Israel/Palestine One or Two States V. The One State Solution – Economics and Politics

On the surface, Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century is a two-state solution with a very slimmed down Palestinian state.[1] It reminds an onlooker of the very slimmed down Zionist state recommended in the 1938 Woodhead Report. The Trump solution is more akin to an inverted image of the Jewish state proposed in 1938. Instead of a Jewish sliver along the Mediterranean coast, there would be a Palestinian sliver in the Judean hills with much more convoluted borders and a multiplicity of enclaves (15). Further, instead of restrictions on Jewish immigration, the right of return would be abrogated. Instead of the restrictions on land purchases, Israel would have the right to annex the Jordan valley. Other impositions restrict sovereignty and self-determination in both cases.

Just as the Zionists grew more and more frustrated and more and more upset by successive British proposals that reduced their share of the Mandate, it should be no surprise that the Palestinians responded in the same way in 2020 to the shrinking successive offers. One conclusion that Palestinians draw is that, “The time has come to rethink the goals of Palestinian liberation in a way that focuses on ending the colonial regime rather than partitioning the land.” (Munir Nuseibah) In other words, a one-state binational solution serving all its citizens.

Randa Wahbe argues that, “Palestinians deserve more than the scraps at the bottom of the barrel of human rights discourses or international treaties that maintain a world order that refuses to decolonize. This is a golden opportunity for the Palestinian community in the United States to rise up together, become a collective community, and capitalize on its strength to revitalize the demands for the right of return and freedom.” Wahbe supports a two-state solution and a revolution to achieve it. The goal includes the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in Palestinian hands as well as the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their land and homes in Israel.

These are the two extremes. One is a Beinart utopian one state solution. The other is a radical revisionist two-state solution that totally ignores facts on the ground. Neither the utopian unitary state proposal nor the hardline Palestinian two-state proposal attend to the long history of One and Two State proposals over the long history of this One Hundred Years War.  I want to start with the situation as it exists now and then go back to the War of Independence and the al-Nakba (the disaster of 1948) to see how we got from there to here. At each key moment I will survey a different theme. Following the contemporary analysis of this blog, I revert to: 1) 1949 and the proposed solutions for the  Palestinian refugees in 1967 following the War of Independence; 2) the Allon Plan following the Six Day War of 1967 and the issue of settlements and borders; 3) the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 and the problem of sovereignty.

We now have a de facto One-State system that by no stretch of the imagination can be called a solution – for either side. Yet, in some sense, it is the fulfillment of the Balfour Declaration which envisioned a Jewish Homeland in the Mandate, but one which respected the civil and religious rights of the Arabs living in Palestine. There was no provision for political rights. In the current situation, the issue of civil rights leaves a great deal to be desired. However, there are at least some political rights, both in Gaza and particularly in Area A (18%) of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises administrative control as well as domestic security. But there is no real democracy as the fullest expression of rights and self-determination.

This is particularly true in the arena of finance. Palestine is a welfare dependency of the world. 70% of the PA budget comes from aid. Though much exaggerated and simplified, nevertheless the familiar formula sums up the situation as Palestinians perceive it: the U.S. decides, the World Bank leads, the EU pays, the UN feeds and Israel destroys. (Alaa Tartir) Is there any wonder there is so much waste? Is there any wonder there is so much bureaucracy? Is there any wonder there is now so much donor fatigue?

All this has been enormously complicated by the actions of Trump. Between 1994 and 2017, America provided $5.2 billion in aid. In addition to cancelling the American contribution to UNRWA (more on this in the next blog), the current regime signed the 2018 Taylor Force Act in March that cut off one-third of American assistance to the PA as long as parts of the budget were being used to “reward” terrorists by paying their families when the “terrorists” were killed or imprisoned by Israel. Approximately $200 million in aid was cut.

In the first seven months of 2020, Ramallah’s total revenues plummeted 70% and aid fell from $500 million to $255 million on top of these previous cuts. In 2020, funding from Arab countries dropped by an enormous 85%, from $267 million to $38 million, signaling an ensuing shift in foreign policy by the Gulf states that openly took place this past summer.

Although the EU pays half the bills of the PA, the Arab burden is much less and very unevenly distributed among the Arab states. While the UAE gave $130 million, it was almost all in 2012 and 2013. In 2020, the UAE resumed a bit of aid for the Palestinians to help the PA wrestle with the COVID-19 crisis. But the aid was in goods not in cash. Interesting enough, months before the Abraham Accords were announced, that aid was delivered on the first direct cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv. On the other hand, Algeria has given over $280 million. Saudi Arabia’s contribution totaled $1.5 billion.

Aside from welfare dependency, there is a huge chasm between Palestinian and Israeli GDP. On top of a GNP that reached $36,150, capital formation that was a whopping $70,400, the Israeli GDP per capita totaled almost $35,300 at its peak, almost as much as that of Japan ($37,900) and South Korea (just below $38,500) and within striking distance of that of Saudi Arabia ($40,500). Jordan’s, by contrast, is just over $10,000. Palestine’s is $2,560.  

Why is this the case when the Oslo Accords were supposed to open the gates of investment in Palestine? Why is this the case when the Oslo Accords did just that. From 1993 to today, 40 billion dollars from donors went into the Palestinian economy. Palestine is the top recipient of non-military aid in the world. Why has it not been much more successful economically?

There are many possible explanations:

  1. Donors have hamstrung the creative use of that capital.
  2. The PA has not used the funds for constructive purposes but mainly for bureaucratic government salaries and for construction of buildings. Neither is a significant source of economic productivity. The PA has the wrong priorities.
  3. The PA is corrupt.
  4. Israel has sabotaged and undermined the ability of Palestine to develop a more productive and self-sufficient economy.
  5. The second intifada and ongoing low-level conflict have seriously damaged the economy and the prospects for investment.

With the donors’ agreement, three-quarters of incoming donor funds have come in to pay for a puffed-up bureaucracy rich with nepotism, a system where jobs go to family members or someone from one’s own tribe. Three-quarters of incoming funds have gone to the PA, much of it for public sector jobs and the creation and continuation of clientelism.

Last week (8 October 2020), the EU informed the PA that it will not advance any more funds until Ramallah accepts the tax revenues collected by Israel, tax revenues which Abbas refused to accept since May when it formally renounced cooperation with the State of Israel in response to Netanyahu’s announcement that Israeli law will be extended to Area C. Egypt and Jordan also insisted that the PA resume accepting the excise taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the PA.

Thus, the problem is not only economic. There are enormous pressures on the independence of a Palestinian political program, especially in relation to Israel. What would Palestine have to do if it wanted to free itself from this dependency and Israel’s veto power, especially since Israel has a voice along with the EU and the PA on the use of such funds?

In every single report over the last hundred years dealing with the Palestine problem, the premise has been stated and repeated: growth and development depends on the good will of both parties (the Jews and Arabs). But occupation by its very nature undercuts good will in favour of suspicion and distrust. Further, the situation is exacerbated because the two conflicting parties are each yoked to one or the other leg of the donor.

There is another important dimension to the whole system. Israel is a major beneficiary of Palestinian donor funds. Though those monies flow through the PA, in addition to paying salaries, the monies are used to purchase goods, much of those purchases from Israel. If the PA wanted to develop its economy by means of import substitution – growing its own tomatoes and cucumbers for example – that clearly would hurt the Israeli economy. Israel is in a position to veto the use of donor money to build the infrastructure necessary to foster import substitution through home-grown production.

Israel controls the Palestine economy in another way. For a number of years, the use of Palestine labour in Israel was cut off as a terrorist prevention measure and Israel began to bring in guest workers from Asia. That system has been reversed. Israel now brings in 120,000 to 150,000 Palestinian workers per day. If Palestinians contemplate returning to the use of force to advance their cause, the loss of these jobs and the remittances transferred back to Palestine are a huge disincentive, particularly so since the unemployment rate in Gaza is 50% greater than the unemployment rate in the West Bank, 60% versus 40%. Further, this high unemployment rate is itself a huge pacification incentive.

And look at the type of employment encouraged and created by such development aid. The aid development paradox is a result. Palestine gains upward economic mobility of development professionals while perpetuating a state of poverty among the recipients of development aid. This is on top of the micro-macro paradox of development aid. As economists have discovered, there is no significant correlation between aid and growth, between the growth in aid and the growth in GDP. In fact, there is the suggestion that an inverse correlation may exist. The more aid, the greater the downward pressure on the measures for economic growth. Yet development agencies and donor countries always boast of the enormous success of their aid.  

Then there are the payments for utilities – for electricity and water. If Palestine wanted to use donor money to build an electricity plant to escape the dependency on Israel and become more self-reliant, Israel is in a position to place obstacles in the way because of the tripartite control over the use of such funds. At the same time, a two-year-old agreement between Israel and Palestine to settle old Palestinian debts for electricity and set up a mechanism for future payments unraveled. The Israel Electric Corporation was carrying a debt of almost a million shekels or a quarter million dollars. Further, according to some estimates, Israel controls and uses 80% of the water from aquifers, another source of leverage.

What about Palestine moving away from its dependency on foreign governments by enhancing the prospects for public-private sector partnerships? There have been joint industrial parks (over 50) on the borders between Palestine and Israel so workers from Palestine no longer have to cross a security barrier. There are even joint enterprises by a few settlements and surrounding Arab villages. This started in the agricultural sector. Funded by the EU, an experimental program began in 2018 that Kibbutz Mizra in the Galilee to nurture joint Israeli-Palestinian agro-businesses. There was already a joint olive oil marketing project.[2]

Does not the above, taken altogether, suggest that Palestine has a similar status to a colony in relationship to Israel, and this without even considering Israel’s security control over Area B in the West Bank (22%) and both security and administrative control over Area C (60%), the largest part of the West Bank? Thus, the problems between Israel and Palestine go much deeper than settlements and disputes over the status of Jerusalem. They are problems of economic independence as well as political self-determination.

ADDENDUM – The Political Implications of Dependency

The Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) face a legitimacy crisis, not only because of the absence of transparency, accountability and popular participation in democratic practices and institutions, but also because of mismanagement of the economy and a continuing colonial dependency. However, it also has a very problematic relationship with its largest donor.

Palestine is enormously dependent on Europe for advancing its political program. One-third of the EU members recognize Palestine as an independent political entity and most members of the EU have diplomatic exchanges with Palestine, all in accordance with the 1999 Berlin Declaration. The large amount of money and the tripartite decision-making structure gives Europe control over capital infusion into the economy, a significant leverage over Palestine. The latter is very susceptible to political pressure.

The recognition of Palestinians as a people, the promotion of Palestine as a homeland for that people, the refusal of the EU to recognize any changes in the Green Line as the border for Palestine without Palestinian consent, the dubbing of Israeli settlements under international as illegal, the condemnation of Israel whenever that country resorts to force to punish Palestine for acts of terrorism committed by its “citizens” – dubbed a form of collective punishment – all these political issues have significant political costs in terms of the strength of donor leverage.

Those costs are born both by Palestine and the EU. For Palestine, in some perverse way, the economic power reinforces the image and status of Palestine as a colony and even as a colony of Israel. At the same time, the trade-off has reduced rather than increased the power of the Palestinian people. For it helps to freeze the options available. When the largest donor, the EU in 2009, endorsed a policy of pursuing a two-state solution and a refusal to recognize any border changes, including the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel, at once the Palestinian political and diplomatic position and resistance to compromise was reinforced at the same time as its substantive independence, particularly its economic independence, was reduced. Thus, an irony, increasingly Palestinians were dressed in a strait jacket reinforcing reification of its political position just when maximum flexibility was needed.

The EU then held out the attraction of fuller recognition on condition of Palestine resuming negotiations with Israel, which already had so much leverage. Thus, added to its frozen negotiation position was a need to assert its independence in the face of such pressure.

This position had another repercussion – on the EU itself. It weakened the EU as its own leverage over Palestine increased. For splits over Palestinian policy reverberated into splits in Europe over that policy, thereby undercutting the EU’s role as a mediator. By the time we got to 2020, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the hopes for a two-state solution as “being dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” and called for the EU to recognize Palestine as a state without recognizing how this freezing of positions reinforced that very propensity.


[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_peace_plan#:~:text=The%20Trump%20Peace%20Plan%20i

[2] Of course, by far the largest and most ambitious area of economic cooperation is the Red-Dead Project of Jordan and Israel to build a canal from the Red to the Dead Sea. It still creeps along.

Palestine – Two States. Part II:

From Peel (1937) to the Woodhead Report (1938)

A Jewish Agency memorandum of 30 April 1936 stated that there were 450,000 Jews in Palestine who made up 29.8%. The 1937 Peel Report noted that, according to the census of 1922, the Jewish population had grown from 13% to nearly 30% by the end of 1936. In part of Palestine, 400,000 Jews already lived in their National Home with an infrastructure that was suited to a small country. “Half a loaf is better than no bread,” was the Peel refrain as it supported partition “for two vastly different communities.” An eastern portion just west of the Jordan River (just over 77%) was to be ceded to Transjordan with some million Palestinian Arab residents.

The 30% of Jews in Mandatory Palestine would receive 17% of the land, about 4% of the original entire area of Palestine under the Ottomans. The area of the Jewish State would include the Galilee, Haifa and the Carmel, and most of the Mediterranean coast from Ashdod to Rosh Hanikrah. The two states would sign treaties with the British government and eventually join the League of Nations as sovereign states.

The holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem would be connected by a narrow corridor through the towns of Lydda (Lod) and Ramle to the Jaffa coast. There would be a special perpetual Mandate for this area to ensure that the sanctity of Jerusalem and Bethlehem remained inviolate and that safe access be provided to the Holy Places for the whole world. The treatment of the two populations would be equal[1] even though Jews were not allocated territory in proportion to their population.

This was really a three-state solution, 17% Jewish, 6% a British perpetual protectorate and 77% Arab. Jews would enjoy a small independent Jewish state along the Mediterranean coast protected by Britain. A British mandate would cover the religious sites linking to the coast – the Enclave. The remaining largest eastern part, west of the Jordan River, would eventually be annexed to Transjordan. The Peel Commission established the precedent that land settled by Jews would become part of a future Jewish state while most of the rest became part of an Arab state. A third portion, an Enclave with religious sites, would remain a de facto colony.[2] The Peel recommendations were sent to the League of Nations where they were approved.

The Woodhead Palestine Partition Commission (1938) was a technical body set up by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to determine the practicality of the Peel Commission proposals and was instructed to develop an implementation program with borders, an economic and financial plan.[3] It made a number of changes to the Peel Commission Report. The principle with respect to the promised Jewish state seemed to be, “What is given with one hand is taken back by the other.” A number of applied changes indicated that a primary objective of the Report was “to protect British future interests by securing military positions and access to resources, even though the result almost split the area assigned to the Jewish state in two.” “If the Mandatory is to be entrusted with the protection of the Holy Places, it was essential that the Enclave should have boundaries which were capable of being defended.”

For example, the following changes were made to the territory of the Enclave which would have a population of 211,400 made up of both Jews and Arabs:

  • Extending the northern boundary of the religious mandate, designated as the Enclave, from between Jerusalem and Ramallah to north of Ramallah to satisfy defence needs, specifically to make room for a landing strip at Qalandiya, to include the Ramallah-Latrun Road “as a necessary line of military communication,” and to embrace the Ramallah broadcasting station;
  • Further, in response to Christian sentiment, the Enclave would also be expanded to include Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee with control of the tributaries and waters of Lake Tiberias;
  • Because of past strife between Arabs and Jews, more particularly between the Arabs of Jaffa and the Jews of Tel Aviv, specifically along the irregular demarcation line between the two municipalities, a narrow straight road protected from access by iron railings from either the Jewish or the Arab state would be built between the two cities and would be owned by both states but protected by the Enclave;
  • Because of the need to ensure the water supply, the villages of Shuqba, Qibya, Budrus, Ni’ilin and Deir Qaddis were added to the religious Mandate;
  • Excise from the Jewish state the Arab villages of Salama, Al Kheiriya, Saqiya, Kafr Ana, and Al Yahudiya and to be added to the Enclave;
  • The southern border of the Enclave was extended to include the military cantonments at Sarafand and the projected Royal Air Force base at Aqir;
  • The strip between Jaffa and Bat Yam connecting the Enclave to the sea would be replaced by a wider, and more useful and defensible, strip by making the southern boundary of the Enclave much wider along the northern border of Rishon le Ziyon;
  • To make it even function for military purposes, the Mandatory Power was to be given the right to enter and use the area on the Jewish side of the corridor for military purposes in case of an emergency;
  • Military ranges would be provided by the Jewish state on its territory;
  • In addition to the above use rights, the Jewish state would also provide the Enclave with military entry rights to connect to the sea as far as the Wadi Rubin.

Does this not all sound very familiar with respect to negotiations over the West Bank currently, except the current proposed exchanges gave more land and population to Israel. To draw a straight boundary would entail exchanges of population and territories, such as assigning the Karton Quarter, a salient projected into Tel Aviv, to the Jewish state; the total population involved in the exchanges would be 15,700 Jews and 2,000 Arabs transferred from Jaffa to Tel Aviv and 5,400 Jews transferred from Tel Aviv to Jaffa.

The pattern of taking land away from the Jewish state and allocating it elsewhere was certainly not a constant. For example, in the case of the Triangle of Settlements  (Jewish), that included Dagania A, Dagania B, Kfar Gun, Afiqim, and Dalhamiya, where over 50% of the land between Lake Tiberias and the Jordan River was owned by Jews, Woodhead recommended their attachment to the Jewish state.

There are too many other changes to the boundaries between the proposed Jewish and Arab states to list them here. The primary determinant of the proposed boundaries was British interests and neither Jewish nor Palestinian interests. Compared to the Peel Commission, Jews were the major losers. Thus, for example, instead of including the Arabs of Tulkarm in the Jewish state into which it projected, because the railway from the south to Haifa passed through the town, the Commission recommended Tulkarm be part of the Arab state and 100,000 pounds be expended to move the rail lines.

To what extent did economics and demography affect its decisions? These issues are not just important for recounting the historical record; they will inform the current economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank. At that time, the Arab birth-rate was very high. For an agricultural population living largely off the land, the death-rate was unusually low. The Commission attributed this situation to the Arab population feeding off the benefits of a much more developed and urban Jewish population “under an enlightened modern administration with the necessary funds at its disposal to enable it to serve a population unable to help itself…except through the appropriation of tax-revenue contributed by the Jews.” (p. 24)

The Report, used the assumption of absorptive capacity, namely that a population should be proportionate to the agricultural yield from an area needed to support that population. Otherwise “the land under cultivation by the much larger Arab population of 1937 compared to 1922 is insufficient to support the same percentage of the total Arab population.” The Commission argued that the Jews were responsible for enabling the large growth of the Arab population by 360,000, even though the cultivatable land available to them had been reduced as a result of Jewish purchases of land. Further, the Jews had also significantly increased the area of cultivatable land. As the Peel Report had previously described the situation, “it is thus clear that nearly a quarter of the (ARAB) agriculturalists would be unable to maintain their present standard of life.”

In terms of economic development, the Report also declared that employment (of Arabs) in the towns as well as on agricultural land will be intensified because “capital is only likely to be invested by Jews.” (p. 30) That investment can be used to increase yields partially through improved irrigation and agricultural intensification. The Report, as I said, reflected the ideas of “absorptive capacity” extant at the time. “Neither of these two things can be brought about without the assistance of Jewish taxable capacity and Jewish capital.” “Arabs in Palestine would be faced with the prospect of greater economic hardship if Jewish immigration should be completely closed down.” Economic conditions among Arabs are “closely bound up with Jewish immigration, both actual and prospective.”

At the end of May 1937, Jews owned 7% of the land. “The amount of land in the Arab state is very small, being about 92,000 dunams, including the Jewish land in Beersheba sub-district which was as large as the whole rest of Palestine but where the water in wells was too saline and the amount that fell as rainfall was too little to support agriculture.” The situation was even worse in the Jordan Valley except for about 10,000 dunams plus land irrigated by perennial streams – up to 20,000 additional dunams. The amount of Arab land in the Jewish State was “very large, about 3,854,000 dunams, as compared with about 1,140,000 dunams of Jewish land.” (p. 51) Given the percentage of the Arab population and the land owned by Arabs, the division into two states would necessarily be asymmetric with the largest part of the territory going into Arab hands.

The Report also considered the “voluntary” exchange of populations between the two prospective states, the Jewish state and Transjordan, for the British government had rejected the recommendation of compulsory transfer in the Peel Report. However, the Woodbridge Report found little prospect of voluntary exchanges of land and populations, especially since Jews owned such a tiny proportion of the land in the Arab state.

The prospect of water canals and other innovations were examined with some promise, but the basic conclusion was the limited absorptive capacity of the land. For example, Hebron with an existing population of 38,000 supported by agriculture, almost all Arabs, but cultivatable land was only able to support less than half the population – 16,500. Except for areas like Gaza and the Beisan Plain, improvements in agricultural techniques would help, but only marginally.

The Report also examined the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and examined the possibility of connecting the Jewish parts in western Jerusalem (71,000 of the 74,500 population) by means of a narrow corridor to the Jewish areas on the plains. Since the area includes Christian churches, hospitals and schools, a monastery, an orphanage and the British war cemetery, as well as the main road from Jerusalem to the Maritime Plain, the Report concluded partition of Jerusalem would be an administrative nightmare, that is, “administrative problems of great complexity” related to the maintenance of law and order, division of custom duties, division of water.

Jerusalem would be part of the Enclave. The goal linking Jerusalem to the Jewish state along the Mediterranean Sea was not impossible, as the outcome of the War of Independence indicated, but, according to the Commission, it could only be accomplished provided “reliance could be placed on the mutual goodwill and cooperation of the two adjoining communities.” The authors were very pessimistic that this could be accomplished (p. 74) and concluded that political and religious objections to the Jewish claims were insuperable. “Moslems throughout the world would be most vehemently opposed to the inclusion of any part of Jerusalem in the Jewish State” and “would regard the establishment of a Jewish State overlooking the Moslem Holy Places as the first step towards the ultimate absorption of the Old City by the Jews.” This would inevitably lead to disorders of most Moslems throughout the world who would most vehemently oppose the inclusion of any part of Jerusalem in the Jewish State.

The outbreak of violence on 23 August 1928 as detailed in the Shaw Commission Report offered a case in point. “We are convinced that the dominant desire of the whole body of Christians would be to preserve the peace of Jerusalem and to safeguard the Holy City from any change which threatened to provoke hatred and bloodshed within its walls or in their neighbourhood.” (Para. 172) “The unique character of Jerusalem as the object of affection and veneration of the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind must be recognized by its retention in trust for the world under Mandatory Government.” (p. 80)

The Report concluded that only the central section would be partitioned and be given independence immediately; limited Jewish immigration would be permitted into the Enclave provided that the rights and interests of the existing inhabitants were respected. In sum, the obligations assumed by the Balfour declaration actually shrunk with each inquiry and report – the Shaw Commission, the Peel Commission and the Wedgewood Commission. As far as the Arabs were concerned, the Wedgewood Commission felt that it had assuaged their fears of Jewish economic and political domination and the blockage to a route to independence in the future.  

Then there came this surprising self-appraisal of their proposed Plan C, parts of which were sketched above. Plan C “presents a fresh opportunity to carry out on a smaller scale (my italics) and, as we trust, in a more favourable atmosphere than ever before, the experiment, which the original framers of the Balfour Declaration must surely have had in mind, of seeking to build up, by joint efforts of both Jews and Arabs, a single state in which the two races may ultimately learn to live and work together as fellow-citizens.” Partition had become an interim stage. In other words, a One State solution may arise from the partition proposal. This was the culmination of the series of reports from the 1930s on that kept shrinking the amount handed over for an independent Jewish state. For a report that repeatedly cited the animosity between the two groups, most emphatically the animosity of the Arabs towards the Jews, such a hope appears as a piece of ironic black humour.

The real result had to be an increased distrust by the Arabs of the British, for they were not given their independence, the toehold of the Jews in Palestine was widened and the increase in economic domination was virtually guaranteed. Zionists had to be infuriated because, though they received an independent Jewish state, it was a sliver of what had originally been promised and was even smaller than the proposal of the Peel Commission a year earlier.

The Zionist Jews would never again trust the British to assist them to achieve their aims. The sale of Arab land to Jews in the northern Mandate and the religious Enclave (Jerusalem, etc.) was prohibited. The rest of the report was spin. For example, restrictions on the purchase of lands by Jews in the Southern Mandate in the Negev area of Beersheba, which would continue for at least ten years, would be lifted gradually when the Bedouin “will be ready to reconsider their attitude” to Jews. For the Jews to gain access to the Galilee, they would have to convince the Arabs resident in the area that they would be good neighbours. In other words, you cannot become neighbours until you are respected by the inhabitants who do not trust you and fear you in the first place.

Jews could only acquire land adjacent to existing settlements for reclamation of agricultural land and where Jews already own an interest, though the suggestion of a standstill for five years for Jewish purchase of land in any part of the Northern Mandated Territory was rejected. However, the restrictions on immigration made this provision moot unless the migrants went to urban areas and supported the creation of industries.

Much more was said about religious protections, rights and language, about rail lines, industry, the post office, budgets, welfare and broadcasting, but I will only comment on language. The Report recommended that Hebrew and Arabic be permitted to be used in both the Jewish and Arab states in courts and other situations, but neither was made an official language in the other state. Even though there would be a substantial minority of Arabs in the Jewish state, no recommendation was made that it be an official language. Rights to use Arabic in courts and to educate children in Arabic in both primary and secondary schools were included.

One final note. There was very little included about the military, the police or security in general, especially surprising in light of the “disturbances.” The recommendation concerned “excess” cost of the British army and air force. The clear presumption was that defence would remain the responsibility of Britain. “The Jewish State under plan C, though small, is compact and is easily defensible.”

What??? (p. 236)


[1] Cf. Chapter XII, paragraphs 10 & 11

[2] The greatest danger may not be borders but disputes over enclaves as provided for in the 2020 American peace proposal. In the 2020 Trump peace plan, there are 15 Jewish enclaves with 3.3% of the West Bank Jewish population, 11 in Samaria and the South Hebron Hills. For an example of such danger, look at the current outburst in violence over the Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan with likely repercussions for the Azerbaijani enclave immediately southwest of Armenia. Making the situation more dangerous is the fact that Azerbaijan is backed by an ill-suited pair, Turkey actively and Israel more passively, whereas Russia backs Armenia.

[3] https://archive.org/details/WoodheadCommission

Israel/Palestine – Two States. Part II:

From Peel (1937) to the Woodhead Report (1938)

A Jewish Agency memorandum of 30 April 1936 stated that there were 450,000 Jews in Palestine who made up 29.8%. The 1937 Peel Report noted that, according to the census of 1922, the Jewish population had grown from 13% to nearly 30% by the end of 1936. In part of Palestine, 400,000 Jews already lived in their National Home with an infrastructure that was suited to a small country. “Half a loaf is better than no bread,” was the Peel refrain as it supported partition “for two vastly different communities.” An eastern portion just west of the Jordan River (just over 77%) was to be ceded to Transjordan with some million Palestinian Arab residents.

The 30% of Jews in Mandatory Palestine would receive 17% of the land, about 4% of the original entire area of Palestine under the Ottomans. The area of the Jewish State would include the Galilee, Haifa and the Carmel, and most of the Mediterranean coast from Ashdod to Rosh Hanikrah. The two states would sign treaties with the British government and eventually join the League of Nations as sovereign states.

The holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem would be connected by a narrow corridor through the towns of Lydda (Lod) and Ramle to the Jaffa coast. There would be a special perpetual Mandate for this area to ensure that the sanctity of Jerusalem and Bethlehem remained inviolate and that safe access be provided to the Holy Places for the whole world. The treatment of the two populations would be equal[1] even though Jews were not allocated territory in proportion to their population.

This was really a three-state solution, 17% Jewish, 6% a British perpetual protectorate and 77% Arab. Jews would enjoy a small independent Jewish state along the Mediterranean coast protected by Britain. A British mandate would cover the religious sites linking to the coast – the Enclave. The remaining largest eastern part, west of the Jordan River, would eventually be annexed to Transjordan. The Peel Commission established the precedent that land settled by Jews would become part of a future Jewish state while most of the rest became part of an Arab state. A third portion, an Enclave with religious sites, would remain a de facto colony.[2] The Peel recommendations were sent to the League of Nations where they were approved.

The Woodhead Palestine Partition Commission (1938) was a technical body set up by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to determine the practicality of the Peel Commission proposals and was instructed to develop an implementation program with borders, an economic and financial plan.[3] It made a number of changes to the Peel Commission Report. The principle with respect to the promised Jewish state seemed to be, “What is given with one hand is taken back by the other.” A number of applied changes indicated that a primary objective of the Report was “to protect British future interests by securing military positions and access to resources, even though the result almost split the area assigned to the Jewish state in two.” “If the Mandatory is to be entrusted with the protection of the Holy Places, it was essential that the Enclave should have boundaries which were capable of being defended.”

For example, the following changes were made to the territory of the Enclave which would have a population of 211,400 made up of both Jews and Arabs:

  • Extending the northern boundary of the religious mandate, designated as the Enclave, from between Jerusalem and Ramallah to north of Ramallah to satisfy defence needs, specifically to make room for a landing strip at Qalandiya, to include the Ramallah-Latrun Road “as a necessary line of military communication,” and to embrace the Ramallah broadcasting station;
  • Further, in response to Christian sentiment, the Enclave would also be expanded to include Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee with control of the tributaries and waters of Lake Tiberias;
  • Because of past strife between Arabs and Jews, more particularly between the Arabs of Jaffa and the Jews of Tel Aviv, specifically along the irregular demarcation line between the two municipalities, a narrow straight road protected from access by iron railings from either the Jewish or the Arab state would be built between the two cities and would be owned by both states but protected by the Enclave;
  • Because of the need to ensure the water supply, the villages of Shuqba, Qibya, Budrus, Ni’ilin and Deir Qaddis were added to the religious Mandate;
  • Excise from the Jewish state the Arab villages of Salama, Al Kheiriya, Saqiya, Kafr Ana, and Al Yahudiya and to be added to the Enclave;
  • The southern border of the Enclave was extended to include the military cantonments at Sarafand and the projected Royal Air Force base at Aqir;
  • The strip between Jaffa and Bat Yam connecting the Enclave to the sea would be replaced by a wider, and more useful and defensible, strip by making the southern boundary of the Enclave much wider along the northern border of Rishon le Ziyon;
  • To make it even function for military purposes, the Mandatory Power was to be given the right to enter and use the area on the Jewish side of the corridor for military purposes in case of an emergency;
  • Military ranges would be provided by the Jewish state on its territory;
  • In addition to the above use rights, the Jewish state would also provide the Enclave with military entry rights to connect to the sea as far as the Wadi Rubin.

Does this not all sound very familiar with respect to negotiations over the West Bank currently, except the current proposed exchanges gave more land and population to Israel. To draw a straight boundary would entail exchanges of population and territories, such as assigning the Karton Quarter, a salient projected into Tel Aviv, to the Jewish state; the total population involved in the exchanges would be 15,700 Jews and 2,000 Arabs transferred from Jaffa to Tel Aviv and 5,400 Jews transferred from Tel Aviv to Jaffa.

The pattern of taking land away from the Jewish state and allocating it elsewhere was certainly not a constant. For example, in the case of the Triangle of Settlements  (Jewish), that included Dagania A, Dagania B, Kfar Gun, Afiqim, and Dalhamiya, where over 50% of the land between Lake Tiberias and the Jordan River was owned by Jews, Woodhead recommended their attachment to the Jewish state.

There are too many other changes to the boundaries between the proposed Jewish and Arab states to list them here. The primary determinant of the proposed boundaries was British interests and neither Jewish nor Palestinian interests. Compared to the Peel Commission, Jews were the major losers. Thus, for example, instead of including the Arabs of Tulkarm in the Jewish state into which it projected, because the railway from the south to Haifa passed through the town, the Commission recommended Tulkarm be part of the Arab state and 100,000 pounds be expended to move the rail lines.

To what extent did economics and demography affect its decisions? These issues are not just important for recounting the historical record; they will inform the current economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank. At that time, the Arab birth-rate was very high. For an agricultural population living largely off the land, the death-rate was unusually low. The Commission attributed this situation to the Arab population feeding off the benefits of a much more developed and urban Jewish population “under an enlightened modern administration with the necessary funds at its disposal to enable it to serve a population unable to help itself…except through the appropriation of tax-revenue contributed by the Jews.” (p. 24)

The Report, used the assumption of absorptive capacity, namely that a population should be proportionate to the agricultural yield from an area needed to support that population. Otherwise “the land under cultivation by the much larger Arab population of 1937 compared to 1922 is insufficient to support the same percentage of the total Arab population.” The Commission argued that the Jews were responsible for enabling the large growth of the Arab population by 360,000, even though the cultivatable land available to them had been reduced as a result of Jewish purchases of land. Further, the Jews had also significantly increased the area of cultivatable land. As the Peel Report had previously described the situation, “it is thus clear that nearly a quarter of the (ARAB) agriculturalists would be unable to maintain their present standard of life.”

In terms of economic development, the Report also declared that employment (of Arabs) in the towns as well as on agricultural land will be intensified because “capital is only likely to be invested by Jews.” (p. 30) That investment can be used to increase yields partially through improved irrigation and agricultural intensification. The Report, as I said, reflected the ideas of “absorptive capacity” extant at the time. “Neither of these two things can be brought about without the assistance of Jewish taxable capacity and Jewish capital.” “Arabs in Palestine would be faced with the prospect of greater economic hardship if Jewish immigration should be completely closed down.” Economic conditions among Arabs are “closely bound up with Jewish immigration, both actual and prospective.”

At the end of May 1937, Jews owned 7% of the land. “The amount of land in the Arab state is very small, being about 92,000 dunams, including the Jewish land in Beersheba sub-district which was as large as the whole rest of Palestine but where the water in wells was too saline and the amount that fell as rainfall was too little to support agriculture.” The situation was even worse in the Jordan Valley except for about 10,000 dunams plus land irrigated by perennial streams – up to 20,000 additional dunams. The amount of Arab land in the Jewish State was “very large, about 3,854,000 dunams, as compared with about 1,140,000 dunams of Jewish land.” (p. 51) Given the percentage of the Arab population and the land owned by Arabs, the division into two states would necessarily be asymmetric with the largest part of the territory going into Arab hands.

The Report also considered the “voluntary” exchange of populations between the two prospective states, the Jewish state and Transjordan, for the British government had rejected the recommendation of compulsory transfer in the Peel Report. However, the Woodbridge Report found little prospect of voluntary exchanges of land and populations, especially since Jews owned such a tiny proportion of the land in the Arab state.

The prospect of water canals and other innovations were examined with some promise, but the basic conclusion was the limited absorptive capacity of the land. For example, Hebron with an existing population of 38,000 supported by agriculture, almost all Arabs, but cultivatable land was only able to support less than half the population – 16,500. Except for areas like Gaza and the Beisan Plain, improvements in agricultural techniques would help, but only marginally.

The Report also examined the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and examined the possibility of connecting the Jewish parts in western Jerusalem (71,000 of the 74,500 population) by means of a narrow corridor to the Jewish areas on the plains. Since the area includes Christian churches, hospitals and schools, a monastery, an orphanage and the British war cemetery, as well as the main road from Jerusalem to the Maritime Plain, the Report concluded partition of Jerusalem would be an administrative nightmare, that is, “administrative problems of great complexity” related to the maintenance of law and order, division of custom duties, division of water.

Jerusalem would be part of the Enclave. The goal linking Jerusalem to the Jewish state along the Mediterranean Sea was not impossible, as the outcome of the War of Independence indicated, but, according to the Commission, it could only be accomplished provided “reliance could be placed on the mutual goodwill and cooperation of the two adjoining communities.” The authors were very pessimistic that this could be accomplished (p. 74) and concluded that political and religious objections to the Jewish claims were insuperable. “Moslems throughout the world would be most vehemently opposed to the inclusion of any part of Jerusalem in the Jewish State” and “would regard the establishment of a Jewish State overlooking the Moslem Holy Places as the first step towards the ultimate absorption of the Old City by the Jews.” This would inevitably lead to disorders of most Moslems throughout the world who would most vehemently oppose the inclusion of any part of Jerusalem in the Jewish State.

The outbreak of violence on 23 August 1928 as detailed in the Shaw Commission Report offered a case in point. “We are convinced that the dominant desire of the whole body of Christians would be to preserve the peace of Jerusalem and to safeguard the Holy City from any change which threatened to provoke hatred and bloodshed within its walls or in their neighbourhood.” (Para. 172) “The unique character of Jerusalem as the object of affection and veneration of the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind must be recognized by its retention in trust for the world under Mandatory Government.” (p. 80)

The Report concluded that only the central section would be partitioned and be given independence immediately; limited Jewish immigration would be permitted into the Enclave provided that the rights and interests of the existing inhabitants were respected. In sum, the obligations assumed by the Balfour declaration actually shrunk with each inquiry and report – the Shaw Commission, the Peel Commission and the Wedgewood Commission. As far as the Arabs were concerned, the Wedgewood Commission felt that it had assuaged their fears of Jewish economic and political domination and the blockage to a route to independence in the future.  

Then there came this surprising self-appraisal of their proposed Plan C, parts of which were sketched above. Plan C “presents a fresh opportunity to carry out on a smaller scale (my italics) and, as we trust, in a more favourable atmosphere than ever before, the experiment, which the original framers of the Balfour Declaration must surely have had in mind, of seeking to build up, by joint efforts of both Jews and Arabs, a single state in which the two races may ultimately learn to live and work together as fellow-citizens.” Partition had become an interim stage. In other words, a One State solution may arise from the partition proposal. This was the culmination of the series of reports from the 1930s on that kept shrinking the amount handed over for an independent Jewish state. For a report that repeatedly cited the animosity between the two groups, most emphatically the animosity of the Arabs towards the Jews, such a hope appears as a piece of ironic black humour.

The real result had to be an increased distrust by the Arabs of the British, for they were not given their independence, the toehold of the Jews in Palestine was widened and the increase in economic domination was virtually guaranteed. Zionists had to be infuriated because, though they received an independent Jewish state, it was a sliver of what had originally been promised and was even smaller than the proposal of the Peel Commission a year earlier.

The Zionist Jews would never again trust the British to assist them to achieve their aims. The sale of Arab land to Jews in the northern Mandate and the religious Enclave (Jerusalem, etc.) was prohibited. The rest of the report was spin. For example, restrictions on the purchase of lands by Jews in the Southern Mandate in the Negev area of Beersheba, which would continue for at least ten years, would be lifted gradually when the Bedouin “will be ready to reconsider their attitude” to Jews. For the Jews to gain access to the Galilee, they would have to convince the Arabs resident in the area that they would be good neighbours. In other words, you cannot become neighbours until you are respected by the inhabitants who do not trust you and fear you in the first place.

Jews could only acquire land adjacent to existing settlements for reclamation of agricultural land and where Jews already own an interest, though the suggestion of a standstill for five years for Jewish purchase of land in any part of the Northern Mandated Territory was rejected. However, the restrictions on immigration made this provision moot unless the migrants went to urban areas and supported the creation of industries.

Much more was said about religious protections, rights and language, about rail lines, industry, the post office, budgets, welfare and broadcasting, but I will only comment on language. The Report recommended that Hebrew and Arabic be permitted to be used in both the Jewish and Arab states in courts and other situations, but neither was made an official language in the other state. Even though there would be a substantial minority of Arabs in the Jewish state, no recommendation was made that it be an official language. Rights to use Arabic in courts and to educate children in Arabic in both primary and secondary schools were included.

One final note. There was very little included about the military, the police or security in general, especially surprising in light of the “disturbances.” The recommendation concerned “excess” cost of the British army and air force. The clear presumption was that defence would remain the responsibility of Britain. “The Jewish State under plan C, though small, is compact and is easily defensible.”

What??? (p. 236)


[1] Cf. Chapter XII, paragraphs 10 & 11

[2] The greatest danger may not be borders but disputes over enclaves as provided for in the 2020 American peace proposal. In the 2020 Trump peace plan, there are 15 Jewish enclaves with 3.3% of the West Bank Jewish population, 11 in Samaria and the South Hebron Hills. For an example of such danger, look at the current outburst in violence over the Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan with likely repercussions for the Azerbaijani enclave immediately southwest of Armenia. Making the situation more dangerous is the fact that Azerbaijan is backed by an ill-suited pair, Turkey actively and Israel more passively, whereas Russia backs Armenia.

[3] https://archive.org/details/WoodheadCommission

Israel/Palestine – One or Two States:

Part I – WWI to the 1937 Peel Commission Report

Preview: Parts I, II, III and IV will cover the thirty-year period 1917 to 1947 zeroing in on the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Report (1936), the Wedgewood Report (1938), the White Paper (1939) and the UNSCOP Report (1947) to unveil the history of One and Two-state solutions prior to the creation of the State of Israel. Section B blogs will cover the period from independence to the present.

The Balfour Declaration

The possibility of one state in Mandatory Palestine had been proposed going back over a century ago to the Balfour Declaration. Preceding that document, however, in 1915 Henry McMahon, British Commissioner in Egypt, had promised the Sharif and Emir of Mecca,  Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Hāshimī, that Palestine would be a part of an independent Arab state that would arise after World War I. Thus, an actual two-state solution is also over a century old. What has varied is the political source of the division, the beneficiaries, and the boundary lines

Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the UK in December 1916 expressed public support for Zionism to Chaim Weizmann. In a letter, known as the Declaration (2 November 1917), for that is what it was initially, a letter addressed to Lionel Rothschild. British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour offered British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This Balfour Declaration was incorporated as a preamble to article 2 of the Mandate for Palestine as part of the Paris Peace Agreement (1919). Of that portion of the former Ottoman satrap, 77% went to Transjordan. Article 25 stated that, in the territory east of the Jordan River, Britain could withhold or postpone those articles of the Mandate related to a Jewish national home. It chose to withhold. On 22 July 1922, at a meeting of the Council of the League of Nations in London, Transjordan, as a protectorate of Britain, and the Palestie Mandate covering the remainder of the territory to which the Balfour Declaration now applied, were approved.

As Britain explained in 1922 with respect to the territory to be the homeland of the Jewish people, during the last two or three generations, the Jews re-created in Palestine a community numbering 80,000. “The community has its own political organs; an elected assembly for the direction of its domestic concerns; elected councils in the towns; and an organization for the control of its schools…its political, religious, and social organizations, its own language, its own customs, its own life, has in fact ‘national’ characteristics.”[1]

Jewish nationality was not being imposed upon the inhabitants of all of Palestine. Rather, given the core of Jews in Palestine, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, Britain assumed that only the Jewish people could, on grounds of religion and race, have the best prospect of free development to provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities. Britain insisted that Jews were in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. Therefore, a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed and should be formally recognized to rest upon an ancient historic connection.

The motives were clear; a deep-seated Christian Zionist conviction[2], but also an effort to get Jewish support in both neutral U.S. and liberal revolutionary Russia. The goal or vision, however, was not immediately as clear. Did a Jewish homeland entail a Jewish nation-state, that is, a Zionist state under British protection? Or would it be a politically autonomous Jewish political entity within what was planned and expected to be a British mandated territory controlled by Britain? Or would it simply be a place to which Jews in Europe would be permitted/encouraged to migrate? Whichever of these three options, or others, the main geopolitical goal was a land bridge controlled by Britain connecting Egypt to the Far East. Anti-Zionists, like the Jewish Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, while supporting the last goal, objected to a Jewish state fearing accusations of double loyalty against Jews in the galut, politely known as the diaspora.

The wording of the Balfour Declaration was as follows: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The last clause was intended to satisfy Montagu’s fears. The second last clause that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” was abundantly clear. The political rights of the existing non-Jewish population remained unrecognized. Right up to and including the 1931 British census, the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine was recognized as a nation; the Arab and Bedouin subjects were not.

What appeared murky, became clear, especially when seen through the eyes of Christian Zionists. A Jewish state was envisioned in which minorities would live with their religious and civil rights protected. This was the first iteration of a One State Solution. Although the territory referred to initially included what is now called Transjordan, it was also very clear that after 1920-1922 it did not; Palestine was restricted to the area west of the Jordan River.

One week after Lord Balfour issued his declaration in November 2017 (October 25 on the Julian calendar – hence the October Revolution), the Bolsheviks overthrew the liberal Russian state. The Jews that were part of that revolution had no sympathy for Zionism. In stark contrast, Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States (1913-1921) was a Christian Zionist as well as a racist;[3] he believed that God wanted Jews to return to their home in Palestine. It took one hundred years for Princeton University to finally face up to the racist reality of the man who was the president of the university (1902-1908)[4] before he became president of the USA.

Wilson came by both his racism[5] – he denied African Americans the right to enroll in Princeton – and his pro-Zionism honestly. His father was a Christian Presbyterian minister who supported the Confederacy in Virginia where he was born. Wilson became an ardent supporter of the Balfour Declaration. “To think that I, son of the manse [minister’s house], should be able to help restore the Holy Land to its people.”[6]

However, Wilson’s fourteen points (8 January 2018) declared as the outcome of the war included the promise of self-determination: “nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” Consistency was not Wilson’s forte. Arabs had been promised self-determination both by Britain and by America. But an effort was made to back peddle by both parties by restricting the promise of self-determination to the European peoples of the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires. This was, of course, just racism extended to the Middle East.

Except, was it? Yes, in part. As Winston Churchill argued before the Peel Commission in 1937 (see below), “I do not admit that wrong has been done to these people [Arab Palestinians] by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put in that way, has come in and taken their place.”[7] But, he argued, Zionism was not akin to colonialism as in North America or Australia. Only in the land of Palestine, he claimed, could the Jewish people achieve political freedom. More significantly, the Jewish people are indigenous to Palestine because of their historical presence and the continuity of that presence in and on the land. 

Israel was clearly a product of many forces: a type of racism, geopolitical power, legal, historical, sociological and religious factors, but also events on the ground – both historical continuity and recent settlement. In 1850, as stated above, according to Alexander Scholch, Palestine had about 350,000 inhabitants, 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. By 1920, that population had doubled; the percentage of Jews had increased by over 50%. The British Government’s Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine that year listed almost 700,000 people living in Mandatory Palestine. Compare that to the estimated 2.3 million Jews who lived in Palestine during the rule of Emperor Claudius (41-54 BC) before the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the Jews.

The Peel Commission

In the years after World War I, the Jewish population in Palestine increased, but not as some have described it, “dramatically”. 38,000 Jews were naturalized in 1922 joining an older population of just over 7,000 Jews, and, therefore, 6.5% of the population were Jewish citizens. There were almost an equal number of Jewish non-citizens so that Jews then constituted just 12% of the population. There were 90,000 Jews (just over 12%) and 610,000 non-Jews (just over 87%). Between 1920 and 1936, the Jewish population grew to 367,845 (15,000 migrated per year on average to Palestine), about the same population as Transjordan. Though only 33,304 non-Jews legally immigrated to post-1922 Palestine in the same period, as a result of non-legal immigration and a high birth rate, the Arab population of Palestine grew from 670,000 in 1922 to over one million or almost 75%. By 1937, the ratio had shifted to 30% Jewish and 70% non-Jews.

After the Shaw Commission had published its report in 1930 following the Arab uprising in 1929, after the Sir John Hope Simpson Report in October 1930 on immigration, after the White paper of 1930, the political outcome remained a murky quagmire. Halfway through the 1922-1948 period, in 1935 (12 December), the British government proposed a unitary legislative council for the western portion of the territory. Hence, de facto partition, but not even into a Jewish and Arab state, but a mandatory unitary state of both Arabs and Jews and an eastern territory west of the Jordan River remaining under total British control.  The council in the eastern severed territory was to be made up of 11 Muslims, 7 Jews and 3 Christians. The Arabs would have a controlling share of the three-quarters of elected seats while Britain would appoint the final quarter, 7 of the total of 28 seats on the council. The Chair as well would be a British subject.

The Arabs in Palestine were appalled. They wanted and demanded full self determination. Britain set up the Peel Commission in response and it reported in July 1937. The Peel Commission, in addition to the division of the Palestine Mandate, recommended a transfer of populations or ethnic cleansing, overwhelmingly of Arabs – the Arabs from the area of the Jewish State (approximately 225,000) and the Jews in the Arab-designated area (about 1,250) would be relocated using the Greek-Turkish population exchange after WWI as a precedent.[8]

The Arabs rejected the proposal outright, both because they did not obtain self-determination in all the territory and because, even in the partitioned western portion, they claimed that the number of seats did not reflect their proportion of the population. The Arab Higher Committee (AHC) also did not want the eastern portion ceded to Transjordan. Further, since Jewish immigration to Palestine had significantly increased since the Nazi coup in Germany in 1933, they demanded a complete cessation of Jewish immigration. When their demands were rejected, they revolted. In sum, the proposal for an independent Jewish state and division or secession reversed the initial idea of a Jewish unitary polity west of the Jordan River, a One-State solution. Arabs would have their religious and civil rights protected but would not have any political rights. However, fifteen years after the rationale and the conception of a One-State solution had been formalized in 1922, a two-state solution had been put on the table with a substantial Arab minority in the Jewish State (about 188,000) and a very small number of Jews and Christians in the eventual Arab territory that would be annexed to Transjordan.


[1] Command Paper No. 1 700 of the 1 July 1922.

[2] Cf. George Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda (1878). British Christian Zionism is both a religious belief that can be traced back to the Puritans in the seventeenth century based on Biblical prophecy concerning the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and a political conviction that the only solution to the Jewish “problem” in Europe was the restoration of the Jews to their historical homeland. For many, the conviction was an admixture of religion and politics. In America, the emphasis was primarily on the gathering of the Jews in Israel as a prelude to the Second Coming of Christ.

[3] Cf. Jonathan D. Sarna (2020) “Woodrow Wilson was a hero to Jews. What should we do with his racism?” The Forward, 2 July; and Lawrence Davidson (2020) “Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: The Basis for His Support of Zionism—An Analysis,” U.S Foreign Affairs, 12 July.

[4] The university just this year removed Wilson’s name from the School of Public Policy and International Affairs, to which I was affiliate, as well as from sub-colleges and buildings, a process that began when I was there (2003-2005).

[5] For Wilson, Blacks were an “ignorant and inferior race.” 

[6] Thus, Zionism thereafter became linked with racism and anti-Zionism with the anti-racism of a significant number of African Americans. Davidson explicitly endorsed Zionism as racism.

[7] Shaul Bartal (2017) “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept,” Jewish Political Studies Review, 28:1-2, 14 November.

[8] The agreement between Turkey and Greece (1922-1923) transferred 1,300,000 Greeks from Turkey and 400,000 Turks from areas controlled by Greece.

Tehran – the TV Series

There. I saw it. An ad for Tehran, the much-ballyhooed Israeli TV series that was supposed to be even more full of suspense and tension than Fauda. I swore that I saw the advertisement on the TV screen when we were scrolling to decide what to watch for the evening. It seemed to have disappeared. I could not find it again. When I was about to give up, across the screen at the very bottom appeared a promotional clip on Tehran. It was on AppleTV and not Prime or HBO where I had been looking. Tehran had premiered on Zan 11 channel in Israel on 22 June 2020 and opened in North America on 25 September.

Fauda had focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had last written about the third series of Fauda in a blog in 2018 (21 June). It was about undercover work in the West Bank by IDF’s Duvdevan Counter-Terrorism Unit to find terrorists and was told from the perspective of both sides in the conflict. Fauda was a terrific series, not only for its taut drama, its excitement and its plot twists, but for its very interesting developments of character and relatively honest portrayal of both sides in the conflict. But whereas Fauda alternated between Hebrew and Arabic with a smattering of English, Tehran is mostly in Farsi with intermittent episodes in Hebrew, but more often in English. So you had better like subtitles, especially since the translations often went by before I had a chance to finish reading.

Tehran is not another Fauda. The latter relied on the old standard view of the dedicated detective, this time working undercover, who sacrifices his family and his personal life for his work. He is an Israeli Bosch working on security issues rather than pursuing the more typical serial killers. The series was gritty and down to earth, The suspense relied on the old-fashioned tools of spies – an instinct for masquerades, unbelievable courage juxtaposed to amateur bumbling. And a nose for clues. The series was excellent because it not only relied on an intriguing and beguiling plot, but on in-depth character development.

Tehran is very different. Though the two shows share the same creative team – Israeli producer Gideon Raff and creative writer, Moshe Zonder, the lead writer for Fauda, (and with Dana Eden, Maor Kohn and Omri Shenhar) – and although both shows overlap in production skills, they are otherwise contrasting story lines and characters. Daniel Syrkin directed Tehran which starts with a very young Israeli couple on a flight from Jordan to Delhi on Jordanian airlines. What are they doing in Amman?

The air tickets from Amman to Delhi are half the price of those from Tel Aviv to Delhi. Immediately, we note the similarity to Fauda and initially may be led down a dead end by supposing that the two bumbling and frightened young Israelis will play a similar secular role as the amateur right-wing religious zealots in Fauda. Although they also run counter to type, they do not have the same function. I am giving very little away to say they are a tease, serving a similar role to the zealots in offering counter-stereotypes to Israeli super-heroes, such as Eli Cohen played brilliantly by Sasha Baron Cohen in The Spy about the real Israeli Mossad agent who penetrated the heart of the Syrian military command and control centre.

The two young Israelis may have just finished their army service and are off to India on a common escape as with many ex-IDF personnel and a search for adventure.  But they are nervous. They are frightened. The girl, Shira (Tuti Ninio), has “Awesome” in bold letters on her sweatshirt as if advertising the series. They stumble and bumble, the boy even dropping his backpack on another airline passenger. But they soon play a very unintended role in the drama as the Jordanian plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Tehran. The Israeli Mossad cyber agents had messed with its electronic controls.

The two young backpackers are a somewhat comical feint as we watch another couple, a tall very well-dressed young man with a very fashionable beard accompanied by a woman in a burka whose eyes are the only thing we see. Those eyes are alert. They are sharp. While puzzled by this unlikely couple, we slowly realize that we are being introduced to the heroine.

Further, we soon learn that this film is not about unbelievably brave Israeli IDF commandos operating in occupied territory; this will be a story about spying on a very different level, about cyber warfare and its execution against very high level targets and taking place in a country dedicated to Israel’s elimination.  The operation will involve Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan) playing a very sophisticated hacker. The target is the electrical supply to the Iranian radar system so that Israeli pilots can bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. The Mossad command and control centre looks nothing like IDF’s. It is a warren of agents glued to TV screens in a large and very crowded high-tech facility.

As it turns out, Israel did bomb Iran’s nuclear assembly plant with its very sophisticated high-speed centrifuges in Natanz and other sites.  But this was in June after the series was completed. It will not be the first time that fiction adumbrates actual historical events. Except in the series, the effort is botched. But, as in Fauda, the other side, the counter-intelligence Iranian boss, is as dedicated and as sophisticated and as sharp as any Israeli agent so that one might suspect for a time that he was really an Israeli mole in the Iranian capital.

On the way in this spy story, we get glimpses of political Iran with a public hanging from a crane, dissident Iranians bitching about the high unemployment rate and wallowing in their underground music scene as gay men openly kiss and young girls shed their hijabs. They protest and are met by young Islamic zealots who support the revolution. But we are also introduced to Tamar’s aunt Arezoo (Esti Yerushalmi) who Tamar has not ever seen since Tamar’s whole family fled Iran decades earlier leaving behind the aunt who had married a Muslim jurist and had a religious Muslim daughter.

The domesticity is further reinforced when the aunt and niece work together in the kitchen to make Persian meatballs or koofteh by rolling minced lamb into spheres the size of a hardball mixed with onions and basmati rice, yellow split peas with mint, cardamom, turmeric and savory. “Perfect,” the aunt pronounces. Tamar is a cool as well as beautiful agent as well as an expert at rolling meatballs with the best of them just after she made the proverbial run through market stalls, stores and alleyways to escape the Iranian counterintelligence and police.

But all Jews in Tehran are not intermarried. 10,000 were left behind after 70,000 fled. They are a protected minority – unlike the Baha’is – with their own rabbis and houses of worship. Since we were able to watch only three of the eight episodes, which ran against our propensity to really binge watch – I was left wondering if we would be introduced to a segment of Jewish Iranian life in the urban areas of Athens which, with standard stock film, stood in for Tehran.

But we saw real F35s revving up to launch the bombing raid. We saw facsimiles of hacking that seemed, to an ignoramus like me, real enough. But there were very puzzling elements of the plot that seemed to be left over, like detritus from a bombing mission. Why did Tamar not simply get off the plane and enter Iran in her burka? Why did she have to switch costumes at Imam Khomeini International Airport with Zhila Gorbanifar, a Muslim Iranian electric company employee, disguised as a flight attendant?

Of course, stupid! The flight would not have been able to take off if one passenger had disappeared. There had to be a switch. Other puzzles emerge as the plot progressed but were cleared up soon enough. The main thrust of balance, as in Fauda, was maintained. The Iranian counter-intelligence lead agent, Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), was as sharp and dedicated and determined as any Israeli agent and he probably worked for The Revolutionary Guard. The Israeli agents inadvertently kept running into blocks, especially Masoud Tabrizi (Navid Negahban), the local Israeli Mossad operator with his travel agency front.

The plot to disrupt the electrical supply to the Iranian radar system goes awry when Zhila’s boss in the electrical company, with whom she was evidently having an affair, tries to rape Tamar, who relatively quickly dispatches him as any highly trained Israeli spy would be expected to do. Very quickly, everything goes asunder and the plot switches from a secret destruction mission to an escape story.

Though the plot is taut and thrilling and full of misadventures, I was looking for but had not yet found the personal tales and psychological costs to these agents that had been such an integral part of Fauda. Where are the troubled lives? There is certainly a suggestion that Zhila Gorbanifar was having an affair with her abusive boss, but this was a very minor sub-plot with nothing to do with espionage. The subplot of the love story begins in Episodes 4.

I now have to wait for the last 4 episodes. I prefer binging.

The Presidential Choice in America – Fear or Faith

I want to suggest a very different factor that is rarely discussed and that I did not include in Wednesday’s blog. The choice of the American president will be driven more by fear than faith. However, faith should be the determining factor.

Rabbi Splansky in her Yom Kippur sermon spoke about the nature of a crisis, when things break apart, when there is a break down of spirit, a breach in trust, when the dispirited get discouraged. This American election is about which side can uplift, can comfort the spirit. Barack Obama won on a campaign of hope. Trump ran and won in 2016 on a campaign of division, depression and repression. This is an election when the faith in a rogue and a con man, the faith in evangelical revelation and the protection of the unborn, the faith in individual initiative rather than government protection and guidance, comes face to face with Blacks with an even deeper faith born out of adversity, but allied with Whites who by and large lack that depth of faith of their Black brothers and sisters as much as they believe in democracy, the rule of law and the acceptance of diversity. It is a watershed election.

Such an election is a chance to break open old obstacles and break through to a new age. And one need not have the most inspiring leader. After all, Moses became dispirited and broke the tablets of the law that he had received from God. Will the Democrats have enough strength and energy to embrace a renewed vision for America out of the depths of despair? For that is what the pessimism is about. Not simply the details of voting patterns. Not simply which promises turn people on and which exposure of lies and cons motivate them to combat a source of deep evil. America is at a breaking point. Will the mother of the new child have enough strength to breathe and push, to breathe and push as she sits on the birthing stool aptly named as a rupture stool? Will new life emerge from the dark womb or will the world sink back into an even darker cave?

Bob Rae gave a virtual talk on Yom Kippur afternoon at Holy Blossom Temple. (He did it from New York where he is now posted as Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations.) He talked about the three questions Hillel posed. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? Self-interest is not enough. We need humanity and humility. We need energy and empathy. And we need it now. The faults of the world are not in our stars but in ourselves. In a tempest-tossed world in which COVID-19 kills and also destroys wealth and jobs, in a world where the life jacket of remittances to poor countries are significantly higher than all the government aid taken together, in a world in which 100 million are displaced, we need buoyance.

His answer to the three questions was the Stockdale Paradox, named after James Stockdale the U.S. Admiral who had survived over seven years of repeated torture in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. (See Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great.) Confronting reality, not evading it with misleading optimism or burying one’s head in the sand in deep pessimism, was the vital key to survival.  Realism plus idealism.  Realism plus optimism. The experience of bitterness and the expression of resilience. Brokenness and repair. Embrace the harshness of your situation with faith, hope and the balancing weight of optimism. Not an optimism built on lies but one that infuses the truth of the moment with inspiration rather than despair.

Stockdale was a good example because this icon took us back fifty years to the period in which Americans began to lose their fundamental trust in government. The Vietnam War had been built on a mountain of lies. We who are old enough remember General Westmoreland telling Americans when the Tet offensive began on the 31st of January 1968, the real beginning of the end of the Vietnam War, that the Viet Kong only had 500 guerillas. (They had 10,000) Lies, lies and more lies. General Westmoreland was replaced. President Johnson had the decency to withdraw from the campaign for the presidency. A rupture in Vietnam through the centre of the country cutting through Hue became a hinge in American history. The same propensity to lie only grew and grew and Obama was not able to stem that tide. The huge wave rose into a mighty mountain from the very beginning of the Trump presidency. Six samples will do.

Newspapers of record and assiduous reporters get exhausted on pointing out and tabulating Trump’s thousands of lies that have swelled like the number of victims of COVID-19. But let us merely go back to the beginning of his presidency when he told the following whoppers:

  1. Jay Sekulow, Trump’s attorney, had stated unequivocally (16 July 2017) that Donald Trump had not been involved in writing the phony account that the president had not been involved in Donald Trump Jr.’s rationale for the meeting with the Russians. Donald Trump subsequently and unabashedly admitted he was. Sarah Huckabee acknowledged that Trump Sr. had made the invention of adoption even more misleading.
  2. “Pardons are not being discussed and are not on the table. Leaks constitute fake news and treason.” Except pardons have always been discussed since Day 1.
  3. Trump had only fired FBI Director James B. Comey because of the advice of Deputy Attorney General, Rod J. Rosenstein, except Trump boasted a few days later that he intended to fire Comey even before he met with Rosenstein. “I was going to fire Comey … Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” Trump subsequently said that, “I decided to just do it.”
  4. “The Russia issue is a made-up story.” Enough said. Russia had compromising information on Donald Trump. Even though Kellyanne Conway initially denied it, Trump subsequently admitted that they (the Russians) had used it. “Yeah, I think so.”
  5. Michael Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Except he had.
  6. President Trump had not shared classified information with the Russian ambassador, except, only a few days later, the administration gave a very different account: “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.” (16 May 2017) “As President, I wanted to share with Russia which I have the absolute right to do.”

But isn’t widespread pessimism justified? How many times over the last four years have we read a headline like this past week’s – An earthquake: Donald Trump paid no or very little federal income taxes. There is a greater risk perhaps that many Americans will envy and admire Trump’s practice of tax avoidance. The battle will not be won just by defending the truth against lies and fraud. It will take large-scale preparation matched by legal skills to expose skullduggery. As the Vietnam guerillas showed, the war for (or against) the hearts and minds of America will be won on the ground.

But vision is necessary. On Yom Kippur afternoon, Bob Rae read out the Emma Lazarus Petrarchan sonnet on the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus”.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Push and breathe. Push and breathe. Give birth to a world that will welcome those gasping for air. Not an ancient symbol of grandeur and empire like the Greek Colossus of Rhodes at the entrance to the harbour. But a mighty woman with a torch who will release her imprisoned lightning that will allow the enormous schism to finally be severed in two so that the parts can be reunited in a renewed spirit of America. With faithful courage, Trump too shall pass, and new life emerge.

Shehecheyanu.

Getting Out the Vote

I have already written that the key issue in the American election this Fall. It is and will continue to be getting the voters to vote even more than getting them to vote for your party. The importance of this issue was made readily apparent in the first presidential debate which at least 65 million Americans watched. Donald Trump in one of his more important wild accusations claimed that “mail-in voting will lead to fraud like you’ve never seen.” He made clear, which he often failed to do previously, that he was talking about unsolicited ballots sent out to voters. He himself voted (or will vote) by mail, but he specifically requested a mail-in ballot.

This is not a new charge. He has repeatedly made such claims, but without producing real evidence in the past. This time he did offer evidence. But he continued his pattern of not revising his views when the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts what he says. After the 2016 election, he kept insisting that millions of fraudulent votes caused him to lose the popular vote in the 2016 election – that is, on the few occasions when he acknowledged that he lost the popular vote. Trump has repeated such claims over and over, even though Americans have long voted by mail – by means of both solicited and unsolicited ballots.

Biden responded that, “No one has established at all that there is fraud related to mail-in ballots.” On that, he is backed up by many American authorities:

  • Ellen Weintraub, US Federal Election Commission (FEC): “There’s simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud.”
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray, at a Senate national security hearing: “We take all election-related threats seriously… we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
  • Max Feldman, counsel in the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice: “Voting by mail has been a secure part of our election system for many years.”
  • Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (Democrat): in Colorado, the verified voting fraud in the 2016 election according to the conservative Heritage Foundation was .000006%; “mail-in ballots are the most secure method of voting” and “the single best method of getting out the vote.”  
  • Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (Republican): there were only 142 out of 3.2 million votes cast in the 2016 election in Washington in which there was either a case of someone dead voting or where there was double voting; this was an error rate of .0000044. “Our elections are ones that electors can believe in.”
  • Tory Burch, non-partisan fashion executive promoting voting; no evidence of fraud with mail-in ballots.

The fact is that the fraud rates for mail voting are infinitesimally small. “It is… more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud.” (Brennan Center) But why is Trump so adamantly throwing doubt on the mail-in part of the election process. One explanation is that it is inertia. It was the theme he picked up before the 2016 election to throw doubt on that vote and why he would not necessarily accept the results. After the election, he felt humiliated by losing by well over two million in the popular vote and used the fraudulent mail vote claim to explain that number, Once Trump grasps a theme, he simply repeats and repeats; evidence that refutes his beliefs does not dissuade him.

He is playing on the same note in the 2020 election, but perhaps not just because it is a broken record, but because he is expecting to lose and is preparing the grounds for not giving up office because he will deny that he was defeated. The problem is that the very same posture may be contributing significantly to his immanent defeat. He may be scaring off more Republican supporters, particularly those in the 65+ group, from voting. According to Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey writing for The Independent (4 August 2020), “unfounded attacks on mail balloting are discouraging his own supporters from embracing the practice, according to polls and Republican leaders across the country, prompting growing alarm that one of the central strategies of his campaign is threatening GOP prospects in November.”

He repeats the claim even though it undercuts the possibility of victory for himself. A third possible motive is his desperation over losing, not only because it will be an enormous assault on his narcissistic personality, but because of the crises he will face once out of office:

  • The IRS audit is looking into Trump’s $72.9 million tax refund (plus interest) as a result of his casino bankruptcies; since he did not abandon the properties as worthless, he seems to have personally benefitted from those bankruptcies, thereby making him ineligible for the refund; if civil and/or criminal charges are added, the total owed could be $200 million.
  • He has a personal debt of $420 million due not long after he leaves office and, if he remains in office, it is difficult to imagine lenders foreclosing on the loan.
  • A pardon would be useless in the state case because this is a civil matter.
  • He could be liable for criminal charges for making one statement to the IRS and contradictory statements of the value of his properties to the banks from which he borrowed money.
  • He would lose the large stream of monies from his properties from guests who go to them, including employees of the federal government and others, mainly foreigners, seeking Trump favours.

The problem in that Donald Trump’s personal motives do not align with his party’s. Republicans are far more unlikely to vote by mail because they have been convinced that mail voting is fraudulent, but they are also risk-averse to going to the polling stations during a pandemic. At the very same time, Trump has propelled more Democrats to vote, and many to vote by mail and early, because not only of his assault on the fairness of vote by mail, but because he has insisted that he will not simply accept a peaceful transition because he “doesn’t expect to lose” and, if he appears to be losing, it will only be as a result of mail voting fraud.

According to Trump, “We have a big problem, and you see it every day, you see it happening every day with ballots. When the ballots and when the system is rigged — which it is, obviously it is — and the only one that knows that better than me are the Democrats.” Trump repeats and repeats this theme ad nauseum to prepare his voters for the challenge he plans to launch if he loses the election. At the very same time as he repeats this theme, he not only ignores but actively denies the efforts of foreign powers to use hacking to deform the election, well documented by the FBI. At the same time, he throws doubt on the ability of state and local governments to ensure fairness in the lead-up to the election and on election day.

What about the evidence he does offer? For he cites many examples. In some states, mail-in ballots are rejected at a higher rate than those cast at polls. But the reason is rarely fraud. It is because the voter has not properly used an enclosure envelope, not signed in the correct place, or the ballot was not time stamped on time by the post office; the ballots were late.  

Look at the examples cited by Trump (in quotes and smaller typeface):

  • “In Brooklyn, 25% of mail-in ballots were ruled invalid in June’s Democrat primary after New York expanded mail-in voting because of COVID-19.”

84,000 ballots were invalidated, 21% of all ballots received, but because they were mailed late or lacked a date postmark or were missing information or signatures. Fraud was not the source of the problem.

  • “In a special election in New Jersey, conducted by mail because of the COVID-19 crisis, 20% of the ballots were thrown out.” Four people, including one city council member, were subsequently prosecuted for fraud; hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson, N.J. Numerous additional ballots were found in a nearby mailbox in Haledon. Three of the four men indicted collected more than the three mail-in ballots allowed by law. Most of the 3,190 mail-in ballots were declared invalid because of errors. At most, about 900 ballots deemed invalid (5%) were potentially fraudulent.
  • “35,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in Florida’s primary,” 1.5% of the total and mostly due to incorrect or late ballots, not fraud, two-thirds because they arrived late.
  • “One hundred thousand (ballots) were rejected in California.” In California’s March presidential primary, 102,428 mail-in ballots were rejected, 1.5% of the almost 7 million mail-in ballots, but the largest reason was missing the deadline for posting a ballot or lack of a signature in the proper location or one that did not match the signature on record.
  • “A week after Pennsylvania’s primary, half of the counties were still counting ballots, and you’ll be counting them here because this is a much bigger version of all of that.” Counting was protracted.
  • “In Wisconsin, three trays of mail containing absentee ballots were found in a ditch.” Mail barcodes on absentee ballot mail ensure all ballots are tracked.
  • “In North Carolina, voters are reporting receiving two ballots in the mail.”

500 voters received two ballots by mistake of 115,000 sent out; in any case, it is illegal to cast two votes.

  • “In Iowa, they still don’t really know who the winner was. I think they called somebody eventually, but it was many, many weeks later.” Iowans vote in caucuses — voters join together in groups supporting their candidate — no mail-in voting.

What are the problems with mail-in ballots?

  • Late mailing, especially in states which do not allow ballots to be opened, verified and sorted before election day.
  • Signatures in wrong locations.
  • Signatures that do not match the one on record.
  • Errors by inexperienced officials.

Virtually never fraud.

On Wednesday, 30 September, a Washington Post webinar featured Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman and fashion designer Tory Burch on their efforts to encourage and support voting this fall. Kim Wyman and Jena Griswold listed the provisions to protect the integrity of the voting system, including preventing mail-in fraud:

  • Post Office delays, many as a result of budget cuts; Griswold took the Postmaster General to court twice and won both times;
  • Lack of uniformity in state laws; voters must check state rules;
  • Voters must register;
  • Voters should have plan to vote, when and how to get to a polling station or to ensure one’s ballot is mailed on time;
  • With mail-in ballots, if necessary, attest on the absentee ballot form if there is one, ensure ballots are put in the security sleeve, sign in the correct place and with the same signature as the one on record; make sure your mailed ballot is postmarked on time;

Jena Griswold insisted mail-in balloting was accessible, safe and secure. Further, they avoid the cyber security problem. The system could be approved by states that do not now permit mail-in ballots to be processed prior to election day. Further, it has to be recalled that elections are never officially over on election night – military and overseas ballots still have to be counted. Kim Wyman insisted that after 4 years checking the cyber security system; spotting suspicious activity and preventing bad actors getting into the system, by using robust tests and having plans in place to respond to discovered irregularities, the entire voting system, including mail-in ballots, is safe and secure. There is a custody and audit trail.  

Griswold stressed voter suppression, not voting of any kind, as the real problem. This included everything from laws making it difficult for some voters to register, intimidation of voters and making voters uncomfortable when they come to vote by means of unauthorized polling witnesses. Trump said, “I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.” Asking militant groups to stand by and stand back was even scarier. Griswold, a Republican active in seven elections insisted that the system was robust and secure. It could benefit by more uniformity across states, though all those in charge in every state tried to learn from one another.

Tory Burch offered other techniques private enterprise could offer, as her firm does:

  • Give voters time or even the day off to vote
  • Pay workers to volunteer as poll workers
  • Participate in getting-out-the-vote campaigns
  • Urge the federal government to fund cyber security
  • Inform voters that Trump’s instructions to vote both by mail and in person is illegal.
  • Organize voters in groups to help ensure that everyone casts a ballot.

In the last election, 95 million eligible voters did not vote; the major reason – work and scheduling arrangements. Make voting accessible.

In the conclusion of the chaotic debate, Trump refused to promise to leave office peacefully when the election is independently certified. Biden, by contrast, answered with a clear and unequivocal affirmative and insisted, correctly, that Trump “has no idea what he’s talking about” when he pushes conspiracy theories about mail voting being used to rig the election against him. Both Trump’s appointed FBI Director and Director of Homeland Security agree with Biden.

The concern was not just a domestic matter. “The global reaction to Tuesday’s presidential debate was somber and disquieted, as countries considered anew the increasingly real possibility that the U.S. president could challenge the results of November’s election, rattling the foundations of democracy and roiling the global economy.”

Four More Years?

I watched the train wreck that was called a debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last evening. It was an absolute disgrace. Americans must feel so embarrassed and ashamed of the man that serves as their president. Trump interrupted – not once in awhile, but throughout the first hour of the debate. He talked over Joe. He insulted. He lied – over and over again, repeatedly and aggressively. It was not just watching a bull destroy a china shop, but one with a very sour frown. He never once smiled.

Last evening in the first of three scheduled debates, this one at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Health Center, Joe Biden confronted and clashed with President Donald Trump for election as President of the USA, a vote that was only five weeks away, though in many places, advance voting has already begun. The so-called debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. He had excellent questions. However, during most of the debate he lost control to Trump’s bullying. Often Trump turned his tongue lashing on Wallace rather than Biden.

Wallace had divided the debate into six 15-minute segments with 2 minutes allocated to each candidate at the beginning followed by an 11-minute free-flowing discussion in each segment: the economy; the Covid-19 pandemic; race, law and order; the Supreme Court; the candidates’ records and promised programs; the climate; and the integrity of the election. Instead of floating down the river as alternative views were presented, the audience was taken down a rushing river of rapids. Shooting the rapids rather than watching a debate serves as a better description.

The man who occupies the highest office in the land that is America, their commander-in-chief, broke every norm of decorum, decency and civility that I have ever been taught. As the blows kept coming, Biden could not help himself from periodically slipping down to the same level of that angry self-pitying and resentful clown. To call the display akin to two kindergarten children fighting is an insult both to five-year-olds and to Joe Biden who largely allowed the verbal blows to lash across his back. But sometimes, he turned to fight back.

The surprise is that the 48% who believed that Donald Trump would win before the debate only went down to 28% who actually thought he had won. Given the nature of the shit-fest, the expectation that Joe Biden would win only went from 48% or 58% to 60%. I know the audience was somewhat skewed towards Democrats – I assume because many Republicans knew their leader and were too distressed and ashamed to watch such a shameless display from their leader. On every measure imaginable, Joe Biden “won” the “debate”. Though the theatre was stomach churning, it did succeed in putting the stark view of each candidate on display.

There in front of the whole world was the so-called leader of the free world but, at the least, the head of the strongest country in the world, refusing to condemn white supremacists and asking the fascist neo-Nazi Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. For what? For the election he declared would be fraudulent in advance and without any evidence – there is no evidence – because many states, including Republican ones, send out ballots to the all the citizens of their state even when they are not solicited? This was an existing president who could not utter the words that he would concede if he lost.

Why then are so many American Democrats so frightened by the possibility of four more years of a Trump presidency? Should they not be optimistic rather than pessimistic even in the aftermath of polarization that appears unprecedented, when equal rights are at stake and Black lives matter, when the very foundations of democracy – voting – is being trampled upon, and when even a peaceful transfer of power is threatened?

The reasons for optimism are not only the horrors that have accompanied the Trump presidency. Not just the devastating death rates from the COVID-19 pandemic which are among the highest per capita in the world. Nor is it because the economy has tanked in tandem with the pandemic. Nor is it because people have taken to the streets to protest against systemic racism and police killing Blacks. And it is not even the fears that there will not be a peaceful transition. Finally, it is also not because Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) died in September just before the election, and the Republicans proved that they were outright hypocrites when, in the last year of Obama’s term, they opposed appointing anyone to the Supreme Court during the final year of a presidency yet were ready to approve a candidate within two months of an election when a Republican was president.

All of these reasons can be used to add to the pessimism rather than the optimism pile. For support for Trump has not shifted significantly before last night, in spite of all these factors. Yet there would seem to be little reason for anticipations of dread since the evidence is overwhelming that Trump will go down to defeat in the 3 November election. And the evidence is not just recent; it has been reasonably consistent all year. There is only a tiny percentage of voters who remain undecided – perhaps 7%.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, the Biden/Harris team lead the Trump/Pence team by 10 points – 53% to 43%. When Trump was at a peak of popularity in January 2020, up even from three months earlier, Americans saw “Trump as a slight favorite for re-election, with 49 percent expecting him to win and 43 percent predicting that his Democratic challenger would prevail. But those expectations are highly partisan, with 87 percent of Republicans saying they believe Trump will win re-election while a somewhat smaller 78 percent majority of Democrats say they believe their party’s nominee will win.”

That poll was one on optimism and pessimism, not on preferences. Democrats are simply more insecure than Republicans. In January, the Democrats had not chosen their candidate while Trump was merely waiting to be crowned. Even then, before any Democratic candidate had a chance to consolidate his party behind him, Biden held a 4-point lead over Trump, 50 to 46%. A year ago, Biden held a double-digit lead over Trump when Trump’s approval rating was at 38%. Further, just before Democrats and Republicans held their conventions in August, Democrats had a 12-point margin over the Republicans.

What then were the reasons for pessimism? One is that Biden’s lead shrinks as soon as you measure likely versus registered voters. And by a significant drop – 10-points to 6-points. If votes lost to the Green Party are deducted, the margin shrinks further. But even here, Democrats should be cheered by the fact that the Green Party candidate will not be on many state ballots while the Libertarian party candidate will be on all of them. Clearly, a lot will depend on the actual turnout of voters.

But Biden’s lead among various groups of voters seems so great. Women prefer Biden by 65% to 34%, 50% greater than the lead Hilary Clinton held over Trump in this voting sector. After last night’s debacle, that spread will be even greater this morning. Trump’s support comes from male likely voters, but only 55-42%, not enough to make up for Trump’s poor support among women. And Biden now leads in support for voters aged 65+. They were probably most distressed by Trump’s horrific display last evening. Expect Biden to increase his margin among this group even more.

However, Hilary Clinton lost the Electoral College, in spite of a lead of over two million votes in the overall campaign. The real worry is not the popular vote but the vote in tight state races. This time, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are very much in contention, and Biden had a small lead in the latter three before last night, a lead that is now bound to grow. And in another battleground state, Pennsylvania, Biden is already significantly in the lead. So why the pessimism?

The first is the enthusiasm factor. 65% of Trump supporters declare their enthusiasm for their candidate. Only 47% of those who favour Biden are enthusiastic. After last night, is that likely to continue to be the case? I am convinced the enthusiasm will switch. On the other side, 70% of Biden supporters are terrorized about a second Trump victory while only 59% of Trump supporters would consider Biden a disaster. Now I believe even more Democrats will be terrified of a Trump victory and a majority of Republicans may now be even more frightened of the anticipated outcome – both that Biden is likely to win and, God-forbid, Trump could possibly win and embarrass them and threaten democracy for four more years. The problem is not simply which candidate is favoured but the enthusiasm behind their favoured candidate. Joe Biden’s most effective moment was when he stared directly into the camera and asked Americans to vote. Vote early. Vote in any manner you choose that is available and with which you are comfortable. But Vote. Vote. Vote.

None of this takes into consideration that the polls still depend on telephone surveys while young people more often communicate by text messaging and other uses of social media. It is believed that polls are still not accurate enough. If they favoured Clinton in 2016, surely they would favour Biden in 2020. Given that qualification. Biden’s lead should be discounted further. Add these other factors;

  • Approval of economic performance is going up, not down, and has reached 40%, an almost 25% improvement; there is an insignificant lead by Biden on the economy
  • 40% approve of how Trump handled the pandemic; given Trump’s horrific record, only 53% yesterday believed that Biden would have done a better job
  • The support for peaceful protests compared to support for a law and order candidate is about even
  • Up until last evening, Trump had a 6-point lead among White voters, offset by the enormous lead Biden has among Black voters, but the latter are a much smaller proportion of the population.

However, Trump’s support among White voters has been dropping significantly, particularly among White women. Biden yesterday was supported equally by White women without college degrees and today surely has a majority of their support. (Hilary had a 23-point deficit here.) Biden has already also increased his lead among all college-educated voters. Further, he now will certainly hold majority support among voters over 65, a reversal of 2016, and older citizens vote in higher percentages. Biden even lead among suburban men before Trump tanked last night.

The bottom line is that: a) turnout is very important, especially given the coordinated effort among Republicans to suppress the vote; b) voting splits in key states in contention is critical; c) given the confidence in 2016, the shift to pessimism is justified as a tactic to ensure Democratic supporters turn out. After last night, the worries that Biden might stumble in the debates that might be devastating to his support can be put to rest.

May the best man win. Surely there can no longer be any doubt on that score; the (far) better man will win.

Cancel Culture Cases and Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur services begin with Kol Nidrei. Kol Nidrei is not a prayer. It makes no requests. It is not even addressed to God. Kol Nidrei is a juristic declaration in Aramaic even before prayers in Hebrew are offered.

This mournful tune, probably the most recognizable one in Judaism, expresses regret for inadvertent assertions or vows during the course of the ensuing year that may hurt another or create false expectations. More significantly, it proactively annuls unintended propositions or generalized imperatives that may be uttered during the coming year. One explanation for its origin is that, in oppressive societies, Jews might be induced to say something, including making a promise that they did not mean. Rather than being pressured into silence, a Jew might affirm something to satisfy demands for conformity when they believe the opposite.

But the assertion could have been inadvertent and not simply defensive. In fact, this was more likely the most frequent situation that gave rise to the need to retract. The key importance is that the person making the inadvertent statement or vow was given the opportunity to clarify or retract what was said, to do so in public and earn forgiveness. It is a process that runs directly contrary to the practice of shaming in cancel culture.

The point is that people should not be canceled. Only an assertion or a promise or an oath or an imposed restriction should be canceled or retracted. Clarification and retraction are at the core of the most sacred moment in the Jewish year, not punishment and certainly not shame or banishment.

The wording of Kol Nidrei (“all vows”) is a retraction in advance, with the consent of God and the congregation, in a convocation of both a heavenly and earthly court that grants permission “to pray with transgressors.” When it comes to confessions of sins, the sinned against and the sinner pray together. Instead of accusations, we have empathy. Instead of judgment we find forgiveness.

We retract, we cancel, we annul both all vows and everything we have imposed on ourselves as forbidden. We are freed up, not to claim the truth of what is said nor to make it into a categorical imperative, but to both regret having said what we said or will say while, at the same time, giving permission to say even stupid things. “We regret having made them and may all be permitted.” However, when recognized for what these assertions are, they must be “forgiven, eradicated and nullified.”  They must be cancelled and exist no longer. “Forgive the entire congregation of the children of Israel and the stranger amongst them for the entire people sin unintentionally.” Greatness is best found in lovingkindness.

Trumpists use identity politics to harass liberal identities rooted in tolerance, secularism and freedom. They posit, at the extreme, battered Whites as victims whose identities are threatened. On the other hand, progressives use identity politics to limit discussion and reinforce moral stands against an allegedly oppressive order. The first sets up liberalism as the enemy. The second undermines liberalism from the inside.

In every case, shouting and insults replace discussion and dialogue as the search goes out to punish the one who is accused of inflicting pain. As Shane Phelan wrote in his 1989 book that introduced “identity politics” into political discourse, “non-negotiable identities will enslave us whether they are imposed from within or without.” Social circumstances do not determine who we are; they just create limitations and challenges. If we accept the identities thrust upon us as absolute determinants, we close ourselves off from new possibilities. I shall be he who I shall be and not simply who you say I am.

Though there are many variations, and though context and nuance are crucial in understanding individual cases, the following general characteristics are associated with cancel culture:

  • Rising intolerance and public shaming by mobs utilizing social media
  • Censoriousness and black and white thought applied to others
  • Twitter, as an example, incentivises emotion rather than cognitive analysis
  • Expression consists of outrage and vitriol
  • The negative emphasis is on ruining reputation and removing respect in the name of restoring respect
  • The core is judgement of others
  • Further, the more an Other is called out, the more “woke” you are
  • Social media democratizes what is acceptable to say and do, constricting behaviour
  • Those who defend traditional liberal values of tolerance and dialogue are allegedly simply defending the power of their own voices.

I have given one example of an attack on liberalism from the outside, from Donald Trump. In a speech he gave on 4 July 2020 at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, he attacked liberals by merging them with those utilizing cancel culture and depicted the latter as a “political weapon – driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.”

Three days later, a letter in Harper’s Magazine signed by 153 academics, public intellectuals, journalists and celebrity artists (Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Malcolm Gladwell) also denounced cancel culture, but from a liberal perspective. Cancel culture was “progressive illiberalism” or “progressive intolerance” attacking free speech, open debate, and respect for opinions with which you disagree as excuses for tolerating the intolerable.

No sooner was the letter published in Harper’s than it was subjected to outraged voices denouncing the preciousness of these writers defending their positions of power and influence. The core critique: who gets to be objective and who does not is a function of power. See, for example, Steven Pinker’s article in The Guardian and Assistant Editors Nari Cohen and Joshua Leifer of Dissent who attacked some of the signatories for defending free speech in the abstract but suppressing speech in favour of Palestinian rights.

There are many more cases illustrating how cancel culture works to punish those perceived to be out of line:

  • The resignation of James Bennett at the New York Times
  • The resignation of Andrew Sullivan from New York Magazine
  • The resignation of Bari Weiss, a signatory to the Harper’s letter, from the New York Times
  • Opposing BDS (as another signatory, Cary Nelson, author of Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State (2019), did) was also interpreted as being hypocritical in denying free speech to Palestinians.

The more common cases are not these high-profile ideological instances, but those who inadvertently or casually say something that is either mistaken or can be taken as insulting and even racist. Others viciously attack the individual who voiced the thought. In addition to the example I used to open this blog, there is the more widely known case of Chris Cooper who asked Amy Cooper (no relation) to keep her dog on a leash in Central Park in New York. She called police to accuse Chris of harassment, of being a Black who threatened her. Chris videotaped the whole incident on his cell phone.

When the whole story came out, and not just the initial accusation, Amy Cooper was fired from her job in an investment firm. Cancel culture easily creates the actions and reactions of a ball in a pinball machine that tallies how much hurt can be delivered to either party. It is worth noting that Chris Cooper did not want or expect Amy to suffer such dire consequences for her inappropriate behaviour.

More locally, in the college in which I am a Senior Fellow, Massey College at the University of Toronto, there are the cases of Professor Michael Marrus and Margaret Wente, the journalist. Marrus was “cancelled” as a Senor Fellow having an office in the college for making a bad joke misinterpreted as racist. Wente’s nomination to the Quadrangle Society was cancelled because of some of her controversial columns.

Let me conclude with a tale, a personal one, not of cancel culture in the university, but of liberal tolerance and respect for differences that characterized the university in which I was educated and the institution in which I dedicated my life’s work.  When I was in second year of my premedical studies, my English professor was an authority on T.S. Eliot. I wrote an essay for him based on T.S. Eliot’s poetry, particularly The Waste Land, as well as on his many essays on literary theory.

I offered three arguments. According to T.S.Eliot’s own criteria of communication with respect to poetry as set out in his own essays, he was not a real poet, at least not in The Waste Land, but a very ingenious wordsmith and clever craftsman. Further, he was explicitly an anti-Semite. Third, the antisemitism and the character of his poetry were intimately connected.

Many works on Eliot have noted his antisemitism since, and probably even before, I wrote my essay. T.S. Eliot and Prejudice by Christopher Ricks (1989) and T.S.Eliot and Anti-Semitism and Literary Form by Anthony Julius (1995) are examples. Some academics, like Hugh Haughton at the University of York (I taught philosophy at York University in Toronto and not the University of York in Great Britain), seem to want to lift the burden of antisemitism from Eliot’s shoulders by placing his views within the historical and social context of the time.

Others claim that the antisemitism characterized his early poetry but is absent in The Waste Land. (See Robert Siegel’s essay, “Smashing Idols, Then and Now,” in Moment (21 September 2020) where he interviewed Anthony Julius). “The anti-Semitic poems actually come from a relatively brief period in his literary life that precedes the writing of his masterpiece, The Waste Land. It’s not that I think Eliot became a liberal by the time he wrote The Waste Land. Rather, I think that he exhausted the resource that anti-Semitic language represented for him in the writing of poetry, and so he moved on.” I did not believe Eliot neglected his antisemitism in his later work nor accepted that his antisemitism could be partially exculpated because it expressed a dominant strain of thought at the time.

Benjamin Ivry in his essay, “Again, Off-Again Anti-Semitism” in Forward (16 September 2011) wrote, “Ricks and Julius cogently explained the details of how some early Eliot poems have unappealing images of Jews. ‘Gerontion’ recasts the stereotype of Jew as slumlord: ‘My house is a decayed house, / And the jew squats on the window sill, the owner.’ ‘Burbank With a Baedeker: Bleistein With a Cigar’ is an evocation of Venice that seems to refer to Shakespeare’s Shylock: ‘On the Rialto once. / The rats are underneath the piles. / The jew is underneath the lot.’ And in ‘Sweeney Among the Nightingales’: ‘Rachel née Rabinovitch / Tears at the grapes with murderous paws.’” According to Ricks and Julius, underlying these images was Eliot’s admiration for the French fascist and anti-Semitic author Charles Maurras. I had used Eliot’s 1934 essay, “After Strange Gods” where he emphasized the importance of religious unity rooted in race. “Reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”

See British-Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff’s discussion of Eliot’s antisemitism (https://forward.com/culture/books/142722/ts-eliots-on-again-off-again-anti-semitism/) who noted that Eliot had friends who were Jewish and published Jewish writers in his journal. He called them, “nice Jews,” “free-thinking Jews.” Yet Eliot also wrote: “I am sick of doing business with Jew publishers who will not carry out their part of the contract unless they are forced to.”

However, this is no place to even offer a superficial analysis of T.S.Eliot’s antisemitism. I merely offer a taste. The point I want to make is that my professor, a deep scholar and lover of T.S.Eliot’s poetry, awarded me an A+ for my essay. He clearly did not agree with my thesis. But that was not the point. The issue was whether, as an undergraduate, I had adequately defended the position I had taken in accordance with academic norms. It is this tolerance that I celebrate in the life of the university, a tolerance for diverse views and respect for other positions.

According to cancel culture, should T.S. Eliot not be excised from the curriculum? I, of course, would argue very strongly against such a move. But did Eliot’s poetry not make me uncomfortable? It certainly did. But it challenged me much more to explore and understand Eliot, to understand the nature of poetry and of communication. It did not stir up in me a desire to shame or humiliate Eliot – as if I ever could. It did not inspire me to engage in censoriousness black and white thinking. Nor did my professor at the time defend traditional liberal values of tolerance and dialogue by defending the power of his much greater expertise. Instead, he respected my voice and the way in which I had articulated my views. Censure is not the same as censor. The Kol Nidrei prayer commits me each year to engaging with others with whom I strongly disagree in a respectful manner whenever possible.

I do not share the position of those who insist that, “the loud protests of those who decry ‘cancel culture’ show that free speech is very much alive and well,” and that, “The principal critics of this activism are the privileged elites who, while claiming to be defending free speech, can’t tolerate criticism of their own cherished views.” Unfortunately, “Times are changing.” The defenders of cancel culture argue that, “Liberals need to recognize that their ideology is tired, and that it is being supplanted by a new one, which gives its followers a moral purpose, a sense of solidarity, and the hope of achieving genuine social change.” Instead, I argue for critical but sceptical engagement and using your moral framework, not to cancel the Other, but, rather, to engage in a conversation.

However, beware. The tyranny of the mob is all around us. 

On Sacrifice, the Abraham Accords and Trump Rallies

Deuteronomy 24:16 reads:

טז  לֹא-יוּמְתוּ אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וּבָנִים לֹא-יוּמְתוּ עַל-אָבוֹת:  אִישׁ בְּחֶטְאוֹ, יוּמָתוּ.  {ס}16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. 

Children shall not be put to death for fathers, and, therefore, by fathers. Yet in Genesis 22, God called Abraham, who replied, “Here I am.” Then God ordered Abraham to:


ב   קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ.
2 “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering (my italics) upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.’

Isaac is not just a son; he is a son much loved by his father. Why did God give Abraham such an order? The text is clear; to test him. But for what? When Abraham picks up the knife to slay his son, an angel of the Lord, not God Himself, called out to him: “Abraham, Abraham.” This time the father’s name is repeated twice, possibly to make sure the angel got Abraham’s attention. Why did God not retract His order Himself? Why did He use an agent? Abraham gave exactly the same reply as he did when he was called the first time. “Here I am.” I am here to do whatever I am asked. Here I am.

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה:  כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ, מִמֶּנִּי.12 And he [the angel] said: ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.’

Presumably, this was the test. Abraham proved that his devotion was so great that he would not withhold even his son as an offering to God. But is this the correct or the best interpretation of the Akeidah story? One justification for God’s action is that child sacrifice is clearly of a different order than sacrificing a ram. God, through His agent, in calling it off, and, in so doing, is, in reality, condemning child sacrifice. After all, Leviticus 18:21 reads: “You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.” However, it says do not sacrifice your child to Molech – other passages say to Baal. They do not command that your child not be sacrificed to God. In fact, God repeatedly insists that the first of your children belongs to God.

Deuteronomy, as put forth in the opening paragraph, seems somewhat different. There, as in Deuteronomy 18:10, sacrificing your own child for any reason seems to be condemned. “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer.” In fact, the wrath of God would be delivered upon Israel if a father offered his son as a sacrifice. “Then he took his oldest son, who was to reign in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land.” (2 Kings 3:27) Sacrificing your son was an abomination of other nations. Sacrificing your son to God was an abominable act. (Deuteronomy 12:31) When you cause your child to pass through the fire, you defile yourself. (Ezekiel 20:31)

Yet in Christianity, God purportedly sacrifices His only son to save mankind. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Is not what is good enough for God, good enough for humans? Should not humans be willing to sacrifice their children for a higher purpose?

There is another interpretation of the Akeidah story. In Genesis, child sacrifice is not forbidden. Ritual sacrifice of children was part of early Judaism. Abraham got off the hook because he showed such great fidelity to God. But others possibly did not. It was only in mature Judaism that child sacrifice was banned only to be inverted in Christianity and ascribed as the highest expression of God’s faith in humanity when God sacrificed His son. Further, in some interpretations, God Himself is identified as Molech.

Let me offer a final interpretation – though there are others. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac was a contrast with what he actually did to Ishmael, his oldest son, the child of Hagar, when Sarah demanded that both Hagar and Ishmael be expelled. Then Abraham resisted at first until God sided with Sarah, but then once again gave a reprieve by offering water when Hagar and Ishmael were on the verge of dying of thirst in the wilderness.

I do not want to enter a debate about these or other interpretations that focus on the morality of sacrifice. Instead, I want to concentrate on the phenomenology of sacrifice first by examining the various ways sacrifice is applied to the Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement and the Israel-Bahrain normalization agreement. Formally, they are known as the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel and, with respect to Bahrain, the Abraham Accords: Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations.  

What has been most noted about both agreements, even more than the contents about ending boycotts, formal recognition of Israel, establishing normal diplomatic relations and working together on technological, financial, agricultural, health and trade relations, is the sacrifice of the Palestinians. They were not party to either agreement. Though lip service was paid to a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians, it was literally lip service. Even in the UAE-Israel Agreement, there was no mention of a suspension of annexation and for how many years.

Palestinians denounced the agreements even though the prospect of annexation was suspended for an estimated four years. Israel was rewarded, according to Palestinian critics, for expelling Palestinians from their land, destroying their lives and livelihoods and denying them the possibility of self-determination. Further, the two states together held fewer Arabs than those in the Gaza Strip. However, instead of the “Day of Rage” that Abbas called for in the West Bank, it became a day of weeping and an oppressive widespread feeling that once again the Palestinians had been thrown under the bus to serve the transactional and security interests of others.

However, this account bears no comparison to the Akeidah story. God did not order the sacrifice of the Palestinians. The sacrifice was definitely not for God – unless Trump=God. The offering was the Palestinians and they were definitely not the sons of Israel. Further, no scapegoat was introduced; Palestinians were shoved aside at the very least, though the peacemakers argued that they were not sacrificed.  In fact, many argued, they were given a real chance for self-determination in a meaningful geographical region because annexation had been postponed.

However, if annexation was not a real possibility, then it was not really surrendered and was not even made part of either agreement. More importantly, the Palestinians were not willing sacrificial lambs. This is a significant contrast with Isaac and more akin to what happened to Ishmael. For some, the name “Abraham Accords” was used to create an illusion of an Arab-Jewish alliance, but one without any depth and only a matter of mutual convenience. The real comparison is to the story of Hagar and Ishmael.

However, could the Palestinians not be accused of willingly offering themselves as sacrificial lambs in their past refusal to re-enter peace negotiations, their unwillingness to thank the UAE for getting annexation suspended, and their fabulist hopes that the EU and/or the Third World would still salvage their position? They might be the ones sacrificed, but it was not the UAE or Bahrain who agreed to make the sacrifice. The Palestinians were pierced on their own petard. Thus, the fundamental essence of sacrifice – that it is an offering of oneself – makes it a suitable case.

I suggest that the key common elements of the Akeidah story are the following:

  • Isaac is a willing victim, seemingly indifferent to what is to happen to him
  • Abraham is a willing sacrificer, in fact, a robotic tool of God
  • A third party commands the action
  • A fourth party is left to rescind the demand, but that does not redeem Isaac
  • Isaac never sighs with relief let alone breaks out in laughter as his name would imply.

Lest this phenomenological approach to the Akeidah story appear to be way out in left field, let me offer the conclusion of an interpretation of a third case of sacrifice, one depicted by Ivan Strenski, Distinguished Professor (Emeritus), Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside.

Understood as civic sacrifice, I argue that the most coherent interpretation of Henderson, NV Trump rally as sacrifice is that the assembled devotees of the president were willingly sacrificing their own health and physical welfare for the benefit of enhancing the status of the president. I reach this conclusion on the basis of the facts that

  1. The assembled voluntarily ‘gave up’ the goods of their own future health prospects for the benefit of the president’s political purposes.
  2. In this sense, the assembly, not the president, was agent of sacrifice – the sacrifier. The crowd was a self-destructive victim of its own attitudes and inclinations.
  3. The assembled had not, therefore, been victimized by an external agency, but rather they themselves were willing sacrifices of their own health and welfare, made in the belief that the object of their devotion, their sacrifice – the president – would benefit thereby.

Does this also explain why Trump organizes these rallies? He deeply and truly loves his followers, even though he does not care about them or for them. For he loves them as followers. Further, the rallies are both tests and expressions of blind and passive belief.

Note the following additional points:

  • This is a case of extreme sacrifice because the Trumpers are voluntarily offering themselves as possible victims of a vicious virus in ignoring wearing masks and distancing;
  • It is possible to offer oneself and to be offered as a sacrifice by Trump (in contrast to Ivan’s view); just because the potential victims offer themselves willingly does not mean that Trump is not a sacrificer;
  • Further, Trump is both the sacrificer and the beneficiary of the willingness to be sacrificed;
  • Sacrifice is also possible without the sacrifice actually taking place – perhaps none of the participants at the Trump rally ended up with COVID-19;
  • Trump offers no redemption himself;
  • If there is relief from the consequences, ironically it comes ‘by grace of God’;
  • Trump is not God, whatever he may think of himself.

The moral of the tale: the lives of children should not be put at risk of death for or by a father, for or by a leader. Children should not willingly put themselves at risk of death for or by a father, for or by a leader. Sacrifice yourself at your own cost and for the benefit of another.

Shana Tova