Respect and Critique

Responsa – Respect and Critique

by

Howard Adelman

In response to my blog, “Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians,” my friend wrote the following:

I wish I shared your view.  I would like my spirit to soar.  But, sadly, I do not.  I fully acknowledge that we are only custodians of the land and that artificial ownership only serves artificial economics, but that does not extend to my placing any significant weight on who came first to the country. So what if the indigenous peoples came first!  How is anyone’s worth a function of their ancestors’ place in history? For me, it is all about this generation and who is here now.

I feel no guilt for the residential schools nor the history of white man’s discrimination against native peoples, even though I acknowledge it was all bad and racist. Why? Because my parents came from the coal mines of Wales. We discriminated against no one. We respect everyone. We’ll assist anyone. I am NOT my forgotten very distant ancestors. And even if there was case to be made for bearing some responsibility, look at how those same ancestors treated me and my family. My father was destroyed by war. We grew up in poverty. I was very often marginalized, discriminated against and unassisted. That is the way life is.  

To me, we are all in this together. Black, white, yellow and brown. And that requires an acceptance and embrace of all. But that all is restricted to my time on earth and what I can directly influence during my time here. I am not in the least responsible for that which happened when I was not here. It is the main reason I speak up so much now – because I am here now and I am responsible for me now. 

Do not misinterpret this as anti-native. They deserve our love and support. But only reasonably so and for those in need. And I will give that, but I will not add an apology nor will I accept responsibility for their current plight. My love and support now should be enough.

RESPONSE

Below, please find an open letter to my friend who critically questioned my insistence of acknowledgement and recognition of the role of indigenous people in Canada as well as my celebration of tradition.

To My Dear Friend;

I should not be charging you with confusion or even the note underlying my response to your latest missive, your inconsistency. Logical, you are not. But loveable, endearing, loyal as well as belligerent, but respectful, even worshipping of nature, you are. You have a hard-hearted realism combined with a romantic love of your Sally. And you will refuse right until the end to go gently into that good night. For you will always insist that even death will have no dominion over your soul.

Where do you think that attitude, that stance, came from? Out of the blue?

Let me begin with Bob Dylan who recently won a Nobel prize for his bardic poetry and who dismissed and tried endlessly to run away from his Jewish tradition as Robert Zimmerman to adopt that of another, the Welsh – yes Welsh bard – Dylan Thomas, even as his songs were infused with Biblical themes and phrases. Before I discuss the latter, let me compare my experience of you to the former.

Bob Dylan wrote “Life is Hard.” You not only could write “life is hard,” but you deliberately chose to make it so – physically and in terms of survival. However, look at the differences. Sally is at the centre of that difference. Whereas Bob Dylan wrote,

I’m always on my guard

Admitting life is hard

Without you near me

You too could write “life is always hard,” but you make sure it does not overwhelm you. In contrast with Bob Dylan, you keep the one “so dear and near to you” ever nearer, ever closer, so that she will not slip far away, so that, in the end, with all your scepticism, with all your escape to the northern bush, she would not stray. For with all your sense of emptiness and the lack of meaning in life except that which we give in the day-to-day, you are at heart a romantic.

You continually echo Bob Dylan’s words:

I don’t know what’s wrong or right

I just know I need strength to fight

Strength to fight that world outside
You refuse to feel “a chilly breeze. In place of memories,” you continuously bring up one memory after another, one anecdote piled atop a different one, not to evoke loss, but to insist that you survived, that you sustained yourself through all the tribulations.

In perhaps his most famous song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” the refrain repeats:

“How does it feel, how does it feel?

To be on your own, with no direction home

A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.”

Of course, Bob Dylan became the most famous minstrel of his time, even though he was like a rolling stone, not like the same one Sisyphus rolled up the hill only to see it roll down the next day so that he had to start over, but one that rolled through one tradition after another, from his Judaism, which continued to haunt him all his life and inform his themes and lyrics, through folk and rock, through evangelical Christianity, through the revival of a unique blues voice borrowed from the voices and rhythms of those who struggled hardest in North America.

But you did not follow that path of rolling through history, but a path that rejected history, that rejected a collective community. You chose, instead, to embrace nature and an atomized community of your own. But you too have not found a direction home. Bob Dylan’s song is about surviving in a world of fraudsters, con artists and crooks, a world in which the individual is reduced to one who has “nothing to lose.” You have deliberately sought the world of all monks who aspire to live a life where they have nothing to lose.

In Bob Dylan’s 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, there is a song, “I’m only bleeding.” Dylan sings, and I quote in full:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn

Suicide remarks are torn

From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn

Plays wasted words, proves to warn

That he not busy being born is busy dying
Temptation’s page flies out the door

You follow, find yourself at war

Watch waterfalls of pity roar

You feel to moan but unlike before

You discover that you’d just be one more

Person crying
So don’t fear if you hear

A foreign sound to your ear

It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing
As some warn victory, some downfall

Private reasons great or small

Can be seen in the eyes of those that call

To make all that should be killed to crawl

While others say don’t hate nothing at all

Except hatred
Disillusioned words like bullets bark

As human gods aim for their mark

Make everything from toy guns that spark

To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark

It’s easy to see without looking too far

That not much is really sacred
While preachers preach of evil fates

Teachers teach that knowledge waits

Can lead to hundred-dollar plates

Goodness hides behind its gates

But even the president of the United States

Sometimes must have to stand naked
An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged

It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge

And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it
Advertising signs they con

You into thinking you’re the one

That can do what’s never been done

That can win what’s never been won

Meantime life outside goes onAll around you

 

You lose yourself, you reappear

You suddenly find you got nothing to fear

Alone you stand with nobody near

When a trembling distant voice, unclear

Startles your sleeping ears to hear

That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit

Yet you know there is no answer fit

To satisfy, insure you not to quit

To keep it in your mind and not forget

That it is not he or she or them or it

That you belong to
Although the masters make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority

That they do not respect in any degree

Who despise their jobs, their destinies

Speak jealously of them that are free

Cultivate their flowers to be

Nothing more than something they invest in
While some on principles baptized

To strict party platform ties

Social clubs in drag disguise

Outsiders they can freely criticize

Tell nothing except who to idolize

And then say God bless him
While one who sings with his tongue on fire

Gargles in the rat race choir

Bent out of shape from society’s pliers

Cares not to come up any higher

But rather get you down in the hole

That he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault

On anyone that lives in a vault

But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him
Old lady judges watch people in pairs

Limited in sex, they dare

To push fake morals, insult and stare

While money doesn’t talk, it swears

Obscenity, who really cares

Propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot see

With a killer’s pride, security

It blows the minds most bitterly

For them that think death’s honesty

Won’t fall upon them naturally

Life sometimes must get lonely
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed

Graveyards, false gods, I scuff

At pettiness which plays so rough

Walk upside-down inside handcuffs

Kick my legs to crash it off

Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?
And if my thought-dreams could be seen

They’d probably put my head in a guillotine

But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Think of how often you refer to the shadows that haunt the silver spoon. Think of your core existential philosophy that can be summed up as, if you are not being reborn daily a la Nietzsche, you are dying.  Look at your rejection of sentimentality, your insistence at always being at war with the world in which you look askance at the waterfalls of sentimental tears, acting to improve the world and your self, not only by rejecting pity, but pitiless in your denunciation of sentiment. What you have not yet discovered, as you try so hard and so persistently to harden your heart, I believe, is that you are but “one more person crying” as you bark disillusioned words like bullets. As you have dodged the games people play, as you avoid the siren call of consumer advertising, as you refuse to join in the gargles of the rat race choir and refuse to be bent by society’s pliers, you echo the refrain:

Although the masters make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
For you, money does not talk; it swears. For you reject fake morals and, unlike the cowardly Jeff Sessions, you throw the insults back at megalomaniacs like Donald Trump, You refuse to be part of the obscene world. You scoff as false gods and stuffed graveyards. But you refuse to lay your neck upon a guillotine. For it is all life.

All this said, it is not as if you are anything akin to Bob Dylan. If anything, you have so much more in common with an identity Dylan revered, Dylan Thomas. Of course, I am not writing about Dylan Thomas, the young Salish indigenous artist who lives in British Columbia near you, but the Welsh poet who would be one hundred and two years old today, except he died when he was only about forty. Dylan Thomas was also a minstrel poet, but so different that the bard Bob Dylan that one has a hard time imaging the Welshman as Robert Zimmerman’s idol. But that he was, so much so that he appropriated his name.

But read Dylan Thomas. Read one of the truly greats of your tradition, a tradition you claim not to know and which you overtly eschew, but in your love of words and love of disputation you echo daily. You should steep yourself in the poetry of your ancestry and rediscover your own rich roots in the oldest literary tradition of the English-speaking world. There are a myriad of poets to choose from – Gwenalit Jones and Waldo Williams to name but two of literally hundreds. But I focus on the most famous of them all – Dylan Thomas.

I suspect you do not celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, but please read or re-read, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” before this December. Listen hard over the crashing sounds of breaking waves of the two-tongued sea to the distant speaking of Welsh voices. For, like Dylan Thomas, I suspect that the sky and not Granville or Hastings is your real street, and it is the Georgian Straits that sing you carols. For like Dylan Thomas, you desperately need to be transformed into the identity of a hunter, of an Inuit arctic marksman where cats become lynxes and the bell calling out dinner is a gong warning of fire. For the sense and sounds of the present are used to transport you to an ethereal world as grounded and as hard-fisted as you insist you are.

For in your imagination and in your life, you live in another world, an alternative universe, unlike Bob Dylan who always sought and despaired of finding utopia in the here and now. But not for you the age before the motor car, before the motor boat, before electricity and even petticoats.  As much as you deny living in the past and insist you live in the present, you are at heart a true romantic who wants to create the world in which he would choose to live. You do it with your raw hands and your once strong back, but the effort is always accompanied by a vivid imagination. You are lyrical even when you insist on being prosaic. You are impassioned even when you disdain passion for lost causes. And you are very funny, even in your dour seriousness.

But it would help if you allowed yourself to become intoxicated with the words of Dylan Thomas, with the musical language of his writing, with the surrealism all life has to offer even as one steeps oneself in its harsh reality. If only you would allow yourself to be embraced by the past, by your beautiful past, instead of rejecting the cold harshness of the Welsh coal town. For Wales also offers a place of beauty, overflowing with life and love and, yes, with tradition, for its towns are also as full as a lovebird’s egg. I believe you have always longed to get back, and are exercising that longing and desire to return to the “limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.”

Just remember that the image of Dylan Thomas was on the Beatles album cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. Bob Dylan was always searching for his father and made Dylan Thomas his spiritual father, his muse. In the poem, “The Follower,” Seamus Heaney offers a funerary monument to his father. I know what it is like to reject one’s father. The rejection rather than the love lives on in your heart and corrupts the core of who you are. Learning one’s tradition is a step towards one’s grandfather and great-grandfather so that, once again, one can meet one’s father in a new bespoke suit.

FOLLOW-UP

There was an unusual amount of response to my letter to my friend. I include only two, one relatively critical of my response and then an email from my friend after he received my analysis. Before I print them, I first want to put the issue of an appropriate tone for critique, which I personally have great difficulty achieving, in a larger context. How do you engage in critique of another while enhancing the other’s ability to absorb what is said?

RELIGIOUS CONTEXT

On this past shabat, in synagogue we began reading the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. Further, this coming Tuesday is Tisha B’Av, the holy day set aside in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple. I have always been puzzled. If Deuteronomy is a text that introduces hermeneutics at the core of Judaism as Moses reflects on his memories and the deeds of his people as they are about to enter the promised land, if the volume lays more stress on a God of love and justice than a warrior, angry and very reluctantly forgiving God, if God in this text is more removed from the world and primary responsibility is placed on humans themselves for what happens to them, if the text prepared the groundwork for the shift from the emphasis on ritual and sacrifice to the stress on reading and interpreting text, the shift from Judaism as a priestly religion to a prophetic and rabbinic Judaism based on a sacred text, its study and interpretation, why mourn the destruction of the Temple which was the key act that allowed rabbinic Judaism to supplant priestly Judaism?

I will not answer the question, but I offer a direction for finding an answer. We mourn most, not what we have lost, but what we failed to achieve. Tisha B’Av, for me, is more about the situation that led to the destruction of the Temple than its physical demolition. We mourn so that, in the current iteration of disastrous behaviour, we once again do not miss out and allow catastrophe to overwhelm our commonweal.

Our rabbi offered a commentary on one word in Deuteronomy along these lines. The key line is chapter 1, verse 9 of Genesis when God asks Adam, “What’s up?” as if Adam were a mischievous child caught in the crosshairs of a knowing parent. The Hebrew word is אַיֶּכָּה, translated as, “Where art thou?” or, more colloquially, “Where are you at?” This sweet concern combined with the buzzing threatening sting in this word is echoed again in Deuteronomy 1:12.

יב  אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא, לְבַדִּי, טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם, וְרִיבְכֶם. 12 How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?

Again, there is the word.אֵיכָה.

The word only appears 16 other times in the whole of the biblical text. In Deuteronomy it appears as a considerate and compassionate query into the emotional mind and mindset of the Other instead of merely a seemingly innocent probe with a lining of menace. Lamentations begins with the same word – אֵיכָה – an inquiry into “How” Jerusalem became a faithless city. Again, the tone of hurt combined with rebuke is apparent. Isaiah (1:21) echoes the same sense of wailing reprimand.

The champion boxer, the Louisville Lip, Muhammad Ali, offered words that are most frequently quoted when he promised to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” The words of reproof by God, by Moses, by Isaiah, and by Jeremiah, are admonitions in the form of loving criticism, the very opposite of critique designed to shame and humiliate. It is what a professor ideally does when he critiques a student’s or a colleague’s work, or what a psychoanalyst tries to do with his or her concern and probing queries.

 

CRITIQUE: THE FOLLOWING TOOK ME TO TASK FOR MY RESPONSE.

In response to whatever he might have said, you are critical, rather harshly, of his unique coping mechanisms. What are you trying to achieve? While we may question his ways, and think we ourselves would not go his ways, he is an independent adult who had made a choice to live life his way. Like we all did.

That he is bitter or negative about some aspects of his experiences is part of his coping: this does not mean he wants to change anything. He feels his ways work for him, so leave it at that, even if you strongly disagree. While we can and do have opinions about how others choose to live their lives, we cannot tell them that they should change, because this is in effect saying that the way they live is wrong and we disapprove of it. Such harsh criticism is not exactly an incentive for anyone to want to heed our well-meant advice. The wish to change must always come from the person himself, and if and when it does, and they need our input, they will approach us. Even if that is the case, I think it is better to employ a quasi-Socratic method in that we merely assist them in clarifying their own thoughts: the thoughts and feelings must originate from them, not from us. I know I know, I sometimes comment re: your behaviour or rather about the impression it makes on me, but I would never tell you to change: I accept and cherish you the way you are, as long as you accept the way you are. If you wish to change I am ready to listen and help you mull it over. But the initiative would have to be always yours.

Plus: in my earlier very profound dialogues with your other reader [with whom I have also corresponded], I got the impression (I can divulge this much, if this helps) that he considers you hugely superior to himself, alone for the reason that you are a famous professor with “a bunch of doctor titles” and he is just a rough and tough biker dude. Of course, you and I both agree that he is a smart and sensitive guy who did a whole lot of great things for others, so he should not feel inferior to eggheads, but he does. Once he sent me some of his stories and they were fantastic and lively, full of energy, and I said they would be well suited as comic book stories, with the appropriate sound effects in bubbles (POUF, PLAK, ZISS). I think comic books are a fantastic genre, with fast dialogues and great dynamics. But he must have thought comic books were for stupid, uneducated people and once he remarked something to the effect about you: “Why would the rabbi be interested in the comic book writer?” or some such, which aptly demonstrates how he feels about you: huge reverence for you and little esteem for himself (this remark is on your blog in WordPress, so it is public). This is one more reason why I would not overwhelm him with such a forceful answer. It would possibly just reinforce his own demons, the way he thinks of himself.

Naturally, I am not telling you what to do ;>)))). But, despite my own quitting communicating with [your other reader (for I tend to get slightly PTSD about such levels of aggression as his, even if they are not directed at me) I feel suddenly protective of him and also you. You are uniquely brilliant: you do not need to go into any offensive.  

The friend whom I addressed did not evidently regard my email as offensive. He wrote:

Well………..
That was a delightful surprise.  A philosophy professor’s take on who I am! I am feeling the love, HA.  Thankyou -a lot- for that.

And to a large extent I agree. ‘Course not the belligerent part! (which only serves to prove your point.). I am a romantic, I admit. An idealist romantic, to boot. But I think we are a dying breed, we idealists. But not extinct. We could use a few more.

And I am 100% wedded to Sally in this epic romance that is as much a journey as a love affair, as much an education as a comfort, as much a mystery as a partnership.

Thanks for taking the time to look and the extra time to comment. It is that kind of recognition and acknowledgment I respect. Acknowledgement of who I am now. It is that kind of recognition that inspires me. To what, exactly, I do not know but, you are right, it at least gives a second wind to rejoining the battle.

I do battle. Maybe too much but somebody has to do it.

Mind you, the battle-rage is abating with age. Not the causes for the rage (they seem to be increasing and ever more glaring in their proliferation and ugliness) but, rather, my ability to wage effectively against them. Thus, the retreat.

Read Dylan Thomas, eh?

I will.  No sense in having a mentor if you do not do as advised.  No sense in going to a doctor if you ignore their advice.

And, you are right again. I am uncomfortable with Xmas. I avoid it as much as possible. Feels phony to me. In fact, most rituals, scheduled celebrations and obligatory attendance events feel phony to me. I do not even like parties!

But I love intimate dinner parties where REAL communication ensues, real warmth exuded, and personal connections are made or strengthened.

I’ll give you this: it is hard to shake the past even when the past was indicative of little. The past still looms for me. I didn’t like it. I suppose even acknowledging THAT is part of what you are saying.

Thanks again for writing that.

 

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Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning, I received a number of acknowledgements that welcomed my return to writing. One reader suggested that our family island may have been one of the few pristine places of peace in a world that appears to be steeped in conflict. The reader implied that such a retreat may be an important ingredient for restoring one’s spirit.

Given the violent conflict in the world, given the factious situation in Washington that dominates the daily news, this is very difficult. Donald Trump most recently repeatedly dissed and humiliated the Attorney General in his government for not owing fealty to himself personally but, instead, recused himself given his obligations to the rule of law and the constitution. Further, the Republican-dominated Congress approved expanded sanctions against Russia while the Trump government forged agreements that effectively ceded control of Syria to the Russians. Even worse, in the Russian election scandal, that administration possibly was willing to trade sanctions relief for cooperation with the Russians in interfering in the American election. Given the current efforts of the Republican-dominated Congress to take away health insurance from over twenty million people in the supposed name of making up for the acknowledged flaws in Obamacare, it is hard to avoid becoming cynical and despondent.

Even our family island does not escape the troubles and turmoil of the world, though the situation on the surface was much more mundane. After almost fifty years, I have come to recognize that it is time to pass on ownership of the island. It is becoming too difficult to maintain my responsibilities for its upkeep even as I enjoy its beneficence. So I was preparing the cottage for disposition. Further, the island is not as pristine or removed from the current turmoil of our world as one might believe.

About two miles across from our family island, there is another called Grave Island. The local Ojibway claim it as an ancient burial site, though, to the best of my knowledge – which is not very extensive – no evidence has been found to support that claim. In this case, actual ownership for ritual purposes may not be the real issue. There is a much larger one – recognition of the prior custodians of all of the territory, not only where our cottage is located, but even where we live in the city.

Canadians, following the lead of their New Zealand cousins, now begin ceremonial occasions in many places and venues with a statement of acknowledgement, not simply of previous claims, but of its prior custodians. In fact, custodian may be a superior term to ownership because ownership is so specifically linked with the development of modern society.  In traditional thought, as in traditional Judaism, land in the end was owned by a world spirit and not specific human beings. We are simply the custodians of the land while we are here.

Though a close friend of mine regards ceremonial statements of such acknowledgement as empty tokenism, “politically correct” utterances and somewhat hypocritical gestures, I find they serve a number of purposes. It reminds Canadians, and new Canadians when they are taking an oath of allegiance and accepting Canadian citizenship, that long before Canada came into existence as a country, there were earlier inhabitants who lived here, “owned” the land, benefited from its bounty and carried the responsibility for continuity and prosperity. Further, the recognition of indigenous cultures and peoples is critical to understanding the history of this land which did not start, as my history books implied, with colonization and European settlement.

As importantly, such recognition is a critical ingredient in the process of transitional justice as part of the reconciliation between the indigenous peoples and Canadians who settled in Canada long after they did. The indigenous peoples were more often than not mistreated and exploited and their cultures deliberately and intentionally overridden. Currently, the infamous residential school system may simply be the best known. Further, and hypocritically, all such efforts were made in the name of bringing civilization to so-called “savages”.

If Canada is truly a multicultural society, then among the most important cultures of this land that deserve a place of honour are those of our indigenous peoples. This is not a patronizing statement, simply a statement of the historical record often, and usually, deliberately ignored by the current dominant culture. If Canada is to be inclusive, then it is crucial that we be inclusive of the original inhabitants of this land.

Public events are one important place and time to do so. And to do so formally. For formality – whether it is singing Oh Canada or acknowledging the ancestral custodians of the land – is a critical step in public education. Further, such acknowledgement fosters the idea of partnerships between a preceding system and a succeeding culture. In Judaism, when the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, when the rabbinic system was well on its way to displacing a religion that had Temple worship at the centre, the Levites and the Cohanim of the older cultural system who were central to worship in the Temple, were given a special formal place of honour in the new system in which the Torah rather than the Temple had become the central focus of religious practice. Similarly, the indigenous people must be treated not simply as partners in continuing the challenge of building Canada, but must be ensured a place of honour in that enterprise.

This should not be an empty gesture full of sound and absent of fury and, therefore, signifying nothing. It must be an explicit demonstration of a commitment that we not simply partner in raising the level of material and spiritual status of our indigenous peoples, but ensure that they have an honorary status and significant recognition for being the true historical pioneers in the country.  That status must be given substance by ensuring that each and every member of our indigenous peoples be given an opportunity to achieve excellence in whatever they aspire to do, and that we learn from them as much as they benefit from the training and education that must be available to all Canadians.

The health and education of our indigenous peoples must be the top priority in Canadian government policy and not compromised because of other demands. In order for that to be the case, in order for the training, education and health care to be and remain preeminent in actual practice, other Canadians must learn at a very early age, and have that message re-instilled throughout their adult life, through the formal school curricula, through formal occasions in public life, that this is a necessary priority for Canadians. Just as our elders must be cared for and respected, so must our older indigenous cultural heritage.

Further, such acknowledgements, such ritual practices need not be confined to public ceremonial occasions but can be part of meetings, conferences and special functions, particularly those signifying rites of passage. Inclusion of such remarks and acknowledgements at events of a great variety should be used to instill and reinforce the values and respect we owe our indigenous peoples. No matter how small the event, room can and should be made for at least a statement of formal acknowledgement.

The issue is, however, not just formal acknowledgement, not just a ceremonial matter pledging our commitment to our indigenous peoples, but a mode of recognition of the traditional ways in which they served as custodians of this land. Respect for indigenous peoples is part and parcel of demonstrating respect for the land and ensuring that we do not continue to mistreat the environment. Formal words at ceremonial openings are but a beginning of a process of integrating the ceremonies and protocols of indigenous culture that they wish and are eager to share into the wider Canadian experience.

The broader benefits are obvious. Multiculturalism entails mutual respect for differences. Multiculturalism entails cultural engagement with the other. Multiculturalism does not entail surrendering one’s own cultural practices and commitments, except in cases where those practices are demonstrably inimical to the communal values of all Canadians, a just place for wrestling with the politics of differences.

Thus, when we open an occasion, whether it is a school day or a formal ceremony, incorporating the traditional indigenous practice of welcoming people to share the land in peace and prosperity is an important start. This can go beyond a one-paragraph short statement, though that is where it should certainly begin. It could and should develop into incorporating into such ceremonies a traditional song of welcome recited and sung in the original language.

Traditional symbols can be included. The ceremony could even incorporate a traditional ceremonial practice. These are all ways of remembering, acknowledging and offering recognition. However, none of this must be done as appropriation, but only with the full participation and endorsement of our indigenous peoples. This is written in the plural not simply in recognition that Canada consisted of many indigenous peoples with different languages, customs and practices, but in recognition that a local region may have been an area of contention between and among competing peoples. All must become part of the process.

As such processes develop, representatives of indigenous peoples will and should be given places of special honour, just as Cohanim and Levites are acknowledged in Jewish ceremonies. This will include rites of passage – such as bat and bar mitzvahs as well as weddings in my own tradition. The recognition of the time and commitment of an indigenous person is not just a matter of formal status, but compensation should be paid for that time, for the responsibility of conveying and continuing the practices, and for ensuring that the responsibilities for recognition of our full history are validated. Cultures must not simply be replaced by successive ones. Traditions must be elevated and given a place of honour as new cultural expressions become predominant among all of us. Further, such a recital should only be an initial set in integrating indigenous law, non-indigenous and international law.

When we recite at an opening ceremony a simulacrum of the following, do not be embarrassed. Do not be bored. Engage. Welcome and embrace the opportunity. The statement can be as simple as the following with, at the very least, the discovery of the name or the names of the peoples who traditionally owned and occupied the land before the arrival of European and, subsequently, settlers from all over the world.

I or we respectfully acknowledge the (in our case) Anishinaabeg as the original custodians of this land on which we are currently holding this event and consider it a privilege as a Canadian to recognize that tradition and the people(s) who served as its historical custodians. We honour an occasion in which we can express those thanks and give acknowledgement and respect for that which we have inherited.

There are other variations:

I wish to acknowledge the custodians of this land, past and present, the Anishinaabeg people as the original custodians of this land.  I recognise and respect that cultural heritage, its beliefs and the protective relationship to the land.

I acknowledge that this meeting (conference, event, wedding, etc.) is being held on the land of the indigenous Anishinaabeg people or nation, the traditional custodians of this land.

Before we begin the proceedings, I would like us to acknowledge and pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the ancestral lands on which we meet, the Anishinaabeg nation.

An Australian poet in New South Wales, Jonathan Hill, wrote:

Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.

May we acknowledge the traditional owners

whose cultures and customs have nurtured,

and continue to nurture, this land,

since men and women awoke from the great dream.

We honour the presence of these ancestors

who reside in the imagination of this land

and whose irrepressible spirituality

flows through all creation.

https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/welcome-to-country-acknowledgement-of-country#ixzz4nvgffB7H

Embrace tradition. It can make your spirit soar.

The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel

The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel

by

Howard Adelman

In the previous two blogs, I tried to show why Gregory Baum was wrong in arguing first, that Orthodox Jews hesitated to support Israel because they believed that Israel could only be recreated by an act of God – indeed, only a small Orthodox sect, the Neturei Karta believed that. Second, Gregory argued that had there been no Hitler and no Holocaust, there would have been no Israel. Though there is a thread of plausibility in this thesis, and a few arguments and pieces of evidence support it, and though this is a belief also widely held in the Jewish community, I offered a number of arguments to demonstrate it is an erroneous thesis.

In this blog, I want to take up the other six quantitative theses of Gregory Baum’s anti-Zionist position in a slightly different order than first presented. Before Gregory shifted to theology, he earned an MA in mathematics. Therefore, it is thus more surprising to read the gross numerical errors concerning Zionism. The six quantitative theses are as follows:

  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.
  2. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.
  3. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”
  4. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism.
  5. The Creation Thesis: that mass migration led to the creation of the State of Israel.
  6. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration also led to the conflict with the Arabs.
  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.

Gregory is correct. Prior to Israel, Zionism was a belief held by only minority of Jews. But so was Bundism (Socialism), Communism, Orthodoxy, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Liberalism, Assimilationism, or the Reform Movement. This is certainly true compared to what emerged after the creation of the State of Israel. Zionism became the clear majority belief among all Jews; it has remained the predominant belief since then. The issue is not that Zionism was a minority ideology before 1933, but whether Zionists constituted a significant minority prior to the accession of the Nazis to power. World Jewry has never articulated its views in a single voice. Even currently, when a majority of Jews support Israel, there are many different ways in which that support is manifested and different beliefs supporting the myriad of voices.

  1. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.

There is a hint of truth in this thesis, but one which reveals its overall gross distortion. With the rise of Hitler, the level of support for Zionism in 1936, particularly in America, was significantly higher than in 1932. But that does not mean that Zionist support prior to the rise of Hitler was insignificant. More particularly, with the plight of German Jewry worsening and the gates closing on immigration to America, Zionists could promote resettlement in Palestine in a way they could not in the years prior to Hitler’s accession to power. Those efforts earned support among individuals who would previously had nothing to do with Zionism. On the other hand, Britain began to close the gates even more to Jewish immigration in 1935, just 3 years after Hitler was first elected. Given the growing trend in the pattern of Jewish migration to Palestine prior to 1932, and had the original number of Jews been allowed to stay alive, it is safe to assume that, by 1947, the total number of Jews interested in migrating to Palestine would have grown in at least the same proportion as it did prior to the rise of Hitler. At the very least, there would have been as many Jews in Palestine as there were after the rise of Hitler and the catastrophe of the Shoah.

My focus will be on the five decades between 1882 and 1932 to assess whether there were only “a few thousand” Jewish arrivals in Palestine during this period.

The numbers of Jews and Arabs in Palestine who arrived in each of the following decades after 1880 before the rise of Hitler is a matter of some controversy. So are the Jewish and Arab percentages of the total population. I do not intend to sort through the various positions. Nor do I have to, for it takes very little effort to demonstrate an overwhelming consensus that the claim that, prior to the rise of Hitler, only “a few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine,” is false. The claim is not only demonstrably false, it is so erroneous, regardless of the estimates used, that it constitutes a gross misrepresentation and misperception.

Without getting into the variation in estimates, in 1880, only 3% of the population of Palestine was Jewish out of a total population of about 450,000; 94% were Arabs. Jews lived in Safed and Jerusalem and constituted the largest plurality in the small populations in those two towns at the time.

In the Third Aliyah between 1917 and 1923, in spite of quotas imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine, 40,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine, bringing the total number by 1923 to 90,000 halutzim or pioneers who had resettled in Palestine (see the August 1925 “Report of the Executive of the Zionist Organization.”) It was a period when marshes were drained, roads built and towns established. Even critics of the Zionist figures, such as Justin McCarthy, agree with the British census that the total population of Palestine had risen to 725,000 by 1922 of which 84,000 or about 12% were Jewish. Other estimates offer a percentage of 12.4% or 90,000.

In the Fourth Aliya from 1925 to 1931, another 80,000 Jews resettled in Palestine. The number of Jews had doubled and the percentage of the total population had increased to over 16%. Of the almost 225,000 Jews who resettled in Palestine in the Fifth Aliya between 1931 and 1939, in the first two years an estimated 60,000 more had arrived. Thus, Zionist migration to Palestine probably totalled about 230,000 by then. This is not “a few thousand.” In the next fifteen years, in spite of the British barriers to migration imposed in 1935, the total Jewish population of Palestine had risen to 630,000 representing almost 32% of the population by 1947.

Without the rise of Hitler, given the rate of increase of the Jewish population over the previous fifteen years from 1917-1932 and projecting forward, without even considering the constant acceleration in the number of arrivals, the Jewish population would have doubled again to 460,000 rather than 630,000. If the rate of acceleration is taken into account, bracketing the war, the Holocaust and British barriers, it is estimated that about the same numbers would have arrived that actually did. That is, without Hitler, without the Holocaust, the number of Jews in Palestine would have been at least as many in 1947 as ended up there.

  1. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”

Quite aside for the number of Jews numbering far more than a few thousand, the thesis that if only a few Jews had migrated into Palestine, the Arab populations would have received them in peace is even a larger falsification. First, the Jews who arrived did not displace any Arabs prior to 1947. Though there is a debate over numbers, there is a general agreement that the booming Jewish economic sectors in Palestine attracted an in-migration of Arabs. Yet, in spite of the economic benefit, in spite of the fact that in 1922 Jews only constituted 12% of the population and totaled only about 80,000 to 90,000, Haj Amin el-Husseini emerged as the radical voice of the Palestinians. He organized fedayeen (suicide terrorists) who began to attack Jews in 1919.

Thus, Gregory perpetuates a double misrepresentation. First, that Jewish immigration prior to the rise of Hitler was small. Wrong! Second, that the initial reception of Arabs was peaceful. Wrong again! The leadership was violent even when the in-migration of Jews, though significant, was not threatening at all. In 1920, the first of a series of Arab riots began during Passover. Attacks increased in 1921. In spite of that history, in spite of being arrested and sentenced for sedition, in 1922, the British government released el- Husseini and appointed him Mufti.

Further, from that position, he consolidated power over the Arab community, taking control of all the assets and income of the mosques as well as controlling the educational system and the administration of sharia law. Like many dictators in the Arab world that succeeded him, like Erdoğan in Turkey or Putin in Russia, and, frankly, consistent with the actions of Donald Trump currently, no one could hold a position unless personally loyal to the Mufti. Given the power he accumulated so quickly, the British mandatory authority tried to assuage him by restricting Jewish immigration to “absorptive capacity.” But even that was not sufficient. Husseini insisted on zero immigration. Gregory Baum’s thesis on this issue is just balderdash.

  1. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism

This causal analysis reminds me of the tale of the scientist working on the causes of drunkenness. He conducted an experiment giving his subjects equal amounts of gin and water on day 1, bourbon and water on day 2, vodka and water on day 3, scotch and water on day 4, and rye and water on day 5. After he observed that the subjects became equally intoxicated each day, the scientist concluded that the cause of the intoxication was the water.

Gregory’s error was rather more egregious, for there is a temporal factor. Mass migration took place AFTER the creation of the State of Israel with the huge influx of Jews from Arab lands as well as a good part of the survivors left in the DP camps in Europe. Yet evidence suggests that the support for Israel became a majoritarian perspective with the creation of the State of Israel. Majority support for Israel preceded large scale migration.

  1. The Creation Thesis: mass migration led to the creation of Israel

This is virtually the same issue, but applied to the non-Jewish world. Britain prevented mass migration to Israel from 1935 to 1948. The migration that took place mostly occurred in spite of British policies. In 1947, the UN members offered majority support for creating the State of Israel to get rid of the 250,000 refugees in the camps as well as for a host of reasons within Palestine. The creation of the state and the Arab resistance to that majority decision, the invasion of the nascent State of Israel by Arab states and, mostly, the persecution of their own Jewish citizens by those and other Arab states, led to the mass migration. Mass migration followed and did not precede the creation of the State of Israel.

  1. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration led to the conflict with the Arabs.

The above account also demonstrates the perfidiousness of this final thesis. I want to end, not by summarizing, but by asking how such a genuinely good man could arrive at such heinous conclusions. They are not the conclusions of Gregory alone, but of leaders in the United Church in Canada and of my other three friends and colleagues who joined with him in writing the terrible 1970s ecumenical paper based on more or less these same arguments.

One explanation is that none of the four were historians. But most of the information cited above was publicly available. One did not have to be a historian to avoid such egregious errors in judgment. Another approach to find an explanation examines the development of their ideas in the context of their personal and institutional histories. Gregory’s position must be viewed in such a context. He is a Roman Catholic. However, there has been a movement of reconciliation with Judaism in the last fifty years among Catholics. On the religious level, Gregory played a leading role. But not on the political level! The Holy See established formal relations with Israel only in 1993, well after Gregory’s influence had waned. Historically, the papacy had been consistently hostile to Zionism as an ideology. The Church actively opposed diplomatic efforts to promote the Zionist cause through resettlement of Jews in the first decades of the twentieth century. (Cf. Sergio Minerbi, The Vatican and Zionism, Oxford U.P., 1990)

However, I believe the main cause is mindblindness, an inability or unwillingness to see what is in front of you plainly in view. One final example. In that older seventies paper I recall one of the arguments was over the Crusades, an argument in which Gregory expressed a specific Christian responsibility for the Crusades that was the exertion of Western power against the Arabs in the Middle East. Whatever the value of that thesis, most noticeable was the omission of any effects of the Crusades on the Jews who had been devastated by pogroms perpetrated by the Crusaders.

When guilt over the Crusades was married to guilt over the desire to ethnically cleanse European Jews, the two premises were synthesized in the willingness and desire to dump Europe’s problems with Jews onto the Arabs. Whether or not neo-colonialism should be viewed as a modern extension of the Crusades, the assumption of guilt for pushing the Jewish problems onto the Arabs seems totally unwarranted, especially given that almost half of the Jewish population in Israel is made up of Jews forced to flee Arab countries. However, I do not believe that mindblindness should be viewed as a form of antisemitism.

Donald Trump’s New Ban

Donald Trump’s New Ban

by

Howard Adelman

I interrupt the series on antisemitism to discuss the new Executive Order of President Donald Trump. Since Israel/Palestine is a major producer of terrorists (almost all Palestinian, but some Jewish), imagine placing a travel ban on Israel/Palestine in the same way that one has been imposed on Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen. Ask why none was imposed on Turkey or Lebanon.

Iraq has been removed from the list and the ban on travelers from Syria is no longer indefinite. The 27 January Executive Order, that was stayed by the courts, has been rescinded making the current multiple court challenges now moot. The new Executive Order will almost certainly be challenged on the grounds of whether it follows the requirements of due process and whether it violates the First Amendment insofar as the new ban still seems to be in accord with Donald Trump’s campaign promise to implement a “Muslim ban.”

This analysis can be much briefer because, fortunately, my colleagues at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, have addressed  this topic, specifically Sarah Pierce, an associate policy analyst there, who has dissected the new Executive Order and has written a report entitled, “The Revised Trump Travel Ban: Who Might Be Affected from the Six Targeted Countries?” which can be found at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/revised-trump-travel-ban-who-might-be-affected-six-targeted-countries.

There are two core issues concerning Donald Trump’s issuance of an Executive Order under section 212(f) giving the president the legal authority to suspend the entry of all or certain groups of foreign nationals if he finds that their entry would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”. The first, unchanged from the 27 January illegal Executive Order, is the unprecedented extent of such a ban, at least in this and the last centuries. One has to revert to the nineteenth century and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (not rescinded until 1943) for a precedent of imposing anticipatory travel bans.

Jimmy Carter’s 1980 ban on Iranians was a specific response to the hostage crisis and was not at all “anticipatory.” On the other hand, there have been a number of nationality restricted bans, particularly in the 1920s, but all of these were eliminated when the U.S. moved to universal rather than country-specific migration limitations in the 1965 Immigration Act. These had not been so much anticipatory as explicitly discriminatory The second issue is that the U.S. has already by far the most thorough vetting procedure built into its immigration service in the world. Since the rationale for the original ban and for this revised ban remains the same – that the current practices and procedures are too porous – one looks for evidence or a rationale other than an assertion to justify the revised ban.

The second issue is that the U.S. has already by far the most thorough vetting procedure built into its immigration service in the world. Since the rationale for the original ban and for this revised ban remains the same – that the current practices and procedures are too porous – one looks for evidence or a rationale other than an assertion to justify the revised ban. 

It was not available in the 27 January Executive Order. It is also unavailable in the new 6 March Executive Order. This is part of a pattern of the new Donald Trump government administration by fiat. There is no evidence offered to justify even greater heightened vetting procedures just as there is no evidence for Trump’s assertions that Barack Obama tapped the phone lines in the Trump Tower.

There is certainly a precedent for applying vetting procedures based on country of origin rather than on “risks” re an individual.  After 9/11, George Bush under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, imposed unpalatable and heightened restrictions as conditions of entry on 24 Arab or Muslim-majority countries, but that was a response to a very specific and dramatic event and was not anticipatory. This is quite aside from the utility or erroneous rationale for imposing such a ban. The Bush era ban led to the deportation or refusal of entry to almost 14,000 individuals in the year after 9/11. I know of no study of the impact of those decisions on the lives of these people.

It is certainly true that this order is a vast improvement over the old order. It allows immigration officers to prepare since it does not go into effect until 16 March. It does not catch people up in transit. It is no longer applicable to green card holders or retroactively applied to those who already have a legal visa. But it still creates an enormous chill and a disincentive for meetings and educational conferences to be held in the U.S. given the uncertainty of who can get in. Border control personnel have been given wide interpretive and discretionary powers. When a Canadian born woman from Montreal, in spite of having crossed into the U.S. many times previously, was refused entry this past weekend because she lacked a visa, one begins to understand why tourism to the U.S. may have declined by as much as 20% following the 27 January aborted Executive Order. One seeks security and confidence when traveling to a foreign country.

When the criterion is not criminality or a terrorist link but the determination that the individual – not assessed individually but on mass – would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” one can expect another series of court challenges against the need for revised vetting procedure – one rationale – when no evidence is offered that one is needed. When the criterion is so loosey-goosey, there is a good possibility that this revised travel ban will be overturned in the courts as well, but certainly not as easily as the first totally embarrassing effort. Certainly, the condition, “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” is better than no criterion and makes reference to the actual law, and certainly the specification of a number of exceptions and allowances for discretionary moves is much better than an absolute ban with no criterion and no exceptions, but that does not make the Executive Order any better in its fundamentals.

The new executive order allows case-by-case waivers and makes room for the entry of minorities persecuted because of their religion without illegally designating that religion, those with significant contacts within the U.S. and those seeking to visit immediate family members. Since the application is so discretionary, one can expect a series of decisions that will be serious embarrassments  to the United States.

There is also the problem of creating two classes of American citizens – those from the six countries affected, about 656,000 Americans, and the rest. They would not have the same access to relatives as other Americans. Further, some of them have not yet obtained a green card, that is an identifying paper granting legal permanent residence in the United States. Would they be deported when their current visa runs out? What about students on international student visas – will their status be renewed? One can make a rough estimate that the insecurity sewn into the psyches of about 100,000 people on American soil will be serious and detrimental.

This, of course, does not include those who had been planning to study in the United States. Or those even from non-banned countries who were considering the U.S., but in light of the uncertainty, may be expected to change their plans. In addition to the effects on tourists, on refugees, on potential and actual students, there is the chill on people traveling to the U.S. on business. Certainly, in the new atmosphere of intolerance, signaled and partially unleashed by these series of Executive Orders and compounded by the actual fatal shooting of one engineer from India and wounding of another, the shooting and wounding of a Sikh in his own driveway, a very wet blanket has been thrown over the beacon of America for citizens in the rest of the world.

It took a century-and-a-half to build a reputation for tolerance. It took only 30 days to demolish that reputation, an accomplishment whether the new Executive Order passes legal muster or not. The dark side of America has once again been let loose.

Further, with respect to the greatest humanitarian refugee crisis since WWII, the American cut of the refugee intake from 110,000 to 50,000 is disastrous. Just over a third of that cut came from the countries on which a travel ban was imposed and one suspects that the Trump vision for America does not include refugees no matter what their country of origin is. Canada would have to triple our intake to make up for the difference. Whenthis initiative is conjoined with a drastic cut in the American overseas aid program just when famine is devastating Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria and is threatening Ethiopia, “America First” takes on a very sinister meaning, a definition of America going from the humanitarian leader of the Western world to a tight-fisted cold-hearted self-centred tightwad.

 With the help of Alex Zisman

A Life of Quiet Desperation – Certain Women

A Life of Quiet Desperation

by

Howard Adelman

Certain Women stars Laura Dern, Michele Williams and Kristen Stewart with Lily Gladstone the only non-star in a starring role. The film is scripted and directed by Kelly Reichardt from an adaptation of two of the eleven stories in Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It and one story from her collection, Half in Love.

Set in Montana with its broad high plains and mountains in the background, other than the absence of any significant traffic, this was not the extraordinarily beautiful Montana we drove through twice in the previous two years. This is a state viewed up close through a triptych of vignettes of the lives of four women living in a state in which Billings with its 100,000 plus souls is a huge metropolis.

Here is the way the film is described in the publicity: “The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.” There are at least four misleading assertions in this one short sentence. The film is about four not three women, though it has three big stars and three stories strung together. Secondly, the lives of the women do not intersect, or barely and tangentially. It happens to be that Laura Dern’s lover in the first vignette is the husband of Michele Williams in the second one. And Laura works in a law office which Lily Gladstone comes across when searching for Kristen Stewart.

Other than these accidental and incidental crossings, there is virtually no intersection and inter-action in the movie. Each woman is akin to the very long train with which the film begins, each with its own engine and each acquiring more and more boxcars or experiences as the engine traverses across the plain. A prominent theme in E.M. Forster’s Passage to India was “only connect.” The theme of this film is “barely connect.” It is indeed a portrait of lonely lives in a lonely landscape in which people live side-by-side, interact functionally, but are imprisoned emotionally. The real depth of interaction is with the landscape which seems to diminish each of them as they experience the impossibility of rising like mountains over what seems like an endless plain.

Third, this is not a film about small-town America, but about small-town Montana where even Wyoming is viewed as foreign territory. Fourth, not one person blazes a trail. It is a film about women “at the end of the trail,” and it is a trail of desperation to escape in a territory which promised escape from the turmoil and troubles of the megalopolis cities of America. But it is a tale of certain women, very specific women, who share one common feature, determination and resilience, able to adjust to changing circumstances by resuming being themselves. They are not shape-shifters, but human beings who spring back to shape as they meet their share of disappointments in life. They are strong, tough, hardy and durable, but also vital and supple, but they are anything but change agents and more like lonely trees growing out of the semi-arid soil of Montana.

The men are another order of being. They seem incapable of hearing, taking advice or instructions from the women or negotiating with them. Laura’s hapless client who has been betrayed by life and an insurance company finally and suddenly accepts in a very short time the advice of a male lawyer offering a second opinion. The conclusion that his legal case was hopeless was the same advice that Laura had been drilling into him for eight months. The old lonely man in the second story agrees to give the pile of hand-hewn stones piled up on his property as the remnants of an old schoolhouse that he inherited when he bought the property to Michele Williams who had been determined to acquire them to build her fantasy house, but only does so when Michele’s husband reassures the old man that he does not have to sell the stones or give them away and, even then, can change his mind at anytime.

Finally, the male students in the small town’s extension class on educational law seem to learn nothing from Kristen Stewart. She is like the talking cereal box in the TV ad representing an insurance company teaching a class of young children about the benefits and security that the insurance company provides. But the children can only ask how the box eats and why he does not have a belly button. The educators cannot deal with the rights of students, but only with issue about their own legal benefits.

The film blazes its message in huge Honest Ed neon lights, but makes a tremendous but very quiet impact because of the subtlety of the details and its minimalist approach. The movie masters the challenge of making the interior lives of these women cinematic. It is a very intimate movie without any intimacy. There is virtually no action, for this is a film about inaction, about stalemates, about people whose lives have been frozen in the winter of Montana. It is a movie that makes boredom interesting by drawing our attention, not to the large picture screen, but to very small revealing moments. There are no technical innovations that I could spot, though plenty of shots of shuffling feet. This is a movie that makes understatement seem like an overstatement.

This is not simply a movie in a low key opposing modesty and restraint to that which is showy, but one that offers three stories of four independent women who live lives of quiet desperation. Subdued is too strong a word for the characters. The tone of each of the three stories is not simply muted, but the sounds slip across the field speckled with light snow and a few piles of hay to feed the horses. We hear the roar of the tractor and the dog barking as it chases it, but like the film, the dog’s bark bounces off the silence and the dog has no destination but to run after the moving tractor. That is about the level of action in the movie. Silence rather than words suffuse the film.

Other than the publicity blurb, I read that this was a film about the pioneering spirit of women when it is anything but. A pioneer explores a new territory, innovates in technology or initiates a new way of thinking. This is a film that makes Montana look old, weary and worn-out.  Every single one of the main characters is at a dead end in their lives. Rather than standing on a frontier, the whole sense of the movie is that they are in a backwater but, relative to the male characters, they come across as having a degree of spirit. Their loneliness is experienced more acutely because the men act out their meaningless lives while the women convey a sense of at least wanting some intimacy.

In the first vignette, Laura Dern is a lawyer observed over a period of interacting with one client, once an artisan carpenter, who has been injured at work but cannot legally pursue an insurance claim because he accepted a small payment from the insurance company. In the second vignette, Michele Williams plays a frustrated wife alienated from her sulky and resentful teenage daughter and living with but estranged from her husband even as the family camps in the Montana wilderness. In the third vignette, Kristen Stewart, the only member of her family who went beyond living off unskilled labour at the bottom of the employment pool, who has crawled up and achieved a law degree, finds that the only job she has been able to land is teaching educational law – of which she knows virtually nothing – to a motley tiny collection of adult students who presumably are educators but with no desire to become educated. Out of loneliness and with nothing to do, Lily Gladstone, who works caring for horses, wanders into her class and becomes enchanted by another female whose disenchantment with life is on full display.

I should not have written that this is a film absent of intimacy. Because there are indeed two dimensions of real intimacy on display. One is of Lily Gladstone with the horses she cares for and her dog. The other is with the landscape. In fact, the landscape is probably the most powerful presence in the movie. There are probably more shots of the spaces than of any of the characters.

There is also a sense that the film is also about the art of filmmaking, a very lonely profession that starts with the filmmaker falling in love with and/or writing a script and spending what seems like an eternity by oneself envisioning and blocking out the film cinematically. Then the director moves onto a different level and shares the activity of making the movie with a very large group of collaborators, only, in the end, to be thrust back onto your own resources and your own loneliness when the editor enters the editing room and returns to communing with himself or herself.

Whereas, Reichardt emerges with a highly successful result, her characters on screen end up facing a future even more bleak and miserable than the one they had when the stories began.

Malignant Narcissism: Mental Disorder or Metaphor

Malignant Narcissism: Mental Disorder or Metaphor

by

Howard Adelman

 

I want to use this morning’s blog both to demonstrate the role of argument in persuasion, but the veritable impossibility of employing that tool of argument to change the mind of a narcissist of the extraordinary dimensions of Donald Trump. On 15 February 2017 in the New York Times (A26), Dr. Allen Frances, an extremely eminent and highly regarded psychiatrist who is the epitome of scholarly care and judicious reasoning, wrote a letter (An Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump) criticising using the term “narcissism” to characterize Donald Trump as suffering from that mental disorder.

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

This was not your run-of-the-mill criticism. Frances chaired the task force that compiled the definitive Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental; Disorders IV. (D.S.M. – IV). Frances was the member of the committee who also evidently composed the descriptive characteristics of “narcissistic personality disorder.” In his words, Trump “does not meet the criteria that define the disorder.” Frances insisted that Trump was not mentally ill.

I could try to get around his authoritative judgement by insisting that I am not using “malignant narcissism” as a professional psychiatrist – which I clearly am not – but using a term that was adopted by psychiatry from a far broader literature. And I will certainly defend my use of the term on that basis. But I also want to deal with Frances’ criticisms of the psychiatrists who also called Trump a narcissist with a mental disorder.

It is not as if Frances was defending Trump. He chastised Trump for his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy.” He characterized the denunciation of Trump as appropriate for his “ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.” However, bad behaviour, he argued, is “rarely a sign of mental illness.” It is an insult to the mentally ill (mostly well-behaved and well meaning) who suffer “the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.” Further, and most importantly, Frances himself called Trump “a world-class narcissist.” Frances was not arguing that Trump was not a narcissist, but that his narcissism did not fall under the category of mental disorder because it did not produce the “distress and impairment” in the subject characteristic of a mental disorder.

Further, Frances denounced, in the same manner as my son had, name-calling. It is not clear in the letter whether the name-calling was the characterizing of Trump as narcissistic or the characterizing of his suffering from a mental disorder, but, from the context, and in order not to accuse Frances of contradicting himself, I believe it was evidently the latter. Labeling Trump as a narcissist may be alright, but naming him as a narcissist with a mental disorder is erroneous, not only because Trump does not suffer distress from his condition, but is, in fact, richly rewarded for it. Further, it suggests that psychiatry is an inappropriate response when the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

Rule 1 of rational argument: state the argument of the individual you wish to contend with accurately and fully.

Rule 2: consider alternate positions put forth by others.

One was put forth by W.J.T. Mitchell in the Los Angeles Review of Books that was published a day after Frances’ letter appeared. An earlier version had been presented in a lecture at the Université de Genève, 18 January 2017. The essay was called, “American Psychosis: Trumpism and the Nightmare of History.” It began with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: “Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

We are all, both the Trumpists and the anti-Trumpists, going through the long and dark nightmare of our collective soul. With Donald Trump’s election, we crossed the Rubicon into a new epoch. It is an epoch adumbrated in the film, Being There, though in a very different version. The epoch was predicted even earlier by H.L. Menken. “As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Mencken was a cynic and had great contempt for the “common man.” I share his prophetic view but not his reasoning. The fault is more institutional. When democracies reduce themselves to populist polities, as in Brexit, disaster will likely follow. America is even more prone to such a disaster. That is because America is a democratic monarchy and one day, a fool was almost certain to make the monarchical role primary and the presidential role and responsibility of governing second. As Mitchell wrote, when the combination of an oligarchy of the super rich joins forces with increasing inequality and the brew is fed by a new and innovative media, the conditions were created for the perfect storm.

Populism is not responsible government. Populism is not democracy, just its meanest expression. It reared its ugly head in the Brexit vote. We wait on pins and needles for the shoe to drop in the Netherlands, in Germany, but, most of all, in France. And we hope and pray that the example of the U.S. will dissuade enough voters in Europe to avoid the fatal edge of a cliff. For though the economic forces now favouring renewable energy may guarantee the eventual replacement of fossil fuels, will the victory come too late? Will Donald Trump as a climate change denier who appoints a fossil fuel lobbyist to head an agency responsible for monitoring the destructive effects of fossil fuels on our lonely and lovely green planet, do irreparable damage? Will the triumph of renewable energy sources have arrived too late?

However, the issue is not just whether Donald Trump’s condition as a malignant narcissist can be characterized as a mental illness, but also whether collective behaviour can be characterized as mass psychosis. Describing a condition as “madness” by Mitchell is not just a rhetorical tool. He put it forth, not to describe a mental illness, not to get shafted on the end of an épée, but to analyze a way of thinking, a mental state, a collective psychology rather than an individual mental illness.

I will return to our collective mental state in a subsequent blog, but I want to focus in this blog on Donald Trump’s mental state. Is that state an illness? Mitchell quotes Freud to assert than an individual’s mental state invariably involves others – models, helpers, opponents. We cannot separate the two. But, unlike Mitchell, I think it is best to start with the individual, with Trump rather than Trumpism. Subsequently, I will delve more deeply into the paradox of men and women, who are otherwise decent, hard-working, moral and, most of all, reasonable, becoming victims of “amnesia, ignorance and delusion.” Whereas Mitchell seems to see Trump as simply the purveyor of an image that mirrors a collective madness, I see him as a magnet and stimulant of that madness. And that is not saying the same thing in different words.

Let me go back to the issue of whether the primary error in depicting Trump’s characteristics is not whether he possesses those traits, but whether they add up to a mental illness. The collective Michael Brenner (MB) – https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?hl=en&shva=1#inbox/15a57040fcb2acc7[1] – argues that the man in the oval office is unhinged. MB makes that argument in all deference to Allen Frances, but in sharp disagreement with him. He does so on the basis of the following five arguments:

  1. Trump’s personality is almost a perfect fit for the profile of a narcissistic personality disorder;
  2. One does not have to suffer distress or impairment to be diagnosed with that disorder, and that criterion is not mentioned in DSMIV;
  3. Though pain and discomfort may accompany such a disorder on the individual “suffering” that disorder, those conditions are also not necessary conditions for such a diagnosis;
  4. Though many and perhaps most mentally ill individuals do no harm and cause no distress to others, this is not the case with psychotics or with narcissism of the gargantuan proportions of Donald Trump; they impose pain and discomfort on others;
  5. Narcissism is the one condition that most clearly causes acute distress for others because the strategies devised protect the self at the expense of others.

I think these arguments are persuasive. Donald Trump’s condition is a mental disorder. On the other hand, it is also, as I will argue, not a treatable condition. It a condition unworthy of attention to the “sufferer” as distinct from most mental conditions. Donald Trump neither demands of us nor is he deserving of sympathetic care. His narcissism alone is more than sufficient to protect him from abuse directed at him by others.

So why call it a mental disorder if we not only cannot but will not even attempt to treat it? Further, disorder conveys chaos, disarray, confusion and a question arises whether Donald Trump creates that disarray and disorder, simply mirrors it or more radically acts out the collective psychosis of our age?

As with many things, the devil is in the details. In the next blog, I will offer the characteristics of this state, which I also contend is a disorder. For that narcissism is not only an expression of a disordered mind, but is also a stimulant, adding to the disorder at large. One sign of that disorder is that Trump would not listen to, could not follow if he did listen, and would reject out of hand all four positions set forth in this blog, which includes my own. In the next blog, I will try not only to specify that Donald Trump’s disorder does not allow him to listen to arguments and contrary views, but why he characterizes all such arguments as personal attacks.

Neither Frances, nor Mitchell, nor MB nor I would regard our differences as personal attacks, but instead treat them as arguments and expressions to be debated and resolved in a rational universe. Donald Trump does not belong to that universe and is incapable of being persuaded of anything. Deviation from his path, sometimes, but never persuaded. That is why the real issue is not Trump, but those caught up in the mass psychosis and how they can be persuaded to abandon Trump.

With the help of Alex Zisman

[1] Michael Brenner does not exist in actuality. It is, rather, the nom de plume for a loose association of persons who share a perspective on the world of politics and a sensibility about cultural matters. They are of diverse background and profession. The consortium’s members came together by happenstance. There is no organization nor is there a physical location for an electronic hub… The associates’ insistence on absolute anonymity is due to more than their innate modesty. They hold the firm belief that what counts are the thoughts and ideas rather than persons. In addition, there is some consideration being given a run for the White House in 2020 by the “legend” of “Michael Brenner” – if an appealing individual can be found to assume the persona. High name recognition would be crucial to offset Ivanka’s immense popularity and her lock on the primate vote. (From a communication received 12 February 2017)

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution: Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution:
Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

by

Howard Adelman

Following the war in 1948, the borders recommended by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, shifted. Beginning with the United States, many countries recognized the new state of Israel. This was before the war broke out. After the war, these states, and the numbers increased, which recognized Israel, did not differentiate between the borders approved by the UN and the territory between those borders and the new armistice line. The latter was not referred to as “occupied territory” within the enlarged borders of the armistice agreement. It is more than noteworthy that the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) which defined the rights of a victor over territory and the treatment of local inhabitants, as well as the right to move or give permission to move its own population into those territories captured in that war, was not adopted until August 1949.

The inclusion of Jerusalem and the West Bank within Jordan was not generally recognized. Nevertheless, Jordan’s control and administration of Jerusalem and the West Bank and its subsequent annexation into Jordan became the de facto reality until 1967. In that year, UNSC Res. 242 set up a new framework for recognition. Israel was required to withdraw from occupied territories, and explicitly not the occupied territories. The drafters of that resolution explicitly did not recognize the 1948 armistice lines as borders. The big change was that Israel was now the occupying power of the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the generally established, but not universally accepted, interpretations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a power that exercises military occupation of a territory following a war – and it does not matter whether that territory was the sovereign territory of another state or territory occupied by another power or legal state or whether the territory was captured in a defensive or an aggressive war – that power was not allowed to alter the demography of that territory by moving its population into that territory or even allowing its citizens to move in to occupy parts of that territory.

The left in Israel took advantage of the clauses that allowed changes “for military purposes.” The right in Israel claimed, that under the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, that territory was to be a homeland where Jewish people could settle. Others claimed that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumped those allowances of the 1920s. But the point became moot because international treaties between the parties in contention would trump both the Geneva Convention and the exercise of de facto coercive power and administrative control on the ground.
Which brings us to Resolution 2334. Resolution 2334 alters previous arrangements and does so in fundamental ways. It reaffirms, as I have previously explained, a general principle, but one only applied to Israel after 1967, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. It reaffirms the Fourth Geneva Convention about the transfer of populations and defines the creation of the barrier/wall/fence as a breach of that Convention and not justified by military or security needs, at least where it is located on territory administered by Israel. Israel’s actions were once again determined to be in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Resolution 2334 explicitly condemns altering the demographic makeup of the territory, more significantly, biases any negotiations by calling the occupied territory Palestinian territory and not simply the West Bank, and specifically includes East Jerusalem which encompasses the Old City in its nomenclature.

Resolution 2334 adds to these old assertions, now somewhat modified in language, a “grave concern” that the continuous construction of settlements threatens the two-State solution. The Resolution explicitly adds, “based on the 1967 lines,” and leaves out any reference to land swaps. In this Resolution, the 1967 lines now acquire a status as a border reference. The Resolution goes even further to point to the settlements as THE obstacle, that is the major, though not exclusive, barrier to concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And it is, if you accept the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. And that is what the UN Security Council did in passing that Resolution. It effectively trumped Resolution 242 which had only required withdrawal from some territory and not all territory. Resolution 2334 effectively trumped OSLO by setting the 1967 armistice borders as the reference point rather than any swap of territories already agreed to between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In effect, the weight of international recognition of what was Palestinian territory was added to the weight of the dominant interpretation of international law to offset the weight of coercive power and administrative Israeli authority over parts of that territory. In the near term, the Resolution seems to have had a stimulant effect, spurring the formalization of settlements and outposts underway or in the planning stage, as occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century when another UN Security Council Resolution was passed. UNSC Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously on 19 November 2003, endorsed the Road Map proposed by the Quartet envisaging an exchange of territories to satisfy Israeli security concerns and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The threat of terrorism featured prominently. In that phase, the establishment of new settlements, at least legally, by and large effectively ceased.

The focus of Israel became “natural” expansion. This is precisely and explicitly what Resolution 2334 mentioned. Did Resolution 1515 passed in 2003 indirectly accept the settlements built before 31 March 2001? Was their legality reinforced in distinguishing between settlements after 2002 from those authorized before 2001? Resolution 2334 seemed to state that this was not the case. The only changes to the 1967 lines that will be recognized are those made between the two parties. Does that mean that Resolution 2334 recognizes the lines between areas A, B and C? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning them, they are given no international imprimatur. Does that mean Resolution 2334 recognizes the tentative agreement on the territorial swap? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning that swap agreement, it is given no international imprimatur. These may be incorporated into a final negotiated agreement, but the diplomatic trading hand of the Palestinians has been greatly strengthened.

In the last eight years under the Obama administration, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem neighbourhoods, has grown to about 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000 largely through the “thickening” of existing settlements. The number of “settlers” in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, only 15,000 more than when Obama took office. The emphasis in policy of Israel has been on strengthening the West Bank settlements. Almost 13,000 new settlement units were initiated or completed in the West Bank. What Israel has lost in diplomatic leverage in the international arena it has tried to offset by facts on the ground and de facto coercive and administrative control.

Unlike the efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the 2016 Resolution called on reversing the situation. Further, contrary to the contention of that Resolution, there is little evidence suggesting that efforts to grow and expand existing settlements entrench a one-State reality as claimed in Resolution 2334. But the clinkers come in the clauses much more than in the preamble. Those clauses reiterate that the settlements established anywhere in the occupied territories after 1967 are illegal., a flagrant violation of international law and impediment to a two-State solution and a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Resolution 2334 demands cessation of all settlement activities.

And what is a settlement activity. Expanding buildings? Repairing buildings, Working? Eating? Driving? Or is it just the collective initiatives such as providing for infrastructure and administration? The real substantive elements are the repeated references to the 1967 borders as the fundamental reference, the repeated reference to East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as falling within that reference point as not only occupied territory but occupied Palestinian territory, the call for reversal of trends that have significantly fallen off since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the call for other states to differentiate, not only in trade, but in all dealings between what happens in the occupied territories and what happens within the 1967 lines recognized as sovereign Israel. The supplementary clauses denouncing violence on all sides appear pro tem, especially because the resolution explicitly excludes reference to activities which reinforce or encourage terrorism (such as treating terrorists as heroes and martyrs) while the targeting of demolitions is spelled out and focused solely on Israel.

In August of 2016, following a denunciation of settlement thickening expansion plans by 200 American rabbis, the U.S. sent Israel an unequivocal message that if demolitions proceeded in the Palestinian village of Sussia, a red line would be crossed. This echoed protests made by EU foreign ministers on 20 July 2016 following warnings General Mordechai delivered to the Bedouins. 340 of them live in the village. The fact that these disputes, so badly handled by Israel, may have virtually nothing to do with Israeli settlement activities and everything to do with Bedouin resistance to Israeli urban development strictures, whether in Israel proper or the West bank, seem to have had no influence on the wording of the resolution.
Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, a lawyer dealing with this issue on behalf of the villagers, claimed that Israel simply wanted to move the village to or near Area B and out of Area C, an area in which 400,000 Israeli live and only 100,0000 Palestinians do. The fact that the villagers were forced to move in 1986 and the homes they built on their agricultural land were demolished in 2001, rebuilt and demolished again in 2011, was not considered as part of the analysis. This demolition would be the third time since the village was built thirty years ago. Nor did the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government in 2015 seem to count. Nor, finally, did it seem to matter that this was a new village built during occupation.

All of this must be understood also within the context of diplomacy conducted over the last six years. The Americans refused to declare the settlements illegal in 2011 when the Palestinians attempted to declare their status as a state at the United Nations in the Palestine 191 initiative. How did Israel respond? It doubled down and announced the building of additional settlement units in response to the Palestinian diplomatic initiative. The Europeans resisted. Germany moved to stop delivery of submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Israel. The following year, if some European states previously abstained, they then supported Palestinian statehood. If they previously opposed, they abstained in 2012 voting. The diplomatic war was running against Israel and criticisms mounted against home demolitions, expropriation of land and the refusal to grant construction permits to Palestinians.
These countries and their diplomats contended that Israeli actions and initiatives in the West Bank were completely contradictory to the stated and agreed aim of arriving at a two-State solution. But as I tried to demonstrate in my previous analysis, that depends on what you define as the two-State solution since there are many variations. If the plan is simply to incorporate Area C along with the accepted Jerusalem neighbourhoods into Israel, and to transfer equivalent Israeli land to the new Palestinian state, such thickening activities do not undermine a two-State solution. But if the reference point is the 1967 armistice lines, then such activities do conflict with a very different two-State solution. More importantly, by making the 1967 lines the reference point and by defining the occupied territory as Palestinian territory, the diplomatic hand of the Palestinians is significantly strengthened.

The situation, to say the least, has not been helped by the way Bibi Netanyahu conducts diplomacy in terms of domestic politics. He has bragged that his government is more committed to settlements than any Israeli government in history, in spite of the evidence to the contrary when comparing the expansion of the number of settlements under Arik Sharon’s government compared to Bibi’s. Further, Naftali Bennett and others in Bibi’s cabinet openly declare the two-State solution in any form dead. Donald Trump has appointed an ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who dubs the two-State solution in any form an illusion. All of these responses of the Israeli government stimulate an equal and powerful reaction from Western governments sympathetic to some kind of a Palestinian state being created side-by-side Israel.
As more Israeli politicians not only believe in but advocate implementing a one state solution unilaterally, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved to advocate a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean attracting idealist support and that of many European nations. But those efforts are NOT identified as a threat to the two-State solution because they ostensibly emanate from idealist principles rather than what is perceived to be a crass power grab.
In one interpretation of Resolution 2334, the world is trying to save Israel from its worst propensities, propensities likely to be reinforced by the new Trump government. In a very different interpretation of the very same international diplomatic initiatives, a sustained effort has been mounted to strengthen the Palestinian hand in negotiations and to keep the threat of terrorism at bay. As Israeli settlers marched from Ma’aleh Adumim to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on territory captured in the Six Day War (February 2014), when in 2016 Bennett openly advocated formally annexing those territories, the counter-movement strengthened.

Those who argue that settling people to mark territory is illegal under the dominant interpretation of international law, and, further, that such efforts are unsustainable, in turn, strengthen the hands of Israeli extremists demanding total annexation. The extremes are enhanced and the most reasonable compromises are undermined from both sides. This is especially true when the idealists and opponents charge Israel with creating an apartheid state – which is not outside the realm of possibilities. Certainly, hatred of Jews has been increasing among Palestinians. Suspicion and fear of Arabs, reinforced by extremist Islamic actors in the Muslim world, has increased among Israelis.

In response to my last blog, one reader wrote and asked, “To whom does the land belong?” I quipped back as if I were writing a Donald Trump tweet, “To God. We are merely the custodians.” The reader wrote back, “Well, that may be theological, but I’d like a more practical answer.” I offered a more serious response as follows:
“You are right to do so [object to my terse response]. In part, but only in part, this was written tongue in cheek. The reality is that the borders of a territory and the country that controls that territory are products of coercive power, administrative legal authority, legal treaties between and among nations and recognition by others. Is Taiwan part of China? Is Tibet part of China? According to the first two criteria above, the answer in both cases is yes. Over the last seventy years, the answer to the 3rd and 4th criteria has also increasingly been “yes,” even though there is often a distinction made between de facto and de jure recognition.”

Are the settlements illegal and does that mean they should all be condemned and torn down? Illegal means unlawful, but does not entail that what took place is a criminal act. Civil disobedience is illegal in many countries. Trespassing is illegal but not a criminal offence. Further, some practices are illegal, but the laws against them are not enforced. Some acts are considered illegal but the requisite authority lacks any enforcement mechanism. Most international legal experts in humanitarian law deem it illegal to transfer a conqueror’s population into the territory under occupation. Many Israeli experts in humanitarian law argue that if the territory is taken in a defensive war AND if the territory was never the possession of a sovereign state, settling the population of the new occupier in the conquered territory is not illegal and many even regard the territory as not occupied.

Since the International Court in The Hague has sided with the first set of interpreters, and those interpreters are in the majority, I simply take it as a descriptive fact that, currently, international law deems the settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. However, I myself believe that law is not the only determinant and often not the main factor in international affairs. The removal of such a large number of people would be immoral and politically catastrophic and those ethical and political considerations far outweigh the considered legal opinions of most international humanitarian legal scholars and even the interpretations of The Hague court.

Further who gives the recognition is critical. If it is a major power, that is one thing. If it is Honduras, that is quite another. Sometimes occupied territory is recognized as part of a state passively – namely by muting criticism of that occupation. This happened with the territory Israel won in the 1948 war. It has not happened with the territory won in the 1967 war. In fact, the vocal and legal opposition to the ownership by Israel of the “occupied territories” has grown. At the same time, the control via power and demography of some of that territory has increased. The next two decades will set the direction of the resolution of the recognition of new borders based on an admixture of these factors, but the determination will not be unilateral determined by Israel’s coercive power or formal administrative authority alone.

Those other factors will be significantly affected by influence, the growing role of Israel in wealth and in the world economy and the other kind of influence that is non-material, the respect Israeli politicians and friends earn for Israel on the international stage. The latter is usually called diplomacy.

It is in this context that I want to move on and examine the American approach to Resolution 2334 compared to the Israeli one.

With the help of Alex Zisman