The Irrationality of Humans

The Irrationality of Humans

by

Howard Adelman

In this series of blogs I began a week ago, I tried to sketch the deep philosophical assumptions underlying a variety of approaches to comprehending and managing the polis. How do we organize our political lives and to what end? The blog on last week’s Torah portion offered a moral approach, as set out in the Book of Leviticus, essentially setting up rules for redistributing wealth in the economy. The presumption was that religious laws could be imposed on the polity and used to counteract the built-in propensities encouraging economic inequality.

A variation of this approach is currently being applied in Iran which just witnessed the landslide re-election of an ostensible reformer, President Hassan Rouhani, against his challenger, the hardliner, Judge Ebrahim Raisi. I call Rouhani an ostensible reformer because his program differs markedly from the puritans who want to close off Iran to Western influences versus the Rouhani position of greater flexibility and interaction with the rest of the world. Rouhani has a more tolerant perspective on the role of domestic individual behaviour and external foreign interests in dealing with the policies of the polis. But both the reform and the conservative leadership remain committed to the precepts of Islam framing the polity. The conservatives want to control it as well.

The previous two blogs analyzed a book that won the Donner Prize last week (Alex Marland’s Brand Command) which documented the Stephen Harper government’s method of centralized control and the use of branding to manage the polity. My critique insisted that the book had inverted the roles of framing and branding, and that the key issue was framing. Branding was simply a method of covering up the contradictions within the Tory base between free enterprise conservatives, who oppose any moral frame for the polity, and community conservatives who believe the polity should conform to historically predominant Christian norms.

The analysis also implied that, as long as Liberals (or Democrats in the U.S.) covered up the divisions on their own side between economic liberals who believe, on the one hand, that a light touch of liberal tolerance and justice can be used to manage the polity, its inequalities and injustices, versus a more radical wing that sees the need for a greater role of the state in managing competing interests to ensure greater equality, then a well-disciplined opposition with a clear brand can disguise and, indeed, repress those fundamental differences, and then win. The brand can be the disciplined command and control that Stephen Harper employed or the anarchic populist appeal used by Donald Trump. Branding is a tool used to manage contradictions and manipulate constituents either by means of control and command or by populist appeal.

Framing, however, has priority, for if we fail to understand the warfare over principles, in despair a divided polis can easily turn democratic representative and responsible government into a populist system run by a demagogue. The warfare is not simply over principles, but over the role those principles are permitted to play in the polis. To understand the tension between various sets of moral principles wanting to provide the frame, and the behaviour of humans within the polis, it is necessary to acquire a better grasp on that behaviour and the nature of the tension and tribulations between the frame of the polity and the behaviour of its members. In this blog, I concentrate on the latter. In the next blog, I will analyze the civic religion in Canada that provides Canadians with a generally dominant overarching frame.

Conservatives are divided between free enterprise and community conservatives. For free enterprisers, humans are rational actors who make choices to maximize their own individual interests, but their interests are determined by a deeper human nature driven by a need to survive at a minimum, and by greed and acquisitive drives that build on and enhance the survival mode. Humans may be driven by greed, where the principles of survival play a commanding role, but they also may be driven by passions that have an inherent propensity to undermine interests. The predominant Christian ethos was based on the need to control passions that could wreak havoc in our individual and collective lives. Is life or desire fundamental? Neither is rational.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israelis who worked in the United States for years, won the 2002 Nobel prise in economics for documenting and explaining individual economic behaviour and demonstrating that it was fundamentally irrational. Their proofs also undermined the rational choice assumptions of the high priests of monetary policy whose behaviour Juliet Johnson described in Priests of Prosperity, a nominee for the Donner Prize. The sacred religion of rational choice was upended in the economic crisis of 2007-2008. Imprinting and unconscious embodiment explain to some degree why survival and desire dictate choices more than any rational deliberation over alternatives to determine which one will best satisfy our individual interests.

The work of both men in behavioural psychology and their articulation of prospect theory undermined totally the Kantian assumption that judgement was simply the process of rational reconciliation between our moral values and our understanding of the world in accordance with the laws of nature, between practical and pure reason, between morality and nature. In 2011, Kahneman published a volume with great popular appeal, Thinking Fast and Slow, which contrasted our predominant predisposition for fast thinking, for thinking that I have described in my writing as searches for congruencies between one’s own inscribed views of the world and priorities in dealing with it, and rational deliberative decision-making.

If you are a free enterprise conservative, you are steeped deeply in the frame set out by both John Hobbes and John Locke that humans are interest maximizers and possessive individualists determined to secure their futures by seeking to acquire and own goods ad infinitum. Humans were inherently possessive individualists driven by the natural laws of survival. Kahneman, using his original work on complex correlational structures and studies of how attention, more than the actual observed world, was correlated with actual behaviour. Influenced by Richard Thaler’s pioneering work on consumer choice and hedonic psychology, in 1982 Kahneman published with Amos Tversky Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.

Both men were Israelis. Kahneman in particular had served in the intelligence service. The IDF, the politicians and Mossad in 1973 had all ruled out the possibility of a massive assault by the Arab forces. After all, Syria and Egypt had both suffered enormous psychological and physical defeats in the 1967 war. Any rational assessment would have indicated that initiating a war with Israel would be self-defeating. The failure of the intelligence operation to anticipate the possibility of an attack, the failure to look at worst possible scenarios, ignoring or misinterpreting data the IDF itself had collected of an imminent attack – that Russia advisors had withdrawn – failing to recognize that Egypt was currently driven by a sense of shame and a need to recover some honour, even at the risk of another great defeat, had, together with other forms of mindblindness, produced a situation in which the fate of Israel had been risked and almost sacrificed to this immersion in preconceptions that made both the state and much of society blind to the motives and actions of others. Even at its most fateful level of survival, irrationality had framed and limited rational deliberation. And Kahneman and Tversky went on to demonstrate how this mindblindness and irrational choice revealed itself in the most mundane of subjects, consumer choice.

Thus, began the tectonic shift undermining rational choice theory based on interests. Choice was seen to be rooted, not in survival and life, but desire and the assessment of whether an experience will be pleasurable rather than painful. While life emphasizes the needs necessary for the body to survive, desire is something else. It is the effort to see ourselves projected into the world and recognized by another, usually another seen as superior in some respect, for who we have become and what we have accomplished. The individual suffers discomforts and even pain when that recognition does not come. Desire is not material, even as it is manifested in material things. God is portrayed in the Torah as motivated to create the world in the first place to become manifest and to be recognized through projections into the world. Humans were created with the ability to provide that recognition. In contrast to God, humans had the benefit of being embodied.

Humans are not so much possessive individualists as troubled personalities making mistake after mistake about what satisfied their interests, mistakes made precisely because they are governed in their judgments and decisions by a commanding illusion that develops mindblindness, an incapacity to take into account a variety of other factors as they focus on a specific one perceived as crucial to realizing who they are. Humans are not so much possessive as obsessive individualists.

If not for obsessive individualism, how else can you explain why Israelis living in an environment in which neighbours threaten your very existence and when personal allies argue endlessly over every triviality, they nevertheless perceive themselves as extremely happy? They do so certainly in comparison to members of Nordic countries who have created polities that do far more than any other on earth to ensure both that needs are satisfied and that long-term security is achieved. Israelis were indoctrinated to believe in Jerusalem of Gold, that Israel was the Promised Land, even though the external evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. On the other hand, in one study by Kahneman and Gilbert, Midwesterners in the U.S. experienced themselves as deficient in comparison to Californians because they suffered from a much harsher climate; they became convinced that good weather would solve their discontent. Any study of the experience of Californians would show it would not.

Cain and Abel were not driven by possessive individualism. They clearly demonstrated this by their willingness to sacrifice the best products of their labour so that God would recognize them as the best. When one received the recognition and the other did not, the latter was driven, not just to distraction, but to murder the other, not because of the superiority of the other’s nomadic life, nor because of all the herds the other had collected that he as a farmer had not, but because this nostalgic way of life seemed to be recognized as superior by the same God of judgement. There would always be a bias to the status quo called nostalgia or, in modern economic and political theory, status quo bias.

Kahneman and Tversky pioneered in developing an understanding of base rate fallacies and cognitive, optimist and conjunction biases, in attribution substitution and the economic conception of loss aversion that undergraduates find so entrancing in undermining rational choice theory. Together they built the structure of prospect theory and established the primacy of framing, but have thus far had only a marginal impact on the economic religion of rational choice. Their own work could be used to predict how difficult it would be for the status quo of economic rational choice theory to absorb the lessons that emerged from their research.

They provided a solid empirical basis for undermining rational choice theory that has been reinforced by the research of neuroscientists on imprinting and on more contemporary versions of the theory of the unconscious than Freud offered. We are, to a great extent, our genes and the environmental imprinting in our lives.

 

In the contest between genetic determinants and environmental cues, we learn independently of the consequences, not only because of the genes we have inherited, but because we can only really learn some things when we reach different stages of life. Learning is phase-sensitive. It works through genomic imprinting: DNA methylation and post-translational modification of DNA-associated histone proteins. The 1,000+ transcripts in our brain – particularly in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus – is where memory is imprinted and learning takes place in a process of neurogenesis. Thus, it is not only our organ development, the development of our muscular-skeletal system and organs as imprinted in the subventricular zones and lateral ventricle of the brain that stage our physical development, but our mental development is, to a large degree, also determined by imprinting.

Alongside these developments, in the actual field of politics, efforts were initiated to select politicians who could perform. Hillary supposedly lost because she was so stiff. It was only after she had lost and gave her first interview that she seemed to relax. The goal became to groom politicians to match biases in the populace and to appeal to those biases through controlling the brand or, more demonstrably in the U.S. in the last election, deal with the incongruence of the candidate and both the needs of the populace and the needs of the nation with a more fundamental emotional appeal, even if originating in the chaotic mind of a populist candidate versus the chaos in the beliefs of the populace.

Thus far, Canada has avoided that fate because it has a strong civic religion. But dangers are evident concerning the fragility of the faith.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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The Democratic Deficit in Canada

The Democratic Deficit in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control [Brand] (Alex Marland)

Brand won the Donner Prize of $50,000 from a very distinguished jury. Brand is many books in one. First and foremost, it is a manual of government public relations for the digital age. Second, it is a history of the development and use of that manual by the Government of Canada, overwhelmingly the Stephen Harper regime, with some short excursions into the behavior of the Justin Trudeau. Third, it is an interpretation of causation in history, more specifically, that the characteristics of the digital age determined a specific outcome, radically changing the Canadian political culture. Fourth, and certainly not final, for that is my main interest, it is a portrait of Marland’s interpretation of Canadian political culture set against his enunciation of the norms of western democracy. Measured against those norms, the book is a depiction of the Canadian democratic deficit.

By far the largest part of the book is about the first and second topics.  However, I start with the last item, the conception of democracy itself and a democratic culture, a topic about which the author gives very short shrift (46-53), surprising in a book that uses democratic norms to assess and evaluate the communications culture of a specific democracy, that of Canada. However, this may not be so surprising since the book is only about a specific aspect of democracy, the efforts of politicians, political parties and governments to reach an audience of voters made up of disparate parts.

Those parts consist of the following: partisans; deliberators; single issue voters and hands on voters, the latter singularly and largely ignored in the digital age and ignored in this book as well, though they constitute as much as 15% of the electorate but are not reached by marketing, but by establishing a direct connection between the candidate and the voter. Hands on voters do not vote based either on ideas or ideology, at one end of the spectrum, or the power of advertising persuasion on the other. 

 Marland deals with partisans only in generic terms, sometimes regarding each voter as a tabula rasa whose loyalty and support, commitment and trust must be won and solidified through messaging. At other times, he seems to regard their dispositions and commitments as being bred in the bone. He does not sub-divide Conservative partisans into free-enterprise voters versus community conservatives, two groups which populate and divide the Conservative Party of Canada, or into self-interested voters who determine which party matches their specific individual needs and interests, a group divided between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party in Canada and representing the largest bulk of voters. Deliberative voters swing between and among parties and are usually branded as independents. The Green Party had been a single-issue party appealing to voters conscious that climate change is the most important topic on any political agenda, but, more recently, making a strenuous effort to broaden its appeal. There are other voters concerned with a wide range of other specific issues – abortion, LGBT rights, etc.

These connections are usually established by symbols and brands, in this case, the party names: Conservative, Liberal, Green and New Democratic. As parties, they are concerned with access to and performance by voters during elections (turnout and voting) and maintaining trust and, therefore, loyalty during the interval between elections. As an analyst, Marland is concerned with the values that ought to govern the relations between parties and government and their supporters – access to their representatives and transparency about what they do. Given his focus, Marland does not really discuss constitutions and laws, legislation and governance, except one key condition of representation and governance – communications – a necessary ingredient by means of which a democratic government, as distinct from other forms (tyrannies), earns and maintains its support, authority and legitimacy.

The means to do so rather than the definition of the common good preoccupies him, though one good is presumed – an informed electorate. What effect do government structures and practices, particularly current forms of communication, have on the relationship between citizens and their government? For Marland, the idea of a member of parliament simply representing the interests of his constituents is an allusion to a nostalgic past that may never even have existed. MPs have become “vital regional sales reps” in a system run by means of unrelenting centralized media management.

Party whips ensure members toe the line whatever their constituent concerns, speakers are given time limits, and the role of question period has become less relevant.  MPs have less rather than greater access to data and documents. The power of committees has been reduced as partisanship became the order of the day; representatives are portrayed as no more than lemmings unable to speak freely to their constituents or the media. The role of the legislature is reduced as the status of the executive, especially the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), has been enhanced so that there are fewer sitting days and prime ministers and their cabinet members feel less obligated to face their peers in the House. The use of blogs and tweets by party members is highly controlled, a charge for which Marland provides little evidence. Communication strategies “embolden” tribalism rather than representative responsible government. As a result, trust in government in general has waned.

In a fundamental contradiction that runs through the book, this dystopic democracy is painted as, at one and the same time, an inevitable result of the new technology and as a failure of democratic leadership. Marland is both a causal necessitarian about history and a hectoring superego on the body politic given that control of the message now has such enormous consequences when a member “goes off message.” MPs have been reduced to the puppets of a ventriloquist.

Marland does offer one ray of hope – Gordon Chong’s Bill C-586 amending the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act giving the leader much less control and the member more opportunity to express him/herself, though Marland insists that the proof will be in the practices that result. However, the overwhelming mood of the volume is pessimism stemming from his adherence to the Innis-McLuhan thesis that “technology is the driver of social organization.” Further, with the development of electronic and visual communications, these forces have become more pervasive, more powerful and more potent.

In the next blog, I will take up the issue of whether his analysis of those tools of communication, the techniques used to employ them and their impacts determine political structures or whether his analysis is much more a reflection of the Harper government in Canada from which he derived the bulk of the content of his book. My own direct experience suggests the latter since much of the process of centralization had very little to with messaging and a great deal to do with control.

My main example is a proposal we submitted to amend existing migration policy. Rather than initiating a new program, we had proposed to take in refugees to replace temporary skilled workers. In the “old” days, the change would have taken less than a week for the minister to approve. We were informed that because it was so palatable to the government, it would be approved, but still would take four months. For every change had to be approved in the PMO. Eighteen months later, there was neither an approval nor rejection.

The process was particularly galling since the change, one tested in both Halifax and Calgary, would deliver a quadruple hit with only positive upsides. Business support existed and would grow because it was a program preferred by business which could do better long term training and planning at even less cost. Projecting a humanitarian face for the Harper government would certainly have been a result, and a needed one. At the same time, private sponsors eager to help the refugees could be satisfied instead of having to wait, sometimes more than a year, for the entry of those privately-sponsored refugees. The tweak to the existing program would also provide a back door to exit the unskilled temporary work program that had become such an embarrassment for the government.

Let me offer other examples, most also all based on direct experience wikth the Harper government:

  1. At the same time as the above, we were informed that ALL approvals, even for the purchase of more paperclips, had to go through the PMO, and that it took weeks even for miniscule authorizations;
  2. Libraries for helping write policy papers were removed from the department and placed in storage;
  3. The policy unit in the department had been dissolved;
  4. In a policy paper that I had been involved in writing, we were asked to excise the word “Syrian” because that term was anathema to the PM;
  5. Social and natural scientists working for government were muzzled;
  6. Outside knowledge that could disrupt plans and priorities was excised from any input into government – such as the cancelled long form census survey;
  7. I was also told, though I have not verified this, that civil servants were booking off sick days in record numbers; this was explained in terms of the impotence forcefully introduced into the civil service with a resultant pervasive depression when initiative was severely discouraged.

I could go on offering other examples, but most of the above have nothing to do with controlling a message and everything to do with our former PM being a control freak. What struck me in reading the book, and contrary to Marland’s insistence that he had been politically neutral, is that while he, like Tom Flanagan, whom he credits as an essential guide, was totally distressed by the huge democratic deficit that had been created, he seemed to want to find the Conservative Party innocent by removing any significant blame from Harper and placing it on the demands and drives of changing technology. In that way, the Liberals and Conservatives would be painted with the same brush while Marland preserved his superego standards intact.

There is a way of testing whether my hunch is correct or false, but that requires reviewing the tools and techniques available in the digital age, how they are used, and the impacts of both on government structures, organization and policies. This is the task I will take up tomorrow.

 

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

C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques

by

Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”

 

It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

 

Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Canada, Israel and Syrian Refugees

Yesterday I took a drive with one of my sons through Forest Hill Village, one of two older and very prosperous areas in the City of Toronto near downtown, generally characterized as upper middle class. In fact, many of its denizens are lower upper class. We were delivering flowers lest our orthodox friends be faced with allowing the flowers to die if we brought them once Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year Holiday, started. The predominant Halachic interpretation of Talmudic Law forbids such action on Rosh Hashanah lest the flowers not be in full bloom and the individual putting the flowers in the water be guilty of participating in “planting” on a day on which work was prohibited.

Forest Hill was awash in blue signs for the Conservative candidate. Though I do not live in Forest Hill, Forest Hill is part of St. Paul’s riding where I live. In the May 2011 election, Carolyn Bennett won the riding handily with 39.92% of the vote when the Liberals across Canada won only 18.91% of the vote and were decimated. Marnie MacDougall, the executive assistant to Conservative MP Mark Adler who represents the heavily Jewish riding of Thornhill, is running for the Conservatives in a riding in which Conservatives won 32.42% of the vote in the last election whereas the Conservatives across the country received 39.62% of the vote. (The NDP, even when it became the official opposition and won 30.62% of the vote across Canada, won only 22.63% of the vote in St. Paul’s.) Even though the NDP candidate this time is Noah Richler with a well-recognized name, the NDP is considered to have very little chance of winning in this riding, especially in an election where many left of centre voters are voting strategically and will vote for the party best able to oust Stephen Harper.

Though the riding has traditionally been Liberal, in the May 1979 election Ron Atkey defeated John Roberts for the Liberals and became the Conservative representative for St. Paul’s riding with 44.1% of the vote compared to 41.3% for the Conservatives. In the February 1980 elections, Roberts retook the riding with 45.3% compared to Atkey’s 39.5%. However, in the almost 10 months when the Conservatives were in power and when Ron was the representative, he was the Immigration Minister who led the charge to admit 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada by the end of 1980. (The Liberals, when they won subsequently, increased the intake of refugees to 60,000; in 1979, the Tories and the Liberals competed for which party was the best humanitarian.)

In the 2015 election, once again the Tories are in a position to win the riding even though the Tories are running at only 30% in support across the nation. The reasons are simple. St. Paul’s is a riding with a significant portion of Jews; however, that proportion is only about 14%. The majority of Jews during Harper’s rule have increasingly shifted to the Tories in line with their income, but primarily because of Harper’s unequivocal support for Israel and, more particularly, for the Netanyahu government. Even more Jews seem to have shifted to the Tories when voter shifts elsewhere have gone in the opposite direction across the country. The second major reason is that the NDP, which is the leading party in national polls to this date, is running a credible candidate with a name with national recognition who is not a token, but is running to win on a hoped for NDP tide. With little experience, we do not know how many of the voters in this riding will vote strategically. The shrinking of the riding boundary on its eastern border is not expected to effect the distribution of the vote significantly.

The litmus test for most Jews in casting their ballots, based on a small sample, seems to be Israel. Given their past experience, even though most Jews are sympathetic to refugees generally, the Jewish community has been very slow off the mark in its support for the Syrian refugees. Generally they are following the Tory message line. There is a security threat from these refugees, even though Canadian policy is directed at taking threatened minorities from the area, a code for large numbers of Christians. Whereas the Liberal Party and many leading figures are calling for the admission of tens of thousands of government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – Rick Hillier, a former head of the armed services, has called for the admission of 25,000 through a military airlift by the end of this year), the Tories, in contrast, are pledged to take in only 20,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years.

When the numbers are broken down between Iraqis and Syrians, when government assisted refugees are disaggregated from the total Canada will be assisting, the number for 2016 is only 2,500 for 2016. Thus, even if Canada recalibrates and accelerates its intake, a Tory government is unlikely to bring in 5,000 Syrian government-assisted refugees next year.

Yet Jews continue to shift their support to the Conservatives. This is in spite of the fact that even Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in Israel, has called on the Israeli government to do much more for the Syrian refugees. This is in spite of the fact that the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted an estimated 2,000 Syrians into hospitals in Israel, though they must return when they have recuperated. Israel has also set up a field hospital in the Golan Heights that treats many more Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, Netanyahu will not permit some Syrian refugees to settle even in the West Bank as called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and also in spite of the fact that many Syrian refugees are Druze, part of the 500,000 Druzim and their descendents made into internally displaced people by Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.

With all these qualifications, Israel is still doing more than the current Canadian government. Harper promised to raise humanitarian aid to Syrian refugee camps to up to $100 million dollars to match charitable funds raised in Canada to improve the situation in the camps just when refugees are leaving the camps in droves heading for Europe and at the same time as the Canadian government promises to help Syrian minorities.

Harper insists that the focus should be, probably in order of priority, on:

  • fighting ISIS which now controls almost 50% of Syrian refugee territory
  • continue training Western-supported rebels against the Assad regime, – a platform on which the Liberals agree – even though they only control 5% of the territory, and many of them, though no nearly as extremist as ISIS, are still facing accusations of participating in the religious cleansing of Christians who traditionally were protected by Assad
  • emphasize giving humanitarian aid to the refugees in camps
  • select for intake into Canada persecuted minorities who have not been registered by UNHCR, and, therefore, not processed as refugees, who have taken refugee in urban slums throughout the Middle East

Harper has not provided the significant increase in Canadian visa officers necessary to put even this extremely modest support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in practice. Even the right-wing anti-Muslim Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, has acceded to the call to admit more Syrian refugees into Europe on the proviso that they be required to sign an anti-Sharia declaration in which the pledge to give priority to Dutch law over Sharia law and that they both repudiate all passages in the Koran that mandate spreading the religion by the sword and for treating other religions as inferior.

Jews have shifted their support to Harper because he has been the strongest supporter of the Netanyahu regime internationally, even though that support is rhetorical only and has not been and will not be translatable into any deliverables on the world stage. Canadian influence on the rest of the world has shrunk considerably even as we worked mainly on the margins rather than on central issues such as the economy and defence. For we have joined the worst laggards and surrendered our leadership in the world in refugee policy and can no longer play the leadership role in gaveling talks on Palestinian refugees as we once did.

However, the fact that Canadian influence has been reduced to irrelevance on both the Israeli and the refugee issues, the fact is that Harper should be voted out of power on a myriad of issues, including, as samples, the following:

  • the decimation of the public service and the reduction of civil servants to servants of the Prime Minister and his policies rather than of the Canadian people with an independent capacity to influence public policy and ensure that any policy decisions made can be carried out with competence
  • the decimation of independent scientific research by scientists in the employ of the Canadian government
  • the elimination of Canada as the paradigm for training civil servants in the rest of the world on the compilation of relevant and important statistical data so that Statistics Canada has been reduced to a shadow of its former self
  • the reduction of support for aboriginal education of its youth from 78% of what the rest of the students in Canada receive to less than 72%, even though Stephen Harper offered a formal apology to our first nations for Canadian treatment of aboriginal peoples in the past
  • the failure of the Conservative government to balance its budget even once even when the economy was booming in the last few years
  • allowing Canada to slip into recession this year
  • poor support for veterans
  • the mess continued of the Liberal precedent of an inability to properly procure needed equipment for Canadian military forces
  • the introduction of Bill C-51 that may have included some measures to increase the security measures to protect Canadians, but in many areas unnecessarily included many provisions that threaten to infringe on Canadian rights and freedoms
  • the disrespect for the Supreme Court of Canada
  • the disrespect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and losing court case after court case as the government introduced policy after policy in blatant disregard of the provisions of the charter
  • the diminution of Canadian democracy as the Prime Minister aggregated more and more powers to the office of the Prime Minister and would introduce omnibus bills in parliament that significantly reduced the time available to explore and understand complex issues and ensure these issues received adequate consideration by Parliamentarians.

The list could go on and on. Yet Jews, who traditionally would be critical of Harper and may still be for many of the government’s failures, increasingly vote for Harper based on Harper’s rhetorical support for Israel. Even though that support is just for the Netanyahu government and not Israel per se, even though that support should be balanced against a host of other failures, more and more Canadian Jews seem to be shifting their support for Harper against trends the other way in Canada. This support will cost Israel and the Canadian Jewish community greatly if most Jews are perceived as virtually automatons who can be led like lemmings with just one tune on the flute of a Pied Piper.

It is sad.

Obama2. His Cultural Conservative Critics.30.01.13

I vividly recall in the summer of 1987 when Michael Marrus brought up to our cottage Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. I read the book and offered Michael what I thought was a devastating critique. Though the book was a surprising best seller, little did I anticipate that it would become the cultural bible for social conservatives whom I would be analyzing 25 years later. Cultural conservatives are radically different than economic conservatives. Cultural conservatives believe strongly in using the state for social engineering, not to facilitate greater equality or even greater equality of opportunity but to facilitate the reinforcement of a set of social values. Economic conservatives are adamantly opposed to the engineering state.

 

David Frum, as an economic conservative, has been highly critical of the cultural conservative attempt to take control of the Republican Party agenda and claims that, because of them claims, “The Republican Party is becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” (“How the GOP Got Stuck in the Past,” Newsweek, 11 November 2012) Unlike his friend and fellow economic conservative, Conrad Black, Frum opined that, “When eco­nom­ic conditions are as bad as they were in 2012 and the incumbent wins anyway, that’s not ‘close’.”  Frum is inclined to blame Romney’s election loss to Obama on the cultural conservatives (otherwise known as the combative conservatives) and the reason why “the GOP is becoming the party off yesterday’s America.” Instead of Romney running as a strong fiscal conservative with a track record as a competent manager with a pragmatic disposition, Romney was forced by the cultural conservatives into a corner in order to win the nomination to refashion himself and come across as a contradictory weak-kneed amorphous persona. My interest is to analyze the nature of that opposition and to try to understand the extent to which that opposition demonizes Obama and is responsible for the chasm between Obama’s public image and the reality of his policies and actions. Frum wanted the cultural conservatives to be reborn as social conservatives and become religious and secular activists for the needy independent of a nanny state. However, Rick Santorum was the only Republican candidate who recognized that the middle class had become economic losers.

 

This recognition is not what drives the vast majority of cultural conservatives. William Bennett, needless to say no relation to Naftali Bennett leader of the Habayit Hayehudi pro-settler party in Israel that I wrote about last week, was the Secretary of Education in the George Bush Sr. administration from 1985 to 1988.  In a CNN piece “Republicans lost the culture war” dated 14 November 2012, Bennett drew attention to the claim that the Republicans were involved in a culture war more than a war over economic doctrine. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/…/bennett-gop…/index.html – United States) Cultural conservatives are a different breed than economic conservatives. They cite Plato and his dictum that the future depends on who teaches and what they teach. For cultural conservatives, the Lefties who preach multiculturalism rather than a one-size fits all American identity, who praise socialism and disparage capitalism, who teach relativism rather than certain moral precepts, who celebrate diversity at the cost of faith in American exceptionalism, who sew class divisions with special privileges, including preferential university admissions for minorities, need to be displaced and cultural conservatives with their moral foundations in family, faith, freedom, community country and moral conduct restored to supremacy. The universities and colleges have to be retaken or America is lost. Their battle is not an intellectual exchange but an institutional takeover.

 

Though William Bennett and Naftali Bennett are not blood relatives, they share a number of common traits. Both are paired with economic conservatives to pull the conservative polity further towards what is represented as the right. In the Israeli election, Naftali Bennett was the one to make Netanyahu more extreme, yuktzan Netanyahu, in contrast to Yair Lapid who was elected to make Netanyahu more moderate, yemurkaz Netanyahu. The cultural right in America also works to pull the Republican Party more towards the right.

 

Samuel Goldman in The American Conservative offered an analysis of “Naftali Bennett and the Continuing Appeal of Religious Nationalism” (14 January 2013) just before the elections in the wildly mistaken expectation that Naftali Bennett would possess the second largest cluster of seats in the Knesset. The legacy of the religious Zionists under Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Yehuda Kook was revived with the settler movement to re-establish religion as the foundation of the new Israel by becoming the settlers on the new frontier of Samaria and Judea and officers in the IDF. Religious settlers would displace socialist kibbutzniks as the icon of Israel reborn. Instead of the religious playing a role of keeping religion alive simply by partnering with the secular leading Zionists, or feeding off the trough of the state as religious welfare bums, the religious would soar into a leading role through their sacrifice and messianic leadership.

 

What are the ideological similarities of both groups? Naftali Bennett proposed annexing 62% of the West Bank and turning the remainder into a self-governing Bantustans. Imperialism married to exceptional state leadership inspired by religious precepts was alive as an ideology. The cultural right in America and Habayit Hayehudi both represent religious nationalist sentiments, to return the core of the respective nations to their true home, the heartland of America and Judea and Samaria respectively. If the West Bank settlers want to occupy Israel (see Ari Shavit’s piece in Haaretz on 3 January 2013), the cultural right want to retake America. They do it with a pincer movement by effectively establishing their own party, The Tea Party in America, and by taking control of a mainstream party by driving out the more moderate members, Meridor and Begin in the Likud in Israel and Colin Powell and the Rockefeller heirs in the Republican Party in America.

 

Though cultural and religious conservatives can be distinguished, unlike the link with economic conservativism which is only opportunistic, religious and cultural conservatives overlap considerably, though only the religious conservatives openly oppose the separation of religion and state and want to revive the influence of religion on politics. Both cultural and religious conservatives want to advance their goals through political participation in party politics. Both politicize religion. Basically they believe that a nation is held together by common bonds drawn from religious or classical sources. Their enemies are relativism and diversity when it comes to the national core values. Instead of multiculturalism, they espouse a more authentic version of identity. In Israel, the foundation stones of authentic life are the land of Israel (Eretz Israel), the Torah and Am Israel (the people of Israel). In America, the foundation stones are the American heartland, the American constitution interpreted as the genesis code for a great nation, and the people of American, an identity projected in the ideal image of small town America.

 

Rogers Brubaker, a colleague consulted when we undertook our study of genocide in Rwanda, wrote an article called “Religion and Nationalism” that was published in the journal Nations and Nationalism in 2011. Instead of regarding religion and nationalism as analogous phenomena or explaining nationalism through religious motifs as Sanford Levinson did in his book on Constitutional Faith (Princeton University Press) whereby a set of beliefs that had been secularized provided a sense of coherence to the American identity by being embodied in the Constitution, or adopting a third option and demonstrating how politics and religion were intertwined by politicians such as George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter, the cultural right propagate a distinctively religious or quasi-religious form of nationalism.

 

Nationalism itself aspires to a congruity between the nation and the state. That is why separatists in Quebec and Scotland, though they currently come from the left and oppose religious nationalism, seek to secede. The state has the job of protecting the nation. Further, they espouse a fundamental ground for authority in the spirit of the nation whence the values that bind the nation arise. Those values provide the basic legitimacy for the activities of the state. The nationalism that became predominant in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries was secular and defined in opposition to and rivalry with religion. It espoused that individuals operated not only in two autonomous realms of religion and state but in a multitude of autonomous realms, the universities, the economy, the polity, civil society. The new religious nationalism said that if these realms were allowed to remain autonomous, the nation would disintegrate and wither away. The greatest danger to the nation came from the universities for they taught students that relativism and secularism were the norm. Instead of making claims for the nation that conjoined with religious claims, as Bush Jr, and Jimmy Carter had, religion was seen as providing authenticity to the nation. Instead of politicians just using religious symbols to advance their political programs, in religious nationalism, God spoke to his people; his people received their inspiration from religion which was both the foundation for the nation and the state, and the guarantor of the integrity of both.   

 

As Roger Friedland argued in an older 2001 article, (“Religious Nationalism and the Problem of Collective Representation (Annual Review of Sociology 27, 125-152), collective solidarity is located “in religious faith shared by embodied families”. The family is the backbone of the nation. Politics cannot be dependent on inclusiveness and diversity

So why do the cultural conservatives hate Obama even more than the economic conservatives? After all, Obama is a very strong family man. He is not only a Christian but claims in his writing to have been born again, not in the sense that he suddenly received the light and the spirit of Jesus took over his very being, but in the sense that he was brought up without faith in Christianity and returned to embrace that faith of his mother’s parents as an adult. He has confessed his sins and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as his saviour “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.” As Joel Hunter (former president of the Christian Coalition started by Pat Robertson and author of A New Kind of Conservative as well as a Methodist and spiritual adviser to Obama) has testified, “There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart.” But Obama is a liberal. As he said in a 2006 speech, “secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.”

 

Most community conservatives decry these claims as a fraud and a ruse. Because Obama’s Christianity harks back to the social gospel, to social service and taking care of those in need and not to conservatism. Obama is a strong family man and a Christian who is a twentieth-century liberal. In 2008, when presented with a choice between someone who was not born again, McCain, and Obama, many actually voted for Obama. Those numbers declined in 2012, but still an estimated six million evangelicals supported Obama, particularly if they were young. Why? Because they too were Christian liberals and supported healthcare, support for education and a fairer allocation of taxation relative to income.  (http://www.christianpost.com/news/young-born-again-christians-lose-interest-in-obama-barna-group-says-84496/#2M6aplFRqYIGEz9g.99)

 

The strident opposition comes from evangelical Christians who are social conservatives for whom Obama’s family and Christian values give them apoplexy. A secular liberal is one thing but a Christian and a strong family man who is a liberal is another. The fight over alternative worlds versus alternative economic ideologies is much more heartfelt and vicious. Since it is about the moral quality of the person, it is doubly disconcerting to see the leader of your country as apparently upholding your religious and family values so if one is a community conservative, it is imperative that the ostensible believer be revealed as a fake and a dissembler. Denigration and demonization become central to the cause of discrediting Obama.   

 

So we have two groups, one adamantly and the other doubly opposed to Obama and eager to blacken his name and portray him as not only opposed to what they believe but as a failure. Is that sufficient to explain the alignment of his electoral support with his approval rating? After all, many a politician who one would not vote for is seen as a success even if one disagrees with his or her political agenda. To try to probe deeper I will examine first Obama`s cheerleaders and then his equivocal supporters.

[tags Obama, USA, President, politics, community conservatives]