Rwandan Genocide Twentieth Anniversary: Prelude to Passover

Rwanda: Prelude to Passover


Howard Adelman

In one week we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. The genocide started before 6 April (The commemoration date is 7 April)) with a number of test runs in which 300 were killed at a time. But the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the next ten weeks started in earnest on 7 April 1994 after almost a dozen Belgian peacekeepers and the Prime Minister were murdered. I and Astri Surke undertook the first study of the role of bystanders, that is, the international community in allowing the genocide to take place. In the process, we visited a mass grave in Butare and did sample counts of the approximately 18,000 corpses laid out in the rooms of the technical school. I cannt write about it without recalling the experience, without smelling the odour of death and seeing the way those individuals had been killed. .
Two weeks today we begin the celebration of Passover, the escape to freedom of the Israelites from their oppression under the Egyptians. It is a joyful feat of freedom, Te alternative was their slaughter which had already begun with the slaying of male children.  Passover is the re-enactment of that escape.

On Friday, Sue Montgomery published an article in the Montreal Gazette on Rwanda: Twenty Years later: The Burden of Survival. Like the Holocaust, the survivors live long after often suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Reminders of what befell Rwanda are everywhere across its green, hilly landscape, especially at this time of year, when everything stops April 7 for a national week of mourning. Across the country, churches and schools where hundreds of thousands sought refuge but instead were slaughtered en masse have been converted into stirring memorials, with skulls, bones and clothing displayed often as they were found.

The following are further extracts from that article:that begins wit the tale of two orphans who survived, Alain Ntwali and Luck Ndunguye.

Just 7 and 5 when their worlds violently collapsed, they grew up in patchwork families of orphans, fearful, confused and unbearably sad, raising children younger than themselves and taking on roles far beyond their years. Now in their 20s, they struggle to keep the pain embedded in their psyches two decades ago from crippling them completely, while an incessant soundtrack of what-ifs and if-onlys clogs their thoughts.

Asked if they feel depressed, the young friends nod and respond in unison: “All the time.”

“So you cry, you smoke, you drink,” shrugs Ntwali.

Survivors of the genocide, many of whom are unable to work because of crippling disabilities or chronic illnesses, feel abandoned by their government and the world. As the country positions itself as an information-technology hub — installing more than 1,600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables and a 4G network that covers 95 per cent of the country — many of its wounded citizens can barely function..still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

They are still haunted by the past, unable to sleep, plagued by stress-induced headaches and epilepsy, and turning to alcohol and drugs to stop the unrelenting mental loop of sickening images.

More than one-quarter of Rwanda’s population suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2009 study conducted by Rwandan psychiatrists, and there are few resources to help them…Even Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire, who has received the best medical care possible, is still tormented by his time as general of the United Nations peacekeeping mission that failed to prevent or stop the genocide because of international apathy. So are 10 other Canadian soldiers who served with him in Rwanda. An 11th, Major Luc Racine, who was with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier, killed himself in Mali in September 2008 after suffering for years from PTSD.

Chaste Uwihoreye, who was a teenager during the genocide, is now a psychologist running an organization that works with youth — the innocent bystanders left to put their country back together again. In the years immediately following the massacre, there was no time to be traumatized, he said, but once the essentials were dealt with, memories started to surface and between 2000 and 2006, the country began to find itself in the depths of an emotional crisis..Jonathan Nettal, a Côte St-Luc native whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, is a psychotherapist working for a Canadian NGO called Hopethiopia/Rwanda, counselling 19- to 23-year-olds on how to turn to each other for support with their collective trauma. What he sees in that age group is a general feeling of loneliness that comes from growing up without parents…Psychiatrist Yvonne Kayiteshonga, who heads the mental health division of the ministry, doesn’t sugar-coat the situation when she says that a country that experiences genocide is a country where the majority of its population is sick.






Howard Adelman

  1.                   Israel Galván at Koerner Hall.

Last night we went to watch Israel Galván’s flamenco dance production at Koerner Hall called La Edad de Oro with the traditional combination of dancer, guitarist and soloist. But what a combination! What a tour de force! It is no wonder that Galván has won virtually every possible prize in the flamenco world for he is not only a brilliant and extremely athletic dancer but a very innovative choreographer who uses his hands and arms as much as his feet to greatly broaden the expressiveness of flamenco while retaining the classical lines of this dance. The exactitude and detail of his movements along with the sudden shifts – and even full stops – literally take your breath away. You see him virtually always as a side silhouette or a straight frontal view and almost always in square or rectangular patches of light rather than a round spot. He must bring along his own lighting man for the lighting really enhanced the performance.

Israel Galván was more than accompanied by David Lagos as the phenomenal flamenco singer and Alfredo Lagos on classical guitar. These are two outstanding soloists in their own right. The syncopated clapping that accompanied the dancing, the guitar playing or the singing was unforgettable and we had never seen anything like it before. I just wish I understood the grammar of flamenco or even just the Spanish lyrics and perhaps I could have been as wild and vocal as the appreciative audience. Some traditional positions of el toro are obvious, but I was unable to interpret the birdlike fluttering and the variety of other moves though one cannot mistake the great artistry in his bodily movements and twists as he dances with amazing speed, discipline and control or fail the appreciate a great evening. It is really a pity that only.05% of the Metro Toronto population got a chance to see and hear his one night tour, but it is probably thanks to Koerner Hall and the efforts of Mervon Mehta that we get to see such outstanding artists.

  1. Marry Me a Little at the Tarragon Theatre

You can tell that I am old. I love Stephen Sondheim. I suspet none of my children and certainly not my grandchildren would care for Sondheim – well perhaps Gabriel would appreciate the gore of Sweeney Todd. I think he is the greatest of all the great lyricists that emerged in the golden age – la edad de oro – of Broadway musicals. They are intricate plays on words and meanings and rhymes that are unsurpassed, especially when the melody inserts dissonance and atonality and has that punctuated character of a Seuret painting as in his best musical, Sunday in the Park with George based directly on Seuret’s painting. His use of polyphony intricately interweaving two different melodies is unequalled.

Though Sondheim never produced a musical the equal of Porgy and Bess, for me he never produced a song I did not like or at least, a song of his that I heard for I confess I probably have not heard a great many of his songs. West Side Story, for which he wrote only the lyrics, rivals Guys and Dolls for me as my second most favoured musicals.

Marry Me a Little, a pastiche of Sondheim music and lyrics woven into a story of a couple coming together and breaking up in a loft in New York as revived at Tarragon and performed by Elodie Gillett and Adrian Marchuk as the songwriter in the loft who dumps Elodie when she asks him to “Marry me a little”, is just a delight and excellently produced and performed. If you grew up in the golden age of Broadway musicals and love the genre and if you want to see an excellent revival, you too should go see it.

  1. The Obama Doctrine

If we believe many of the latest reports, Putin has decided to stop the build-up of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine. The reasons could not be the pin pricks of the sanctions already in place. As much an I am an admirer of Obama, I would also not credit his persuasive powers when he was on the phone with Putin from Saudi Arabia for an hour on Friday. Perhaps it was the threat of more sanctions, but I suspect the effect was really indirect resulting from the downs and ups of the Russian ruble and stock market during March. The Russian ruble was at an all time high before the crisis over the Crimea, reaching 36.66 per $US. After a relatively steep drop, the ruble rose back up on Friday to 35.79, when Putin signalled that Russian troops would not invade Ukraine and that he had agreed with Obama to begin a dialogue and diplomatic process to end the imbroglio.

Should anyone trust Putin? The signals are so unclear and ambiguous. His past record of promises do not inspire trust. Further, the outright barrage of lies about the Ukraine is just sickening. Further, financial speculation is based on hope for the future more than hard-headed analysis. At the beginning of March when Russia invaded Crimea, the Russian stock market, MICEX, fell 10.7% from almost 1500 points, wiping out well over $50 billion in value, and now sits at 1344.12. Putin’s crony capitalists are probably running scared and possibly urged Putin to take up Obama’s offer of re-engagement. If true, then my fears were misplaced and Obama’s gradual approach and eschewing the threat of force may have worked. We will have to just wait and see – something the Ukrainians cannot afford to do. Can you imagine what would have happened to the currencies and the stockmarkets of the West as well as Russia if Obama had taken the advice of Charles Krauthammer and put America back in the role of policeman of the world? Though there is evidence that Obama’s deliberate and steady withdrawal from that roll, particularly in the Gulf, has made allies like Saudi Arabia very nervous and resentful, I personally welcome America’s stand-down from imperial ambitions.

4. Bagels and Cream Cheese

Now that the ski season is over, I have to rush off to bring fresh bagels and cream cheese to my grandchildren in Toronto and resume our Sunday morning ritual. But one last item.

  1.       Jews in the Ukraine

Following David Frum’s brief visit and observations of what is happening to the Jewish community in the Ukraine, the Jewish Chronicle has an excellent report on Jewish support for the current government i as an antidote to Putin’s accusations of rampant anti-Semitism in Ukraine. (

Gennadiy Korban, multi-millionaire businessman and the deputy head of Dnepropetrovsk with the largest Jewish community in Ukraine is busy preparing a militia for defence of that eastern city because he is convinced the West will not provide military aid.

Billionaire Gennady Bogolyubov, has pledged to personally fight the Russians if they invade.

Regional Governor Igor Kolomoisky donated $25 million to the Ukrainian army’s southern command to pay for fuel for military vehicles and aircraft..

Dnepropetrovsk Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki declared: “What Putin is saying about antisemitism in the Ukraine is mostly just a lie to divide us. We Jews are fighting as Ukrainians, for freedom for all our country.”

Oleg Rostovtsev, a PR rep of the Jewish community in Dnepropetrovsk, stated: “This is our country, our community, our city. Jews are part of Ukraine’s political nation. Some Israeli citizens who served in the IDF have already come back to offer their services to the Ukrainian army and others are planning to do so,” 




Howard Adelman

Defining BDS

Yesterday evening, Derek Penslar was in town and gave a talk on BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign launched in 2005 on the first anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegality of the Israeli West Bank barrier. The blog below is not a record of Derek’s talk, but rather my own take on BDS with comments that arose from points Derek made or from some of the questions and comments. Needless to say, Derek’s talk was excellent as his talks always are.

In much of the public mind who are aware of the BDS campaign, the purpose is thought to be about West Bank settlements and objections to them. In fact that campaign has three stated purposes:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

This is a program far more extensive than opposition to West Bank settlements. Derek thought the goals were ambiguous since, given the goals as stated, according to Derek, no country, especially Israel, could know when it had satisfied the wishes of the BDS protesters. By parsing what the stated goals are and from talks with some of the proponents of BDS 4 or 5 years ago, I suggest that the goals are not as ambiguous as Derek suggested; rather, the ambiguity arises from the various ways different parties have interpreted the BDS campaign and how they apply it, for, as Derek noted, the BDS campaign is a movement not an organization and one with a bottom-up buy-in that allows different people and groups to use the BDS campaign for their own purposes.

As I read the goals of the BDS platform, the Israeli political right is correct in its interpretation. For BDS, Israel is considered to be on occupied Arab land. The program opposes the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. (my italics) Though the program does not go as far as calling for the expulsion of Jews from the land, with the call for return of the refugees to their original homes (NOT stated in UN Resolution 194, though subsequently interpreted by UN resolutions to mean that), the object of the BDS plan is both the delegitimation and elimination of Israel as a political entity because Israel is considered a colonial and colonizing state occupying Arab lands. The campaign is not just about the current government’s policies and practices — however much many of us may disagree with them. Nevertheless, many supporters of the BDS campaign believe that the focus of the campaign is the West Bank settlements and have either ignored or not bought into its longer range goals.

In response to my original draft of this blog, Stuart Schoenfeld sent the following explication of those goals that clarify the vision embraced by those goals. On the goals of BDS: The three stated objectives were written to be inclusive of the three Palestinian constituencies

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; WEST BANK AND GAZA
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; ARAB / PALESTINIAN ISRAELI CITIZENS and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. THE DIASPORA

The intention was to have a campaign that would bring these constituencies together rather than have their issues addressed separately, avoiding the “divide and conquer” situation in which Israelis have more leverage. It also allows those who come from these different constituencies to work together in Europe and North America without in-fighting over their separate interests.

As a consequence of this coalition strategy, the only way to fully realize the interests of all three constituencies would be the maximalist position – a binational state with a Palestinian majority. This is a hard sell in public relations terms or as an achievable goal, but it seemed fairly clear a few years ago when reading the material for the “one state” conference written by the same people leading BDS. There seem to have been fewer “one state” conferences recently, but this is tactics, the strategic goal has not altered.

Calls for BDS go back to the origins of Jewish settlements in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century. They really took off after the 1948 War of Independence or what the Palestinians call the Naqba with the boycott led by Arab countries, a boycott which the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf ended following the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. Ironically, the BDS campaign took off after many Arab states began to covertly or overtly engage in cooperation with Israel.

The campaign has three thrusts: 1) an economic Boycott of businesses, academic institutions and artists from Israel and artists refusing to go to Israel; 2) a Divestment of investments in or loans to companies initially focused on businesses operating in or servicing or undertaking manufacturing in the West Bank; and 3) a Sanctions campaign. The campaign underway currently has not only these three main tools but three main foci: business, academia and culture. In the business campaign, the main tool is the boycott since sanctions are largely a state responsibility. Perhaps this is because, as Derek suggested, boycotts resonate so much with the disempowered for it allows them to do something to advance their cause and to feel that they are accomplishing something. As one of the students present last evening said, the BDS movement has a romantic rather than a realist appeal.

The main focus of the boycott is business. Ahava products are boycotted. They have been produced from products from the Dead Sea since 1988 with little relationship to settlement activities in the heart of the West Bank, unlike Dexia Bank, SodaStream (its stock fell 25% when it became the focus of the BDS campaign) and Veolia. Ahava products are produced in Mitzpa Shalem, a kibbutz located on the Dead Sea. There have been a number of successes here with an independent Ahava store forced to close its outlet on a fashionable London shopping street because of the disruption of picketers. Selfridges Department Store, the leading department chain in Norway and the second largest in the Netherlands have all removed Ahava products from their store shelves. One year ago, the Norwegian retail chain, VITA, that is the major outlet for Ahava products in Norway, decided to boycott all products originating from settlements in “occupied Palestine”.

Britain’s Trade Union Congress supported the BDS campaign since 2009. Three British universities – Edinburgh, Kent and Dundee – have also boycotted some businesses as a result of BDS. So did the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. In the area of business boycotts, the BDS campaigners boast significant successes. Veolia purportedly lost a four and a quarter billion dollar operating and maintenance rail contract in Massachusetts because of the BDS campaign which targeted Veolia. However, the MBTA/MassDot Board of the Massachusetts commuter line said it awarded the contract unanimously on the recommendation of the General Manager to Keolis for a superior proposal in terms of pricing, operations and maintenance. Similarly, a $63.5 million contract was purportedly lost in Canterbury, UK, allegedly because of the BDS campaign, but the truth is that the municipality simply renewed its contract with Serco.

Second, the campaign involves a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, but initially focused on Israeli institutions (and not individual academics) who are linked in any way with the West Bank settlements. As academics, this is the one of which we are most aware. Indirectly, a boycott campaign against academic institutions affects individual academics as Derek noted, but individual Israeli academics have been targeted in any case and many Palestinian academics now refuse to sit on panels with Israeli academics. However, as Derek also pointed out, almost ALL academics engage in personal boycotts of some kind. The BDS campaign, however, is of a different order.

Third, the BDS campaign entails a cultural boycott of artists from performing in Israel and a boycott of Israelis artists, but notably without any explicit relationship at all with West Bank settlements, who perform abroad. The most famous or infamous of these was the disruptions of the tour of Israel’s Batsheva dance company at the Burmingham Hippodrome and the Edinburgh International Festival (Don’t Dance with Israel Apartheid). The disruptions imitated those against the Soviet Union cultural tours of the Bolshoi and the Red Army Chorus to support the campaign to permit the emigration of Soviet Jews. The Israeli dance company Batsheva has been picketed throughout its tour and three protesters disrupted the performance in the theatre in Rome until they were removed and one protester in Theatre Royal in Plymouth used a megaphone to disrupt the performance. Disruptions took place in Edinburgh, Leicester, in the Birmingham Hippodrome with a banner dropped during the performance. With respect to Batsheva, they have affected performances from Turin to Aukland New Zealand, but have largely earned the BDS movement a negative backlash.

Individual artists scheduled to perform in Israel, such as the Rolling Stones Tour, have been lobbied and pressured extensively but resisted as have most artists. Some, like Chris “Daddy” Dave cancelled his appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. Ireland was the leading country in the artistic boycott campaign with 237 artists committed to boycotting performing or exhibiting in Israel but Riverdance resisted the pressure to cancel its show. There are a long list of other artists who have not resisted pressures by BDS. Artists seem to constitute one of the most susceptible groups to the BDS effort.

Support for BDS and the Divestment Campaign

Supporters of the campaign are varied but are concentrated in four institutional spheres, religious organizations, student and faculty unions and associations at and from universities and colleges, unions and, finally, states like Norway. The latter is important because Norway played such a critical role in getting the Oslo process going and concluded, erroneously in my analysis, that Israel was solely to blame for the failure of Oslo, a process in which Norway invested enormous personal resources and commitment. Norway was one of the first countries to support the BDS campaign when in December 2005, the Norwegian Sør-Trøndelag regional council supported a call for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods.

Ironically, just at a time when Norway has reversed course under a new centre-right coalition government (96 seats versus 72 for the opposition), Norway lifted its 2010 ban on investments in two companies in Israel, Africa Israel and Danya Cebus, on August 2013. The coalition backing the ban — including: Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC); Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem; and The Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – called on the Norwegian government to reverse the decision since it claimed that the revocation was based on false information provided by Africa Israel in support of its claim that they were no longer building housing in Gilo. (Note where the housing was being built — in Jerusalem that in all the peace talks on land that will be ceded to Israel.) Norway’s leftist Minister of Finance in his 2010 decision determined that all land east of the 1967 Cease Fire Line was occupied land and, therefore, came under the purview of the fourth Geneva Convention.” In contrast, Africa Israel’s affidavit to Norway referred only to the West Bank. However, the BDS campaign in the end targets all Arab land usurped by the colonial Israeli state.

The trade unions in Norway have stepped up their support for BDS. The Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE) lobbied and succeeded in getting the Nordea Bank to resolve not to invest in Cemex, an Israeli company in the building materials industry, since Cemex allegedly uses material from the West Bank to manufacture cement. The University of Oslo, and subsequently the University of Bergen, decided not to use the security company, G4S Secure Solutions (Canada), even though it was the lowest bidder because critics claimed the use of G4S would cost the university 2.5 million NOK in reputational losses because of using the allegedly controversial G4S security company, a fifty year-old CANADIAN company, and the leading one in the provision of security, because of its work in the West Bank. A Norwegian government pension fund divested itself of Elbit Systems because of its business activities in the West Bank. This year, Dutch pension fund PGGM divested its investments in Israeli banks and Danish Danske Bank divested from Israeli Bank Hapoalim for their investments in the West Bank as well as Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus.

Support for BDS in Canada

Allan Dershowitz’s offer to lecture free on Norwegian campuses was turned down even though Ilan Pappé, a strong advocate of BDS, was supported in his tour of Norwegian universities. So some countries are particularly susceptible to the BDS campaign, countries with a record and reputation as a middle road country promoting peace. The BDS movement has had a few academic successes. Denmark’s Technical University dropped out of a scientific collaboration project with Ariel University on the analysis of its laboratories. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal stated: “We do not want to Danish scientific institutions participating in activities that may help to maintain the illegal settlements.” But overwhelmingly, the efforts have been a failure.

In Canada, BDS has been endorsed by, in Derek’s count, 9.5 student unions, the half point granted to McMaster because the students voted in support of BDS but the meeting giving that support lacked a quorum. The York Federation of Students, a university where I taught for 37 years, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Students’ Union voted to support BDS. The F4P, Faculty for Palestine, formed in the spring of 2008 as a sub-committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) includes over 550 faculty of all ranks (tenured, contract, emeritus, independent researchers, retired, visiting scholars) in support of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI).

Thus, Canada was not far behind Norway in supporting BDS. In May of 2006, the Ontario section of CUPE endorsed the BDS campaign. I believe more university student and faculty unions in Canada than anywhere else support BDS. (Windsor students, have joined the BDS campaign.) The BDS campaign is supported by the United Church of Canada by boycotting products of Israeli settlements. However, the effort to boycott Shani Bar-Oz soap products in Vancouver backfired and sales went up. Friends of Simon Wiesenthal started a campaign today against the McMaster University student union campaign in support of the BDS on the grounds that it has stirred up an anti-Semitic campaign on the campus.

Overall, the BDS campaign has been a general failure. It is a minority movement from the left often with union (CUPE) and United Church support, but overwhelmingly ignored by the vast number of faculty and students. More to the point, there has been little if any measurable effect on the Israeli economy. This raises the question of why have such a campaign if it only serves as an irritant and falls into the segment of 80% of boycott campaigns that fail?

Theorizing BDS – Judith Butler

One impact that I witnessed on my own campus, York University, was a coarsening of debate and discussion on campus. Judith Butler (UC Berkeley), who comes from a family whose Jewish roots go back to eastern Europe, is a leading proponent of BDS from the high intelligence rather than the mob side. Yet she backed a meeting restricted to pro-BDS supporters and banned anyone opposed. Heavily influenced by Derrida, Judith is a leading well-known philosopher of the postmodernist critical theory school who writes on gender and queer studies; her theory of defining gender in terms of performance rather than a natural essence is at the core of most modern gender theory. Though she roots her theories in an interpretation of the section of Hegel’s Phenomenology dealing with desire and life and with Lordship and Bondage that has been heavily influenced by the French Hegelian philosopher, Alexandre Kojève (cf. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth Century France), it is a school of thought which the Toronto School of Hegelians (to which I myself belong) directly challenged in our close readings of Hegel that tried to show how this Marxist interpretation of Hegel inverted Hegel’s meaning.

Judith has a chair in a Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature rather than a traditional philosophy department in keeping with the fact that the Modern Language Association (MLA), an association dominated by postmodern theory, has been a leading exponent of the BDS campaign. (See a previous blog, Academic Boycotts and Israel, that I wrote last year that focused on the MLA vote.) As Derek pointed out, academic BDSers come from Literature, Philosophy and sometimes Anthropology but not history and certainly not international studies.

Judith Butler is not only a leading proponent of BDS and activist as an executive member of the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in the United States, but a leading theorist of the movement. Just as in her theory of censorship as an instrument of the state’s effort to control language and discourse, one of her main rationales for the BDS movement is that it takes away from the power of the state to monopolize and control who can and who cannot be sanctioned and hands it over to the people themselves. This complements Derek’s thesis that BDS is adopted by youth who feel disempowered. Judith merged the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, largely relying on Theodore Adorno’s aesthetics, and French and postmodernist thinkers, to develop a theory in which the individual develops his or her individuality and character in contention with the dominant norms of society. Hence the appeal of BDS practices to young adults on the cusp of self-definition who are permitted to pick and choose their focus since the BDS movement lacks any top-down structure to define and determine the agenda of any group. Her ability to arouse the ire of the right was most evident when she received the Adorno Prize in Germany and the awarders of that prize were taken to task for that award by the German Council of Jews supported by Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

One of the interesting items that came up in the discussion last night was the fierce opposition of two Of Israel’s most formidable critics, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, to the BDS campaign. Finkelstein called the BDS movement a cult. Chomsky has not opposed BDS, however, contrary to what was said last night, but has opposed its implementation and the harm it causes to those who should be protected, namely Palestinians. As Chomsky said in a 2010 interview just when BDS had started to take off, “BDS actions are both principled and most effective when they are directed at our crucial contribution to these crimes [of Israel], without which they would end; for example, boycott of western firms contributing to the occupation, working to end military aid to Israel, etc.” In other words, BDS is well intentioned but relatively frivolous because it is not rooted in an economic analysis of capitalism and Israel’s role and undermines a two-state solution. As someone said last night, the criticism of BDS by Finkelstein and Chomsky represent the Old Left versus the youthful new new left.


As Derek suggested, the BDS movement should be combated but it is nothing to become hysterical about. The approach should be to understand its goals, motives and sources of support. It is an educational campaign aimed at consciousness raising rather than a serious effort to damage Israel economically. It is a psychological tool, an irritant like a horde of Lilliputians picking at the body of an economic and creative giant.

The Obama Doctrine

The Obama Doctrine


Howard Adelman



1. The Ukraine crisis is a test for the West and the international order.

2. That test is one about values, not one about coercive or economic strength.

3. This clash of civilizations is one of democratic and liberal versus “might is right” values, of the modern world versus an old order.

4. In this clash, there is a danger of stumbling into war as in WWI.

5. The old order as encompassed by the Soviet Union imploded not because the West bankrupted the USSR and certainly not because the West beat the East on the battlefield, but because Western ideals were adopted and fought for by the citizens of the satraps of the Soviet Empire.

6. That war, now resumed, is won by condemnation, by witnessing, and by diplomatic engagement and not by confrontation and the threat of coercive power.

7. Nevertheless, the threat of the use of coercive power must be held at the ready, but only for those states that already belong to the Western defensive alliance.

8. Military power will not be used both in any effort to recover Crimea for Ukraine but also not in defence of the Ukraine.

9. Military power will not be threatened to be used if Russia invades or stirs up a civil war in Ukraine for two reasons, 1) the West’s unwillingness to fight in a country that is not part of the Western defensive alliance, and 2) because one should not wave a big stick unless one intends to use it.

10. This new conflict as an echo and replay of an old conflict will be fought by posing truth to power, by diplomatic isolation, by economic sanctions, by continuing diplomatic engagement and, possibly, by the Ukrainian citizens themselves rising up.

The Doctrine

Yesterday, Barack Obama made one of the most important speeches of his presidency. On 26 March 2014 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels Obama gave one of his most eloquent yet very plain-spoken speeches. This is not just my opinion but a general consensus view of most listeners and readers of the speech. Further, I agreed with it – at least with almost all of it. By and large it reflected my own writings on the issue, and, except for its eloquence, almost all the major ideas in the speech reflect my own ideas and, more specifically, what I have written about the crisis as late as the last two days. In that speech Obama spelled out the Obama Doctrine on how to deal with military aggression by a regional power. As you will see, I have one major difference with Obama and I hope he is correct and I am wrong.

Obama defined the crisis over Ukraine as a test for Europe, the United States and for the international order, not a test of the military or economic power of the West versus that of Russia, but a test of the values of the West versus those exhibited by Russia in its seizure of Crimea. What are those value? For the West they are a “particular set of ideals [that] began to emerge, the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose, the belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding,” versus “an older, more traditional view of power…[that] argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.” Obama went on to define a source for that alternative view that “might is right”. “Often this alternative vision roots itself in the notion that by virtue of race or faith or ethnicity, some are inherently superior to others and that individual identity must be defined by us versus them, or that national greatness must flow not by what people stand for, but what they are against.”

So Western value and ideals are pitted against the belief in power, the belief the centralization of that power, rooted in a paranoid division in “us versus them”. The ongoing clash of these two sets of ideas is ongoing, both within nations and among nations. Like myself, Obama is haunted by the nightmare of repeating the errors at the beginning of the twentieth century and stumbling into war. “This morning at Flanders Field, I was reminded of how war between peoples sent a generation to their deaths in the trenches and gas of the first world war,” said Obama. The conflict continued through WWII and the Cold War.

Then Obama articulated his interpretation of the source of victory in the latter for Western values. “That contest was won, not by tanks or missiles, but because our ideals stirred the hearts of Hungarians, who sparked a revolution, Poles in their shipyards who stood in solidarity, Czechs who waged a Velvet Revolution without firing a shot, and East Berliners who marched past the guards and finally tore down that wall.” We may have won WWII by force of arms. But Obama challenged the view that the West won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union through an arms race. The people within the nations making up the USSR won the war by throwing off the yoke of oppression themselves. We may have lent them moral and intellectual support, but they, and only they, won the battle by standing up for the universal values for which the West stands.

Today, Obama said, we are once again confronted “with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way — that recycled maxim that might somehow makes right.” “What’s at stake in Ukraine today. Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.” So values stand against the use of coercive power to get one’s way. Further, once again, those values are won, not on the battle field between nations but in the battle over ideas and ideals within nations. “Just look at the young people of Ukraine, who were determined to take back their future from a government rotted by corruption; the portraits of the fallen shot by snipers; the visitors who pay their respects at the Maidan. There was the university student wrapped in the Ukrainian flag expressing her hope that every country should live by the law; a postgraduate student speaking for fellow protesters, saying, I want these people who are here to have dignity.”

Once again, Obama reiterated the values of the West. “Yes, we believe in democracy, with elections that are free and fair, and independent judiciaries and opposition parties, civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices. Yes, we believe in open economies based on free markets and innovation and individual initiative and entrepreneurship and trade and investment that creates a broader prosperity.

And yes, we believe in human dignity, that every person is created equal — no matter who you are or what you look like or who you love or where you come from. That is what we believe. That’s what makes us strong. And our enduring strength is also reflected in our respect for an international system that protects the rights of both nations and people — a United Nations and a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international law and the means to enforce those laws.”

So how does one fight a war between the values of the West and the belief in might is right of Vladimir Putin? First, by condemnation. “Russia’s violation of international law, its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, must be met with condemnation, not because we’re trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.” Secondly, and most importantly in characterizing the Obama doctrine, not by confrontation. Obama is no JFK defending American interests in the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is not a Cold War. Russia is no longer a global power. It is not governed by a ruling and competing ideology, for the belief in “might is right” is not a set of competing values but just a stance of a bully. Thirdly, and very importantly, the doctrine eschews military conflict between the West and Russia. “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia. In fact, for more than 60 years we have come together in NATO not to claim other lands but to keep nations free.” It follows, fourthly, that the aim of the conflict is not to defeat Russia.

What is the implication of the doctrine for the use of military force by the West? “NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics, and we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland, and we’re prepared to do more. Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden by showing the political will to invest in our collective defense and by developing the capabilities to serve as a source of international peace and security…Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part because of its close and complex history with Russia.” In other words, military forces of the West will be restricted to the defence of existing members of NATO.

Obama went onto say that, “Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.” Not only will force not be used to help Ukraine recover Crimea, but it will not be used if Russia attacks eastern and/or southern Ukraine. The battle of Ukrainians with Putin’s Russia will be left to the ability of Ukraine to resist Russian force. As Obama said, “in the end, every society must chart its own course. America’s path or Europe’s path is not the only ways to reach freedom and justice. But on the fundamental principle that is at stake here, the ability of nations and peoples to make their own choices, there can be no going back. It’s not America that filled the Maidan with protesters. It was Ukrainians.” Will weapons be supplied to the Ukrainians? There is certainly no indication in the speech that they will be, and every indication that they will not. Why did the Obama doctrine not leave this unarticulated thereby allowing Putin to fear that invading Ukraine may risk a war with the West?

“Now is not the time for bluster. The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor a military solution.” (my italics) In other words, if you do not intend to use military force, don’t hold out that prospect as a bluff. The risk, and perhaps, likelihood is that it will be called. And the results could be disastrous. So how will the battle with the West between values and ideals versus a leader determined to be a bully? In the Obama doctrine, through patience. “But with time, so long as we remain united, the Russian people will recognize that they cannot achieve the security, prosperity and the status that they seek through brute force.” With continued engagement even as Putin is excluded from one forum after another. “And that’s why throughout this crisis we will combine our substantial pressure on Russia with an open door for diplomacy.”

As Obama articulated his continued belief in diplomacy and eschewing the threat of using military force. “I believe that for both Ukraine and Russia, a stable peace will come through de-escalation, a direct dialogue between Russia and the government of Ukraine and the international community, monitors who can ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine and free and fair elections this spring.” But what if Putin acts first? What if he invades and does not give democracy a chance? What happened to the doctrine of deterrence and the maxim, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.” That is not part of the Obama doctrine.

Obama is not dumb. He recognizes that Putin has ignored many opportunities for engagement. “So far, Russia has resisted diplomatic overtures, annexing Crimea and massing large forces along Ukraine’s border. Russia’s justified these actions as an effort to prevent problems on its own borders and to protect ethnic Russians inside Ukraine. Of course, there is no evidence, never has been, of systemic violence against ethnic Russians inside of Ukraine.” In other words, Putin, you are a liar. Further, the issue is not the reunion of Crimea with Russia because of historical security and demographic reasons, but the procedures for pursuing those goals through force of arms rather than negotiations with respect for the international rule of law.

Besides, the way Putin acquired Crimea cannot be allowed to set an international precedent. “Many countries around the world face similar questions about their borders and ethnic minorities abroad, about sovereignty and self-determination. These are tensions that have led in other places to debate and democratic referendums, conflicts and uneasy co- existence. These are difficult issues and it is precisely because these questions are hard that they must be addressed through constitutional means and international laws, so that majorities cannot simply suppress minorities and big countries cannot simply bully the small”.

What about America as a bullyboy on the international stage? Kosovo is not a precedent. “NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years…Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.”

Iraq is also not another example of hypocrisy by America for, “America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

Russia’s bullying tactics have been rationalized by accusing America of  “conspiring with fascists inside of Ukraine” and “failing to respect the Russian people.” The first is simply a lie. As for the second, “We Americans remember well the unimaginable sacrifices made by the Russian people in World War II, and we have honored those sacrifices. Since the end of the Cold War, we have worked with Russia under successive administrations to build ties of culture and commerce and international community, not as a favor to Russia, but because it was in our national interests… we believe the world has benefited when Russia chooses to cooperate on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect…America and the world, and Europe, has an interest in a strong and responsible Russia, not a weak one. We want the Russian people to live in security, prosperity and dignity like everyone else, proud of their own history. But that does not mean that Russia can run roughshod over its neighbors. Just because Russia has a deep history with Ukraine does not mean it should be able to dictate Ukraine’s future. No amount of propaganda can make right something that the world knows is wrong.”

In sum, America will give witness to the values it upholds and, in the case of Ukraine, will not back up that witnessing with the use of force but with conviction.” “In the end, the success of our ideals comes down to us, including the example of our own lives, our own societies.”  “I believe that if we hold firm to our principles and are willing to back our beliefs with courage and resolve, then hope will ultimately overcome fear, and freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny.”

After Obama’s speech, my fear of a repeat of 1914 has decreased enormously. But my fear for the Ukrainian people has also increased enormously. My questioning of the reliance on engagement and diplomacy alone continues at the same time as I too would prefer to avoid the use of force over Ukraine. But I also fear that if force is not threatened, and possibly emplyed, the likelihood of its use by Putin increases. Further, if a credible threat is made that it would be used, the  possibility that Putin will not invade Ukraine goes up not down.

The Obama doctrine can provide little comfort o the people of Ukraine and will, instead understandably fill them with fear and trembling.

The Current Ukrainian Crisis in Theoretical and Historical Perspective


Howard Adelman

I am torn between wanting to write about the psychological premises of Saving Mr. Banks, the hagiographical paeon to Walt Disney’s universal lesson of hope based on fulfilling childhood fantasy versus the deep fears that pervaded Pam Travers, the author of Mary Poppins in the context of Walt getting Pam Travers to allow him to make his movie of Mary Poppins. But since I myself am increasingly gripped more by fear these days than hope, I have set that task aside.

I am afraid as I have never been since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. I finished Margaret MacMillan’s book a month ago, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, and am currently reading Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. In the current crisis with Putin over the Ukraine, will the world stumble into war in a topsy turvy fashion, unintended but somehow with alternative avenues seemingly each closed off in turn and set off by a catalyst on the eastern border of Ukraine or perhaps in Moldova or even Syria? Everywhere I look for, and perhaps magnify, signs of hope, signs that the exit route that keeps being signalled to Putin will be taken, but instead the signs of escalation keep mounting higher and higher, and we are only at the very initial phases.

Further, the latest character of that escalation – in the banning of certain individual Canadians from entry into Russia – is a giant search light signal. For while Canada banned oligarchs and politicians associated with the annexation of Crimea, Russia responded by banning Canadians from entry to Russia based on either their record as defenders of modern individual rights and/or for their expertise on Russia and the defence of civil rights in the Russian Federation. The real war is a war of values – the worst kind of war – one between a substantive sense of justice based on equity, fairness and the rule of law that provides the basis for true unity that allows for and encourages difference, versus prejudice and superstition and the desire to impose an inflexible and dogmatic orthodoxy of belief and practice imposed by an arrogant leadership who project fears onto outsiders as distractions from substantive failures and disagreements within.

And if I am frightened, what about the Ukrainian citizens who now stand on the frontier? We are once again at a schism in history. How our leaders and statesmen handle this chasm will determine the future. And it is a historicial divide, not because Crimea was seized by or voted to reunite with Russia, but because the process so thoroughly challenged an international order built on the rule of law, an order that has been challenged before by stupid and illegal actions, but never in such a brazen way and for imperial purposes built on the basis of misrepresentation and falsehhoods.

What follows is a short extract from an essay I published on eschatology that offers a theoretical framework for my fears and basis for hope. I will follow up tomorrow with a historical-theoretical essay on the nature of the modern world order and the fundamental challenge that Putin is posing. I will then send out a blog on the application of this eschatological and historical framework to the contemporary situation. I will, sooner or later, publish my review essay on Margaret MacMillan, but I so need the relief of fiction and movies and plays to allow me to see the looming potential disaster with greater clarity.

I do not mean to be frightening but only wish to share the source of my own fears. So I will be sending out updated extracts, mostly theoretical, to offer the fundamental sources for the modern political order that is once again being fundamentally challenged.

I begin with the premises about eschatology and radical change.

On Eschatology: Jews and Visions of a World Order

I begin with a huge conceit. When you are truly in love, when you embrace this world with all its follies and foibles and do not dream of replacing it with an ideal order, but instead work to construct a system to avoid evil rather than achieve the good, to avoid an apocalypse rather serve a philosophical idealistic dream of a messianic promise, when meaning is found in bringing the past into the present to construct a future that will patch up fissures and fault lines rather than searching for that meaning in an eternal truth intended to prove the finitude of temporality, then the whole world is Jewish. The modern dream of building a Tower of Babel with a vision of a globalized culture and a universal normative language is deconstructed. World Order is a chimera.

I begin with eschatology and its three different meanings: an ultimate end of days and absolute destruction of this world and human history; a radical transformation within history out of which a new world order will emerge; and, third, a point of transformation in history in which the Hebraic image of a peaceful compact of nations once again emerges from the nightmare of a global and universal order combined with the image of an eschatological absolute destruction. In other words, the third vision of eschatology, the re-emergence of an already revealed truth of the finitude and diversity of humankind is always at war with the marriage of a divine and uniform utopian vision of the good married to a nightmare of absolute collapse.

Tomorrow I will describe the nation-state system as the reemergence of an older inherited vision that eschewed dreams of a universal order in favour of a system of diverse self-governing nations. The day after tomorrow, I will apply to the contemorary situation the modest and more personal vision of eschatology as another stage in the struggle between the vision of nations trying to create order while recognizing diversity, and the eschatological dreamers of a new world order who, through their utopian visions, threaten to bring about the very nightmare they fear, the destruction of the world as we know it.

On Eschatology

There are three radically different views of eschatology. Two are opposing visions, absolute opposites. In one, the world comes to an end and it is replaced by paradise. In the second, the world we know experiences absolute destruction. In the paradoxical Christian vision, the two opposite eschatological visions are combined. It is a vision of paradise following absolute destruction. In a very different third view, eschatology is the study of a profound rupture between different moments in history in which there is a dramatic change from one historical period to its successor brought about externally by either a very catastrophic event – destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD – or a trying but ultimately transformative experience – the alleged freeing of the Jewish slaves in Egypt from the tyrannical pharaoh, the 1688 revolution in Britain, the Civil War in the USA that freed Black slaves, and the Holocaust. On a personal level, these catastrophic ruptures are but macroscopic extensions of experiences of personal ruptures in one’s personal life, such as when an individual experiences a dramatic rupture when a beloved closest to one’s soul dies. Cataclysmic ruptures are experienced both personally and politically. When either is made absolute, the result is madness in history,

Eschatology in all three meanings refers to the end of days (in Hebrew, aharit ha-yamim) and the science of what happens after one dies and, in the ultimate end of days, the election of God to rule over all humanity when Israel can live peacefully in its own land in prosperity, and the bones of dead humans would once again have flesh as the dead are resurrected from that vale of skeletons (Ezekial 37:1-14) generally associated with the Valley of Kidron, or at the end of time itself and mankind’s life on this planet (kez ha-yamim). But if the governing macro-eschatology is a concern with the end of time, then the primary concern after someone dies is the destiny that awaits each individual after he or she dies – hence heaven (paradise) or hell. Eschatology also refers to ruptures in time and human history as a whole in which aharit ha-yamim simply means the end of these days and the coming of a very different future.

If the primary concern is with rupture and succession within time, the key issue is the significance of an individual life on future history. First and foremost, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, individuals become immortal by engraving their values on their children in the transmission of memory across generations. On a larger scale, if the governing macro-eschatology is a concern with ruptures in time, then the primary concern after an individual dies is what contribution that individual has made to tikkun olam, literally mending the world, trying to leave the world as a slightly better place than it would have been had the individual not lived and not on how the individual will be judged in terms of some absolute abstract norm of goodness and serving justice.

In Christendom, eschatology has been focused not only on the most dramatic ruptures in life – death and the evaluation of the worth of that life – but on heaven and hell as successor realms to that life beyond temporality. For most contemporary Jews, the characterization of the end of days and its possible succession, including the resurrection of bodily existence for all who died, is left to the end of days. In Plato’s writings that had such an influence on Christianity through Saul of Tarsus, and eventually Islam, the soul faces judgment after death depending on the contribution of that individual to serving the Good. But Plato had a cyclical view of history as a whole. Thus, there was no end of time, only resurrection in time. In the myth of Er told at the end of the Republic, those who experienced trials and tribulations are very cautious in choosing their lot for their next round of life, while those who were children of privilege are ignorant of caution and rashly choose their lots for their next life on earth. The synthesis of judgment of each individual by a divine being after each dies combined with the Jewish vision of the end of days, produced a novel theology of the resurrected Jesus through whose death and sacrifice individuals could be redeemed. In contrast, Judaism emphasizes ruptures within time, and evaluation of each life by the community in terms of that person’s contribution to bringing about needed repairs or avoiding catastrophic threats. In rabbinic Judaism as it developed in the common era, the focus is on history and not eternity.

How did this happen when the end of days is such a repeated theme in the Torah? Isaiah prophesized that a messiah would grow up as a “root out of dry ground” (title of my play produced at Hart House in 1961) who will make judgments based, not on existing historical laws and empirical facts, but to provide for the meek of the earth through righteousness that smites the earth with the rod of his mouth and slays the wicked, so that then, “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the leopard with the kid.” (Isaiah 11.6) This prophetic vision combined with Deutero-Isaiah’s transcendent eschatological vision (41-45) was to be brought about by a new prince of humans who personifies the spirit of Israel. Through his suffering, he atones for human sins, and, further, brings peace and salvation to the world. It is a vision divorced from the particularity of the Hebrews and their historical condition and universalized with great power in the Christianity of Paul based on the belief that Jesus was that prophesized messiah rather than a prophetic teacher. Paul believed in the immanent coming of God’s earthly kingdom. He preached not only to Jews, the “lost sheep of the House of Israel,” but to the gentile nations as well.

Father Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography, called Paul “the most successful religious teacher history has ever seen.” In his letter to the Colossae, Paul told the pagans that they did not have to abide by the laws of the Torah for converts were “set free from the sins of the flesh” and were born again into a new life. Acceptance of Jesus provided as radical a rupture as death, for it meant being reborn into Christ. The preacher of death in life and everlasting life in death taught that all humans share a common humanity through the suffering of Christ. Pagans were allowed to come inside God’s circle of love and purpose (Ephesians 2.12) (on the false premise that they had once been excluded by the Hebraic religion). Most importantly, by his suffering, Jesus removed what Paul labeled the “hostility” of the law to create a new human who could live in peace above and beyond rules, commandments and laws. In Acts, according to Paul, Peter prophesied “signs on the earth” – blood and fire, vapor and smoke, the sun turned to darkness and the moon bathed in blood, consistent with a huge nuclear war or a super volcanic eruption. (cf. Amos 5:18; 8:10; Zephaniah 1:2-24) Paul preached that the nation of Israel crucified Jesus and rejected him as both Lord and Christ. Christianity and a new eschatology had been created on the backs of an abused Israel, and the very source of that abuse was a Jewish dissident. Hence, the historic rupture between Christianity and Judaism, as well as a history of Christian persecution of Jews!

Do we mean by eschatology the end of a world as we knew it and the end of the rule of law, or the end of the world altogether, in massive devastation and/or collective redemption in a new world order? Does this vision in the face of an expectation of total disaster entitle anyone to live outside the rule of law? Or is eschatology simply the end of my world, the end of the world to which I have become accustomed?

Putin versus the Modern Nation-State System

The Development of the Modern Nation-State System


Howard Adelman


Putin versus the Westphalian Order

To comprehend the enormity of what is at stake in Putin’s Russia seizing and annexing part of Ukraine and now threatening eastern Ukraine, it is important to but the current crisis within the long trajectory of the development of modernity and the modern nation-state system. Putin is challenging the system on two basic norms: (1) prioritizing the unity of a large national group over the sanctity of state borders; (2) allowing powerful states through the use of their military might and economic leverage to reduce adjacent states to satraps and to change borders at will. These challenges have contributed to enormous international political turbulence and the risk of an expanded war is now possible. How to respond and with what degree of intensity and effort depends on understanding what is at stake. This blog, which borrows extensively from my previous publications, is intended to provide a succinct historical narrative to clarify what has been fought for and won in the existing international order.

In many world histories, the following radical shift at the beginning of the modern era likened our present time to that period. “Our current period is reminiscent of the turbulence and chaos that accompanied the transition from the feudal world order to the early Modern Period (pre-Westphalian Europe). This was a period of ‘declining empires, retreating feudal lords and an emerging class of traders and capitalist entrepreneurs.’ At that time, the Holy Roman Catholic Church represented God’s rule on earth (a divine element in that world order) and had established itself as the ‘divinely-delegated’ hegemonic power, an influential power that became an instrument of European governance. City-states were the main political units, although they were mostly controlled by monarchs. However, by the early 1600s there were already signs of tremendous turbulence in this feudal world order. One indication of this was the first pan-European (religious) war, which severely weakened the influence of the Church and resulted in the hegemon being replaced by about 300 sovereign princes. The disorder of the religious wars facilitated the disintegration of the old order which was slowly replaced by a new pan-European secular order in 1648 based on the equal sovereignty of newly created states.”

The message is that modern states succeeded empires replacing a centralized Christian empire with a diversity of different secular states. The new world order was consecrated by the Treaty of Westphalia. Though there is much truth in this historical schema, it errs by fundamental omissions. First, the resurrection of the concept of the nation as the bearer of collective values precedes the emergence of nation-states. Second, that emergence is facilitated by the resurrection of an Old Testament idea of nations at peace with one another; there is a utopian aspiration, as distinct from an apocalyptic vision, as well as an historical precedent on which these moderns relied. The aspiration included the Achilles heal of the nation-state system — whenever states and statesmen see themselves as the bearers and protectors of ALL fellow nationals in total disregard of accepted borders and the rights of states. Third, the states were not secular but Protestant, and the Protestant nation-states were at war with Catholic empires.

The Catholics were often viewed as fifth columnists, threats living within the bosom of the nation, with justification in some cases. But also because of provocation! After all, it was the true Catholic believer, Lord Robert (Robin) Catesby, in 1604 who organized Guy Fawkes, the explosives expert, and his aristocratic friends – Thomas Wintow, John Wright, Thomas Percy and Robert Keyes – to blow up James I, his wife and heir as well as all his officials in 1605 when the House of Lords reconvened in the second year after the Scottish King, James VI, son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, succeeded Elizabeth to the throne of England. James was perceived as failing to fulfill his ostensible promise to permit freedom of worship for the Catholics. Of course, there had been provocations. Sir Robert Cecil had persecuted Catholics mercilessly. Under a 1586 statute, priests had to live and scurry about England in secrecy. When caught, they were most often killed. Protestant church attendance was compulsory.

Robin Catesby was a devout Catholic and a recusant, a refusenik of the time who refused to attend a Protestant church even nominally. His sister hid the Jesuit Priest, Father Henry Garnett, who was believed to be trying to carry out the 1570 Papal Bull of Pius Quintet that Catholics were not bound by any oath of fealty to their Protestant King or Queen. In 1604, freed from the restraining influence of the King, the exposure and capture of the Bye Plot conspirators who planned to kidnap the King brought the wrath of the Sir Robert Cecil onto the backs of the Catholics, a wrath that encouraged the rebels even though Farther Garnet had advised against the plot in prescient fear of an even greater persecution of Catholics.

The 1605 Gunpowder plot was the 9/11 cataclysm of its day. But the centre of the intellectual and ideological war between Protestant nation-states and the Holy Roman Empire was Holland, not England, where thinkers such as Hugo Grotius provided the ideological rational for the new order, an order highly influenced by a belief in resurrecting a new version of the old biblical order embraced by the rule of constitutional law domestically and international law more globally.

The Hebrew bible is clearly based on a politics of peoples. God promises to make the descendents a great nation (Genesis 12:2) with numerous descendents. (Genesis 15:4; 17:2; 22:17). This collection of books is premised on ethno-nationalism and populated with goyim, nations. The central concern is with the politics of the nation, the proper polis for the nation (Daniel Elezar), and securing a nation’s freedom within God’s realm on earth, not God’s realm in heaven. (Leo Strauss) The nation is premised on the principle of descent as central though not exclusive (as the Book of Ruth clearly indicates), and governance over a particular territory both to protect the nation and to pass laws that apply equally both to members of the nation and the gerim or strangers who live amongst any nation.

The children of Israel are not native to the soil for, like the Arameans who came from Kir and the Philistines who came from Caphtor, the Israelites became a nation when they came up from Egypt to settle in the land of Israel. The implication is that many if not most nations are forged from their process of movement and settlement. Further, in the case of the Hebrews, as with many other peoples – the Armenians, the Kurds, the Circassians – their unity continues even when uprooted from what became their ancestral territory. During that exile, the collective experience includes a degree of self-rule even when the nation lived within the bosom of a state in which the members of the minority nation were not equal subjects.

Thus, there are laws and practices governing the nation which lack the coercive force of the state, but which regulate the life of a people and all of its members who voluntarily adhere to that law – Torah and dat. State laws apply to those norms and rules for the protection of the nation or the people. State laws also provide equal protection of the welfare of all citizens of the realm who live on its territory, provided that they are not threats, whatever the source of their national affiliation. Finally, state laws apply to inter-national relations under applicable universal norms. The problem of Putin is not that states do not have a responsibility to protect fellow nationals who live outside the confines of the state, but how and when that obligation to protection is exercised. Are fellow nationals really in dire fear or is the creation of that fear a construct and excuse for intervention? If they are in fear, have all other methods of protection been exhausted or has the state dispensed with established international procedures for pursuing protection?

At the foundations of modernity in the seventeenth century, Holland emerges as the modern New Israel, the Republica Hebraeorum at a time when Hebrew studies and biblical research flourished at Leiden University and Jews arrived in large numbers in the United Provinces, mostly in flight from persecution and discrimination elsewhere – such as Catholic Spain where even the Conversos were being persecuted as racism rather than religion revealed itself to be at the heart of the persecution. Though these new political ideals incorporate in their political theoretical concerns the preoccupation with the ideal form of government as well as concerns with power and justice and the relationship between those who rule and those governed by the laws of the state largely inherited from the Greeks, it is from Jewish thinkers who lived in exile that Holland inherited its tradition for developing theory and rules of law applicable to the Dutch nation. (Cf. E.H. Krossman (2000) Political Thought in the Dutch Republic)

Although the material benefits of providing hospitality to the great Jewish merchants of the time, who were enjoying a Golden Age, played a part, the influence of traditional Jewish political thought on the political foundations of the post-Westphalian order was profound. The Jewish polis was not viewed as a source for universal truths, but as a model with lessons to be learned. This not just an exercise in speculation, but an actual pattern of political concern by a nation that was so critical in providing the foundations of modernity, for it was William of Orange in 1688 coming from the Netherlands who gave Britain its character as a modern nation-state.

However, the Dutch tradition differed from that of the Hebrew nation, for Holland arose out of a tradition in which the separation of Church and State, the separation from the laws that are God’s and those that are Caesar’s, was a central theme. The tradition of the king’s two bodies, and the dominion of the Church over spiritual matters versus the State over earthly matters, was not part of the Hebraic tradition of political thought. That political tradition of two political realms intersecting in the sovereign also influenced issues of membership, for canonical law had been used to de-nationalize the Jews of Spain and drive them out of the polity in the Spanish Inquisition. Thus, the Dutch had to intertwine at least three traditions, the tradition of defining the ideal polity in accordance with Greek philosophy, the tradition of defining the rights of the nation and of the excluded stranger in Jewish political thought, and the need to separate Church and state.

Hugo Grotius adapted the conceptions of equality and justice in his 1600 volume, De Republica Emendanda, and in his 1614 recommendations to the United Provinces on the treatment of foreigners seeking safety in Holland that had such an influence on the 1617 book of his friend, Petrus Cunaeus, who was less interested in emulating the ancient Hebrew Kingdom’s constitutional provisions, than its ethical ones, namely its conceptions of equity and justice.

The three different sections of De Republica Emendanda deal with constitutional, legislative and leadership issues in the first 27 paragraphs comparing the Hebrew and Dutch constitutions, the analysis of disaggregated sovereignty in the Hebrew polity divided among the different levels of structure and individuals assigned authority over those different levels, including the supreme representation of sovereignty, and, thirdly, a historical sketch of the history of the Dutch Republic thus far and its shortcomings. Those shortcomings boiled down to loss of a true substantive sense of justice that was the basis for unity, and the substitution of prejudice and superstition and the desire to impose an inflexible and dogmatic orthodoxy of belief and practice imposed by arrogant and ignorant clergy (then on such issues as predestination and the Lord’s grace) to replace true piety and respect. De Republica Emendanda explicitly refers to the ancient Hebrew Commonwealth as a prototype of those same weaknesses that produced a lack of unity because of superstition rather than a respect for inviolable laws, and that led to futile and meaningless debates over sacred ritual and places of worship rather than freedom, equality, justice and power.

This disunity led to the downfall of the ancient Israelite state. As a consequence, the failures of the ancient Israeli effort at state-building could be repeated bringing on interventions by wayward princes or emperors, the promotion of idolatry, the growth of internal strife from within, and the culminating calamity of all, civil war, and tyranny from without. In the face of such divisions and displacements, fears are projected onto outsiders as distractions from substantive failures and disagreements within. Those exercises in displacement were used to cover up rather than deal with an absence of unity so critical for the administration of a successful polis. The issues were self rule in accordance with inherited privileges and local interests that guaranteed local inalienable rights, and the limitation of powers of external sovereigns, including inhibiting the extension of those powers to exclude providing hospitality and safety to people expelled by that foreign sovereign.

In the debates over whether Jews could be granted freedom of religious belief and practice when not only Roman Catholics and specific other Protestant denominations lacked such rights, and in the face of public scandals in which one Jewish male was caught having intercourse with a Christian girl and another, a pharmacist was caught committing adultery with a Christian maid, Grotius, though not clearly and distinctly, but ambiguously and half-heartedly, commended the intake of Jews. Immigration of Hebrews was to be allowed because of an affinity between Calvinist Holland and the history and experience of Jews, and between their ancient commonwealth and its constitution and their reference to God as the supreme commander, so that humans are committed, not to following the whims of the people, but to follow divine commandments for hospitality which are couched as universal obligations of duty rather than as the universal rights of those claiming the beneficence of the host state. No quota was to be placed on immigration. At the same time, the freedom of Jews to publish had to be restricted lest they try to proselytize and seduce Christian girls. Jews could not serve in public office and young Christian girls could not work as maids in Jewish households. (These were Grotian pragmatic concessions to mob fear.) But no restrictions were to be placed on Jewish rights to trade, subject to Christian imposed closing times, or to where they could live. They were neither prevented from wearing special attire (versus the 2013 proposed Quebec Charter of Values) nor was the wearing of special attire imposed upon them. The Jewish national sense of freedom and equality, justice and beneficence provided the standard for the Dutch nation as it sought self-rule.

Grotius failed to save Holland from its religious zealots and political fanatics, and, in 1618, was forced to flee to Paris and live in exile for the rest of his life when the greatest rupture first appeared in the process of creating a modern Dutch state. However, he left a legacy of intellectual wariness of those who promoted ultimate apocalyptic visions. He also bequeathed a respect for the political values of the ancient Hebrew nation and its respect for the rule of law. Nationality had to be married to a republican order of law and self-government.

This was what Putin does not understand. Nationality does NOT trump a republican order but works in concert with it. Putin seems to be driven more and more by a Milosevic utopian vision of a union of a greater Russia and a willingness to flirt with the apocalypse. The principle of the rule of law both within states and in the international order among states is a fundamental value worth fighting for. But any fight involving a nuclear power in contemporary times poses an existential risk, not simply to the modern world order, but to any order whatsoever.

The threat of nationalism to a state political order can come from without or from xenophobic nationalists from within who may try to seize control of the levers of the state. Further, expansionist nationalism and xenophobic nationalism, while ostensibly opposed, easily become partners in dismantling the legal order of the state system. That is why, while opposing expansionist nationalism, it is also necessary to be wary of internal xenophobic nationalists who may be the keenest opponents of the expansionist variety, for both pay little regard to the nature of the state, the importance of a civil order, the crucial role of state institutions and the rule of law as protectors of minorities domestically and internationally.

The nation-state system as it has developed must be protected and defended whether the threat comes from Western neo-liberal imperialists or Eastern pan-nationalist or pan-religious zealots.

Jews and the Military: A History by Derek Penslar

Jews and the Military: A History by Derek Penslar

reviewed by

Howard Adelman

I read Derek’s book, not only because he is a friend, but because I hoped he might help me answer a number of questions about the role of Jews as fighters. I have always been interested in outliers, not exactly in Malcolm Gladwell’s sense of someone who achieves success without following the normal rules, but in the more colloquial sense as someone who is not part of a group but gets to play a significant role in that group without exactly being fully part of it. (This, as the reader will see, includes diaspora Jewish outliers within the Israeli army.) I was attracted to Jewish military outliers because of their counter to the image of Jews as a non-fighting group (false as Derek shows) and because the image of the military as a conformist organization par excellence combined with being an outlier seems so ill-fitting. What makes Jewish outliers tick and how do they get to occupy the positions they do far out of proportion to their percentage of a population?

My experience with the military in Harbord Collegiate in Toronto reinforced this curiosity. When I entered in 1950, Harbord was an academic high school consisting of 95% Jewish students and 100% non-Jewish teachers. Further, the member of Parliament for our area was a Communist and a Jew, Joe or J.B. Salsberg. A few years earlier, the only other member of Parliament in Ottawa who was a communist was Fred Rose (nee Rosenberg) who represented Cartier Riding, a working class riding in Montreal. He was Jewsih and the only Canadian Parliamentarian ever convicted of treason. Salsberg finally broke from the party only with the Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. (Cf. Gerry Tulchinsky’s Joe Salsberg: A Life of Commitment)

At the time in the immediate aftermath of World War II, high schools still had compulsory military training. Harbord Collegiate was no exception. Harbord Collegiate was relatively exceptional among high schools in having a statue of a soldier carrying a gun into battle called “Our Soldier” which had been installed in 1921 as a memorial to the Harbord Collegiate boys who fought and died in the Great War and to which was added the names of those who sacrificed their lives in WWII.

Our military training officer was a Brit, Major Caldecott, who was also our gym teacher and my home teacher in Grade 9. He had served in Palestine during the war. As he explicitly told us, there seemed little difference between the colony of Jews in Harbord Collegiate and the Jewish colony of Jews in Palestine. He claimed to understand our specific needs. Since most of us had part time jobs and could only do compulsory military training after school once a week at a significant economic sacrifice, he arranged with the principal for us to learn all the military routines in three afternoons when we would train at the University Avenue armouries instead of attending school. As he explicitly told us, we were smart Jewish boys who would not suffer from missing three afternoons of school and could learn in just three afternoons what other schools took a year to learn..

There was a third and most important difference and exception that affected our cadet corp. Our school was the only one in the city where the cadet corp did not have either guns or uniforms. The cadet corp of Central Tech three blocks away in the same federal riding had both guns and uniforms. I do not recall our having been given any explanation for this anomaly, but we generally assumed that it was the combination of the high proportion of Jews and a communist member of Parliament that explained the situation. After all, the cadet corp of Forest Hill Collegiate in a rich district that did not have Salsberg as a rep but with a high percentage of Jews, trained with both guns and uniforms. There was one distinct advantage to this situation. Under the principle of equality, Harbord Collegiate received the same allowance per student from the government for military training as other schools. Caldecott, claiming to understand our psychology and economic predicament, said that the money saved from not having to buy guns and uniforms would go to the platoon that performed best in the march past before the Queen’s Own Rifles which would be a test of our mastery of the marching drill in three afternoons of training.

Although the training over those three afternoons seemed absolutely chaotic, the Major must have understood how money motivated Jews from working class families and we performed brilliantly at the evening parade. If we had not suffered from a handicap of receiving zero points for the way we wore our uniforms – we marched with white shirts with rolled-up shirt sleeves – and for the absence of any gun drill, we would have come in first in the city. As it is, we came third. I wanted to read Derek’s book to find out whether this situation of differential training was unique and whether a fear of our using those guns to mount a communist insurrection was the motivation for Harbord Collegiate’s outlier treatment in cadet training. As much as I learned, this question remained unanswered though I did learn that the situation of regarding certain Jews as having questionable loyalties was not unique but rather pervasive.

But my main interest was individual outliers. A special favourite outlier of mine was Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen, a Canadian who left Poland with his Orthodox Jewish family when he was a child and became a pickpocket in London’s east-end just like one of Fagin’s boys in Oliver Twist, but his boss was called Harry the Goniff.  Cohen was also a boxer who fought as Fat Moishe or Cockney Cohen. After a period in reform school, he was sent off to Canada to work as a farmhand, but soon went back to his old ways and travelled with the carnival as a barker and shill. He became a soldier in WWI supervising Chinese labourers employed to dig the ditches and build railways.

When he returned to Canada, following a good deed he performed for a Saskatoon Chinese restauranteur, Mah Sam, protecting him from a shake-down gang, he was introduced to Sun Yat-sen. He ended up, according to his own account, initially as a colonel in Sun Yat-sen’s nationalist Chinese army, but, in Derek’s account attributed to Daniel Levy’s biography of Cohen, not even an aide-de-camp, but “more of a bodyguard and drill instructor” (212). But in Cohen’s own account and that of Levy, he ended up as an arms dealer for Chinese warlords and Chief of Chinese intelligence when he purportedly assumed the title of General.  

My interest was not just idiosyncratic. I ran across a varied assortment of Jewish outliers in my work in Africa and Asia. The interest has a contemporary as well as historical application. In the Maidan rebellion in Kyiv this year, an ex-Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldier, who served in the Shu’alei Shimshon reconnaissance battalion of the Givati infantry brigade and who born in the Ukraine, was a leader of a 40 man (and woman) platoon called Delta that patrolled the Maidan in Kyiv to ensure there was no hooliganism and to preserve the ethos that violence would only be used for defence and not to attack police or political institutions. Among the members, there were a few others Jews trained in the IDF. He and his team prevented a mob from overrunning a police station and killing all the cops inside. To add to the irony, he worked under the auspices of Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian party that was often accused of anti-Semitism and was very recently documented as physically forcing the head of Ukraine television to resign..

What motivated such Jewish outliers and why were they accepted by groups to which they only had a marginal affinity? Derek summarizes Two-Gun’s role but does not even attempt an explication. In the case of Berek Joselewic who became a Polish national hero for raising and leading a regiment in the Kosciuszko rebellion against Russia in 1794 and subsequently fought in the Polish cavalry and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Polish army, Derek simply says that, “Berek was not so much a Polish patriot as an adventurer and activist who sought to enhance his own personal honour as well as the Jews under his command” and that “Berek’s own ambition shines through in his demand to be appointed to the august rank of colonel.” (56-57) Berek and Two Gun Cohen come across as outsized opportunists and self-promoters attracted to the military for the adventure and theatrical nature of the enterprise rather than men who became soldiers because of principle or an overwhelming desire to serve.

In contrast, during the nineteenth century Jews enrolled as soldiers for their imperial governments in support of stability provided reform was promised to guarantee equality or as rebels in the quest for national independence and the consequent freedom and equality promised. Among such freedom fighters, Jews played a prominent role similar to their role this year in the uprisings in Kyiv where their numbers were disproportionate to their small percentage of the population. And if a rebellion was squelched, Jews bore an equally disproportionate share of the punishment. But whatever side taken and whatever the result, Jews had been inculcated with military values that became part of their liberal emancipation.

Another question I hoped to have answered was the issue of dual loyalty, between one’s loyalty to Jews as a group versus loyalty to the polity in which Jews were members, loyalty to Jews in general versus the particular loyalties to their states or rebellious factious. Thus, Jews fought on both sides in the American Civil War. Jews are on both sides in the Russian Ukraine divide. But that could mean Jews killing Jews.  How did Jews respond to such conflicts of loyalty? Chapter four takes up that issue of Jews as a nation fighting their own people.

Jews are not the only ones affected by such divided loyalties. Russians living in Ukraine outside of Crimea are torn. Poles fought for both the Germans and the Russians as did Ukrainians for both the Tsarist and Hapsburg dynasties in the Great War. What Derek documents is that the question of this type of dual loyalty did not arise until the nineteenth century. Prior to then Jews generally, with some exceptions, waited on the sidelines though sometimes taking up arms to protect their municipalities. However, what happened when French Jews prayed for the success of Napoleon and Jews in Britain prayed for the success of their own troops? To whom was God supposed to listen?

Derek’s answer emerges in the historical literature he uncovers. Jewish military service “was tied to the rational value of service to the state” (125) and not tied to romantic myths of family and nation and the  cult of masculinity. Jews then tended to favour gentle masculinity. So Jews fought against Jews but did not get caught up in a process of magnifying the traits of one’s own nation and denigrating the traits of the other so Jewish transnationalism persisted even with all the inter- and intra-state wars. Jewish patriotism was active in accepting the responsibilities of military service to the state in which they were members while they passively accepted its correlate that Jews would end up killing Jews as the trade off for emancipation and citizenship.

Clearly Germans and Italians and Japanese who fought for the allies had similar conflicts and seem to have resolved them in the same way except when they were persecuted by the states in which they were members because of the irrational fears of them being or becoming a fifth column. Yet Derek suggests something else was at work for Jews – a strong sense of transnationalism that not only made them suppress any demonization of the Other and glorification of the collective self, but created a strong propensity to uphold the values of universal peace. However, where there were no Jews on the other side in fighting in the colonies, or where the enemy was clearly Melek as in the case of the Germans during WWII, Jews seemed no different than any other nation. In such morally unambiguous situations vis-a-vis the type of dual loyalty, the transnationalism was more muted.

I also wanted to learn about Jews who were outstanding soldiers, particularly Canadians. When we were teenagers, we heard many stories about the outstanding contribution of Ben Dunkelman both in World War II where he fought in the Canadian army and then went on to fight in the War of Independence in Israel. He was not as famous as Mickey Marcus and, as far as I know, there was no movie made of his exploits, perhaps because he was never a Major General or, more importantly, did not die in the War of Independence. (If you recall the movie, Cast a Giant Shadow with Kirk Douglas, Mickey Marcus was shot by mistake by “friendly fire” the evening before the truce that ended the hostilities in 1948.) 

Unlike the older Marcus, who was the son of a Jewish pedlar from Manhattan’s teeming lower east side, Ben Dunkelman was a Jewish aristocrat in Toronto terms since his father owned Tip Top Tailors, a huge garment firm and retailer. Ben did not just go to Forest Hill Collegiate but attended what was then considered the heart of the WASP establishment, Upper CanadaCollege. He joined a kibbutz in the 1930s encouraged by his mother who was an ardent Zionist. Further, he did not just live in Forest Hill, but his family had an estate called Sunnybrook that became the land where the SunnybrookHospital is now. My older brother delivered pop to his estate at Balfour Beach on Lake Simcoe.

We were told of Ben’s career as an outstanding member of the Queen’s Own Rifles, the regiment that supervised our cadet training at Harbord Collegiate. Like our teacher, Caldecott, he had risen to the rank of major, had won a Distinguished Service Medal and we were told that he had been offered the post as head of the Queen’s Own Rifles after the war. But he was most famous among us for fighting in the Israeli War of Independence and fought with the Mahal to break the siege of Jerusalem and led in the capture of Nazareth, a town where the Palestinians did not flee and were not coerced to flee because of an agreement he forged as leader of Operation Dekel, a story he tells in his autobiography, Dual Allegiance and, as Derek tells the tale, in opposition to his superior officer, Haim Laskov who ordered the Arab population to be “evacuated”. Dunkelman was fired as Military Commander of Nazareth for disobeying that order of a superior officer and he accepted that firing quietly only after winning his superior’s assent that the security of the Arabs of Nazareth would be guaranteed. The whole story of this incident was deleted by Dunkelman from his own autobiography.

Derek’s book is worth reading for that revelation alone. Dunkelman, though an ardent Zionist, returned to Canada because his entrepreneurial training clashed with vested interests in the new Israel and with the dominant socialist ideology. Marcus and Dunkelman whatever their Zionsit credentials, more for Dunkelman than for Marcus, were motivated more by their “sense of Jewish solidarity, a search for meaning in life, a love of adventure, and an acceptance of war as no less inevitable than it was hellish”. (237)

For such a comprehensive and historical overview of the role of Jews in the military over the centuries and across the world, I was surprised to find so much specificity that related to my own memories. As Derek sums up the case. Jews were bothered by fears of fratricide but were governed by a sense of patriotic duty as well as respect for human dignity and the principle of tolerance while, at the same time, celebrating the values of virility and bravery. I recall how proud I was when my grandson, Eitan, received his red beret as a paratrooper in the IDF. For a follower of Ghandi and an ardent pacifist in the 1960’s I learned I had travelled an even longer way than I thought in coming to understand my Jewish roots and how I had learned through historians of the empirical facts how wrong my hero as an undergraduate, Hannah Arendt, had been in her charge that Jews went like sheep to their slaughter under the Nazi murder machine 

But there remains a fundamental divide in the world-wide Jewish family. Only Israeli Jewish citizens, including heredim who are destined to also to serve, supplemented by a small core of Jewish volunteers from the diaspora – Seth Freiberg, the son of our friends Sandy and Jack in Toronto, recently received his red beret – defend the state of Israel. Until all Jews in the world assume an equal obligation to develop the skills and offer service to defend their state, the idea of Israel as a Jewish state will remain not only a subject of debate in peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but a deep if unaddressed fissure within the world of Jews.

Only when all feel an obligation to serve (and when the learning of Hebrew also becomes a habit in the diaspora), will the Jewish diaspora emerge as an equal partner with those who live in Israel in the enterprise of ensuring Jewish continuity. For the present, as Derek concludes, “Israel does not appear to be an exception at all” in the historical pattern of Jewish behaviour to the military, serving when it is their patriotic obligation but largely standing on the sidelines as an example of “modern Jews’ contingent and flexible response to conscription and militant patriotism”. (258) The military option remains an open question for diaspora Jews in the issue of re-assimilation back into the Jewish polity while having been answered with respect to loyalty to the many and different states around the world in which Jews are now citizens.


The Lunch Box

The Lunch Box


Howard Adelman 



The Lunch Box is an Indian movie set in Mumbai that intermixes Hindi with a smattering of English and has absolutely none of the core characteristics of a Bollywood film – dancing and singing, gaiety, a sentimental romantic view of life and, most of all, a patina of rich colour that we associate not only with Bollywood but with India in general. The Lunch Box leans towards the drab. I write “leans” because nothing can take place in India that is not rich, especially in colour, but in this film the richness is saved for the lunch that one wife, Ila, prepares for Vaid, her cold and cut-off indifferent husband. Nimran Kaur plays the role of Ila with exquisite perfection and an ability to convey loneliness and hurt, disappointment and hope, using a small twitch or a slight turn in her lips to express an enormous range of emotions.

There are no dances, but there are songs, particularly the song sung by the men who deliver the lunch boxes throughout the city, the dabbawala, literally “one who comes in a box” for dabba means box and a wala as a suffix is one who holds the box. It is worth the price of the admission ticket alone to see the shots of the men dressed in their white cotton kurta-pyjamas and their white Gandhi caps (topi) cycling or pushing carts even in pouring rain in the late morning collecting and then delivering the hot food in lunch boxes, or, as I learned from a friend who attended the movie with us, in reusable tiffins which hold the hot lunches prepared by the worker’s wives, and then retrieving those same tiffins now emptied of food from their husbands’ places of work and traveling again on bicycles and trains or pushing carts and redistributing them back to the housewives. (In Mumbai, 4500 dabbawalla deliver over 200,000 lunches daily – some say a million daily – at the right time and to the right addresses.) The system of collecting the coded boxes that indicate the origin, the distribution station, the delivery area and the specific building and floor anticipated the postal code. The exquisite stainless steel layered tiffin with its four compartments in which the delicious mouth-watering hot Indian lunch is placed is as intrinsic to this film as any prop that I have ever seen in a movie 

We leave the film humming the song of the dabbawalla at the end of the film. I looked up the lyrics, for the tune was so catchy and realized how much of the ironic sense and symbolism I had missed by not understanding the words of the song, assuming that I have found the correct song that the Dabbawalla sing. Translated, it goes like this:


I am your Dabbawala

And I want to feed you

I can be your lover like a deer who longs for water

I can be your dabbawala if you keep me warm


My journey is long and winding

I fear I might spill my treasure


’cause I am your Dabbawalla

And I want to feed you

in the promised land it tastes like milk and honey

I’ll be your Dabbawala and dwell in your soul


My journey is long and winding

I fear I might spill my treasure


’cause I am your one love

I can fly like a peaceful dove.

There is no love triangle as in a Bollywood film There is no hero – the main character is the epitome of an anti-hero, a brusque and lonely accounting clerk and widower, Saajan Fernandes, acted with studied brilliance by Irrfan Khan, who has worked for the claims department of an insurance company for thirty-five years and is on the verge of retirement. In reality, he has already retired from life. The Dabbawalla of this anti-hero is really the housewife, Ila, thirsty for true love who prepares the delicious lunch originally for her husband. She is a wife who wants to feed her husband, but, in his absence, a lover simply in return for the warmth of companionship. She is willing to travel the long and winding journey even to Bhutan with this retiring clerk so the two of them can live together in the land of milk and honey where one can buy with one rupee that which costs five rupees in Mumba. But that is getting far ahead of the story for Saajan is filled with fear, fear of love, fear that he is too old, fear of novelty, fear of disappointing the other. 

The Lunch Box is a true masala rather than the artificial concoction brought together so delightfully in a typical Indian Bollywood film. When I write true masala, I mean that literally. The film opens on the theme that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Ila prepares the most delicious mixture of spices and flavours to win back the heart of her cold-hearted and indifferent husband through the lunches she prepares for him. But this is not a comedy of confusion and mixed up identities, though there are certainly some very comic moments, particularly when the dabbawala who picks up the lunch box defends the system against the accusation that this lunch box is going to the wrong man. The absolute certainty of the undoubtedly illiterate delivery man in his impeccable whites is backed up by his citation of a study done by a management consultant from Harvard (there actually was a Harvard Review business case study of the Dabbawalla delivery system) and Britain’s Prince Charles (who did actually inspect and laud the dabbawalla for the perfection of the system). But the satire in this film is of the gentlest quality.

Though the political dimensions of grand corruption and horrible villains of a Bollywood film are discarded, the central theme of impossible love is retained, but in its authentic mediaeval sense of unrequited love rather than the sentimental enchantment of the infatuations between two beautiful Bollywood stars. This is a film that reveals the true character of the crowded urban daily life in India in one of its most populous cities with over twelve million souls.

The movie also shares with a Bollywood film the reliance on coincidence and serendipity for the plot to work, only in this film, chance is inherent to the realism of the movie rather than a device imported to make the narrative move along in the way the director, Ritesh Batra, desires. Those carefully and meticulously prepared lunches are delivered to the desk of the wrong man. Further, in this story, the occasional use of including notes of exchange between husband and wife in the lunch boxes becomes the foundation of a touching exchange of brief and revealing letters dealing with both the mundane and the profound, an exchange between the lonely wife and the reclusive accountant who receives the wrong box, Saajan. When Ila learns that her meticulously labour-intensive prepared lunch is going to the wrong man who has grown accustomed to more insipid fare prepared by a commercial establishment, she sends the first note.

It is a romantic comedy and not just a romance about unrequited love, but the comedy is supplied by the supporting characters, mainly Nawazuddin Siddhiqui who plays Shaikh, a sycophantic schemer with a heart of gold who becomes Saajan’s assistant and designée to replace him after Saajan’s retirement. Shaikh, a gourmet cook himself, is the real romantic and man of courage because he fakes his credentials to win his job and wins the love of his life, Mehrunissa, even though he is short, too dark in colour and without future promise as an earner. The other source of comedy is Ila’s “auntie” who lives on the floor above and is never seen – she has to take care of her bedridden husband. “Auntie” offers spices to improve the lunches, recipes and advice. The other invisible bodies are those of the husband of “auntie” and of Ila’s own father, who has been bed ridden for fifteen years. Saajan at the beginning of the film might as well be one of these half-dead men who clutter the film, a group that includes Ila’s husband.

The movie is not just about the sweet and charming relationship that develops between Ila and Saajan through the gift by Ila to Saajan of very tasty food that fills a life that has lost all its taste. It is not just about the exchange of very hesitant but also very honest and forthright notes. For this heart touching movie that won a Critics Choice Award and was nominated for an Oscar, is, as I wrote above, about unrequited love. Subtle and unhurried, gentle and poignant, delicate and ultimately decent, this movie is not precisely about love that is not reciprocated, but about the inability of  people trapped in their habits and circumstances to be able to overcome the roadblocks to allow a reciprocal inter-personal relationship develop, One is only left at the end of the film with the faith that perhaps in the near future these two lovers, who have never truly met but have become so intimately involved, can consummate their relationship by the chance that they will end up taking the wrong train to the right place for it is precisely through that route that they “met” in the first place.


Lungs; A Review

Lungs: A Review


Howard Adelman


Last night, Nancy and I went to see Lungs, a 75 minute torrent of words written by British playwright Duncan Macmillan and directed by Weyni Mengesha now playing at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. Last night, my youngest son, Gabriel, went to see Chekhov’s The Seagull playing at the Berkeley Theatre and directed by Peggy Coffey. I warned Gabriel before he left that if Chekhov is not directed properly with the right cast and Chekhov’s acute comic sense, the play can seem like a terrible bore, especially to modern audiences. I have watched The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya and most productions tend to be slow and ponderous. Chekhov’s wit and comedy are lost in stilted performances in which the actors’ bodies seem only to be there to hold their mouths. Even worse, the performers usually lack souls so that the actors’ words float free disconnected from eros and thanatos that are always at war in Chekhov’s writing just as he saw them at war in his medical practice. I so want Gabriel to see great productions because I want him to love the theatre as much as I do. As a film director haunted by death, he could learn a great deal from Chekhov’s ability to create scenes with Death ever present but without the Grim Reaper appearing on stage.  Premier Pauline Marois in Québec could also learn from Chekhov’s mastery for last night she was evidently unable to keep the spectre of another sovereignty referendum off the debate stage.

I will insist he go to see Lungs. It is a whirlwind flow of words that is the very opposite of typical Chekhov productions. The actors require great lungs to deliver their lines at a machine gun pace intermixed with suitable pauses. But Lungs is also about forests as the lungs of the earth, forests which obsess the main characters for they live in fear of environmental destruction and how their carbon footprints and especially that of any child they bring into this world will contribute to the demise of the planet. These two lovers, Woman and Man, W and M, played brilliantly by Lesley Faulkner and Brendan Gall, are contemporary replicas of a dozen characters we have seen in romantic comedies, but with a real twist – they live in existential fear of and for themselves and for this world that bears no resemblance to the fears of nuclear annihilation of the generation of the sixties and of the survivors after WWI who still lived with the dream of building a world that could live in permanent peace in spite of the horrors they went through in the Great War. Unlike previous eras, couples in this generation can choose to have a child or to abort a pregnancy but, unlike previous eras, they feel they can no longer do anything to ensure the planet’s survival let alone their child’s.

And it drives them nuts. Though they move with no greater speed than a Chekhov character, we are in a modern theatre and a modern relationship where lack of commitment, where the need for roots for the trees and forests they want to plant, is evident and worn on their sleeves like the ubiquitous badges on Canadian Goose winter coats that make everyone wearing those coats look like representatives of the Red Cross. While Chekhov’s characters in The Seagull, set at the end of the nineteenth century on his country estate, are wannabe artists, the two characters in Lungs are wannabe wannabes. They just do not know what they want to be when they grow up even though they seem to be in their late twenties or early thirties, M, a laid back placidly pleasant but unsuccessful musician, finally joins the corporate world as some kind of nebulous environmental advisor while W completes her PhD presumably on the environment while educating M and driving him to despair as he reads her books.

They are not engaged in superficial blather. They are concerned with the momentous decisions in everyone’s life. And they do not just express their rapid shifts in mood in rapid-fire chatter. Sometimes, the situation explodes with an intensity of emotions worthy of a Virginia Woolf drama but, unlike Woolf, with every barb and offence totally off target so that you love rather than despise the characters. This is a couple who try to self-assemble their lives as if life was a flattened collection of IKEA pieces that comes along with its own tiny assembly tool along with a set of instructions for assembly but which few PhDs can master but any ordinary handyman can easily. It does not help that this couple lacks a set of instructions, a formula or a key tool for assembling their lives.

Eventually, like the two M’s in Chekhov’s The Seagull, they overcome all their challenges, marry and have a child together. What they also have in common with Chekhov’s characters is that they are bubbling over with despair ad infinitum that impairs their ability to make decisions and take actions. If ecology is the new aesthetics, little else has changed from Chekhov even though the modern play requires no shifts in scenery or divisions into acts and scenes but flows virtually seamlessly in an unbroken hour and a quarter that covers three quarters of a lifetime. We have gone from the standard four act play of the late nineteenth century to the three act plays that I saw in my youth, to the two act plays that no longer needed the first act to set the scene and introduce the players, to the one act drama that dispenses with scenes and scenery, transitions that take more than a second, and pauses that are just long enough for the actors to catch a breath. Instead of Chekhov’s cluttered nineteenth century sets, we have a minimalist constructed IKEA space but without the IKEA furniture with characters wearing clothes as if they stepped in off the street. The play is almost totally lacking in artifice.

But like Chekhov, when directed correctly, the comedy comes through loud and clear as it does in Lungs. What else can one do when watching such desperate frenetic characters in an unremitting dystopia but laugh! We enjoy an evening watching a two-handed play and end with four hands clapping madly even though the comedy proves to be truly tragic and horrific. The play, which started with such enormous strength, fast forwards to a pianissimo ending as in Chekhov. Although there is very little actual action as in Chekhov, unlike Chekhov there is a ton of love. The stage is not throbbing with the unrequited version. 

While Chekhov played with the generation gap and sexual disloyalties, in contemporary sit-coms there is no generation gap for loyalty belongs to a mythological past. The characters, like Chekhov’s, have either not found their way in the world or lost it, and in Lungs both happen at different stages of their lives as they obsess, not like a seagull with nowhere to land in a flooded world nor with the prospect of the destruction of a cherry orchard, but with everyday critical problems about personal survival rather than desire – whether to have a baby or not, whether to abort or not, whether to wed or not, and how to survive a miscarriage and a sexual fling, let alone the standard trope of an engagement to another in the period in which they broke up – as the whole ecosystem is collapsing around them. If The Seagull is a symbol of innocence and purity, ideals and dreams, before they all come into collision with the realities of life, Lungs offers a collision with the realities of life because the characters seem incapable of innocent dreaming and idealistic visions because their idealism has already undermined that possibility and brought them to the brink of despair and neurotic madness.

Like The Seagull, Lungs begins with a strong and rapid paced interchange between M and W as two adults obsessed with environmental degradation stand in line at the furniture store dedicated to the disposable, IKEA, when M inappropriately, but, we learn, typically, raises the prospect of the two of them having a child. W responds like an adult suffering from extreme ADD who has misplaced her Ritalin pills and blurts out one response only to question and contradict it with the next and then take back any desire to respond at all as she immediately suspends that resolve and moves to the attack mode. It is like watching Charlie Chaplin on steroids in the famous scene on the assembly line only in this case, instead of the frenetic speed being determined by the constantly increasing rate of movement of the assembly line, W bounces from one thought to its opposite in a total inability to suppress anything.

M responds in a wide variety of ways but always with bemused confusion and a benign goodwill that inevitably has disastrous consequences. And the greatest confusion is the compulsion to think and talk combined with the inability to do either with clarity or consistency. Though the topics and responses shift with lightning speed, as in Chekhov, the mood merely grows more sombre and the movements of the actors more constricted. The problem, of course, is that although the ambitions of W and M  are not as boundless as that of Chekhov’s characters and are far more down-to-earth, the characters are even more restricted and constricted in exact proportion to their lack of repression. The reality of this age is far more ominous than the end of an era that Chekhov saw with such great insight. For it is not the end of an era they live with but the end of the earth and humanity, with total extinction and not just the extinction of one particular way of life.

If you thought the movie, Gravity, was dizzying, the seismic shifts in topics and moods, the circuitous and convoluted paths that the conversations take, the muddles they get themselves into, and the grasping for air that they find through apologies alternating with rants, insults with expressions of absolute adoration, creates seismic confusion of cosmic proportions. W and M go through all the normal scenes of this type of couple in a typical romantic comedy but in less than five minutes. for the two are as terrified a couple as you have ever seen on the stage and at a much deeper level than Sandra Bulloch’s brilliant performance of physical terror in her galactic smash movie hit. For in this play, the psychic hairpin curves make the ride on the broken arm of a satellite seem to be operating in slow motion. As a member of the audience, you need air and larger lungs than the characters on the stage.

Yet each of the characters is an amalgam of the youth you see and hear with every bit of conversation as true to real life and down on earth as is possible. They presumably are negotiating their way through life, just as Chekhov’s characters did, and they are just as carried along, if not more so, by the spirit of the times as those hapless characters at the end of the nineteenth century were, and are just as incapable of honest conversation and communication, though in a different way, and even though they have a much greater dedication to that ideal.

Go see Lungs if you can and I will go see Chekhov except if Gabriel reports back that the current production is a ponderous bore.

If anyone out there has read the third volume of Julia Glass’ trilogy, And the Dark Sacred Night, can you let me know what you think about the novel.

Putin’s Version of Post-Cold War history

Putin’s Version of Post-Cold War History


Howard Adelman


Putin’s current version of post-Cold War history consists of the following trajectory, one fully immersed in a culture of conspiracy, :


1. The end of the Cold War in 1991 was the result of internal initiatives within Russia to dissolve the Soviet Union and not the result of the Soviet Union dissolving in response to Western economic and political pressures; when the West takes the credit and claims to have won the Cold War, it is an insult to Russians because it defines Russia as a loser.


2. NATO as a security alliance has ignored the detente arrived at through negotiations and has continued to treat Russia as an enemy by moving NATO assets increasingly closer to Russia, first into former states associated with the USSR and then into the three Baltic republics that were part of the Soviet Union, namely Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.


3. The effort to forge a political association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, with its own security as well as economic clauses, was the last straw in ignoring Russia’s legitimate and traditional sphere of interest and in pushing Russia into a corner.


4. The ouster of Ukraine’s legitimately elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych because he was unprepared to accept the EU’s association agreement and turned to Russia for financial aid, was a move fostered by Western political manoeuvres and financing of dissidents and even the rebellion and was the final straw, especially when an entirely Western-oriented government drawn largely from the protest leadership took control of the Ukraine. This step crossed the red line that Russia had signalled to the West, and did so in a manner that was both insensitive and irresponsible indicating that the West no longer wanted an international partnership with Russia.


5. Russia moved swiftly to annex the Crimea which it effectively controlled militarily, which had a majority Russian population, and with which Russia had deep historic, strategic and emotional ties, an annexation which reversed a historic mistake when the Ukrainian, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 without consulting its population, and an annexation which will never be reversed no matter what actions are taken by the West.


6. The period of Russian passivity in the face of over two decades of Western aggressive political, economic and military moves to hem Russia in is now over; although Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, annexing it or dismembering it, significant numbers of Russian troops and military assets have been deployed near, but deliberately not next to, eastern Ukraine’s eastern, the country’s industrial heartland with large Russian speaking minorities, in the clear and unequivocal message that if the interests of the Russian population is under threat, Russia reserves the right to come to their protection.


7. The west can expect other initiatives in eastern Europe – such as in Moldova, in Georgia and in the Balkans – now that Russia is determined to act strictly from its own strategic interests where it has the clout to change the situation; the partnership with the West has been dissolved by the West.


8. The initial sanctions and contemplated stronger and broader sanctions that will be forthcoming not only will not deter Russia – which in its history has endured far worse – but, on the contrary, will be met with countermoves that will seriously undermine the efforts of the West to be the world’s hegemon.


9. The West can no longer count on a Russian partnership in Iran, Syria or North Korea, though Russia will continue to work in the interests of peace, but no longer as a junior partner and fellow traveller to Western interests.


10. The West can expect a very serious response not only in eastern Ukraine but in other areas of the world, particularly in other areas of eastern Europe, if NATO takes initiatives to embrace Ukraine within the NATO fold.

The dilemma for the West is that in order to defend the eastern Ukraine from a Russian annexation under the pretext of “fraternal assistance” to ethnic Russians under assault, many see economic sanctions as insufficient. Ukrainian troops with foreign observers would have to be deployed along the eastern border, a deployment which would be seen as a provocative action and could expect an aggressive response. On the other hand, if Ukraine does not become a member of NATO and if troops, primarily Ukrainian, are not deployed along the eastern border, then Ukraine would be unable to defend itself against another annexation which would become a fait accompli.  The West does not believe Putin when he says he will not invade because it is a pledge that is conditional on how he regards the treatment of the Russian minority, especially if thugs are used to stir up the mob. Putin no longer believes that NATO is a defence organization but now reads any move as the dynamic initiatives of NATO’s expansion. If Putin is at base a bitter autocrat with dreams of restored Russian glory, if he truly harbours deep resentments about Russia’s alleged humiliations by the West, then there is a real risk he will move into Ukraine in full knowledge that Obama has taken a military response off the table and that the EU never put it on the table to begin with.

Obama knows all this. So he insists that he will restrict Western actions to the sanctions expressway while keeping the gates open for diplomacy. He knows that Russian forces are now massing near though not yet along Ukraine’s eastern borders, so he expanded the sanctions regime the third time in succession to twenty more top Russian officials, including Putin’s right hand man, Sergei Ivanov, and Bank Rossiya, a St. Petersburg-based bank used to launder the billions of roubles for the super-rich oligarchs of Russia who strongly support Putin, including Yuri Kovalchuck, Vladimir Yakunin and the Rotenberg brothers. It is not clear why Obama has left Roman Abromovich off the list. Obama has also threatened to take a fourth step and impose sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy – defence, energy, mining and financial services — if Russia, but only if Russia takes any further aggressive steps with respect to the Ukraine in full knowledge  that such sanctions will disrupt the global economy.

Will carrying the big economic stick be sufficient to get Putin to re-engage with the diplomatic route and savour his victory over Crimea given his reconstruction of post-Cold War history, or will the escalation continue unimpeded as we are thrust back to July of 1914? Will the West have to prepare to ship arms and equipment and trainers to the Ukraine and even Delta forces to support a long term underground war by Ukraine against Russia that must of necessity spread to Russia itself if the autocrat is to be stopped? The reduced number of provocateurs in Donetsk might be a dodge or, alternatively, a signal that Russia prefers to take the diplomatic road.