Ethical Economics: Behar-Bechukotai Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Ethical Economics: Behar-Bechukotai Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

by

Howard Adelman

IN MEMORIAM

RON ATKEY

Ron Atkey will be buried today in a private family service. But a public memorial service will be held at the Metropolitan United Church on 58 Queen Street East at 11:00 a.m. this morning. I will be in attendance. I am also sure that the church will be packed, not only because he had a wide group of friends and acquaintances, but because there will be many Indochinese Canadians in attendance.

Ron was my Member of Parliament for St. Paul’s Riding during the period of the Indochinese refugee movement into Canada. He was first elected in 1972. I never voted for him, but he was an outstanding representative of our riding. He was also the Minister of Employment and Immigration in the Joe Clark cabinet in 1979. He, along with Flora Macdonald with the support of Prime Minister Joe Clark, pushed the decision through cabinet to allow the entry into Canada of 50,000 “Boat People,” refugees fleeing Indochina.  He continued to be a supporter of refugee causes the rest of his life; his family has asked that donations in his honour be made to Operation Syria.

Ron was a few years younger than myself and taught law at Osgoode Hall Law School when I was a professor at York University. But I only came to know him well when we worked together to foster the private sponsorship of refugees into Canada. It was he who sent the instructions to the civil service to attend a meeting (to our surprise) on a Sunday afternoon after church in June of 1979 to introduce us to the idea of privately sponsoring refugees. That was the beginning of Operation Lifeline, the Canadian private sponsorship organization for Indochinese refugees.

Ron was a lawyer in practice at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. He was also the first Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. In juxtaposition, he was also a board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for years. Support for refugees, support for human rights and a commitment to Canada’s national security were for him complementary political commitments. Ron also happened to be a very accomplished musician, a humourist with a very dry wit, and a wonderful father to his children and grandchildren. A product of a very enlightened New Brunswick Tory family, he demonstrated the best and the brightest that Canada has produced and that allowed this country to become as great as it is.

 

Let me begin with the Haftorah portion read after the reading of the Torah. The selection is from Jeremiah at his thundering best. God is in despair. God exclaims, “I will destroy my people, for they would not turn back from their ways.” “I will bring down suddenly upon them Alarm and Terror.” And why? Mainly because they fail to keep the sabbath. On that day, they are not allowed to work.

Economics is about the days Jews are permitted to work. Does that mean that the other six days belong to a dog-eat-dog world? Does it mean a world that rewards the nasty, brutish and strong?

Not according to the Torah.

כִֽי־תִמְכְּר֤וּ מִמְכָּר֙ לַעֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ א֥וֹ קָנֹ֖ה מִיַּ֣ד עֲמִיתֶ֑ךָ אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו׃

When you sell property to your neighbour, or buy any from your neighbour, you shall not wrong one another. (Leviticus 25: 14)

Economic contracts are intended to constitute a positive sum game in which both parties benefit.

Further, if someone borrows money from you and is unable to pay, you may foreclose, but you also must use your best efforts to ensure that he or she can redeem that land and property.

כִּֽי־יָמ֣וּךְ אָחִ֔יךָ וּמָכַ֖ר מֵאֲחֻזָּת֑וֹ וּבָ֤א גֹֽאֲלוֹ֙ הַקָּרֹ֣ב אֵלָ֔יו וְגָאַ֕ל אֵ֖ת מִמְכַּ֥ר אָחִֽיו׃

If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding, his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his kinsman has sold. (25:25)

וְאִ֕ישׁ כִּ֛י לֹ֥א יִֽהְיֶה־לּ֖וֹ גֹּאֵ֑ל וְהִשִּׂ֣יגָה יָד֔וֹ וּמָצָ֖א כְּדֵ֥י גְאֻלָּתֽוֹ׃

If a man has no one to redeem for him, but prospers and acquires enough to redeem with, (25:26)

וְחִשַּׁב֙ אֶת־שְׁנֵ֣י מִמְכָּר֔וֹ וְהֵשִׁיב֙ אֶת־הָ֣עֹדֵ֔ף לָאִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָֽכַר־ל֑וֹ וְשָׁ֖ב לַאֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃

he shall compute the years since its sale, refund the difference to the man to whom he sold it, and return to his holding. (25:27)

Further, you may only accumulate wealth (then held in land and property) for a generation. The land is not yours; it belongs to God. In your life, you are merely a trustee.

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃

But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. (25:23)

Further, excess land acquired must be returned to the commons every fifty years. Inheritance taxes were very steep.

בִּשְׁנַ֥ת הַיּוֹבֵ֖ל הַזֹּ֑את תָּשֻׁ֕בוּ אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃

In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding. (25:14)

AND

וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם גְּאֻלָּ֖ה תִּתְּנ֥וּ לָאָֽרֶץ׃

Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land. (25:14)

This is a social justice ethos. Economics is not a matter of losers and winners, but striving to ensure as many as possible are winners and that when you are down you get a helping hand. This is not anti-capitalist. Private ownership is not only recognized, but encouraged. However, as practiced and organized today, our system has shown itself to be very fragile and sometimes dysfunctional. The economic crisis of 2007-08 was a case in point.

Though the causes were building up over the previous decade, this deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression was a warning, but without the thundering voice of Jeremiah that there was an underlying deeper crisis. Why? Because the economies of most of the Western world – in Europe and Japan – are just finally getting out of that dramatic downturn and posting significant growth. However, even in the pre-crash period, during a period of strong expansion, living standards for the majority had stagnated and, in some cases, even declined. And that is almost still the case even though unemployment is now very low.

Further, in Canada, in the major cities, there is now a housing bubble. The Bank of Canada is trying to ensure that the air seeps out of the bubble rather than bursts by gradually increasing interest rates both by small increases and by interspersing those increases intervals of several months to prevent a sudden shock to the system.

We are not free of crisis and dangers. Further, the inequalities between the rich and the poor, between the rich and the middle class, continue to expand exponentially. Young people, who cannot hope for a capital infusion from parents and family, begin to despair of ever purchasing a home. And overshadowing this fear is the huge anxiety about climate change and our collective failure to take care of the earth as proper and responsible trustees should.

Classical economic policies are not working. And when the most powerful leader in the world believes that he invented the expression “priming the pump,” we are in deep trouble. However, even an infusion of an economic stimulus, or a bailout package in a period of a greater crisis, is not adequate. These are only stopgap measures. Must one choose the alternative – fiscal austerity as now practiced in Greece with its corresponding political instability that follows from cutting social spending in the effort to reduce public debt. Going further and backward, the resurrection of a mercantilist system to replace our global one, of protectionist economies and mobility barriers in place of increasingly open borders with enhanced trade and human mobility to foster a free flow of goods, services and people, are steps into a backward dead end and even greater calamity.

Nor is an economy run on ethical principles the right choice, an option Karl Polanyi had proposed. However, an economic system not guided by and framed with ethics is even worse. Just war doctrine does dictate how or when wars are fought. It merely tries to civilize a horrific pattern of humans coming together in violent conflict. Ethics in economics can go further, for, unlike war, economics can be a positive sum game. Without intervening in economic fundamentals, taxation policies, inheritance restrictions and a whole host of measures can be taken to even out the odds against those in weakened positions.

This does not mean evading understanding the fundamentals of economic growth. These must be grasped. As much as we congratulated ourselves in the past for accomplishing this task, we have not done so adequately. Why is there economic inequality that continues to grow? Why do we continue to threaten the very planet that has treated us so well? Why do we elect leaders who counter the massive scientific evidence and consensus about human instigated climate change and are climate change deniers? Why do we not ensure steady if sometimes a bit bumpy economic growth alongside wealth redistribution?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Undercutting or Reinforcing Canada’s Civic Religion

Undercutting or Reinforcing Canada’s Civic Religion

by

Howard Adelman

In the previous blog, I wrote about the philosophic underpinnings of our current Canadian value system, what I call our Canadian civic religion. The positive spirit of our time and place is well expressed in the values and morals that have become dominant in Canada. They express the Absolute as revealed in our history that is articulated in the religious and moral consciousness of our age. There is possibly no better place to observe this spirit at work than at an interfaith conference held in Canada’s capital to commemorate the country’s 150th birthday as those in attendance searched for solidarity in diversity. The conference focused on Islamophobia, social inequalities, the plight of aboriginal peoples and on immigrants and refugees. In the final blog of this series, I will address the key elements of that civic religion, but today, tomorrow and the next day, I want to describe the conditions of our time that threaten it.

This past week, I attended the awards ceremony of the Donner Prize, a $50,000 award given to the best book published in Canada or by a Canadian on a public policy issue. The criteria for the award include the topicality of the issue covered, its significance (in the sense of importance) and the skill in communicating the subject matter. When the chair of the jury described the criteria and the process, he did not mention the depth, breadth and quality of the research and analysis entailed, but these factors could possibly have been included in the third criterion. A discussion of the five books on the short list offers a convenient portal to explore core Canadian values.

The five nominees for the prize, with my short form of reference included in square brackets, were:

  1. L’intégration des services en santé:une approche populationnelle[HIS – health services integration] (Yves Couturier, Lucie Bonin & Louse Belzile);
  2. Priests of Prosperity: How Central Bankers Transformed the Postcommunist World[Priests] (Juliet Johnson);
  3. A Good Death: Making the Most of Our Final Choices[Good Death] (Sandra Martin);
  4. A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age[Lies] (Daniel J. Levitin);
  5. Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control[Political Branding] (Alex Marland).

 HIS is about efficiency and efficaciousness, values widely held, applied to the delivery of health services. Since it is about organization and administration rather than the values themselves, I will not discuss this book as offering a source of critical reflection on the spirit of our time.  Priests, the most thoroughly researched book, as well as the one from which most could be learned that was new, was the one I favoured for the prize. But I was the only one at my table to do so and it did not win.

Priests is not about a civic religion rooted in the practices and values of the people, but about a priest-centered one. It is about the holy of holies in a materialist society: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and, most of all, the consensus developed among Western bankers on how the globalized international economy operates and the consensual neoliberal rules governing international monetary policy. Price stability, limited inflation targets, credibility and transparency were its central idols rather than employment, growth and social security. What better way to understand the priesthood than by examining the priests of another religion, a mercantilist one, converted and indoctrinated between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 2007.

The sacrificial goats in the West were those who had to absorb the impact of obsolescence and the home owners, particularly in the United States, who found the values of their homes underwater when the U.S. asset bubble suddenly deflated and Lehman Brothers collapsed. Unlike the banks, commoners were not bailed out by the neo-economic policies of the Obama program to save the Western financial system when the crisis became full-blown in 2008. And the crisis remains with us as Europe faces one crisis after another as the 2007-08 collapse turned into a sovereign debt crisis for some members of the EU. The priestly religion had lost its absolute authority and saintly status as the two elder children of the system (a puzzle for my readers) took their own lives as martyrs to save the system but, note, not reduce the suffering.

For no longer were monetary and financial policy to be left in separate silos to prevent the former from contamination by the latter. The priests, on the defensive, blamed the crisis on excessive risk-taking in financial policies by the politicians. The high priests were not to blame but, rather, the political commoners forbidden entry to the holy of holies who stormed the holy gates and, helped by a few wayward priests who betrayed their calling by innovating and not using consensual monetary policy to reign the upstarts in, contaminated the holy of holies. The temple was not destroyed. Its ramparts were reinforced as central bankers eased up on the strict monetary code with quantitative easing and other measures.   

This book, however, unlike my treatise, is about priests and not commoners, and the conversion and indoctrination of the priests of an alien mercantilist religion in Eastern Europe. The losers and the victims in the West are not the subject of this volume. In the final chapter, the book is also about the god that failed. The result, faith in globalization, in the international priesthood and its values and norms, suffered a drastic blow. One of the results – the rise of protectionism and mercantilism along with populism in the West. Juliet Johnson does not overtly deal with the irony of this outcome in her final chapter, but it haunts that whole chapter as the effort to salvage the role of the central banks rested, not on reducing their functions, but expanding them into micro-level financial regulation and supervision, thereby politicizing the banking system and removing its immunity from day-to-day politics.

The commoners were entering the holy of holies. Donald Trump was elected on a protectionist platform. He became a partner of Vladimir Putin in the effort to resurrect mercantilism, including the kleptocracy that accompanied such policies as Trump himself had been a beneficiary of the $500 billion Russia had accumulated in foreign reserves during the oil boom. Russian money was laundered through Western capital investments. If Putin and his cronies helped Trump, then Trump would return the favour now that the Russian economy was in dire straits. In turn, the Trump brand would directly benefit from the resurrection effort and the U.S. currency as the stabilizing factor of last resort was about to be put on the altar for sacrifice in the holy of holies, thereby contaminating it forever.

The fight for control of the Holy Temple is now in full swing. It is important background to my concern with civic religion.

Four of ten people at my table voted for Good Death to win the prize, but, like HIS and Priests, it also did not win. Good Death, like most of the other books on the short list for the award, is ultimately about social ethics. The book focuses on the right to die at a time of one’s choosing in the search to find the correct balance between compassion for the suffering and protection of the vulnerable, between individual choice and social responsibility.  As Sandra Martin wrote, “Baby boomers, reared on choice and autonomy, are radically restructuring the landscape of death, not only for themselves but for their elderly patients and the children coming up behind them.”

I mention her book as the first of the three dealing with civil society values because it affirms the critical importance of the leading cohort in society changing the ethics and practices in dealing with how and when a person chooses to terminate personal suffering. For the book is more about suffering than death. A good death comes with a minimum of suffering; this is the semi-Aristotelian premise of the volume.

Choice. Autonomy. In contrast to those values, Daniel J. Levitin in Lies contrasts the bad data, half-truths and outright lies in our current information age with the need to evaluate rational arguments, assess statistical data and recognize the meanings of words used in communication. Donald Trump demonstrates daily how limiting access to information – about workplace violation of norms and corporate disregard of environmental regulations that offer the new norm – has undermined Moses’ (Obama’s) political leadership in moving towards the Promised Land. While the financial crisis seriously weakened the sacred authority of monetary policy as set by central bankers, Trump was busy attacking the legitimacy of the polis itself by deregulating its role in every field as he issues ethical wavers to allow the profiteers and outright crooks to enter the political palace.

Levitin offers up the rabbinic codes of the information age, defining the proper use of statistics and how they are to be read, the role of clear and distinct language to replace obfuscation, and the role of informal logic to construct rational arguments and spot fallacies. The book is particularly strong on statistics but somewhat weak in its discussion of language while providing a clear and concise introduction to informal logic. However, it is like reading a nostalgic longing for the enlightenment, for rationality and for the scientific method in the face of a rise in philistinism and irrationality in public discourse.

Alex Marland, in the book that won the Donner prize, took an opposite tack and focused on the Canadian polity to uncover the role of unreason and control – in contrast with Sandra Martin’s celebration of choice and autonomy – in managing information and spreading a message. But it was the most moralistic book of them all, upholding a rationalism in public discourse, not as a standard as Levitin did, but as a “rational” populist political counter to the sustained effort to desecrate autonomy and choice in favour of collective thought on a niche level and the control over what people choose.

Branding is not inherently bad. The effort in marketing and selling an idea or a product by controlling images and messages from a central point of authority offers concision, simplicity and efficacy in communication. However, in his analysis, institutional weaknesses and the current digital media environment – not illogic, innumeracy and lack of literacy – are the culprits.

 

I end with Marland’s very sincere and spontaneous acceptance speech (he was truly surprised at winning). It dwelt with how to keep the threatening ghouls away from your door. The priests, evidently, will not protect you. Neither will simple good management. Presumably, confronting the sources of irrationality with logic, statistics, logical arguments and precision in one’s use of language will not keep the zombies at bay. In the age of messaging and mass manipulation, any emphasis on choice and autonomy might be a side show. What does Marland suggest in dealing with the outright lies, distortions and distractions of Donald Trump?

Turn the messaging mechanism off whenever Trump is discussed. Become a silent and distanced protester. Spend your considerable time on helping to forge Canadian policy where, in my words, a more compatible civic religion and political institutions exist. Will heeding the voice of a superego to ensure purity and immunity from contamination save us?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Fuck God!

Fuck God!

by

Howard Adelman

Wow! Neither the crusading atheists, Richard Dawkins nor Christopher Hitchens, wrote that. Hitchens did say to religious believers, “Fuck you” and Fuck off,” but never wrote or verbalized “Fuck God” to the best of my knowledge. That is because he was more interested in writing about his disbelief in God than indicating any relationship to God. For someone who blasphemes God suggests an irritation or anger with God, Otherwise, why say it? Irritation or anger with someone is not denial or banishment to an unspoken world. I wanted the reader to have at least a sliver of understanding about the powerful effect of blaspheming God.

Nevertheless, the expression in the title remains ambiguous. Not in its meaning! It is unequivocally a blasphemous statement. But it is ambiguous in the sense that the reader does not know whether I am asserting what the phrase says or whether I am writing down the phrase as an object for dissection. I could have put the expression in quotation marks, but that would not have helped much. Because I could be quoting myself. Further, I would have lost some of the impact. I want readers to grasp what blasphemy is directly since we are far removed from a world and a time when blasphemy was not merely shocking, but a reason to stone me to death for making such an utterance. If I may cite an eminent authority, Prince Charles declared that we had lost the sense of the sacred in our public life. We no longer recognize that cursing God should arouse revulsion, rage and revenge. When religious identity is at the core of who you are, then cursing God is akin to calling someone a dirty Jew.

Last evening, I saw an excellent Israeli Bedouin film called Sand Storm. At one point in the movie, a first wife not only disobeys her husband, but talks back to him and goes further and even insults him. She is not stoned. But she is “banished” from her husband’s compound and, in disgrace, sent back to the home of her parents and separated from her four daughters. We would not only regard the punishment as unacceptable, but as cruel and unjust. On the other hand, in the rabbinic tradition, capital punishment for blasphemy was avoided by resorting to the lesser penalty of banishment for limited periods, say seven days, though in the most liberal of states, the Netherlands, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated in the middle of the seventeenth century for life for his pantheistic interpretation of God. (The condemnation has never been reversed.)

On my birthday two years ago on 7 January 2015, the newsroom massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo took place in Paris. The instigation for the attack was alleged blaspheme – and not even of God, but of one of his most important prophets – Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo spent years mocking believers and institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. Its cartoons were trenchant and telling, for the target was the marriage of belief and power and the elevation of some subjects to the sacred. The Catholic Church sued Charlie Hebdo 14 times, each unsuccessfully. The constant object of attack was the hidden and not so hidden racism in French society that hides behind white robes and the so-called civility of society.

This was precisely the subject of debate when two brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, with Kalashnikovs and a grenade launcher stormed the offices of the magazine shouting, “Allah Akbar,” God is great! as they fired indiscriminately and insisted that, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” (On the same day, in addition to the journalists, a policeman as well as members of the Jewish community were murdered at other locations.) For Al Qaeda had vowed revenge when Charlie Hebdo first printed the portrait of the prophet on its front cover and then republished the infamous Danish caricature mocking Islamic fanaticism nine years after the cartoon first appeared. In defence of Al Qaeda, does not the Hebrew Torah also condemn cursing Abraham as well as God? (Exodus 22:27)

Canadian law (Criminal Code Section 296) still prohibits blasphemy, a critical issue for many now that Bill M-103 has passed condemning Islamophobia. Blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or failing to display reverence and respect for religious symbols or persons. Though the penalty is not execution or stoning, you can get up to two years in prison.

  1. (1) Everyone who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years

(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in contrast, in 1952 in the case of Joseph Burstyn v. Wilson ruled that “it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.” Under the blasphemy laws until Cromwell intervened, a Sephardic Jew and physician, Jacob Lumbrozo, whose family had once fled the inquisition, was charged in Maryland, a Catholic colony, in 1658 with blasphemy under the ironically named Toleration Act of 1649 that adumbrated the language of the laws of George Orwell’s 1984.

The fight was over freedom of expression. For in our contemporary Western secular civil religion, freedom to say what you want is far more sacred than any reverence for divinity. But not everywhere. Specifically, not in the Middle East. Fanatics were causing mayhem and murder in their war against the new secular civic religion. In defence of the latter, some journalists were willing to risk and even sacrifice their lives. And sacrifice they did. All for insisting that laughter had to be protected in the face of assaults on it in the name of something else regarded as sacred. Charlie Hebdo was not against, was not opposed, to those who would elevate God or Jesus or Muhammad to sacred status. It did fight against those who would deny its right to have its own set of sacred values. Charlie Hebdo was not Islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo was philofreedom.

On the other hand, would Charlie Hebdo defend the right of Islamicists not only to openly advocate suppressing blasphemous speech, but to urge a community to stone or kill by other means anyone who engages in blasphemy? Would Charlie Hebdo not insist on some boundaries to free speech as a central core value, i.e., when free speech is used to advocate attacks on free speech and the murder of its defenders? When or if caveats are used to limit free speech in the name of free speech, especially if the defender of this position is an anarchist and/or pacifist like many of the journalists writing for Charlie Hebdo, is this not hypocrisy? Whatever one’s position, it does make clearer the strong motivation behind laws against blasphemy.

Whatever criticisms I have had of the French secular civil religion of laicité and its own paranoid intolerance of hijabs, that religion does affirm the right to be blasphemous. (See Caroline Fourest (2015) Éloge du blaphsphème, In Praise of Blasphemy, Grasset.) The civic religion of North America does not, and no English edition was published even though the United States is far ahead of Canada on this subject. Further, the current compassionate Pope Francis in some sense defended the murderous response to blasphemy as “normal.”

And it once was. Blasphemous, irreverent or sacrilegious words about God are not only condemned, but acts not strictly in accord with God’s instructions for behaviour in the holy of holies are worthy of capital punishment as well. God killed the two eldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, for making such an error. Profaning God’s name was equivalent to profaning God’s home. Fanatical Islam simply expands the targets to anyone insulting the Prophet of Islam. One of the deep roots for the condemnation of blasphemy is to be found in this week’s portion of Leviticus. And not only in Leviticus. Exodus 22:27 reads:

אֱלֹהִים לֹא תְקַלֵּל וְנָשִׂיא בְעַמְּךָ לֹא תָאֹר. You shall not revile God, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people.

Insulting the head of state is also considered blasphemy.

The opening chapter of Parashat Emor (verse 6 of chapter 21) reads:

קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְחַלְּלוּ שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיהֶם… They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.

The injunction is repeated in 22:32. “Don’t profane my Holy NAME that I may be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.”

The wording in Leviticus 25:14 sets out the penalty:

ויקרא כד:יד הוֹצֵא אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְסָמְכוּ כָל הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה. Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him.

Leviticus 24:15 states:

ויקרא כד:טו …אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יְקַלֵּל אֱלֹהָיו וְנָשָׂא חֶטְאוֹ. כד:טז וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם יְ-הוָה מוֹת יוּמָת רָגוֹם יִרְגְּמוּ בוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָהכַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח בְּנָקְבוֹ שֵׁם יוּמָת. Anyone who vilifies his God shall bear his guilt. And the one who invokes the name of YHWH shall surely die, all the assembly shall surely stone him; the ger and the citizen alike, he who invokes the name shall die.

The impression seems clear. Blasphemy is verboten and deserving of the harshest punishment. However, is that the lesson of the text? I suggest otherwise. The text offers one case study. (24:11) The son of an Israelite woman who married an Egyptian gets into a fight with an Israelite and says the equivalent of, “Fuck God!” Moses, upon God’s command, orders the community to remove that individual and stone him. Banishment alone was insufficient given the perceived enormity of the crime.

וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת דִּבְרִי לְמַטֵּה דָן. The son of the Israelite woman invoked the name, vilifying it, and he was brought to Moses. And the name of his mother was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan.

But then why is the description of this event immediately followed by a universal injunction against taking another’s life? Is the passage and the general narrative really about an objection to blasphemy or is it an objection to a norm which justifies murder provoked even by blasphemy? For is not the implication of the initial tale of a fight between an Israelite and a child of a mixed marriage that the fight was about racism? This fight ran contrary to the injunction to welcome the stranger, to welcome the ger. And even within the laws of blasphemy, was not the ger to be treated equally with any Israelite? The key question is whether the incident illustrates how important and sacred are laws protecting the sacred so that those who defile God’s name are to be put to death. Or is the story told to carry the message that racism is wrong and that murder in the name of blasphemy is heinous?

We have two interpretations of the same narrative that are totally at odds. In one, a standard version, the text stresses the enormity of the crime of blasphemy and the consequent severe punishment for engaging in it. For blasphemy was an attack on the central core beliefs of the Israelites in their one and singular God. Reverence for God is absolutely necessary to preserve and strengthen the identity of the Israelites as holy, as God’s chosen people. Profaning the name of God detracts not only from the reverence for God, but turns the utterer away from being holy to being profane. (21:6) God, in turn, may, as a result of such treatment, turn his back on His chosen people and abandon them as unholy. Further, when the sacrilege of blasphemy takes place, it is necessary to unite the people in defence of God’s name.

In the other interpretation, the real issue is racism and the gross mistreatment of someone who curses God. What is the evidence for questioning the standard interpretation? A least, what are the puzzles that give rise to questioning the standard traditional account?

Note the following:

  • The boy (not man) who commits the “crime” of blasphemy is the child of a mixed marriage.
  • There is an implication that the altercation that gave rise to his cursing God was the use of a racial epithet against him.
  • Though the son is not named, the Israelite mother is, Shelomit (a peacenik (though Rashi calls her a strumpet), daughter of Dibri (from dever, destruction) of the tribe of Dan; there is also the suggestion that she was a single mother, possibly the mother of a son that was the result of rape by an Egyptian man in an inversion of the Moses story.
  • Professor Wendy Zierier has pointed out that the phrasing used is both unusual and follows the same formulation as the reference to the matriarch, Rebecca, “who is referred to as רִבְקָה בַּת־בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם, “Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, from Paddan-Aram,” a formulation also used to depict the kings of Israel.
  • Why is the parent of a blaspheming son provided with such a lofty designation and what had her preachiness about peace and her heritage from a shit-disturber have to do with the meaning of the story?
  • There is the repeated stress that all children of God, not just Israelites, fall under the injunction not to profane God’s name.
  • Further, Israelites are specifically enjoined not to wrong the ger, the stranger who lives amongst them.
  • However, there is the suggestion that an Egyptian, unlike the stranger, is not to be treated equally because he introduced an “impurity” into the Israeli blood – if this sounds racist, that is the intention; after all, Leviticus insists that it is wrong to wear clothes made of mixed materials or to take one breed of cattle and “mix” it with another.
  • Further, the father of that son was an Egyptian, a ember of a people whose oppression the Israelis fled; the boy is not just of a mixed “race,” but his father was an enemy and not just a stranger living among the Israelites.
  • In the punishment, the boy is first banished from the camp and stoned outside it.

The answer to these puzzles, which I can only sketch, interprets the tale, not as a defence of blasphemy laws, not as a defence of racism, not as a defence of patrilineal descent, but as a stricture against such values. It is precisely because laws of blasphemy can be abused by those in power, as Queen Jezebel used them to punish and take away the vineyard for her husband, King Ahab. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is made of the same deformed spirit who would punish those not absolutely loyal to and in service of his regime so that what he says is not hate speech, but what the critical media write.

The meaning of the tale is given by the ending – do not murder. Do not kill. Especially, do not kill in the name of protecting God’s name. If that is the case, why does God order Moses to tell the people to stone the boy? I suggest it is a parallel to God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son. Only this time, God does not intervene and save Moses from such a heinous act. Moses carries it out and stains the future of Jewry and of all humankind just as he once, in rage against an Egyptian overseer’s injustice, killed that Egyptian. In the end, Moses never learned to overcome his rage and all humans had to be enjoined not to kill.

Wronging and Opp Strangers

Wronging and Oppressing Strangers: Mishpatim Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

by

Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that we read such a text between Donald Trump’s aborted cruel, inhuman and unconstitutional Executive Order dealing with migrants and the delayed promise to issue a revised order next week? When immigration enforcement officers were previously restricted to rounding up illegal aliens in the U.S. found guilty of serious crimes, is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when restrictions on U.S. immigration officers have been lifted and they are now instructed to round up illegal aliens found or even alleged to be guilty of any conviction (going through a red light) and not just a criminal let alone a serious criminal record?  Guadalupe García de Rayos, was arrested in Phoenix and ordered deported; she is the mother of two American-born children and had been in the U.S. ten years and was registered with the American Immigration Service to which she reported dutifully twice per year. But she had been found guilty years ago of carrying and working under a fake ID.

Is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when refugees in the dead of winter have been crossing the undefended and usually unprotected land border between the U.S. and Canada at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec or near Emerson, Manitoba or in British Columbia at unmanned border crossings such as in Surrey where a Honduran family recently entered Canada? RCMP officers may monitor banks of screens receiving data from surveillance cameras, but that only tracks and does not stop claimants from crossing into Canada. Once on Canadian soil, they are assisted by Quebec provincial police, RCMP officers, Canadian Border Services agents or volunteers to be taken to a centre where they can make a refugee claim. In January alone, 452 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec and over 400 into Manitoba. To repeat, this has been in the dead of winter. In another month, we can expect the numbers to greatly increase so that I will not be surprised, if the circumstances do not change in the U.S., to see up to 40,000 asylum claimants cross the border into Canada illegally in 2017. And this could turn out to be a gross underestimate.

There is a way to circumvent these riskier crossings. Allow claimants to cross at legal entry points and make a claim there. That would mean suspending the definition of the U.S. as a Safe Third Country. For that provision presumed that asylum claimants would be protected by U.S. law. There are justifiable fears that this is no longer the case, not just by sympathetic Canadians, but by supporters of refugees in the United States, many of whom have volunteered to take the asylum claimants to areas where they can walk across the border at a terminus of a new underground railway network into Canada.

Many Americans and Canadians are taking Justin Trudeau at his word when he tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” This week, Canada welcomed into Manitoba another group of the 1,200 Yazidis due to arrive in Canada this year as humanitarian refugees who will not have to be processed through the Convention refugee claims system.

Canada is on the outer fringes of the refugee movements, especially the hundreds of thousands crossing into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. This past week, we read of 87 bodies recovered from a capsized boat off the cost of Libya; the smugglers had removed the motor and allowed the boat to be swamped. Last week I learned that the son of an Israeli friend, a diver who inspects underwater pipelines, found numerous bodies trapped under the pipeline at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Several weeks ago, a visiting Israeli rabbi talked to a group of us about the refugees arriving in Israel from Africa and the Middle East and discussed the “Extradition of Refugees According to the Jewish Tradition.” He quoted Deuteronomy 23:16-17 dealing with the treatment of bondsmen who should not be returned to his master and, instead, should be allowed to dwell with one who found him or her. That escaped bondsmen should be allowed to live in freedom within the gates of the city and no wrong should be committed against him.

Mishpatim (laws) deal with both slaves and strangers. Though Genesis 14:19 enjoins Israelites to “love the stranger for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Mishpatim is the first time this moral injunction is put into a legal code posed as a negative as distinct from a positive moral injunction of action that is just, These Covenantal laws, Sefer HaB’rit, are not as generous as the Deuteronomic Code or the Holiness Code found in Leviticus, but just as Moses upon the advice of Jethro made a beginning in the administration of justice and introduced a more decentralized system of administering law, one in which the magistrates were to be chosen based on moral criteria without direct guidance from God (see my blog from last Friday), much more specific and clearly man-made laws well beyond the Ten Commandments had to be introduced. If we take the position in the text as reflecting a time when the laws were introduced (unlikely), these laws were promulgated before Moses disappeared for forty days and forty nights.

It is telling that the very first laws are those applicable to Hebrew slaves and then to property. Only then, and very briefly, do we read, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (22:20) I thought that Rabbi Plaut had told me that this injunction was the one most repeated in the Torah and was cited 27 times, but my memory must be incorrect because the visiting rabbi said that, in fact, he had counted and it was repeated 36 times. As everyone knows, and as the Babylonian Talmud reminds us (Bava Metzia 59b), the more repetition, the greater the significance. It isn’t as if there is a causal relationship between the experience of slavery in Egypt and the obligation not to wrong or oppress strangers, but, as many know who have undertaken research on those who assist refugees, the closer the connection in the family history with the experience of refugees, the greater the motivation to help. Having been a stranger is neither an adequate nor a necessary motive for helping refugees, but, statistically, it increases the likelihood of offering such assistance. Even more importantly, it established a fundamental identity between the person offering assistance and the refugee. History and memory must be reinforced to ensure hospitality for the stranger.

But the Israelites were not just strangers in Egypt; they were slaves. The section Mishpatim begins with slaves as an echo of Genesis, “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13) Refugees are often treated worse even than slaves, for they often lack the protections of the larger society or state in which they live. However, if we are to understand what it means in the instruction not to wrong or oppress the stranger, it is helpful to look at the initial and first try at dealing with slaves, not slaves who are non-nationals, but Hebrew slaves.

Hebrew slaves in Exodus were debt slaves, though in Leviticus (17-26) they are simply called debtors. Reduced to impoverishment, they became slaves to compensate for debts. But as Hebrews, they were not Other. Further, there was a maximum limit to their enslavement – 6 years unless the master provided a male with a woman to wed and they had children. (The Deuteronomy Code – in reality more an incomplete collection of common law rather than a systematic code, but I will use the latter as a term of convenience – renames the debt slave as a brother and goes further, requiring the master to release the debt slave with part of his profits from his years of labour to allow the debt slave to get a new start -15:13) In the latter case, in the Exodus Code, the wife and the children continue to remain slaves belonging to the master, but they were also released in the improved Deuteronomy Code. If a man does not want to be separated from his wife and children, he may voluntarily stay as a refugee for the rest of his life, a status to be marked by an awl pierced through his ear.

Note that this part of the code had to do with male slaves. The code was based on gender discrimination. Daughters could be sold by their fathers (not their parents) but as “wives,” not as slaves, but only under the Exodus Code. But if the male tired of a woman he kept as a concubine, he either had to let her go free, especially if he violated her rights, or provide for her for the rest of her days. He could not sell her. If his son married her, then she had to be treated equally as any other woman chosen to be a wife. (Exodus 21:2-11) So there is a hierarchy of Others – male slaves, female concubines and strangers. The greatest number of injunctions by far apply to the treatment of strangers.

This does not mean that there was a correspondence between the law and actual behaviour. As is well known, there is often a gap between the moral aspirations of a society and its conformity to those ideals. Abuse of debt slaves, of women in slavery and of strangers increased as the gap widened between the protections offered to those at the bottom of the ladder and the rewards taken and presumed by those at the top widened. That is, as societies became more corrupt, as the prophet Amos pointed out, the greater the mistreatment of debt slaves, of women and of strangers. That mistreatment is often a by-product of that corruption and/or used as a distraction from it.  The results were often horrific.

For example, a widow cried out to the prophet Elisha:

ד:א וְאִשָּׁ֣ה אַחַ֣ת מִנְּשֵׁ֣י בְנֵֽי־הַ֠נְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָ֨ה אֶל־אֱלִישָׁ֜ע לֵאמֹ֗ר עַבְדְּךָ֤ אִישִׁי֙ מֵ֔ת וְאַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ כִּ֣י עַבְדְּךָ֔ הָיָ֥ה יָרֵ֖א אֶת־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וְהַ֨נֹּשֶׁ֔ה בָּ֗א לָקַ֜חַת אֶת־שְׁנֵ֧י יְלָדַ֛י ל֖וֹ לַעֲבָדִֽים: 4:1 A certain woman, the wife of one of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha: “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know how your servant revered Yhwh. And now a creditor is coming to seize my two children as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)

This ruthlessness, obviously, is not restricted to the ancient world. When the very people who caused the mortgage crisis and economic collapse in 2008 were rescued, the hundreds of thousands who owed money on many of those mortgages on properties that were then financially underwater were not given relief by and large, but were foreclosed upon and thrown out of their homes because the system “sold the just for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Ruthlessness became even more the order of the day.

When we do not take care of our own needy (evvon), it is much more difficult to take care of the needs of strangers. The innocent, the just, the idealists (tzaddiqim) are swept aside and everyone out for himself becomes the ruling ethos. The poor, the needy, have indeed been cheated by the system as their incomes decline and they fall into poverty. It is no wonder that many are willing to follow a leader who displaces the blame on foreigners, on strangers, for often, this is a distraction to hide even more deep-seated corruption.

The stranger is not to be treated wrongly or oppressed. These are not the same, but there is contention about the difference. Some argue that a wrong falls under the law – someone is wronged when he or she is treated other than in the way the law requires. A person oppressed is a victim of society. In another interpretation, a wrong is a monetary infraction for which there can be compensation. There can be no compensation for oppression. Alternatively, a wrong is a verbal slight, an expression of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia for which there can be no financial compensation. Oppression is a specific action of exploitation. In a fourth and somewhat complementary conception, a wrong is corrected by writing and applying just law; oppression can only be corrected through empathy by a native-born for the stranger.

Whatever the differences, a ger stranger is not a visiting foreigner (nochri), but an alien living among us who is not yet a citizen. The Torah demands that the ger be treated with all the rights we have and, as well, with a welcoming hand and smile. Xenophobia is the precise opposite to this treatment.

 

I am grateful for the insights into debt slaves to the commentaries of Professor Marvin A. Sweeney (“The Bible’s Evolving Effort to Humanize Debt Slavery”), Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy”), and Dr. Aaron Koller (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Reading the Law Collections as Commentary”) who contends that the three different versions apply to three different types of servitude and that Deuteronomy fills in lacunae rather than develops the law in a more benign direction. On the principle of treating the stranger, see Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s commentary from 2 February 2008 entitled “Loving the Stranger.”

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Terrorism and Migration: Part I                                                                      29 January 2017

by

Howard Adelman

Donald Trump is at it again. Why doesn’t he leave me alone? Why doesn’t he leave you alone? On Friday, 27 January 2017, the Office of the Press Secretary released Donald Trump’s executive order on migration, formally called, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Before we go to the text itself, look at all the worry and consternation Trump has already caused simply by the preliminary leaks. His own bombast on the subject on television set off verbal brush fires all over the place. The full text can be found of numerous sites around the world; s:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/politics/refugee-muslim-executive-order-trump.html)

Many businesses with skilled workers from overseas employed by American companies are affected. Would the companies have to meet abroad so that these employees can attend? Would all international academic conferences have to be relocated outside the United States? What about students and faculty traveling back and forth? And consider all the private universities in the U.S. dependent on income from foreign students. There are over a million foreign students; though few come from the countries specifically boycotted, all would have to go through a rigid check system.

Look at the letter the Dean of Faculty of Princeton University felt impelled to send her colleagues this past Friday even before she could access  the full text of the new executive order. Simply based on the pre-publication media reports and the consternation they were already causing, she sent out the following letter to try to quiet the fears raging though her segment of academia.

We have received many messages from members of our community concerned about the impact of possible changes in immigration policies under the new administration in Washington. According to media reports, President Trump signed an executive order today. It has been reported that the order includes stricter immigration vetting measures and may include provisions that could impact non-immigrant visa holders as well as lawful U.S. permanent residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. At this stage, we do not know the content of the executive order or its impact.

We do, however, want to be prepared to support and advise our students, scholars, and others who might be affected by any changes, and to express our deep concern about any potential impact on the ability of this and other American universities to engage in teaching and research of the highest quality.

We have strongly advised students and scholars who might be affected and who have travel plans in the coming days to defer travel outside of the United States until there is some clarity and legal analysis of the situation or, if they must travel, to seek legal counsel before they do. We have also shared with potentially affected students and scholars the information we are receiving from a law firm that follows these matters closely and has advised members of our community in the past. More from Fragomen Worldwide Immigration Law Firm Alert January 25, 2017.

We wanted to share this information more broadly with all of you because many of your students or peers may be reaching out to you for information or support, and we are all affected when members of our community feel at risk. We take very seriously anything that could affect the ability of our students and scholars to engage in their scholarship. International students and scholars who have immigration questions or specific questions about their current situation should contact the Davis International Center (puvisa@princeton.edu), which is following the situation extremely closely and in the best position to provide advice or resources.

We will continue to keep you posted as we know more and we will work closely with our Princeton colleagues, peer institutions and the immigration law community to understand this and other immigration issues as they arise and to support members of our community who make essential contributions to research and teaching on this campus.

Does the new executive order include “stricter vetting procedures,” what Trump thunders as “extreme vetting”? Would the new policy impact on non-immigrant visa holders, such as individuals on student visas or teaching in the United States at universities on temporary work permits? Would the policy affect lawful U.S. permanent residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who already hold permanent residence visas? Would the executive order affect teaching and research of the highest quality, or any quality for that matter? Though intended to express a concern about research in general, the effect of this quickly drafted open letter to the members of her community in the wording unintentionally suggested that Princeton was only concerned about the highest quality research? The fallout from the irrationality exuding from Washington even frazzles the minds of brilliant academics so they too misspeak.

Even more fundamentally, how does the executive order conform with existing law that in designating countries for exclusion, there must be an evaluation of the effects of such a designation “on the law enforcement and security interests in the United States (including the interest in enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States and the existence and effectiveness of its agreements and procedures for extraditing to the United States individuals, including its own nationals, who commit crimes that violate U.S. law.)” In other words, if countries are designated – as Syria as well as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are – without any evaluation on U.S. capacity for law enforcement or on U.S. security interests domestically and internationally and on extradition procedures, is the executive order illegal? It is noteworthy that the law firm commenting on the presidential executive order did not comment on the legality of some of its sections.

Further, though the President and the members of his cabinet are given wide discretion under existing legislation, they are all required to follow certain very clearly defined procedures in applying such a designation. And there is no evidence, and likely there is none given the very short period the Trump government has been in power, that those procedures have been followed. The issue is not only whether the ban is “inappropriate and ineffective in the fight against terror,” as the American Iranian Council has argued, but the executive order may also be illegal since there has been no effort to gather evidence to measure either the appropriateness or effectiveness in fighting terror.

What initial advice was offered? If you might be affected, do not travel. That is, you risk not being re-admitted to the United States. If you must travel and are in a situation that might be affected, get some legal advice. Immigration lawyers are about to do a booming business in the United States and around the world. Such are the affects of the blather coming out of the mouth of the most powerful individual in the world. America’s best and brightest, not any prospective terrorist, are discombobulated. This is the first paragraph of the legal advisory a top immigration law firm sent out:

President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will suspend the entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to the United States for a period of 30 days, according to a published draft of the order. {A report in the 26 January 2017 New York Times was cited.] The executive order is also expected to suspend a worldwide program that exempted certain visa renewal applicants from consular interviews. [See Section 8 (a)]

The focus of the panic attack was on foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen or on those who hold dual citizenship for the birth place may determine whether or not the person is deemed to be a national of one of those countries. Thus, even if the person is an American citizen, if a country such as Iran insists that the person is an Iranian national, under this presidential executive order, the person can be treated as an Iranian national.

Will residents in America who have strong ties to those countries be affected, since it is the foreign country’s laws that determine whether the United States deems the individual to be a member of that foreign nation? Does the ban apply to temporary visa holders (B-1, H1B and L-1) who are currently lawful permanent residents of the United States? If so, then you should be concerned about travelling back “home” if one of your parents becomes ill. The letter from this legal firm warned about long delays in processing visa applications as a result of the executive order, since the waiver for personal interviews was removed. All applicants would have to have a personal interview.

For a government determined to whittle down bureaucracy, this perhaps illegal cancellation of existing law under section 217 2/A (8 U.S.C. 1187) applicable to countries with very low non-immigrant refusal rates will just mean many more personnel required to deal with visa applications.

Now not one of these words of the law firm or the Princeton Dean of Faculty mentions refugees, the ostensible prime target of the executive order. The momentum of this America-First inspired policy almost forced institutions and professionals to attend first to self-centred needs, those of their own community members. Those most affected and those most in need of assistance, refugees, were ignored in both the letters of the law firm and the dean. This may be the most pernicious effect of the new regime.

Certainly, there is a danger of this in Canada where officials appear primarily focused on possible negative (and positive in the case of pipelines) effects on Canada of the new Trump regime. The Minister of Immigration, who was himself born in Somalia, if not carrying a Diplomatic passport, could possibly be barred from entry into the U.S. However, contrary to the ordinary meaning of Trump’s executive order, on Saturday, the U.S. State Department “clarified” that Canadians with dual citizenship from any of the seven nations would be denied entry for the next three months. Minister Ahmed Hussen evidently got an agreement from Washington reversing this decision and that not only Canadian citizens with dual citizenship from one of the seven countries designated in the ban, but also those with citizenship from one of the countries but only permanent residence in Canada, would NOT be barred from entry into the U.S. However, an Alberta biomedical engineer, Haji Reza, born in Iran with a Canadian permanent residence card, was banned from entry into the U.S.

Further, the Minister announced that Canada would step in to invite those refused entry into the U.S. to come to Canada on temporary permits. However, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” However, Canada has not yet increased its targeted intake to make up, at least in part, for those refugees denied entry into the U.S.

There is anther side, however, a more tragic side. In Quebec especially, there has been a rise of Islamophobia, inspired in part by the French government ban on wearing items which communicate religious messages – kippas, large crosses but especially hijabs. A 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey “found that 43 percent of Quebecers believe we should be suspicious of anyone who openly expresses their religion, with 49 per cent expressing some uneasiness around the sight of Muslim veils.” After a note had been posted the year before on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec reading: “Islam hors de chez moi,” (Islam out of my country), this past year during Ramadan, a pig’s head wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow was left on the doorstep of the centre.

Yesterday evening events became much worse. A gunman opened fire on the 40 or so congregants at that Centre. There are at least six deaths and many injured. Will Trump put a ban on travel to the United States against right wing Islamophobic terrorists?

The reality is that Trump policy measures targeting Muslims, while insisting he does not target Muslims, is contagious. Trump’s linkage between terrorism and Muslim migrants and refugees is not only dangerous to the fundamental values of the United States, not to speak of its efficient functioning, but to other countries around the world.

To be continued

Denial – A Movie Review Part I

Denial – A Movie Review Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, I did not attend the community memorial to Shimon Peres. I intended to do so. But I went to an afternoon movie to see the film, Denial. Directed by Mick Jackson, using a script by the British playwright David Hare, the film was based, in turn, on a 2005 book called History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah E. Lipstadt. That volume recounted Lipstadt’s legal defence against three charges of libel allegedly contained in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust. The Growing Assault on History and Memory.

The suit was brought against her by David Irving, the so-called English military historian and Nazi sympathizer whom Lipstadt had described in her 1993 book as one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. In his statement of claim against Lipstadt (as well as the publisher, Penguin Books), Irving cited Lipstadt’s descriptions of Holocaust deniers as those who, “misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completely distorts the authors’ objectives. Deniers count on the fact that the vast majority of readers will not have access to the documentation or make the effort to determine how they have falsified or misconstrued information” (p. 111)

On p. 161, Lipstadt cited other scholarly descriptions of David Irving, specifically. “Scholars have described Irving as a ‘Hitler partisan wearing blinkers’ and have accused him of distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes. He is best known for his thesis that Hitler did not know about the Final Solution, an idea that scholars have dismissed. The prominent British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper depicted Irving as a man who ‘seizes on a small and dubious part particle of’ evidence using it to dismiss far-more-substantial evidence that may not support his thesis. His work has n described as ‘closer to theology or mythology than to history,’ and he has been accused of skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, particularly those that exonerate Hitler. (Sunday Times, 12 July 1977)”

“An ardent admirer of the Nazi leader, Irving placed a self-portrait of Hitler over his desk, described his visit to Hitler’s mountaintop retreat as a spiritual experience, (Harris, 1986) and declared that Hitler repeatedly reached out to help the Jews. (Canadian Jewish News, 16 March 1989) In 1981 Irving, a self-described “moderate fascist,” established his own right-wing political party, founded on his belief that he was meant to be a future leader of Britain. (London Jewish Chronicle, 27 May 1983) He is an ultra-nationalist who believes that Britain has been on a steady path of decline accelerated by its misguided decision to launch a war against Nazi Germany. He has advocated that Rudolf Hess should have received the Nobel Prize for his efforts to try to stop war between Britain and Germany.10 On some level Irving seems to conceive himself as carrying on Hitler’s legacy.”

Canada played a role in the trial. I am not referring to the fact that Lipstadt, like Donald Trump, was born in Queens, but her father was Canadian, a possibly important element in the conflict between truth and lies. Lipstadt in her 1993 volume locates David Irving’s conversion into an outright Holocaust denier to his attendance at the trial of Ernst Zundel for hate speech where he testified for Zundel and, most importantly, was introduced to the Boston engineer of execution machines, Fred A. Leuchter, who had claimed that the chemicals used in the so-called gas chambers were intended to kill the lice on the corpses of Jews who had died from typhoid.

“In his foreward to his publication of the Leuchter Report, Irving wrote that there was no doubt as to Leuchter’s ‘integrity’ and ‘scrupulous methods.’ He made no mention of Leuchter’s lack of technical expertise or of the many holes that had been poked in his findings. Most important, Irving wrote, ‘Nobody likes to be swindled, still less where considerable sums of money are involved.’ Irving identified Israel as the swindler, claiming that West Germany had given it more than ninety billion deutsche marks in voluntary reparations, ‘essentially in atonement for the ‘gas chambers of Auschwitz.’ According to Irving the problem was that the latter was a myth that would ‘not die easily.’”

None of these quotes are cited in the movie that I can recall. However, the Leuchter argument introduced at the trial of Ernest Zundel in Toronto plays a crucial role in the movie, it is simplified and summarized when Lipstadt argues that the amount of cyanide needed to kill humans would be 20X the amount needed to kill lice. Further, as Tom Wilkinson in the role of Richard Rampton pointed out in court, why would one want to sanitize bodies that were to be burnt in a crematorium? And why would you build a shelter for Nazis 2.5 miles from their barracks?

After watching the movie, I lost my motivation to attend the homage to the late Shimon Peres, a man I admired greatly. I was in attendance at the Jerusalem auditorium when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on 20 November 1977 paid his historic visit to Israel and turned politics in the Middle East upside down forever. The visit, his talk and the subsequent negotiations led to the Camp David Accords and the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. In 1978, Sadat would justly win a Nobel peace prize for what he had set in motion. As he had said in his speech the previous day in the Knesset, “Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call, which reflected the will of the Egyptian people, of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind.”

On the stage of the Jerusalem Theatre the next day in addition to Anwar Sadat were Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Labour Party Chair, Shimon Peres. I was in Jerusalem that year as a Lady Davis Visiting Scholar at Hebrew University. The Jerusalem Theatre occasion was an opportunity to address the world press and I managed to get accredited as a journalist to get into the theatre. If you listened to the three speeches, they echoed much of what had been said the day before in the Knesset. I have not been able to locate their speeches given at the Jerusalem Theatre that day. But my recollection is very vivid – the day was so extraordinary for me.

Sadat’s speech was dramatic and very moving. The words I remember best came near the end: “Love justice and do right.” [I hope I remembered correctly and I cannot recall whether he went on to the echo the psalm and ask that right and justice be allowed to kiss.] In order for that to happen, you had to be straightforward and honest. Truth was not an end in itself, but a prerequisite to a just and peaceful world. I recall how Sadat’s speech exemplified those values.

Sadat did not try to hide the truth about the bitter enmity between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. It was not a manipulative speech, but one addressed to all Arabs and Jews as well as the rest of the people in the world to come together and win together, to win a peace instead of a war. It was also poetic as he addressed the sorrowing mothers, widows, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters for whom the ghosts of their loved ones fill the air like the raindrops in a London downpour. Use that memory, he urged, to fill your hearts with the aspiration for peace where hope transforms the world to create a new reality in which lives can blossom. For Sadat, an international agreement was not the prelude to peace, but the culmination of a radical change in attitude which requires a struggle against both the whim of indifference and egocentric personal ambition.

Sadat had chosen not to dwell on the past, not to rehearse the struggle for Arab independence from colonial rule and the perception that the Balfour Declaration and subsequent events were understood by Arabs as a continuation of colonialism that led to a history of warfare between the Arabs and Jews, between Israel and Egypt, But, while recognizing the need for Israel to be guaranteed the right to live in safety and security, he did challenge Israel to recognize the injustice to the Palestinians, to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, to withdraw from East Jerusalem and to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. He called on Israelis and Arabs together to make Jerusalem a free and open city for people of all faiths.

How did Begin and Peres respond to this prophet of peace? Like Sadat, Begin stressed a belief in right rather than might. However, in contrast, to Sadat’s speech, Begin focused on the past. He began with the Arab rejection of Israel’s offers to live in peace with her Arab neighbours from the very beginning of the founding of the state, only to receive the response of a military attack from three sides of the many against the few. He did not carry the history forward but went back to the history of Jews expelled from their land and sent into exile. Jews never forgot their land, even for a single day, but instead longed for and prayed for return. And they never forgot Jerusalem. But also never forgot the obligation of all religions to maintain and visit their holy sites, something that had not been allowed during the nineteen years of Arab control of the city. Then he dwelled on the Holocaust. For before Sadat addressed the Knesset the previous day, Begin had accompanied him to Yad Vashem. Never again! Israel had been built on the pledge, “Never again.”

Peres took a different course than either Sadat or Begin. Though he too believed in hope rather than cynicism, though he too knew that the past had to be recalled lest it be repeated, though he, like Begin, reiterated the commitment of all Israelis to peace, he stressed that a common past bound Arabs and Jews together and so would the aspirations for a great future, but Peres, ever the pragmatist, focused on the present. He began by recognizing Sadat’s courage in an Arab world hostile to Israel to travel to Israel and, specifically, to Jerusalem. He insisted that, in seeking peace and entering into negotiations, Israelis would accept this as a new beginning, a new start, where it would be necessary for Israelis to free themselves from pre-conceived notions.

On the other hand, Peres was brutally frank. He said that he disagreed, not with the aspirations for peace, but with much of the substance of Sadat’s opening position. But negotiations start with differences and only proceed if each party listens to the other and tries to forge a compromise. Sadat’s courage in coming to Jerusalem was proof that negotiations could now proceed on a new foundation so that with patience, a peace agreement might be forged. He then went on as a total realist, without circumlocution or deceit, to outline Israel’s opening position and then to list the actual steps that would have to be taken to achieve peace.

In the movie, Denial, the theme is not about how enemies can come together to forge peace, but how allies have to come together and make compromises in a peaceful way in order to expand the realm of peace and justice. That is where the dramatic tension is, not between the liar and falsifier versus those concerned with truth. In that case, there is no room for compromise, but one side must win.

With the help of Alex Zisman

IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics

IX Combatting BDS: Domestic Politics

by

Howard Adelman

Domestic Politics in the U.S.

Every country has its weak points where political parties are susceptible to infiltration and the promotion of the BDS agenda. In the United States, it has been the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, in Britain, the left in the Labour Party and the Green Party, in Canada, weakest of all, the party most on the margins, its Green Party has been directly targeted by BDS. But the actual tactics are similar in various countries – promote candidates within the party sympathetic to the BDS cause, promote members on policy platforms and policies that advance the BDS position, and do so by playing down the BDS anti-Zionism and playing up the “illegal” settlements on the West Bank and Palestinian human rights. The counter-attack pushes in precisely the opposite direction.

Bernie Sanders had been given the right to name five of the fifteen members of the Democratic Party Platform Committee, though he still held out from endorsing Clinton. In May, Bernie chose Cornel West to be one of his five nominees on the National Democratic Committee to draft the Democratic political platform in the forthcoming election, in particular, the platform on Israel and Palestine. Cornel West, a philosopher and an eminent academic, has been a strong backer and campaigner both for Bernie Sanders and for BDS. However, on Friday 15 July, Cornel did not follow Bernie’s lead in endorsing Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.

Cornel West announced that he would be backing Jill Stein, another Jew, who is the American presidential candidate for the Green Party; Jill Stein is a supporter of BDS. Like many leftist dissidents before him, in a close race, Cornel West was willing to split the left vote that would give an enormous boost to Donald Trump’s chances. “I have a deep love for my brother Bernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an ‘outstanding president’. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place.” I read no announcement that Cornel was resigning from the Policy Platform Committee of the Democratic Party, perhaps because the committee had already completed its work.

Bernie named a second strong BDS supporter, one who was part of the party establishment, James Zogby, the President of the Arab American Institute and a very strong backer of BDS as well. Bernie also appointed Keith Ellison, the Democratic House of Representatives member from Minnesota’s fifth district, the first Muslim elected to Congress. Keith did not have a reputation as a backer, strong or otherwise, of BDS, but had been an outspoken critic of Israel while maintaining close ties to the Jewish community. The two other nominees were environmental activist Bill McKibben and Native American activist Deborah Parker, neither known to have taken a stand on BDS or on Israel for that matter.

DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, one of the most prominent Jewish leaders in the party, named four members of the committee. Three of them were very strong backers of Israel: Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s chairman had for years run a program in conjunction with the organized Jewish community to send a dozen Baltimore black high-schoolers to Israel each year; former Rep. Howard Berman, D-California, in 2010, had been responsible for shepherding the strong Iran sanctions as chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; Bonnie Schaefer, a philanthropist, is involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Weizmann Institute of Science. The only member Schultz picked who was not a strong supporter of Israel was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, who had joined Ellison, the Bernie appointee, in opposing the House resolution condemning the 2009 Goldstone Report which had been so flawed and which Goldstone himself subsequently renounced. However, she was not a known backer of BDS.

Hillary Clinton was given the right to name six of the members of the Platform Committee. Among the six Clinton backers was Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state who was a lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks over which she received a great deal of bric-à-bac from the Jewish establishment, but remained a strong supporter of Israel. Sherman has spoken warmly of her involvement in Jewish life in suburban Maryland. Neera Tanden, a long time Clinton confidante and president of the Center for American Progress, was a second nominee who identified strongly with Israel, even while sometimes critical of Israeli government policies.

In recent years, she took a lead role in trying to establish a dialogue between Israel’s government and the American progressive community. Her main credentials, however, were as a progressive domestic policy wonk. Others included Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois; Carol Browner, a former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Ohio state Rep. Alicia Reece; and Paul Booth of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. All were known to back Hillary Clinton’s strong pro-Israel stance.

The breakdown was as follows: Shultz Clinton Sanders Total
BDS Supporter 0 0 2 2
Israeli Critics but not BDS supporters 1 0 1 2
Neutral 0 0 2 2
Strong Israeli Supporters 3 6 0 9

Total 4 6 5 15

There was no chance of the BDS support or position being endorsed. 60% of the members were strong pro-Israel supporters, though on the progressive end of that support. There were only two strong supporters of BDS and, as stated, one in effect bolted the party. Three of the four Congress members were on record as strong supporters of Israel – Cummings, Lee and Gutiérrez. The only outspoken critic was Ellison who had never endorsed BDS and had strong Jewish support. All four had been endorsed by the political action committee affiliated with J Street, the Jewish liberal Middle East policy group.

Not only was BDS not supported, even efforts calling for Israel to end settlement activity and to label Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an occupation failed. But that could have been anticipated. The real play was to get a minority report. That required 25% support so the Israel-Palestine issue could be debated on the convention floor. Even that failed. It should be noted that Bernie Sanders himself, a strong critic of Israeli settlement policy, has never advocated that established settlements be dismantled – in contrast to Cornel West. He did support naming the Israeli military presence as an occupation, urged recognition of a Palestinian state. But he also refused to condemn Israel for its 2014 Gaza war, insisting it was fought in self-defence, while, at the same time, claiming that the military response was disproportionate. (http://forward.com/news/national/310087/is-bernie-sanders-a-lefty-except-for-israel/#ixzz4EcepUh5A)

So why did Sanders appoint two of his five appointees who were known as BDS supporters when he himself had an infamous debate with BDS supporters in a town hall meeting in Cabot, Vermont in August 2014 in which he told a critical member of the audience to “shut up.” Though he did not co-sponsor a resolution expressing support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas, when it was voted on 17 July of that year, he did not object to the motion which passed by unanimous consent. (For the Cabot confrontation, see http://forward.com/news/national/310087/is-bernie-sanders-a-lefty-except-for-israel/#ixzz4EcepUh5A.) I am not sure why. I can only think it was because he wanted to appease the large number of supporters who were far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than even he was.

Britain

Larry Sanders is Bernie’s older brother (by seven years) whom he credits with inducing him to enter politics in the first place. Larry is an American-British academic, social worker, and health spokesperson for the Green Party of England; he ran as a candidate for the party in the Oxford West and Abingdon riding in the last British election. And lost. Badly! Larry, unlike Bernie, supports the BDS movement against Israel. In a tweet on 20 April 2015, he called for Israel to “end occupation of West Bank, siege of Gaza, [and grant] Palestinians in Israel equal rights.” “BDS yes,” he ended.

In Britain, the Green Party is an open supporter of BDS. Natalie Bennett, an Australian rather than an American immigrant to Britain and leader since 2012, endorsed the previous party platform supporting BDS which she depicts as a human rights and international law issue. “We need to get the message across to the Israeli state. It needs to comply with international law and human rights.” The party calls for suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement worth more than nearly $1.5 billion per year. Bennett also supports a boycott on any sale of arms to Israel. One Green Party candidate, Tanya Williams, called Israel “a racist and apartheid state.” Sharer Ali, deputy leader of the party, is a harsh critic of Israel.

However, the battle in Britain is for the soul of the Labour Party. That battle appears to have been lost. The UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, openly supports BDS, though he personally would restrict the boycott only to products produced on the West Bank. He also calls for penalizing Israel, cancelling the EU-Israel trade agreement and even banishing Israeli politicians, though not academics, from entering Britain. He has called Israel’s treatment of the population of East Jerusalem illegal and an abomination. Though he has visited Gaza and called Israel’s politicians criminals, he has never replied to the invitation of the leader of his cousin party led by Isaac Herzog to visit Israel.

Corbyn has called Hezbollah a “friend” and has urged dialogue between Israel and Hamas and insisted that, “You don’t achieve progress by only talking to those who you agree with,” but seems only willing to talk to Palestinian and Arab extremists and not Israeli moderates. Though not an anti-Zionist, and certainly not an anti-Semite, nevertheless he clearly favours the Palestinian position by a wide margin. Further, he is not pro-Zionist for he called the Balfour Declaration “an extremely confused document which did not enjoy universal support in the cabinet of the time, and indeed was opposed by some of the Jewish members of the cabinet because of its confusion.”

It did not have to go this way. Corbyn was the long-shot candidate for the Labour Party leadership. Corbyn’s views were reasonably well-known and were explicitly articulated at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Jewish Chronicle, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement at the JW3 community centre in north London. All three of his opponents were strong backers of Israel and opponents of BDS – Andy Burnham, the Labour Party MP from Leigh who was widely expected to be elected leader, Yvette Cooper, a former shadow foreign secretary, and Liz Kendall, MP for Leicester West. British Jews had failed to unite behind one candidate and, in part, the establishment had followed the lead of the American Jews, but primarily Bibi Netanyahu, and put their energies into backing the one clearly pro-Israel party, the Conservatives.

Further, in combatting the move of the Labour Party to the more radical left and the supporters of the Palestinians versus Israel – Corbyn was elected leader with an overwhelming majority – the Jewish establishment in Britain tended to support smearing the Labour Party with the anti-Semitic brush instead of stressing the basic anti-Zionist character of BDS. Mind you, the Labour Party itself in good part invited such a tactic as the anti-Semites within the party came out of the woodwork. Vicky Kirby, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, referred to Jews having “big noses,” equated the “Zionist God” with Hitler and accused Jews of “slaughtering” the oppressed. She was forced to resign. But Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford, called for shipping the Jews in Israel to the U.S. and Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London and close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, defended Shah and, in that defence, claimed that in the thirties Hitler had conspired with the Zionists. The two were only suspended.

In a subsequent blog, I will explore the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and the propensity among many Jews to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Zionism, and then anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, possibly valid when anti-Zionism is an effort to deny the Jewish people a right of self-determination and to delegitimize Israel. I will also have to explore who really was the first to renege on the Oslo Accords and whether settlements are expressions of colonialist imperialism. In this blog, however, I want to stick to the machinations to get political parties to line up for or against Israel. I will not have the time or space to discuss what has happened in this battle in other European countries, such as the Dutch endorsement of BDS activism as a form of free speech and the Foreign Minister of Ireland, Charles Flanagan’s non-endorsement of BDS while defending its legitimacy and objecting to the demonization of BDS.

Canada

On 22 February 2016, Canada’s newly-elected Liberal Government supported a Conservative anti-BDS motion by a vote of 229-51. However, an Ontario Bill co-sponsored by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak as a private members’ bill, was defeated. Hudak had labelled BDS “the insidious new face of anti-Semitism” and the bill failed to win support from the Liberals. Though Premier Kathleen Wynne openly opposed the BDS movement, she refused to follow the lead of American states because of her defence of free speech. “I support all rights to freely express their views, freely expressed without fear of discrimination or persecution, whether in Ontario or in the Middle East. Freedom of speech is something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend. But, it’s unacceptable for students, or parents, or children to feel unsafe or discriminated against.”

The real focus of attention currently is the Green Party. In Britain, the Green Party is represented by one lone member, Caroline Lucas, who is an ardent opponent of Israel and not only supporter of but active campaigner for BDS, labelling Israel an apartheid state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews the “Zionist lobby.” She even blamed Israel for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack perpetrated by Pakistani Muslim zealots that killed about 200, including the Chabad rabbi and his wife, and supports violent action against Israeli interests.

Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Green Party and its sole MP here, is not a supporter of BDS, is a supporter of Israel, but has permitted two BDS resolutions to go to the floor of the Convention in August, one denying income tax deductible status to the Jewish National Fund and another endorsing the BDS movement. Further, outspoken anti-Semites have been candidates for the Green party of Canada. For example, Marika Schaefer produced a video denying the Holocaust and calling it “the biggest and most pernicious, persistent lie in all of history,” denied there were death camps and insisted that the showers were used to keep the inmates healthy. She has been denounced by the partly leadership and a process has been set up to expel her from the party.

We await the August Convention to examine the fallout.

With the help of Alex Zisman