Morality and Politics: – Repentance versus Shame

Parashat Nitzavim VaYelekh: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:30

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are almost upon us. We will soon face the Day of Repentance and Atonement (teshuvah). In Deuteronomy 29:11-14, God promises to enter into a covenant with the people of Israel, not only with those who stand before Him, but with all future generations. There is one major condition. Israel must repent of its sins. Those who repent are contrasted with the one who would “follow his willful heart,” (29:18), one who will insist on I rather than We. The egocentric individual will not be forgiven by the Lord.

What is the consequence? The land will be devastated. The pessimistic portrait pictured in the Charlie Kaufman movie that I reviewed on Monday, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, will emerge supreme. Misfortune shall befall you with soil devastated by sulfur and salt. What is the consequence? The I’s will be uprooted and thrust into an alternate space like that portrayed in the TV series Counterpart. We have a choice. Repent and receive blessings. Act from a willful heart and be cursed. Ten verses in Deuteronomy (30:10-20) uses the root, shuva or repent, seven times. We are invited to return. We are invited to take responsibility for the error of our ways.

It really sounds like the old-time religion. And one should not be surprised if paragraphs like these turn a reader off. But I suggest that this is because the message is not heard; the language that has become clichéd obscures. Yet the message is simple and direct, neither too baffling nor beyond reach. (30:11) The meaning is not in the heavens of idealism where we can go up and observe it. Nor can we find it elsewhere on earth where the grass grows greener. We are face to face with the message in all that we hear every day. More significantly, the message is in your own mouth and your own heart. (30:14)

My last blog was on Idealists who analyze politics and insist political transactions should be led, not by self-interest, but by ideals, by goals of transparency that foster democracy and liberty and the rule of law. My next blog on the Israel/United Arab Emirates deal will take up the perspective of the Realists who would drive morality out of politics and make all politics a matter of power and self-interest. Is that the choice before us? Must we choose between being Idealists or Realists?

God instructed us to choose life over death. But both the Idealists and the Realists claim to have the handle on life. Which group is correct? Or is neither? There was a webinar this past Tuesday with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I love reading and hearing Rabbi Sacks, perhaps because we read the same secular thinkers and philosophers as our mentors, though he gives the greatest credit to three rabbis: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch. However, he studied under secular thinkers like Bernard Williams who wrote such influential books as Problems of the Self (1973) and Shame and Necessity (1993).

Jonathan Sacks has a new book that came out at the beginning of this month, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. I tried to point out that, from any political analytic perspective, all time is divided. There is always a Before and After. We are living in such a divided time. For Sacks, the time is divided between the present and the immediate past when morality has been driven out of politics, when politics has been turned into transactional exchange and the self-interest of enhancing one’s power. Monday’s blog will offer an example in the Realist examination of the Israel/UAE Agreement even though it is called the Abraham Agreement in order to stress the unity of the monotheistic religions rather than the beliefs and practices that divide them. The UAE insisted that it is about “We” but, as you will see, the Realists analyze the pact as rooted in I.

I published a long essay a long time ago called, “Power, Influence and Authority.” It dealt with two versions of each of those concepts – power as creative energy versus coercive power; influence as persuasion of ideas and arguments versus  material influence – bribes, pay-offs, incentives; and authority, authentic versus the formal authority of a position in a hierarchy. Sacks has a thesis that coercive power and moral influence must be kept separate. Religious leaders who trade in morality should stay out of politics, though they should certainly try to influence the polis. Politicians should stay out of religion. The function of those in judicial authority, the function of judges, is to apply morality to the political realm rooted in both their authentic and formal authority, both founded in the rule of law.

There are other themes which Sacks does not take up – such as why material influence must be bracketed when dealing with political issues and why coercive power must be excluded from the material economic realm. His focus was on the binary separation of morality and power politics. The function of religion is to exclude considerations of coercive power and material influence to attempt to shape the ideas and values of a polis. The function of politicians is to make decisions that take full consideration of the interests of constituents, but by placing those interests within a moral frame. Realists fail to do the latter; idealists would make morality dictate political policy rather than frame it and would thereby turn morality into a coercive force rather than an influential source.

It is one thing to try to guide the I to serve the We, to serve the common good. It is quite another to let the common good dictate to the individual how he or she should behave. The latter is the character of a shame culture. The use of morality to guide and influence the polity is a property of a guilt culture.

The Torah begins with a description of a shame or cancel culture in the story of Adam and Eve and how they are made to feel ashamed when they engage in sex. They were told that if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree of a moral order, there would be consequences. They ate and were thrust out of the Garden of Eden and had to spend their lives in the pain of living, the pain of labour both as work and in giving birth. What had they done wrong? Were they punished for disobedience?

That is not how a shame culture works, it distracts from the core moral issue. Adam and Eve were punished for hiding. They were punished for not owning up to what they did. The moral failure has to be separated from the consequences of their act. For that failure followed and did not precede the act. What preceded the act was desire and neither Adam nor Eve were forbidden from expressing their desires. Having sex was not the sin. The original sin belonged to Adam who thought he was God, who saw himself as God’s man on earth responsible for bringing things into being by naming them.

Adam was an isolate. He was your archetypal nerd. He had no friends. He had no companions. When God saw he was alone, he introduced him to Eve. But Adam never saw Eve as anything but an extension of his physical self. And he also othered his own body, for he thought of himself as primarily immaterial like God. He othered his body while, at the same time, viewed Eve as an extension of that body. His penis was a separate independent erect agent with its own voice. That is why he took no responsibility for the seduction. And Eve participated in the cover-up. And they were both expelled for failing to assume responsibility for what they did, for trying to hide it.

In a shame culture, what we now call a cancel culture – more on this in a future blog – there is no distinction between an agent and his or her act. A person is branded with a scarlet letter for what he or she did. Since there is no separation of agent and act, a person cannot be forgiven for what was done. The sin belongs to the sinner and not the behaviour. And the sinner cannot repent since the sin is viewed as having become part of his or her DNA.

As Rabbi Sacks said, the story of Adam and Eve is about appearances and that is why there is the effort to hide something from vision, to make it invisible. Out of a shame culture, an ethics of the eyes emerges. But Judaism is an ethics of the ear. The exit from the Garden meant that the heirs would go on to develop a morality of the ear and then a polity rooted in freedom and finally a nation with laws and land for that people. But in order to survive, in order to thrive, that covenant must be renewed regularly. Because Jews belong to a guilt culture even though they increasingly live in a secular shame culture, One can ask to be forgiven for one’s sins. What a person does and who that individual is are separable. An individual can accept the consequences of his or her acts. Ask for forgiveness, accept one’s punishment and return to be accepted as a full member of the community.

If we allow moralists to dictate our politics, we end up with a shame culture. If we allow politics to discard any reference to or guidance by morality, we end up with a cursed culture, a polis of corruption and dissolution. That is why we must live as realists but within a moral world. Only then can the I serve the We. Only then can every I retain the possibility of personal redemption through behaviour that takes back the sin of the act. That is why we must engage in charitable acts, why we must help the stranger, why we must reach out to the other with acts of loving kindness, why we must visit the sick and welcome those in need with acts of hospitality.

And that is why we must laugh. That is why an ironic tale, a big fish story of Jonah and the whale, is read on Yom Kippur. It is a joke. It is a satire. The sociologist Peter Berger wrote a book called Redeeming Laughter. We laugh because otherwise we would have to cry. Look at any evening of television news. CBC revisited the devastation caused by the explosion in Beirut and one had to cry.

I watched a TV series called Derry Girls focused on four teenaged girls from Derry, Northern Ireland and an English cousin of one of them. The series was proof positive that Irish humour can compete with Jewish humour any day of the week. The series is set against the catastrophic and violent conflict in Northern Ireland between the IRA and the British, with the ordinary Catholic and Protestant caught between and with virtually no knowledge of one another. That tragedy, until reconciliation and peace comes at the end, is held well in the background. In the foreground we see the Catholic girls driven by jealousy and pettiness acting out, belittling one another, dissing everyone in sight, getting into trouble and making themselves into more ridiculous, but loveable, beings in every episode. You watch and your sides will ache with laughter.

And laughter is the source of redemption. Confession, yes. Own up to what you do. But make fun of yourself in so doing. Make yourself the object of laughter because that is the best way to separate your stupid and ridiculous actions from who your really are.  Rejoice and hug God. You can ignore COVID-19. Be happy that you and God are together again.

Go to Yom Kippur services and then have a good chuckle. If you are not a Jew, watch Derry Girls instead. If you are Jewish, watch the series twice.

Shona Tova.

Part V: Israel and the UAE: The Realists

Realists have the most reason to gloat. They operate in terms of international politics as a conflict and congruence of national interests. The Israel-UAE deal marks the largest shift away from the centrality of issues like justice, transparency, and self-determination to focus almost exclusively on national interests. For them, in earlier regimes, the serious consideration of moral issues gummed up the prospects for peace. After the Israel-UAE deal, the dynamic has radically shifted in favour of self-interest as the exclusive reference point for advancing the reconciliation of Israel and Arab states.

Except for the Palestinians. Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based business consultant and political commentator, who participated in the Foundation for Middle East Peace webinar, is a Palestinian realist focused on the European states rather than the protest movements. He urged European governments to recognize Palestine as a state before it was too late. The UAE-Israel deal merely allowed Israel to escape from the dead end of annexation and America to escape the embarrassment of a peace proposal that totally flopped. For Bahour, now was the time for Europe to use its political clout with Israel, given that the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner. The Eu must intervene in the peace process to which it has heretofore taken a back seat.

Basour’s standpoint is not the same as the perspective of Marwa Fatafta and her colleagues. That may reflect Bahour’s business perspective (with partners he formed the Palestine Telecommunications Company and the PLAZA Shopping Center), his computer technology expertise and his more traditional state power centered analysis. Like many other Palestinians, he benefitted from the tertiary educational system in Israel, earning a part-time joint MBA from Northwestern University and the University of Tel Aviv. Further, he is an American born in Ohio who returned to the West Bank (his father was Palestinian) following the signing of the Oslo Accords and was deeply disappointed and disillusioned about the Oslo route. It is unclear whether he shares Jared Kushner’s view that what Palestine lacks is a good system of governance as a basis for expanding the economy. “The thing that was inhibiting all the investors from going into the West Bank and Gaza was not Israel; it was the fact that there’s not a strong system of governance. There’s not a judicial system where they can feel comfortable making investments. And there’s not a security regime where they feel comfortable making long-term capital investments.”.

Unlike Fatafta, he believes that the failure of Oslo is pushing Palestinians back towards confrontation and likely armed struggle. Instead of an appeal to the street, he is more focused on a re-balancing of state power, that is, using the Europeans to offset the new alliance between the Americans, the UAE and eventually all the Arab Gulf states and Israel. Without real powers as partners, the Palestinians are in deep trouble in achieving their goal of a viable independent Palestinian state.

There is another route which the PA seems to be taking. Though Abbas originally tried to forge a common front with Hamas and Fatah, the latter two are now on their own working together to confront Israel and launch joint resistance. In the meanwhile, the PA has clearly greatly softened its criticisms of the Israel-UAE deal. The PA also announced its readiness to open talks with Israel. It is noteworthy that Arafat’s widow came out and supported the deal.

Palestinians have to accept the following realities:

  • The Palestinian issue has lost much of its currency in Arab world
  • The Right-wing Israeli and American outside-in vs inside-out strategy now appears to be on top
  • The Palestinian leadership has very little support
  • The prospect for change within the Palestinian community is very limited in contrast to the views of Marwa Fatafta
  • The chance of marrying the interests of the Palestinian people with those of the populace in authoritarian Arab states seems limited
  • Arab regimes do not represent their people but are more akin to Petro-Republics
  • There is a reasonable prospect of mutual solidarity with the people of Yemen and Iraq
  • Palestinians do have to count on a younger generation
  • Palestinians having lost all leverage with America during the Trump administration are unlikely to claw back more than token victories if Joe Biden wins and are destined to lose all influence in America if Trump wins
  • The only real leverage on Israel to change course depends on Europe which is Israel’s largest trading partner and that is the potential that must be exploited.

Otherwise de facto annexation will continue – Gantz just authorized 5,000 new settler homes – by restricting building permits to Palestinians, land seizures, imprisonment of Palestinians who challenge either the current Palestinian leadership or Israel. Using European and international linkages is the only realistic route for Palestinians to achieve self-determination on a reasonable and fair size of Palestinian land.

For Arab realists in the Gulf States facing the threat from Iran, a very different realignment is necessary, a growing partnership with Israel and a move to the side of the Palestinian problem. There is not only the issue of border security for the UAE, but the purchase of F-35s and other advanced military equipment. There is also the issue of cyber-security, an area in which Israel is a world leader. The UAE would benefit from closer cooperation with Israel on the use and perhaps even development of this technology. Finally, there is the issue of the Yemen proxy war in which the UAE hopes to learn from Israel how to manage such conflicts.

The Trump White House has advertised itself as the “deal-maker,” but it did not have a single successful deal to its credit until the UAE-Israel agreement came along. Trump needed a diplomatic achievement to present to voters since his foreign-policy gambits vis-à-vis China, North Korea and especially the Israel-Palestinian conflict have failed thus far. The achievement of driving Iran further to the ground seems to have provided only a temporary respite.

Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised his right-wing base annexation of parts of the West Bank. However, he was forced to acknowledge that without U.S. support – that would not be forthcoming unless he recognized a Palestinian state – any concrete move towards that goal placed Israel’s national security at risk. It would certainly publicize that he was burying President Trump’s peace plan and not simply setting it to one side. Netanyahu seems to have had no genuine interest in the efforts of the Bahrain conference and the $50 billion dollar plan for the Palestinians to double their GDP, create a million new jobs, decrease the poverty rate and cut the Palestinian dependency on handouts. Further, if Joe Biden wins the upcoming election, even de facto annexation will re-emerge as a bone of contention between the Israelis and Americans. Bibi needed an off-ramp.

The UAE has much to gain through the agreement, not least by being able to take credit for halting annexation. It also believes that a peace deal with Israel can solidify its standing in Washington and help to deflect criticism regarding a variety of activities which future administrations might find problematic: its involvement in the war in Yemen, its close ties with China, and its outreach to Iran to reduce tensions in the Gulf. In addition, the Emirates may be taking such steps to better protect itself from regional threats in the event of Washington’s continued retrenchment from the Middle East—by enabling its ability to buy more advanced weaponry from the U.S. and seeking closer security cooperation with Israel, a leading regional military power.

Other countries that follow suit will gain as well. Sudan hopes that in return for a deal it will be removed from America’s terror list. Malawi plans to locate its embassy in Jerusalem in return for Israeli technological assistance. A whole series of transactional quid pro quos are expected to follow this initiative.

Looking ahead, Israel can now focus its efforts on the more pressing national-security challenges it faces. At the top of Jerusalem’s agenda is preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons. In the end, however, it means abandoning the premise for peace built into UN Security Council Resolution 242 calling for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” in return for all states in the area to respect one another’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Dore Gold, now President of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, wrote, “If there is a new diplomatic doctrine at work here it comes from a realistic understanding that the Jewish state can reach peace with its neighbors if it can address their most vital concerns. Israel is not the regional policeman, nor should it attempt to take on such a role. But it must make its contribution to upholding the regional order along with its Arab allies.” The Emirates played a leadership role in shifting the frame of Middle East relations from pro-Palestinian plus anti-Israel by focusing on Jews and envisioning a politics of plus Palestine and plus Jews, thereby displacing the up/down binary.

The UAE sponsored and publicized interactions between rabbis and imams. One of the grandsons of a very close friend had the second Bar Mitzvah in UAE history. All this is being done without outside interests demanding internal reform and remake of Arab potentates in their own liberal image. Further, this revised globalism is paired up with strengthening national borders and national sovereignty in opposition to either pan-Arabism or pan-Islam.

As Jared Kushner wrote, “We tried to change the paradigm of how people viewed the objectives in the Middle East, to show that there was much more alignment. Instead of using the historical context, we started shifting it around common interests.” Versus the experts and the risk-averse, take risks. Disrupt. Then mitigate the downside. Lubricate the upside. That is the Trump realist philosophy for making change. It often produces chaos.

There are five strategic factors in play:

  • The threat of a militant Iran
  • The increasing threat of radical Sunnis: the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, ISIS
  • The rise of the street with democratic expectations and demands
  • The impending expected full withdrawal of America from the region
  • Israel’s economic, technological and military clout.

What is on offer is a doctrine of Peace Through Strength rather than peace through the spread of liberalism and democratic ideas and ideals. Further, the Arab states have to move from a dependency on oil revenues to a post-fossil fuel economy by developing their own technological capabilities. That can be accomplished much easier if they are partners with Israel. That will also strengthen the opposition to Iran, the country with ambitions to be the regional hegemon. Thus, the Obama doctrine (and my own) that Iran’s polity and policies can be moderated through relationships and exchanges while putting in storage the nuclear program, was replaced by a strategy of undermining Iran’s economy to undercut its ability to support its satraps. Hence, the Israel-UAE agreement marks a radical transformation in the Middle East from its pan-Arab nationalist as well as pan-Islamic phases to a realignment marking the birth of a new political order.

Part IV: Israel and the UAE: Idealists

When Canada gaveled the Palestinian refugee talks and I served as an adviser, a senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once pulled me aside during a recess in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “Howard,” I was told. “You will never be a diplomat.” You were trained as a philosopher to think in clear and distinct ideas. Diplomats work with equivocation. That is how peace deals are made.”

I may not be good at equivocation myself, but I can spot it. I see at least four areas of equivocation in the Israel-UAE deal, the first of which is what to call it. The formal name is the Abraham Accords. However, few refer to it by that title. It is either called the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement, the Normalization Framework or the Normalization Agreement. Israeli diplomats tend to use the first name, UAE diplomats the second and American diplomats the third. What is the difference?

Observers point out that it cannot be a peace agreement since Israel and the Emirates were never at war. Further, preceding the agreement, the two sides had been in negotiations on a number of topics. Defenders of the name want to contrast it with an Israel-Palestinian deal, such as the Oslo Accords, which was an inside-outside peace agreement directly between the parties involved. Peace deals include provisions for a cessation of (violent) hostilities. However, this deal marked a new era, a new beginning and a break from the old paradigms by working from outside-in. Instead of Arab states waiting to make agreements with Israel until after the Palestinians did, giving Palestinians a veto on agreements, Arab states, which were not frontline states but eager to trade peace for peace, would make Israel-Arab agreements and change the dynamic of Israel-Palestinian negotiations.  

For the UAE, not wanting to step on Palestinian toes even as they cross the Rubicon towards a new relationship (excuse the mixed metaphor), the deal is more accurately referred to as a Framework Negotiation, that is, one within which a large number of largely transactional agreements can nest. But what about the agreement to remove annexation from the table? What about the desired agreement by the UAE to have Israel set aside its veto on any Middle Eastern government purchasing the most advanced and highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States? Since they are at the heart of the agreement, American diplomats prefer the term a “Framework Agreement,” one that sounds more conclusive than a “Framework Negotiation.”

Thus, the Abraham Accords in terms of language treads across the marsh of different interpretations, any one of which can sink the negotiations in quicksand. Further, an agreement marks a dividing point between before and after. The UAE seems to want the deal to stand simply for a step up the ladder of cooperation rather than a radical shift in the dynamics of war and peace in the Middle East.

There is a second area of equivocation, one that is being fought behind the scenes rather than in the open. America and the USA have an understanding that the U.S. will ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative edge in military equipment compared to any government in the region. UAE has asked to purchase F-35s, primarily to be used to execute its part in the war against the Houthis in Yemen. The F-35 Lightning II supplied by Lockheed Martin (as well as its principal partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems) is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft  intended to engage in strike missions, ensure air superiority and provide electronic warfare, intelligence and surveillance capabilities. 

The issue of sales to the UAE can be settled by the US supplying the aircraft, but with not as much of the technical wizardry on board so that Israel retains its technical edge. More easily said than done. Which F-35: a) the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A supplied to the US Air Force and first used in 2018 by Israel; b) the short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B supplied to the Marine Corp; and c) the carrier-based F-35C supplied to the American navy? What technological differences since the key to the high performance is how loaded the aircraft is with advanced technology? This will involve very detailed technical negotiations for which Israel will have a significant advantage since it probably knows the performance of the aircraft, specifically the Air Force version, probably better than the Americans. Further, Israel, in contrast to the UAE, has the technical and scientific capability of adding further modifications to improve performance in all areas of its operations. If you are an idealist, you want clarity and transparency so there will not be any sources of dispute later. In this case, fat chance!

Clearly, Israel is also deeply divided on this issue. Israel’s intelligence minister insists that there will be no F-35s sold to the UAE in return for entering the deal. (But could they be sold, not as a condition, but as a separate arrangement.) On the other hand, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Tel Aviv demanded compensation in return for the US-UAE arms deal, such as advancing the provision of technology by one year.l

But reasonable equivocation and ambiguity to make the deal work is also required. However, instead of Bibi merely insisting that whatever weapons America supplies to the UAE, Israel will maintain its significant technological edge, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly denied reports that he gave the okay to US arms sales to the UAE. That may, in fact, be true. He may not, as yet, have signed off on such deals, but repeated assertions of that kind do little to prepare the Israeli public for the most probable outcome.

A third area of equivocation is whether annexation is suspended, off the table (Donald Trump) or stopped. Netanyahu claims he agreed to the first while the UAE insists on the last. “We’ve shut the door on annexation,” stated UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba. Clearly, this is a serious bone of contention. Netanyahu insisted that annexation has merely “been postponed” and “is very much on the table.” The issue will boil down to the length of the suspension. Is Bibi willing to grant suspension for a year or for five years or indefinitely? Is the UAE willing to accept an indefinite suspension instead of a clear cessation?

Language easily covers this difference since, depending on the term of cessation, it can mean effectively stopping new settlements. But what about expanding existing ones? And if you are willing to accept indefinite cessation, why not accept the terms of the American peace plan, accept the existence of a Palestinian State and get a U.S. imprimatur on the lands on which Israel already has settlements? As usual, however, Netanyahu is more interested in the immediate rather than the long-term political benefits. For him, it was sufficient that he escaped the blind corner in which he had gotten himself trapped by delaying annexation of parts of the West Bank. Such a move would have imposed considerable political and economic costs on Israel. Ensuring the long-term future of a secure, Jewish, and democratic state could be bracketed without disturbing most Israelis who had little interest in annexation at this time.

Here, the problem is not so much the UAE but the position of Bibi’s competitors from the right and especially from the Yesha (Yehuda Shomron, Aza, lit. “Judea Samaria and Gaza) Council. How does Netanyahu get language that satisfies the UAE, America and his right-wing coalition partners?

There is a fourth issue easily settled – the location of the UAE embassy. No equivocation will be involved. UAE will not and Netanyahu will not insist that the UAE locate the embassy in Jerusalem. However, the UAE has been very clever in also deciding not to locate it in a Jewish-Israeli city like Tel Aviv but in an Israeli city with a large Palestinian population. However, Washington is pressuring other allies to relocate to Jerusalem while the EU warns Serbia and Kosovo not to do so lest it endanger their bid for membership in the EU.

However, the larger issue is the demand for clarity and transparency by idealists to forestall problems in the future (cf. Nimrod Novik, a foreign policy advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and a veteran of track-two diplomacy, “Pitfalls to Avoid in the Pending UAE-Israel Agreement 27 August 2020). Nimrod’s position stands in stark contrast to the experience of diplomats who are content to use equivocation to solve negotiations in the present and postpone contention to a future time. I am not the only adviser that has been stuck on the use of clear and distinct language and terms in agreements.

Simply put, there are problems in whatever way one resolves the issues of clarity with respect to before and after and which continuity to reinforce – almost certainly the transactional one of mutual interests. But this should not lead to complacency. Henry Kissinger was a master of equivocation or what diplomats call “constructive ambiguity”. In the case of the Israel-Egypt Peace Agreement, Aharon Barak, later Chief Justice, pointed out that Egypt’s draft in Arabic, Israel’s in Hebrew, and the United States’ in English differed on important points and these differences later proved detrimental when it came to signing the agreement and even more so in its implementation.

What about the synchronic frame – the inside versus outside and the above and below? The big advantage of this agreement is that all parties, even critics, agreed that an outside-in approach had replaced the former inside-out paradigm. Further, since the UAE and Israel had never actually been in a shooting war, there did not need to be losers or winners. The agreement could be presented by all sides as a win-win situation – except for the strategic position of the Palestinians. It should be no surprise that all the parties, to minimize misunderstandings, agreed to only use an English draft of the agreement.  

It was also clear that neither party saw any large need to satisfy the street, whether the street referred to ordinary Palestinians or to citizens of the UAE. Netanyahu was only concerned with his fellow politicians rather than any protesters. This was a top-down deal.

Further, it was easy to live with since almost all the issues were transactional rather than going to the heart and soul of either culture. Nothing to live and die for was being surrendered by either side. In fact, that was precisely why the Palestinian were so disturbed by the deal. Their ability to use Arab state recognition as leverage had been pulled out from under them. The UAE had indeed sacrificed the Palestinians as agents in the process even if they might argue that it was for their own good. Effectively, identity politics were set aside for a new Abrahamic vision allowing motives, interests and intentions all to be realigned.  There need be no fundamental differences on law and defining the legitimacy of either party, no substantive differences over administration since coordination was enabled without any element of coercion, and, since issues of justice and democracy were totally ignored, the deal did not offer any opportunities for those advocating social change.

What about the charges of Palestinian idealists who viewed the agreement critically as simply opportunistic? Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow in the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, argued in The Conversationalist that the deal vindicated the Israeli right’s “long-held narrative” that if Israel maintained its military strength and refused to compromise, “the international community and the Arab world would ultimately accept Israel on its own terms.” Yet the settlers’ Yesha Council condemned the agreement because it suspended the annexation process. They were far less interested in how Arabs looked at Israel than in any obstacles put in the way of their maximalist ambitions.

Netanyahu had used the agreement to escape from the corner in which he had taken himself with an inability to satisfy his base, his right-wing critics or the Americans. The UAE Agreement offered an end run around the problem. Therefore, Israeli domestic politics proved to be the determining factor in forging the agreement and explains why it had wide support among Jewish Israelis.

Look at the way the Americans played it when the deal they had worked on for three-and-a-half years was so easily shuttled to the sidelines. President Trump’s Senior Adviser, Jared Kushner, turned it into a positive outcome. President Trump “was able to get Israel to agree to have a two-state solution with the Palestinians — and, for the first time in history, to agree to a map that outlined the territory that they would be willing to work with.” There was no such spin by Netanyahu, his government or the Knesset. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu explicitly denied that he had accepted a Palestinian state and a definition of Israeli borders. But facts have never counted for much in the Trump regime.

The question, however, for the UAE, is why they get no credit from the Palestinians for preventing Israeli unilateral annexation of West Bank territory — a critical accomplishment. Do the Palestinians not see this as a gain possibly worthy of bargaining leverage? The answer is simple – by and large they do not. As a result, one can expect the breach between the UAE and the Palestinians to grow further.

Similarly, Netanyahu and his followers seem to be much more concerned with short-term political gains by retaining as wide as possible support for the deal and minimizing the ammunition given to opponents, putting challenges to Bibi’s leadership once again on the back burner, and offering a distraction to the COVID-19 crisis that has been so badly handled. At the same time, he retains the much larger victory of the paradigm shift of focusing on peace for peace versus peace for land. Given that, what does it matter if he does not satisfy the idealist interest in clarity and transparency, especially when the deal in itself weakens the Israeli Left and the peace camp even further.

Part III: Israel and the UAE: A Palestinian Perspective

I begin with the Palestinians since they are so greatly outnumbered by the positive support the deal has received. It is a perspective many if not most readers probably have not encountered. Though I refer to other voices, I focus primarily on one Palestinian, Marwa Fatafta, who appeared on a Foundation for Middle East Peace Webinar on 1 September with Sam Bahour and Elizabeth Tsurkov whose views I will discuss in two subsequent blogs.

Various rival Palestinian factions appeared to be united in their objection to the deal, one of the few items on which they were united. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting with those factions, including both Fatah and the PLO along with (through video-conference between Ramallah and Beirut) Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah, presented a united front against the Israel-UAE deal to normalize ties. Ironically, very soon after, Palestinian Authority officials expressed a desire to renew security coordination with Israel, in spite of the apparent united opposition to the deal.

Critics come from many different directions and include other states which condemned the deal. Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, attacked the UAE government for normalizing ties with Israel, accusing the country of “committing treason against the Islamic world, the regional nations and Palestine.” Tehran’s foreign minister described the agreement as a “dagger … unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims.” “The deal will pave the way for Israeli influence in the region” and will throw into oblivion the Palestinian question” when Palestine is a country that has been “usurped by Israel.”

Turkey also called the deal “unforgivable” and “hypocritical.” The Middle East “will never forget and will never forgive this hypocritical act by the UAE,” declared Turkey which threatened to withdraw Turkey’s envoy from the UAE. “The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pronounced.

What a statement of blatant hypocrisy!  Turkey retains its embassy and ambassador in Tel Aviv even though, at a time when Israeli-Turkish relations were much friendlier, Turkey had previously downgraded its relations with Israel following the 1956 Sinai War and after the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law in 1980. Erdogan personally visited Israel in 2005, admittedly with the ostensible purpose of advancing the peace process.

Turkey signed and ratified an agreement on reconciliation with Israel in 2016. Among its terms, Turkey cancelled all appeals against Israeli soldiers involved in the killing of the nine “unarmed” volunteers bringing assistance on the Mavi Marmara to the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. Israeli soldiers being dropped by helicopter were attacked by those on board the ship with clubs, iron rods and knives, resulting in nine soldiers being wounded, two allegedly by bullets from those on board. 2010 was the low point in Turkish-Israeli relations. In the reconciliation agreement, Turkey agreed to prevent terrorist or military activity against Israel on Turkish soil, including stopping all funding and aid to organizations advocating terror. Turkey also agreed that all aid for Gaza would pass through Israel.

Iran was not hypocritical since Israel is its intrepid foe. Iran insisted that Palestine replace Israel and not simply that Palestine be recognized as a state alongside Israel. The foreign minister of Turkey, in contrast, affirmed the two-state formula and called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the independent Palestinian state. If Turkish charges were hypocritical and hysteric, Iran’s claims were contradictory. If the UAE agreement with Israel would soon fall apart, how could it throw into oblivion the Palestine question? It is difficult to detect a pattern in such irrational responses that seem to be made far more to express outrage and for public consumption than as articulations of policy and thought-out positions.

Though the Palestinians were also outraged at the agreement, some articulated clear positions which they defended with arguments. Their claims fit within an historical context beginning with the historical presumption that the swath of land through the Middle East was the exclusive territory of Arabs and, for many, Muslim Arabs. There is a standard explicit or implicit trope behind the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in Arab countries, Jews are a foreign ethnic group engaged in systematic and conspiratorial efforts to undermine the mystical union between the people and their fatherland. The arrival and ideology of the Zionists when they came to Palestine disrupted the natural historical process of self-determination for the Arabs in Palestine.

Within this context, Palestinian nationalism was conceived that eventually emerged as the central Arab signature cause. The Arab states’ loss in 1948 and their even more devastating and demoralizing 1967 defeat by Israel forced the revolutionary Arab nationalist movements and republics to accept a measure of coexistence with the traditional Arab monarchies. That served several purposes. First, in the face of the imperial aggression and Arab victimization, pan-Arabic nationalist sentiment was aroused among the masses and pan-Arabic nationalism became the guardian of what it meant to be an Arab. It also meant that identification as an Arab, even for the anti-nationalist monarchies, became intricately tied to hostility towards Israel and Jews more generally. Historic religious antisemitism in the Middle East, to the degree that it existed, morphed into ethnic antisemitism.

Marwa Fatafta insisted that the Israel-UAE deal marked another turning point in the long saga of Arab and Palestinian oppression and victimization in the pursuit of Palestinian self-determination which emerged in the 1960s to partner with pan-Arab nationalism. Corrupt and sclerotic Palestinian leaders in the Palestinian Authority had betrayed their own people. Within this continued tale of woe and despair, Fatafta called for a resurrection of the moribund PLO, a militant organization theoretically pledged to confront Israel and one which linked Palestinians not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but those living in both Israel and the diaspora. Surprisingly, instead of putting forth a doctrine that the Middle East needed a new and more sophisticated political consciousness (and the death of the old one), Fatafta went back to resurrect the old one that was central to the claim of Arab (and Muslim) predominance through all of the Middle East.

Marwa Fatafta is no fanatic. She was a Fulbright scholar. She holds an MA in International Relations from Syracuse University and an MA in Development and Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen. She is a policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, and an expert on digital rights. She had worked in Jerusalem as the Communications Manager for the British Consulate-General. In light of changing events, of which the UAE-Israeli Agreement was but one prominent instance, she has pushed for reclaiming the PLO and resurrecting its legitimacy as a basis for re-engaging Palestinian youth and directly confronting Israel. Though she is not always clear whether she intends that confrontation to be non-violent, her MA thesis explicitly advocated non-violence. The Israeli-UAE agreement marked a switching point for the resurrection of the PLO.

She asks: How can the PLO maintain accountability as both a national liberation movement and governing body? How might Hamas and Islamic Jihad be integrated after decades of exclusion? What models of Palestinian youth leadership can be further developed? It is quite clear that she voices the view of many Palestinians who have given up on the peace process with Israel. In her program, she joins Nijmeh Ali who holds a BA from Haifa University and an MA from Hebrew University in calling for a return to resistance as the only way the powerless can express power and oppressed groups can create change. Both work and share beliefs with Dana El Kurd, also a Shabaka member with a PhD in Government from The University of Texas at Austin specializing in Comparative Politics and International Relations.

These are no slouches. They oppose the authoritarianism of the Palestinian and Arab state leaders, the assaults on freedom of expression, press freedoms and civil society, but also what they view as the oppression of Israel. The UAE-Israel deal marks a clear dividing line when it became clear that Palestinians could not count on the support of any Arab authoritarian leader to achieve their freedom. Further, they see a continuity in Palestinian history from the time Palestinians were under the heels of the corrupt and authoritarian Ottoman leadership, the colonial might of Britain and then the Israelis who usurped Palestinians lands, evicted Palestinians who became refugees and reduced Palestinians in Israel to second class citizens and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to third class non-citizens. It is a tale of continuous disenfranchisement that will only end when Palestinians acquire their own state.

Their diachronic vision of before and after and from here to there is complemented by a synchronic view shared in part by all observers that the deal marks a dramatic shift from negotiations of land for peace to one of peace for peace, from an inside-outside peace process to an outside-inside one. On the other hand, they clearly have the view that they belong to those below and that those above, whether in the Palestinian government, Arab authoritarian states and in Israel that have their knee on Palestinian necks, need to be changed. The Palestinians need to rise up and their preference seems to be through the use of non-violence, though unrest in the streets so easily turns into violence.

This fits in with a long held assumption in the region that if the leaders of Arab states in the region betray the Palestinians, if they undercut their effort to get a state of their own, if they fail to stand against Israel, they would face serious domestic problems. Further, the appeal of these Palestinian critics was not only to youth and the street, but to an alliance with all people who are oppressed around the world, whether active in Black Lives Matter or other movements of protest against their governments and the ruling class. That is their struggle. That is what they express a willingness to die for, though it seems more cerebral and driven by reflection rather than fear. They view all the issues discussed as merely transactional, none having to do with morality or justice, and not one in service of ordinary people, whether the matters are ones of financial and technological cooperation, flights or security.

This connection is, ironically, supported by Prime Minister Netanyahu who connects strategy and diplomatic foreign policy successes with commercial, entrepreneurial and military strength at home. Palestinians point out that the other correlate is corruption that is pervasive through the whole region. Political systems in Arab states, and in Palestine, are controlled by ruling elites who abuse their power to the disadvantage of the ordinary citizen. The institutions lack accountability mechanisms, anti-corruption laws and regulations, at least none that are enforced. The crackdown on political dissent, free speech, independent media and civil society organizations has intensified.

This past year, however, the UAE had the best score on the corruption, oppression and anti-freedom index than ever before. “This may be due to good and efficient management of public finances, improved public procurement and better access to public services and infrastructure. However, despite their high ranking, these monarchies place severe restrictions on civil and public freedoms and suppress any form of political dissent or criticism placed on the ruling families.” For these critics, civic space has to become more open, has to become free.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is no longer the Middle East’s primary geopolitical fault line as Gulf regimes in fear of Iran’s growing regional power and hegemonic ambitions, to one degree or another, quietly or more openly, align with Israel without necessarily fully normalizing ties as Egypt, Jordan and the UAE have done. The cold and proxy hot wars between Iran and most Arab states is a distraction from the needs of the oppressed in all the countries of the region. Hence, the UAE-Israel deal is but a key building block in cementing the position of the two opposing Middle East camps, neither of which represents the man in the street.

For Palestinian critics, the so-called peace deal is but an arrangement to reinforce the hot and cold wars and to shift the balance of power in Yemen, Libya and Syria away from insurgents in theatres where the UAE for one has stumbled badly. These Palestinian critics want to shift attention back to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but only by linking a reborn Palestinian nationalism with encouraging rebellion in the Arab surveillance states. The UAE, and other authoritarian Arab states in the region, have purchased Israeli spyware. UAE did so to attack the IPhone of human rights activist, Ahmed Mansour, using a rare, zero-day, Israeli exploit of Apple’s iOS.

Palestinians have been the guinea pigs in this dismal record of human rights violations and the orchestrated campaign to dehumanize and delegitimize them. Therefore, it is no surprise that the head of Mossad led the Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi. Israeli spies and businessmen would no longer need to use foreign passports for travel to the UAE. The deal was, as Iran and Turkey both declared, a stab in the back. It was an arms deal, a diplomatic deal, a financial deal and anything but a peace deal. For that reason, though it was a course-changer, it remained peripheral to the central issue, the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The Israel-UAE agreement offered proof positive that all previous agreements, especially the Oslo Accords, were null and void. The ancient Palestinian leadership clings to the still-born child of Oslo and offer verbal declarations and no action. Changes have been facilitated by a marriage of Israeli and American lies that unite the authoritarian trends within each country to the reality of authoritarian regimes in the Arab world.

The young Palestinian leaders within a renewed PLO offer a consensus-building mechanism, elections, accountability and transparency, empowered because Palestinians are a crisis-oriented people characterized by resilience, solidarity and a refusal to be turned into victims. Instead of surrendering to anger, disappointment, and despair, they are committed to mobilization and constructive activism.

Part II Israeli and the UAE: The Frame

As a simple commentator on its contents and apparent benefits and shortcomings, the initial blog (Part I), slightly edited, depicted the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Republic (UAE). In the following series of blogs, I want to re-examine the pact in more depth and at several steps removed, not simply because a few weeks have passed since the parties signed on and Israeli and American delegations have visited Abu Dhabi, but I want to rise above the fray and examine the conflicting interpretations and responses to the agreement.

First, a few basic facts. The UAE, the Emirates, is a federation of seven absolute monarchies ruling seven political entities – Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ros Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. They are combined into a federation that was created in 1971 when the polities emerged from their status as British protectorates. Qatar and Bahrain declined to join the federation; neither will follow the UAE in entering an agreement with Israel at the present time in spite of the ballyhoo to the contrary.

Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani reiterated to Jared Kushner in Doha on 2 September that Qatar, which itself has been the target of an embargo by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt (denying Qatar access to their air space), remains committed to a two-state solution as a condition of a peace deal with Israel and that his country backs the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, calling on Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders (the Green Line) in exchange for diplomatic recognition from Arab states. Bahrain, which is an ally of the UAE, followed with its own announcement that there would be no deal until Palestine was recognized as a state, but this did not stop the country (as well as Oman) continuing negotiations on trade and security arrangements.

Given the Trump Peace to Prosperity proposal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is based on a spaghetti configuration of borders, the UAE, in contrast to Qatar or Bahrain, can easily identify with that situation given its own past struggle with its internal and external borders. Unlike most states which envisioned the enclave idea and borders in the proposed Trump peace deal that were three times as long as the existing borders as a supposedly impossible mishmash, the Emirates were not discombobulated by the complexity of the plan, even as they continued to insist that the Green Line had to be the reference point for resolving the border between an Israeli and a Palestinian state. The UAE also had its own struggles with external as well as internal borders.

The UAE is a Sunni regime that borders Iran to the north, a Shiite regime with hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Qatar lies to the west, Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south and west. Iranian ambitions go back long before the current religious regime for Iran has long claimed territory it once controlled during the Safavid empire. The day before independence in 1971, an Iranian destroyer group took the Tunb islands that had been part of the UAE, forcing the population to flee. Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Qasimi was also forced by the Shah of Iran to cede the island of Abu Musa to Iran for $3 million a year. The UAE border with Oman was not settled until 2008. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have never formally settled their dispute over the Buraimi Oasis.

The UAE is also a minnow in a sea of political whales with a population of only about ten million (the UN estimates the 1 July 2020 population at 9,890,402), roughly a similar size to Israel (UN estimate 8,655,535). However, in the case of the UAE, just 15% are Emirati citizens; the rest are ex-pats.

Perhaps the most important comparison of the UAE and Israel is in their respective ambitions. Israel is a research gold star. It has more Nobel Prizes per capita than the United States, France and Germany. Israel has eight universities and a host of other post-secondary institutions. It is recognized as the “start-up nation” with more hi-tech start-ups per capita than anywhere else and second only to the U.S. in absolute numbers, an astounding performance for a country of less than nine million. Look at this sample list of a myriad of innovations:

  • The USB drive
  • The Firewall, a cornerstone of cyber security to protect against malware
  • The SniffPhone that can detect cancerous tumours, Parkinson’s dementia, multiple sclerosis and other diseases
  • Re-Walk, the battery pack exoskeleton for paraplegics to enable them to walk
  • The PillCam, the swallowable miniature camera to diagnose infection, intestinal disorders and cancers in the digestive system
  • The flexible stent used to open up arteries to treat coronary heart disease and blockages
  • Azilect, a drug for Parkinson’s disease
  • Copaxone immunomodulator to treat multiple sclerosis.

These are but a few of the many discoveries in mathematics, computer science, chemistry, biotechnology, physics, robotics, optics, economics, agriculture and, of course, defence, including the iron dome system to protect Israel from missile attacks. The UAE has for years admired Israel’s education and research accomplishments, It recognizes that this is not because it is populated by Jews, for Druzim teenagers now perform the best on competitive Israeli examinations. Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dabai, developed the UAE into a transportation (both aviation and maritime) and business hub and used the country’s oil and gas revenues to develop first class educational and health systems as well as infrastructure. The rulers of the UAE envision many possible synergies between the two countries, including tourism that, until the COVID-19 crisis, has expanded so much in Israel.

I now offer an intellectual frame for analyzing the agreement and the different perspectives on it, a framework that goes back to my work as a graduate student. I then called it the dialectic of correlative coherence, but kept this title hidden as too pompous as I utilized parts of that frame to undertake analyses. If you are put off my abstract theory, a reader can skip the rest of this blog and simply go directly to the analysis that begins with the next blog tomorrow.

At its most basic level, there are diachronic and synchronic elements. The two diachronic dimensions are: a) a divided one of before and after; and b) a uniting one of from here to there, say from birth to death or from independence to collapse. The first is a clear point of division in time. The second is a continuity over time flowing from past to future.

There is a general consensus that the UAE-Israeli accord  is a game changer, that for Palestinians totally upset at the agreement, it is the trigger in a development long underway and under the radar that has awoken them up to an over-reliance on Arab states and Arab initiatives in the peace process. They themselves have to change course. For Israeli peaceniks, it is an important milestone after 26 years since the Jordanian and the 42-year-old Egyptian peace agreement. It is the first peace agreement between a non-belligerent non-frontline Arab state and Israel. Further, instead of just grudging acceptance of Israel, the UAE-Israel Agreement envisions a much broader and deeper relationship. For Israeli (and American) realists, it is proof positive that peace can be advanced by end runs rather than trying to get butting heads to back up and take a different route.

The diachronic dividing line can be correlated with a birth of a nation out of conflict and moving towards peace, either as a result of the demonstration of strength (Netanyahu) or a substantive change in attitude toward Israel by Arab regimes, or, in the case of Palestinian critics, away from the sidetrack of the fruitless negotiations of Oslo, that brought them no nearer to a state of their own, towards a renewal of resistance and possible violence. Thus, the analysis is supplemented and complemented by a synchronic analysis. The first is an inside/outside frame. Normally, in conflict analysis, there are allies (the inside) versus enemies (the outside). In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the inside refers to the core of the conflict over land and the outside to relations between Israel and other Arab states with which Israel has no dispute over territory. The inside meant pursuing a land for peace deal and the outside, now that Jordan and Egypt have made deals long ago, a peace for peace deal without any land being exchanged.

On the synchronic side, we have the above identical view various groups examining the deal – it represented a switch from an inside/outside approach to an outside/outside one. But there is another synchronous frame that reveals the greatest difference among different commentators. As above, I have taken only three groups: Palestinians who are severe critics of the deal; peaceniks (Israeli and diaspora) presumably detached but who offer qualified applause for the agreement; agents (Israeli, Arab, American) that pushed the deal and offer their enthusiastic support. All three groups analyze the deal in terms of winners and losers, who came out on top and who appear to be losers. 

The synchronic dimension that focuses on inside/outside has universal agreement; this is a peace for peace deal that inverts the discussions of the last 75 years of agreements based on land for peace. Previously the core of the debate was how much land, including possibly all of it for extremists on either side, needed to be traded for peace. We now have an agreement that required no land to be surrendered. But each group of commentators has a different view of the winners and losers.

In sum, as the base of the frame, we have:

Diachronic:  a) before/after – a point of divide

                   b) beginning and end – a lineal connection

Synchronic: a) inside/outside, a process of inversion – peace for peace versus land for peace

              b) above and below as the parties are torn between a cause to die for, to sacrifice for (desire) and an end to live for (life) in terms of which winners and losers can be determined.

The next level of analysis operates on the political plane in terms of the key players. For Palestinian critics, it is the street, whether the Palestinians in the street who are angry and distraught distinguished by their inept and ossified undemocratic leadership, or the ordinary disenfranchised Arab citizens in the UAE as distinct from their absolute monarchs, the weak Left in Israel as distinct from the imperialistic deceiving Right leadership, or the wider global protest movements – e.g. Black Lives Matter – with whom the Palestinians must ally and to whom they now believe they must appeal in order to emerge victorious.

Then there are those who are neither in the street nor in their posh governing offices. They are ordinary citizens in every case who go about their business largely indifferent to politics, but among them are cohorts that must and can be aroused to join one side or the other. There are also the literati, the journalists, the academics as well as the judicial and administrative observers and assessors of the political dynamic underway who are supposed to be detached from the passions but are determined to influence the average citizen. They bring one type of cerebral approach to their work, but one which is very different than a third group, the political executives, their advisers and cheerleaders who see opportunities and challenges and calculate possibilities as committed agents in the fray. The latter if they are to lead, must combine passion with calculation.

These are the players. But what drives them? What are the end goals of each group and what are their motives? What are their fears and what are their passions? We are not talking just about their hearts and minds, but their guts and, in the end, the thymos or thumos, that for which they are willing to sacrifice, that for which they are willing to live and die. It is the desire for recognition. In the words of the Emirati national anthem, “long live my nation, my country, which I serve sincerely. Long live the flag, we sacrifice our souls for our country.”

Finally, in addition to the political realms within a polity and the socio-psychological analysis of what drives each group, there are the specific issues. I have already indirectly discussed the financial issue and the expected cooperation on tourism, high-tech production, education, research and capital investment. Just before the plane took off to return the Israeli delegation, both sides announced a deal aimed at joint investment and removal of financial barriers, including the recognition of Israeli credit cards in the UAE.

At the most basic level for a polity, there is always territory and access to it. However, this is a case of post-WWII agreements in which once again territory was not the key factor. But didn’t Israel plan to annex parts of the West Bank? Didn’t the initiative by Netanyahu frighten the world that this could be a prelude to war? Did not the Emirates insist on and get a deal in inverse, peace in return for no territory – that is, for Israel? That depends on the interpretation that itself has to be assessed. For how long has annexation been suspended? Was there a side agreement, an exchange of letters? Did the U.S. offer guarantees? Halting and suspending the annexation, taking it off the table, is not the same as cancelling. Most significantly, the English and Arabic accounts of the Israel-UAE agreement differ, the former referring to the “suspension” of the annexation and the latter to the agreement “being stopped.”

If giving up annexation has to be evaluated, the physical linkage between Israel and the UAE was there for everyone to see. An Israeli airline flew over Saudi Arabian air space for the first time to land in Abu Dhabi. Clearly an agreement over landing rights as well as the use of Saudi air space, had to be part of the deal, even if Saudi Arabia was not ostensibly a signatory to the agreement. And it was not. Nevertheless, on 1 September, Saudi Arabia announced that all flights to and from the UAE to Israel will be permitted to use Saudi airspace. Bahrain followed. Was the UAE a stalking horse for a Saudi initiative? Will Oman, Sudan and Bahrain follow in UAE’s footsteps?

At least not very soon, though Bahrain had been expected to be the next state to sign a peace agreement with Israel before the UAE deal was announced. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain told Jared Kushner that Saudi Arabia was the regional power and that Bahrain would follow, not precede, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman then told Jared Kushner that Saudi Arabia would not make an agreement with Israel until the Palestinians have their own state. But that evidently does not prevent Saudis from engaging in a number of economic partnerships and projects with Israelis, including the creation of a high-tech hub northwest of the Neorn region in Saudi Arabia.

There is another interesting note about that first flight. The plane was named Kiryat Gat. Kiryat Gat was the spot where Israel and Egypt signed an armistice agreement on 24 February 1949. Further, Kiryat Gat was built on the site of the destroyed Palestinian village of Iraq al-Manshiyya from which Palestinians fled to become refugees.

There is another issue concerning place and space. Where will the UAE embassy be located? Everyone, or almost everyone expected it to be in Tel Aviv, but the UAE surprised most observers by announcing that the embassy might be in Haifa or Nazareth with a large Arab-Israeli population. Jerusalem Mayor, Moshe Lion, would not stop pushing Jerusalem. He lobbied to get the UAE to put the embassy in Jerusalem, where he claims, with Israeli incentives and UAE partners, Israel can turn East Jerusalem into a high-tech hub. One additional issue concerns East Jerusalem – access to the Temple Mount.

The Vision for Peace contained a provision that: a) all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at Al Aqsa Mosque, and b) Jerusalem’s other holy sites, presumably including the Temple Mount, will remain open to worshippers of all faiths. That means that if Israel decides a Muslim visitor to the mosque poses a threat, that individual can be denied entry. Further, Jews who come in peace are guaranteed access to the Temple Mount.

There is the fourth and most important space issue, that of Iran which borders the UAE and for which Israel is the only formidable rival in the Middle East standing in the way of its hegemonic ambitions. For most observers, that is probably the most important reason that the UAE entered into the deal. We will have to see how various parties interpret the importance of this factor. It seems evident that the UAE is attracted to making a deal to obtain the value of Israel’s nuclear umbrella.

Part I Israel and the UAE: An Introduction

In the following series of blogs I want to analyze the Israel-UAE deal from a number of different perspectives, but within a common analytical frame. By way of introduction, I am recirculating the blog below, very slightly edited, that I sent out just after the announcement of the deal on 13 August 2020. If you remember it, you can avoid a reread. I am repeating and writing at a greater depth into the Israel-UAE Agreement because I think it is one of the most significant agreements of the last two decades. In the words of Nimrod Novik, it is a “pioneering step of historic proportions.” I will try to make that point through my analysis.

Just over three weeks ago, President Donald Trump, with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) online, announced that they had reached an agreement called the Abraham Accord in open acknowledgement of a thesis pushed by the Abu Dhabi leadership that Jews and Muslims are brothers since they are all children of Abraham. There are two synagogues in Abu Dhabi. The newly erected Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi contains a mosque, church, and synagogue. One of my close friend’s grandsons recently had the second Bar Mitzvah ever in the UAE.

Donald Trump was given credit for brokering the deal as the agreement was announced following the three-way conversation between Netanyahu, Crown Prince bin Zayed of Dubai and U.S. president Donald Trump. However, his credit goes back further, to the fact that his first foreign trip was to the Gulf (perhaps also for his own self-interest) at a time when Congress was considering limiting military assistance to Arab states and even imposing sanctions.

The Israel-UAE deal is the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state. There has been a long gap, almost twenty-six years, since the last one between Jordan and Israel, the Wadi Araba Treaty, signed in 1994. The latter agreement has been under extreme stress following Israel’s announced plans to extend sovereignty into parts of the West Bank.

The Israel-UAE agreement is really a game changer for both critics and cheerleaders, and in spite of Jared Kushner making the same claim. It will not lose that status even though a game changer in the very opposite direction took place the very next day. The United States suffered a totally humiliating and unprecedented defeat in the United Nations Security Council when the U.S. could only muster one additional vote, that of the Dominican Republic, and only after a great deal of personal diplomacy expended by Mike Pompeo in his visit to America’s one supporter. The Security Council refused to support America’s resolution to extend the arms embargo against Iran that expires in two months.

Israel’s negotiations had been underway with the UAE for some time. (For a record of the long history of contacts preceding even these negotiations, see Steve Hendrix, “Inside the secret-not-secret courtship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” The Washington Post, 14 August 2020.) Actual negotiations over the last few years were kept highly secret lest Iran try to sabotage the deal. UAE’s Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, have been engaged in secret negotiations for over a year. The discussions were accelerated in June when Israel announced its plans to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank and when, at the end of June, al-Otaiba proposed to Jared Kushner and White House envoy Avi Berkowitz that, “the UAE would agree to normalization with Israel in return for an Israeli announcement that West Bank annexation was off the table.”

Recall al-Otaiba’s unprecedented front-page op-ed in Hebrew in Yediot Ahronot on 11 June. He wrote that Israel was an opportunity not an enemy. The only obstacle to better relations between the UAE and Israel was the planned annexation of the occupied West Bank. This was a clear signal to influence the Israeli debate on West Bank annexation while creating the opening for a UAE-Israel deal. Annexation would upend warmer ties with the Gulf states, al-Otaiba had warned.

In the oval office electronic hook-up, the two countries stated that they had agreed to exchange embassies and ambassadors, establish direct air flights between the two countries and enhance trade. As a quid pro quo for recognition, as described by Israel, Israel agreed to suspend, but not renounce, its plans for annexation as a concession to the United States and the Trump administration. Bin Zayed claimed that Israel had agreed to stop annexation. Al-Monitor erroneously opined that, “The announcement yesterday on normalizing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reflects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s realization that he must abandon his annexation plan.” Though both depictions described the same action, each party gave it their own twist. Further, Trump reinforced bin Zayed’s position by insisting that annexation was now off the table.

The UAE agreed to invest in the Israeli initiative to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. Citizens from the UAE would also be allowed to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Over the past year, the two countries had already been engaged in direct negotiations over water and energy. Shared interests in security and economic cooperation had provided the foundation for the agreement. However, bin Zayed referred to the deal as a “roadmap” rather than a full agreement on normalization.

Nevertheless, Trump said that he expected the final agreement will be ready and signed in Washington three weeks from the date of the announcement. That time is up and there is still no published agreement. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen lead the delegation the following week to Abu Dabai to meet with Gulf leaders to fill in the agreement. Trump also observed that, “opening direct ties between two of the Middle East’s most dynamic societies and advanced economies” would spur growth and forge “closer people-to-people relations.” Bilateral agreements in tourism, security, telecommunications, technology and healthcare can be expected to follow.

Though Trump received overall credit, three individuals in the administration were acknowledged for special credit in advancing the deal – Special Adviser to the President, Jared Kushner, Special Representative for International Negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, and US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Jason Greenblatt and Brian Hook also probably played a part. Trump announced that this was but the first in a series of breakthrough events forthcoming. The implication was that Bahrain was likely to come next followed by other peace agreements between Israel and Gulf States, such as Oman, and Sudan suggested other White House voices, although Bahrain explicitly denied that claim and insisted that Bahrain would not enter any deal until recognition of a Palestinian state took place. However, soon after, the government also announced that all states would henceforth be entitled to use its airspace. Oman has already cheered the agreement. Egypt joined the cheerleading squad.

The right in Israel has trumpeted the success. Instead of peace for land they had negotiated peace for peace. Peace with the Palestinians even as a goal had not been made a condition of the agreement. The Palestinian veto over any deal had been removed. Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, claimed that the deal, “takes away one of the key incentives for Israel to end its occupation — normalization with the Arab world. It basically tells Israel it can have peace with an Arab country in return for postponing illegal theft of Palestinian land.” 

Certainly, the Israelis had not conceded to moving back to the Green Line and evacuating settlements. Jerusalem was not divided nor had the Israeli government agreed even to recognize a Palestinian state as called for in the Trump Peace Plan. Except the other side claimed that Israel, in taking annexation off the table, had indeed exchanged land for peace. On the other hand, Naftali Bennett of Yamina, while welcoming the agreement as a great success and breakthrough, denounced the concession of suspending plans to extend Israeli sovereignty. Netanyahu was accused by the Israeli extreme right of trading Judea and Samaria for flights to Abu Dabai. At the other end of the spectrum, left wing critics of Israeli occupation and supporters of Palestine criticized the agreement and claimed that de jure annexation may be suspended but de facto annexation would continue.

In fact, the prospect of a deal has been on the horizon for over a year. Since 2015 when the Iran nuclear deal had been signed, the Gulf States had been engaged in national security cooperation with Israel against their Iranian rival and perceived threat. The Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan also fear radical Sunnis such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Iran, of course, renounced the deal as a betrayal of the Palestinians. Turkey announced that the peoples of the region “will never forget and will never forgive this hypocritical behavior” by the UAE. Both the Palestinian Authority and Mk Mtanes Shehadeh of the Joint List joined in the criticism. Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the tripartite US-UAE-Israel agreement “a crime by the UAE against Palestinians.”  Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Mubadara party, called the Israeli-UAE agreement a “stab in the back of Palestinians.” Surprisingly, even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, self-described as a “passionate defender of Israel,” also criticized the deal.

However, the deal explicitly fit in with Netanyahu’s policy of creating a precedent for setting aside the Palestinian veto on making peace in the region with other states. Almost all of Donald Trump’s American critics and opponents welcomed the breakthrough without qualification while trumpeting the concession on annexation. Joe Biden said that, “the UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave and badly-needed act of statesmanship. Annexation would be a bloody blow to the course of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president.” For the UAE, this might have reinforced their fears that an imminent Biden presidency might mean a restoration of the Obama doctrine of balance and re-opening ties with Iran, thus possibly explaining the push to complete a deal before the November election.

Strong critics of Netanyahu also praised the deal. The Israel Policy Forum applauded “the historic announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be normalizing relations. Israel’s broader acceptance in the region is good for Israel and good for American interests in the Middle East, and we hope that other countries will follow suit. We also applaud the announcement that, in return for normalized ties, Israel will be suspending its plans to annex part of the West Bank, as envisioned by the Trump initiative. Annexation remains the single biggest threat to Israeli peace with its neighbors and its full acceptance in the region, and we call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to remove annexation as a policy option entirely rather than temporarily suspend its implementation.”

IPF went on to insist that as welcome as the agreement was, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the major issue. A peace for peace that simply maintained the status quo was inimical and unjust to Palestinian interests. However, acknowledging that annexation had been an obstacle to peace was itself progress. Nevertheless, sidelining the Palestinians, making them observers rather than actors in forging peace, was itself a blow to the status of the PA. It was also certainly a clear defeat for the forces that demonize and would destroy Israel as a state in the Middle East. Instead, Israel has been increasingly recognized as an integral and recognized state in the region.

The biggest winner appears to be Benjamin Netanyahu. He conceded not one of his basic positions. He demonstrated unequivocally that peace with the Arab world did not depend on resolving the Palestinian issue and certainly not on promising a state for the Palestinians. The outside-in approach was the winner versus the inside-out strategy of the Oslo Accords that started with the central issue, the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps Netanyahu had been correct all along – namely that, given Israel’s strategic capabilities, economic might, scientific and technological know-how, success as the upstart and start-up nation, and the shared interests of Israel and the Sunnis, regional peace with most states in the region is inevitable.

Further, in only suspending annexation plans, he accomplished two goals at once. He found a route out of his inability to deliver, not simply on the 1 July date, but in the immediate foreseeable future. For Benny Gantz would not agree to annexation without a U.S. imprimatur. And the U.S. had made it abundantly clear that they would not approve the annexation plans unless Netanyahu agreed to recognize a Palestinian state on the remainder of the West Bank lands. Netanyahu found a back door to escape an international as well as domestic embarrassment. As Ben Caspit commented, “The agreement with the UAE is a candy to dispel spreading bitterness, a pain relief tablet to ease the hangover plaguing Netanyahu’s electoral base since the heady White House event in late January at which the upcoming annexation was declared.” At the same time, Netanyahu did not concede or acknowledge the possibility of a two-state solution. Annexation remained a goal but not an achievable one for the present.

Others gave the credit to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defence Minister Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party. “Without them, there would not have been any official agreement with the UAE for the simple reason that they both took pains to block the annexation plans.”

Will annexation remain “an impenetrable impediment to normal and open relations between Israel and Arab states as Michael Koplow contends? Or by simply suspending and not renouncing annexation, did Netanyahu drive another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. After all, if Israel could not be induced to declare annexation dead, the likelihood of relocating the 450,000 living on the West Bank became even more problematic. The status quo of de facto rather than de jure annexation would remain.

Unfortunate as this may be, Netanyahu could mark up another victory for the Right, one that could be supported by most of the Left.

Power and Accountability: Parashat Shof’tim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

It is surprising to many to read how excellent a guide to politics the Book of Deuteronomy is. Parashat Shof’tim is at the heart of biblical political theory which roots politics in the rule of law and the rule of law in the pursuit of justice. “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Eternal your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) The U.S. Constitution mirrors precisely this precept. The people of the United States are constituted to form a more perfect union and “establish justice” to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” (Preamble U.S. Constitution)

The slogan of the Donald Trump regime has been, “Make America Great Again” and definitely not make America one again. There is no political biblical imperative to pursue greatness.  The slogan of the Joe Biden campaign is, “Make America whole again.” The object should be to unite the nation, not sew divisiveness. The object should be to provide a sense of normalcy not disruption and chaos. That requires attending to the security of the population (including domestic security from police violence), promoting the welfare of society and the liberty for all.

Yes, welfare. America must be a welfare state. The government is obligated to take care of the health and the education of its citizenry and ensure that the members of society have the jobs and the economic opportunities to do that. A society with thirty million unemployed does not do that. A society in which the government fails to provide strong leadership in defeating the coronavirus does not do that. A government that allows over 170,000 of its citizens to die in a pandemic to date does not do that. A government with 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the deaths resulting from a pandemic does not do that. A President who attacks and tries to remove the protections of The Affordable Care Act does not do that.

The more perfect union is a goal not a given. It presumes imperfection. It presumes that leaders will err. As Barack Obama said in his Wednesday evening speech, “I’m in Philadelphia, where our Constitution was drafted and signed. It wasn’t a perfect document. It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women — and even men who didn’t own property — the right to participate in the political process. But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide future generations; a system of representative government — a democracy — through which we could better realize our highest ideals. Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who’d once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal and more free.”

But the Constitution also presumes that politicians will be accountable for their errors. The most significant characteristic of the Trump regime is the refusal of Trump to acknowledge let alone take ownership of the many mistakes he has made and the gross inadequacy of his government. The president is accountable to the people not the people to kowtow to the president’s will.

In the spirit world of Donald Trump, in the fabulist world to which he belongs, participants can attend rallies protesting the wearing of masks or taking tests. Everyday people “can be reborn, leaving their world behind and subscribing to a new collective truth. This is where they find fellowship with other people who are upset enough about the same things, who hold the same fears and frustrations. This is where isolation ends, where communion begins.” (Leah Sottile, The New York Times) This is where freedom can be worshipped and fairness can be trashed, where lies can be spread and accountability ignored, where the Three Percenters and the followers of Q’Anon hang out and where a New World Order purportedly imposed on them can be resisted, where idolatry is the temper of the time. This is where we find Boogaloo and the expectation of an immanent cataclysm and even a new race war. The movement is anti-government, anti-law and anti-authority of any kind. They assemble purportedly to resist unconstitutional oppression. In the name of freedom, they subvert the rule of law and even the Constitution they supposedly proclaim to defend.

In Deuteronomy, in contrast, the president or the governing judges must “govern the people with due justice, with mishpat-tzedek.” (12:18) However, the bipartisan report of the Senate on Russian interference in the American 2016 election showed that the head of the Trump election campaign took bribes. Trump himself very recently retweeted part of a Russian campaign against Joe Biden. The current activities of the government in voter suppression, in opposing mail-in ballots, in falsely claiming that the system was subject to widespread fraud is clear evidence of an intention to bias the election rather than ensure fairness as obligated by Deuteronomy.

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God has given you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16:18) There must be fairness in the selection process and fairness in the administration. “You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes.” (16:19)

In accordance with the biblical injunction to select a king to rule over yourself, that king must not be a foreigner imposed on the people but one who comes from the people. According to the American constitution, he or she must be born in the United States or of parents with American citizenship. Only a non- king, only a pseudo king who is not from the people, would falsely challenge a rival for not being eligible. Hence, birtherism. Hence the charge that Barack Obama was not born in the USA. Hence the suggestion that Kamala Harris who was born in the United States but of parents who lacked citizenship at the time was not eligible.

The Americans in the 2016 election did not heed the advice to be wary of false prophets. They elected a diviner who insisted that COVID-19 would simply disappear. They elected a soothsayer who refused to face up to the facts and the rampant epidemic racing across the land. They chose a president who had more confidence in sorcerers than in scientists. They elected a leader who praised right-wing activist and GOP nominee in Florida, Laura Loomer, who boasted that she was a “ProudIslamaphobe,” who calls Muslims savages and contributed to the conspiracy site, Infowars. She claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre and the Parkland mass shooting were both hoaxes, a claim, which according to G.T. Lewis, a GOP candidate from Connecticut whose brother was murdered at Sandy Hook, made Loomer unacceptable as a GOP candidate.

But Donald Trump welcomed her victory as a candidate. Voters for Trump failed to heed the advice to “let no one be found among you who…is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits.” (18:10-11)

The ruler chosen by the people must be a man or woman of the people and not be one who has dedicated his life to amassing personal wealth (the ruler shall not “amass silver and gold to excess.” Deuteronomy 17:17) and use his political position to protect that wealth and increase it. The Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) of the U.S. Constitution prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or any other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives. But that is precisely what Trump’s minions did. And what Trump himself did. He did not need to conspire with the Russians to corrupt the American election. He needed only to openly benefit from that corruption. Trump went beyond that and welcomed the assistance.

While Deuteronomy advises that a ruler keep a copy of Deuteronomy, and specifically the political maxims guiding rule, by his or her side so that its contents might be regularly consulted (17:18), it does not advise the use of the volume as a prop for a photo-op in front of a church. What matters is reading the volume for guidance not holding the closed book aloft and upside down while your militias and federal officers club peaceful demonstrators.

“The one constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us — regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have — or who we voted for. But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.”

The king should be humble and not arrogant insisting that he is wiser than all his generals and advisers. If he fails as a ruler, he must be removed from office. Even before his term is up, he can and should be removed. Section four of Article II of the Constitution allows a process of removal from office “on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” And when legislators, such as American senators, subvert that process, they too must be removed from office at the next election.

Barack Obama, uniquely for an ex-president, finally laid into his successor. This is not a normal Convention. Times demanded the custom of courtesy be set aside. Donald Trump has been an existential threat to democracy and to the Constitution. Obama had hoped that Trump would rise to the task but had utterly failed — “and didn’t really even try.”

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves. Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever.”

As another presidential aspirant put it, “America is a democracy, not an autocracy or dictatorship. A hostile Congress for six of Obama’s eight years as president did whatever it could to stymie his policies and programs.  However, in spite of the race haters and obstructionists, particularly Republican legislators and right-wing extremists, by the end of his second term, President Obama left America and the world far better off than when he came into office.”

“Trump’s amateurish and uncaring mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, while seeking always to blame others for his tragic failures, has resulted in more than 170,000 American deaths and a wrecked American and global economy. Trump’s chaotic handling of the pandemic made America the global leader in coronavirus cases – in excess of five million, at the time of this commentary. The US economy is devastated, with millions of Americans losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands of businesses suffering significant economic losses, and tens of thousands of businesses permanently shuttered.”

Read Deuteronomy. As Hillary Clinton pleaded, “Don’t make 2020 another woulda coulda shoulda election.”

In Praise of Women

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Susan B. Anthony on the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. At the same time, Donald Trump has been actively and openly involved in suppressing the vote by opposing mail ballots with the false claim that mail ballots are subject to fraud and by trying, unsuccessfully in the end, to sabotage the American postal service. The 19th amendment is known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment because Anthony was found guilty in 1873 in New York State of illegally voting in the 1872 presidential election.

The 19th Amendment of the American Constitution was introduced in Congress in 1878 by Sen. Aaron A. Sargent of California. It took over 41 years for it to finally pass when Tennessee became the 36th state ratifying the amendment. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Canadians should know that their historical record was slightly worse. Women’s suffrage was granted in the three prairie provinces in 1916, by the federal government in a partial way in 1917 and fully in 1918. By 1922, all provinces except Quebec had granted suffrage to women.

After I finished premeds and began my first year of medical school in 1957, there were 16 women in our class of 160. There was a 10% quota for women. Our class was the first one at UofT’s medical school to elect a female student as class president. She was from Egypt. When we returned from the summer break in the Fall of 1958, she had not returned. She had died during the summer. She had become pregnant and sought a back-lane abortion. She contracted blood poisoning. Abortions were then illegal. In fact, so was the sale of birth control devices.

In 1936, Dorothea Palmer had been arrested in Ottawa and charged with advertising birth control, then a criminal obscenity under the Criminal Code of Canada. She was acquitted because the judge ruled that education about and distribution of contraceptives was a social good. Twenty years later, as the CAMSI (the Canadian Association of Medical Students and Interns) rep for my first-year medical class, I believe I was the first to use National Film Board documentaries to teach medical students at UofT about different methods of birth control. We have come a long way since then, not only with respect to abortion and contraceptives, but the majority of students now studying medicine at UofT are women. In 2018, 57% of acceptances were female.

We have also come a long way to the third day of the Democratic Party Convention in the U.S. The star of the first night was Michele Obama. The stars of the third night were Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. But the night was awash in female speakers. The emcee for the evening was once again a woman – Karry Washington who set the tone for the evening – “We are fighting for the soul of the country.”

Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton were all lead speakers culminating at the end of the evening with the address of Kamala Harris. Most of the attention of commentators was focused on Barack Obama’s very unique direct attack on Donald Trump and his all-out support for Joe Biden. (I will refer to that speech in tomorrow’s blog.) Further, this was the first evening devoted to substantive policy planks. The issues discussed – gun violence, climate change, childcare, immigration and the separation of children from their parents – were all powerful appeals, especially to women voters.   

In the 116th Congress, of the 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives, 198 are Republican of which 15 are women (7.5%). 232 are Democrats and 90 of them are women – 39%. (There is 1 Libertarian and there are 4 vacancies.) The Democratic Party has become a party for minorities, for women and for educated voters. Gabrielle (Gabby) Dee Giffords, who was a member of the House of representatives from the 8th congressional district in Arizona from January 2007 to January 2012, was featured on the issue of gun violence. She was shot in the head at close range on 8 January 2011, a day after my 73rd birthday. Because of her serious brain injuries, she did not run again. But in the 2020 Democratic Convention she was able to make a powerful appeal to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons and to close the loopholes on background checks.

A wide variety of young girls, and women spoke on the devastating affects on families and often to their American-born children because of Trump’s campaign to deport undocumented migrants. Many have lived for years in America, worked and paid taxes. Featured was a US Marine whose wife was deported to Mexico and separated from her children. Donald Trump as president was accused of using the weight of his office to attack the vulnerable, to undermine the long tradition of America welcoming the homeless in pursuit of the quest for freedom and economic security. Of the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, the Democratic Party National Convention featured two families of immigrants and their suffering as a result of the Trump harsh policies.

11-year-old Estela Juarez’s father, Temo, served in both the Marine and the National Guard. Her mother, Alejandra, came to the U.S. 22 years ago as an undocumented migrant. Estela was born in the U.S. and was, therefore, an American citizen. In 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement confiscated Alejandra’s Mexican passport and coerced her into self-deporting. Estela spoke directly to the TV audience. “My dad thought you would protect military families, so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President. He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family. Instead of protecting us, you tore our world apart.”

Donald Trump’s total lack of empathy in contrast to Joe Biden’s was a powerful theme of the evening and this episode was used to show that this flaw in his character had real world consequences for families. Jessica Silvia (she has spina befida) and her sister, Lucy Sanchez, were also featured addressing the audience in English as her mother, Lucia Sanchez, spoke in Spanish and described her ordeal in getting into the United States to save the life of her baby daughter. A number of the speakers referred to Trump’s policies that put children in cages and separated them form their families.

Donald Trump is reputedly a populist. But he was pictured as saying in reference to these illegals that, “They’re animals.” He treats them like animals; they are not eligible to receive medical assistance if they contract COVID-19. He appeals to that segment of the American public that wants to prosecute businesses for hiring aliens but he does not do that even though almost 70% of swing voters favour such action. He would have to prosecute his own businesses. Instead, he goes after undocumented aliens many of whom have been in the U.S. for years. He does so even though a clear majority of Americans favour landing them unless they have criminal records.

It is clear why Trump and the Republicans oppose the implementation of compassion in this case. They are overwhelmingly women-of-colour. They are already the fastest growing segment of voters in the United States. Since 2000, the voting-age population (CVAP) of women of color who are citizens has increased by 59 percent—a gain of more than 13.5 million potential votes They overwhelmingly vote Democrat. The Republicans adamantly do not want to add more to that total for that would condemn the party of Trump to permanent opposition. These women of colour turnout to vote in disproportionate numbers. They are now the backbone of the Democratic Party. Donald Trump is certainly not going to allow compassion to get in the way of efforts to diminish support for the Democratic Party, even if a majority of Americans favour such compassionate initiatives.

Over and over again, Trump’s lack of kindness, respect, civility and empathy was contrasted with that of Joe Biden. The tone shifted from compassion for others to survival of everyone in the segment of the Convention evening on climate change. The devastation to farmers, the floods and fires destroying homes and lives, were featured. But the challenge of environmental change was also presented as an opportunity to create high paying jobs in developing and operating the new technology.  Perhaps the Convention best reached younger voters by featuring Billie Eilish in a wispy white dress singing “My Future,” probably to counteract the widespread pessimism and even despair youth feel about their future in the face of climate change.

I can’t seem to focus
And you don’t seem to notice I’m not here
I’m just a mirror
You check your complexion
To find your reflection’s all alone
I had to go

Can’t you hear me?
I’m not comin’ home
Do you understand?
I’ve changed my plans

‘Cause I, I’m in love
With my future
Can’t wait to meet her
And I (I), I’m in love
But not with anybody else
Just wanna get to know myself

[Verse 2]
I know supposedly I’m lonely now (Lonely now)
Know I’m supposed to be unhappy
Without someone (Someone)
But aren’t I someone? (Aren’t I someone? Yeah)

I’d (I’d) like to be your answer (Be your answer)
‘Cause you’re so handsome (You’re so handsome)

But I know better
Than to drive you home
‘Cause you’d invite me in
And I’d be yours again

But I (I), I’m in love (Love, love, love, love)
With my future
And you don’t know her (Ooh)
And I, I’m in love (Love, love)
But not with anybody here
I’ll see you in a couple years

What an appeal to girls to love and appreciate themselves and have confidence in the future!

When Hillary Clinton spoke forcefully and without an ounce of self pity, her theme appropriately was redemption. “We’ll redeem.” We’ll redeem four horrific years. But she also stuck it to Donald Trump’s most sensitive spot and reminded everyone that she won the popular vote by three million votes. She remined voters that the Obama administration had left Trump with plans on how to manage a pandemic, but Trump not only failed to attend to the plan, but dismantled part of the government apparatus needed to implement the plan.  “What do you have to lose?” Trump had rhetorically asked in 2016. Hillary answered. Far more than even the most pessimistic of us expected. “Our health, our jobs, even our lives, our leadership in the world, and yes, our Post Office.”

Get out and vote. This was repeated over and over again during the evening. Biden and Harris “can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take it from me. We need numbers so overwhelming Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory.”

Then there was the theme of violence against women (and children). Mariska Hargitay an advocate for sexual assault survivors, and other professionals testified. But the most compelling was one head of a national organization, Ruth Glenn, who had been a victim of an abuser.

When it came to pushing the Democratic Party policy, none could do it better than a policy wonk like Elizabeth Warren. She artfully dodged the traps set by journalist questions intending to get her to criticize Joe Biden. She was the spokesperson for the Democratic economic platform. She emphasized “plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy.” But she spoke from an empty childhood care centre in Springfield Massachusetts that brought out her start as a teacher long before she became a Harvard professor. Daycare had to be as essential a part of the American infrastructure as roads and bridges. Biden and Harris “will make high-quality childcare affordable for every family, make preschool universal, and raise the wages for every childcare worker.”

However, the highlight of my evening was Kamala Harris and not even the speech by Barack Obama that I will touch on tomorrow. Not because she was engaged in pugilism and landing blows on Trump-Spence. For she all but ignored them. If she mentioned Trump once, I missed it. Instead, Kamala was introduced by her family members, by her formidable sister Maya and her up-and-coming niece, Meena, by her (step-) daughter and by the extensive blood and adopted family members who became part of her life.

She gave extensive and heartfelt tribute to her mother who raised her from the age of five and I could not help but think with gratitude of my own mother who raised three boys on her own. I ended the evening identifying with Kamala, appreciating her warm smile and determination rather than getting caught up in the details of the Democratic Party platform.

The whole evening was a tribute to women. I was struck deeply about how much I owe over the course of my whole life to them.

The Domestic Role of the Military in the USA

Spiraling Downwards Towards Authoritarianism

In 1949, U.S. military expenditures totaled 135,63B $US and rose to 633,56B $US in 2018, an increase of 470%. However, the value of the $US declined. A $US in 1949 was equivalent in purchasing power to $10.89 in 2020. If military expenditures had kept up with the declining purchasing value of the US$, the budget for military expenditures should have been 1,477,03B $US, slightly more than double its current total. Military expenditures could be said to have been more than halved in the last seventy years.

Except that trend was reversed under Donald Trump in 2018. The budget, which in 2015 declined and which held roughly steady in 2016 and 2017, was increased in 2018 from $60511B to $648,80B in 2018, an increase of 7.1%. However, as a percent of GDP, the increase was relatively more modest from 3.11% of GDP to 3.16% of GDP, a half point increase. However, a half point on a multi-billion- dollar budget still comes to $43,69B $US.

Authoritarian leaders, autocrats much more than oligarchies, love spending money on the military even when they are risk averse and even isolationist when committing troops for foreign wars. Bill Jordan in a recent article demonstrated that increased spending on armaments is a manifestation “of the links between militarism and the authoritarian turn.” It is also a signal of support for military-style rule, remembering that you do not have to be a military officer to favour that style of rule. You do not even have to favour any military conflict with other countries.  

Yet somehow this issue was not raised by anyone in the first two evenings of the Democratic Convention. It is clearly an issue, not only concerning the budget, not only concerning foreign entanglements, but in sketching scenarios for the transition from Trump to Biden. For on Monday Trump said that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged. This has been just one in a series of remarks implying his intent not to leave office and go easily into the night. As a result of such remarks, in June 2020, the Transition Integrity Project (TIP) was initiated by a bipartisan group of 100 current and former senior government and campaign leaders and other experts to ensure the horror of 1876 is not repeated, a scar on democracy that led to almost a century of Jim Crow.

As a result of TIP’s studies, the participants anticipated chaotic political and legal scenarios for the transition, each referring to a different way in which Trump is expected, by both legal and illegal means, to contest the results in an attempt to hold onto power. It is expected that he will be abetted by the Attorney General. The basic one is that the results of “electoral night” will not be respected. Trump will not concede, helped by the fact that there will still be very many ballots to be counted after election might because of voting by mail.

Lawsuits, propagandistic media campaigns and protests coming from all sides can be expected. TIF noted that, “Of particular concern is how the military would respond in the context of uncertain election results.” Without any analysis, TIF concluded that “recent evidence offers some reassurance, but it is inconclusive.” I presume TIF was referring to the refusal of the military to enable its troops to be used to put down peaceful protesters. I believe the fact that the House of Representatives avoided challenging the military budget may also have played a part to ensure the military remained neutral. This may also be part of the explanation for the absence of any criticism of the military budget thus far in the Democratic Convention.

On the Monday evening opening of the new style Democratic Party Convention, Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders were the headline speakers. Michelle topped the evening with a powerfully passionate lamentation and indictment of Donald Trump for his incompetence, his character, his total lack of empathy and the economic and social consequences for American society.

Her expression of both grief and determination to overcome its source did not have the personal deep tug at our heartstrings as that of an earlier speech by Kristin Urquiza. Kristin virtually accused Trump of the manslaughter of her father, Mark Anthony Urquiza. Her healthy 65-year-old father “had faith in Donald Trump. He voted for him, listened to him, believed him and his mouthpieces when they said that coronavirus was under control and going to disappear, that it was ok to end social distancing rules and was safe if you had no underlying health conditions so that you would probably be fine.”

In late May, after the stay-at-home order had been lifted in Arizona, her dad went to a karaoke bar with his friends, A few weeks later, he was on a ventilator in hospital. Within less than a week he died with only a nurse in the ICU unit to hold his hand. “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.” “Donald Trump may not have caused the coronavirus, but his dishonesty and his irresponsible actions made it so much worse.” “One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump.”

In his dying breath, Mark Anthony Urquiza indicted Trump for betraying him. Trump failed to provide leadership, consolation or any semblance of steadiness. Michele Obama generalized on that theme. “(O)ur economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long. It has left millions of people jobless. Too many have lost their healthcare. Too many are struggling to take care of basic necessities like food and rent.”

“Stating that black lives matter is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office.” Michele Obama made clear that racism was front and centre even in the COVID-19 crisis. People may not hear me because “I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention.” She continued: “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” However, the most serious fear was that there would be an effort to suppress the vote and keep Trump in office. Things could get much worse.

Bernie Sanders preceded Michele. His speech was passionate as well. He went all out in support of Biden’s proposed platform. “Joe supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Joe will also make it easier for workers to join unions, create 12 weeks of paid family leave, fund universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year olds, and make child care affordable for millions of families. Joe will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and fight the threat of climate change by transitioning us to 100 percent clean electricity over the next 15 years.”

But Saunders also indicted Trump, not so much for his character flaws, not so much for his failure to act and for his dishonesty, but for his politics and his policies. Donald Trump is a “threat to our democracy…leading us down the path of authoritarianism.” Sanders was the only one on either of the first two evenings who pinned the tail on the donkey and unequivocally labeled Trump an authoritarian who would turn America from a democracy in favour of autocratic rule. Sanders quipped, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.”

Clever! Pointed! But wrong. Not because Trump does not play golf while America burns up with the COVID-19 crisis and rampant systemic racism. This is all accurate. Nevertheless, it is wrong because Nero did not play the fiddle while Rome burned. First, Rome did not burn. There was a large fire in the city and the extent of it is debated given the various accounts of historians and observers at the time. The claim is also wrong because Nero never played the fiddle. It had not yet been invented. However, Bernie was correct in his major claim. “The future of our democracy is at stake. The price of failure is just too great to imagine.”

A ruler who has authoritarian aspirations does not have to favour strong central power in spite of impressions to the contrary. Where the issue may be the health of your population, it is possible to be indifferent about centralizing power even in a pandemic when strong central leadership is needed. An authoritarian leader concentrates and centralizes power in his own hands because he is more interested in subjecting the behaviour of citizens to his (or her?) will and limiting the expression of freedom of anyone else when the expression of that will conflicts with his own. Thus, an authoritarian leader requires supporting players who are sycophants who will definitely not speak truth to power. Further, the exercise of informal power (executive orders) matters more than the orderly resolution of policy differences.

To that end, constraints on legislatures and the judiciary have to be put in place. Further, institutional devices have to be created to prevent the expression of citizens if that expression might challenge the authoritarian rule. Elections become increasingly fraudulent if they are held at all. Manipulation rather than choice will be the order of the day. The authoritarian leader favours large displays of leadership adoration because such a leader leads, not by persuasion, but by a different type of emotional appeal – to resentments, to hatreds, to divisiveness, and primarily by an appeal that turns citizens into mini-authoritarians. Therefore, there must be a segment of the population that is despised and not worthy of even participating in the adoration game. Identity politics is emphasized, not to ensure the redress of groups that suffered in the past, but rather to continue and enhance such oppression.

“Fearful people seek protection from powerful authority figures. No authority figure is more powerful than the sitting president of the United States, who oversees massive security resources. This is why so many observers worry that Trump’s motive in sending federal paramilitary forces into US cities was not to deter violence, but to provoke it.” (Eric Posner) However, past presidents like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all exploited fears of domestic violence, usually in reference to urban crime, to enhance their victory chances as presidential candidates. But there was never any suggestion that they would resist leaving office in the face of an apparent defeat by voters.

Further, the results may be much closer than is expected now if an easy COVID-19 self-testing system comes to market as expected. If that is accompanied by protesters provoked by police to riot, then efforts to counter systemic racism will have a formidable opposition and Trump will have been handed his rallying cry.  There will be, as one writer opined, “a resurgence of white, nativist violence blessed with the power of the state and emboldened from the highest office.”

What is most distinctive about authoritarian power is the absence of any authentic authority and the substitution of whim, vague references and shifting positions. Authoritarians are inherently flakes. For in favouring the unpredictable, others are both knocked off their guard and forced to constantly keep their guard up. Information is made suspect so that fabulism can displace it. For the success of authoritarian rule depends on controlling the priorities, perspectives and preferences of the population. Competent officials displaying their expertise may be the best step to a demotion or actual firing. What counts is loyalty to the leader, not competence.

That is why an authoritarian leader is inevitably a liar. You cannot speak truth to power if there is a widespread distrust of truth and if you believe that people believe what they do to reinforce their own quest for power.  What one believes is arbitrary and not based on evidence. That is why magical thinking is advanced and others who oppose or might oppose the authoritarian leader are stamped with negative brands. Further, as part of resentment and negative identity politics practiced in authoritarian systems, it is no surprise that authoritarian leaders are racists and misogynists.

In 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower ended his presidential term by warning the nation about the increasing power of the military-industrial complex. His remarks, issued during a televised farewell address to the American people, were particularly significant since Ike had famously served as the head of the allied forces in WWII. The military-industrial alliance has remained intact because neither party has taken on the challenge, including Bernie Saunders as the leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The height of irony may be that the partnership of both parties with the industrial-military complex may be the most important factor in preventing America from adopting authoritarianism even though they elected a president with an authoritarian personality and even though the GOP had adopted features of authoritarianism even before Trump entered fully into the political fray, a transition which allowed Trump to further deform the party into an instrument of personalist rule.

On the second evening, John Kerry revealed that Trump’s foreign policy had been a fraud. Bill Clinton brilliantly and succinctly skewered his economic accomplishments as a fabrication. In a gentle but forceful voice, Colin Powell, a former Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, tore through Trump’s national security policy as one that was indifferent both to American forces and American security interests.

But the most important condemnation, in my obnservation largely ignored by commentators, was the speech of Sally Yates on Trump’s assault on the constitution. That day, the Senate Intelligence Committee in a bipartisan report released its fifth and final volume that documented Russia’s interference on behalf of Trump in the 2016 election and the scurrilous and treasonous behaviour of his Campaign Chairman. Paul Manafort both shared confidential information with a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, and repeatedly lied to both Mueller and the Senate about his contacts and communications. Trump’s supporter for spreading lies, Roger Stone, was eventually pardoned by Trump. Manafort was dubbed a “threat” and Kilimnik “a grave counterintelligence threat.”

Sally Yates, however, was the one that fingered Donald Trump himself. He “trampled the rule of law.” Sally Yates served as acting attorney general at the start of the Trump administration but was unceremoniously removed from her post for refusing to implement Trump’s Muslim immigration ban because it was illegal, a position eventually upheld by the courts. Yates declared that, “From the moment President Trump took office, he’s used his position to benefit himself rather than our country. He’s trampled the rule of law, tried to weaponize the Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends ”rather than standing up to Vladimir Putin,” Trump fawned all over him, a dictator still trying to interfere in American elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Further, given the machinations with the post office – efforts that have been stopped because of the huge backlash – Yates declared that Trump was “even trying to sabotage our Postal Service to keep people from being able to vote.”

Why did a non-partisan civil servant choose to speak so forcefully and explicitly at a Democratic Convention? “The future of our democracy is at stake.” Trump is an autocrat and, if left to his own devices, if by some fluke he is re-elected to be president for a second term, will undoubtedly take much bolder steps to subvert the constitution and turn American government into an authoritarian regime.

Tuesday evening, especially with the tale told by Jill Biden, Joe Biden was characterized as a man of integrity, a man of empathy, a man tough in dealing with enemies but open to taking into account differences with people across the aisle. He was portrayed as the very opposite of Trump – a true patriot, someone who had the back of the American military in which his own son served in contrast to Donald Trump’s sons, and someone in touch with the common people who celebrated the diversity of America as well as the ability of the many to come together and cooperate as one.

The roll call Tuesday evening for about an hour displaying that diversity with ordinary Americans from 57 states and territories paraded before the TV audience was brilliant. But it also raised my ire at CNN which went to a commercial break when Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois were being polled. When one is made angry at missing a voting poll, you know that the producers of the convention have done very well. Joe Biden officially became the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States. If they want to avoid authoritarianism, if they want to enhance American democracy, a good majority of Americans will support Joe Biden’s candidacy.

On Momala Harris

In our household, both my wife and I favoured Kamala Harris even when she was a candidate running against Joe Biden for presidential nominee to represent the Democratic Party. In the sweepstakes for the vice-presidency slot, while we thought every single one of the candidates was very qualified, we gave Kamala Harris the number one spot. And she was chosen. As we see it, not only for Vice-President but as a future president. She is only 55.

Why did I give her my Canadian non-existing ballot? She is unequivocally intelligent as indicated by her mastery of facts and assemblage of those facts into cogent arguments. But she was not an Alexa or a Siri. She had a wonderful warm smile.  

And what liberal minded individual would not be entranced by her family history. She is the daughter of two academics who met in graduate school, a mother from India and a father from Jamaica. Kamala Harris was raised by her mother since the age of five after her parents split. They divorced when she was seven. She also has a younger sister, Maya. The mother of those two daughters, Shyamala Gopalan, was a breast cancer researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. When Kamala was 12, her mother moved from Berkeley when she accepted a research job in Canada. Kamala, thus, has a strong Canadian connection; she graduated from high school in Montreal. Kamala’s mother died in 2009.

Maya, born after Kamala on 30 January 1967, is a political and legal star in her own right even though she had a child, Meena (a lawyer who graduated from Harvard), as a seventeen-year-old teenager. Maya is an American lawyer, public policy advocate, and television commentator for MSNBC. In 2015, she was appointed as one of three senior policy advisors for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Before that, for seven years, she had been Vice President for Democracy, Rights and Justice at the Ford Foundation. She chaired Kamala’s aborted run for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Donald Harris, her father, is an emeritus post-Keynesian development economics professor at Stanford University. His research explored the “analytical conception of the process of capital accumulation and its implications for a theory of growth of the economy, with the aim of providing thereby an explanation of the intrinsic character of growth as a process of uneven development. From this standpoint, he has sought to critically assess the inherited traditions of economic analysis as well as contemporary contributions, while engaging in related empirical and historical studies of various countries’ experience.” Kamala certainly inherited her father’s concern with enhanced social equity.

Dan Morain described Kamala Harris as “a quick learner and gifted political performer with genuine star power.” She had been a protégée of Willie Brown, the former San Francisco Mayor whom she once dated. As a 31-year-old deputy district attorney from Almeda County across from San Francisco, she joined his campaign and whimsically dubbed him “Da Mayor.”

I also like her because she has been prescient in her choices. She was a very early backer of Barak Obama for president. She became a prodigious fundraiser for him. She had forged her fundraising network early when she supported Willie Brown and continues to have the Pritzkers (the Hyatt hotel-chain), the Getty heirs, the financier, Charles Schwab, and the Fisher family (Gap) in her corner. In the American plutocratic democracy, patrons in high places with deep pockets have always been an essential support for a Democratic Party candidate until Bernie Saunders proved that this was not a necessary condition for success as a politician.  

When she first ran for the office of a prosecuting attorney, she had already established a reputation as an outstanding lawyer. She ran on a liberal platform and opposed the death penalty. And she won with a greater percentage of the vote than any other Democratic candidate at the time, including Gavin Newson, the future Governor of California who then ran on the same ticket for the mayor’s position. Then she fulfilled her pledge by taking up the toughest case possible, the murderer of a police officer, Isaac Espinoza, with an AK47 when Espinoza ordered Hill to stop. The case was tough, not because getting a conviction was difficult, but because she opposed the death penalty for a cop-killer.

Hill was convicted of second-degree murder, got life in prison without a chance for parole. In the process, Kamala Harris had made an enemy, the powerful police union of San Francisco. Police Unions are not normal trade unions. They raise money for their favourite candidates, most often Republicans, though they are prone to hedge their bets. As William Finnegan described “The Blue Wall” in a recent New Yorker article (3-10 August 2020), “there has been a peculiar militance of many police unions….Very few of the officers involved (in violent crimes against mostly African Americans) face serious, if any, consequences, and much of that impunity is owed to the power of police unions.” (48)

Harris got to know the political force of a police union first-hand and would not kneel before it. This position was reinforced by the work of her sister, Maya, who researched and wrote (Organized for Change: The Activist’s Guide to Police Reform) on nationwide community-centered policing practices. In spite of strong opposition from the police, Kamala won office again in 2007. In 2008, she ran for attorney general of California. With donations and volunteer time, the police unions in California backed her opponent, Steve Cooley, a Republican Los Angeles County district attorney. A political action committee (pac) ad “spent $1 million-plus on an ad featuring Espinoza’s mother bashing Harris for refusing to seek the death penalty against her son’s killer.”

In the contest with Cooley, the latter declared victory when he was leading and went home to bed. The San Francisco Chronicle also declared his victory. But the Laweekly soon sported the headline, “Steve Cooley Kamala Harris vote results: Cooley declares victory, but Harris takes the lead.” When the vote was all counted, “Harris had earned a 74,157-vote victory, out of more than 9.6 million votes cast in an election in which tea party candidates won many offices. She had proven that she could win in the toughest circumstances. She also recognized a predator and an empty hack when she saw one.

Remember her performance in the Brett M. Kavanaugh Senate hearings. Remember her interrogation of Attorney General William P. Barr when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2019. Through her unremitting logic and questioning, she turned his feeble protestations that he did not undermine the Mueller Report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections into blithering nonsense.

Harris also proved in debates that she could quickly cut the legs from under an opponent with a swift deprecating crack or a biting question, as Biden would learn. Though generally risk averse, Biden was gutsy enough to choose a gutsy running mate who could represent the party for the next generation, who is forward-looking enough to disarm the progressive wing of the party and liberal enough to gain widespread financial and moral support from the Democratic Party mainstream. She is an excellent debater and can be expected to punch stiff upper lift Vice-President Pence into a corner where he will crumble from the effort to hold himself stiffly together in his subservience to Donald Trump. Further, Harris is deliberate and not rash, cautious rather than careless or carefree in her initiatives. In both intellectual acumen and her ability to make opportunistic assessments, she is an ideal partner for Biden.

Harris, of course, brings demographic balance to the team in three ways. She is an African-American who deliberately chose to go to Howard University even though her educational roots had been in a very different environment. “I became an adult at Howard University,” Harris has said. In fact, in choosing to go to Howard instead of the many ivy league colleges she could have attended, she already proved that she was a mature strategic thinker. She chose an institution that offered a high-quality education, but also a unique cultural experience immersed in diversity and, unusual for a university, deep family values. “I grew up in a community where there were many representations of diversity. Going to Howard, there were so many [Black people]! And they’re all in your age group, in your phase of life.” She learned how empowerment requires a solid community base. It turns out that her community base was one that favoured reform, that favoured change, that favoured progress, that favoured justice.

She is also an Asian-American. Most importantly, she is a woman. As a bonus, she was wooed by and married Doug Emhoff, a very successful entertainment lawyer, in 2014. His two children and her in-laws endearingly call her “Momala.” Kamala Harris married a Jew.

Biden and Harris will face enormous challenges after they win. The first will be taking office. Donald Trump is expected to go whining and complaining and using every trick at his disposal until he is dragged from the White House. He will leave the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravished the country like almost no other challenge as he pronounces repeatedly how well his administration is doing in controlling the virus. The economy is in a shambles. The country is deeply divided. Hopefully, the duo will also have the advantage of a Republican Party that will have imploded after the disastrous leadership of Donald Trump and the party’s supine subservience to him.

Biden and Harris will not spend time gloating but will come out of the starting gate ready to tackle the problems head on. How will they handle growing inequality and the obsolescence of a great swath of the labour force as a result of robotization and computer intelligence moving from the factory floor to middle class offices? With Harris on the ticket, they will win. Harris has the intelligence and wiliness to handle that foul-mouthed lying racist demagogic amoral weasel who will be their main opponent. But will the two be able to lead America given the enormous challenges that they will face?

The initial attack to undermine Kamala Harris came quickly. Professor John Eastman, who teaches in the law school at Chapman University and who had been defeated in the California election in California in 2010 by an opponent who Kamala Harris trounced when she ran, questioned whether Kamala Harris was eligible to run for the office. He acknowledged that she was born in Oakland, but raised the question of whether she was eligible because she was born to parents who were not naturalized Americans when she was born. Newsweek, which had published the op-ed, soon had to apologize for putting out this new version of birtherism. It is, of course, unquestionable that Kamala Harris as a person born in the U.S., at least 35 years of age and a resident for at least 14 years, is eligible for the nation’s highest office as prescribed by the Constitution.

Article 2 of the US Constitution states: “no person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States” shall be eligible for the presidency.

Section 2 of the 14th Amendment states: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are US citizens.

Kamala Harris was without question born in the United States.

Nevertheless, President Trump immediately cited the piece and said that it was not just someone questioning her eligibility, but a smart law professor. It could be true, he opined even though the Constitution made it abundantly clear that it was not. But, of course, Donald Trump is not exactly a fan of the Constitution. Trump insisted that, “I have nothing to do with it. I read something about it. It’s not something that bothers me. … It’s not something that we will be pursuing.”

Asked if he actually believed she was ineligible when he raised the possibility, he replied: “I just told you. I have not got into it in great detail.” But Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, immediately took up the issue on Cable TV. The new birtherism campaign was off and running. She went from Eastman raising the question to insist that raising the question itself made the answer an open one.

Harris’ parents were not citizens at the time she was born on 20 October 1964. But there is no question that any child born in the United States is unequivocally eligible. In legal circles, using sophistry as a substitute for reasoning, case law from the 19th century did raise the question of whether children born in the United States of non-citizens could be eligible. But the answer has been long settled. At least a half-dozen U.S. presidents have been the sons of immigrants. Is there any surprise that this version of birtherism will be made into a serious campaign issue only when an African American is running for office?

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was born in Calgary, Canada. Senator John McCain (Ariz.), was born in the Panama Canal Zone. George Romney was born in Mexico. Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona in 1909 before it became a state in the Union. In each case, their parents were American and that conferred citizenship on their children. The more interesting question is not about their eligibility to run for president, for they definitely were, but why birtherism was never raised as an issue for a white male Republican candidate.

As in the Obama election, birtherism will turn out to be just a distracting side issue. Just as Obama did, Kamala Harris will demonstrate that she has the stamina and the backbone to stand up to scurrilous hidden racism. Joe Biden responded with fury and a fierce critique of Donald Trump for giving any credibility to the false allegation. He claimed that Trump had resorted to “abhorrent” lies. However, it was the innuendo that was abhorrent. It was the refusal to deny the claim that was abhorrent. It is Trump who is abhorrent.