A Potpourri: On Jewish Aliens, Populism and Intellectuals

A Potpourri: On Jewish Aliens, Populism and Intellectuals

by

Howard Adelman

One of the joys of writing my blog is the responses of readers. Many are insightful and even brilliant. Others are informative. Some are more interesting than my originals. Of the many I receive, a small assorted selection, though incongruous, offers a mixture of very recent comments by readers of my blog that offer a very complementary blend suitable to bring forth a sweet new year.

Flowers (Spoiler Alert – best read after seeing The Shape of Water)

 “One way to look at a sci-fi or horror film is to try to identify who is the Jew. The mute girl, Elisa’s first name is a variant of Elisha who was a prophet who performed miracles of healing. Her last name, Esposito, is not from the Hebrew. It is from the Latin and means an outsider or, more interestingly, a foundling. In the film, we learn that Elisa was found beside a river and that she had neck wounds which rendered her mute. Is there is a gender reversal theme in the film? Elisa may be a faint echo of Moses. He was rescued from the river and grew up to have a speech impediment.

Usually, it is the monster in a sci-fi or horror film who represents the Jew – the misunderstood alien or other outsider who is to be feared. In this film, the monster or “Asset”, as he is called, is an amphibian who can live in two worlds. That is very Jewish. The Asset, however, is a problematic Jewish metaphor for me. First, he eats cats and cats are not kosher. More importantly, he has godlike attributes and there is only one G*d. I suppose that it is okay for the Asset to perform miracles, such as hair restoration, which are similar, in kind, to the healing miracles by Elisha the Prophet. It is not okay, for me, that the Asset seemingly performs an act of creation when he tranforms Elisa’s neck scars into gills in order that she could become his consort back home in the river.

The third possible Jewish figure in the film is the scientist at the OCCAM research institute: Dmitri Hofstedtler aka Robert. Hofstedtler could be the name of a Russian Jew. He has sensibilities for life and knowledge not possessed by either his thuggish Russian handlers or by his American boss Strickland, the bigot. The film alludes to a Russian/Jewish connection when Strickland examines the explosive Dmitri used to cause the power failure in the OCCAM complex. Strickland deems it to be of Israeli origin and evidence of a Russian operation. He says something similar to: “The Russians hate the Jews but love their toys.”

I thought that Hofstedtler was the Jew in the film until I read your review, Howard. In your first paragraph, you stated:

‘To my surprise, this movie that I saw last evening is also about recognition, about a mute but not deaf woman, a “princess without a voice” who is as alien to her fellow humans (except one of her fellow cleaning partner, Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer) as the alien amphibian, neither centaur nor satyr, with whom she falls in love.’

I had not pushed the idea of Elisa’s being a Jew as alien far enough. She is the monster not the Asset. She is the one to be reclaimed to her people in the South American river. Why was she abandoned by the river side originally? We do not know. Maybe she was abandoned because she looked like a monster in appearance to her people by accident of birth. Maybe her people damaged her gills so that she could not return to the water world. Maybe her people were threatened as were Moses’ and their abandoning her, presumably on dry land, by the river, was a desperate attempt to let her survive.

Second, you pointed out about the research facility’s being named OCCAM. I had missed that clue which is also a Coenesque joke. The lab is a giant, sprawling, rule bound, and incompetent bureaucracy. Dmitri and Strickland bicker and joust about the proper protocol to be followed in the workplace. Dmitri is not to enter his boss’s office directly without permission, and Strickland is reminded to use the proper honourific “Doctor” when addressing Dmitri. As an aside, the man who is responsible for the facility, General Hoyt. is a reference to the historical General Hoyt Vandenburg who was an early CIA Director.

The clue that you provided is that the Asset is the real Occam of the film. He literally uses his teeth and, more importantly, his claws to make the razor cuts that both startle us and serve to advance the plot. At the end of the film, the combination of his claws and his healing hands appear to open up and restore Elisa’s gills. The Asset may not have been more godlike than a prophet after all. He does not create or transform but merely heals and restores to the original. He is a plot device. The movie is about Elisa.”

Herbs (On the Rise of Populism in Europe)

Populism: The Common People in Modern Politics,

2 November – 14 December 2017, University of Michigan

A Selection from the Program

Populism: The Common People in Modern Politics Populism is a type of politics that some would contend existed as long ago as Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. In the modern democratic era, populism has become a political style that has emerged in many nations throughout the world. Political figures or mass movements labeled as populist generally claim to champion the ordinary citizen or common people against a powerful elite. The lectures in this series will explore varieties of populism historically and in contemporary politics. European, South American and U. S. populism will receive the most attention. In addition to describing specific features of populism in individual countries, the lectures will attempt to capture the essence of populism, because it is frequently viewed as a concept that is vague and elusive. The very recent outbreaks of populism in the United States (e.g., Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders), Europe (e.g., Le Pen in France), the Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom, and South America (e.g., Hugo Chavez) will be analyzed and placed within the very long tradition of populist politics.

November 2 DEMOCRACY DISMANTLED: HOW POPULISM IS A PATHWAY TO AUTOCRACY Erica Frantz

Erica Frantz is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Michigan State University. She studies authoritarian politics, with a focus on democratization, conflict, and development. She has written four books on dictatorships and development, and her work has appeared in multiple academic and policy-oriented journals.

Speaker’s Synopsis: Populism is spreading across the globe. Various causes lie behind the populist upsurge, ranging from increased economic hardship to frustrations with globalization. The consequences are worrisome. Today’s populist wave is paving the way for competitively elected leaders to subtly dismantle their countries’ democratic institutions. This form of transition to dictatorship in which incumbents slowly chip away at constraints on their leadership is also associated with the initiation of personalist rule, the most pernicious form of autocracy. November 9 WHAT POPULISM IS Elizabeth Anderson Elizabeth Anderson is John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has taught at UM since 1987, specializing in moral and political philosophy, especially on democratic theory, egalitarianism and its history, and the roles of experts and citizens in democratic policy making. Speaker’s Synopsis: This talk will explain what populism is and trace its origins to tensions in democracy going back to Rousseau. The speaker will show how populism can be either left-wing or right-wing, highlight the characteristic messages of populist leaders, and argue that populism, although cast as a fulfillment of democracy, is a threat to it as well as to sound public policy formation.

November 16 POPULISM AND ONLINE POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS: THE CASE OF NARENDRA MODI Joyojeet Pal

Joyojeet Pal is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research focuses on the use of technology in the Global South, including accessible technology for people with disabilities and social media use by politicians.

Speaker’s Synopsis: This talk outlines the role of social media in populist electoral campaigns, and highlights the case of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose 2014 general election victory was aided by a very effective social media presence. This talk examines strategies of political attack, innuendo, and personal insult in online political speech. Populism: The Common People in Modern Politics Populism is a type of politics that some would contend existed as long ago as Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. In the modern democratic era, populism has become a political style that has emerged in many nations throughout the world. Political figures or mass movements labeled as populist generally claim to champion the ordinary citizen or common people against a powerful elite. The lectures in this series will explore varieties of populism historically and in contemporary politics. European, South American and U. S. populism will receive the most attention. In addition to describing specific features of populism in individual countries, the lectures will attempt to capture the essence of populism, because it is frequently viewed as a concept that is vague and elusive. The very recent outbreaks of populism in the United States (e.g., Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders), Europe (e.g., Le Pen in France), the Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom, and South America (e.g., Hugo Chavez) will be analyzed and placed within the very long tradition of populist politics.

November 30 POPULIST POLITICS IN LATIN AMERICA Robert S. Jansen, Ph.D.

Robert Jansen is a comparative-historical sociologist of politics and culture. He is the author of Revolutionizing Repertoires: The Rise of Populist Mobilization in Peru (University of Chicago Press) and has published various articles on Latin American politics in academic journals. After receiving his Ph.D. in sociology from UCLA, he spent three years as a junior fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.

Speaker’s Synopsis: Recent political events in the U.S. and Europe have brought renewed attention to the problem of populism. But what exactly are we talking about when we talk about populism? And what do we know about its social and political causes and consequences? This lecture provides some provisional answers to these difficult questions by considering various moments in the political history of Latin America—a region that has long been susceptible to populist mobilization and claims-making.

December 7 THE FUTURE LIES EAST: POSTCOMMUNIST EUROPE’S NEW MODEL OF POPULISM Kevin Deegan-Krause, Ph.D.

Kevin Deegan-Krause, Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University, received his B. A. in Economics and History from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in Government and International Relations from the University of Notre Dame. His research focus is on political and governmental systems in Central and Eastern Europe. He has authored or co-edited books and journal articles on a variety of political topics. His current research focuses on political party system transformation, populism, and the sources of electoral support for authoritarian leaders.

Speaker’s Synopsis: We have come to associate the word populism with the right in Western Europe and with the left in Latin America, but in Eastern Europe new political movements advance not from the left or the right but from the outside, as dissatisfied citizens rally around non-political celebrities to challenge what they see as a corrupt status quo. As the trend-setter in this new political style, Eastern Europe offers insights into an increasingly widespread variation on populism.

December 14 EUROPEAN POPULISM: SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES WITH THE PAST Andrei S. Markovits

Andrei S. Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. His many books, articles, and reviews on topics as varied as sports, dog rescue, and many aspects of European and comparative politics have been published in fifteen languages. Markovits has received many prestigious prizes and fellowships. He has also won multiple teaching awards, most notably the Golden Apple Award at the University of Michigan in 2007. In the same year, the University of Lueneburg in Germany awarded Markovits an honorary doctorate. In 2012, the Federal Republic of Germany bestowed on Markovits its Cross of the Order of Merit, First Class, one of the highest honors given by that country to its citizens or foreigners.

Speaker’s Synopsis: In Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, and a number of other European countries, populist movements have appeared in many guises altering these countries’ politics and policies. While sui generis, these constructs have displayed characteristics that are reminiscent of thought decidedly not identical with developments of the 1920s and 1930s. The lecture will highlight the current situation, analyze its causes and manifestations, and look at similarities and differences to events that contributed to a very turbulent history on that continent.

Spices (A warning about the dangers of intellectuals as politicians)

I discovered this author just recently: he was an English Studies professor in Germany, who also wished to found a theatre in Shakespeare’s style in a former pub.  He was found dead in this theatre room (apparently due to hypothermia – he was suffering from Huntington’s and may have not been able to leave the place in time).  He wrote a bestselling novel in 1996, about sexual harassment on campus (Der Campus. Goldmann Taschenbuch, München 1996) that is at the same time hilariously funny and tragic, showing the ugly side of university politics and how such situations are often much more complex than what today’s media hype makes them out to be; an excellent analysis on European anti-Semitism (Das Shylock-Syndrom oder die Dramaturgie der Barbarei. Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 1997); several books on Shakespeare, and on culture in general; as well, a most interesting book on men (Männer: Eine Spezies wird besichtigt. Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2001).  He is funny, but fair, and quite knowledgeable.  He unveils human weaknesses in a Wittgensteinian style, being an insider and at the same time an unbiased meta-observer, with much humour and understanding.  Sadly, not many of his books have been translated into English.  Here is a little sample I translated myself, from his book about men (warning: tongue in cheek, but he means it)

Dietrich Schwanitz: The Intellectual, in Männer: Eine Species wird besichtigt (pp. 169-175)
Translated from the original German
by Bea Sara Goll © 2017

First, we have to clear up an unfortunate misunderstanding:  Even if it seems natural, the concept “intellectual” has very little in common with a superior intellect, just like the Austrian “Genietruppe” [engineer corps] with geniality. Genius used to be an old-fashioned word for engineer. Likewise, “intellectual” does not mean that this person is more intelligent than another; rather it means that such a person makes it his life’s task to publicly ponder societal matters without thereby serving anybody’s interests.  Thus, among intellectuals we find free authors, journalists, commentators, artists, writers, editors, satirists and all those who focus on the state of the entire society. A geology professor who writes only for a small group of experts is not an intellectual, even if his IQ is over 160.  But a professor of the theory of culture whose writing could influence the public’s ability to understand itself is.  An intellectual must be free in order to comment critically on society.  That’s why we used to speak earlier of the liberal professions. Members of this group were the ones to participate in the public discourse.  Their close connection to politics was reflected in the French expression “république des lettres”.  Only a republic allows public discourse.

Society for an intellectual is like the husband for his disillusioned wife: subject to ongoing efforts to reform and to critique.  He cannot let the society go, but wishes it were a different one.  He has a love-hate type obsessive relationship to it.  He must change it, replace it, rebuild it or re-educate it. He must criticise it, reproach it and preach at it.  He disagrees with it, yet he feels like he is its guardian.  He protects the fire that society no longer possesses, in order to rekindle it after society’s rebirth. He is the type that depends on the horde albeit totally unhappy with the one he belongs to.  Thus, he spends his whole life looking for his own tribe.

This is nothing special actually. Most men do the same when they are unhappy with their reference group.  Or they try doing so at least.  If they don’t like their colleagues, they look for another job.  If they cannot stand their friends anymore, they move in another city.  If they want to change the type of group they hang with, they look for a different activity and switch from journalism to politics, and from politics into business.  So everybody is looking for his own horde that suits him.

But to the reformer, the entire society is his group. He cannot exchange it.  There is no alternative. Thus, the reformer wishes to reform society to suit him.  In his mind he changes it so that he can find his ideal place in it.  His societal dreams originate in his wish to find his proper place in the group. In order to accomplish this, however, the group must first learn to see things with his eyes.

Such a type may be an outsider or even a total misfit.  He has a conflict with common values.  He is a critic and an oppositionist.   He appears therefore quite independent.  Perhaps he really is that, in several aspects.  He serves his own grandiosity by regarding the entire society as his group.  Since he, in his phantasies constantly rebuilds the society, he imagines himself as its government.  When he speaks, he develops ideas that could function as a declaration of the government.  When he discusses an issue, you would think he is preparing for a cabinet meeting.  His world is the world itself.  Nothing escapes his attention, be it the issue of global warming or computer supported training.  He could become the president from one minute to the other and he would know what to do.

All else pales in comparison when he goes about his historic mission.  He is like the creator of a new world.  Unbeknownst to himself, he derives his own self-importance through the importance of the issues at hand.  His principles are supported by the weightiness of it all. He represents the interests of the entire humanity.  He feels like a parliamentary representative for the whole world.  That’s why he loves terms with “world” in them: worldwide, world politics, world peace, universal measure, world economics, world population, etc..

Whenever it is about politics, the situation among intellectuals is like in soccer: the clubs create competing teams as opinion clubs. Professional intellectuals only play in the top-level leagues. The ones below them are amateurs.  They all live in a society to which they wish there were an alternative.  Some of them actually call themselves “alternatives”.

To the man who is into a grand historic mission a woman can acquire only a low level and only a temporary importance – mainly when and as long as she strengthens him in his mission.   His focus is on his vision of the ideal group.  In that he is a typical male.  As a representative in the public discourse he represents the sphere of men itself.  He is the living opposition to intimacy.  Every woman who attempts to drag him off the stage of public discourse will be unsuccessful.  This would be akin to cutting him off from the source of his self-love.  She only has two options: give up or play along.

Should he be required to take care of the family or household, he views the individual situation as a universal problem: therefore he cannot do it in small measures.  Is he to find a flat, he will found a whole real estate agency.  Is he to find a placement in a kindergarten, he writes an article about the mistakes in family politics.  Whatever he encounters, he uses as an example in support of the necessity for reform.  If he gets into trouble with his wife or girlfriend, first thing he does is to lecture her about her objective interests vs. her subjective errors.  His actual medium is the debate.  Here he finds himself on familiar territory.  He has led at least eighty-thousand debates in his life so far.  He is well trained and unbeatable.  Not one person has ever encountered the situation in which he would have let himself be convinced or persuaded by another.  The more amazing is his imperturbable belief that he in turn could convince another.  Then again, it has been often observed that his opponents became exhausted, frustrated, and flew.  But for him to change his opinion – no, nobody has ever witnessed that.

Before a woman wishes to share her life with an intellectual she should know: the debate will continue lifelong.   If she has problems with taking it for 45 minutes, let alone for three days, she should give up right away.  Otherwise, in three weeks she will be exhausted, after three months she will tune out, and after three years, she will flee.  Or, she will learn to hate his never-ending debate.  When he announces his theses in company, she will smile contemptuously to let everybody know that she has already heard these ideas four hundred times.  Or she will deliver a direct put-down:   She will say: “Let him talk” meaning: “totally worthless”.  And she will indicate that she views all that talk as a form of impotence and that she secretly lusts for a man with action.  She will see through all his phantasies of grandeur, and even more despise him for them.  And since he is too busy dealing with the election reform to notice this, she will increase the dosage until all their friends notice it, except for him.

But if someone wants to sign up for lifelong debates, she should know a few things about the debating style.  The intellectual claims, based on his own social theory, that the opinions of an opponent are not valid, they are just a cover-up for his dark intentions.  So, he refutes an argument never in the context in which it was developed, instead, he considers it as a totally different idea. And then shoots it down.  If someone does not know this and does not know the rules of the game, she will soon become extremely frustrated.  While the opponent has made a lot of effort to work out the argument that lead to the conclusion – the intellectual does not listen to her at all.  It is like the Maginot-Line of the French.  All engineering effort had been fully in vain when the enemy found a way around it.  If however one understands the strategies, the debate might be quite enjoyable which improves the relationship as well; though she will never convince him.  But it is not at all about convincing anyway.  It is more likely that she will impress him. She will be respected by him.  He will even become aware of her existence. Since the art of the debate functions like a sensory organ, he will see her much better.

She will succeed in achieving this more often, the more she beats him in the debate.  But such will rarely happen through a simple confrontation.  He will have set up his arguments already from the start in such a way that whoever holds the opposite opinion will encounter defeat.   Much better she deploys the famous three-step method: sidestep-analogy-moral discrediting.  The whole thing is like a swift fight move to shove the opponent into the morass of becoming morally discredited.   Such morasses are clearly marked on the maps of morality.  The intellectual also knows where these are and will try to avoid them.  The art of warfare is in the surprise of suddenly driving him into the morass when he least expects it.

For example, the intellectual says: “This pompous academic style is abominable. Nobody gets it: it is like Chinese.  Why do they have to use so many foreign terms? Why cannot they write in proper English?”

This statement is a multi-tasker.  In a talk-show it would get applause.  It is safely removed from the moral morass.   But watch: here come the side-step and the analogy: “He who is against foreign terms, is also against foreigners!”  You should see how fast the intellectual will disintegrate here.  Nobody would want to be in the company of the enemy of foreigners.  And then you move in for the kill: “Foreign terms are the Muslims of language!”  One more side-step and you can portray him as a neo-Nazi, a hater of foreigners, wishing to perform a veritable ethnic cleansing in exterminating all foreign terms from the language – while he was merely arguing for a more comprehensible style.  So is the art of debate among intellectuals.

One recognizes a couple where he is the intellectual based on the way how he distributes the responsibility for decision making.  He makes the really important decisions, for example the proper attitude about nuclear energy or about the Third World.   She decides about the unimportant details such as school, home or money.  This is the way the couple shares what is close by and what is afar.

While she is wondering why he cares so much about the overpopulation in India instead of taking care of the broken tap in the bathroom, he does not understand why she does not get this.  The broken tap is not something about which one can make himself look great.  He needs a grand stage for that.  One ought to get the UNESCO involved! In his mind he is already giving a lecture in front of the United Nations.  He is rehearsing in front of his wife.  She does not want to listen? So, then he will go over to Brigitte next door.  Though she is only a sales clerk, she is interested in such things.  The bathroom tap?  What am I, a plumber? She should call the trades.  I have more important things to care about.  Like the population explosion on the Indian subcontinent.  If we are not careful… Brigitte, I worry about the population explosion on the Indian subcontinent.  Have you read the article?  No? Come, I’ll explain it to you…

The media feeds the intellectual with a daily provision of news, about which one can opine.   The media connects him with his imaginary stage, the world.  The media maintains his phantasy room daily where he appears in the parliament, reads the Levites to the government, impeaches the president and reduces the taxes.  Here he receives foreign diplomats, finds the right words to greet them and governs for the good of the country and the entire planetary circle.  The media enable him to turn his back to the narrow domesticity of his home, and reach for the skies in his mind.

Then his girlfriend notices his strangely vacant gaze.  She has no idea that just this moment he is participating in the cabinet meeting advising the minister.
 

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Donald Johnston and his Hairy Twin, Donald Trump

Donald Johnston and his Hairy Twin, Donald Trump

by

Howard Adelman

Donald J. Johnston (2017) Missing the Tide: Global Governments in Retreat, McGill-Queens University Press.

The evening before last, I attended a book launch at Massey College of Donald J. Johnston’s new book chastising the international community for missing the opportunities over the last quarter of a century and for failing to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities to significantly advance both global social and economic progress. The book is a lamentation with a very loud wail. For there were many opportunities, Johnston argued. ALL were missed. It is also a paean, not so much to freedom from the classical laws of economics, but a cri de coeur to impose an ethical regime in control of the economic realm.

That regime required offsetting any rise of a monolithic dominant state in favour of a newborn vision of a balance of power among states using the leverage of international institutions, but without any international agreed-upon economic standard, such as the now ancient international gold standard. The “self-regulating market” with its unprecedented record of wealth creation had to be wedded to national and international political regulation which had produced “unheard-of material welfare.”  Johnston want to update the moral economics of Karl Polanyi, but with a full acceptance of the market without its neo-classical lack of moral boundaries.

For Johnston, global free trade is in retreat and, with it, the chance to extend increased prosperity to the developing world. Further, since both economic growth and social cohesion rest on a foundation of proper respect for mother earth that provides the wherewithal for both prosperity and social cohesion, the failure to adequately reduce the dangers of climate change may be the most serious missed opportunity.

Thus, the wreckage is economic. The wreckage is social. And the wreckage is environmental. But Donald Johnston is both a small “l” and a large “L” liberal and Liberal. If you do not know who he is, chances are that you have not yet reached your sixtieth birthday. In 2008, the Honourable Donald J. Johnston could add OC after his name for he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, both for his contributions to public service within in Canada and as the first non-European secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a position he held for ten years from 1996 to 2006, just before the great economic crash of 2007-08. He not only played a signal role in those so-called missed opportunities, but had a bird’s eye view of what happened in that fateful decade.

Further, he came to that position with enormous accomplishments behind him – as a gold medalist in law from McGill in 1958, as a founding partner of the legal firm, Heenan Blaikie, in 1964, where he worked alongside my next door neighbour, also a tax and business law specialist. Johnston was first elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1978 and quickly assumed a place in the sun as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of State for Science and Technology and subsequently for Economic and Regional Development. In addition to these positions between 1980 and 1984 in the Trudeau government, he was named Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the short-lived Turner Liberal government. For, if you are old enough, you might best remember him as the candidate who ran third in the leadership race behind John Turner and Jean Chrétien in 1984 and then broke ranks when his friend and colleague, John Turner, then leader of the opposition, opposed Brian Mulroney on free trade, specifically the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, but supported the PCs on the Meech Lake Accord. Johnston supported free trade and opposed Meech; he resigned from caucus and became an independent Liberal.

However, it is for his term as OECD Secretary-General that he will be best known. What a bird’s eye view! What an opportunity to influence the direction of history! But if you are looking for an account of his failure, forget it. For the failures were not his. They were the international community’s. There was George W. Bush’s misbegotten invasion of Iraq which initiated the undermining of the U.S. as the world’s leader with the initiation of positions and policies that were frugal on truth, disrespectful of science, expansive on pride and hubris, and thoroughly permeated by corruption and a disrespect for the small “l” liberal values of human rights.

From reading Johnston’s book, the politics of salesmanship, once slick versus the current display of vulgarity, the economics of favouring the 1% and ignoring the well-being of the remainder, promoting the military and foreign adventurism while undermining the welfare needed to hold society together, began much earlier than the ascension of Donald Trump as President. If the slick version of chicanery missed the opportunity to make Russia a full partner in liberal progress, the contemporary much crasser version is nostalgic with its outreach to a kleptocratic and autocratic Russia.

In the nineteenth century, the poor were severed both from the land and their access to charity. Trump will strip them of any possibility of realizing the dream of home ownership and, at the same time, of any right to access state welfare while promising the opposite.  In contrast, for Johnston, good governance on both the national and international level was and remains needed as an offset of once vibrant communities of reciprocity.

What happened? The U.S. was only ostensibly a proponent of free trade, but actually promoted bilateral trade and investment agreements, the forerunner of Trump’s policies without his frank openness. Why did this happen? Because the U.S. was a behemoth which operated to promote its own advantage. (p. 11) Why take on the Lilliputians collectively when you could pick them off one at a time? However, if that is the explanation – the inevitability of the exercise of uneven power – why declaim opportunities missed? If that norm was truly a universal law of behaviour, then there were really no opportunities. It was all a chimera.

Therein lies the contradiction. Forces are at work that overwhelm the liberal agenda of uniting economic growth and wealth creation with policies promoting social stability and cohesion through good governance at the top and a respect for nature at the base. The laws of “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” were reinforced by national predispositions. “Americans would never (my italics) accept the taxation levels of many European countries where there is a cultural tolerance for higher taxation to support public funding for education, health, and social safety nets.” (p. 14) But that meant the trajectory in the U.S. would always favour the rich at the expense of the middle and under class and would need foreign adventures to distract the populace through patriotic appeals and circuses.

The book is permeated with various versions of this contradiction between the inevitable power of social forces and the faith in choice and taking advantage of opportunities to forge what my son, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and Director of the Global History Lab at Princeton University, calls the doctrine of moral economics, which he identifies with Karl Polanyi. (See Jeremy Adelman, “Polanyi, the Failed Prophet of Moral Economics,” Boston Review, 30 May 2017.) The connection need not be inferred. It is totally evident in the accomplishments at the OECD for which Johnston is lauded: establishing the world standard for the Principles of Corporate Governance, the revised Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises enunciating the norms of corporate social responsibility,  correcting harmful international tax practices; the international harmonization of competition policy, fostering sustainable development, and, as well, establishing the Education Directorate and the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) for assessing educational comparisons. For unlike Karl Polanyi, an intellectual father, Johnston strove to institutionalize morality and not leave it as a moral cloud haunting the economic market.

Without apology or any self-critical analysis, Johnston was and remains a champion of one version of Polanyi’s moral economics and moral norms, that in both their moral and institutionalized iterations proved to be as weak a barrier to the floods produced by raw capitalism as the levees that promised to hold back the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Hurricane Katrina from drowning New Orleans. For a number of years, I used Karl Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times (1944) in the general education courses that I taught at York University. As it turned out, it was my marked-up copy that Jeremy used in writing his article.

As Jeremy writes, Polanyi’s book is a “sacred text” for liberals unable to stomach the laws of inevitability espoused by both Marxists, on the one hand, and the worshippers of untrammeled markets and the invisible hand, on the other hand. Could liberalism counter “the iron broom of the classical economists”? He wrote a sacred text against a background when capitalism met its most profound economic crisis of the twentieth century, the Great Depression, and its most horrific political crisis, the rise of populist Nazism with its accompanying antisemitism in Europe.

Like Polanyi, Johnston is an “ethical stepchild of nineteenth-century liberalism, quick to condemn its shortfalls and determined to create a new moral order without the odor of Marxist class conflict.” However, unlike Polanyi, Johnston wanted to embed economic moralism in international institutions, for he accepted rather than rejected the globalization of consumption. Polanyi was a Puritan; Johnston is an Anglican or Episcopalian, at least in the secular economic religion. The market was not just a source of plutocratic enrichment at the expense of workers. It was the arena for creating wealth and it had to be tamed by rules and umpires and not treated as a circus for distraction.

Thus, Johnston’s book is timely and is part of a revivalist movement to beat back “the era of walls, visas, Eurofatigue, and slumping global trade.” He offers a moral counterpoint. Johnston writes about using good (my italics) governance to ensure the transfer of the benefits of growth to society as a whole. Could the OECD serve as an offset to the cult of stable money which was administered by states under a doctrine of state sovereignty, but where the forces at work lay “outside national boundaries, beyond the reach of community regulators”? Polanyi argued that markets had to be “embedded” within social norms to ensure the benefits served communal purposes.

I have written previously about the role of assimilated Jews who tried to address current economic and political issues with the moral lessons of the Torah, but where the Torah was only a silken thread connecting these modern “protestants” to their historic roots. Today is Shavuot that celebrates God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Since I did not stay up this year to study Torah all night, it is convenient to refer to Julie Nathan’s essay, “The Gift of the Law: Civilisation, Shavuot and the Hatred of the Jews” (Religion and Ethics, 29 May 2017) Nathan wrote that the Jewish nation, which has had a lasting influence and impact on the human heart and mind rather than its institutions, unlike the great civilizations of the ancient world that grew up along major waterways,  “did not develop along a major river or amid lush vegetation, but was born in an arid desert, in a no-man’s land, and was founded not by kings and conquerors but by pastoral nomads and runaway slaves.” Polanyi may have left his shtetl Judaism behind, but he carried forward its emphasis on ideas, on values, on ethics and on laws to serve as a vision for humanity, but in a Christian form.

Look at Polanyi’s norms: human brotherhood, the sanctity of life, respect for individual dignity, the role of conscience, the upholding of social responsibility, respect for human rights, equality before the law, and a vision of the world guided by justice in pursuit of peace. Jeremy was named after Jeremiah, the prophet of peace.  Nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation. They shall never again know war” (Isaiah 2:4). More generally, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) and, “Love your neighbour [and] the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, 19:34)

These were the values of Karl Polanyi. These remain the basic values of Donald Johnston. For Nathan, “Jews are targeted because they are the bearers of these values, the living affirmation of a universal message of a humanitarian and ethical world. Will Donald Johnston also be reproved for trying to revive this ancient message? Or will he be ignored and his analysis relegated to the dust heap of history because it fails to engage self-critically to truly understand why those norms could not succeed against the forces of Mammon?

Assimilated Jews cast adrift from their moral bearings, tried to resurrect and concretize them in international institutions. Donald Johnston, an archetypal WASP and visionary Canadian, emerges as an honorary Jew. As Larry Zolf used to say, “When you are in love, the whole world is Jewish.” Alternatively, one could be Jewish like Polanyi who eschewed knowledge of his origins and opted for resurrection without history. Polanyi claimed that Jews “were guilty, not for the death of Jesus, but for ‘rejecting the teachings of 4520885018036092Jesus, which are superior’.” Polanyi championed a new Christian unity superimposed on free markets and expressing the importance of a political balance, in the Aristotelian sense, set in place by these overarching values.

This is self-evidently a romantic view of Judaism and of the world. Polanyi was an heir to that romanticism. Whereas, both are proselytizers of a sacred secular economic and political religion wherein liberals in a confessional mode flagellate themselves for the failures of their liberalism, Johnston is an Orthodox rabbi in comparison. But both were blind to the real dangers of populist nationalism. “Now, will the Trump administration correct this crumbling once-great democracy or will it, like others, be seduced by the extraordinary wealth of some Americans instead of being motivated to address the poverty and disillusionment of millions who supported Trump?” (p. 16) To even pose this as a question, to even ask whether Trump and Trumpism will be seduced by money, to even hold out the possibility that Trump will convert to the religion of economic moralism, is to expose the emptiness of this economic dream world and suggest why it stood powerless in the face of opposing forces.

Further, there is a failure to grasp Trump’s policies of railing against currency manipulation, implicitly favouring managed currencies, his national protectionism opposed to globalized economic forces, and make-work in industries such as coal mining. All these policies merely demonstrate that Trump, rather than Johnston, was not the usurper of Johnston’s birthright, but rather the true wished-for heir of the small “l” liberal tradition, Jacob (Johnston) longed to steal the birthright of Esau (Bush/Trump), but without Jacob’s mother’s wile. Polanyi was Johnston’s intellectual father, but Trump was the natural heir, not moral economic globalism embedded in institutions.

Johnston ends with this assertion, “I think it will happen.” It reveals the triumph of hope over reality, belief over facts, faith over skepticism, in fact, the very same foundation of charlatan Trumpism’s cynical evangelism based on faith rather than truth, founded on a lavish lifestyle, the Benny Hinn of American secularism. As Jeremy asked, is the search for the middle but a cover for the intellectual, economic and political misery of a muddle?

Lamentations focus on the gore of history. Charlatans nostalgically appeal to past glory. But both were conceived in the same womb.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

A Corrupt History of Israel – Beginnings

A Corrupt History of Israel – Beginnings

by

Howard Adelman

Gregory Baum began chapter 20 of his memoir, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway, with the following: “After the Holocaust, Christian churches were prompted by their historical guilt for the contempt they have shown to Jews and Judaism to support the State of Israel and to refrain from criticizing its treatment of Palestinians. After the Second World War, yet a second historical guilt, their approval of the colonial conquests of the European empires, moved the churches to offer moral support to the anti-colonial struggles of peoples in Asia and Africa, eventually including the Palestinian people. The churches then affirmed their twofold solidarity, with the Jewish State and with the Palestinian people.” (149)

Ignoring the historical conflation of decades of history, immediately after WWII, did the churches express guilt over the Holocaust? Did that lead those churches to support the creation of the State of Israel? Did they refrain from criticizing the treatment of Palestinians then because of this guilt? I can only refer to this last question very tangentially. I will have to ignore the question of whether the churches felt guilty about colonialism at that time.

The theology in the declaration could not have bothered them because the declaration is notably devoid of any theological references. The Torah is significantly not cited to support the declaration of independence. Rather, the following foundational elements are cited:

  • The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people
  • That land shaped their spiritual, religious and political identity
  • On that land, Jews first enjoyed statehood
  • On that land, Jews developed their national cultural values
  • From that land, Jews contributed to world civilization both universal values and, more specifically, the Bible
  • When dispersed, Jews never lost faith in the quest for return over two millennia
  • Further, over those years, Jews not only prayed for return but strove in every generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland
  • More recently, tens of, hundreds of thousands did return and the population of Jews had reached 600,000
  • In that return, they made deserts bloom and created a vibrant community
  • In that return, they revived the Hebrew language

The declaration then went on to detail both its practical and ethical aspirations: financial independence, cultural enrichment, peace, justice, self-defence, progress. Did the churches in general, whether driven by guilt over the Holocaust or not, celebrate the revival of statehood for Jews or even one or more of the accomplishments of the revived Yishuv? Did they express their strong opposition to the plans and moves of the Arab armies to invade the nascent state the very next day? Did they acknowledge the legal right to establish a Jewish state by the United Nations that had taken back Mandatory Palestine from the British, who had served as a trustee? Did they support partition and the creation of an independent Jewish state? More specifically, ignoring some of the hyperbole and exaggerations in the Declaration, was there any reference to guilt over the Holocaust, the European catastrophe in which six million Jews were massacred, as motivating any possible support? In the light of this unprecedented event, did the churches by and large support the natural right of the Jewish people “to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state” even if many nations did not then enjoy such a right?

It took the Catholic Church twenty years afterwards to even repudiate antisemitism in Nostra Aetate. But even then, the official Churches and even the major dissidents remained silent concerning the right of Jews to have their own state – a silence that was only confronted just before the Cold War ended. In its 1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations distinguished between theological and political considerations. Christians, they advised, should understand the deep religious significance of the land of Israel to Jews and Judaism. Though international law was increasingly used to challenge Israel’s occupation of majoritarian Arab areas after 1967, the principles of international law (later cited as the basis for dealing with the occupation) as distinct from religious attachments, were not used to acknowledge the right of creation of a Jewish state. Certainly, the birth of Judaism in Israel many centuries ago conferred no right. Neither did the development of their ancient nation-state, the continuing attachment of Jews to the land when they were dispersed, or the miracles of their return, revival of the Hebrew language and initial economic development suggested as justifications.

The church had its own political interests and it objected to either a Jewish or a Palestinian monopoly over Jerusalem. Winning this point was a trade off by some Catholic countries that was used to push UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, to recommend that Jerusalem remain an international city independent of both an Arab and a Jewish state with rights established for all three religions. Rather than guilt propelling the Catholic Church to support the nascent Jewish state, the Church was intimately involved in the messy business of politics in a flawed and failed effort to retain a strong political foothold in Jerusalem, a political foothold lost many centuries earlier when the Crusaders were defeated after an occupancy of two centuries.

It also took the Protestant churches decades after the state was declared to recognize both the importance of the land of Israel for Jews as well as the principle that Jews were entitled to self-determination. For the first time in 1980, the Rhineland-Synod stated that, “the continuing existence of the Jewish people, its return to the promised land, and the establishment of the state of Israel are a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people.” Theology, not guilt, seemed to provide both the rationale and the motive.

Did those Zionists who issued that Declaration of Independence even appeal to guilt over the Holocaust as a reason to support Israel? Not at all. The Shoah is mentioned to show why it was urgent to take action concerning the 250,000 refugees left as a residue of that catastrophe and the plan to solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates of Israel wide to Jews needing as well as wanting to immigrate. The problem of the homeless refugees that no country then wanted motivated some Churches to support the State of Israel.

By the end of the century, the Evangelical Church in Germany conceded supporting the State of Israel with “just borders,” but the context suggests that even this belated statement was not heart-felt, but was offered to balance the Church’s concern with Palestinian refugees. However, we are here concerned with the late forties and not the post-1967 period so it might be helpful to look, not at official church doctrine and proclamations, but at Protestant dissident theologians who led the movement of reconciliation between Christianity and the Jewish community. To that end, to end this blog, I will summarily examine the views of Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth.

Whatever the many versions, Martin Niemöller became most famous for the following famous poem that he wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

In some versions, incurables and Jehovah Witnesses were included alongside Jews. The general interpretation is that it is incumbent upon us all to defend those whose rights are initially attacked because, eventually, I too will find myself a victim of an oppressive regime. Unwillingness to take risks was not an excuse.

However, there is a more cynical interpretation, not based on Niemöller’s intent but on his behaviour, namely always ensure that the minority group next to you (Jews) is protected because otherwise you will be next. This black humour was suggested by Niemöller’s own history as a dissident in Nazi Germany who spent seven years in a concentration camp under a protective detention order which permitted his access to books and writing material, a period in which he requested release to serve in the German navy.

Niemöller was sent there, not because he defended socialism – he was a supporter of national socialism, voted for Hitler in 1933 and initially enthusiastically supported the Nazis coming to power,– not because he defended trade unionism, because he initially supported the Nazi coup and the destruction of the trade unions for he had always criticized Weimar Germany for its softness on communism, and not even because he opposed the Nazi persecution of the Jews, for he only opposed that persecution when it came to Jews baptised by the Lutheran Church. As he himself wrote in 1933 when he organized the pastors’ emergency federation (Pfarrernotbund), which became the foundation of the Confessional Church that stood in opposition to the official church when in 1934 it endorsed Nazi racist persecution of Jews, the fourth point in the founding charter objected to the Nazi ousting of ministers as ministers when they weere of Jewish lineage (Judenstämmlinge). Antisemitism became objectionable only when it was racial and affected the principle of baptism and conversion. Throughout the thirties, Niemöller continued to insist that Jews were guilty of killing Jesus and, without subjecting themselves to baptism, were deservedly being punished.

When he was released from prison after the war to eventually become president of the Hessen-Nasau Lutheran Church in 1947 and an extremely popular preacher in America, his revised theology was then stated most clearly in the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt (Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis) published months after his release. Did he express any guilt about the Shoah? Did he express any support for Zionism as an expression of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination? No. The collective guilt for which he insisted Germans accept collective responsibility was for the destruction in Europe generally and Germany more specifically. His criticisms of Nazi Germany remained restricted to the objections to interference in Church affairs. He insisted that he, and most Germans, were NOT guilty about the Shoah since he along with most Germans were ignorant of the scale of the atrocities and shocked by the event. Because of that ignorance, Germans had no cause to feel guilty about the Shoah.

Niemöller in his speeches around the United States made no reference to the Shoah, made no reference to any support for the creation of the State of Israel that I could find, but rather highlighted the resistance by the Confessing Church, a minority of Lutherans, to the Nazis. That resistance was based on his insistence on the absolute sovereignty of Christ as the backbone of the Confessing Church to which he had given witness. Non-converted Jews could be murdered, but “the Word of God can’t be bound and can’t be murdered.” His emphasis was on Christian brotherhood and not reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism.

These observations are not new. Eleanor Roosevelt made them at the time. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of The Temple in Cleveland, Ohio did so as well. Silver criticized Niemöller because he had not opposed Nazi racism, only Nazi persecution of the church. Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress at the time, noted that Niemöller never once objected to the Shoah let alone felt any remorse or guilt for what had taken place. And Niemöller was a dissident.

Karl Barth, another founder of the Confessing Church, and acknowledged as one of the most significant pioneers in attempting to reconcile Christian theology with Jewish beliefs, is another matter. In Stephen Hayes book, Prospects for Post-Holocaust Theology (1991) he claimed that, “it is not an exaggeration to say that Barth’s understanding of Israel had had the kind of influence on Protestant theology that Nostra Aetate has had on Catholic thinking about Israel.”

Unlike Niemöller, Barth had always opposed the general antisemitism of the Nazi regime and not only its effects on the autonomy of the church. “He who is a radical enemy of the Jews, were he in every other regard an angel of light, shows himself, as such, to be a radical enemy of Jesus Christ. Anti-Semitism is sin against the Holy Ghost. For anti-Semitism means rejection of the grace of God.” Barth went further. He saw in Israel [note, not the state but the people, Am Israel rather than Eretz Israel] “a new sign of God’s presence in Jewish history.” However, his support for Israel as a people was, for him, a sign of God’s revelation, not out of any guilt for the Shoah. His support for Israel fitted within his pioneering work in reconceiving the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in terms of a “double covenant” and celebration of the Jewishness of Jesus, but this should not detract from the fact that he still believed that Jews had been divinely punished for their rejection of Jesus and he remained critical of rabbinic Judaism.

I need not go into any detail into the theological presumptions behind his views. For Barth, man and God were not involved in a dialectical relationship whereby God as well as humans changed because of the encounter for the preservation of the covenant, Christianity depended on God alone and his embodiment in the person of Jesus as his “eternal mode of being” whereby Jesus takes on the burden of human sinfulness. “It is incontestable that this people as such is the holy people of God: the people with whom God has dealt in His grace and in His wrath; in the midst of whom He has blessed and judged, enlightened and hardened, accepted and rejected; whose cause either way He has made his own, and has not ceased to make His own, and will not cease to make His own.”

This acceptance of Jews as having an independent covenantal relationship with God was extremely enlightened thinking at the time, but in his conception even that relationship remained a matter of grace rather than a legal and ethical contract between two parties. Further, God’s relationship to the Jews was but a precursor and precondition for the realization of God’s historic promise to all humanity. This proposition became a foundation for the subsequent Christian strong support for the State of Israel as a precondition for the Second Coming. But not for Karl Barth himself. In Karl Barth, a respect for differences emerges, but no real understanding of or sympathy for either Torah Judaism or political Judaism in the form of Zionism. This will, in turn, subsequently lead to the position of the World Council of Churches which finds in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank but one more case of Jewish obduracy and its continuing rejection of Jesus as divine. Israel remains the disobedient servant of God responsible not only for the oppression of the Palestinians, but for the continuing schism among humans preventing the Second Coming.

The end of WWII and the revelations of the Shoah did not in general produce in Christian churches guilt for its occurrence or a commandment to support the nascent state of Israel, but rather the recognition of the profundity of radical evil which struck Jews more extensively than any other group, but for which Jews were ultimately responsible because, as elected witnesses to God’s revelation, they still rejected the sacrifice of Jesus. Thus, champions of Christian-Jewish dialogue, of Christian acceptance of Jews having an independent relationship with God, such as Rosemary and Herman Reuther, could, in 1989, publish The Wrath of Jonah which sympathized and supported the State of Israel, but detailed the oppression of Palestinians.

In sum, in the aftermath of WWII there was no demonstrable guilt for the Shoah even among the minority of Christians in continental Europe who opposed Hitler, and no support for Israel based on that guilt. Christian Zionists were the exception; they dated back to a period before the emergence of Jewish political Zionism in the late nineteenth century and continued to support Israel as a state up to, during and after the creation of Israel. But both the mainline Catholic and Protestant churches, and even the reforming dissidents, including some within that group who recognized the Shoah as an expression of radical evil (das Nichtige) in our time, did not express any guilt for the Shoah or any support for Israel based on that guilt or even mention the Shoah, though the Shoah would subsequently have an enormous impact on Christian theology, especially in post-Holocaust theology.

But not when the State of Israel was declared.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, Donald Trump may have been the one to have secretly released the first two pages of his 2005 tax returns to Rachel Maddow, host of a liberal political U.S. TV show, by mailing Trump chronicler and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston in the proverbial brown envelope with no return address his simplified Alternative Minimum Tax form. Why? Because it shows The Donald in a relatively favourable light – he evidently earned $150 million that year and paid 25% in taxes – $38 million. He had done nothing either illegal or improper. No wonder the White House quickly confirmed the accuracy of the figures while insisting that the “illegal” disclosure be investigated. “You know you are desperate for ratings when are you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.”

What a way for the master deflector and magician of all time to take the public’s eye off the scandal swirling around his head about his tweets accusing Barack Obama of taping him in the Trump Tower. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic1] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” All efforts to deflect from that insane accusation by his surrogates – he did not mean his personal phone but the campaign phones; he did not literally even mean wiretapping; he did not literally mean Barack Obama – have been laughed out of the ball park.

The release of the 2005 tax returns may be a substitute for his failed early Saturday morning tweets to distract from the investigations launched from a myriad of directions into the possibility of Trump campaigners’ collusion with Putin’s KGB government. What a chance to steer the inquiries away from the possibility that Trump is in the process of setting up the first Western kleptocracy to compete with Putin’s. What a way for the scandal of firing all the Democratic Party-appointed prosecuting attorneys in one fell swoop – that was what was unprecedented – this past Friday, including one, Preet Bharara, whom he promised could stay on in the Southern District of New York, but who turned out to be the prime investigator into white-collar criminality, including dirty money laundering, swirling around Wall Street. Of the 46 prosecuting attorneys asked to resign immediately and without notice, Bharara was the only one who refused and was fired Saturday, but that gave him an extra day. To do what? – is the question.

The two cover pages of Donald Trump’s tax returns show him earning a very large annual income, reminding Americans of what an astute businessman he is and that he may be as rich as he claims to be. He is seen to be paying a considerable tax bill, but without disclosing his charitable contributions and, more importantly, without disclosing his possible indebtedness to the Deutsche Bank which became a clearing house for laundering billions in Russian money. Unlike the mid-nineties tax return that was leaked during the campaign that showed him not only paying no taxes, but declaring a write off that could have him paying no taxes for 18 years, this so-called explosive revelation displayed Trump as having paid taxes after only ten years, not 18. But why not all the tax returns before 2008 that had already been audited? Why not the full return?

Such speculations may only be the efforts of a liberal observer trying disrespectfully to throw more mud at a president attempting to model himself on President Andrew Jackson, an authentic rather than penthouse populist as the analysis by the Republican-led Congressional Budget Office of the new Ryan health bill reveals – cover far fewer people and allegedly save the government billions. On the other hand, Jackson was the master media manipulator of his time. Jackson, like Trump, did clear the swamp, but only to replace the occupants with his own much more mendacious crew of loyalists. Jackson also was the supreme ethnic cleanser, removing millions of aboriginal people from east of the Mississippi just as Trump now aims to remove those “bad hombres” back to Mexico and to prevent the “lawless savages” who believe in Islam from entering the U.S.

So why discuss Donald Trump’s connection with antisemitism now? The issue seems so tangential. If, in fact, there has been an upsurge in antisemitic incidents since Donald Trump took the reins of power in America. All one hundred U.S. senators signed an open letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James B. Comey demanding swift action against the upsurge in antisemitic activity. “We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”

Is Donald Trump in any way responsible for the upsurge or for the allegedly inadequate response? Any accusation that Donald Trump himself is antisemitic appears far-fetched. However, in the current maelstrom swirling around Trump from so many directions, a step back into what appears to be a peripheral issue re Donald Trump, though not for Jews, may be instructive.

The question of whether Donald Trump is antisemitic is easier to answer than the question of whether he bears any responsibility for the upsurge in antisemitism. First, he is clearly not guilty of antisemitism Type C, that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. He has a history of close connections with the Jewish people and Israel. In 1983, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) awarded Donald Trump the Tree of Life Award, a “humanitarian award presented to individuals for their outstanding community involvement [and] their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship.” He was honoured in 2004 by serving as the Grand Marshall in the 2004 Israel Day Parade. He has received many other awards and acknowledgements from the Jewish community, such as the Liberty Award in 2015 from the publication, Algemeiner.

Though in the campaign for the nomination just over a year ago in Charleston, South Carolina, he insisted that he would be “a sort of neutral guy” vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has been anything but. He is unequivocally pro-Israel. Donald Trump does not know what it means to be impartial. In fact, he is the most pro-Israel president America has ever had, if pro-Israel is equated with support for the policies of the current coalition that John Kerry dubbed “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme element.”

Trump supports a united Jerusalem. He promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in his presentation to the AIPAC conference when he was a candidate for the leadership of the Republican Party. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” He has not rejected the building of settlements across the Green Line. He was critical of Barack Obama for not using the veto to kill the UNSC Resolution this past 28 December 2016 condemning Israeli settlement activity, including the suburbs throughout Jerusalem, as illegal, the first successful UNSC resolution critical of settlements in forty years and one which declares the settlements not simply an obstacle to peace. The resolution even implied support for BDS. Donald Trump had intervened to try to sideline the vote by getting the mover of the resolution, Egypt, to withdraw as its mover one day earlier after Trump phoned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, only to see the resolution reintroduced the next day by the other four non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Trump and Israel are linked in other ways. Instead of being critical of the “separation” wall dividing parts of the West Bank from Israel, Trump has lauded it and cited the “separation barrier” as an example of his planned wall along the border with Mexico. It would secure America against both drug smugglers and terrorists just as the separation barrier in Israel has been an effective tool for reducing terrorist attacks. He has favoured “defensible borders” rather than the green line as a reference point in peace negotiations. And he has insisted that the U.S. would support any deal arrived at between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but “advised” the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He is an old and chummy friend of Bibi’s and once said in a video made for the 2013 Israeli elections, “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all. Vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.” In fact, he has said that he would go further than Bibi and not just demolish the homes of the families of terrorists, but “take out the families.”

He joined Bibi in denouncing the deal with Iran as the “worst deal ever.” Since achieving office, Trump has appointed two of his lawyers, one his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman and a financial supporter of West Bank settlement activity, as ambassador to Israel, and another real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as his special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump appointed Nikki Haley (née Randhawa), in spite of her call for him to release his tax returns, as the American ambassador to the UN. Haley, when she was Governor of South Carolina for six years, initiated legislation in 2016 to prevent boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) efforts in South Carolina, the first state-wide effort to do so.

No sooner was Nikki Haley appointed UN Ambassador than she excoriated the UN, justly, for its bias “in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of Israel.” She moved to block the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who had an excellent reputation as an honest technocrat, from serving to lead the UN mission to Libya to stop the use of Libya as a launching pad for refugee claimants to reach Europe. Haley did not want the appointment of Fayyad to signal a willingness to recognize Palestine as a state.

Nor does Trump seem guilty of racist antisemitism Type B, since he has an observant Orthodox Jewish daughter and two gorgeous Jewish grandchildren and his son-in-law, David Kushner, is a chief political adviser. Tomorrow, I will inquire into the question of Trump‘s possible anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-Black American racism and its connection with antisemitism, but it seems absolutely clear that Trump is not a racist antisemite even though he occasionally engages in antisemitic Jewish stereotyping. The latter seems to be a problem that results from his sloppy thinking processes and terrible articulation rather than from any antisemitism.

Trump is also very clearly not an anti-Jewish antisemite, first because he does not seem to be imbued with any Christian values, including its negative history of Christian persecution of Jews. Nor is he an Enlightenment antisemite like Voltaire since he possesses even fewer traces of Enlightenment values, especially of tolerance, than of Christian values. Besides he is reason-challenged. Is he an antisemite in the original Type A along the lines depicted in the Book of Esther charging Jews with  suffering from dual loyalty and adhering to a set of rules at odds with the American government? Since no one in my memory or studies has been more at odds with the rules of political discourse in the U.S., that would certainly be like the pot calling the kettle black. Further, there seems virtually nothing in common between him and Haman. Donald Trump would never play second fiddle to King Ahasuerus.

But perhaps there are some similarities between himself and King Ahasuerus. For the latter allowed antisemitism to flourish under his watch and seemed oblivious. I will wait until tomorrow’s blog to explore this question when I try to discern the connection between Donald Trump and the upsurge of antisemitic incidents.

Granados and Blom – UNSCOP

UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine III

by

Howard Adelman

Dr. Jorge García Granados (Guatemala) versus Dr. N. S. Blom (Netherlands)

What a contrast Jorge García Granados from Guatemala was to Emil Sandström. The differences are unequivocally clear in Granados’ statement of his views at the first informal meeting of UNSCOP in Sandström’s office on 6 August 1947. Instead of starting with the rule of law and, in particular, international law as a first principle, he began with the assertion that, “The core of the problem (is) not legal, but human.” As a humanitarian nineteenth century liberal, rather than one steeped in the rule of law, constitutions were constructs, necessary constructs but not based on natural law. They were responses to both objective problems and fundamental conceptions learned by experience about how societies work best.

García Granados’ views were liberal (in the nineteenth century Latin American sense of one who both espoused these ideals and identified himself as a liberal). He was a “unanimist” who adhered to the predominant 19th century Hispanic American constitutionalism based on an integrative, state-building, model which requires a cohesive ruling bloc rooted in popular support. Liberalism of this variety entailed both liberation from colonial rule (negative freedom) and an ideology of nation building based on a unified elite leadership backed by the people (positive freedom). García Granados was not interested in theory; he focused on what was practicable and implementable in response to the problems faced while deeply informed by the presuppositions allegedly based on experience that he brought to the table.

Though not antithetical to federalism per se, a bi-national state or a federal state with two nations making it up could never achieve this ideal. Liberal Latin Americans supported constitutionalism and a political authority rooted in that constitution with elected representatives and full protection of freedom of the press. They were against authoritarianism and the centralization of power even as they recognized the need for a united leadership elite. But it had to be backed by the grassroots in contrast to the belief of Latin American conservatives. Liberty could and should be combined with order and progress and not with reaction and authoritarianism, propensities he identified with the Arabs in contrast to the Jews. So, on the one hand, a society rooted in dogma and governed by force exhibited the spirit of reaction. A society rooted simply in populism or popular sovereignty flirted with anarchy and chaos. Instead, García Granados celebrated individual liberty and self government by the people and for the people, but led by an enlightened and coherent leadership.

For García Granados, the outcome of UNSCOP was clear. The Jews had to have a land of their own. He came out of the gate as a clear and unapologetic spokesperson for the Zionist cause sympathetic to both the Labour Zionists and the Revisionists because both, he believed, upheld the liberal ideals he upheld. Different approaches to economic organization did not fracture his perception of a more fundamental unity. García Granados was, “Impressed by [the] spirit and work of Jews and their desire for a homeland.” “Jews in Palestine,” he asserted, “developed a new psychology – less desire for material gain than is character[istic] of Jews in foreign countries.” García Granados was the forerunner of those abroad who lauded Israel when it was an idealist country rooted deeply in the kibbutz image, but perhaps also with those who turned against Israel when it became a country like any other, governed by its own interests and facilitating possessive individualism rather than a collectivist ideal.

Ironically, he was at heart a philo anti-Semite if one can accept such a contradiction. The Zionists represented the “new Jew” in contrast to the acquisitive Jews who lived in foreign countries. In his liberal racism, Granados compared Arabs unfavourably to Jews and he would insist throughout that if there were to be a cantonal approach and parity between Arabs and Jews, there should be “no mixing of racial groups.” The Jews were simply superior in their historical development. Though the one on the committee most sympathetic to the Zionist position, he never mentioned the Holocaust. The precedent was the Balfour Declaration endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922 when the international community determined that Jews needed a land of their own from which they could not be expelled.

His positions can be summarized as follows:
• Contradictorily to the idealism and surrender of acquiring money as a goal, he lauded Jews for being richer than Arabs;
• They were also more cultured;
• He insisted that the Arabs would not and could not ensure Jewish rights and cited as evidence the Farhud, the pogrom in Iraq in 1941 (June 1-2) when, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War, Arab riots targeted Jews and Jewish establishments on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot killing 180 Jews and wounding over 1,000 others. Jewish commercial establishments were burned to the ground and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed; this was the precedent that Jews faced if they had to live under the rule of Arabs;
• Jews also needed their own country to solve the DP problem since they had no other place to go throughout the world because of the prevalence of anti-Semitism as evidenced in Britain given the very recent riots there and the attacks against the Jews (This was a theme that influenced every member, even those who opposed partition.)
• Further, like the other members, he was antithetical to British imperial interests; in the name of those interests, Britain, contrary to the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, had failed to ensure that Palestine had become a safe haven for Jews everywhere; the British were colonialists who treated both Jews and Arabs as inferiors and the spate of terrorism was blamed, not on the implacable positions of the two sides, but on Britain;
• It was very clear that García Granados would be adamantly opposed to Britain playing any role in the enforcement of a UN recommendation;
• García Granados (along with Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat) fully accepted the Revisionist Zionist position and insisted that there was never an Arab state in Palestine nor could he ever accept an Arab state there (He should have remembered the dictum, “Never say never,” though he was willing to consider a single bi-national state rather than partition, but from a Revisionist Zionist rather than cosmopolitan liberal perspective.)

Dr. N.S. Blom was a different person altogether. Though initially he only adopted a negative stance rejecting the assignment of Palestine exclusively to either the Jews or the Arabs, it was not at all clear whether he supported a bilateral state, a federal state, cantonization or partition. When he finally submitted his own memorandum on a solution, he had become completely convinced that, whatever conclusion was adopted, any solution would have to be imposed and enforced. (Memorandum, 12 August 1947) So the key determination was not an ideal solution, or one based on the principle of self-determination, but, given that the antithetical positions the two sides had taken were intractable and unreconcilable, an imposed solution from outside was required. Blom, unlike others, focused not on a solution, but on the requisite steps for implementing a solution.

Like all the others on the committee, he supported an end to the Mandate if only for the reason that, unlike Sandström, he envisioned no legal continuity between the granting of the Mandate and the current state. Hence, there was no agency to assume international responsibility and, with the dissolution of the Mandates Commission, there was no longer a system of international accountability established by the Council of the League of Nations. Unlike Ralph Bunche, Blom argued that the new International Trusteeship system was neither the automatic nor natural successor to the Mandates Commission, though he would support its use as the only institutional arrangement realistically available.

There existed a conundrum. The only party with the proper legal and enforcement mechanisms for resolving the Palestine issue was Britain. But Britain was no longer capable of implementing whatever solution was recommended. Further, the key and central question – and again on this issue he was consistent with the other members of the committee, though he articulated it clearest – “The formulation of a final solution will depend in large measure on what the decision is to be as regards Jewish immigration into Palestine.” (p. 3) The core issue was not individual liberty or legal continuity whether of a natural law or a constructivist constitution. The key issue was immigration.

Three choices were available: 1) no further immigration; 2) limited immigration; 3) entirely free immigration. So the question of Jewish self-determination was inextricably linked to the question of immigration. Further, in his perception, “in the minds of many Jews the problem of the Jews in the D.P. camps and the plight of the distressed Jews in Eastern Europe is by far the most urgent.” (pp. 3-4) For Blom, this conviction had been enhanced by Zionist propaganda and by the public relations emphasizing the intolerable conditions in the camps and brought to a zenith of international public attention by the refugee ships.

In contrast, the Arabs fear immigration as a bridgehead to Jewish dominance in the Near East. “If the Arabs are to have the decisive influence in the independent state, all immigration of Jews will be immediately prohibited.” (p. 4) So the best solution would be an alternative locale for resettling the refugees. The issue is one of power – either Jewish dominance and free immigration or Arab dominance and no immigration. Controlled immigration could not be an answer since there was no authority available to exercise that control.

That is why Blom contended that the decision on immigration had to precede the decision on any outcome to the Palestinian issue. Further, the Catch-22 was that a transitional period was absolutely a requisite for implementing any solution. On the other hand, any transitional period imagined would only aggravate the situation. Except possibly under two conditions – if it were of very limited duration and if it were accompanied by very specific and definitive solution. So Blom opted for Ralph Bunche’s preference for a Trusteeship agreement. Further, he argued that, “no Trusteeship agreement for Palestine could be effected unless it met the approval of the United Kingdom Government.”

One cannot help calling out, “Whoa! I thought you said the mandate was no longer workable. How come you are effectively arguing for the continuation of the mandate under the different rubric of a trusteeship?” The answer in his dialectical reasoning was that this was the least worst option once one agreed that the issue was not the solution per se but the mode of implementation and enforcement. Further, in order for the state to be able to enforce any solution, cooperation with one of the communities was a prerequisite. What Blom envisioned was the continuation of the mandate as a trusteeship under the auspices of Britain and enforced by the British army, but paid for by the U.N. The Arabs would be the community relied upon to support this outcome since Jewish immigration would be banned. As for the substantive “final solution,” Blom at that point envisioned a federal state as the least worst option.

What becomes clear in reading Blom’s interjections and his position is that, on the committee, he was clearly the most pro-British, though even he recognized the need to end the mandate. Further, he seemed to be the only one sympathetic to Ralph Bunche’s advocacy of having a Trusteeship arrangement to succeed the mandate. Further, in advocating the federal position, he never clarified how that dealt with what he considered the central issue – that of open, closed or limited and controlled immigration. However, given what he said, he seemed to envision a federal state dominated by Arabs who made up two-thirds of the population and they would impose a freeze on immigration. The British could impose their authority with the cooperation of the Arab community. He never explicitly stated this position as his final solution given that any pro-British stand in the context of a committee antithetical to Britain would isolate him from having any influence. However, Blom as an Indonesian Dutch civil servant had been grateful to Britain’s Lord Killearn who had facilitated negotiations between Netherlands and Indonesian nationalists to arrive at the Linggadjati Agreement on 15 November 1946.

So the puzzle with Blom is why he voted for partition and a separate Jewish and Arab state in the end. That puzzle is only cleared up by reading the files in the Dutch archives rather than the documents of the UNSCOP committee. For like John Douglas Lloyd Hood of Australia, and unlike all of the other members of the committee, both Blom and Hood were under the thumbs of their foreign ministers. They were not, as was supposed to be the case, independent members of the committee. Both were civil servants rather than independent judges or diplomats. This does not mean they were united in their views. After all, even when Blom voted in support of partition against all evidence of his previous assertions, he confessed incomprehension that Hood would, in the end, abstain and would denounce that vote as “not greatly appreciated” and “incomprehensible.”

But wasn’t Blom’s vote even more incomprehensible? After all, he supported a federal state dominated by the Arabs with immigration denied to Jews. However, the most important thing to know about Blom was that he had spent his career as a civil servant in the imperial rule of Netherlands over Indonesia. Like Hood, he had opposed the rest of the committee when they became upset at the British decision to hang the three Israeli “terrorists.” He had opposed visiting the D.P camps in Europe. The Dutch delegation even opposed the right of the Jewish Agency to make representations before UNSCOP or the right even to speak in the General Assembly lest it “set a precedent” for other non-state actors. When their position on the Jewish Agency was defeated at the UN, they worked to restrict the range of matters on which the Jewish Agency could speak. They also seemed to identify the Jewish “penetration” of Palestine with communist infiltration. (Minutes, Dutch delegation, 3 May 1947) Given these attitudes, how did he come to support the majority position of UNSCOP?

On 25 March 1947, the Linggadjati Agreement was implemented to provide for a cessation of military hostilities in Indonesia. The United States of Indonesia, consisting of the Republic of Indonesia (Java, Madura, Sumatra) and Borneo, was to be established. However, two weeks after UNSCOP had been formed and just over two weeks before the committee was scheduled to arrive in Palestine, the agreement met an impasse. On 8 June 1947, the Indonesian government rejected Dutch proposals for a cessation of hostilities. In Indonesia, fighting broke out between the Dutch government and the indigenous population of Java and Sumatra on 20 July 1947 after a final rejection by Indonesia took effect on 16 July 1947 and negotiations ended on 19 July in spite of the intervention of the U.S. The Dutch would need all the support they could get at the UN when, on 30 July, Australia brought the issue before the UN Security Council. Holland declared this to be interference in its domestic jurisdiction. As a result, Hood and Blom, in spite of or because of similar civil servant styles and subservience to their ministries, were not able to collaborate.

Blom had unequivocal instructions from the Dutch foreign office to avoid alienating the Arabs as the Dutch needed their support in the UN to retain a degree of control in Indonesia, especially after Dr. Sukarno formed the Liga Muslimin (Muslim League) to support the Arab-Asian group in the United Nations. Blum was not to take any position opposed to Arab countries. The Arab League had previously passed a resolution on 18 November 1946 recognizing Indonesian independence, but it had not yet given its support for the resort once again to violence in opposing Dutch imperialism. Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam on behalf of the Arab League had supported independence of the Arab states – Egypt on 11 June 1947 and Syria on 2 July 1947.

The clear and explicit turning point for the Dutch position in relation to the Arab League, particularly on the issue of Palestine, came to an end when the Arab League openly supported Sukarno and the Indonesian nationalists in their fight with the Netherlands just two weeks before UNSCOP voted among the various options available. Blom, contrary to his previous position, was instructed to vote for partition rather than against partition.

This was critical, as we shall see. For instead of a tie vote of 2 to 2 on the sub-committee dealing with the constitution, its recommendation would eventually be unanimous in support of partition. To understand why, we now have to turn to explore the position of Ivan Rand of Canada.

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote

by

Howard Adelman

According to exit polls, a plurality of Canadian Jews – 52% – voted Conservative in the 2011 federal election. Will Jewish Canadians continue to support Harper in the 2015 elections in even increased numbers, even when polls indicate that his national support has been hovering around 30%?

In post-Word War Two Canada, Jews were very divided in their political loyalties. Gradually, voting patterns coalesced mostly behind the Liberals. Joe Clark’s stumbling initiative to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem in 1979 and Brian Mulroney’s strong support for Israel never affected voting patterns significantly.

In October 2000, cracks in the Jewish community’s traditional support for the Liberals appeared after Canada voted for UN Human Right Council Resolution 1322, which condemned Israel’s “excessive use of force” against the Palestinians. This was but one of ten resolutions that Canada supported critical of Israel. Irwin Cotler openly chastised members of his own government.

If Liberal stands left the door ajar for losing Jewish votes, politicians on the right began to push it wide open. Stockwell Day, as head of the Canadian Alliance Party, began to make inroads among Jewish voters. Stephen Harper continued the trend. Just before the Alliance and Conservative parties merged in 2004, Harper gave a speech to Civitas, an organization dedicated to promoting individualism and social order; Harper emphasized family, crime, self-defence and a principled stand in foreign policy to attract support from ethnic groups and religious denominations. He has been unstinting in his appeal to Jews and in his support of Israel.

Ahead of the 2006 federal election, the Harper government adopted a number of very prominent positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that favoured the Israeli government. Canada became the first Western country to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority. Harper unequivocally defended Israel’s reprisals in Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, even though Israel’s massive 34-day attack killed more than a thousand Lebanese and displaced a million more. Canada evacuated 50,000 of its citizens in Lebanon at the time. When eight members of a Montreal Canadian-Lebanese family were among the casualties, Harper defended Israeli military actions as “measured.”

After that, prominent Jewish Liberals began to join the Conservatives, including Robert Lantos, Heather Reisman, Gerald Schwartz, and other Jewish Liberal plutocrats. While Michael Ignatieff, then leader of the Liberal Party, accused Israel of war crimes, under Harper, Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II in January of 2008. At the beginning of 2009, Harper’s government was the lone dissenter on the UN Human Rights Committee’s criticisms of Israel. As a result, Canada lost its bid for a seat on the Security Council.

In June of this year, I had dinner with Irwin Cotler. He had originally been elected in Mount Royal with 92% of the vote. In the 2011 election, he told me that a majority of Jews in the riding voted for his Tory opponent. He only managed to be re-elected with overwhelming support from the non-Jewish community. He was not running again. If he had chosen to do so, he predicted he would have been defeated. However, he strongly believed that the Liberal candidate, Anthony Housefather, would win. Current polls seem to support that belief.

In 2015, Mount Royal is awash in Robert Libman-Stephen Harper signs. Libman may possibly be on the verge of overturning 75 years of support for the Liberal Party in that riding but that now seems unlikely since Anthony Housefather is such a popular candidate running for the Liberals. .Jews in Canada live in a country much more dedicated to hyphenated integration than melting pot assimilation. Seventy-four percent of Jewish Canadians have visited Israel — twice the ratio of Americans. For most Jews in Canada, Israel is the wedge issue, far more important than it is for Jews in the U.S. The strong and sincere rhetorical support for Israel by Stephen Harper, even when there are no deliverables, has resulted in a tectonic shift in Jewish Canadian voting patterns likely to increase in 2015 even as much of the rest of the Canadian population is moving in the opposite direction.

Are Canadian Jews Lemmings?

by

Howard Adelman

Though most responses to my last screed against Harper were positive, one of my favourite readers replied simply, “I am not a lemming!”

Below, is my answer.

You are not small. You are not thick-tailed and you certainly are not a rodent. There is, however, the possibility that you are a lemming who joins a movement unthinkingly, but that choice would not result in a headlong rush to destruction without a proper consideration of the consequences.  There is also the possibility that you may claim the choice is a result of careful thought and deliberation. Again, as a further alternative, you may believe that your conclusion results, not because of ignoring the evidence or from faulty logic, but from using a different moral scale.

The Jewish shift to Harper may have had some rationale before he achieved a majority because of the performances and commitment of the opposition with respect to Israel. When combined with the absence of sufficient evidence of the consequences when Harper led a minority government, his tremendous rhetorical support for Israel may have so tipped the moral scales of evaluation, especially when the world generally appeared to have isolated Israel. But after the last four years?

As I see it, there are actually six logical possibilities to account for the continuing shift in Jewish support for Harper even after the evidence for forsaking any other alternative to Harper is taken into consideration.

Process of Decision Positive Consequences Negative Consequences
Careful thought Not a rush to destruction

A

A headlong rush to destruction

D

Moral imbalance Not a rush to destruction

B

A headlong rush to destruction

E

Unthinking Not a rush to destruction

C

A headlong rush to destruction

F

Support for Harper may be a result of deliberative thought in the belief that, whatever the evidence urging non-support, the consequences will not be destruction and those consequences are not as bad as the consequences of supporting any alternative, especially when the matter of Israel is given disproportionate weight. This is alternative A above. Alternative D is an empty category because careful thought and a headlong rush to destruction are incompatible.

A second and third possibility: a different scale is being used to weigh various alternatives. In this option, enormous weight is given to support for Israel. (Options B&E) On this issue, there is a real debate over whether unstinting support for the current government in Israel contributes or subtracts from the possibility of Israel’s destruction. My own view is that it contributes to the possibility of that destruction, but the weighting is difficult and inconclusive at this time. However, the host of measures leading to the diminishing of Canadian future prospects is so overwhelming. On any reasonable moral scale, it is very difficult to see how Harper’s unqualified support for Israel, especially when there are absolutely no deliverables, could possibly outweigh the array of other negative considerations.

The fourth and fifth possibilities are that the choice could be unthinking, but the path may or may not lead to destruction. Here there is a point. The path may lead to further diminution of Canada’s future; characterizing the outcome as destruction may be hyperbolic. Even though using the reference to lemmings suggests a mass parade over a cliff ending in drowning, blind and unthinking following a Pied Piper may not have that catastrophic result. But the individual is still a lemming in either case.

So let us take the two alternatives of utilizing a different moral scale that gives a disproportionate weight to the effects on Israel. Set aside my argument that, in spite of and, possibly, because of Harper’s cheerleading for Israel, this has been bad not good for Israel. If that disproportionate weighting is so great that virtually all consequences for Canada are diminished, does that not risk a backlash against Jews in Canada for making Israel so important that most Canadian Jews are willing to risk Canada’s future? Does it not risk the possibility that an alternative government to Harper’s conservatives will diminish its support for Israel in response to that Jewish voting pattern?

The only other alternative is the possibility that the Jewish vote has shifted so significantly towards Harper because it is the result of deliberative thought, in spite of the myriad of Harper’s bad policies and practices, just because, rhetorically, he is the most passionate defender of Israel. I prefer to be generous and think it is the result of unthinking, both because I know that all my Jewish friends who are voting Tory are, to a person, very intelligent and considerate human beings, and, secondly, as I have argued, any reasoned consideration of the evidence and logic could not result in a vote for the Harper government. So my only conclusion must be that their behaviour is unthinking because I refuse to insult the intelligence of my closest friends. Better unthinking than stupid thinking I say. Otherwise, if you support Harper because you have thought the matter through, then I have to attribute that support to an inability to reason adequately, to bad reasoning, rather than any lack of thought altogether.

Hence, my conclusion that many of my closest friends may be behaving like lemmings.

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.