to boycott Israel, divest from investing in Israel and participate in sanctions against Israel. He initially personally made no public announcement, but when the initial explanation offered cited his poor health – and his health is indeed poor — his office issued a statement of correction indicating that the withdrawal was an expression of sympathy for the Palestinian cause as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, with Hawking’s approval, described his withdrawal as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

 

Hawking has visited Israel at least three or four times before. In 2006, in a series of lectures sponsored by the British Embassy he gave lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities. However, in 2009, he clearly and vociferously expressed his disapproval of Israel’s “disproportionate” response to the rocket attacks from Gaza and compared Israel to South Africa under the apartheid regime. In light of this, why was Hawking invited to headline the conference?

The criticism has actually not been of the withdrawal per se, nor even particularly of the reasons for the withdrawal – namely as an expression of sympathy for the treatment of Palestinians by Israel – but because the statement eventually made clear that the withdrawal was an expression of support for the BDS movement. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was begun on 9 July 2005 by 171 Palestinian NGOs who had formed The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel the year before and was a follow-up of the notorious NGO Forum, the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa in 2001. That conference harked back to the theme of Zionism is racism and promoted the equation of Israel with apartheid South Africa. It called for “mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel”.

The goal of the campaign was not recognition of Palestine as a state alongside Israel. The goal was the use of non-violent means to promote three goals:

1. Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian [note, not Arab-Israeli citizens] of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of return of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

 

With respect to item 3, note first that this is neither what Resolution 194 said nor what it meant when it was passed, though that is what it has come to be popularly interpreted as meaning following numerous UN General Assembly Resolutions over the years. (See the chapter on Palestinian refugee return in Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan (2011) No Return, No Refuge. New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press.) Secondly, with regard to the second point above, the basic laws of Israel – equivalent to constitutional principles – include the Right to Human Dignity and Liberty and “Declares basic human rights in Israel are based on the recognition of the value of man, the sanctity of his life and the fact that he is free” and “Defines human freedom as the right to leave and enter the country, privacy (including speech, writings, and notes), intimacy, and protection from unlawful searches of one’s person or property” including protection against infringements by means of emergency regulations. Subsequent basic laws on employment guaranteed every Israel national or resident’s “right to engage in any occupation, profession or trade”. Any violation of this right shall be “by a law befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose, and to an extent no greater than is required.” The problem in Israel is not recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian or Arab-Israelis but full implementation of those rights. Third, with respect to the first point, the call for the end of the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” is part of the rhetoric that Jewish Zionists are colonizers and occupants of Arab lands inIsrael and not just in the West Bank. The BDS campaign has as its most visible face in Canada “Israel Apartheid Week” that was initiated in Toronto in 2005 while Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East focuses on promoting strategic boycotting of Canadian and Multinational corporations operating in Canada as well as academic boycotts. 

 

The general spectrum of this campaign includes Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionist advocates, such as those who belong to the legal human rights organization, Adalah, who urge that Israel should be like Canada, a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural state” and not a Jewish state and, as such, oppose the “right of return” to Israel of Jews but advocate recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees. They inherently oppose UN Resolution 181 that initially recognized the partition of the land of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. Essentially, all of these advocacy groups deny Zionism as a legitimate national independence movement of the Jewish people while endorsing Palestinian national self-determination. Hawking’s agreement to support the BDS campaign has to be understood in this context.

If I agreed that Jewish national self-determination was illegitimate but virtually all other forms of national self-determination were legitimate, then I probably would also consider joining a boycott of state-sponsored events that implicitly if not explicitly endorsed the principle of Jewish national self-determination. So I do not think that Hawking’s joining such a boycott is “morally reprehensible and intellectually indefensible”. It may be morally objectionable and intellectually hypocritical and utterly stupid in my mind, but even stupid positions can be intellectually defended. Further, although Hawking’s position can be associated with the BDS campaign, it is not at all clear that he supports an academic boycott of Israel.

Nor do I find the criticism valid that Hawking, or others, who target Israel but ignore the myriad of other states who are abusers of human rights, are hypocrites with double standards. They are part of a campaign to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist or of Zionism as a movement of national self-determination. Members of the BDS and its related movements can readily admit – though they rarely do – that rights in Israel are upheld better than in most states of the world and, certainly far more than rights in China or Iran, Turkey or Egypt. That is not the real point. The real issue is of collective rights. Do Jews have a right to national self-determination in their ancient homeland? If you deny that they do while insisting that Palestinians have such rights, then focusing on Israel exclusively makes perfect sense quite aside from one’s right to be selective in one’s political efforts. What other national movement of self-determination is seen as inherently illegitimate? Kurdish national self-determination or Tibetan national self-determination or Chechen national self-determination may be seen as imprudent or impractical or unrealizable but not as illegitimate.

So I do not think the advocates of a boycott against Israel are guilty of a double standard. They have a single standard that denies that Jews are a legitimate national identity with any rights of national self-determination. Perhaps they also believe this is also true of Inuit people but I have never read or heard of any pronouncements of denial of such rights for any other people.

Nor do I think that academia should be immune from boycotts simply because academia is ostensibly dedicated to dialogue and discourse. As I indicated in my opening, I am for and participate in boycotts when I believe supposed academic occasions are betrayals of academic purposes. Further, I am somewhat hypocritical in this regard. I have attended academic conferences at al Quds University and Bir Zeit University in which ideological ranters participated but where the majority of papers were proper academic presentations but would not agree to do so in the context of my own university, not only because promises were made to me that this would not be the case, but because I have a higher standard for universities that thrive in a free western environment as distinct from universities which struggle hard to uphold academic standards in a political hotbed.

I do know if Stephen Hawking is aware that his decision to withdraw from the Jerusalem conference can be read as an implicit endorsement of anti-Zionism and antipathy to the principle of the national self-determination of the Jewish people. One would think he is not opposed to Zionism for he accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on a previous occasion. If he is not opposed to Zionism per se or Israel as a Jewish state, then he may simply be ignorant of the larger political context of the BDS movement. Further, criticisms of government policies at a particular time, whether of the American-led invasion of Iraq or of Russia’s treatment of Chechnya or of China’s treatment of Tibet, are not best exercised are not best pursued by boycotts of academic or intellectual conferences having nothing to do with such situations.

There is an even more serious problem with Hawking participating in the boycott that has little to do with political naiveté and ignorance and a great deal to do with reinforcing a so-called “shtetl” mentality in Israel, namely, the belief by a great number of Jews and Israelis, that no matter how hard they try, whatever the failures, the goyim will never grant Jews the same rights as others. Why be vigilant in protecting everyone’s rights when other so-called universalists are so negative about Jewish rights? Hawking’s position, without any chance of really being effective in the real world of politics, will affect those who are intransigent on both sides in reinforcing their positions and making the possibility of peace even more remote. Instead of reinforcing listening, instead of enhancing dissident voices, such stands shut down listening and reinforce ideology.

 

Syrian Update.13.05.13

Syrian Update                                                                                                 13.05.13

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

After two years of hearing that the situation in Syria cannot get any worse with its protracted violence resulting in over 70,000 killed and over a million refugees, divisive identity politics, state failure and proxy warfare, the situation continues to deteriorate. Are we finally on the verge of a breakthrough on the Syrian front? Tony Burman in the Saturday Toronto Daily Star wrote a column insisting that Syria was now facing a “fateful fork in the road”. Clearly, if it is a fork in the road, it is one not only for Syria, but for Israel, Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and the United States as well as many others. The conflict may be centred in Syria but the repercussions go far beyond Syria`s borders. There are a whole series of events that point to a dramatic shift in the Syrian situation. They include the following:

  • Israel`s recent airstrikes, its third in recent weeks after four decades of non-violence on the Syrian-Israeli front, against a military research facility at Jamraya, Syria and against stockpiles of Syrian missiles at a Republican Guard base and Iranian long-range missile storehouses evidently destined for Hezbollah that caused massive explosions in Damascus and killed dozens of elite troops near the Presidential Palace. Syria responded that the attack constituted a “declaration of war” and Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah`s leader, subsequently announced that Syria would now supply Hezbollah with “unique weapons that it had never had before” while, in response, President Obama defended and justified the Israeli attacks;
  • The proven impotence of Syria to respond militarily to the attacks in spite of Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad`s insistence that Syria would “not allow this to be repeated” and “would respond immediately to any Israeli attack” though Israel did take the precaution of deploying two of its Iron Dome missile defense batteries on its northern border and closed civilian flights to the northern Israeli city of Haifa;
  • Jordan appears to be at a dangerous precipice itself as it tries to stay out of the Syrian conflict while bearing the crushing weight of a half million Syrian refugees instigating Jordan’s representative to the United Nations, Prince Zayd bin Ra’ad, to warn the U.N. Security Council of the strains on Jordan’s economy, social services, water resources, and political stability to the breaking point in a country beset by a severe economic recession with debts comparable to Ireland and Iceland;
  • If the humanitarian and economic crisis were not severe enough, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Jordan of arming and training rebels and sending them back to fight the Syrian army and threatened to visit Jordan with the “fire” of the Syrian war;
  • U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, after a visit with President Putting of Russia, announcing an urgent convening of an international conference on Syria hopefully before the end of May that would preserve the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria, an announcement which Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria who keeps threatening to resign, greeted as the first hopeful sign in two years;
  • Prime Minister David Cameron also meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama on the international conference on Syria to be held in Britain;
  • The announcement of the new international conference was immediately followed Israel publicly warning that Russia planned to sell US$900 million worth of S-300 missile batteries to Syria which would significantly raise the stakes in the Middle East arms race;
  • The immediately preceding escalation of the Syrian civil war by the resort of the Syrian government to the use of chemical weapons, specifically sarin, in Daraya, five miles outside of Damascus, on 25 April (and previously in Aleppo and Homs) sending a clear message from the Bashar al-Assad regime that they will resort to the ultimate military measure to save the regime and Damascus from the encroachment of the rebels, though Carla Del Ponte head of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria suggested opposition fighters were possibly responsible for the use of the chemical weapons (there was “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof”), a suggestion quickly dismissed by the USA;
  • The escalation was also marked by a much greater and expansionary role for the Iranian expeditionary training mission using Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces, Quds Force, intelligence services and law enforcement forces directly in the ground fight in Syria, significantly reinforcing Assad`s fighting ability on the ground and allowing Assad to reverse some of the rebel gains;
  • Within the Syrian opposition, there has been an increase in the role of Islamists, most significantly, al Nasra, so that backing the rebels may inadvertently result in backing of another Islamist regime in the region;
  • The escalation of the American sanctions against not only the Assad regime but against Iran by cutting Syria off from the diesel supplied by Venezuela`s state-oil company, PdVSA, by ensuring that the shipments cannot be insured in a similar pattern used to stop the resupply of repaired helicopters by Russia to Syria on the Merchant Vessel Alaed under the sanctions strategy of`”no insurance, no supply line” and the prevention of the use of Iraqi air space to resupply Syria;
  • At the same time, the Alawites are preparing for a possible defeat in Damascus by shoring up their strength in the Alawite coastal region by securing the ground route by retaking the strategically located Homs and ethnically cleansing the area of Sunnis as indicated by the recent slaughters in Baniyas and Baida (According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government military forces in coordination with pro-regime militias attacked Baida, a predominantly Sunni coastal town, killing over a hundred, including many women and children);
  • The heating up of rhetoric by liberal hawks on supplying the Syrian opposition with lethal weaponry – they have now joined the conservative hawks in urging a more activist military role for the United States – with significant leaks that the Obama regime is on the verge of or on an “upward trajectory” toward providing “assistance that has a direct military purpose” or, at the very least, implementing a no-fly zone to cut of resupplies to Damascus by air as well as protect rebels on the ground from attacks by helicopter gunships;
  • The arousal of liberal doves (e.g. Zbigniew Brzesinski, Fareed Zakaria, Marc Lynch) opposed to such intervention lest the U.S. become more directly involved in conflict with Iran and, in turn, with Russia while making the situation in Syria even worse while still supporting America`s role as the largest humanitarian aid provider to Syrians ($400 million) as well as doubling its nonlethal aid to the opposition to $250 million;
  • In the meanwhile, American public opinion is not only divided but internally conflicted with a PEW poll at the end on April indicating 45 percent of respondents in favor, while 31 percent said they were opposed to taking military action against the Assad regime if it were proven that it was responsible for using chemical weapons while a New York Times/CBS poll at the same time found that 62 percent of Americans do not believe the United States has a “responsibility” to intervene in Syria;
  • The sideshow but significant efforts of the Syrian rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade to ensure that they are part of the political process by abducting four more Filipino UN peacekeeping forces on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights “for their own safety“.

 

Given all of these developments, I expect the United States to continue to rely primarily on diplomacy, but with a greatly enhanced urgency and by reaching out to Russia,  combined with escalated economic sanctions to push towards a regime change by peaceful means and avoiding becoming directly involved militarily in Syria as the least worst option America faces.   

The Lapid Israeli Budget                                                                                        12.05.13 by Howard Adelman I have

The Lapid Israeli Budget                                                                                        12.05.13

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

I have so much to write about and just too little time. Major topics include: (1) Syria; (2) Tzipi Livni, John Kerry and the Peace Process, and (3) Lapid and the Budget. There are also a number of minor topics from Women at the Wall to Stephen Hawking. However, Yair Lapid tabled his budget this past week when I was otherwise preoccupied. The implications are important so I will write on the budget first.

 

In my blog on February 4th, I asked, “in a budget of NIS 350 billion largely locked into a third for interest payments on debt, another third for salaries and the other third with little room for flexibility, how can any finance minister come up with NIS 15 billion in cuts and additional revenues of about NIS 30 billion? I also wrote that Lapid’s stated priorities were to:

1. Reduce the cost of living by every means at its disposal (part of the coalition agreement);

2. Enhance free market competition and reduce the concentration of power;

3. Reduce economic disparities and launch a fight against poverty.

 

Finally, I also wrote that Israeli direct income taxes and indirect value added taxes now offer few incentives for any increase. Yet, as we shall see, these became the main sources for extra revenues. More importantly, there are more than sufficient revenues available by simply closing what in North America are called loopholes and in Israel are called incentives; very few of these were att. In preparing for this budget, I only managed to examine seven of twelve areas of the economy in order to understand the possibilities for the Israeli economy. The five areas still not covered include those with the largest expenditures: health, education, housing, defense and the support for the Haredi sector.

The total budget was NIS 296 billion for 2013 and in 2014 it will grow to about 304 billion shekels. Instead of the proposed cuts of NIS 15 billion and additional revenues of NIS 30 billion, the ratio of cuts to expenditures has been reversed. Planned cuts are NIS 30 billion (roughly 1/3rd for 2013 and 2/3rds for 2014. Planned new revenues are NIS 12-14 billion. Because the budgeted cuts run from July 2013 to the end of 2014, 18 months instead of 12 months, the cuts are only about 25% greater than anticipated. The real change is in the revenues which are much less than had been expected. Based on current committed expenditures projected forward, the deficit would have reached 5.5% of GDP by the end of 2014, up from 4.2%. Given the increases in revenues projected as well as the cuts in expenditures, the deficit will still actually increase as a percentage of GDP, up to 4.65 % this year and only reach the targeted 3% by the end of 2014.  

Last year, Israel spent $US15.5 for defense (NIS 55.5 billion), almost 7% of its GDP, but that budget excluded US$3.1 in US aid. The largest single cut was expected to come from the defense budget – NIS 4 billion, but this was, in fact, a smaller cut than expected and smaller than cuts elsewhere. A cut of NIS 4 billion from a budget of NIS 55.5 billion is a cut of 7.2%. Part of the spanner thrown into the defense budget was sequestration in the United States which has meant an automatic US$300 million cut or one-quarter of the Israeli cut. Excluding the US cut, the actual cut is only about NIS 3 billion. Further, the American portion of the cut could come from the Dome and Arrow defense missile system (total value $US 429 million) that seems to be increasingly necessary given the build up of rockets by Hamas and especially Hezbollah, but President Obama seems to have gone out of his way to earmark that part of the US$3.1 billion allocated to Israel. Today, Israel’s security cabinet will discuss those proposed cuts to defence. Given the visible threats from Syria, Hezbollah, Gaza and Iran, do not expect those cuts to stay firm.

As far as I have been able to make out, the cuts will be as follws – please offer corrections. Infrastructure and transportation support will be cut by NIS 2.75 billion in this year alone and 5 billion next year. There is no costs included for the additional number of accidents due to bad roads.  Education will be cut by NIS1 billion. The amount of the cuts from welfare and health was not known but is expected to be another NIS 2 billion. But a separate cut of a staggering NIS 3 billion shekels was scheduled to come from child allowances and support for day care programs. At the same time, child benefits will be cut from NIS 175 shekels per month to NIS 140 shekels per month, an enormous almost 17.5% cut. These cuts, if they hold, will be expected to total NIS 2.75 billion in 2013 and an additional NIS 3 billion in 2014. Cuts to settlers and haredim are expected to total NIS 2 billion. The wage freeze plus NIS 2 billion cut in public sector wages is on hold until Treasury negotiates a deal with Histradut.

Total Cuts                                           Year                NIS in billions

Defense                                               2013-14           3

Transportation and infrastructure       2013                2.75                                                                                                                 2014                5

Education                                            2013-2014       1

Child Welfare                                     2013                2.75

                                                            2014                3

Health                                                 2013-2014       3

Haredi and settler support                  2013-2014       2

Bureaucratic Fat                                  2013-2014       3.5

Technology Sector                              2013-2014         .6

Sundry            incl. wage cuts                                               3.4

 

Total                                                                            30

 

If NIS 2+ billion more came from cuts in a 12 month budget, NIS 10 billion less came from revenues, NIS 20 billion instead of NIS 30 billion. Since revenues were also calculated over 18 months instead of 12 months, though some come into effect only in 2014, the target is less than half of the amount anticipated. So the distribution between expenditure cuts and revenues is made much more even and the target for revenues is lowered effectively by one-third. The total anticipated increase in revenue by the end of 2014 is expected to be NIS 4 billion in 2013 and NIS 14 billion in 2014.

 

The Value Added Tax (VAT) is increased from 17 to 18% expected to yield about NIS 20 billion over 18 months. Additional VAT income is expected to come from a number of exclusions, especially in the tourist industry that will significantly affect the incentives for going to Eilat. Israel already enjoys a single-rate VAT with very few exemptions and this step will reduce them further. Another source of revenue is to come from tax increases set to come into effect in January 2014, an increase of 1.5% for those earning NIS 5000 shekels a month. That means not only that that everyone with a gross income of more than US$15,000 per annum will be paying an  increased tax of 1.5% but that the greatest percentage increase, from 14% to 15.5%, will fall on middle income earners paying taxes. Their increased tax burden goes up by 7%. Since half of Israelis earn under NIS 5,812 a month and half of those earn less than NIS 3,451 per month. On the other hand, health taxes will only be increased for those in the highest income bracket, over NIS 40,000 a month, or an upper middle income tax bracket. The increase will be .5%. Increased revenues will also come from pleasure taxes, namely tobacco and alcohol. Further, a new 25% land betterment tax, or speculative residential property tax will be levied on those who own second apartments with a minimum monthly revenue. The tax will be 25% of the profits, and profits are not discounted for inflation. There will also be a tax of 35% on pension income of over 15,000 shekels per month.    

 

The distribution of those cuts is even more interesting. Consider the technology sector first, the growth engine for a start-up nation and a knowledge economy. Netanyahu cut the technology sector support budget 10 years ago and Lapid cut it again. As a result of the ten year old cuts, the hi-tech sector stagnated, employment in the hi-tech sector also stagnated both in the sense of failing to grow at or above the rate of the Israeli economy in general. Further, the enrolment in hi-tech university programs has also not increased. In 2001, the hi-tech budget was NIS2.3 billion. In 2007 it was NIS 1.4 billion. Last year it was up again to NIS1.57 billion but Lapid cut the hi-tech budget by just over a third to only NIS1 billion.

 

Revenue could have been obtained by increasing the corporate tax rate by more than 1% but this would have run counter to the shelved plans to reduce corporate tax rates from 24% to 18%. Similarly, plans to reduce the top rate of income tax from 45% to 39% have also been shelved (the Trajtenberg Commission). The surcharge on incomes over NIS 1 million has been retained but not increased. It is not clear how efforts to enhance Arab women and Haredi participation in the work force are calculated in the budget in terms of enhanced revenues as well as reduced expenditures. I also do not know how the increased taxes on second apartments are factored into the budget.

 

Israel has also been unique in having a two year budget cycle since 2009 instead of a one year budget presumably allowing better planning but accomplished only through greater rigidities and less flexibility. This 18 month budget may create more benefits and put less emphasis on rigidities, but we will have to see. However, I consider this a disastrous budget for the poor and almost as bad for the lower middle classes totally contradicting the goal of reducing economic disparities and launching a fight against poverty. VAT increasingly weighs heaviest against the lower income groups in society; it is a regressive tax. The next target is the lowest tax bracket of earners. These are the income earners who will suffer most. When one adds the significant tax cuts planned to child benefits and to support for day care, as well as other cuts not so much in the public eye, such as cuts to paying for dental treatment, then it is clear who is hit worst. In contrast, corporations only have to bear an additional 1% in corporate taxes and the option of closing the vast majority of loopholes has been lost.

 

Note, unlike Canada, this is a proposed budget – other Ministers will jockey for changes. Expect changes before a final proposal goes for debate before the Knesset. My own suspicion is that the 18 month cycle is meant to make it harder to calculate comparisons rather than for either planning or flexibility considerations. Nevertheless, whatever changes are made, there is no indication that the budget will reduce the cost of living, enhance free market competition or reduce economic disparities in the fight against poverty.

Tomorrow morning I will be in the hospital to have a stent put in a coronary artery so my next blog may have to wait until Tuesday.