Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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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

Noah and the Flood

Parashat Noah

by

Howard Adelman

Serendipity – sometimes called revelation – is wonderful. Last night, a very old dear friend who nevertheless reads my blog – or at least receives it – emailed me an article by Daniel Burston called, “It Can’t Happen Here: Trump, Authoritarianism & American Politics,” presumably to reinforce my interpretations and critique of Donald Trump. If you read both, you will understand how the psychoanalytic interpretations of personality have influenced my thought. As you read through this commentary, it will become clear how appropriate that article was. In addition, last evening my wife chose a documentary to watch, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood. I had planned to write this morning about Noah and the flood, so the timing seemed perfect as will become apparent. As DiCaprio’s documentary makes clear, many people as in Noah’s time seem to adopt a mindblindness about global warming, the most dangerous threat faced by the world. Perhaps there was a purpose in my falling behind in writing my commentaries.

The Reform movement in Judaism sends out an email each week with a “drash” or commentary on the coming week’s portion of Torah. Most of the time I do not find that it speaks to me, my concerns or my reading of text. This past week I expected a comment on whether Noah was really “a just man” or on the flood and Noah’s or humanity’s responsibility for the catastrophe. Or on the rainbow or the raven and the dove, the very stuff of fables.

However, this past week, the commentary of Dr. Ellen Umansky, Professor of Judaic Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, was spot on. “In many ways, Parashat Noach is filled with as many theological problems as answers. Chief among them is why, after creating the world and all living things, God destroys ‘all that lives under the heavens’ (Genesis 6:17). The reason that God gives is the ‘violence’ or ‘lawlessness’ (chamas) of humankind. Yet what about such godly virtues as patience, love, and forgiveness? Does saving Noah, his family, and a male and female of all living species in order to ensure continued reproduction make up for God’s actions?”

The reflection went on. “Is saving them a sign of mercy or of pragmatism? The fact that after the flood, God promises to never again ‘destroy all living beings, as I have [just] done’ (8:21), suggests that, despite having saved the righteous Noah and his family and enabling future life on the earth, God shows signs of regret (for discussions on the degree to which Noah was righteous, see B’reishit Rabbah 30). God acknowledges that humans will continue to do bad things, presumably including engaging in acts of violence. Yet despite this, God blesses Noah and his sons (why God doesn’t bless Noah’s wife and daughters-in-law is another theological problem) and makes an eternal covenant with them, their descendants (that is, future generations), and the earth’s animals, promising to never again send a flood to destroy all living creatures (Genesis 9:11).”

That is exactly the most crucial question. However, violent or lawless humans were, why destroy mankind? Why indeed go much further and destroy all of nature? Was God having a hissy fit because his creation did not work out perfectly as planned? The punishment is so disproportionate to the crime that the action is unspeakable. Does God earn redemption by saying He regretted what he did? Does God earn brownie points by implying that, in retrospect and hindsight, His action might have been rash and even wrong? Especially since He acknowledges that the action achieved nothing! Humans would continue to do dirty deeds. They would lie and not revere the truth – as my rabbi said in her Friday night commentary, they would many times not be faithful to one another never mind to God because they failed to revere the truth – emet (אמת).

Emet is a word made up of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet followed by the middle letter of that alphabet and concluding with the final letter. This is generally interpreted to mean that truth is not simply based on a correspondence theory of truth, though that is a prerequisite, but on a coherence theory encompassing everything from the beginning to the end in one coherent development. The flood is totally incongruent with a God dedicated to mercy and love and is the second major clue that God is inadequate to the task. (God’s lack of understanding of sexuality was the first clue.)

Truth is a way. Truth is a path. (Genesis 24:27 & 48) One acts truly, not just by telling the truth. The truth lies within you not just in what you say. (Genesis 42:16) When Jacob was ready to die, he asked Joseph to put his hand under his thigh “and deal kindly and truly” with him by not burying him in Egypt. (Genesis 47:29) It is why Jews at funerals say, “Baruch dayan emet,” “Blessed is the True Judge.” For the truth of a judge will be seen in how he treats and buries the dead – hence the theme in the movie, Son of Saul.

The ultimate truth is how we treat our dead. A man of truth is not just a man that does not engage in lies, though at a minimum, he must not lie. Yesterday on the news, I listened to Donald Trump describe Barack Obama as screaming at a protestor at his rally that day and then watched a video of Barack Obama coolly telling the crowd they must not boo a man shouting out and holding aloft a “Vote for Trump” sign. They must respect the man’s freedom of speech, must respect him as a veteran, must respect him as an elder. It was the very opposite of screaming. Barack’s speech was a call for civility and decency and was an exemplification of the very characteristics Donald Trump does not demonstrate when he calls for the people at his rallies to “throw out” protesters, promising to pay their legal bills if they are charged with assault. Then Donald Trump tops it off by lying and projecting onto the president the very villainy he expresses.

In the final words of the story of creation Genesis 2.3 – the final letters of those three words also spell emet. Bara Elohim la’asot, God created the world for action, “to do” and not just to understand, not just for Adam to walk around in innocence providing an accurate and useful taxonomy of the things of the world. As I wrote in my commentary on the first portion of Genesis, the emphasis is on Becoming, not Being, on change and development, especially of critical self-consciousness, and not simply on whether what is said precisely conforms to what we find in the world, though it certainly includes the latter since lying is absolutely forbidden. God only created a framework. Man must live and act in truth.

The Noah story not only demonstrated that much more was required of creativity, but that God was not up to the task of completing the job. God was deeply flawed. There was just no excuse for such drastic action as the flood. God needed a partner in creation because God did not understand how the admixture of spirit and flesh, of earth and air, of light and water, actually interacted. Since Heraclitus, the symbol of constant change has been water. God might have blown air and the divine spirit into human nostrils, God may Himself be the spirit of truth, but God is not its material manifestation in this world. It is humans who must assume responsibility for change and for the management of water, the symbol of change. God was too caught up in the world He had created to understand how it had to and would undergo change. Thus, His excess. Thus, the deluge.

But does not the Torah also say that Elohim is rav chesed v’emet, that God is both abundant in loving kindness and in truth. God is a righteous judge. But that is after the fact. After humans assume their responsibility for creation, for doing. Then God can pronounce whether it is good or not. But God as an agent is not perfect. God makes mistakes. Not necessarily in the assessment, but in the meting out of punishment. Sure, humans were violent; sure, humans lied and cheated; sure, humans even killed. But the deluge!!!

So God drowns everyone and everything but a saving remnant. But, unlike the story of Gilgamesh, God makes an eternal promise to humanity that He will not destroy the world again no matter how humans misbehave. The responsibility for the well-being of the world will now belong to humanity. Thus, the rainbow (Genesis 9.8-16). Thus the rainbow coalition and the conception of a world that is not a homogeneous unity but a singularity that must work with and through diversity. Thus, the conception that the righteous can arise from any nation. Thus, the covenant not just with humans, but with “all that live upon the earth.” Humans may assume the responsibility, but it is a responsibility not just for himself, not just for one’s people, not just for all humanity, but for all that live on this planet. Each of us, everyone of us, is responsible to every other human for the welfare of the world. That is the Noachide Covenant.

Why is it a universal covenant not to worship idols, not to worship anything man made as divine whether it be the internet or a champion baseball team? Why must one not blaspheme God? Is not calling God imperfect and suggesting that He has hissy fits offensive and sacrilegious? It certainly sounds impious. But such statements are not offensive acts. They are just descriptors. Only acts can be blasphemous. And whether any act is or is not blasphemous or contemptuous of the divine spirit must be determined by the rule of law, by courts of justice and not by rumour, innuendo and the court of public opinion. So whether any act expresses idolatry – taking a human product as divine – or blasphemous – making what is divine an expression of human propensity to lie and murder, must be determined by courts. And those courts of justice are restricted to three core actions – the prohibition of murder (taking another human life when not in self-defense), the prohibition of robbery (taking the property of another when not driven by absolute need), and the prohibition of adultery, the fundamental sign of faith between two intimate partners.

So the story boils down to the following propositions:
1. It is a tale of corruption, of human violence and lawlessness. The core of that corruption is most manifest in ignoring a catastrophe that is in process of unfolding. The core of that corruption is the denial of climate change – by Donald Trump, by Ted Cruz, by Marco Rubio – that the oceans will rise and that the coastal cities of the world will be flooded. The core of that corruption entails ignoring the truth on which 97% of environmental scientists agree and insisting that those who warn of climate change are liars, and insisting that these dogmatists of denial are the ones professing the truth. The corruption is that the very politicians who claim their opponent is beholden to the special interests of Wall Street, are beholden to the Koch brothers and all those powerful corporations with vested interests in a fossil fuel economy. The corruption is exemplified when people of power are wedded to spreading rampant misinformation and outright lies about the state of our planet. Human kind has fallen because humanity has failed to live and act in truth.
2. This second worldwide flood that threatens the planet because of the profusion of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel and eating the beef of cows that produce enormous amounts of methane, both of which are the main causes of the melting of the icecaps, is still denied as a human responsibility. There is no recognition that God, having witnessed what he wrought in response to human previous irresponsibility, has learned that the problem of corruption can only be addressed if humans take responsibility for what they do and act to correct the situation.
3. What follows from 1 and 2 is that the first responsibility of humans is to learn, know and recognize the truth, primarily the truth about the dynamics of change.
4. God, and Noah for that matter, prior to the flood evinced not a drop of compassion for all those and all of nature that would die as a result of the flood. There is no indication that Noah cared one whit that the graves of his parents would be beneath a league of water. So how we revere our dead will be the key clue to whether we revere life and our fellow humans.
5. God becomes merciful only as a result of atoning for what He wrought and, as a result of the flood and God’s regret, acquirers the attribute of rachamim, the capacity for empathy and tender love, the ability to show compassion and mercy – even eventually for those who deserve punishment. Elohim, the ruler of the universe, then becomes Adonai as well, a name first given to God in Genesis 15:2 by Abram after the flood and the story of the Tower of Babel when Abram begs God to allow him to have a son.

The story has another side not yet articulated. Prior to the flood, God had no sense of remorse. God is strictly a dominating and controlling persona prone to dramatic gestures and an absolute belief that if He says something, just because he says it, it will come into being. Law is not judicial law. Law is not a process. Laws are merely the commandments of a ruler. Further, simple disobedience to those commandments is worthy of death. God is dominating and controlling and insists that law means order. It is only after the flood that a core constitution for all humanity appears when God has experienced and expressed remorse. Prior to the flood, God was simply and unequivocally an authoritarian persona, a bully with no tolerance for dissenters and particularly prone to denigrate women – which explains why Noah and his sons only were blessed. Prior to the flood, God recognized only blind obedience to His orders as expressions of faith and otherwise had only derision and scorn for humans.

Noah, on the other hand, is typical of the passive obedient individual. Noah is praised for his obedience and never challenges God’s decision to destroy humanity and all of nature. He is typical of one who only focuses on self survival of himself and his family and never risks challenging God’s decision. Noah simply wants to escape God’s wrath. Noah is typical of the unquestioning individual who believes whatever he is told and never questions what God means when he says that the world has gone to hell and that He needs to sweep the slate clean and start all over to once again make the world great again. Noah is the exemplification of the silent individual who accepts whatever the prevailing norms are. So Noah can be said in this sense to have abetted God’s heinous crime by going along with the inversion of morality wherein evil is pronounced as good. Noah so idolized God that he fails to see and name the heinous act God commits.

But all is not lost. God experiences remorse. Out of the deluge emerges a new norm, namely to live truth and think trust, think loyalty, think faith. Further, humans will soon learn, though very gradually, that God cannot be an excuse for passivity and indifference in the face of the victimization of others. After the flood, and only after the flood will humans begin to develop a critical self-consciousness.

DiCaprio begins his film with his personal memory of a copy of a triptych painting by Hieronymus Bosch that hung at the foot of his bed and that he went to sleep watching each night. The painting is called, “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” I marvelled at the original myself when we visited the Museo del Prado in Madrid fifteen or so years ago. In the left panel, the viewer sees an idyllic portrait of humans in the Garden of Eden with God when God introduces Eve to Adam to be his help meet.

In the middle there is a large panel of nude humans and phantasmagoric flora and fauna. If I recall correctly, in the documentary DiCaprio saw this panel as representing an overcrowded world whereas I saw it as a different version of Eden in which humans are engaged in various amorous activities, as if the novelty of sex had just been discovered. There is no indication of disgust or shame. All the figures seem at one with nature and it is as if we are merely watching a different phase of the Garden of Eden if humans had not hidden in shame and lied to God, but instead displayed their delight in their nature. It was much more a picture of a delight in the erotic than a portrait of a world that had become corrupt.

The third panel to the right is dark and clearly portrays a bleak world of corruption, but I was never able to understand how Bosch understood how humanity moved from the second to the third panel. Except I did understand that this was not a painting of purgatory, but of contemporary life of corruption when modernity was first making itself presence in the cradle of the transformation of Europe, the Netherlands. Was Bosch prescient about the projection of that genesis into the contemporary world? DiCaprio clearly saw the painting as an allegory of what will happen to the world if we do not get rid of corruption. Although I totally agreed with him about the dangers of climate change, I suspect we differ radically on the metaphysical premises against which the failure to deal with climate change can be read.

But it is an excellent documentary to watch while studying Parashat Noah.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Impressions of the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine Debate

Impressions of the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine Debate

by

Howard Adelman

Can you stand another missive from an American presidential race junkie? I watched the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine debate last evening. My general take was that Mike Pence won on style and Tim Kaine won on substance. But it wasn’t much of a victory from either side. The Pence strategy simply worked better because throughout he remained on message and was unflappable under attack. When Mike was clutched in the corner and the jabs kept coming at Pence’s waist, Mike pivoted very well by often throwing his presidential candidate, Trump, under the bus. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, threw himself under the bus for Hillary.

Kaine was mediocre to poor as an attack dog, interrupting too often at the beginning, repeating points too many times – on Donald Trump’s taxes – and took too long to find his stride and let the true Tim Kaine emerge – the nice polite guy with excellent principles and a substantive record. He had the opposite trajectory to Donald Trump in the latter’s first debate with Hillary; he improved enormously, with some fallbacks, as the debate wore on. Mike Pence, on the other hand, always remained smooth and unruffled, but in the last one-third began to reveal himself as a self-righteous moralistic schoolmarm rather than a politician capable of empathy and compromise.

As an aside, I thought that Elaine Quijano has been the best moderator if the three occasions are compared – last night’s debate with the presidential debate and the previous occasion when Trump and Hillary were on the same stage but were not debating. On the other hand, in spite of generally being an improvement, Elaine did not fact check, did not prevent the debaters from running on well over time, especially Mike Pence, allowed total pivoting away from her excellent questions and allowed far too much crosstalk that almost made it impossible to follow the discussion. Clearly, moderators are harpooned if they stand too far back and allow the debaters to confront one another but might be doubly harpooned if they actually tried to referee the debate, holding each of the candidates responsible when they lied and delivered low blows.

Most of all, I thought Tim Kaine missed a number of opportunities to undermine Mike Pence as he clearly delivered his over-rehearsed punch lines in executing the Democratic Party strategy decision to focus almost exclusively on Trump and letting Pence off the hook on a number of issues. Let me illustrate with the issues where he pinned Mike Pence on the ropes. Kaine did it best on the issue of abortion and, in the process, linked Trump with Pence’s reactionary policies. As Tim pointed out clearly and unequivocally, both he and Hillary were pro-choice candidates, even though he personally was a believing and practicing Catholic who was against abortion. Mike Pence, on the other hand, not only admitted but defended his belief (and Donald’s) that the state should interfere in the wombs of women who get pregnant and not only would not provide medical insurance for abortions, but prosecute women who sought an abortion. Kaine alluded to but did not exploit the fact that, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a law this year which obligated women to have funerals or cremation for aborted foetuses. As well as he did, I thought Tim missed an opportunity to highlight this issue more, but it is easy enough for spectators to second guess political candidates.

I thought Mike’s honesty and critical self-reflection came through best when he was asked about his most difficult choice when he had been governor of Virginia. He opposed the death penalty, as did his church, but the laws of Virginia mandated the death penalty. So when he could find no extenuating circumstances to remit the death penalty in a specific case, he allowed the execution to go ahead. Mike Pence, in contrast, seemed to pretend he was humble and torn in a case of justice, but came across as disingenuous. After all, he was not torn at all when he said, “I support the death penalty.”

At the end of September, Mike Pence stated that he would refuse to pardon Keith Cooper who had served 10 years of a 40-year sentence after eye witnesses recanted their testimony and there was proof that there was no Cooper DNA at the crime scene. Pence took this stand in spite of the unanimous recommendation of the Indiana parole board. Why? Because this wrongly accused and convicted man, in his view, had a duty, not only to prove he was innocent, but had to, at great personal expense, exhaust all other remedies before Governor Mike Pence would consider a pardon request. However, for legal reasons that sped up his release from jail, Cooper could not use the courts to win a pardon. Cooper was caught in a Cath-22 of Mike Pence’s making. Therefore, a felony conviction, remains on record limiting Cooper’s job prospects.

Where government financial relief should have been immediately forthcoming for the wrongfully convicted, Mike Pence threw this innocent man under the bus once again as he often did to Donald Trump in the debate. Mike Pence appears on the surface as a Trump loyalist, but Trump demands absolute loyalty and there is no sign that Mike Pence is willing to go down in flames with Donald Trump and instead is focused on his own campaign to be the Republican candidate for president in 2020.

There was a good debate on the justice system and policing in general, but the two explicitly differed on stop and frisk, a policy which Trump also promotes. Tim Kaine missed an opportunity to push Mike Pence on this issue. It was on the justice system issue on which Mike Pence appeared to be most self-reflective, but why did Tim Kaine not puncture Mike’s righteousness by pointing out how Pence as governor of Indiana refused to pardon an innocent man after he had unjustly been incarcerated for 10 years?

What was lost in the debate, except on the abortion issue, was the fact that Mike Pence is a religious troglodyte. He is homophobic and anti-LGBT, arguing not that a governor is there to enforce the law of the land, but to enforce his own personal moral code whatever the law. So he defended a bill to protect civil servants who, as a matter of conscience, refused to deliver state services in Indiana to same-sex couples. Can you imagine that if he happened to be a racist or anti-Semitic, he would defend the right of civil servants of the state to ignore their legal obligations and not provide services to Blacks or Jews if those acts assailed their consciences. But, of course, in Pence’s mind, being homophobic is ok, but anti-Semitism and racism are not.

Tim Kaine could have pointed out how such a stance was so antithetical to the American constitution in a much clearer and more forceful way if he was not determined to keep on script and focus almost exclusively on attacking Trump. So he also omitted to point out how Mike Pence’s policies led to declines in tourism, in cancellation of conventions in the state, a state that may have balanced its budget under his governorship, but a state which also ranked lowest in economic growth in the Midwest, a state where average wages dropped from $53,500 in 2000 to $46,900 in 2015. No wonder that he and Trump believe the economy has been driven into the ground. In Indiana, Pence’s trickle-down economics which he shares with Donald Trump, was a major contributor to that effect. Tim Kaine could have skewered Mike Pence on this specifically instead of just reiterating general criticisms of trickle-down economics. Kaine did succeed in pointing out repeatedly that Trump’s tax policies would benefit the rich like himself and punish the middle class, and at the same time, would add far more to the national debt that any of Hillary Clinton’s policies would.

Two other areas in which Mike Pence was very weak and got off the hook were issues on which Tim Kaine could have pierced both Pence and Trump with the same thrust. Both the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidate do not, at heart, believe in science. Trump focuses on climate change as a liberal myth while Pence argues that climate has changed as a result of human activity. Tim Kaine could have had Mike Pence throw his boss under the bus on this as well as on the six issues in which he did. On the other hand, Tim Kaine could have gored Mike Pence on his stand on cigarette smoking while also revealing that he had been in the economic pocket of the tobacco industry from which he has received over $100,000 in campaign donations.

After all, did Pence not write an op-ed that said, “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill”? After all, “9 out of 10 smokers” he insisted, “do not get cancer.” In fact, the correlation is the exact reverse – in cases of lung cancer death, the death of 9 out of 10 men and women is caused by cigarette smoking. Smoking kills almost half a million Americans each year. SMOKING DOES KILL. Has Pence not consistently opposed legislation to retard tobacco use, even opposing an agreement to which the tobacco industry had signed on in a suit with opponents of big tobacco? Mike Pence said it was more government regulation and Tim Kaine missed an opportunity to impale Pence’s cool but rigidly Republican anti-regulation dogmas.

But what about the big issues like immigration, foreign and economic policy? On the latter, I have already referred to the fallacies of trickle-down economics which Tim Kaine pointed out, but without pinning the specific tail on Pence as the donkey. On foreign policy, Kaine held his own on getting rid of Iran’s nuclear stockpile, on Hillary’s dealings with Russia, on Hillary’s Middle East policies. But he repeated over and over again Trump’s possible ties to Russian economic interests. The issue is not, however, as Eric Trump pretended it was, Trump’s investments in Russia, but Russian oligarch loans to the Trump organization. Kaine focused on Trump’s and Pence’s praise for Putin as a strong leader contending that if Pence did not know the difference between good leadership and dictatorship, he was wearing blinkers. But on this issue, both Trump and Pence said that Putin was a strong, not a good, leader, so Kaine’s jabs missed their target even as Pence denied he (and Trump) explicitly admired Putin as a leader when both unequivocally did. Because Trump and Pence both believe in strong, not good leadership – and many Americans for some reason seem to be longing for a Turkey-like, for a Philippines-like – you name the country – for we are in an era where disastrous strong leaders but not good leaders are everywhere.

The exchange went as follows:
PENCE: “That is absolutely inaccurate. I said he’s been stronger on the world stage.”
KAINE: “No, you said leader.”
And Kaine was absolutely correct.

Mike Pence clearly came out as a hawk on Syria. but Kaine failed to explore the huge gap between the policies he advocated and the very restricted foreign policy involvement of Donald Trump, his boss.

Tim Laine did point out that Pence’s policies differed radically from Trump’s on six other different issues, but the format of the debate prevented him from expanding on that observation in any detail. After all, Pence may be ardently anti-abortion, but unlike Trump who has been pro-abortion and then converted to support the so-called pro-life position to advance his presidential candidacy, Pence does not come across as Trump does as guilty of misogyny. Pence refused to grab the bait and try to defend Trump’s absolutely scurrilous remarks on women. Kaine could also have pointed out that Trump’s misogyny extends to men who change diapers, for Trump openly mocked such behaviour by men.

Going to another aspect of foreign policy, Pence insisted it was Hillary’s fault in letting Russia get away with the invasion of Georgia and Kaine’s epée slipped off its mark when he correctly said that Russia’s invasion of Georgia took place in August 2008 under Dubbya Bush’s administration when Obama was running for president, but had not yet become president and had not yet named Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But Kaine did not push back strongly on this issue. Kaine also did not point out how the Obama administration has rolled back ISIS significantly without the commitment of large numbers of American boots on the ground, but for some reason or other – and I cannot figure out why – Kaine’s defence of the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the failure to conclude a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government did not seem to register or disclose how badly Pence was misconstruing what had taken place.

On immigration, Pence managed to pivot away and obscure in a cloud of rhetoric Trump’s repeated assurances that he will deport not only 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., but 4.5 million native-born Americans whose parents were illegals. Pence managed that, not only by shifting from Trump’s revisionism that this is but the final stage of a longer term program, by simply wiping such a policy out of the discussion by side-stepping the attack. In another case of such deftness on the part of Pence, when Kaine repeatedly challenged Pence to defend Donald Trump’s not only abandonment of nuclear proliferation but its promotion, Pence simply lied and said that Trump never said that.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ignored. Turkey was ignored. Egypt was ignored. North Korea was brought up and Pence seemed to favour an attack, as did Kaine as well. But on this very important issue, they both came across as much more hawkish than Trump as well as Obama. I could go on. I generally appreciated the debate much more than the presidential encounter for it was far more serious, but the Democrats will have to sharpen their game strategy much further if Trump learns from his first debate failures and the way Mike Pence handled himself.

Jordan

Jordan

by

Howard Adelman

I do not normally dedicate blogs. After yesterday, it may become a habit. This one, however, is doubly dedicated, and to two people who are still alive. First, I dedicate this blog to my son, Daniel, who, as a very committed environmentalist, has taught me a great deal about the dangers of oil spills in particular, particularly with respect to the Canadian Gateway and Keystone pipeline proposals, and climate change in general. Secondly, I dedicate this blog to my colleague at York University, Professor Stuart Schoenfeld (schoenfe@yorku.ca if you want the same information), whom I last saw with his wife, Joan, when we were visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo a few years back. Stuart is a member of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information, and regularly shares with me (electronically) stories of environmental threats as well as areas of cooperation in the Middle East, but particularly between Israel and Jordan and between Israel and the Palestinians. (Website “Environment and Climate in the Middle East” – http://mideastenvironment.apps01.yorku.ca/ I just want to reassure him that I am grateful and still read his missives. This blog, and the one tomorrow on the UN General Assembly decision on Friday to hold Israel responsible for the oil spill on the Lebanon Coast in 2006, are intended to serve as proof.

In a recent blog, I reported that Jordan will be joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the first of January. In that role, Jordan has circulated a resolution to be passed by the UNSC sidelining the USA in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and calling for an end to Israeli occupation, withdrawal of military troops from the West Bank by 2017, and the conclusion of a peace treaty within a year based on the 4 June 1967 borders, with equitable, limited and agreed land swaps, a just outcome for the Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine. Israel, including key leaders in the opposition, have rejected the proposal outright. Israel has promised to work for its defeat, though, at this time, it looks like the resolution may win the 9 votes needed to pass. The U.S. has promised to veto the resolution. Yet Jordan boasts that it is closer to the Obama administration, the government and even the Republican dominated Congress than Israel.

I promised to answer the question of why Jordan would make such a boast. Even though Jordan’s initiative strengthens the rightwing in Israel by confirming that Israel lacks a serious partner with which to negotiate a peace agreement, Dow Marmur in his blog speculated that the reason Jordan sponsored the resolution in the UNSC is because Jordan, as well as the PLO and Egypt, prefer the status quo to an independent Palestine in which there is a good possibility that Hamas could come to power. I will be offering my own answer to my question and Dow’s speculation, though in a roundabout way.

Amman, the capital of Jordan, is gorgeous, with buildings constructed out of the same Jerusalem stone as those in the city from which that stone gets its name. The people are exceptionally hospitable. Even in a very poor house in a Palestinian refugee camp, a mother with her children swarming around her will offer me tea and even a sweet if she has any. Yet with all that hospitality and generosity, Jordan is the archetype of a state and an administration walking a tightrope. I do not mean this merely as a metaphor. Jordan is a tightrope. Jordan is a string of urban areas running north to south along the eastern border of the West Bank and Israel – Irbun, Ajloun, Jerash, Zarqua, Salt, Amman, Madaba along the top half bordering the West Bank that I referred to in my blog yesterday, and Karak, Petra and Aqaba parallel to the border with Israel on the southern portion of that string of cities. Jordan is more akin to Canada in that sense, but on a north-south rather than an east-west urban axis.

Except, while Canada stretches enormously from sea to sea to sea – from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Pacific Ocean in the west – Jordan is virtually landlocked. Further, Jordan has a scarcity of water. There is more fresh water that I can see from my cottage in Georgian Bay, Ontario, than Jordan, Palestine and Israel possess all together. However, Jordan, unfortunately, does not have the responsibility of Canada, or even its not so-secret “partner”, Israel, in preserving coastline, and managing the competition between the tourist/development industry and the environmental ministry as the latter resists the efforts of the former in its efforts to convert pristine coastline at the northern end of Palmahim beach into a large resort on the Mediterranean rather than a nature reserve. Jordan can only wish that it had such problems.

Nevertheless, Jordan has led the world in a number of areas, especially in developing norms to deal with migrating human populations. Further, in the specific problem of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it did set two precedents in the building blocks towards a two-state solution. First, in the face of rising Palestinian nationalism, in 1988, the King of Jordan, a country of a core 35,480 square kilometres, gave up any claims to the West Bank, the almost 6,000 square kilometres of territory that Jordan had conquered and then annexed following the 1948 war, an annexation that few other countries recognized, but which hardly any countries protested – in stark contrast to Israel’s “occupation”. Secondly, in 1966, Jordan engaged in a trade of territory with another country. In 1966, it alleviated its almost total landlocked character slightly by trading territory with Saudi Arabia on its east and extending its shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba to 16 miles so that Aqaba could extend its port and recreational facilities.

If Canada is currently a relatively politically inconsequential actor on the world stage, Jordan is a very understated and under-rated one. Jordan’s achievements in receiving and integrating refugees is unparalleled. In the last three months, Jordan has received over 10,000 refugees from Iraq fleeing the advance of the Islamic State (IS) as well as sectarian violence in Baghdad and Basra. Recall that many of the half million Iraqi refugees that fled in 2003 remained in Jordan. Of the 3.2 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, over 620,000 registered refugees have found a safe haven in Jordan, though just last week Jordan had to suspend the free health care services offered to those refugees in state-run hospitals because of a financial crisis. In fact, taking into consideration the estimated almost 800,000 unregistered Syrian refugees in Jordan as well as the registered refugees, the total of Syrian refugees alone in Jordan is probably over 1.4 million. And that is in a country with a citizen population of only six million! Compare that with the Canadian government’s cut off of health services for refugees who did not number 2% of that total and posed very little pressure on the economics of health in Canada. And my country cannot even manage to take in the 1,300 Syrian refugees it promised, 0.1% of Jordan’s intake, in a country with a population of 35 million rather than just over six million.

Even before the arrival of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees from the current civil war in Syria and the influx of refugees from Iraq, over 50% of its population consists of Palestinians who fled what became Israel in its war with the Arab states in 1948, as well as those who fled when Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. It is estimated that, of Jordan’s over six million naturalized population, 3.25 million are Palestinians. Unlike any other Arab country, the Palestinian refugees have almost all been given citizenship. And this in a country with few natural resources. Even Israel’s natural water shortage seems minor compared to that of Jordan.
But water is a basis for a relatively unknown area of extensive cooperation between Israel and Jordan. I first learned of this partnership when, as a producer and host of the TV program Israel Today, we did a full hour show out of Eilat on the coordination between Israel and Jordan on the preservation of turtles in the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. The cooperation on water and the environment is far more extensive and deeper (no pun intended) than the relatively minor issue of turtles.

In Sunday’s edition of Haaretz, in an article on water shortage in the Middle East that, through yet another lens in its repeated theme of fostering Israel as the economic and technological saviour of the region and, therefore, the key agent for ensuring security, prosperity and peace, the newspaper reported both that the journal Climatic Change, published a study claiming that a drought was responsible for the collapse of the Assyrian Empire 2,700 years ago, and that current estimates that 634 million people living in the Middle East by 2050 (double the current population) will be faced with even greater water shortages and a decline in precipitation. Israel’s advanced technology, desalination and water recycling, that have helped Israel to become a kind of regional water superpower, could play a role in the salvation of the Middle East from the current and worsening water crisis. After all, although the average amount of precipitation in Israel is 1.2 billion cubic meters, Israelis consume 2.2 billion cubic meters of fresh water, a shortage made up by technology, water conservation, desalination and recycling. Israel recycles an amazing 87% of its water, whereas the second most successful political jurisdiction recycles only 25% and the third most successful only 10%.

Since 1994, Jordan has stored water from winter rains and the rise in levels of the Yarmouk River in Israel’s Sea of Galilee. Israel then pumps the water back to Jordan in the summer. Water preservation is crucial to Jordan’s survival. Water agreements, that were part of that 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, provided that Israel would provide Jordan with an additional 55 million cubic meters of water per year. For food security, Jordan needs to practice the highest degree of water preservation and re-cycling. In the Arab countries in the region, annual renewable water resources per capita are less than 850 cubic metres (the world average is approximately 6,000 cubic metres), with Jordan ranking as the world’s second water-poorest country with water per capita 88% below the international poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres per capita, a need aggravated enormously by the huge influx of refugees and the fact that, at present, the agricultural sector utilizes 85% of total water withdrawals in contrast to the maximum 40% recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Israel and Jordan cooperate, not only on water conservation, but on water waste and theft. With some remote imagery by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) incorporating some Israeli technology, the Jordanian water authority discovered “stolen” water. An illegal 1.5 km pipe in Amman was siphoning off water into a storage pool on a farm guarded by fierce dogs behind Middle East University. The water was being re-sold to other farmers. In Amman, where inhabitants receive water twice every two weeks, that situation could be alleviated if 50% of the water that leaks or is stolen from the water distribution system could be halted.

Israel and Jordan not only share a vital resource, water, and a common interest is wise management of that resource, but they effectively share the same air and, in some sense, land. When five million litres of oil from the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline leaked in southern Israel near the Jordanian border into the Arava nature reserve after a vehicle, being used in the construction of the new international airport to be shared between Israel and Jordan, crashed into and broke a section of the 245 kilometre Ashkelon Eilat crude oil pipeline on Wednesday evening on the 4th of December, Highway 90 was closed as was the town of Be’er Ora, 20 km. north of Eilat. Ironically, on the same day, a convention opened in Tel Aviv to implement Israel’s national plan for developing oil alternatives for transportation, the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference. That meeting was intended also to celebrate the implementation of a plan to have the whole southern area up to the Dead Sea fully solar-powered by 2016, a plan somewhat at odds with the licensing of a Canadian company, Transeuro Energy Corporation, to develop the Hamzah Oil Field in Al Azraq.

In response to the smell from the Israeli oil pipeline leak, and the memory of the explosion of a gas well in Eilat two weeks earlier, panicked residents of Aqaba swamped the emergency rooms of Prince Hashem Bin Abdullah Military Hospital and the Islamic Hospital by citizens suffering from shortness of breath and an increased heartbeat. The panic was not medically justified, but it was understandable given the noxious smell of rotten eggs given off as a result of the oil spill that increased the hydrogen sulfide in the air above the acceptable level of 30 parts per billion (ppb) to 80 ppb and instead of the normal 1-2 ppb in Aqaba. Jordanians also feared that the gas would explode and, initially, that the oil would contaminate the Wadi Rum nature reserve north of Aqaba where a reintroduction and release program by the Jordanian EAD environmental agency of the endangered Nubian Ibex – 30 males and 70 females – had just begun.

I have not heard whether the heavy rainfall that took place a few days later allowed oil to seep deep into the aquifers and into the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea endangering the coasts and the coral reefs. I suspect not since the truism, “No news is good news,” applies, especially to the environment. The rapid response of the Israeli Environmental agency, and the proximity of Neot Hovav, formerly Ramat Hovav, 12 km south of Beersheba as Israel’s main hazardous waste disposal facility, probably enabled the spill to be controlled quickly.

In Jordan, fear of another kind sits immediately under the skin. Syria occupies its northern border. There is the constant dread that the Syrian War will spill over into Jordan, especially since a shortage of water in Syria from the 2006-2009 drought is viewed as a precipitating cause of that civil war. There is fear that Jordan will follow the path of its neighbours in the Arab Spring and, in the quest for greater democracy and more liberties, Jordanians might seek to overthrow King Abdullah II and turn Jordan into a failed state. There is the fear that now permeates the whole Middle East that radical Islamicists and jihadists, like Islamic State (IS), will cross the border from Iraq and Syria, infiltrate and create havoc in Jordan or, as in Syria, gain control of a crucial water source just as IS took control of the Tabqa Dam there in February 2013. There is the fear that radical Palestinians will seek to turn Jordan into part of the state of Palestine and a base from which to conquer the West Bank and even hope to defeat Israel, as the PLO once tried to do before Black September in 1970. There is even the fear that the strict form of Islam, Wahhabism, practiced in Saudi Arabia, will cross over its eastern border, particularly given past historical tensions between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. After all, the Saudis displaced the Hashemites from Hejaz after WWI and the Hashemites received Jordan as a consolation prize from the British Empire. Saudi Arabia has always been, to a small degree, wary of Jordan.

During the Persian Gulf War, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were at loggerheads. After all, Jordan, given its great financial dependency on trade with Iraq and, along with the PLO, obtaining oil from Iraq at a discount, was one of the very few polities to back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. After Iraq’s defeat by George H. W. Bush, Jordan was in dismal straits as both Jordanians and other Palestinians fled back to Jordan when they were evicted by Kuwait following Iraq’s defeat. Trade with Iraq had fallen to zero. This turned into a double whammy, since the previously large flow of remittances also dried up. By 1996, Abdullah, when he was still a prince, made the required trip to Saudi Arabia in contrition. In 2014, Jordan is now fronting the Arab League, dominated by Saudi Arabia, in sponsoring its Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.

Given its borders, one has to understand the insecurities of the Jordanians. The only border which feels relatively secure is its border with Israel. Since all of Jordan’s major rivers are in the west running into the Rift Valley of the Middle East, environmental cooperation with Israel is not only a good idea, it is imperative. Further, Israel has the same border insecurities as Jordan, but in spades – from the Hezbollah-Lebanon border on the north, an increasingly radicalized Islamic State deployed along the border with Syria on the north-east where there is a rising possibility of Israel intervening in the Syrian conflict following an alliance between the rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades and IS, and the Hamas self-destructive madness in Gaza to the south; once again Hamas is trying to rearm and improve its missile capabilities while regaining its support from Iran only to have Israel respond to a one-off rocket attack from Gaza by bombing Gaza’s cement factory. Thus, cooperation between Israel and Jordan is not only imperative on the environment, so too is it on the political front.

Tom Friedman had described John Kerry’s peace initiative, while it was underway, as the last train to catch if peace was to be achieved, otherwise the train would run over both parties and turn into a wreck leaving the two-state solution dead on the tracks. In this past Friday’s NYT, Friedman saw one last hope – in the cooperation between Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists as a model for preventing the political atmosphere as well as the environmental one becoming more toxic. Friedman wrote about the water crisis in Gaza; Gaza’s one hydro generating plant was severely damaged in the recent Fifty Day Gaza War so desalination has been greatly reduced. Israel seems the only source to provide the electric power needed to run the desalinization plant if it is repaired. The Gaza aquifers are becoming so brackish that the water is becoming undrinkable, a situation not helped by the propensities of Gazans to dig their own private wells. Untreated waste travels up the coast to Ashkelon so that Israelis get a slight taste of living in a waste management dump. In providing answers to those shared problems, interdependence and trust, Friedman argued, are fostered.

I agree with Friedman’s argument. The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) meeting in Amman in November highlighted the issue of food insecurity faced by Arab states (they import over 50% of their food needs). With increased aridity, limited cultivable land, scarce water resources and population growth, as well as the compounding effects of climate change, the situation can only get worse.
Jordan is no slouch when it comes to the environment. Amman has been named by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) declared ready to respond to the social, economic and physical shocks and stresses anticipated in this century. As both urbanization and globalization both grow apace, as anyone visiting Mexico City would have to notice, we are confronted by climate change, natural and man-made disasters, super-typhoons and category 5 hurricanes, booming populations and waning potable water, droughts and floods. Gaza last month suffered record-breaking floods, especially around Sheikh Radwan storm water lagoon, that forced the evacuation of homes and the closure of 63 schools. With very little of the aid promised reaching those needing to re-build, the situation is exacerbated by the 100,000 Gazans still homeless after the end of the Gaza War earlier this year.

As for droughts, Jordan, Israel and Palestine all face a future of a steady increase in temperatures of 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius, more dry spells, as well as very much heavier rains and longer dry periods with a net drop in precipitation and an increase in evaporation, with the northern forests and freshwater ecosystems in the Jordan Rift Valley being the most vulnerable. The future until 2050 looks even worse as the region faces a rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall producing runoff and flooding, alternating with even more extreme droughts connected to rises in sea surface temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations. Add to this, increased economic inequalities and increasing irregular migration flows, a decaying and inadequate infrastructure and hyper-expensive health care, then solutions have to be found collectively and in large urban areas, not in sand swept marginal farms from which an astronaut cowboy will emerge to save the world as in Interstellar.

Thus, the main issue is not about where to draw the borders that divide, but how to unite to save the space and water both societies share, how to have the three states of Israel, Palestine and Jordan share one homeland. If they cannot share the environment, they will never be able to share Jerusalem.

To return to our original question, why did Jordan boast that it had better access than Israel, not only to the Obama administration and the American government, but to the Republican-dominated Congress? Is there any validity in Rabbi Marmur’s speculation that Jordan and the PLO have a vested interest in the status quo and prefer an administration of the right in Israel with whom they cannot make peace rather than a government of the left when the resistance to making a peace agreement will shift back to them?

I have a simple answer to the Jordan access issue which I will document in more detail, hopefully, later this week.

In the interim, I suggest the answer to both questions is “Yes!” For though Bibi Netanyahu may be a Republican in disguise, he sometimes pisses even American right-wingers off. In contrast, Jordan, even when it introduces a UN resolution that the USA promises to veto, coordinates and explains its policies in detail to the Americans. Jordan has close connections and has fully informed both the Obama administration and Congress that the proposed resolution in the UNSC is a feint. The Obama administration understands basketball. It understands that the path to a peace agreement will not be a straight line and that an agreement coming from the right might have more resilience than one coming from the left. After Kerry’s year-long immersion in the negotiations, it is clear that even if the centre-left in Israel comes to power in March, there will be no peace agreement. As there was not when Meridor and Barak made their generous offers to the Palestinians. But the Arab League must be kept on side.