The God-Wrestler

The God-Wrestler: Track II Diplomacy

Parashat Vayishlach Genesis 32:4−36:43


Howard Adelman

We know, at least if the reading of the Torah that I adopt has any relevance, that Jacob is a schizophrenic individual – one who is born a Yeshiva bűcher, one destined to be a scholar lost in reading, reflection and thought, but one born clinging to the heel of the first-born twin, Esau, the hunter, a man of skills in acquiring the material goods of the world, a man who belongs in that physical world and disdains abstraction and reflection. Jacob grows up envious of his brother’s practicality and superiority in mastering the ways of the world, his sheer physicality.

Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, recognizes not only his otherworldliness, but the necessity of gaining mastery in this world if one is to survive and prosper. While Jacob could on his own easily and without much effort get Esau, who disdained relying on another for his success in the world, to trade his birthright for a bowl of hot soup, the abstract victory was meaningless unless Jacob knew what to do with it. Jacob still had to actually learn to be Machiavellian, to learn cunning, to learn the ways of the world. In fact, unlike Esau, he would have to be cunning to survive.

Rebekah thought she could teach him the cunning needed to succeed and contrived a scheme to win Isaac’s blessing as well as the birthright which he had obtained on his own. She would have Jacob trick his father by pretending to be Esau. But Isaac, though he was also a man of reflection, a man of tents rather than a practical survivor, who survived and became who he was only because God intervened and prevented his being sacrificed, was a man of irony, who perceived the world with a wry eye, who saw through the ruse, but went along with it.

So Jacob wins both the entitlement and his father’s blessing to have a rich and successful life in this world. Would he lose his own soul in the trade off? After all, in dealing with his father-in-law, Laban, he had to use trickery in the end to really outwit the old man, the father of his beloved. But it really took him two decades to learn the lesson, to acquire the wealth and learn how to keep it.

In the encounter that takes place in this portion of the tale, he meets his third test – the one that would complete his winning the birthright and his father’s blessing. It was to be a test in the real world and bring him back to his birth clinging to the heel of his brother. The outcome of the encounter is adumbrated in the section when Jacob wrestles with “ish” in that very enigmatic tale and then in his actual encounter and meeting with Esau after a separation of twenty years.

But the section has two other stories in addition to the tale of Jacob wrestling with “ish” and Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau. First, there is the awful bloodthirsty and morally repugnant story of Dinah, the murder of all the men of Hamor’s tribe when they were incapacitated by Simeon and Levi, the rape and the revenge extracted under the leadership of Reuben, the eldest brother. Then there is the story of the birth of Benjamin and the death of Jacob’s truly beloved, Rachel, in childbirth. In order to understand and unravel the meaning of the first puzzling story of Jacob’s wrestling match, and Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau, I want to work backwards from the meaning of the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel.

“Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labour. When her labour was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Have no fear, for it is another boy for you.’ But as she breathed her last — for she was dying — she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. Thus Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Ephrath — now Bethlehem.” (Genesis 16-19.”

Thus, the four following tales will be discussed in reverse order:

  1. What does it mean for Jacob to wrestle with “ish”?
  2. The Meeting of Jacob and Esau
  3. The Rape of Dinah and the Sack of Shechem
  4. Birth of Benjamin.

I have already told my readers that the latest book of my daughter, aptly named Rachel, just came out. An inscribed copy just arrived in the mail several days ago. Chapter 9 of The Female Ruse: Women’s Deception & Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible is entitled, “’Passing Strange’; Gender Crossing in the Story of Joseph and Esther.” In her book, Rachel argued, as illustrated in the case of Rebekah teaching Jacob how to win his father’s blessing intended for Esau concerning his future prosperity, about the central role of the feminine ruse to history and realpolitik.

Rachel begins the chapter with a quote from Act 1, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello:

My story being done

She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.

She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,

‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.

She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished

That heaven had made her such a man.

It is the story of how Desdemona became so enchanted by Othello. She came again and again, driven by a prayer of her earnest heart, to hear Othello’s story of his pilgrimage through an adventurous life of a military commander, tales which Othello used to “beguile her of her tears” as he told of his painful encounters as a youth and a man who achieved greatness in the world. Desdemona confessed that, “’twas strange, ‘twas passing strange, ‘Twas pitiful, ‘twas wondrous pitiful” as she expressed her envy and admiration for such an adventurous life.

Rachel (my daughter, not the biblical one) in the previous chapters of her book argued that deceit was a particularly feminine art of subterfuge, an art that allows the weaker “sex” to seize the reins of power from her counterpart. Jacob was an effeminate man who had to learn from his mother, Rebekah, the wiles of women in order to win power and wealth in this world. In the construct of sexual politics, Jacob:Esau = woman:man. He was passive but incorporeal, emotional but also calculating. Rachel’s chapter is about both Joseph and Esther, the descendent of Jacob’s last-born son, Benjamin, as feminine figures, a story which began in the internal struggle between Jacob’s feminine and his masculine side.

Rachel outlines all the parallels between the two stories of Esther and Joseph:

  • In a hierarchy of political power, both are “other,” strangers in a foreign court;
  • Both aim to please;
  • Both use the art of discretion to hide their identities to save their people;
  • In the process, the feminine side molts into the masculine as it once did with Jacob.

Both are stories of subterfuge, as has been and continues to be the tale of Jacob. Just as Isaac, as I interpreted the text, “saw” through the subterfuge of his son, Jacob, Jacob too would adumbrate the character of Joseph who could resist the entreaties of the wife of his boss, Potiphar. I do not intend to go through the parallels that Rachel draws out. (Read the book yourself.) Suffice it to say that Esther must not only use her feminine insights to unveil Haman’s ambitions and destructive behaviour, and thereby save her people, she also has to construct the revelation such that Haman will destroy himself and all the power that accrued to his retinue and family. She needed total victory. For she was in a battle with absolute evil.

As a true child of her forefather, Isaac, the book of Esther is weighed down in ironies. For it is a tale of how a Barbie doll became the power behind the Persian throne just as the story of Joseph was about how a dandy became the power behind first the Egyptian throne and then the onward success of Israel. But that whole process depends on the self-transformation of Jacob into Israel and the lesson that will be transmitted from parent to child through the descendents of Benjamin (or Benjamim, spirit man), the youngest son of Jacob. But how did Jacob learn that lesson and what was the lesson?

Before we move back to the story of Jacob’s wrestling and his meeting once again after a long absence with his brother Esau, we take up the story of sex and extreme violence that follows. Dinah, like Desdemona, is enthralled by adventure. She is more akin to her Aunt Rachel than even her own mother. At a very young age, she leaves the safety and security of her father’s home to travel to the land of Canaan, not to find a boyfriend, a man like Othello, but “to see the daughters of the land.” (Genesis 35: 16-19) But instead of seeing the daughters of the land, she meets up with Shechem, the son of Prince Hamor the Hittite, who “saw her, took her and lay with her, and violated her.”

In the Shabat morning study with our rabbi, I have had to revise my interpretation of the story. Rabbi Splansky suggested that it might not have been a rape. The word itself can be translated simply as “diminished”. Further, there is no mention that Dinah did not participate willingly. Further, she remained in Shechem’s house and did not return to tell her family. We are not told how Jacob came to learn of what happened to his daughter, but hear he did. Shechem says he loved her, not a usual feeling towards the victim of a rape. The sexual intercourse may have been consensual. But she may have been underage. Further, given the norms, Shechem should have asked permission from her father first.

What we do know definitively is that Shechem fell in love with Dinah, wanted to marry her. That, after all, was the honourable thing to do at the time, but especially true if he loved her. But when Hamor asks Jacob to allow his son to marry his daughter, Jacob asks for time to think about it and talk to his sons. We do not know how he actually responded to the request.

The sons, particularly her two full brothers, Simeon and Levi, are enraged that their sister was supposedly raped or even perhaps seduced by a tribe not approved by the Hebrew elders. But they agree to make a marriage contract. It seems clear that the contract was made in bad faith. It contained a very strange and unusual condition – that Hamor, his son Shechem, and all the men in that tribe, be circumcised prior to the marriage. Hamor and Shechem agree. They are circumcised as are all the men of the tribe of Hamor. And when they are circumcised and incapacitated by the pain of an adult circumcision, all the men are slain by Reuben’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, the latter the very one from whom the tribe responsible for maintaining the Temple would descend. Talk about tricks! This was the ultimate in subterfuge. But the substance is much worse – men who convert to the precursor of Judaism are all slain when they are helpless. Revenge is meted out, not just to Shechem. Genocide is committed against the whole tribe of Hamor, presumably by the argument that it takes a village to produce a rapist. Talk about punishing the innocent! Talk about collective punishment for the purported misdeed of one!

And how terrible a misdeed was it. Dinah was young. She was a virgin. He did not obtain her father’s permission first. But he clearly wanted to make amends and to share the lands of his tribe with Jacob’s tribe and all the herds and flock he had brought with him. As far as one can read, the offer seemed sincere, as evidenced by adult males being willing to undergo a painful circumcision.

This is a tale of deceit, negotiating in bad faith, a tale of guile that, even if it was rape, would not justify the response and especially the cowardly way it was carried out. All the other brothers – Jacob is not mentioned – participate in the pillage and seize the spoils of “war”. Not only the flocks and herds, but the sons of Jacob took the women captive and raped them. God never reproves their behaviour. This is in spite of the fact that it was also a deep misuse of the covenant central to Judaism. To use the brit milah, so sacred and central to the whole religion, to perpetuate this horrific act of revenge, turns the whole tale into a triple evil, evil of the worst kind of deceit, evil of the worst kinds of acts – murder, abduction and rape – and evil of the greatest betrayal of one’s relationship to God, a misuse of the central covenant linking Jews to their God. And Simeon and Levi would be punished.

Just before he died, Jacob blessed each of his sons in turn. However, he cursed Simeon and Levi together rather than singly.

49:5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.

49:6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.

49:7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

And scattered they were. They were the only two tribes that did not get their own land. Just before he cursed them and denied them their own land, he had cursed Reuben, not for instigating and masterminding the atrocity, but for sleeping with his concubine Bilhah.

49:3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 49:4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

Reuben was more like his uncle, Esau, but with a greater sense of his own honour as well as strength. But he did not know how to manage it, how to control it, how to direct it. He was like Michael Corleone’s eldest brother in The Godfather, Santino (Sonny) Corleone.  Just after they perpetrate their great crime, Jacob admonishes his sons, but it is not for the evil they perpetrated, but for spoiling his reputation as a man of integrity and honour. “Ye have troubled me, to make me odious unto the inhabitants of the land.” This suggests Jacob’s motives in the whole affair. Shechem, the rapist hopelessly in love and losing all his defences, turns into the ultimate victim. This tale of treachery, deceit, cruelty and evil is hard to stomach. And it is not clear whether Jacob is much better for he seems only to care about how he is regarded by others.

But as we will learn from the stories of Joseph and Esther, how one appears to others is critical to political success, critical to having your way in the world. So there are two sides to Jacob’s reaction, his seeming indifference at the time to crime was committed to the enormity of the evil, though this is misleading for at the end of his life he reveals the second side and clearly seems to comprehend how evil their actions were.

Dinah means judgement. Is there any possible way such horrific judgment can be justified? Right-wingers might do so, arguing that when facing evil, and rape is an evil and a rape culture is an even greater evil, then you have to get your hands dirty. I accept the need to get your hands dirty. But not that way. Further, it is the brothers who consider what happened as tantamount to rape. So why does God not reprove the perpetrators of this crime?

Put the story that follows, the birth of Benjamin, with this one. Benjamin is no Benjamin Netanyahu. Benjamin is the only son of Jacob actually born in Canaan and not Aram, and the only one of his children who remained innocent and without sin. Benoni means “child of my pain” and refers to the pain Rachel suffered in giving birth, the pain so grat that she died in giving birth, the pain of not being able to see her second son grow up, and the pain her death inflicted on Jacob at the loss of his beloved Rachel when she died in giving birth to Benjamin. However, the name that stuck, the name that meant “son of the right (south) side,” a son both born in Canaan and a child that was not to be sinister (from the left side), indicated that Benjamin was an individual of extraordinary virtue.

So we go from the bottom of the pit of evil to the pinnacle of purity that will lead to Esther who has to be able to offer just the right combination of cunning and innocence to pull off the most magnificent example of espionage in Jewish history if not the history of the world. Esther is not obsequious even as she conforms to the outward practices of obeisance to the Persian ruler. She operates with subterfuge in a way that the lesson was learned traced back through Jacob and Rebekah. But the tale of Benjamin follows from members of his own family, Benjamin’s brothers committing a heinous crime in the name of the proverb used by zealots against doves; “He who makes himself a sheep will be devoured by the wolves.” Esther won her victory by using her beauty, by using her wiles, to allow Haman to destroy himself.

Now we can return to the tale of Jacob wrestling with “ish” and meeting up with his brother, Esau, after a separation of twenty years.

Jacob has left the land of his father-in-law with an abundance of sheep and goats, four wives, eleven sons and a daughter and servants galore. He has learned how to get what he needed in the material world from his scheming father-in-law. But when Laban chased him, God had to intervene to save him from Laban’s wrath at being bested by this son-in-law that he regarded as a schlemiel. Now he has to meet up once again with his twin brother who vowed to murder him for the theft of his blessing. As it turns out, Esau did not really need it. He had grown wealthy as well.

Once again, when Jacob camps beside the Jabbok River before crossing, he prays for God’s intervention to save him from Esau as he was rescued from the wrath of Laban. “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike. Yet You have said, ‘I will deal bountifully with you and make your offspring as the sands of the sea, which are too numerous to count.’” (Genesis 32: 12-13) Instead he is accosted by a stranger, the mysterious “ish,” often referred to as an angel. But before he does so, in his new cunning, he sends his twin brother “200 she-goats and 20 he-goats; 200 ewes and 20 rams; 16 30 milch camels with their colts; 40 cows and 10 bulls; 20 she-asses and 10 he-asses.” Esau had to be overwhelmed, not only that his shmedrick of a brother had become so wealthy that he could give away that many animals as gifts, but that they were the best of the best. They were “select” class. But he did not send them all at once. He sent them in a series of droves to build up his brother from being just impressed to being in awe, telling each drover in turn to tell his brother that Jacob was just behind. In any Machiavellian maneuover, the mode of delivery is as important as the substance.

Then he sent his wives, his concubines and all his children across the river and he returned to remain on the far side from his brother all alone. Why alone? In fear of Esau attacking him? Was it a self-protection measure of a coward? Did he intend to desert as the Rashbam, Shmuel be Meir, the grandson of Rashi, argued? We are not told. What we are told is that when Jacob was alone,

a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. 27 Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 28 Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” 29 Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” 30 Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.” But he said, “You must not ask my name!” And he took leave of him there. 31 So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, “I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 32 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping on his hip. 33 That is why the children of Israel to this day do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle. Genesis 32: 26-33)

Had the cunning he acquired deserted him when he had to come face-to-face once again with a brother bent on revenge? Is he unable to escape this trap? Where is the God that promised to save him? He does come face-to-face with God. Unlike in the ladder or ramp dream, God may no longer stand beside him, but he can directly confront God. The other reality: he is on his own this time. He confronts the other side of himself who no longer recognizes the other whom he has become. Has he lost being Jacob, the man of the book, and become Esau, but only on the surface, a poor replica without Esau’s skill and daring and at the cost of his original scholarly instincts?

He wrestles with his alter ego and comes to a stalemate, but not before that alter ego, that spirit of Esau that he had incorporated within himself over the years, injures him in the hip, crippling him and ensuring that he will definitely not be able to take Esau on physically, but also that he will never be able to run again. At the same time, God is not present to intervene to save him. Instead, Jacob had learned to wrestle with the divine spirit within, with the contradictions that can incapacitate, and to carry the wound from the fight physically just as he is healed spiritually. In the morning, even crippled, he is now ready to fight Esau if he has to. He is now Israel, one who wrestles with God rather than one who simply follows God and depends on divine intervention for survival. He becomes the God-wrestler.

He divides his group in two phalanxes. The text and interpreters suggest he did it to allow a remnant to escape (Nachmanides). But he is no longer the coward he once was. He is now Israel. He is now an intelligent military commander. If he has to fight Esau, he will do so using a pincer movement, the very same traditional military maneuover that Paul Kagame used to win victories over and over again against the extremist genocidaires in 1994 in Rwanda, the very way an inferior equipped and manned army can defeat a stronger and better gunned enemy. This is a military maneuover not inconsistent with saving a remnant if that becomes necessary. But it seems clear that he is expecting a battle. Going to battle and planning one half of your side to escape if the battle ensues, seems moronic.

Precisely because he is willing to fight, he does not have to. His brother hugs him on their reunion. There will be no final battle between the twins. They are reconciled. And Esau asks Jacob to share the land between them.

But the new Israel is still also Jacob and not simply Esau. He was able to foresee that this would mean trouble. And he neither wanted to nor could wrestle with his brother again – for wealth, for a birthright, for a blessing. The only way he could remain Israel, the one who was both Jacob and Esau, was by clearly saying that he could not keep up with Esau on the physical front. So he agrees to follow Esau, but falls behind.

“And [Esau] said, ‘Let us start on our journey, and I will proceed at your pace.’ But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; if they are driven hard a single day, all the flocks will die.  Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’” (Genesis 33: 14-15)

Esau is Lord. Jacob refers to himself as his servant. Is this an act of distasteful obsequiousness? Or is it rather a way of avoiding an unnecessary future confrontation, For Jacob now knows he is Israel, the progenitor of a great nation, and does not need to win any victories over Esau. The servant will eventually become master of his own realm without the necessity of defeating the other, without the necessity of squashing Shechem and his tribe, without the necessity of becoming a regional or certainly a world power. As Joseph and Esther eventually do, he will live by his wits, by his intelligence and be quite happy to serve the masters of the physical universe, to live in booths when necessary, to celebrate Succot, so long as the nation is preserved. He will have learned the basic lesson of diplomacy, discretion and keeping some things hidden.



Terrorism in Israel and the West Bank

Terrorism in Israel and the West Bank


Howard Adelman

(My apologies in advance if I failed to get Schneeweiss’s comments accurately.)

Yesterday evening, CIJA organized a conference-call across Canada to discuss the current state of terrorist attacks in Israel. DJ Schneeweiss, originally an Australian who made aliya to Israel in 1987, was introduced by the CIJA representative.  DJ took up the post of Consul-General in Toronto in 2012 as the most recent posting in a long and distinguished career in the Israeli Foreign Service. After obtaining his masters degree from Hebrew University, he served as Policy Assistant to Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak (1995-1996) and David Levy (1996-1998). He was the Press Secretary at Israel’s London Embassy from 1998-2002 during which time he was recognized by Diplomat as the most effective Embassy spokesman in London. From 2003-2006, DJ served as Policy Advisor to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. From 2006-2009, he was Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to China. Before coming to Canada, DJ was Director of Civil Society Affairs in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

DJ offered the initial briefing and then opened the presentation to questions. His talk as well as his answers to questions were precise, clear and avoided any obfuscation. At the same time, in such a context, one could not consider alternative characterizations of the situation than the one he depicted, so I will have to fill in that gap.

DJ did not give a specific designation to the terror that has been going on in Israel since Rosh Hashanah, but it has been variously described as the “Third Intifada,” “The Wave of Terror” or the “Knife Intifada.” The latter seems a misnomer since some of the attacks have been shootings and others car rammings, though most have been knife attacks. Nevertheless, it seems to be the one favoured in yesterday’s Ha’aretz. “We are looking for a name for this intifada as well, which has already claimed 23 victims. It’s time to stop the foolishness which keeps calling it a ‘wave of terror.’ Those who really insist on avoiding the word ‘intifada’ can choose ‘a war of terror.’ But it’s an intifada, and there is no reason not to adopt the term which is repeating itself for the third time, even if there is no name to define this type of intifada, as the weapons range from a knife and scissors to cars and firearms.” For example, the initial attack that set off this spate of violence was a shooting by Hamas operatives that killed Eitam and Na’ama Henkin on 1 October.

According to DJ, there have been 72 stabbings, 10 shootings and 12 car rammings thus far.  Contrary to a belief that this was a new outbreak of violence, DJ characterized it as part of a pattern that will continue further, well beyond yesterday’s phone call. DJ held that, although these attacks, certainly near the beginning after the Hamas initial deliberate one, seemed to be the product of lone-wolf-initiated violence. He did not concur at leaving the depiction this way. He contended that, although not perhaps centrally organized and controlled, the violence was manipulated and used for propaganda purposes that almost certainly celebrated that violence and lent it some political and moral authority.

The attackers all denied that Jews had rights to the land. The effect of the campaign is like listening to the horror of a dripping tap, a sound which you cannot get out of your ears. The metaphor seems inappropriate because this tap cannot be simply repaired. Further, one cannot know where the next drip will hit. The attacks, though random and seemingly all over the place, according to DJ, seem to have been exacerbated if not orchestrated by social media that have played such an important part in this wave of violence and used to whip up and incite Palestinians.

Part of the stimulus has been the repeated lies and misrepresentations, such as the calumny that the Israeli government is intent on changing the arrangements for governing the Temple Mount. Instead of Israeli responses being portrayed as self defence, they are misrepresented as intentional cold-blooded murder. Thus, yesterday a piece appeared in Al-Monitor written by Aziza Nofal. Farag Ibrahim Abdul Rahman who owns an antique store in the Old City, noted that after Muhannas al-Halabi stabbed two Jewish settlers and injured another in October, the Old City market has been almost empty. He, and East Jerusalem youth, all saw the responses as efforts to terrorize and intimidate Jerusalemites. He accused Israeli police and the IDF of shooting and attacking women and children in response to a call on their Facebook pages to quietly and peacefully protest the increased police and military presence. Israeli soldiers are using extreme measures, he said, “shooting directly and killing anyone they suspect.”

In the article, reference was made to the shooting of 1-year old Marah Bakir as she was leaving school on 18 October in Sheik Jarah. According to the article, she was shot directly because Israelis suspected that she was involved in an armed attack. Mohammad Majid al-Zaghl, 14, was also arrested on 28 October on his way back from school in the town of Salwan for carrying a wooden ruler. Jerusalemites know, he claimed, that their presence in the Old City is their means of confronting Israel. Jerusalemites refuse to be forced to leave their homes.

This narrative does seem to turn the Consul-General on its head while seemingly confirming his contentions, Yuval Aviv wrote that the efforts to build the Third Temple will destroy the Jewish state while DJ was adamant that the Israeli government insisted on maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and was not trying to make any changes whatsoever. He did not mention that a group of Israeli extremists believed that the rule of the priests and kings would be restored while ultimate authority remained in the hands of God.

At the opposite end of this extremist Jewish rhetoric is a dovish one. The violent actions of the Palestinians must be understood as, if not justifiable, at least comprehensible responses to years of frustration and upset over the years of occupation and a genuine fear of settlement expansion making the West Bank too disfigured to make self-determination feasible. DJ did not acknowledge or criticize this alternative opposing narrative from the dovish side that claims that the Palestinian violence has been provoked by Israeli insensitivities to justifiable grievances. However, if the terrorism of the Parisian suicide ISIS militants and the activities of Hamas and Hezbollah all stem from the same root, then such an argument is at least partially undercut. However, like DJ’s story, the dovish story of the oppressed resorting to violence because of the heavy weight of oppression is also a universal tale told from Mumbai to Paris, Israel to Mali and Nigeria.

One may think that the term “oppression” is totally inappropriate in depicting Israeli control over the West Bank. Control is the correct term. This is omitted from DJs narrative, which suggests that the PA is an independent power in total control of the situation on the ground, whereas the PA has only very limited administrative control and Israel is the de facto sovereign, certainly in terms of security and financial self-determination. The Israeli shekel is the monetary unit used by Palestinians. Israel controls the external borders and air space. Further, though Israeli Palestinians have most of the rights of any Israeli citizen – and produced only three knife terrorists – most Palestinian residents in Jerusalem (300,000) only have residence cards. Palestinians in the West Bank are ultimately subjects, not citizens.

DJ did accuse the Palestinian Authority (PA) of being unwilling to stand up and fight the upsurge in violence and, in fact, was playing a double game by supplying a degree of covert coordination with winks and nods rather than direct commands. The PA had chosen not to confront the upsurge in violence and had to be held accountable for its actions and inaction. Moral accountability was needed instead of the West absolving the PA of any responsibility. Israelis were to be commended for their fortitude and perseverance. The IDF and border police were to be congratulated for the steps they have taken to stem the violence. Included in those steps have been house demolitions, restrictions on work permits and resistance to the militant pressure. Most of all, Israelis were to be praised for adopting an attitude that, “Life goes on.”

The violence, DJ contended, was not the result of Israeli untoward political or otherwise militant responses, let alone initiatives, or even a role of tit for tat as depicted in some media. The issue was not one of inappropriate Israeli actions and reactions. Israeli responses inhibit violence in the first instance and then prevent it becoming lethal in the second sense. What Israel would not do was offer concessions that would be perceived as rewarding violence or that Israel would remain passive in the face of violent confrontation and deliberate misrepresentations.

This interpretation ignores the fact that the IDF had strongly recommended that a number of steps be taken to ease restrictions on the West Bank to decrease the tensions building up, but the government did not act on them, and now will not act lest the government be perceived as giving in to terror. However, when Israel does respect Palestinian rights to due process, freedom of movement, representation on zoning decision-making bodies, Israel earns considerable goodwill. This was the conclusion of both the IDF and the intelligence services, but the government did not act on that evaluation. Of course, those who refuse to accept the Palestinians as having any sovereign or self-governing authority, those so-called “concessions,” simply straightforward recognition of a partnership between two people sharing and dividing a piece of land, with the Palestinians still only netting 22%, those gestures are simply perceived as another step in the surrender of Israeli authority over all of Palestine – which, of course, they are.

DJ’s main thesis concerned the identification of the violence in Israel with the wave of extremist violence around the world rooted in an ideology of the supremacy of Islam, the exclusive rights of Islam, and the repression or even elimination of infidels. The immediate terrorist acts were intended to sew fear, wreck havoc and spread that fear through the population using, not simply violence, but the slick use of social media. DJ contended that the Iranians were complicit in this terrorism as Shia fought Sunni, as old regimes contended with new and younger challengers, and as the West refused to put boots on the ground to confront the scourge. In contrast, Israeli security forces, police and intelligence were on the front lines. For DJ, it must be understood that Palestinian terrorists and ISIS or al-Qaeda all drank from the same ideological well. Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIL, were at their foundations similar in glorifying death as a presumed moral ideal.

Amjad Iraqi wrote that, “Suggestions that terrorism springs from the same well as terrorism in Israel are misleading and dangerous. Erasing complexity may be a comfort in difficult days like these, but conflating the varying causes of violence won’t help us end it.” He went on to decry the comparison further. “Under the guise of attempting to arrange the current wave of global violence into some kind of cohesive narrative, and with the debate on terrorism at saturation point, many observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict have seized on the opportunity to situate the bloodshed here as springing from the vaguely-defined, amorphous phenomenon of ‘global jihad’ or ‘militant Islam’. This line of reasoning posits Islamic State, Hamas and lone-wolf attackers on the streets of Israel-Palestine within the same nexus of expansionist religious fanaticism and has been adopted enthusiastically in Israel, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downward.”

In the case of Israel, the nationalist-political dimensions were ignored in the equation. The killings were simply attributed to Islamist extremism. Peace talks may not be on the agenda for a number of reasons, but whitewashing the occupation does not help tackle the problem. Further, it allows Israeli leaders to position the settlements as the frontline in the fight against terror instead of attempts at expanding the territorial acquisitions by Israel. Saying this does not mean one condones or justifies the killings or even blames the killings on the so-called oppressors. On the other hand, the equation of various types of terrorism in this way allows us to forget George W. Bush’s war against Iraq that played such an important part in destabilizing the Middle East.

Context is important. Different trajectories are important. To sweep everything up into an overarching grand simplistic narrative leads us, not only to bad explanations, but to ill-fitting solutions. It is certainly true that the successes of Israel and Western governments in countering these threats cannot simply be based on dealing with direct challenges. Many plots and attacks have been thwarted. Look at the list in Israel alone – over 100 attacks and attempted terrorist initiatives by over 100 Palestinians and even three Israeli Palestinians. Just yesterday, a Palestinian male was shot after stabbing an Israeli man in the West Bank in the latest incident in a two-month spate of attacks that has left 19 Israelis, 1 American and 89 Palestinians dead. However, only 57 of those deaths were reported to be attackers; the rest were allegedly killed in clashes with police, suggesting that some innocent Palestinians have also been killed.

In the meanwhile, as DJ contended, Israelis are determined to go on and not only survive, but to live well. They will continue to do so as the government attempts to balance the protection of individual rights with measures needed to be taken to protect its citizens. Israel continues to have a thriving democracy. We are all in for the long haul, DJ insisted. The terrorists will not be defeated either easily or quickly. More assets and resources need to be put into this battle by all democratic governments. However, the peace process will not proceed until the violence ceases.

Even concessions, such as raising restrictions on road access, easing travel and work permits or releasing prisoners will not be contemplated as long as the violence continues. In any case, there is no silver bullet and DJ rejected suggestions by at least three callers that Israel take more forceful actions against Palestinians in general as advocated by Naftali Bennet. This possibility was firmly and unequivocally rejected. All actions have both intended and unintended consequences that all have to weighed lest the decisions made increase rather than decrease insecurity.

Thus, generally, there are two basic conflicting narratives, and two versions of each. All four have their own corresponding response strategies. For the right, the violence is totally the fault of extremist, unrepentant violent killers propelled by an ideology of both death and triumphalism (Naftali Bennett). Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joined Bennett in launching a campaign to initiate “Operation Defensive Shield 2.” They argue that the only appropriate response is the one akin to that launched by Former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, after the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed 30 Israelis. In six weeks, that violent insurrection was totally smashed. Use overwhelming force. Crush the insurrection. Netanyahu, they claim in an appeal to their settler backers, is weak and ineffectual.

Other right-of-centre proponents, like DJ, moderate their responses and do not opt for an all out war and extermination of the scourge. Rather, they advocate managing the problem rather than exacerbating it by an approach that insists on a dramatic and much more robust military response.

Similarly, the left or dovish narrative also has a more moderate position than the views of those dubbed “grievance freaks” by the right. It suggests combining gestures, both symbolic and real, with initiatives that will enlist Mahmoud Abbas more actively in suppressing the violence in recognition that Abbas is not complict in abetting the violence. This interpretation is endorsed by many if not most in the IDF leadership and the intelligence corps. Instead, Abbas is only hanging onto his diminishing authority by a thread and refuses to take initiatives that would sever that thread altogether. Demolishing homes of families of attackers, shooting to kill, a greatly increased military presence in the lives of the Palestinians, only enhance rather than calm the raging waters. The response must be appropriate to the type of terrorism, for it is violence without a central address or a central headquarters by youth bent on killing or wounding Israelis on their, the attackers’, path to self-destruction. No known intelligence system can anticipate such acts, making them all the more frightening.

Certainly, the killers are greeted as heroes and martyrs after they die, even as the Palestinian leadership ostensibly disagrees with the tactics. For their cause is applauded, not the specific action. On the other hand, in Israel, DJ was correct in saying that the majority of Jewish Israelis have no stomach for further negotiations with the Palestinians without some real movement from the other side. Any concessions would benefit the Palestinians and reduce the power, authority and influence of Israel over territories without anything concrete in return, for piecemeal concessions do not bring peace. So Israelis elect a leader who promises to do everything to see that nothing is done on this front.

The result: ignoring IDF advice and building up explosive pressure that erupts in a really violent outbreak which, unfortunately, is akin to the first intifada which resulted in Oslo, and the second which resulted in withdrawal from Gaza. Failing to take small preventive steps ends up requiring much larger ones. We know that from the treatment of diseases. The lesson also applies to social maladies.

Caution and Compassion: The Canadian Government and the Syrian Refugee Plan

Caution and Compassion

The Liberal Refugee Plan for Syrian Refugees (updated 27 November 2015)


Howard Adelman

John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRC), just announced the Liberal plan to fulfil the promise to bring 25,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Note the following differences between the campaign promise and the announced plan:

  1. December 31st is a hard target, but not an immoveable date.
  2. All 25,000 will be selected by the end of December and are in addition to the just over 3,000 Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Canada by 3 November 2015.
  3. Those include both government-sponsored refugees (GARs) and privately-sponsored refugees (PSRs) [There are also BVORs, blended visa office-referred program, that is, refugees where refugees identified for resettlement by UNHCR are matched with private sponsors, but six months of financial support comes from the government; since there are only an estimated 200-300 of these, to make things simpler, they have just been included in the GAR program.]
  4. The numbers targeted for the end of the year to be actually brought to Canada has been lowered to 10,000.
  5. The initial thousands of refugees will not only include government-sponsored refugees, but privately-sponsored refugees as well, drawn from the ten-thousand refugees already in the pipeline for private sponsorship.
  6. Of the 10,000, an estimated 8,000 will be PSRs to take advantage of the fact that these refugees have either been cleared for coming to Canada or are in the last stages of clearance.
  7. The balance of the promised 25,000 will be fulfilled in January and February of 2016 and the 15,000 will be composed of 2,000 PSRs and 13,000 GARs.
  8. The balance of 10,000 GARs would be brought to Canada at the latest by the end of 2016.
  9. Since, in the interval, there may be more private sponsorships, PSRs will take priority over GARs in coming to Canada, so that the number of GARs scheduled to be taken in  during January and February may be further diminished and spread out to facilitate the prompt intake of PSRs
  10. The 25,000 GARs by the end of 2016 will be a minimum figure, and, depending on how the program works, there may be many more brought to Canada.

To summarize:    Nov.-Dec.     Jan.-Feb      Feb.—Dec. 2016     Totals

GARS                     2,000               13,000         10,000 minimum    25,000 min.

PSRS                     8,000                 2,000            additional ???        10,000 min.

10,000               15,000                                              35,000

In effect, these changes make the deadline flexible as most have been urging, while, at the same time, sending out a signal of determination, momentum and a goal of re-establishing Canada’s reputation for helping refugees. It is clear that the new government of Canada wants to stress the urgency of bringing in the refugees and Canada’s fundamental commitment to refugees. Inserting the privately-sponsored refugees within the deadline, rather than afterwards, avoids even further private sponsorship frustration; they have been waiting months for the refugees they offered to sponsor. At the same time, the plan eases the burden on the government to find accommodation for so many refugees in such a short time. It is a program that combines caution with compassion.


The refugees will be selected from both camps and self-settled refugees in Jordan and from among lists of refugees already registered with UNHCR in Lebanon where there are no Syrian refugee camps. The government will also be settling refugees from Turkey, possibly because of pressures from Turkey if the news reports are at all accurate. I originally thought that there was, effectively, a division of responsibilities, with Europe taking many of the refugees in Turkey, the country with the largest number of Syrian refugees, where its government, rather than UNHCR, undertakes the registration. Canada would concentrate on Jordan and Lebanon, where the refugee populations make up a very high proportion of those living there. But apparently this may not be the case. Nor will it be the case that Turkey is so preoccupied with its shattered foreign relations with Russia, that it has no time to issue exit permits. In that regard, the disfunctionality of the government of Lebanon will remain an important obstacle.

Hopefully, the Canadian initiative will set off a precedent to inspire other countries to follow. Further, by taking refugees already registered with UNHCR, the refugees will have had one level of security clearance, though admittedly, a very inadequate one, before being given full and complete both health as well as security checks by Canadian officials before being transported to Canada.

Canada will not be relying on those UNHCR checks. It has sent a very large contingent of visa, CSIS and CBSA officers who are already in-situ in the countries targetted and already at work processing applications and interviewing refugees – in excess of 150 persons. The contingent of officers sent over is much larger than any of the organizations in the refugee support community had recommended or expected. It is expected to grow to as many as 500 people, especially because of the necessity of having full teams of health professionals in place to ensure there is no transmission of infectious diseases to Canada, especially TB. This means that processing times, which had been 11 months in Lebanon and 17 months in Jordan, will be drastically cut down. (The delay was 44 months for Syrian refugees in Turkey.) If 100 of those officers process 10-12 per day, and 100 of the officers are assigned to refugee interviewing, and if others are there for the security and health clearances and the backup of clerical work, then the 25,000 target for processing by the end of the year is doable.

The refugees will be subject to biometric fingerprinting and eye scans with the information sent to a shared intelligence system to double check that the applicants are not on an international cautionary or wanted list. Family history will also be taken in detail. The interviewers have now been trained to ask specific questions. Further, the officers have been given specific instructions that if they have the slightest hesitation about taking a refugee for security reasons, that person should remain on the list for future consideration, but not accepted at this time. If the refugees interviewed are taken from the UNHCR and have been in the camps for some years, they are the least likely to be risky.

But the real filter is another method. By focusing on families with children or single mothers with children, on women and others at risk, the security risk is virtually eliminated. LGBT individuals can be privately sponsored. The real problem, the one that has been there all along, is the future of children brought over at a young age or those born in Canada who become alienated from parental authority and susceptible to extremist entreaties when they are teenagers or in their early twenties. But that is a problem about integration, not selection. It is hard to imagine a more foolproof system of refugee selection to minimize the possibility that terrorists might enter Canada in the guise of refugees, a very low risk in any case.

There are two problems about the so-called security threat. First, there is the real threat, however very low, that terrorists would use this gateway to enter Canada. That risk has always been very tiny and has been grossly exaggerated by fear mongers. The perception of risk is being satisfied by the numbers of officers sent over, the methods being used for screening and the selection criteria.  It is also being satisfied by completing all processing overseas so that Canada does not end up with people selected whom Canada rejects because of security problems revealed after they arrive. In such a situation, Canada would not be able to send them back to a war zone and we would be stuck with hosting them even though they had not satisfactorily satisfied the security checks.

That makes the central problem one of perception of a security threat, a perception that might affect the way the overall program is received, the reception the refugees experience after arrival and the treatment Canadian extremists might mete out randomly against Muslims. So the different barriers – first UNHCR and/or host country, then Canadian security checks, but, most importantly, the restrictions on those who will really be eligible – only those who almost certainly could not be terrorists. As Justin Trudeau said in his interview afterwards with CBC, a major concern of the government was the issue of perception even more than one of an anticipated real threat. The fear, all along, was problematic, but it is important that the refugees be welcomed and received with a smile rather than suspicious glances.

hat about gays? More generally, what about members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community? They are extremely vulnerable. What about a number of Yazidis, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Christians who have been afraid to register and be identified lest that be targeted for persecution by other refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Canadian officers in the rush to get 25,000 to Canada by the end of February will not be hunting down Christian refugees in hiding for acceptance to Canada given the restriction of accepting only refugees already registered with UNHCR from Lebanon and Jordan. If privately-sponsored refugees include these people or members of the LGBT community, they will be subjected to the same security checks as anyone, but they will not, I repeat, not be excluded from acceptance into Canada. Since Canada will be targeting families with children, single parent families, women at risk, are single males of military age to be excluded as GARSs? Are single males who are gay to be excluded

The answer is a nuanced one and is not always well articulated. No category of persons will be excluded, whether based on religion, gender or sexual orientation. On the other hand, some groups of refugees will be given priority. That group will not in the first instance when speed of selection is critical include single males of military age unless they are part of a larger family unit or are vulnerable, such as gays.

The reality is that we are taking such a small percentage of the total refugee population and a zero risk policy of accepting those refugees who are most unlikely to be terrorists. That should silence those nay-sayers.  But no matter how many measures are put in place, the guarantees of the security of Canadians will not silence the Islamophobes who will find other reasons to doubt the effectiveness of the process.

One part of the plan not articulated adequately as part of the announcement, must be an integral part of the operation bringing these refugees to Canada. Syrian refugees heading to Canada will themselves be at risk from extremists. Certainly, the families they left behind may be subject to attacks if the identities of some of the refugees coming to Canada become well known. What I wait to find out on the security question is what type of security is going to be in place to protect the identity of the refugees whose families back home are at risk, to protect refugees before they leave, and when they are on planes destined for Canada.

The selection and security issues are at the fore in bringing these tens of thousands of refugees to Canada. But there are many other issues. Transportation is one of them. Thank goodness the idea of using cruise ships in the height of winter on the stormy north Atlantic was discarded, though I later learned that the idea remained viable for a week to answer the question of accommodation in the Middle East before sending the refugees onto Canada. The refugees are to be flown to Canada initially, when there are only small groups, on regular flights, and then on chartered flights as the program gets geared up. Military flights will only be used as a backup. I assume the difficulty in finding enough aircraft to bring the refugees in the five weeks remaining, especially over the Christmas season when aircraft are in very short supply, was also one reason, and possibly a determining one, in shifting the completion date to the end of February. If it was, then ignoring this as a reason while stressing the great care on the security issue may be justified. I still think it will be difficult to meet the target of 10,000 arrivals by the end of the year unless we are willing to pay a fortune for chartering aircraft over the busy Christmas season.

The transportation issue has not been adequately articulated in the media. First, because of problems of security, refugees in Lebanon will be flown to Amman. All flights to Canada with Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan will depart from Amman airport. Further, refugees, when they are flown to Canada, will be sent directly on to their destinations if the flights are of short distance. They may be kept overnight if the connecting flights to their final destinations are Calgary or Vancouver. The most important part of the transportation policy is the change in the past pattern of refugees having to repay their transportation costs after one year in Canada when they most need all their resources to settle and integrate well; the transportation loans have been eliminated. Transportation to Canada will be paid by the government of Canada. Syrian refugees will not have to assume the debt as a transportation loan. Whether that policy is extended to other groups of refugees, we will have to wait and see.

One item I stressed in my meeting on Sunday morning with John McCallum, our Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, was the priority of having a communications strategy. As it turns out, the government has been far ahead on this problem. There have been conversations with mayors and premiers across the country. The issue was on the agenda of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the premiers and representatives from the territories. Today, there were briefing sessions with the media. There was a conference call for an hour across Canada with a dozen bureaucrats in Ottawa responsible for different aspects of the file and representatives from agencies across the country involved in sponsorship and/or settlement. The representatives of the NGOs were free to ask as many questions as they wanted. This weekend, a consultation meeting will be held in Ottawa that will include all stakeholders to help resolve a number of outstanding problems related to settlement and integration.

One of the problems that emerges from this extensive networking in developing policy as a consultative process, and one that is as transparent as possible, is that tentative proposals that are developed and proposed during this development of policy in motion get released and taken as government policy when the idea is discarded several days later – the use of cruise ships, the rumour that the refugees will be initially housed in army camps when only 1,500 places are being provided on bases as a reserve with an additional plan to make 4,500 extra spaces available if needed, the rumour that single male refugees would be excluded altogether when there are no exclusions, the belief that security and health processing would be divided between overseas pre-clearance and in-country checks. There is another problem when a plan is not fully developed and delivered from on high. The biggest one is that settlement agencies are desperately in need of funds to handle the enormous increase in inquiries, to hire and train staff to be ready for receiving the refugees. They will have to find interim funding until the government is able to allocate funds.

Once the overall plan was announced, the resettlement and integration part of plan can be discussed in detail with the settlement agencies. That part of the plan has not been refined. Until the plan is further developed and the specific needs known, a proposal cannot be put to the Treasury Board for approval of funds. Further, a process will have to be developed for the application for those funds and the distribution and monitoring of the monies. Luckily, and in contrast to the Indochinese Refugee movement, there are now 36 reception and settlement centres with a great deal of experience across Canada and processes already in place for distributing other funds.

It is also not clear if the provinces and municipalities will be expected to contribute monies over and above the $678 million budgeted by the federal government to be spent over six years. Further, since the real needs of the settlement agencies have not yet been submitted, since the estimates have been based on past practices, the figure has to be considered a best estimate at this time. But it is very different than the $1.2 billion budget rumoured just two days previously.

There are many other problems to be worked out. Victoria, B.C. does not have a RAP centre for receiving refugees, but the mayor has clearly indicated a desire to receive refugees for southern Vancouver Island and be part of the program. The government is committed to including all regions of the country which want to be part of the program and that have sufficient capacity in an existing settlement facility or wish to and have the capacity to develop such a facility. A number of NGOs have pressed the government to increase the shelter allowance given current accommodation costs across Canada. NGOs are eager to get the master distribution list, but until the consultation and Treasury Department approvals, that distribution list cannot be released as a final document.

The government has also learned from past experience. Sponsored families will not be sent to places in Canada where they will isolated from their fellow nationals. Each locality will be required to welcome a minimal critical mass of refugees. At the same time, given the history of antagonisms in Syria, it will be important that the government be careful and that families from antagonistic groups are not sent to a small centre.

The best result is that the refugee support community virtually unanimously greeted the announcement as a Good News Day. It is heart warming to see the government once again stepping up to bat to be a partner with civil society. I suspect the whole Syrian refugee movement is as important in defining Canada once again in terms that once made Canada a leading light in the international community, especially when the refugee initiative is complemented by other initiatives, such as the environmental proposals. The refugee program has been defined and broadcast as a National Project.

Finally, a great deal of credit has to given to the Canadian civil service and politicians across the country who have risen to the challenge of providing leadership. The civil servants have characterized the intensive and long hours of work that they have put in over the last few weeks, as exciting, exhilarating, but also exhausting. If the program works as well as the Indochinese refugee program, their effort will become high points in many of their lives.


Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine: One Kind of Terrorism


Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening, we lit a yahrzeit candle in memory of my mother who died 14 years ago, 3 ½ years after my older brother Allan passed away at the age of 62. As I grow older and as the years pass, I think of both of them more than ever. This morning I went to the early morning service in synagogue to say kaddish in honour of my mother.

In the movie, Oranges and Sunshine (2011) directed by Jim Loach, which we watched on Netflix yesterday evening, one of the children shipped off from Britain to Australia, now an adult who spent 40 years of her life mopping floors since she was that child, in a quiet voice that tears at your heart, says, “Can’t ever forget your mom, can you?” My memories of my mother are of a rich and full life, though my mother worked and sacrificed so her three boys could go to school and become professionals in different fields.

There is a very different type of memory of moms, a memory of absence, a memory of being torn away, a memory of a hollowness left in your chest that nothing is ever able to fill. The latter painful memories, as portrayed in the movie, seem to have been the primary ones of the children that were forcefully deported from the U.K. to Australia. Those emotional scars were then reinforced by a chronicle of pain and abuse as the Christian Brothers, one of the charities that took in the children, mistreated them, made them engage in forced labour at a young age, and, in many cases, sexually abused and even raped the children. The pain in Jack (played brilliantly by Hugo Weaving, who won an AACTA award as best supporting actor) haunts the movie.

Margaret Humphries (Emily Watson, who won an Australian film critics award for this role) was a social worker in Nottingham, Great Britain in the 1980s when she had her first whiff of the scandal. She would develop into the dedicated quiet and determined zealot who established the Child Migrant Trust in 1987 as she uncovered the story of the exploitation and mistreatment of the 130,000 British children, the ironically named “home children,” who were told their mothers were dead. They were shipped off to the colonies. The mothers were told that the children had been adopted and their sons and/or daughters would grow up in better homes and a secure environment. The children grew up in institutions called homes that were anything but.

These types of schools were the brainchild of Kingsley Ogilvie Fairbridge, a South African raised in Rhodesia and a Rhodes Scholar and idealist inspired by both the tradition of Cecil Rhodes and totally appalled at the conditions of children in industrial Britain at the turn of the last century. Hence residential schools promising fresh air and light, good food and nutrition, schools that combined vocational training and basic education; Fairbridge organized the Child Migration Society. The first farm school was located in Pijarra near Perth. Much later, another was established north of Victoria in Canada just before Faibridge died at a young age in 1924. These schools were intended to be much more directed to benefit the children than the system which sent tens of thousands of children as domestic workers and farm helpers to Canada from British workhouses through the auspices of Bernardo’s Homes between Confederation and WWI. Three of the Barnardo boys committed suicide in 1924, the same year Fairbridge died.

The movement, of which the Barnardo’s Homes were a major part, was stopped in Canada by a campaign led by Charlotte Whitton, later elected in 1951 as the first female mayor of a major city in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. Whitton had founded and directed the Canadian Council on Child Welfare between 1920 and 1941. The closing down of the operations of Barnardo Homes was the first of a long stream of victories in the many causes she championed.

Good intentions were at war with other “good” intentions. Charlotte Whitton was not so concerned with the well-being of the children as she was with her view of the well-being of Canada. She contended that many of the children being sent to Canada through the auspices of Barnardo Homes were sub-standard and inclined to immoral and juvenile behaviour. The children whose migration she opposed were not simply British kids from the slums of U.K.’s industrial cities. According to the Canadian Jewish Congress, before, during and immediately after WWII, “she was instrumental in keeping Jewish orphans out of Canada because of her belief that Jews would not make good immigrants and were basically inferior.” (Perhaps she repented her earlier evident anti-Semitism, for she was the first to sign the nomination papers of  Ottawa’s first Jewish mayor, Lorry Greenberg.)

The ban on the Barnardo Homes by the Canadian government was lifted when the Fairbridge Farm School was established near Cowichan Station in 1935, helped by a contribution of $10,000 from the Prince of Wales, another large contribution by Rudyard Kipling, and a much larger donation by the Lumber magnate, H.R. Macmillan, who provided the main resources to build the school.

Less than two months ago, my son the farmer, bought his ten acre farm in the Cowichan Valley to establish Blue Roots Farm to start an aquaponics business growing fresh greens and herbs as well as fish for the markets and restaurants on Vancouver Island. At the same time as he was just moving into his farm, a reunion was being held of U.K. child migrants to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School near Cowichan Station just south of Duncan on Vancouver Island, about a ten-minute drive east from my son’s farm. Later last evening when I phoned him to say that he and Jessie had to watch the movie, it turned out that Jessie’s mother had that very same day watched the film on Netflix and had just phoned Jessie to tell her that she and Daniel had to watch the movie.

In 1935, about 350 children in total, mainly from Glascow, Wales and Birmingham, and only a very small proportion of the 130,000 U.K. children shipped to the colonies, were sent to the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm Residential School for supposedly “underprivileged children.” After the initial years of heart-warming stories on CBC and in major newspapers, eight years after its founding, the school founded on such idealistic grounds was rocked by scandal because of sexual “improprieties” between staff and students. In 1948, the last three children arrived. The school was closed in 1952, allegedly because it was too expensive to maintain. In 1975, a developer acquired the property and converted it into strata-titled homes, but the Fairbridge Chapel built in 1939 has been preserved as a historic site.

The reunion in September at Cowichan Station was held less than three months after a large settlement was made by Fairbridge Farm Schools to the adults who had been sent to Fairbridge Molong in Australia. The $24 million settlement was the highest compensation in Australian history, twenty-eight years after Margaret Humphries first informed the British and Australian governments of the abuse at Fairbridge in New South Wales. In 2015, five years after the U.K. government offered an official apology to former child migrants, the British government also announced a fund to help those children reunite with their parents.

Humphries had documented the record of that forced separation, forced deportation of the U.K.’s small children and their terrible treatment in Australia in her book Empty Cradles that was made into a documentary called Lost Children of the Empire in 1989. In 2011, the very moving docudrama, Oranges and Sunshine, was shown in theaters. For that is what the children were promised – sunshine and oranges. What they received were lives blackened and scarred by their mistreatment, by the slave labour they were forced to perform at very early ages, and the indenture that even followed when they left the school and were asked (required) to repay the debt from the expenditures on their care and upbringing.

On 16 November 2009, Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister of Australia, noting the neglect and abuses, made a formal apology to those who had gone through the Fairbridge schools, as well as other governmental and religious institutions at the time.

We come together today to offer our nation’s apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without your consent, that we are sorry. Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost; childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers; spontaneous play by regimented routine; the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work… today let us now go forward together, go forward with confidence; go forward with confidence into the future – as equal, as valued and as precious members of this one great family that we call Australia.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s apology followed three months later.

In too many cases vulnerable children suffered unrelenting hardship and their families left behind were devastated…We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away when at their most vulnerable…We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back…We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded… We cannot change history but I believe that by confronting the failings of the past we can show we are determined to do all we can to heal the wounds.

However, there has never been a judicial inquiry into this scandal as there was into the indigenous children in Canada who were forcefully removed from their families and placed in residential schools. On the other hand, as far as I know, the treatment and abuse of indigenous children has never been treated to a full scale docudrama.

This Wednesday, I plan to see another docudrama, Spotlight, with a very old friend who goes back to my days as a graduate student when he was then a priest in the Catholic Church. As almost all of you probably know, Spotlight is a movie about the abuse Catholic clergy visited on children, mostly boys, in the Boston diocese as but one region of what was a worldwide plague in which the Catholic Church and the Christian Brothers played a central role, whether it was the mistreatment of indigenous children, so-called “orphans” from the U.K., or simply young boys singing in the choirs of Catholic Churches.

Though Oranges and Sunshine spends its time on the physical abuse and the lifelong emotional pain inflicted on the children, and, to a degree, on the mothers, the plot primarily focuses on the effort to trace and reunite children with their mothers from whom they were separated, the prime mission of the Child Migrant Trust. The movie does not try to explore the circumstances and motives across the West that facilitated the abuse of children by institutions said to be dedicated to their protection.

At one time in the movie, Margaret Humphries is driven out by Len (David Wenham) to one of these institutions in Bindoon, in the wilds of Western Australia, 52 miles north north-east of Perth where my oldest grandchild was born. In the movie, Len is perhaps the most embittered of the adults who were sent to these institutions. He covered up his bitterness with rudeness and a very rough exterior, refused to cry and give into the pain, and tells Margaret that, “I had to stop crying when I was eight, I don’t know how to start now.” He even donated a swimming pool to the Brothers from the resources of his successful business. The pain in Len, who could not and would not cry, was all the sharper precisely because of the repression, precisely because it remained deeply hidden; it is lifted in the film through the efforts of Margaret Humphries. That pain cuts through any Unmoved Mover.

Margaret protested Len’s initiative in visiting Bindoon, which she thought would be too painful. Just as she had once told him, he returned the favour and told her that the sight of the horror would be cathartic for her as well and possibly dispel the “monster in her head.” The Christian Brothers were still living in the very large stone building with a huge and high wood-panelled Great Hall in which a cluster of Brothers were having high tea.

Len asks the brothers if they could bring Margaret a cuppa. One young Brother, after being very hesitant, timidly brings tea. It turns out that the cup is chipped. Len then asks that tea be served in proper cups and the young Brother brings back a tray with a pot and two cups and saucers. It turns out there is no tea in the pot, only clear hot water when he pours. There is no explanation for these series of stumbles, no indication whether the behaviour was inadvertent or intentional, but the continual silence and stares and even fear on some on the faces of the Brothers tells the story as they sit in this huge great hall in a massive stone building constructed with the slave labour of those British children.

As one of the former children, now a broken adult about to enter his retirement years but with no means to support himself, says, “All day, in blazing heat, no rest, no water. I was nine years old, and I was lifting rocks the size of my upper body. And he’s yelling at us, ‘You weak, weak pitiful sons of whores’. We built Stations of the Cross, but who was crucified, huh? Tell me that.”

The cost to Margaret Humphries, who had a devoted husband and two children, was enormous. At one point at a Christmas celebration, with many of the adults who were once children in those institutions there along with Margaret Humphries and her family present, at this joyful occasion, an occasion of giving gifts, Ben, Margaret’s youngest, was brought a present and then asked, “So what are you going to give all of us for Christmas, Ben?” Ben, mildly and quietly, replies, ”I gave you my mum.”

And that is perhaps the most poignant part of the film. For as the movie unfolds, as the scandal is uncovered, as several adults are reunited with their long lost mothers, Margaret has had to sacrifice months at a stretch with her family as she worked in Australia to trace down the children and then, back in the U.K., as she traveled across Britain to locate the mothers. The worst: she absorbs their pain. She acquires Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The cost to her and her family was enormous, but it is also clear that she had a loving and supportive family otherwise it is doubtful whether she could have emerged from the other end except as a broken woman. That loving family is the foil for what those Fairbridge children were denied.

Ironically and tellingly, the movie starts with Margaret Humphries trying to calm a mother as she tells the mother to put her baby back in the cradle. When the mother does, Margaret says to her, “So right now your baby needs to be safe, and you need a bit of support, don’t you? I know you care, of course you do. But this will give you a chance to sort yourself out.” Margaret then lifts the baby from the cradle and whisks off with it as the hysterical mom fights off the personnel who hold the mother back as Margaret makes her escape with the baby. Margaret starts off being part of a social work system that sent all these children to lives of misery.

But she became a crusader for these lost children. That was not true of the many bureaucrats she confronted as she pursued the truth of what had happened. At one point in the film, when she has just finished a very frustrating meeting with a group of bureaucrats, Margaret is already at the bottom of one of those very wide staircases those of us who are old enough remember as a trademark of institutional life, whether in our own schools or in City Hall. Margaret stops and turns and we listen expectantly to one sympathetic bureaucrat who seems to have broken from the pack and chased after her. But our hopes are dashed. She says, “You say you’re speaking as a mother. But please, take consolation your own family wasn’t meddling with all this. I mean, how could you possibly understand the real circumstances of these unfortunate children? They were living in slums. They were children of truants and degenerates.”

Not very different than the sentiments of our own Charlotte Whitton who would go on to become the mayor of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.

Jacob’s Dream and Jacob’s Children

Parshat Va-yetzei: Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Jacob’s Dreams and Jacob’s Children


Howard Adelman

Family is important. Jacob stopped to rest en route from Beersheva to Haran, also known as Paddan-Aran. Haran was the dwelling place of Terah, his three sons, Abraham, Nahor and Haran, from which Abraham, then called Abram, left the family homestead and went on to Canaan. In Haran, Abraham’s two brothers – Nahor and Haran – along with their children and grandchildren, lived. Among those grandchildren was Laban, grandson of Nahor and brother of Rebekah.

Haran (the place, spelled with a chef versus a heh) comes from the Hebrew word, har, meaning “mountain,” but the word can also mean “parched,” an unlikely association of the place name given how the flocks and sheep and goats under Jacob’s care flourished during his courtship of Rachel. En route to Haran, Jacob stopped to rest where he had his famous dream of the ladder between heaven and earth and the angels ascending and descending the ladder or staircase. Jacob would name the place Beth-el, God’s abode, after he had that dream.

Family and diachronic relations are not the only items of primary importance in the Torah. Each specific place (makom) and its name, the synchronic reference, always rivals the account of descendents, the diachronic dimension of the Torah. Parshat Va-yetzei, the departure, or, more precisely, “he went out,” is the place of the home of Jacob’s father and his brother, Esau, the place from which he fled. Perhaps the section is as much about the place that he left as the place he stopped to rest or the place, Haran, to which he travelled. Between the two, the place he grew up in and now feared, and the place in which he placed his future hopes, was the place he named Beth-el, which means house of God, God’s abode, where God is first worshipped in one place. Beth-el was where Jacob received his first revelation directly from God in the form of a dream.

The importance of that place is stressed, as usual, by repetition. Since in a few sentences, macom is used six times, Beth-el is clearly a very important place. It is where Jacob’s famous dream takes place of the stairway to heaven or the ladder joining earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending those steps or the rungs of a ladder.

He had a dream; a stairway (more accurately, a sulam, probably a ziqqarat or ramp though I will continue to use the tem “ladder” as that is how the dream is best known) was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. 13 And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. 14 Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. 15 Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Genesis 28:12-15)

The Lord God was standing beside him or, in an alternative translation, at the top of the ladder in the dream. God directly promises Jacob, first that the land on which he rests and that He promised to Abraham, will be the land of Jacob and his descendents. Second, God promised Jacob that his descendents will be like the dust of the earth, settling everywhere, east and west, north and south. Third, God promised that all nations will be blessed through the nation founded by Jacob. Fourth, God promises Jacob protection until he returns to his homeland.

This is more or less the same promise that Jacob received from his father, Isaac, nine verses earlier, before Jacob set out for Haran. There were several significant differences however. Isaac never included the third promise that other nations would be blessed as a result of the nation that will be the product of Jacob’s loins. Second, Isaac never promised Jacob that God would protect him until his return. Third, the order of the first two promises is reversed. The promise of being fruitful, of having many progeny and becoming a congregation of peoples, precedes rather than comes after the promise of ownership of the land.

God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, that you may be a congregation of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you, and to your seed with you; that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham. (Genesis 28:3-4)

This blessing was very different than the one Jacob supposedly tricked his father into giving him when it was presumably intended for Esau. That blessing promised enormous wealth and prosperity. That blessing promised, not that other nations would be blessed through the mediation of Jacob’s descendents, but that nations would serve and bow down to Jacob. Other nations who curse the house of Jacob would be cursed. Other nations that bless the house of Jacob would be blessed.

God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.2 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you. (Genesis 27:28-29)

In the third of these three blessings, the only one given directly by God, promises for the future are clear. But what was the meaning of a ladder or staircase joining heaven and earth? What is the meaning of the angels traipsing up and down? And where precisely was God standing in the dream? To the last question, there are three answers. God was at the top of the ladder. God was on the ground beside Jacob. Third, the meaning could be equivocal and suggest that God was in both places at one and the same time. I suggest the second answer as the clearer meaning. God was on the ground beside Jacob.

Generally the dream is interpreted as angels, servants or messengers of God, running up towards God and down to mankind as intermediaries. But that is odd because the very sense of the dream is that God is talking to Jacob directly and not through any intermediary. Further, angels are not always intermediaries. Before God gave the Torah to Moses, the angels in heaven, according to the Talmud (Shabbos 88b) evidently protested, insisting that angels are better designed to honour and cherish it. But Moses took up the challenge and insisted that since they (the angels) had neither children nor parents, they could not follow the mitzvah of honouring parents, The Torah was, therefore, meant for humans because humans had progeny.

However, if those traipsing up and down are literally angels, why would they need a staircase or a ladder or, for that matter, a ramp? They can fly up to heaven and down to earth. Yet virtually every commentator I have read insists they were actually angels. The debate is over the meaning of the ladder or staircase, some interpreting it diachronically as representing progressive stages in history, others interpreting the ladder as representing different stages in the rise to spirituality from human degradation where, after the so-called Fall, man was a “vessel of shame and disgrace, empty and wanting.” In either case, then those running up and down cannot be angels because they do not have ethical lives on earth that can be improved and they are not characterized as having higher and lower degrees of spirituality.

Rashi interprets the dream as having a strictly earthly and synchronic dimension, in keeping with the repetition of “place”. The ladder stood on the boundary between Eretz Israel and the diaspora. Most commentators, however, take the hierarchy of spirituality approach. Maimonides in the Guide to the Perplexed (I.15) argues the angels are the prophets who serve to translate the meaning of Torah to the rest of humanity. God then is not standing beside Jacob on the ground, but at the head of the ladder. He is the unchanging constant, the stabilizer and reference point for humanity in terms of which we can measure the development of our rationality in true Aristotelian style in reference to the Unmoved Mover that is God. The Torah is not in service to man, but casts man in the role of a servant to God in strong opposition to the view that humanity is dearer than the entire world, even real angels.

A Chassidic disciple of the Vilna Gaon agreed that the ladder represented different stages of spiritual development and stressed, not human reasoning or even thought more generally, but deeds, deeds that try to be more worthy of God. In the Zohar, the ladder is not actually on the ground but is anchored in heaven where spirit (ruach) and the soul (nefesh) are united and can then descend into the hearts of man.  At least the Torah is seen for the benefit of man rather than seeing man as only put on Earth to worship God as mankind aspires to move upwards towards God. In the latter view, man is base and must overcome his evil ways.

Is the Torah God-centered or human-centered? Are intermediaries needed? As I reflected on these and other interpretations, I grew very tired. As most people know, I get up very early. But I do not usually go back to bed for a nap until after breakfast and I have finished my blog. This morning I became overwhelmingly tired. I lied down and instantly fell asleep. That instant sleep is common. Most unusual, however, I had a dream. I even remembered it.

The angels were my angels, my six children and all their offspring. They were my children and grandchildren, some going up to heaven and others descending from heaven. They were angels with legs not wings. And all of them belonged to both worlds, heaven and earth, idealism and the practicalities of everyday life. And all of them at different stages of their lives were traveling in one direction or the other, sometimes towards aspirations, at other times to more practical concerns – getting an education, finding a partner, earning an income, finding a house. But every one of them was involved in both to different degrees at different times. Children and grandchildren traipsing up and down are the gateway to heaven. The abode of God is within the family, in having a place for that family and in having children. That is where God lives among humans. The gate of heaven is on the ground where it meets earth, not at the top of the ladder. It is the place where a frightened fugitive, a refugee from his own home, has to swap the comforts of that home for a stone as a pillow.

This is perhaps a mundane rather than esoteric interpretation, different but akin to Rashi’s, but it made total sense to me. Further, I understood not only the dream, but the meaning of the story that followed in a way I had not understood before.

The story that follows is straightforward and virtually everyone knows it. At the well, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, Laban’s daughter, who is shapely and beautiful. Jacob works for Laban seven years to win her as his wife. But Laban tricks him and sends in Leah, the older daughter, into his marriage bed, just as Rebekah once sent Jacob into Isaac to get the blessing ostensibly intended for Esau. To win the beautiful Rachel’s hand, Jacob has to work another seven years. But he has worked fourteen years for no material benefit and has only wives and children to show for it. (More on that in a minute.) So he makes a deal with the very tricky Laban. By then, Jacob had 11 sons and one daughter, 6 sons by Leah, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Levi and Judah constituting the priestly and political/military class of the House of Israel and Judah), Issachar, Zebulun, the latter two and a daughter, Dinah, only born after Leah uses a mandrake to get Jacob once again to make love to her. Rachel is the one who willingly gives her place in bed to Leah for the mandrake root that Reuben, Leah’s eldest, had found and collected and which allows her at last to bear the first of her two sons, Joseph. As Jacob once traded a hot pot of soup to Esau for his birthright, Rachel now trades her place in bed for a right to give birth.

Jacob then turns the tables on Laban by learning, via the lessons of his mother, Rebekah, and also his wife, that if you are to gain anything on this earth in terms of wealth, you have to be wily, though not dishonest. He tells Laban not to give him wages, but to give him “every speckled and spotted animal – every dark-coloured sheep and every spotted and speckled goat – as his wages. Such shall be my wages. In the future when you go over my wages, let my honesty toward you testify for me: if there are among my goats any that are not speckled or spotted or any sheep that are not dark-coloured, they got there by theft.” (Genesis 28: 32- 34) Laban then tricks Jacob once again by having his sons remove the spotted and speckled and mottled animals. But Jacob is by now onto Laban and turns the tables by breeding spotted, speckled and mottled goats and sheep, leaving the feebler uniformly coloured animals for Laban. Before Jacob’s time was up and he had served another six years, Jacob snuck away with his wives, his concubines and his servants, just as Laban had snuck away and left his sons to steal away the spotted, mottled and speckled members of the flock when he first made his deal with Jacob.

There is one more tale of trickery. Rachel steals her father’s household idols. When Laban chases Jacob in flight with all his animals and household staff and catches them in what is today Jordan, the hill country of Gilead, he is warned by God not to begin a conflict because God is there to protect Jacob. Laban changes his mind in his intention to wrest what he considers his animals back from Jacob. Laban says that he only chased Jacob and his family because Jacob did not allow Laban to send them off with a proper goodbye.

However, when Laban demands the return of his household idols from Jacob, who never knew that Rachel stole them, Rachel sits on them hidden under a camel pillow and claims she is sitting on her pillow because she is having her period (with the implication that she is unclean). Jacob then turns the tables a second time and ends his role as a supplicant. He remonstrates Laban for his false accusations, for his trickery, for his deviousness and cheating Jacob of all he deserved over the past two decades.

Laban then says: “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks; all that you see is mine. Yet what can I do now about my daughters or the children they have borne? Come, then, let us make a pact, you and I, that there may be a witness between you and me.” (Genesis 31: 43-44) The real wealth Laban had lost was not the sheep and the goats, but the love of his daughters and his grandchildren. Laban made a pact of peace with Jacob. And we have been taught that the real wealth of life is the children who climb up and down the ladders between idealism and practicality. So when Jacob leaves the camp to finally head home, he once again sees angels and Jacob recognized that where he had made that compact was God’s camp and he named it Mahanaim, just east of either the Jordan River or the Jabbok River.

Was it named “two camps” because the place represented the location where the two camps of Laban, the wily trickster greedy for wealth, and Jacob, who took twenty years to master the ways of the world, finally made peace? Or was it named two camps because the place represented the site where the camp of God met the camp of Jacob. I believe the name was given because it was the place where the camps of idealism and the camp of realism, the camp of striving for perfection and the camp of necessary guile, first met and agreed that Israel was to be founded on the complementarity of both rather than exclusion of one by the other. Instead of wisdom and judgement as the perfect balance between reason and compassion, the balancing act requires hard-headed strategic thinking married to ideals. The balance is not an equilibrium constant but is constantly shifting and requires us to shift with the requirements of a situation. Steps and rungs are not stages but mechanisms for going down as well as up, and going down is often a virtue.

Christians often cite the passage in John (1:45-51) where Jacob’s dream is cited and interpreted and where Jesus greets Nathaniel and says, “Behold an Israelite in whom is no guile.” The response from Jews must be, “A human with guile is not without ideals, but he has gotten rid of his naïveté that in all others who are less ‘pure’ becomes the root of hypocrisy.” We must travel back and forth on a highway between Haran and our homeland, between realpolitik and idealism. Jews do not need a leap of faith to accept inherently contradictory positions. Nor do they require steps or rungs or stages to reach a higher level. Jacob acquires that wisdom through experience in the rough and tumble of life.

I regard the view of Jacob as someone who seeks to overtake Esau as mistaken. He needs to hang onto Esau until he can cope on his own because he is a naïve dreamer. His first effort gets him an empty birthright without any guarantees. His second effort guided by Rebekah only gets him a blessing which promises only wealth. In his subsequent efforts, he is the one who is tricked until he learns to turn the trick on the one taking advantage of him. Jacob is akov, indirect, not because he is a deceiver, but because he has not yet found his way. When that route is completed, he will become and be renamed Israel

Refugees and Terrorism

Refugees and Terrorism


Howard Adelman

In Own Sound, Ontario, a thirty something man wore a jacket that had on its back the following:



Fake refugees

Welcome to Canada

Though many Canadians and Americans have raised concerns about security checks, since the terror attacks on Paris this past Friday, there have been many voices urging a reconsideration of the number, the manner and even the prospect of allowing the entry of so many refugees who are believers in Islam. For example, Jack Engelhard, a well-known writer, wrote an Op-ed in Arutz Sheva’s Israel National News on Monday:

Jack Engelhard is the Ben Hecht of our time, an out-and-out Israeli revisionist so it should be no surprise that he won the Ben Hecht award for his writing. The above was but one of his many columns in that outlet for right-wing Zionist views. He is the author of novels as well as essays – Indecent Proposal: The Original Novel (2001) and the more recent, The Bathsheba Deadline: An Original Novel. The latter, self-published I believe, is a newspaper thriller with such paragraphs as: “We kissed. She sighed, as only a woman can sigh. We kissed again and she sighed again. She said she loved me and hoped –her only hope was that I hadn’t come along too late. There is nothing worse than two people hooking up when it’s all over…”

The first novel is not nearly as badly written, but it comes close. It is an update of the Abraham and Isaac story, of calling their wives sisters in front of strangers so an alien stranger will not kill them to make their beautiful wives concubines. In the novel, an Arab billionaire, Ibrahim Hassan, offers Joshua Cantor, a Holocaust survivor and speechwriter, $1 million if he can sleep with his wife. Both books allow Engelhard to use fiction as a format to expound his ideological fantasies.

Engelhard is an articulate and outspoken writer, though clearly not a very good one, but he does not mince words. That is an advantage in citing him. The essay on Syrian refugees is entitled, “Now who’s being paranoid: After the Paris bloodbath – time to throw out the trash.” In spite of all the empirical evidence otherwise clearly indicating average Muslims are as opposed to terrorism as much as anyone, he began with the claim that Muslims felt no shame over what happened. “So what are we supposed to say when a company of Muslims steps in, as they just did? There is no shame in their eyes over what happened.”

He went on with the following as examples of his declarations:

  • “What happened? Islam came to town. That’s what happened and now more than 100 Parisians are dead.”
  • “Muslims are suspect. Too bad about the ones who are no part of this and in some places targets or victims as well.”
  • “But that’s what they’ve done to us, the Allah Akhbar crowd. They’ve turned us into justified bigots. We fear all of them, the good along with the bad. Yes I said this and you can quote me, ‘justified bigotry’…but within the context of people who intend to do us harm.”

To this litany of assessments and judgments, he added:

  • “Later, G-d can sort them out but meanwhile our reckless leaders keep importing them by the planeload. Obama is even accelerating the welcome.”
  • “In Canada, I have just learned, federated Jews are spreading out the red carpet for these newly arrived ‘Syrian migrants,’ most of them men without women or children; most of them of military age and most of them deserters. But these Jews know better and have chosen to be more hospitable than Abraham and more merciful than G-d.”
  • “It’s about their commandment that commands them to kill. That’s it, period. Will the Left get this message? Probably not.”
  • “Yes I am intolerant against people who keep blowing us up. Sorry. I am funny and intolerant that way.”

His statements have at least the benefit of being clearer than that of the 26 American Republican governors, almost all from the southern states and the mid-western and non-Pacific western states – all states with a well-deserved fame for their hospitality – who would ban the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, for most of them, not just Muslim refugees, but all Syrian refugees. Of course, in the American system which guarantees the free movement of people within its borders, state governors cannot legally ban the entry of Syrian refugees. But they can make it inhospitable for them to come. They can deny settlement agencies the funds for ESL training or help in accessing employment. So the governors will have a rationale:

There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

These efforts to do all that they can to discourage entry into their states would undoubtedly not survive a court challenge, even in a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, but they would be effective in the long interim before such a court case is heard. Further, the governors will get their Republican colleagues with a majority in Congress to pass legislation denying funds for their resettlement. Obama will undoubtedly veto such a bill, but, in the interim, the extremely modest initiative of the Obama administration to resettle 30,0000 refugees would be so immersed in controversy, bad taste and bigotry, that refugees will only come to America because their conditions are so terrible.

This is unequivocal grandstanding on the immigration and refugee issue in anticipation of the forthcoming election in 2016. In Canada, where unexpectedly we had a very different outcome from a much more muted debate on refugees, even the 25,000 that the Liberal government has pledged to bring is modest. The debate has focused on the efficacy of such a rapid intake by the end of the year.

But let us go to the so-called “justified bigotry” argument. Terrorism did not begin when Muslims came to town. It was a radical Sikh group, members of Babbar Khalsa, that blew Air India Flight 182 out of the air. Now a Sikh is Canada’s Defence Minister, responsible for protecting the security of Canadians. Canadian authorities have worked diligently to deport Toronto’s Ramanan Mylvaganum, a Canadian with two graduate degrees and a Sri Lankan Tamil, who was convicted of supplying weapons and ammunition to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a terrorist group. Though violence and terror can come from almost any group, identification with the Muslim religion has recently become the most prominent. And that terrorism does not only come from Arabs – a Somali group in Canada was believed by Canadian security agencies to be planning a terror attack within Canada.

If we extend the reach from terrorism to violence, we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Vietnamese to Canada; they have been a tremendously successful community. But they also produced a very small number of violent youth gangs that acted on behalf of the Chinese mafia to kill rivals in the fight for control of the illicit drug trade. Or if we go back a number of years, we find the record of association of violence and even terrorism with a wide variety of ethnic groups. In my first year as a professor at York University in 1966, anti-Castro terrorists, with a safe haven in Florida, used a bazooka to attack the Cuban embassy in Ottawa. Subsequent bombings took place against the Cuban trade delegation and a bomb was exploded in the Cuban pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. About seven more bombing incidents followed, most in the next ten years.

Armenians have targeted Turks – attacking the Turkish Commercial Counselor in Ottawa in 1982 and paralyzing him, assassinating the Turkish military attaché to Canada in that same year and three years later killed a Canadian security guard when the Armenians seized the Turkish embassy in Ottawa. And, of course, we must not forget our own Irish Fenians whose terrorist raids go back to the nineteenth century – after all, they were the ones who assassinated Thomas D’Arcy McGhee, one of the fathers of confederation, in 1868. Nor the American terrorists who used Canada as a base – such as the John Wilkes Booth team that planned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Montreal.

Though Israelis, and Jews more particularly, have been targets of Arab terrorist attacks in Canada, the far-right Jewish Defence League (JDL), founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose goal was to protect Jews “by whatever means necessary,” is a prescribed terrorist group connected with fifteen terrorist incidents in the U.S. The group with the strongest terrorist record in the United States was once protected by many of the governors in the American southern states who now object to the intake of Syrian refugees – namely, the Klu Klux Klan. The number of terror incidents they perpetrated numbers in the thousands and even perhaps the tens of thousands.

In Canada we have had our own FLQ that killed a Quebec cabinet minister. We have even had our own home-grown government terrorism. In the seventies, the RCMP committed arson and set fire to our research centre – Praxis – on Huron Street. So did terrorism start when Muslims came to town? Definitely not. It is not just an exaggeration; it is an outright lie. That is not to say that the current form of terrorism practiced by the Islamicist fundamentalist terrorist group, Islamic State (IS), is not the most vicious we have ever seen. I believe it is. And, perhaps the most dangerous. But they constitute a very small, but very significant, minority of Muslims.

If that is conceded, and it is further conceded that other Muslims are the main targets of IS, does this justify barring all Muslims? Does this provide a rationale for “justified bigotry”? Only if we want to betray our fundamental values of respect for human rights and tolerance for minorities. Only if we want to go back to the days prior to 1967 when bigotry was an integral part of Canadian law and immigration practice. Only if we want to go back to a time when a Canadian deputy-minister responded in the thirties to the question about how many Jewish refugees Canada could take, responded: “None is too many.” If I may paraphrase Peter Klein, who arrived in Canada as a Hungarian refugee, “Do not grant IS a post-terrorist victory by getting us to surrender our humanism, our humanitarianism, our respect for human rights and our sense of tolerance that characterizes the Canadian social fabric.”

Engelhard complained that most of Syrian refugees are of military age and most of them deserters. They are not at all. In the United States, where statistics are available and the country to which Engelhard is referring, in four years since the Syrian war broke out, the U.S. has only admitted less than 2,000 Syrian refugees, a paltry number by any standards. Half have been children. Half have been women, 25% over 60 years of age. Young men of military age constitute a very tiny minority.

Sometimes, a family does include refugees with adult children of military age. In Calgary a few weeks ago, I interviewed a mother and her three sons, aged 18, 22 and 26, who had arrived in Canada 36 hours before. The oldest son had been conscripted into the Syrian army and had been killed by IS. The other three were escaping the draft. The whole family was escaping persecution because they were Christians. As Marcus Gee wrote in this morning’s Globe and Mail, “The Syrian refugees are victims of terror, not agents of it.”

Further, with respect to importing draft dodgers and deserters, it is well to remember that the largest influx of refugees and migrants into Canada consisted of Americans fleeing the Vietnamese war. Most were single men of military age who were either draft dodgers or deserters. Using Engelhard’s “reasoning,” we would never have admitted any. Further, we do not blame Engelhard for the recent spate of hate crimes committed against Muslims in Canada just because he, and those of his ilk, publish screeds linking Muslims with terrorism. Why should the ordinary Muslim be blamed for Islamicist terrorism? As The French ambassador to Canada said, such a connection is an “intellectual aberration.”

Why the “justified bigotry? Because the Muslim Koran commands them to kill. It is certainly true that the Koran has over a hundred verses commanding its believers to kill infidels. The latter are allegedly different than similar commandments in the Torah and the Old Testament of Christianity that targeted the elimination and genocide of specific groups because they were enemies of the people of Israel. But the Bible commands us to welcome the stranger in the most repeated passage in that text. The Qur’am calls for the protection of asylum seekers. A famous Arabic homily states that, “The stranger is blind.” Immigrants and refugees who come to our shores know so little about our land that they are vulnerable. That is why they must be welcomed and given guidance and help. Verse 4:97 in the Koran asks rhetorically, “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to flee for refuge?” Every part of the earth belongs to God no matter what nation or religious group currently dominates in that country.

Bigotry is never justified. It is only ignorant.

However, when the everyday settings or ordinary people rather than specific officials or even specific modes of air transport, like planes, are attacked, when soccer stadiums, restaurants and dance venues for our youth become the targets, then the terror is far more frightening because it aims, not just at our abstract moral principles, but at our day-to-day way of life. ISIS is indeed a scourge. But the worst way to counter that scourge is to adopt their intolerance. The best way entails cooperating with the vast majority of Muslims who are as terrified as the ordinary Canadian or Frenchman, or, perhaps more so, as they become targets of a violent backlash encouraged by the over-the-top statements of Engelhard and some political leaders.

In fact, one of the goals of those terrorists is to encourage that very backlash as well as engage in revenge for Western attacks in Muslim states and efforts to disrupt the ordinary lives of the French and of Canadians. It is to prove that we are as biased, as much bigots and racists, as intolerant as they are. As Stephanie MacLellan wrote in her op-ed piece in The Toronto Star yesterday, for the terrorists, emigration is “a dangerous major sin,” leaving the land of the caliphate for the land of the unbeliever is punishable by them. Flight embarrasses the extremists and their narrative that Muslims will never be accepted in the West. Tolerance undermines their either/or reasoning, the same type of reasoning that Engelhard employs – “Either us or them.”

Sheema Khan made the point eloquently in her op-ed in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

The backlash against Muslims has begun. As if somehow, they are responsible for the heinous actions of mass murderers. As if the faith they profess is one and the same with the twisted ideology of militant extremists. After issuing statements condemning the attacks, attending vigils for the victims and sending messages of condolence, Muslims gird themselves for the suspicion, vandalism and hateful comments that invariably follow. Yet our Canadian fabric is resilient, as demonstrated by the good people of Peterborough, Ont., who rallied around the Muslim community after its mosque was torched on Saturday.” (Over $100,000 was raised, more than enough to repair all the damage.)

One of the worst parts of this backlash is how painful all of this has been to our Canadian citizens who are Muslims. This morning in The Globe and Mail, Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor of a large city, Calgary, with a reputation as the best mayor of any large city, expressed how upset he has been at the tiny minority of Canadians who generalize from the perhaps .1% of Muslims who sympathize with or support terrorism. He himself refused to generalize from the minority of Canadians who are bigots to any irrelevant generalizations about all Canadians.

There is a risk, but it is very tiny, especially when compared to the benefit to the refugees and the threat and fear they face.  However, Canada benefits when an overwhelming number of Canadians in leadership positions welcome Syrian refugees. Those leaders come from all the professions. Large business organizations have backed the intake of refugees and indicated that they would be preferable to those taken into Canada on the Temporary Unskilled Worker Program. In Alberta, 2,000 former Sudanese refugees have settled in the small town of Brooks with a population in the greater area of 20,000, and work in the meat packing plant there. The Canadian Meat Packing Council, and Maple Leaf Foods would welcome refugees to work in its meat packing plant in Brandon, Manitoba. Universities have offered free spaces for university-aged refugees.

The Harper government may have offered a paltry number of admissions, but at worst it explained that it was worried about security concerns. It never justified its limited response on racial or religious grounds. In imitation of its Tory predecessor, the Trudeau government Ministers all stress that “security is at the forefront” in the admission of Syrian refugees.

Let me conclude very simplistically:

  1. a) There are security checks prior to entry into Canada;
  2. b) Terrorists rarely use refugee systems to enter a country because that path leaves a big track, unless they enter en masse in a large migration movement where there are no border checks, a situation not applicable to Canada;
  3. c) Is the tiny risk of allowing entry to one refugee who may be a terrorist worth the sacrifice and suffering of so many refugees? If risks to ourselves of a relatively minute order outweigh the suffering of those refugees, then we have lost our moral compass;
  4. d) The type of refugees we take – families with children, persecuted minorities, refugees first cleared by UNHCR – are least likely to be terrorists;
  5. e) If similar reasoning was always used in the past, most of us would not be here;
  6. f) That “bigoted” reasoning was akin to the reasons offered when Jews were barred from entry into Canada – and Chinese and Sikhs, etc.

There is a fight going on that is much larger than the political wars over refugees taking place in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, much larger even than the war on terror. It is the war over the hearts and minds of Muslims being waged by Muslims themselves. Will Islam emerge as a faith rooted in compassion, tolerance and respect for the Other? Or will it be a religion of fear and terror, of subjugation instead of a respect for rights. In that fight, it is our duty as Canadians of whatever faith (or no faith) to weigh in on the side that supports those pushing for a tolerant and open Islam instead of reinforcing the fascists and bigots within Islam.


Tomorrow: Jacob and his wives

Sunday: Fighting Terrorism

Shaming and Truth

Shaming and the Quest for Truth


Howard Adelman

In the spring, I wrote a series of five bogs on shaming and humiliation. In the first blog, amongst other illustrations, I discussed the case of Tim Hunt, the Nobel scientist who made inappropriate sexist remarks at a luncheon in South Korea of female science writers. Late last week I received a message from a colleague, who is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, bringing my attention to a report on the truth and falsity of what took place in the initial event and in the controversy that ensued. The long discussion was unconcerned with shame and humiliation and only focused on issues of truth. The report can be found at:

Before I get into that report, I want to remind readers about some of my depictions concerning shame and humiliation.

“Shame is what you do to yourself. Humiliation is what one person does to another. You humiliate your neighbour when you try to shame him or her. Trying to put a neighbour to shame is one ineffective way of trying to get rid of the shame you feel in yourself. Whether expressed inwards towards oneself or displaced outwards onto another, as the ancient Jewish sages wrote, ‘Better a man throw himself into a fiery furnace than publicly put his neighbour to shame.’”

“Humiliation, instead of attending to a specific wrong, deflects attention from that fault to attend to an allegedly greater one, an offence against an abstract and universal principle. By abstracting and deflectin…the process drives shame into even deeper recesses in the soul. And the shaming allows the multitude to coalesce and feel good about themselves… Most importantly, shaming prevents us from expunging our sense of shame within and inhibits us from striving and standing on the stage to express our own self-worth. Who would want to take the risk and be subjected to so much scorn and humiliation? As Brené Brown so richly characterizes the difference between shame and guilt. ‘Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.’ Blaming someone tells the other that he or she did something wrong; shaming someone tells you that the other is bad.”

“Shame is allowing your self-worth to be determined by how you appear to others. Ironically, shame, so tied with exposure, hides in the deepest recesses of your being, subverting your self-worth in the most devious ways. Fed by self-doubt and a low opinion of oneself, shame is not determined by who you are or what you do, but by the phantom of who you are supposed to be.”

“Why then is shame defined as a painful feeling that arises from a consciousness of dishonourable or improper behaviour towards another? It is because we project shame onto another and believe it is the other who behaved dishonourably? Tim was a sexist…He should feel pain, we insist. He or she should be conscious of his or her misbehaviour. But it is we who cast stones who must become self-conscious of our behaviour. Tim Hunt did not feel that he was disgraceful. But he was disgraced.”

Then there is the issue of truth and Dan Waddell’s blog.

“Deborah Blum is not only an American journalist and columnist for The New York Times, but also a Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for best reporting for her series entitled, “The Monkey Wars” on the ethical conflict between scientists who use animals in their experiments and animal rights activists opposed to this purported cruelty to animals. As a star science reporter, she gave a parallel lecture to Tim Hunt’s in South Korea at the Ninth World Conference of Science Journalists. She wrote about what happened to Tim in an article for The Daily Beast called “Sexist Scientist: I Was Just Being Honest,” the title of which quickly informed readers about her view of Tim Hunt as well as satirizing rather than explicating and understanding his own account.”

“Both speakers had given their lectures. At the luncheon afterwards, they were each asked to add a few informal comments. Deborah talked about the way women make science smarter. Tim gave a tribute to women’s contribution to science. He then went astray to talk about his troubles with girls in the lab (supposedly humorously, and suggested perhaps structuring labs on the apartheid principle.”

“Deborah Blum’s nerves had already been set on edge when Tim referred to female scientists as ‘girls’. When he made his infamous remarks, which I wrote about, Blum, along with two other science journalists, were appalled.  They tweeted simply to put what they had seen and heard on record, and the story went viral. Tim later protested that he had been ‘hung out to dry’ and that he had only been joking, but to no avail. He insisted that no one had called him to ask him to explain what he meant. Blum took umbrage at that for she declared that she had made a point of asking Tim for that very explanation. In that explanation, Tim had evidently said that, ‘he was only trying to be honest’. But Blum never reports on what that explanation was. She presumes the remark was just a revelation of Tim Hunt’s sexism, though she quotes from his apology to the Korean female scientists and journalists. Most serious of all, in contrast to her award-winning series on the war between lab scientists and animal rights activists, she never even attempts to explore the war of righteous journalists battling for the purity of principle in a number of different fields and the sacrifice of individual human lives and reputations in that crusade.”

“Hunt had written that he regretted his ‘stupid and ill-judged remarks’. He added: ‘I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.’ Blum acknowledges that this indicated that the event was not entirely an ‘ill wind’, but not because Hunt’s remarks were not an ill wind, but because Hunt was forced to retreat and retract his sexist remarks – without ever determining whether those remarks were intended to convey a sexist worldview. Blum never tries to reconcile the remark, Tim Hunt’s apology and his behavioural record as a scientist and collaborator with women or to explore why he would offer such a tasteless joke. Instead, Blum went in another direction. She challenged characterizing the firestorm that followed as a ‘witch-hunt’ and, instead, insisted that, although she sympathized with anyone caught is such a media storm, ‘if we are ever to effect change, sometimes we need the winds to howl, to blow us out of our comfort zones.  Because the real point here isn’t about individuals, isn’t about Tim Hunt or me.’”

“But that is precisely the nature of a witch-hunt. The individual hunted down and quartered does not count. What counts is the principle. And if Tim Hunt had to be sacrificed on the altar of pure principle, so be it. Further, it was not even worth investigating whether there was any empirical evidence to support her assumption that Hunt was a sexist. That was just a given. The remark was made. He said that he was trying to be honest. Case closed.”

In contrast, Dan Waddell’s blog, “Saving Tim Hunt,” is an extensive effort to gather evidence to establish that the criticisms of Hunt were based on reasonably accurate reports of what he said. Wassell tries to escape the charge that, “The frame determines what the facts are.” Instead, he tries to weigh in considerable detail disputes over interpretations of so-called facts.

What are Waddell’s conclusion about the facts? Generally not that dissimilar from my own, but with a very different analysis and assessment. It is generally agreed, though not without many modifications and dissents, that Waddell agrees that Tim Hunt said the following: “It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”

There is a dispute over whether he added the phrase: “Now seriously” after the fact, but I suggest, whether he said it or not, the phrase is consistent with the rest of the content. In any case, there is widespread agreement that the remarks, or even joke, if it was one, was in poor taste and especially inappropriate before the crowd that he was addressing. Since he called himself a “chauvinist,” there is little need to cower away from judging the remarks, and even Tim Hunt, a sexist.  My question was, if Hunt was a sexist, was the treatment he received appropriate? Waddell’s focus is on the intent of the remark. Was it supposed to be a joke? Further, was it an effort of Tim trying to be honest?

Let us take the first assessment – that the comments were inappropriate, an expression of poor judgement, and, in Tim Hunt’s or his wife’s words, stupid and ill-judged,” “inexcusable,” and “unbelievably stupid.” They were understandably “offensive.”  Tim Hunt apologized for the remarks. Waddell wrote: “Hunt responded with a ‘heartfelt’ apology, albeit one that implicitly blamed the audience for their erroneous ‘interpretation’ and failure to understand his ‘self-deprecating joke’:

‘I am extremely sorry for the remarks made during the recent “Women in science” lunch at the WCSJ in Seoul, Korea. I accept that my attempts at a self-deprecating joke were ill-judged and not in the least bit funny. I am mortified to have upset my hosts, which was the very last thing I intended. I also fully accept that the sentiments as interpreted have no place in modern science and deeply apologize to all those good friends who fear I have undermined their efforts to put these stereotypes behind us.’

Tim Hunt apologized…His wife admitted that she could see how his words could be offensive to those who didn’t know him. Few had ever heard of him before this incident. Even fewer knew him at the WCSJ conference. And many – many more than have been claimed to date –  found it deeply offensive and, above all, sexist, including Hunt’s ERC press adviser for the trip. So why wasn’t Hunt’s apology simply accepted and the matter left there?

Were the comments a joke or intended? The comments were unfunny, as Hunt admits. So unfunny that a number didn’t even twig on he was joking. That Hunt went on to encourage those present to overcome obstacles and said ‘congratulations,’ as later emerged in Demina’s audio clip, is pretty standard fare for someone offering a toast. It in no way alleviates the crassness of his earlier comments. He made a heartfelt ‘apology’ for offending people and this apology was accepted by his hosts.

Were Hunt’s comments appropriate? No. Were they helpful to the cause of women in science, the same people he was there to toast? Not in the slightest. Were they funny? No. Even those who thought it a joke didn’t consider it amusing. A significant number did not even recognise it as a joke.

If it was meant as a joke, does that make it alright? It doesn’t. First of all not being serious doesn’t mean not being sexist. People can believe things to be funny and also think they’re true. The English language even has an aphorism for this: “Many a true word is spoken in jest.”

In the end, the parable of Tim Hunt is indeed a simple one. He said something casually sexist, stupid and inappropriate which offended many of his audience. He then confirmed that he said what he was reported to have said and apologised twice. The matter should have stopped there. Thus far, I am in full agreement with Waddell. But thereafter we are in strong disagreement. Waddell went on to write: “Instead a concerted effort to save his name — which was not disgraced, nor his reputation as a scientist jeopardized — has rewritten history. Science is about truth. As this article has shown, we have seen very little of it from Hunt’s apologists .” I do not think that I am a Hunt apologist. I also contend that Hunt’s name was disgraced. I do not think that history has been rewritten or that Waddell has shown that to be the case.

Let’s repeat what Tim Hunt said:

Sir Tim Hunt: I did mean the part about having — having trouble with girls. I mean, it is true that people — I have fallen in love with people in the lab, and that people in the lab have fallen in love with me, and it’s very disruptive to the science. Um, because it’s terribly important that in the lab, people are, sort of, on a level playing field. And I found that, um, you know, these emotional entanglements made life very difficult. I mean, I’m really, really sorry that I caused any offence — that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean — I just meant to be honest, actually.

Sir Tim Hunt: I came after three women, who very nicely thanked the organisers for the lunch. And I said it was odd that they — they’d asked a man to make any comments. And I’m really sorry that I said what I said — it was a very stupid thing to do, in the presence of all those journalists. And what was intended as a sort of light-hearted, ironic comment apparently was interpreted deadly seriously by my audience.

According to Waddell, “In our view, based on the evidence, the idea he was telling a self-deprecating joke solely about his emotional entanglements in the lab to a roomful of strangers simply doesn’t wash.” He refers to Blum as maintaining that on 9 June Hunt did not explain his comments as a joke, but as an attempt to be honest, the same sentiment he would express to the BBC the next day.

Hunt did not initially explain his comment as a joke. But he did subsequently. Further, attempting to be honest and telling a joke are not mutually exclusive. Waddell’s argument is facile and misleading. Further, there is a difference between a joke told in bad taste and characterizing it as not intentionally a joke at all. A bad joke, a distasteful joke, remains a joke, an unfunny one, but a joke nonetheless. Demina had commented in a tweet on 19 June: “Everybody who heard T. Hunt’s speech yesterday understood that he was joking. For those who did not: guys, where is your sense of humour?” Dismaeli wrote: “good for him that he took responsibility for the comment.”

Tim Hunt, in contrast, when he cracked a stupid dumb joke and it backfired, fled the field when the abuse and put-downs poured in. He offered a clearly sincere and heart-felt apology, that, as can be expected when one understands witch hunts, was either ignored or misinterpreted and used against him. A Nobel Prize winner had been brought low.

Let me end with repetition: When you are ashamed, your own sense of self suffers a hit. You metaphorically shrivel. You avoid effects and corresponding affects. On the one hand, shaming and humiliating may reinforce the status quo ante and even enhance bad behaviour. On the other hand, it may supposedly work, but work only by lowering the self-esteem and self-respect of the Other. In either case, the culture of shame is enhanced from either of these opposite results. And there is no learning or change in behaviour. The reason is simple. Shaming is not designed to alter behaviour by changing who we are. It is designed to perpetuate and enhance war – war between the sexes, war between and among people of ostensibly different races or religions. Shaming attacks our beliefs about ourselves and about others. Though an act of shaming, another may let off steam, but it is decidedly ineffective in dampening the passions that lead to war.

And it is war – the war of terror and the war on terror that I will attend to very soon.

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies


Howard Adelman

I spoke to my eldest son on Sunday morning – he was born exactly half-way between the period when the film takes place – to check whether he had returned safely from Paris, where he had been for a few weeks. As it turned out, he had left Paris just before the IS terrorist attacks and knew nothing of them until he arrived back at Newark Airport. Obviously we discussed Paris and its significance, but he also urged me to see this film. I saw it Sunday evening.

Bridge of Spies is touted as part courtroom drama and part spy movie. It is neither. There is no drama in the court case when Rudolf Abel (played absolutely brilliantly by Mark Rylance) is tried in 1957, though there is some interesting negotiations between James Donavan (Tom Hanks), Abel’s defence attorney, and the presiding judge in his chambers and home. This is also no spy movie, though the movie is about the events leading to the exchange of two spies, Rudolf Abel, a KGB spy for the Soviet Union, and Francis Gary Powers, who flew the U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union when it was flying at 70,000 feet in the air in 1960.

That was the most exciting action scene in the whole film, a scene that is used to suggest why Powers has no time to take the poison that the CIA gave him. However, the movie is overwhelmingly about James Donavan who first defended Abel in his trial and then negotiated the exchange with the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1962. The movie is a negotiation film; that is what the film is about and where the real drama takes place.

The movie opens in the spring of 1957. Dwight Eisenhower, who would denounce the military-industrial complex, had just begun his second term as President of the United States with the Eisenhower Doctrine promising aid to countries that resisted the entreaties of the Communist Bloc. Mike Pearson’s innovation in creating peacekeepers to help end the Suez crisis was an integral part of that history and time. Pearson would become Prime Minister after the Diefenbaker government imploded when it cancelled the Avro Arrow and disintegrated in internal wrangling.

After completing my second pre-meds year and waiting to enter my first year of medical school, I had just been hired by the Campus Cooperative Residences, a student-owned and run low-cost residence at the University of Toronto. I was its first outside general manager. I was nineteen and I was reading Alan Ginsberg’s poem Howl that had been suppressed in the U.S. It was also the year I began to read Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism and discovered how even more extensive my ignorance was than I thought it had been.

It was also a year when I had begun to feel some real traction as I exercised my political walking legs. On 23 October 1956, when I was still eighteen, student demonstrations in Budapest in Hungary escalated to a demand for the communist government to ease up on its repressive policies. Though Prime Minister Imre Nagy conceded to the student demands under the slogan “a new course for socialism,” precisely because of that, on 4 November, Soviet Union tanks and 150,000 soldiers rolled into Budapest and crushed the rebellion even before we could prove our worth as volunteers to fight the repressive order in Hungary in imitation of the students who had volunteered to fight in Spain in the thirties.

My first job as General Manager was to house about 30 of the 37,000 Hungarian refugees who had fled the re-imposition of repression and had been taken in by Canada. Had I heard of Rudolf Abel at the time? Yes. He had been linked to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, whom the United States had executed in 1953 and 1955 respectively for transferring atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. In that year, I was still under the illusion that the Rosenbergs had been railroaded and found guilty in an American kangaroo court and, although I was neither a communist supporter or even sympathizer, in high school I had joined the marches protesting against the scheduled executions.

The film opens with Rudolf Abel painting a self-portrait. We see him in the mirror then the painting itself and finally his face. It is an example of realist art – the representation looks just as much like the original as the mirror image. Yes, this is a man of many aliases. But he was never disguised. He always looked the same. I knew or, at least believed, at the time that Rudolf Abel was Jewish, as the Rosenbergs had been, but I knew little else beside that. And perhaps even that was a construction of my imagination. Abel in the film looks nondescript. He does not look Jewish. Nor are we ever told that he was. Then I thought that Abel had been caught because he was alleged to belong to the same nest of spies and that he was possibly persecuted and prosecuted because he was Jewish.

At that time as well, when I finished my exams, I began my twice-yearly ritual of hitchhiking down to New York City, leaving in the evening and getting to New York sometime the next morning, in time to buy a snack and wait outside one of the theatres to sneak in at the first intermission. When someone three years later asked why I had written a two-act rather than a three-act play, the norm at the time, I explained that I had never seen a first act and found the play got along well without one.

I usually saw two-thirds of two plays the first day, slept at the Y, and then saw two-thirds of two plays the second day. I then got on the highway to hitch a ride home. I usually could do the whole trip for about $12. I remember that before I started my summer job at the Co-op, I had gone to New York and saw my first Eugene O’Neill play, A Moon for the Misbegotten, that would set the tone for all the O’Neill plays I saw afterwards – about alcoholics, domineering women and dissolute men, though I cannot recall the plot at all. I also saw my first Tennessee Williams play, Orpheus Descending, about the conflict between dogmatism and narrow-minded beliefs versus freedom of thought and the free flight of the imagination. I also saw Hotel Paradiso, but I cannot remember the play at all; it was replaced in my memory by the film with Alec Guinness. I have no idea of the name of the fourth play.

I describe all this because, in the opening scenes when the FBI agents, like Keystone Cops, are chasing Rudolf Abel through the streets and subway of that great city, the million dollar scene of the streets of New York and Brooklyn transported me vividly back to that period full of memories and inspiration, and my first love – theatre. My second love – movies – would blossom in 1962 when I first saw François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, truly bracketing the period covered in the movie.

The scene in the movie is so exact, so fulsome, so rich in the texture and colour of the times, even though the male colour was predominantly gray. If the film does not receive an award, or, at the very least, a nomination for set design, and perhaps costume design as well, I would be very surprised. The film is worth seeing for the sets alone. The film is so true to the period. It proceeds in three major acts – the courtroom act, the Powers flight in the U2 and the prisoner exchange.

We are introduced to Rudolf Abel as a spy through all the apparatus of the spy – hollowed out quarters with encrypted messages, hollowed out legs of furniture, and what initially appears to be a hollow man with no emotion whatsoever, an automaton as it were. But Rudolf grows on you as his wit and stoical manner succeed in transforming him from a non-entity to, as Donavan learns to see him, a brave, courageous and principled man, even if he served an unprincipled cause.

I would later learn a great deal about Abel when I was into my spy-reading phase, both fiction and books about spies. My greatest dreams at the time were about being a spy. You would never know from watching Rudolf Abel, played as a nebbish, as a man who would go totally unnoticed in a crowd, that he was one of the greatest spies the Soviet Union had ever produced. In WW II, he had been responsible for the most brilliant and imaginative deceptions against the Nazis that probably allowed the Soviet Union to win the battle over Stalingrad.

Rylance plays Abel with quiet, stoical, understated wit; he only pretends to be nondescript. Abel responds to Donovan’s (Tom Hank’s) question about whether he is not perturbed by what was happening. Abel looks up to Donavan, with barely a touch of a smile (and even that may have been a product of my imagination), but with eyes sparkling with humour, and asks, “Would it help?” Abel remains inscrutable in the film and you would never know in watching the movie that Abel had been responsible for Operation Berezino during WWII and then Operation Scherhorn, or that he had run the biggest and most important string of Soviet spies in the USA. In the film, we are simply told he was important to the Soviet Union because he could be turned and reveal secrets.

At the end of the film, just before Abel is returned to the Soviets, Donavan turns to him and asks, “Aren’t you afraid of what could happen to you upon your return?” Rudolf quips, now with still a slight but at least noticeable ironic smile, “Would it help?” He then tells Donavan that if they embrace me when I return, I will be alright. We watch him cross, get into the back seat without any warm homecoming at all. We are left to fear that he will be executed, even though Stalin is now dead. In reality, Rudolf Abel returned to the Soviet Union to receive its highest accolades and honours. He continued to serve his ideological homeland.

In the first courtroom part of the film, Donovan, cannot save Abel from being convicted, and too little of the case is shown to indicate how Abel excelled as a spy. We do not even learn that he was captured because he had an alcoholic careless subordinate, who defected rather than follow orders and return home, presumably because of the fate that awaited him there. He cut a deal and turned Abel in.

Donovan is portrayed by Tom Hanks as a man of both principle deeply rooted in the religion of America, the constitution, while most or many Americans had given way to the Satanic force of McCarthyism. He is also very compassionate and certainly never simply an insurance lawyer. He was just too politically astute. Though there is one mention of his role in working for the American OSS (later the CIA) in WWII and serving on the legal team at Nuremberg (he was general counsel I believe), he is overwhelmingly portrayed as a simple insurance lawyer. One would never know he was a founding partner in the firm; as one source of suspense, we are left to wonder whether he will be fired because he had become an embarrassment for the firm for defending a Soviet spy.

There is another trait he had that made him a superb negotiator that is barely hinted at in the film. The real Donavan was reputedly a terrific listener. In the words of his daughter, he “used the art of negotiation as his weapon of choice. He felt that a person simply wants to be respectfully heard, and that it is only when you listen well that you can reach the most just results.”

However, the simplification of character and the distortion of history should be no surprise for a Steven Spielberg film which readily sacrifices historical truth for a dramatic trick, except when it comes to scenery – see Oscar Schindler. But why not learn about Abel as a spy and how he was betrayed by his alcoholic incompetent assistant? His life is left as spare as his acting so that we only have sympathy for him through the eyes and heart of Donovan.

Francis Gary Powers is another matter. He is a hunk, an empty cipher in comparison to the mild-mannered but evidently very deep Abel. But we learn nothing more. We are given no reason to believe that he has any knowledge that would be at all useful to the Soviet Union. We are led to believe that Americans hated Donovan for defending a communist spy – the cliché scene in the subway where all the passengers are reading about the case and looking with scorn at Donovan whom they recognize from his picture in the newspaper. Later, true to the cynical neo-nihilist perceptions of Ethan and Joel Coen who co-wrote the script with Matt Charman, the fickle American public will look on him with admiration for being the hero who gets Gary Powers and another American student returned. (He actually got two; the second was returned a year later.) Though the cynical view of FBI and CIA agents can be expected in a Coen film, this jaundiced view is offset by the heroic qualities Spielberg lends to Donovan. Blending heroic idealism with political cynicism is a specialty of Spielberg’s – see Lincoln. In fact, this movie is a tour de force in creating such a paradoxical synergy.

The film is dominated by contrasts, between the pastel shades and happy family life of Donovan – though his wife is portrayed as a stereotypical fearful partner – and the shabby deterioration of East Germany and the lonely life of Rudolf Abel. Donovan’s principled character and determination to get the student as well as Powers in exchange for Abel stands in stark contrast with the CIA agents who are eager to conclude the deal without getting the student in return. The Western and Eastern systems in the Cold War are portrayed as equally full of venal and opportunistic men and judges who are political advocates, but America has the constitution to prevent Americans from betraying themselves. In contrast, the Soviet Union is bereft. Except, even the U.S. constitution in which Donovan so ardently believes does not work. The Supreme Court votes 5 to 4 to deny Abel the right to be protected from a search without a proper warrant.

That is why, at the end of the film, when the prisoners are exchanged, the two sides of the Glienicke Bridge where the exchange takes place mirror each other just as Abel’s face and portrait so precisely mirror one another. What saves the world in the end are honourable men; Donovan and Abel are both honourable men. The difference is that Abel serves his country blindly; Donavan has his conscience intact to save the country from its own weaknesses. He is a Western lawman who has traveled in the other direction to Berlin and East Germany. Instead of carrying a gun, instead of being the quickest on the draw, he carries words rather than weapons. He carries the art of persuasion rather than the art of intimidation.

So does the film. The film uses artifice so well, particularly the artifice of realism, so that one loses any sense of historical reality.

The movie takes place in four time slots – 1957, 1960 when the U2 is launched, 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student, was arrested inadvertently as a spy by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, and February of 1962 when the exchange takes place. But the time is condensed. The events could be taking place both simultaneously and one after the other. There is no historical development. The world had, however, radically changed in the five years between 1957 and 1962, the period when Nikita Khrushchev first visited America and then the year when he agreed to withdraw his missiles from Cuba and avoid the nuclear clock striking midnight.

In the summer of 1957, American gangsters were still machine gunning one another in barber’s chairs, but Eisenhower had ordered a cessation of nuclear testing. But other events were ominous. The first American had been killed in Vietnam. By 1962, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had resumed the nuclear arms race with an acceleration in testing making all our work in the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCNF) – I was a founder of the University of Toronto chapter – seem wasted. In 1957, Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas, as the latest iteration of Governor Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi who we had sang about as kids in camp, used his national guard in Little Rock to prevent the integration of a high school. By 1962, the civil rights movement had found its legs.

1962 was so different in many ways. Fidel Castro was portrayed as a heroic rebel in The New York Times in 1957. In 1962, he was the supreme ruler of Cuba and had been ex-communicated by the Pope for suppressing the Catholic Church. Much later, I would also learn in my study of the Rwanda genocide, that the initial pattern of the genocide had been set that year when Rwanda had acquired its independence from Belgium.

The movie misses the opportunity to present that development and to show why what seemed impossible in 1957 was feasible in 1962, how the period of total paranoia morphed into the first real openings between East and West even as it approached the most devastating crisis in history for all humankind. One would never know the Bay of Pigs was just around the corner when Donovan would once again bring his negotiation skills to repatriate the 1,100 captured invaders in exchange for badly needed food and medicines. The film is too much of a comedy caper to anticipate an apocalyptic moment – the Cuban Missile Crisis – and the step back from the breach that then took place.

History does not just march on because Tom Hanks has a doozie of a cold and is impatient to get the spy exchange over. In that sense, the film is very different than the book by Giles Whittell, on which the script was based, which uses the exchange of spies to track changes and developments in the Cold War. After all, 1962 was also the year in which the Soviet spy in Britain, Kim Philby, escaped to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the film does highlight the superiority of jaw, jaw, jaw over war, war and war symbolized by Donavan surrendering his Cold War warm coat or cloak to a gang of hoods organized by the KGB. But one would never suspect that the everyman Tom Hanks plays would go on to run for Senate and lose to Jacob Javits.

Turkey and Israel

Turkey and Israel


Howard Adelman

I want to begin by fitting Turkish-Israeli relations within the context of the recent 1 November election, domestic policy and the overall foreign policy of Turkey. I begin with the elections. I had suggested last week that the increase in the vote for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was partly due to a shift in conservative religious Kurdish votes in the south-eastern part of Turkey back to the AKP when the war with the Kurdish rebels (PKK) resumed after the June elections. The motivation – a fear of instability and/or a belief that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (HDP) was linked to the PKK and/or the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) that had been so active in constructing blockades in Kurdish urban areas when the Turkish army resumed the war against the PKK. That interpretation has since been strongly challenged by one of the leading polling firms in Turkey, Konda, and its CEO, Bekir Ağirdir.

If indeed that shift had really taken place, it could mean that Erdoğan .no longer needed a war against the Kurds and demonization of the PKK to rally support for the AKP. He might become more flexible. That, in turn, would mean that the close relationship developing between the Kurds and the Israelis would become less consequential. However, part of the increased support of 8.7% for the AKP may not have been due to a shift in support of the Kurds at all, even though the HDP vote declined by almost a million votes.

In addition to the explained shift in my previous blog of votes from Saadet (Felicity) and Büyük Birlik (Great Unity), two parties which did not run in the 1 November election, and from the AKP’s rival on the right, the MHP, whose thunder Erdoğan had stolen with his resumption of the war against the PKK, 4% of the increase in the AKP vote was attributed by Konda, not as a shift from the HDP, but from voters who did not vote in the 6 June elections and new voters. That would mean that Erdoğan had little incentive in terms of domestic political support to resume peace negotiations with the PKK and to cease its war also against the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, a party that receives a great deal of unacknowledged support from Israel. As stated in my blogs on Turkish domestic and foreign policy, Erdoğan’s greatest fear is the creation of a safe haven for Turkish Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. He has been more than willing to curtail his recent aggression against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria to concentrate most of his forces against the PYD.

In the aftermath of the IS terrorist attacks on Paris, will that policy shift as a result of the current G-20 meeting in Antalya with Erdoğan in the chair? After all, the recent aggression of IS, the refugees and the war in Syria threaten to overshadow the economic issues which were supposed to dominate the agenda. Further, Turkey has assured Hamas that Israel’s role in both Syria and the Gaza Strip will be raised in the discussions  Though the emphasis was mostly on the war and the refugees in the statement issued by the EU before the attacks in Paris – “Meeting in Turkey in the midst of a refugee crisis due to conflicts in Syria and elsewhere; the G20 must rise to the challenge and lead a coordinated and innovative response to the crisis that recognizes its global nature and economic consequences and promotes greater international solidarity in protecting refugees,” – the priority given to conflict in the region and the refugees means that IS will definitely be at the top of the agenda.

After all, Turkey, in both its actions and its words, had signalled that its war in Syria will concentrate more and more on IS as a priority, a priority very much likely to increase in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Turkey is a member of NATO. And in the aftermath of Paris, NATO is bound to have a much higher profile in the war against IS. Turkey will be pressured even more to play its part. Further, the EU badly needs Turkey’s cooperation in stemming the flow of refugees, particularly since Turkey promised to provide a safe haven for the refugees in northern Syria and invest there in container communities like those built so quickly in Germany.

Whatever the eventual policies, this shift in Turkish priorities will put a spotlight on Israel’s involvement in Syria. Just before the 1 November elections, IDF planes evidently bombed, not only IS sites on the Golan Heights and Hezbollah bases near Ras al-Ayn and Katifa along the Lebanese border, but also sent sorties towards the Damascus airport. Further, Turkey will have as much interest as Israel in driving a wedge between Iran and Russia. Russia and Iran may both be allies of Assad in Syria, but Russia focuses its energies on rebuilding the secular Syrian army while Iran tries to strengthen the religious Shiite (Alawite) irregular forces fighting for Assad, the parallel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Numbering 200,000, with 20,000 volunteers from Iraq, Hezbollah from Lebanon and Taliban from Afghanistan, often led on the ground by seasoned Iranian officers – hence the almost 50 Iranian “adviser” casualties, most officers – Russia and Iran are setting the stage for the post war battle over succession, assuming Assad will be offered as a sacrifice for a deal with the West. But Iran, with boots on the ground, has the distinct advantage.

Israel is directly affected by this rivalry. Israel is the arch-enemy of Iran, and Iran has no interest in strengthening any force linked to Israel. On the other hand, Assad (assume the Syrian army) and Israel had established a modus vivendi over the last few decades. More recently, Israeli officials met with Russian representatives to ensure that Israeli and Russian warplanes do not clash over the skies of Syria. Further, Russia assured Israel that Hezbollah would not get Russian arms. This Israeli-Russian connection has been built on a foundation of increased trade between Russia and Israel, including advanced military equipment and military exchanges.

Of course, the primary source of friction between Israel and Turkey has been the Palestine issue, with the single main source of friction Israel’s attack against the Mavi Marmara in which Turks were killed. More particularly, Turkey has been a strong supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So it should be no surprise that when the election results were approaching a clear win for the AKP, almost the first voice of congratulations delivered to Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was from Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau and the deputy chair of the political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. Erdoğan, promised both that he would put Israel’s violations of its historical role on the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on the agenda of the G-20.

However, Khaled Meshaal does not belong to the extreme wing of Hamas. Meshaal was the one who, in July 2014, aborted the planned attack by Hamas’ military wing using the tunnels that would have sent a seismic wave through the Middle East, perhaps as great as the recent IS attacks on Paris. Like Paris, the Hamas-planned attack was a highly sophisticated, coordinated and simultaneous one by three different 10-man teams from its elite force through three different underground tunnels, involving one detail infiltrating Israel to attack and kill residents of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom and return with civilian hostages, a second team to control the perimeter and a third to set a booby trap for the IDF when they rushed to the defence of the kibbutz. The goal was to trade Israeli hostages for Hamas members in Israeli prisons. Meschaal vetoed the plan in fear that the Israeli response would be so overwhelming, so much more even than the results of the 2014 Gaza War, that it would have left Gaza totally devastated with European voices silenced because the violence was triggered by such a daring Hamas initiative.

On the other hand, the link between Hamas and Erdoğan has become more important since the 4 November announcement that Hamas was seeking a unified Palestinian command in the current 3rd intifada against Israel that he hoped would facilitate Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. “Hamas believes in all of the resistance’s choices and in the importance of coordinating efforts under a united command to increase the intifada’s efforts.”

But to really understand Turkey’s actions and policies, it is necessary to shift from Gaza, which is a sideshow in the conflicts in the Middle East, to Israel’s relations with the Kurds (Ofra Bengio “Surprising Ties between Israel and the Kurds,” Middle East Quarterly Summer, 21:3, 2014), and Turkey’s response to that connection. Historically, the Kurdish move to separatism had been labeled the New Israel. As Christians and other minorities are cleansed first from Iraq and then other Middle Eastern countries, one stream of the Muslim response was to label the tendency of Kurds to seize independence and create a “Yahudistan” as another naqba. The slander went beyond defining a parallel, but suggested that Israel had a more nefarious role. The very recent effort of the Kurdish offensive to retake the city of Sinjar from IS should be read with this in mind.

Ironically, there is some ground for suggesting a connection between Israel and the movement towards independence. There are also many historical differences. After WWI, while the Balfour Declaration in 1917 promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, dividing up the Middle East in the Versailles Treaty after WWI denied granting the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey the status of an independent state for 30 million Kurds. In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, Kurds, beginning in the autumn of 1961, once again saw their chance to rise up in Iraq. The Kurdish activist, Ismet Sherif Vanly, went to Israel to meet Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres, with a result that Israel and the Kurds exchanged permanent representatives, an arrangement that secretly survived that crushing of Kurdish aspirations. The Kurdish leader, Mulla Muṣṭafa al-Barzānī, visited Israel both in 1967 and 1973. As a result, in 1967 he Kurds opened another front against Iraq, thereby preventing Iraq from joining the other Arab states in the Six Day War. Kissinger and the CIA blocked a similar attempt in 1973. (Hasan Kösebalaban (2011) Turkish Foreign Policy, Nationalism and Globalization, 181)

Only in 1980 did Prime Minister Menachem Begin disclose the humanitarian and subsequent arms support and dispatch of military advisers that Israel had given the Kurds during the 1965-75 Kurdish uprising. In the aftermath of the Kuwait War in the beginning of the 1990s, once again the Kurds rose up in Iraq to set up an independent state, an initiative that was totally crushed by Saddam Hussein as the West refused to come to the aid of the Kurds, even though Prime Minister Shamir of Israel made a plea to the West on behalf of the Kurds. Israelis became even more convinced that they could only rely on themselves.

What survived was an Israeli-Kurdish Friendship society which worked diligently to reinforce relations between Iraqi Kurds and Israel. A Kurdish-Israeli journal was even started – Israel-Kurd. The Kurds, unlike the Arab world, even invited Israelis to conferences in Kurdistan. In spite of these links, there have never been any formal relationships between the Kurdish leadership and Israel, partly so that the relationship would remain under the radar and not attract even more attention to the Kurds. American Jews also tried to serve as intermediaries between Kurds and the American government through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its links with the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI).

Israel’s relationship with the Iraqi Kurds was one thing, with the Turkish Kurds another, partly because Turkish and Israeli foreign policy had been aligned in the latter half of the twentieth century, at least until Erdoğan was elected Prime Minster, and the Kurdish PKK was viewed as a radical terrorist organization allied with Syria and the PLO. In Lebanon in 1982, volunteers from the PKK fought against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and, with the defeat and departure of the PLO from Lebanon, the PKK were given a safe haven in Syria. Netanyahu, when he was first Prime Minister, publicly supported Turkey in its fight against the PKK. The Israeli government was even accused of capturing Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK in 1978. Israel was accused of turning him over to the Turkish authorities, especially since Israel regarded him as a persona non grata after his anti-Semitic remarks. In fact, his capture in Nairobi in 1999, was a combined effort of the CIA and Turkish military intelligence. (Victor Ostrovsky, “Capture of Kurdish Rebel Leader Ocalan Recalls Mossad Collaboration with Both Turkey, Kurds,” Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, April/May 1999)

When the war of the Kurds in Turkey resumed against Erdoğan in the 21st century and Erdoğan had become an outspoken critic of Israel, a rapprochement took place between the PKK and Israel. By 2005, Barzani openly defended Kurdish relations between Kurdistan in Iraq and Israel and Jalal Talabani, the President and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and President of Iraq at the time, openly shook the hand of Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, in front of Mahmoud Abbas in Greece in April of 2008. It seemed clear that the two men had met before. Seymour Hersh even claimed that Israel had been arming and training the Kurds in Iraq, a claim echoed by Yedi’ot Aharonot which insisted it had evidence of Israeli military advisers training the Peshmerga.

Once the peace process initiated by Erdoğan in 2013 had been ended by him in June 2015, the relations between Israel and the PKK, and between Israel and Syrian Kurds, went up several notches. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) had close ties with the PKK and operated in both Iran and Kurdistan; Israeli ties with the PJAK deepened. For the first time, Israeli relations with the four very different parts of the nationalist Kurdish movement in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey had become, more or less, aligned. How much was Israel willing to antagonize Turkey further by realigning its relations with the PKK? How willing is Erdoğan to bury the hatchet with Israel and perhaps even re-establish an exchange of ambassadors with Israel to give him a freer hand in fighting both the PKK and the Kurds in Syria? How willing are Putin and Obama to push Erdoğan towards such a reconciliation?

Not enough, evidently. On 24 October, Erdoğan claimed that the PYD in Syria remained an existential threat to the unity of Turkey, even while the U.S. was lending increased indirect support to the PYD and direct support to Iraqi Kurdistan’s Peshmerga in the fight against IS. The militant arm, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) of the PYD, collaborated with both the Free Syrian Army in the fight against both Assad and IS. However, Turkey was critical of American support for Syria’s Kurds and took umbrage at American concerns about human rights and freedom of the press in Turkey as four thugs, three of them open members of Erdoğan’s AKP, beat the popular columnist of Hürriyet, Ahmet Hakan, to a pulp. Erdoğan not only escalated the war against the PKK, but against the YPG as well.

But Erdoğan is now fighting a five-front war, against the secularists within Turkey, Güllenists within Turkey, and a more militant war against the PKK and the PYD, and, now against IS as well, the latter especially since two police were killed on 26 October in the raid against an IS hideout in Turkey. The West really only identifies with the latter war, but Turkey failed to take advantage of that when IS allegedly bombed the Kurd-dominated rally in Ankara and over 100 were killed. But the outpouring of sympathy for Turkey from the West was subdued compared to the response to the over 130 dead in Paris following the IS attacks there. Virtually no one takes Erdoğan’s claims seriously that the PKK and IS were allied in perpetrating the Ankara bombing.

In conclusion, as much as the West needs Turkey’s cooperation in the fight against IS, Turkey’s antagonism towards the Kurds in general and the PYD in Syria in particular, will keep any rapprochement with Israel at bay, especially since Israel is continuing to provide ammunition and arms, military training and diplomatic support to the PYD and, indirectly, the PKK. Where will Turkey end up now that the West is, or soon will be, in an all out war against IS? If Turkey aligns its policies more with the West and Israel reconciles to some degree with Turkey, will the West and Israel, more particularly, sacrifice their relations with the Syrian Kurds to rebuild its relations with Turkey? As long as the West has no troops on the ground, as long as Turkey continues to see the Kurds in Syria and the PKK as its main foe, in spite of joining the fight against IS, as long as the West needs Turkey in its fight against IS, then Israel will continue to be left out in the cold and will also likely continue strengthening its ties with the Kurds.

I suspect now that IS will be defeated in Syria, but that IS will also go underground more extensively in both Turkey and Europe. With the open battles between the police and IS terror cells in Turkey in October when Davutoğlu pronounced IS as ungrateful, presumably for all of Turkey’s previous covert support to IS, IS terrorists will continue to infiltrate Turkey as well as European states engaged in supporting the fight against Assad. However, because of Turkey’s resumption of war with the Kurds in both Syria and Turkey, Israel will continue to support the Kurds and Turkey’s animosity against Israel will remain intact. This is especially true since the public in Turkey still refuses to see IS as a mortal danger in contrast to the militant Kurds. Only about 15% of Turks believe that IS is a real danger to Turkey. And almost 60% of Turks believe that, even if IS was at the bottom of the two suicide bomber attacks in Turkey in October, IS is not a real threat to Turkey. 20% (see Gezici Research) even believe that the Turkish military intelligence was really behind the October suicide bombings, even if the perpetrators were from the IS.

Further, Turkey even denies the existence of significant numbers of Kurds in Tell Abyad, 5% instead of 40%. Of 250 Armenian families that escaped to Aleppo, only 50 have returned to Tell Abyad compared to the almost total return of the Kurds. Yet Erdoğan in October 2014 still claimed that, “I don’t want to argue whether Kobani is Kurdish or Arab. But its real name is Ayn al-Arab.” “Tell Abyad,” he recently added, “belongs to Arabs and Turkmen.” With such mindblindness, any effort to deepen relations between Turkey and Israel seems highly unlikely.

Jacob and Esau: Part II The Prize and the Deception

Jacob and Esau: Tol’dot – Genesis 25:19-28:9

Part II: The Prize and the Deception


Howard Adelman

In the last blog, I described the character of the two brothers. In this blog, I depict how the dynamic of their relationship works out in Jacob obtaining Isaac’s blessing.

Recall, there are three, rather than two blessings. Actually, as we shall see, there are four, for there is even one referred to before the first, but it is given no descriptive content. The first fulsome blessing, as distinct from the one without any content, was ostensibly meant for Esau; Jacob receives it. “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, Abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, And nations bow to you; Be master over your brothers, And let your mother’s sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, Blessed they who bless you.” (Genesis 27: 29-30)

Then there is the one given as a substitute to Esau, as a consolation prize.

“See, your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth And the dew of heaven above. Yet by your sword you shall live, And you shall serve your brother; But when you grow restive, You shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27: 39-40)

In both blessings, each gets rich. But in the first, one emerges as a ruler.  In the second, the individual will live as a samurai, by his wits and by means of his sword. And never remain willing to be a serf to any other. Esau is too much of a free spirit.

Then, in the next chapter, comes the third blessing given directly to Jacob whom Isaac recognizes as Jacob. “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother, May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:1-4)

Look at the difference between the three blessings. Only in the third does Isaac guarantee that Jacob will be the direct heir to the lineage of Abraham, that Jacob will become the don of this family. Like Isaac before him, Jacob is commanded to travel back to the family homestead, to travel back to the equivalent of Sicily as it were where he will both be safe from the wrath of Esau and obtain a wife from his own tribe, by marrying a cousin, a daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban. Then and only then, only on this condition, will El Shaddai, bless him. Not Isaac, but God Almighty Himself will bless Jacob. And the fallout from that blessing – ownership of the promised land assigned to Abraham.

Contrast this with the first blessing. It is not a promise, but a request. “May God give you…” And what does he get if God blesses him – abundant rain, rich crops from the earth. Supremacy and power over other people, including his own brothers. Most of all, it is a blessing for others, not Jacob, for people will be blessed who recognize Jacob’s worth – an irony for the interpretation that Isaac did not recognize who his son really was. Others will be cursed who curse the Hebrews, the direct and rightful heirs of Abraham.

This could not be a blessing intended for Esau. Esau was not a farmer, but a hunter. Why would he want abundant rain and rich soil? Further, as is clear from the rest of the story that follows, neither brother wants the other to bow before him, even when, each in his own way, seeks reconciliation with the other. Esau is not in search of power over others. However, coercion is the only way Esau knows how to survive. He could become a gunslinger, a lone lawman, a Wyatt or Virgil Earp, a Wild Bill Hickok or one of the less known Western marshals such as Johnny Behan. Jacob will get power inadvertently as people come to respect Jacob for who he is, not because he lords over the people with coercive force. Those who respect and comprehend the worth of Jacob and the people descended from him will he be blessed.

Now look at the second blessing that Esau does receive, the consolation prize. He too shall be a farmer with good rains and abundant soil. Not exactly a prize for a great hunter and adventurer. But Esau is condemned to live by the rule of the sword, through might rather than right. And though condemned to serve his brother, he will grow restive at being a servant and break the yoke that holds him in the position as a military commander and, possibly, a settled farmer. Thus, his energy, his might, his self-assurance, will all be of benefit to him. For Esau will not end up in service. But he is also not destined to win the respect of others, for, unlike Jacob, he will not be recognized as a righteous man, but he will be respected as the fastest gun in the West, a loner in defence of the law. Both Esau and Jacob will receive the blessing that is truest to their character and their role in history, the blessing of liberty, different types of liberty, but, in each case, one favoured by God.

Now I believe we are in a position to understand what happens when Jacob supposedly tricks Esau in receiving the first blessing. Recall who is bestowing the blessing, an old, blind father who was born as a late-life gift to both his parents, but grew up to be a passive character following his father willingly and quietly, ready to be slaughtered simply on the command of God. He was probably most likely traumatized by the effort, a man who weds a beautiful woman who is as wilful as he is not. She falls in love with him at first sight (or, as someone suggested to me, fell off her camel because she was so distraught at the impulsive and wilful (wrong) choice that she made). Isaac follows the pattern of his father and pretends Rebekah is his sister, not his wife, to Abimelech. Isaac is quickly caught and embarrassed, but Abimelech becomes his protector. And Isaac, working hard, makes a go of it and becomes wealthy.

However, when the Philistines challenge him, he does not fight back but moves on to find new wells, or, rather, to restore the wells his father once used. He is clearly not a fighting man; he is passive and perhaps a coward. But Abimelech protects him and God blesses him and promises him many heirs, but not because of who he is and for what he does, but for the sake of his father, Abraham. Isaac, the child born of joy, of laughter, has turned out to be a nebbish. And look who each parent favours. The wilful, independent Rebekah favours the passive, obedient and reflective child. The male parent, the introvert and scholar, favours the elder who is adventurous and can also supply him with wild game to eat.

Suddenly we jump years. Isaac is old. He is blind. He calls to his eldest. Esau replies, “I am here.” Isaac asks Esau to hunt the game he so loves. After that, after he eats the meal prepared from the game, he promises he will give Esau his innermost blessing. Is the promise of abundant rains and rich soil and crops, the supplication of other nations and rule over others, his innermost blessing? Or is the second fulsome blessing the one most suited to Esau, the one innermost in his thoughts, rather than the first, so unsuited to Esau’s personality? Perhaps Esau wanted Esau out of the house and delayed for awhile so he could secretly bestow his blessing on Jacob.

Here, I have to introduce a sidebar on Isaac. Though passive and somewhat of a nebbish, his name is laughter. But we have not seen much of it, certainly in the commentaries or character of Isaac as interpreted by most bookish commentators. They seem oblivious to the lightness of being. But irony and a twinkle even in a blind eye goes a long way to understanding Isaac. Isaac’s character must be read with laughter, with jocundity in mind. One is helped if the story of Jonah is understood as a satire and if one understands Hegel’s or Kierkegaard’s or Northrop Frye’s writings on irony. The misreading of Isaac’s character is akin to Plato’s misreading of Socrates. Aristophanes understood Socrates for he, like Isaac and Jacob, live in The Clouds.

As Kierkegaard wrote:

There is an irony that is only a stimulus for thought, that quickens it when it becomes drowsy, disciplines when it becomes dissolute. There is an irony that is itself the activator and in turn is itself the terminus striven for. There is a dialectic that in perpetual movement continually sees to it that the question does not become entrapped in an incidental understanding, that is never weary and is always prepared to set the issue afloat if it runs aground—in short, that always knows how to keep the issue in suspension and precisely therein and thereby wants to resolve it. There is a dialectic that, proceeding from the most abstract ideas, wants to let these display themselves in more concrete qualifications, a dialectic that wants to construct actuality with the idea. Finally, in Plato there is yet another element that is a necessary supplement to the deficiency in both the great forces. This is the mythical and the metaphorical. The first kind of dialectic corresponds to the first kind of irony, the second kind of dialectic to the second kind of irony; to the first two corresponds the mythical, to the last two the metaphorical—yet in such a way that the mythical is not indispensably related to either the first two or the last two but is more like an anticipation engendered by the one-sidedness of the first two or like a transitional element, a confinium[intervening border], that actually belongs neither to the one nor the other (Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, 121).

In the first story of Jacob so easily getting the birthright, seemingly the most important reward, from Esau, we have an example of irony that sets up the action, that serves as a stimulus for reflection, that belongs to the sphere of the mythical, that allows the reader to anticipate and the writer to adumbrate what happens in the seemingly more serious competition for Isaac’s (and God’s) blessing. In the mythical part of the parsha, the action is almost over as soon as it starts. In metaphorical irony, in irony focused and derived from the real interplay of characters, that belongs to plot rather than character portrayal, the stress seems to be on performance, but the meaning is about the suspension of belief, about the suspension of any simple resolution about what is taking place, about preventing any simplistic understanding, and, thereby, about resolving mis-understandings.

Look at how the trickery proceeds. First, it is Rebekah’s idea, not Jacob’s. Second, she tells Jacob that she overheard Isaac tell Esau to fetch him some game. Not a lie. I want, Rebekah says to Jacob, you to take advantage of the long time it will take before Esau hunts down some wild game and prepares a meal to just grab a couple of baby goats and she, Rebekah, will prepare them into a delectable meal. You, Jacob, take it into Isaac to get his blessing.  Did Isaac deliberately send Esau on a task that would take some time? Did Isaac know that Rebekah, just as Sarah overheard God’s messengers in discourse with Abraham, was also standing in the doorway overhearing Isaac’s conversation with Esau? Was Isaac aware or unaware of his wife listening to his conversation with Esau?

However, to understand the second metaphorical irony, we must understand that it consists of negation, of denying what is first put forth on the surface, of the trickery in obtaining the birthright. Getting the blessing, getting the guarantee, not a verbal transfer of a phenomenal prize in exchange for a cup of hot soup, is where we will find the real action. The second tale explicates the meaning of the first.

Jacob objects to Rebekah’s initial proposal. He does not say, “I do not even sound like Esau.” He says, in anticipation of his father feeling his arms, that he lacks Esau’s hairiness. Jacob is smooth-skinned. ‘If my father catches me, I will be revealed as a trickster,’ he tells his mother. Rebekah reassures him that it will work. Anyway, if Isaac finds out, the curse will be on her head for she is the initiator of the ruse, not Jacob. There is no explanation of why the trick will work, why Isaac will be taken in by someone who sounds like Jacob, why simply wearing Esau’s clothes, and hence smelling like Esau, why covering his arms with goat skins, will suffice to trick Isaac.

Initially, it seems that Isaac is onto the trick. Who are you? “Which of my sons stands before me?” (Genesis 27:19) Then Jacob tells an outright lie. “I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me. Pray sit up and eat of my game, that you may give me your innermost blessing.” (Genesis 27:20) It’s unbelievable! Unbelievable that Isaac will be taken in with such a simplistic scam. It is even unbelievable that Jacob would tell an outright lie to his father, even on the direction and command of his mother. Isaac is now even more suspicious. ‘How did you hunt down the game so quickly?’ he asks. Jacob lies a second time. “Because the Lord your [not my or our, but your] God granted me good fortune.” (Genesis 27:21) Even more suspicious, Isaac tells him to approach. He feels his arms and find them to be hairy. He is perplexed. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.” (Genesis 27:23)

Why did Isaac not check Jacob out further? Why did he not call on Rebekah or a servant to verify who stood before him? After all, the person before him sounded just like Jacob and any blind person depends on his ears much more than his sense of smell or touch to decide who or what is in front of him. It was not as Isaac he was about to die. He was in no real hurry. He still had lots of time. Even after he blessed Jacob, he retained his doubt. “Are you really my son Esau?” (Genesis 27:25) Jacob lies a third time. “I am,” he replies.

Talk about identity theft! Isaac then asks for the food and smells his son’s clothes, really Esau’s clothes, and then offers him the first blessing, which is really the second one for the first is given before he eats, but it does not have any content.

Let me ask a number of questions. When did Jacob become so unscrupulous? It seems totally out of character. He is the good son, the obedient son. Jacob’s eldest son will deceive him about Joseph’s death.  That could be excused, for Jacob’s eldest son wanted both to save his own skin (literally) and spare his father pain at the loss of his favourite. But to lie directly to your father and tell him you are the older brother just to get a blessing! For it is clear that he would get a blessing in any case. And why is Isaac literally so unbelievably naïve? And why does Rebekah concoct such an outlandish and virtually preposterous ruse?

I suggest a possible answer. Jacob is the one really being tricked. For what was it all for? Not to supplant Esau to inherit the right of primogeniture. For the blessing he does get, after the empty vessel of the first one, is one of riches. Nations will bow down in gratitude, as the nations do that go to share in the wealth of Egypt thanks to Joseph’s foresight. But those nations do not bow down in servitude, but in appreciation. The only mastery Jacob, and, via Joseph as well, that Isaac will obtain is mastery over his brother.  And even that will not last. For Esau will break the yoke of servitude.

But no nation will bow down to him and his progeny even in just gratitude unless he smartens up, unless he loses his naiveté, unless he learns somehow to become a Machiavellian. As Rav Kook wrote in a commentary on this parsha, “Even negative character traits have their place in the world. Ultimately, they too will serve the greater good.”  And if Jacob can learn to lie boldly to his father, admittedly under Rebekah’s direction, if Isaac is in on the trick and recognizes that Rebekah is correct in her prescience that Jacob is the only choice for the future of the family, then, like Michael Corleone, Jacob must switch course, or be made to switch course, but not as in the case of the Corleone family, by external circumstances, but through the guidance of the parents, primarily Jacob’s mother. He must, as Michael does, learn to acquire the koyach, the strength, the guts, the determination, the will-power, to become the don. Jacob has to learn to be a heel. Bad ways must be aufgehopt to serve a higher purpose. Isaac has to be in on the trick. He may be blind, but he is not stupid. But Jacob is not in on the trick. There is no indication that he recognizes that he is the true spiritual heir, for all he demonstrates is reluctance and his own father’s passivity under the circumstances. But in the process, he learns to tell three very bold lies.

Isaac knows full well that taste and touch and smell cannot be the primary methods of confirmation. Either hearing or sight is needed, and, as well, we recognize that hearing is often, it not always, a better tool for recognizing another’s identity than sight. Isaac knows full well that Jacob will not supplant Esau, except as the don, but he must do it so that the family can continue and thrive, but do it in his own way consistent with his character, but also through a degree of character transformation.

The irony of the story is Isaac’s self-perception, his critically activist role while appearing as a passive dupe. After all, Abraham cannot pass the baton to Jacob except via Isaac. If the key to such a transfer is understanding the positive role of deception, if it requires understanding how getting a birthright cannot simply be accomplished by blackmail, by trading a cup of hot soup in return for becoming the heir to a nation, but requires connivance of a very serious order, connivance which Jacob clearly has to acquire and which we, as Isaac’s progeny, must understand. If the game was as simple as it first appears, then we are the ones who do not understand the sophistication of trickery and its importance, and therefore how we need to proceed as a light unto the nations, as the expression of the lightness of being, by hiding our light, by being seemingly blind, by appearing as a fool and a dupe and, therefore playing the role as one of the wisest of our forefathers.

We will have to see in future blogs whether this interpretation becomes more plausible as we go forward.