A Historical Economic Overview

An Overall Sketch of the Economy: Part I A Historical Overview

by

Howard Adelman

This is my most ambitious blog series ever. I plan to do four things. First, I will offer a potted history of the global economy during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. That alone might seem totally daunting, but, in fact, it will be a summary of an already potted history published by my eldest son, Jeremy, in an essay in Foreign Policy in this past Sunday’s issue (20 November 2016). His article is entitled, “Donald Trump Is Declaring Bankruptcy On The Post-War World Order,” and subtitled “The global system of peace and prosperity was already on life support before the U.S. president-elect decided to pull the plug.”

The article is well worth reading in its entirety and can be found online at http://foreignpolicy.com/author/jeremy-adelman/. Jeremy is a professor of history at Princeton University where he chaired the department for about a decade and now directs the Global History Lab there. He is an economic historian who holds the Charles Lee Chair as well as the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professorship of Spanish Civilization and Culture. You might also want to read his essay in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs entitled, “What Caused Capitalism.” If you are much more ambitious, you might also want to read his book, Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman which I reviewed over a number of blogs last year and which can be found under my name online at wordpress (https://howardadelman.com/).

The second goal I have is to offer a distillation of the current state of the global and the American-led economy, largely drawing on my reading on this issue over the past months and my attendance at two seminars on the current state of the economy. Third, drawing from those two sources, from Donald Trump’s economic pronouncements, promises and performance thus far, and from the general economic behaviour of most populists, I will try to adumbrate the effects of the latter on the current economy. Fourth, I will offer my personal plan for dealing with these expectations.
Jeremy’s essay starts off with a reference to Robert Graves (Good-Bye To All That) and the efforts after WWI to make Britain great again by restoring a bygone economic era of imperialism and British economic leadership through “throwing up trade barriers, turning currency into weapons, plunging the world into depression, and then deporting, or later exterminating, foreigners as well as their own citizens.” If it seems reminiscent of the situation we are now in, that is no accident. Donald Trump is on the verge of turning the post-WWII economic order in which the U.S. was the great stabilizer (generally) on its head; the U.S. is about to become the great destabilizer. Of course, the ground had been well prepared for Donald Trump as America’s role as the chief economic hegemon has faded.

That role began after WWII when the U.S. economy at the end of WWII was larger than the economies of Britain, and the rest of Europe, of Japan and the USSR combined. America was the postwar Leviathan, but a very liberal one that operated not primarily through coercion but through its intellectual and material influence. But Donald Trump has given voice to those nostalgic for this old role of leadership in a context where it is no longer possible. Nostalgia is perhaps the worst foundation upon which to construct an economic policy.

After WWII, America laid the foundations for the economic order that would rule the world over the following seventy years based on global cooperation versus the protectionism that led to the Great Depression combined. This international economic leadership combined with national policies that created safety nets for those negatively affected by the enormous economic dislocations of a co-operative international economic order. The latter half was intended to manage risks and shelter castaways though educational and welfare nets that caught the human byproducts of the enormous institutional, commercial and technological changes underway. The first half of that order depended on agreed upon norms, principles and rules for free trade. As Jeremy wrote, “The result was a boom. From 1950 to 1973, world per capita incomes grew by 3 percent per year — powered by a trade explosion of 8 percent per year. Cooperation triumphed; interdependence brought prosperity.” Borders were not only opened for goods and services, but for the movement of people as well.

According to Jeremy, both pillars of the new economic order gradually started to crumble and eventually collapse altogether. Trumpism is merely the wake following that collapse with all the dislocations and sorrow that such a tsunami will bring. The most significant victims are an era of tolerance and relative stability. The catalyst has been the decline in America’s leverage to allocate resources, co-ordinate the management of currencies, dismantling traded barriers and setting the standards for the post-WWII economic order. But success undermined that leadership role as competitors rose and America’s percentage of world activity fell. China today is responsible for 10% of world trade and has replaced America as the leading trade country. One of the consequences has been a trade imbalance in which the U.S. imports far more than it exports.

The 1979 recession was the first major blow to the system. But the deregulation of the banks with the consequent enormous increase in credit based on very inventive mechanisms for providing credit, offered a new lifeline. When combined with relatively cheap fossil fuels, the global economy received an enormous shot in the arm. But not in the feet. The upper torso would become too enormous for the spindly legs to support it. The most serious effects were the repercussions on this planet; the environment could not sustain the enormous growth. Further, no global system was in place to manage and offer a new foundation for badly needed leadership. The U.S. was not only no longer an economic hegemon, but was the repository of the largest number of climate change deniers in the world. What is worse, many of them occupied positions of power and the Trump election meant that they have reached the zenith of that power.

Why and How? The problem was not only the incapacity of the planet nor the system in place to manage a fossil fuel monetized economic order, but the welfare state had disintegrated alongside this development. As one protection after another fell for those negatively affected, as a whole class of citizens had their expectations and hopes crushed at the same time as the rug of security was snatched from under their feet, a large populist pool of discontent and barely simmering rage had been developed, one that could and would focus on the greatest symbol of the new immigration, the rising tide of minorities and the decline in the hegemony of white working class males.

The effort to continue to free up markets, the ability to coordinate various aspects of this economic system by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations came at great cost to the working class, which subsequently experienced 35 years of economic stagnation and, even more, a seeming indifference to this state of affairs by the political leadership of this new era of “greed is good.” The deregulators and privatizers had given a second boost to the new economic order, but it came with an enormous sacrifice by the working class. The social contract had been shredded. As Jeremy put it, “Public services and protections softened market risks before 1973; in the decades afterward they were replaced by the private comforts of combustion and monthly credit card bills.”

The carbon and credit economy got a further boost with the disintegration of its collectivist rival, the U.S.S.R., in 1989. America was once again the global hegemon. Instead of doubling down, deregulation under Clinton was accelerated. Then, under the Bush regime, America’s economic and moral leadership were sacrificed in the endless warfare in the Middle East. These events paved the way for a bankrupt casino operator coming into power. Barack Obama was merely a hapless intervener trying to hold back the tides of change and disintegration while assaulted within by a Republican-controlled Congress and challenged externally by the diminution of America’s role in the world.

The ground had been prepared for America to shift from a role as the great stabilizer to that of the great destabilizer. “The long cycle of integration and relative tolerance forged by U.S. leadership since World War II is now headed in reverse.”

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Populism and Leadership: VAYAK’HEIL, EXODUS 35:1–38:20

by

Howard Adelman

How many times has it been pointed out to you in a discussion criticizing Orthodox Judaism or how many times have you yourself stated how absurd it is that you can put on your shoes and socks and tie your laces on shabat, but you cannot light a match or flick a switch that will turn on the lights? Yet it is the primary example of how shabat must be observed. Exodus 35:3 reads: “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.” Why is not the first instruction about keeping shabat not about picking up an axe and hewing wood or pulling a plough? The verse immediately prior to the instruction not to kindle a fire, is the commandment to keep shabat.

35:2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death.

Flick a switch and you’re dead. Pretty heavy! Then the next three chapters, verse after verse, are all about work, sacred work, the work of two great craftsmen in making everything that goes into the mishkan. Does it not seem odd that a parsha that begins about the sacredness of shabat and how lighting a fire is the worst desecration of the shabat should then be followed by sixty or so verses about crafting all the items in the mishkan?

But the parsha does not begin with the commandment about keeping shabat. It begins with the following:

And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them: “These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them.”

There had just been a populist rebellion led by Moses’ older brother, Aaron, a High Priest. Three thousand are killed. The rebellion is repressed. And then what happens? A reign of terror? Tyranny and repression? Not at all. All the congregation of Israel is called together, the 597,000 survivors of the rebellion, in an assembly and they are commanded to keep shabat and not light a fire. They are then asked to contribute materials and help the lead craftsmen to make all the accoutrements for the mishkan. They are commanded to keep shabat. They are commanded not to light a match or flick on a switch, but they are asked to contribute the precious materials and linen and jewels to enrich the mishkan.

Does not this echo what took place in the previous portion when Aaron solicited gold and precious metals to make the golden calf? What is the difference?

  1. And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and brought the LORD’S offering, for the work of the tent of meeting, and for all the service thereof, and for the holy garment.
  1. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles, all jewels of gold; even every man that brought an offering of gold unto the LORD.
  1. The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made.

Your heart had to be stirred. You had to be “willing-hearted.” The gifts were “freewill-offerings.” Moses did not stir the passions of the people. Moses did not appeal to their resentments and discontent. The instruction not to light a fire is an instruction not to stir the passions of the people, not to bring the fire of anger to the temple, not to construct a community based on fear and anger. Bezalel was filled with the spirit of God, “in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge and in all manner of workmanship.” (Exodus 35:31) The model for the polity was not the demagogue as leader, but the craftsmen, dedicated to applying his skill and knowledge to making the world a better place, not to “making a deal.”

Wisdom of the heart not the passions of the gut. Making the polity requires wisdom, requires understanding, requires knowledge, requires skill. This is the lesson of shabat. Bracket your passions and your furies. Make the final day of the week a beacon for the week so that the light of that day can illuminate and inspire the work for the week that follows. Be wise-hearted not dumb-heated.

“[P]ut wisdom and understanding to know how to work all the work for the service of the sanctuary,” for the service of the whole community. (Exodus 36:1)

A populist leader – whether a Mussolini, a Hitler, a Franco or a Perón – says I am “il Duce.” I am your leader. Moses is learning to be a leader, not by saying I will it and therefore it shall be, for it is obvious that he was ill-equipped to be a leader in oratorical skills that can be used to arouse the passions. “They’ll waterboard them because I tell them to do it.” That’s what a demagogic leader says. That’s not how a wise leader leads. That is how a demagogue performs. A dictator is not bound by the law. A dictator is contemptuous of the law and only reveres authority and obedience. A demagogue is not respectful of knowledge and the wisdom that comes through understanding and empathy with others. A demagogue appeals to insecurities and fears. A demagogue does not respect the detailed workmanship of a dedicated craftsman and artist but instead loves the flash of the golden calf. A demagogue is careless, even disrespectful of truth, for verity does not interest him or her. A demagogue stirs up violence and uses it to exercise control for his own purposes. A demagogue feeds on abuse not on reverence.

Moses was a very handicapped leader who had to grow into his job. He himself was full of wrath which he let out in his youthful resentment by killing one of the Egyptian overlords. In his maturity, and in the face of demagoguery, he failed again. He broke the tablets of the law. He ordered the death of three thousand of his own countrymen. But he was never a narcissist who worshipped himself. Beware, not so much the worshipper of the golden calf but the leader who sees himself as a golden calf, the leader who says, my way or the highway. Moses was modest. He lacked any sense of his own importance let alone an exaggerated sense. Nothing proper was done in his name, all for the sake of a disembodied spirit who served and saved the people.

Moses was dedicated to having as many people as possible contribute to a sanctuary that was not grandiose but was grandiloquent, that spoke and reflected a respect for detail and craftsmanship, a respect for skill and work. Moses recognized his limits and lack of skills and never tried to represent himself as having a record of spectacular achievements when any examination of his historical record would show the incongruity between any grandiose claims and his own personal results. A demagogue covers up such discrepancies or dismisses them as irrelevant. A true leader knows himself or herself, recognizes shortcomings and asks others, not to do his bidding, but to participate in an enterprise of communal creativity.

Was Moses preoccupied with an obsession to be known as a strong leader or was he preoccupied with his own inadequacies and those of his people who so easily surrendered to one who skilled in self-advertisement and his own fantasies about his own supposed brilliance and the beauty of his own hands that have never been used to make an artefact or a piece of art. Moses welcomed the criticism of his father-in-law. A demagogue rejects any criticism and evades comments on his shortcomings by insult and bullying and belittling any challengers. A demagogue projects onto others worship of himself and a willingness to get on their knees and ask his favour. A demagogue is arrogant and haughty. Moses, though raised in a royal household, went forth and became a shepherd. His compassion for others was his strength. His easily stirred ire was his great weakness. Moses was never patronizing but always appreciative of skills and talents he himself did not possess.

There is no self-content in Moses, but a discontent with his own shortcomings and those of others. He loses control when under pressure and is decidedly not cool. He was not ambitious for himself and became resigned to never getting himself personally to the promised land instead of being determined to do so no matter what the cost. His centre of attention is the mishkan, not himself. Most of all, he lacked colour. He is the very opposite of Joseph with his multi-coloured coat.

So the next time you flick on a switch or light a match on shabat, think about what it is really about. Observing shabat entails reverence for a peaceable kingdom, respect for skill and craft, for knowledge and wisdom, for the warm-hearted and not the hard-hearted, for an absolute rejection of the politics of rage. Don’t light the match that can set the world on fire.

With the help of Alex Zisman

llusions, Delusions and Leadership – B’shalach. Exodus 13:17−17:16

Illusions, Delusions and Leadership – B’shalach. Exodus 13:17−17:16

by

Howard Adelman

The story of the Israelites flight from Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds, looting the bodies of the drowned Egyptians and making their way across the Sinai is so well known that it requires no rehearsal even for non-Jews and non-Christians. Cecil B. DeMille and Disney took care of that. So I will zero in on only two verses and related items, though I could also discuss Moses’ magic in more detail as when he struck the rock and brought forth water.

The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud and the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night. (Exodus 14:19-20).

When and why does the angel of leadership shift from the front of the line to the back? What does a cloud of mist, also moving from front to back, tell us about leadership? And the darkness? What is this business about casting a spell on the night? Is that just poetic license or does it have some significance? It seems to have served a very functional purpose – separating the Egyptian army from what is now referred to as the army of Israel. What kind of army is it if the people in that army bear no arms? But, of course, a community of ants is also referred to as an army.

David Brooks also wrote on leadership this past week. (NYT, 19 January 2016, “Time for a Republican Conspiracy!”) For Brooks, neither Trump nor Cruz, the two leading candidates for the presidency, have a chance in hell of winning. Why? First of all, because both are men who would endanger rather than protect their own nation, the latter being the first requirement of leadership. Second, from different vantage points, authoritarian populism (Trump) or Tea Party terrorism (Cruz), solipsism (Trump) or inflated egoism (Cruz), neither has any contact with reality. Trump builds castles in the sky; Cruz destroys structures on the ground.

What did Brooks call on the leadership of the Republican Party to do? First organize – involve the membership in collective action using the internet and community rallies to get behind a single candidate not dedicated to tearing the party and then the country apart. Why have Trump trumped and Cruz cruised? Because less-educated voters are, in Brooks words, “in a tidal-wave of trauma.” For America, it is because labor force participation is dropping, wages are sliding, heroin addiction is rising, faith in American institutions is dissolving. This is simply an elaboration of what Barack Obama in his 2016 State of the Union Address regretted he had not solved, reaching out and overcoming the alienation of these Americans.

But if these factors traumatized Americans, what happened to the Israelites who left both the horror as well as the security of slavery? And then to have your male children killed only to go through a series of plagues and praying you will emerge unscathed. Then fleeing with the whole Egyptian army behind you and escaping by the skin of your teeth as the literal tidal-wave of trauma drowned those Egyptians just as you barely made it to dry land. Talk about trauma! That’s trauma.

But that was just the trauma of the conditions from which they were fleeing. What about the challenges they faced? In flight, they were also being bounced back between hope and despair. They were going to a promised land. And where were they? In a place seemingly without any obvious food and water – in the Sinai desert! So, although God had set the ultimate destination, even if Israelites retained faith in that – and that was far from certain  – could they trust the angel as a navigator, as a strategist, to choose the best path to that goal? So a pillar of cloud separated the column of Israelites and the angel. But they also sank into despair in looking behind, for the army of Pharaoh was pursuing them. So the angel and the cloud pillar shifted from leading from the front to leading from the rear

If you want a leadership challenge, that is it. Candidates for the American presidency have it remarkably easy by comparison. But the story does tell us very clearly the three different types of challenges faced by leaders:

  1. In ordinary times, you lead from the middle. That is when the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s leadership for the Israelites must be carried in the midst of the people. But this was not an ordinary time.
  2. In other times, when threats from man or nature have subsided relatively, but the biggest danger is an uncertain future, then you have to balance hope and fear; too much hope and one’s constituency becomes indifferent and insensitive to the fears that lay beneath the ground on which they are walking; too much fear and they are paralyzed. Obama was a leader who overemphasized hope to win the presidency and could never recover and win everyone’s faith that he has a very realistic assessment of the fears underneath and for the future they faced and for which he needed to stir the American fighting spirit.
  1. At still other time a leader deliberately moves to the back as he or she recognizes powerful enemies are preparing to strike at the rear and the leader must give sufficient hope to prevent them falling into despair, but prop up enough fighting spirit to ensure a victory in battle, for the enemies are real and pose a terrible existential danger.

So how does Brook’s recipe for leadership compare to the challenges facing God and Moses? The Israelites faced an existential threat. Americans do not. The country’s largest threat comes from the divisions within, not the mad fanatical terrorists living on the fringes of society and on the fringes of the civilized world. The challenge may have been much greater for the Israelites, but the requirements of leadership may be constant.

As I diagnose the requirements of leadership as put forth in the Torah, the first principle is demarcating what the challenges are that must be faced by the people you lead. Are they everyday challenges which require leadership from the centre when the Mishkan in normal times, is carried in the midst of the people? If there is a tremendous danger, is it one that faces us or one that is coming up our rear?.

Those are the different challenges leaders face and the right leader must be chosen for the challenge at hand. Thus, there is no universal formula for selecting a leader, but the leader must have the following attributes and skills to meet any of these challenges. When Parashat B’shalach opens, God is dividing the Reed Sea to deliver the Israelites from slavery to freedom and drown their enemies. Celebration and exultation are in store.

“The Lord is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance (Exodus 15:2)

This soon gives way to despair as the Israelites recognize they have no food and water sufficient to move forward

“For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

God delivers manna. Moses does not take the credit for recognizing the cocoon of the parasitic beetle Trehala, manna from which trehalose gets its name. These are cocoons which are found hanging from thorn bushes in the Middle East. God responds by sending manna to earth out of nowhere, as if it came from heaven, the white crystalline carbohydrate made of two glucose molecules joined together and one of a very few naturally occurring molecules that taste sweet. The first obligation of a leader is to be able to understand what is in this earth and how to get at it to provide sufficient food security for his people, sufficient nutritious food and water. Think of both the imagination and the courage required of the natives of Borneo to harvest the nests of sparrows from the walls of the deepest caves in the world, nests made from sparrow saliva that provide the rich and nutritious ingredients of bird’s nest soup found in the finest Chinese restaurants. Manna was “white like coriander seed and tasted like a wafer made with honey.”

“When the fall of dew lifted, there over the surface of the wilderness,
lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.” (Exodus 16:14)

But it is not enough for a leader to recognize the nourishment this planet provides, but it must be distributed so that there is sufficient for each person to have his or her basic needs filled. The principle for the distribution of the manna was to each according to his needs. (Exodus 16:17-18)

When some thinkers suggest that the requirements of leadership do not depend on the position from which one governs or the different challenges peoples face at different times, they are wrong. True leadership is not simply defined by “the possession of a strong character, a clear vision, flexibility, and an ability to react to a crisis at a moment’s notice.” Rather, it is to be in the right place at the right time and, an important ‘and’, an ability to analyze how to meet the challenge. Some leaders are better at fighting. Other leaders are better at achieving consensus. Still others excel in understanding challenges that face a society and devising the innovations necessary to meet those challenges.

Note further that the cocoon of the parasitic beetle cannot be stored, cannot serve a capitalist economy which depends on accumulating and storing goods to be sold at the right time for the right price when demand is high. For manna within two days waxed hot and melted, rotted and filled with worms. This was fortuitous when a centrally directed polity might have otherwise been necessary to ensure enough food was stored away in good times to meet forthcoming shortages, as in the case of Joseph advising the Pharaoh. What was needed at that time were practices that forged a people into a nation. The manna, the “fine, flake-like thing” like frost and white like coriander seed that the Israelites ground and pounded into cakes and then baked into wafers as if they had been made with honey, was perfect for that time and place.

Invention, innovation and discovery do not only mean uncovering something very original, but also finding new uses for an old product. Thus, manna, tetrahalose, was discovered by Bruce Roser to be excellent as a preservative for antibodies, vaccines, enzymes and blood coagulation that is so beneficial for Third World countries without refrigeration. In its natural condition, manna, however, can last just two days, sufficient to provide for both Friday meals and shabat, but not any longer.

 

And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. (Exodus 16:22)

This portion of the Torah teaches us another lesson about leadership; it is best carried out by a division of responsibility and a division of power. Power was divided among God; the angel; Moses and Aaron. Aaron was the prophet, the one who delivered the bad news and was the tough cop when dealing with enemies. Moses provided the political leadership for the people, the role generally identified with leadership. But leadership also requires a strategist and the angel served the role of navigator. God provided the vision and ultimate goal. There is one other part of leadership which Obama pointed out in his 2016 State of the Union speech. Leaders cannot lead alone. Leaders cannot lead unless the people follow. And the people need one of them to witness to the truth, like Nachshon ben Aminadav who raced to the front and jumped fearlessly into the sea leading his tribe of Judah to follow him.

When all these ingredients are in place, Amalek, the eternal enemy, can and will be defeated.

So be wary of pieties that insist on only one kind of leadership and one kind of character providing such a leadership – such as restricting leadership to the role of God in the Exodus story, providing goals and values, providing an eternal vision and serving as a protector who neither slumbers nor sleeps. God is insufficient.

So how accurate and perceptive was David Brooks about leadership in the Republican Party?  If the membership and institutional leadership consists only of those who surrender and those who jump on what appears to be the fastest train, there is no chance. However, if the Party has to rely only on tacticians, then a Trump or a Cruz can win because, whatever their destructive propensities, they offer magic and spells. Brooks also wrote that, “What’s needed is a coalition that combines Huey Long, Charles Colson and Theodore Roosevelt: working-class populism, religious compassion and institutional reform.”

Brooks confuses the need for spells and magic with populism. Populism is precisely the inability to differentiate between charms and spells, between fakery and the true magic of discovery and innovation. Brooks is correct that the Party needs concrete policies that serve the people, policies consistent with conservatism, but a conservatism that is also progressive, such as, “ideas to help the working class, like wage subsidies, a higher earned-Income tax credit, increased child tax credits, subsidies for people who wanted to move in search of work and exemption of the first $20,000 in earnings from the Medicaid payroll tax.” These will not be found by fake leaders who offer a pig in a poke in a quasi-authoritarian guise with its central metaphor of a wall rather than a path on solid ground through the tidal waves of stormy waters. Leaders who growl at the world only offer anger and exclusion of the other rather than a leading light and hope with which to march into the future.

I myself think it is probably too late for the Republican Party until the Party encounters an overwhelming defeat, a severe trauma. For the Republicans have been the engineers of their own self-destruction trying to create a polity on a foundation of resentment, which Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out was the key driver of disaster. When a civilized and sensitive Republican, leader like Nikki Haley can only mouth the clichés of the cold and compassionateless right, then it has been infected with a disease that could be immune to any known antibiotic. Any party that denies social science in its attacks on Obamacare, that denies natural science in the attacks against those who recognize the significance of climate change, does not want to govern, but only destroy. It is a party that offers only resentment and divisiveness and is beyond saving itself at this time. For its products are illusions and delusions: cutting taxes, losing jobs and increasing the deficit and the national debt. It is the know-nothing party of our day.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Two Faces of Moses

The Two Faces of Moses

by

Howard Adelman

In the Book of Esther, when the heroine is chosen by the Persian King to become a member of his harem of wives, Mordechai tells Esther not to tell anyone that she is an Israelite. Her identity remains hidden for years. When Joseph once again meets his brothers face to face, the same brothers who sold him into slavery, but now is the Vizier or Prime Minister of Israel, he is not recognized. He remains hidden. Years later when the sojourn of the Israelites comes to an end in Egypt, the exodus is led by a man with an Egyptian name raised as a prince of Egypt but born a Levite but saved from the death the Pharaoh ordered for all Hebrew male infants. He is first saved by being hidden for three months and then floated down the Nile in an ark of reeds to be saved by an Egyptian princess, Jochebed, who found and raised him as her own and, unknown to his adoptive mother, is nursed by his own mother. Thus, the political leader of Israel, the one who leads the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom and forges the people as a nation, was hidden to survive, and then hidden in the very midst of the royal family. Moses had a dual identity. He was both Egyptian and Israelite, Moses, one who is from the water delivered or drawn (“mo” in Egyptian from “uses”, water– Exodus 2:10), and Moshe, one who is drawn (משה “to draw”). Whether in Egyptian or Hebrew, he is passive and not an active agent of his own making. He is drawn out.

Exodus not only starts with this strange tale of Moses’ origins but shows modern narrative patterns that boast of succinctness with absolutely no extraneous matter for the story literally leaps from the birth story to a story of murder. The one who was saved from being murdered becomes a murderer of an Egyptian overseer ostensibly because that overseer was treating an Israelite worker cruelly. Instead of standing by his royal prerogatives or pleading for the favour of the Pharaoh who is, after all, his grandfather, he flees.  But only when he realizes that there were witnesses to the murder, two quarreling Israelites. When he tried to intrude in their quarrel, they scoffed at him, treated his intervention as if he wanted to join the quarrel and told him to mind his own business or they would tell the Pharaoh that he was a murderer. Moses was neither capable of covering up his rash deed nor countering the Israelite argumentative temper.  

So the guy who is to become a political leader, a giver of laws, the Jews’ greatest prophet, starts out as a total failure at conflict resolution. It is as if Barack Obama started out as a failed community organizer. But Moses tries a third time when some young women were minding their sheep and watering them at a well, he intervened once again and drove off some males sexually harassing them. Success at last! So he is adopted by the father of one of the girls, Jethro, a Midianite and he is given his daughter, Zipporah, to marry and made head shepherd. He has a son, Gershon, with Zipporah. Then, after the requisite forty years, God calls him, draws him forth from amidst the Midianites, to save his people.

Since when were the Israelites his people? Presumably he was also brought up secretly knowing he was a Hebrew. But why call on Moses, a guy living the life of a quiet shepherd who had exhibited a quality of rashness as a young man to save the Israelites? He was hardly the model of a warrior prince as often portrayed in hagiographical cartoons. He, himself, is almost killed by God enraged when He, God, discovers Gershon had not been circumcised. God clearly did not do his due diligence. Luckily, once again, Moses is saved by a woman, his wife, Zipporah who stays the hand of a wrathful God by the mark of blood and had Gershon circumcised. Would you not say that God had chosen a loser, one who was so uncommitted to the continuity of his own people that he did not have his own son circumcised, one who needed to have his wife intercede for him with God and initiate the action to save him? Moses, more than anyone in the Torah, owes his life to women, to his mother who bore and hid him, to his sister Miriam who helped persuade the Egyptian princess to both adopt him and have her mother raise him, and to a Midianite, Zipporah, who made sure his son was recognized as an Israelite.

Which raises the question of whether Moses himself was circumcised and, if he was, how was that hidden from his adoptive mother or from his Egyptian family and friends? How could he remain hidden from his buddies in the bathhouse if he had been circumcised?

In any case, this “nebish” meets up with his older brother, Aaron – how did Aaron survive? – and the two go to see Pharaoh after they perform a few magic tricks to convince the tribe that they are acting as God’s messengers. When they see Pharaoh, do they say, “Let my people go.” No. They say let my people feast together in the wilderness in celebration of their God. And who says it? Not Moses who presumably knows all the ways of the royal court. Aaron talks because Moses was a stutterer. It is not clear that Moses had even mastered Hebrew or Aramaic. A great pick for a political leader! He wasn’t even a rhetorician.

However, there is no religious freedom in Egypt. The Pharaoh says, “Are you guys crazy? Get outta here.”  They don’t give up. They do get credit for persistence. They return a second time and then perform a number of magic tricks, tricks which Pharaoh’s own shamans can also perform. This failure is repeated a third time. Neither Moses nor Aaron had learned the first art of statecraft – don’t carry a big stick or try to turn the bloody water into wine unless the trick works to awe the opponent. Your credibility just drops.  Unless, of course, you instigate a guerrilla war. For then the goal is not military victory on the battlefield, but the willingness to both deliver and absorb punishment over time. The object is to tire the opposition, not to defeat the Pharaoh’s army in a direct conflict.

Because they exhibited stamina, because they could draw forth and exhaust the might of Egypt, they eventually succeed. But only to a point. Moses’ split character would dog him for the rest of his career. His fits of rage would betray him when the people were found worshiping the golden calf and he smashed the tablets of the laws that God had given him as His gift to the people. Further, he ordered the men of his Levite tribe to wrack revenge on the people and they ravaged the camp killing 3000 men, women and children. This is the Moses, this man clearly guilty of war crimes, who Jews revere as their greatest leader and lawgiver and prophet! Moses certainly had a sense of injustice. He does deliver the laws. But he is too rash. And too ruthless. He lacks the cool solemnity and rational consideration required of a judge to interpret the law – his father-in-law, Jethro, was the one who convinced him to appoint judges to adjudicate disputes under the law. He also lacked the tact and trust of the people to make a good political leader.

As we indicated above, he wasn’t even a warrior leader. Joshua is the commander of the Jewish forces. Moses is the politician behind the scenes to boost the morale of the Israelites. But he is no Churchill. Moses is not a tireless leader. When the Israelites are attacked by the Amalekites, Aaron and Hur had to hold up his arms to signal that Moses still held the rod of freedom aloft, the rod that drew forth water from the rock just as he himself was drawn forth from the waters of the Nile. But he was a good lawgiver. He did deliver constitution of the Israelites in the form of their initial fundamental laws even though he himself was definitely not the exemplar upholding those laws, especially the law commanding: “Thou shalt not kill”.

Let me zero in on Moses’ duality that helps explain how such an incompetent came to be revered as Israel’s greatest lawgiver and prophet. In Exodus 34:30, the skin on Moses’ face is described as sending forth beams, beams which frightened the people as well as himself. So Moses donned a mask, first before Aaron and the Elders, and then before all the Israelites. He wore a veil (masweh) (Exodus 34:33), a hajib, precisely a form of dress Pauline Maurois would ban from any office holder in government from wearing. When Moses finished speaking with the Israelites, he put a veil on his face. Presumably, he took off his mask first or the mask and the veil are just twp words for referring to the same disguise.

Well, is not that akin top our comic book heroes who all wear masks or veil their faces? The New Testament have an explanation for wearing the mask. “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendour.” (2 Corinthians 3:12-13 RSV) The mask is there to hide the old Jew who no longer had the visage to lead. It may be a useful way to put down the Jews and uplift the Christians, but it plays fast and loose with the story. It’s a lousy explanation because Moses never had that splendour to begin with. For many Christians, the mask or veil is necessary for covenantal Jews because they could not get rid of the law and rely on hope and faith in Jesus who had come to save them. Moses and his mask belonged to the old order of the rule of law; Christians belonged to the new order and the rule of pure faith, of surrendering oneself to Jesus.

Though a poor and circular argument, the account is even worse as an exercise in hermeneutics. For the point is used to score points not to understand the text. There is nothing in the text to suggest Moses wore a mask to cover up his fading glory. For one, Moses is not presented as having a great deal of glory in the first place. Secondly, where is there any evidence that Moses was a proponent of transparency? It may be considered a political virtue in our day, but surely the biblical text suggests that inscrutability was then more important.

I suggest that Moses is telling the people all along that he has worn a mask, that he is a cover-up artist, that they should not be fooled by his artistry, by the face he wore. For Moses only was a pretender to the leadership of the Israelites and pretense had, literally, become his second nature. Hypocrisy, playing a part, acting a role for which one does not have a natural gift, was Moses forte. Moses was only a mouthpiece. Moses was then coming out of the closet. Moses wore a mask to tell everyone that he had always worn a mask. Further (Exodus 34:34), Moses put on the mask or veil only after he had delivered the words that God had told him to deliver to the people. Moses donned the mask to tell the people that he was not A GOD, but merely God’s poor and ineffectual messenger.

The explanation is not that he was saving the Israelites from a face that would scare them or, from the opposite perspective, to hide his glory that was fading, to hide from them the transience of his glory period. Rather, Moses wore a veil now because he was finally coming clean. No more magical tricks. This is the true me, an insecure and very inadequate leader of the Jewish people and not a golden calf. Moses could no longer hide behind his wife, his brother, or Joshua. He had been born in hiding and lived through hiding. He was tired of hiding. He had to reveal the truth about himself. What better way than by donning a mask.

I wish all political leaders had the same degree of honesty.  

Criticizing Leadership. Numbers 8:1 – 12:16.Parashat Beha`alotekha.25.05.13.

Numbers 8:1 – 12:16             Criticizing Leadership                                         25.05.13

Parashat Beha`alotekha

by

Howard Adelman

 

The parashah is about lamps (intelligence – 8:2), cleansing the all powerful high priests and Levites (8:6) who had to wash their linen in public (8:21), keeping Passover even for the unclean (9:10), about how the tabernacle is a tent of testimony and that you cannot move when a cloud covers it – you are fixated (9:15-9:23), about the burdens of leadership as indicated by the complaints of Moses to God in response to the people’s complaints against him that he is unable to carry the burden of his people on his back (11:11- 11:15), about the constitution of the Israeli Senate – the council of second thought, especially Eldad and Medad who themselves became prophets and were welcomed as such by Moses and not viewed as illegitimate competitors (11:16-11:30). After all this discussion of intelligence, washing your linen in public, including in the Passover celebration of freedom even for the unclean, the creation of a council of second thought, the emergence of competitive prophets, and the plague on a people getting what they wished for in excess, we then read about Miriam and Aaron criticizing Moses for marrying a Kushite (12:1).

Chapter 12 reads as follows:

12 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lordsaid to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous,[h]like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous.11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us[i] because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

The criticism of Moses is not for his political leadership, nor for his military leadership which has been delegated to Joshua, nor for his religious leadership which has been delegated to Aaron and the Levites, nor for his legislative leadership which has now been shared with a Council of Elders, nor for his prophetic abilities and ability to foresee what is coming for that is now shared as well, but either for his religious intermarriage or for his racial intermarriage for Tzipora was a Kush, in Yiddish, a schwartze, a dark coloured person. She was also, like very many Ethiopian women, reputedly extraordinarily beautiful.

If the criticism was for religious intermarriage, one might think that criticism of leadership might be fully legitimate, especially for the leader of the Jewish people. But it appears not to be for religious intermarriage for, if we recall, when God came to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24-27) en route back to Egypt according to God`s orders, Tziporah circumcised their son Gershom with a sharp stone making Moses “a husband of blood” (Exodus 4:26) thereby, voiding God`s rationale for the murder of Moses.  For Moses had evidently not circumcised his sons, particularly his first born who was consecrated to God. Moses had broken the most sacred covenant. “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, That person shall be cut off from his people.” (Genesis 17:10-14) If Tzipora had not circumcised her eldest son, God would have literally cut Moses off from his people by killing him. Tziporah saved his life and, therefore, saved the Israelites. Perhaps God is angry at Miriam, but supposedly not Aaron, for her racism.

Let`s review the text again. The passage seems to suggest that there is one rule for all the rest and another rule for Moses with whom God speaks “mouth to mouth” and clearly rather than through riddles, dreams and visions. The presumption of Miriam and Aaron that anyone can speak to God and is capable of leadership is said to be wrong. God seems to be offering the principle that there is one role for the people of Israel but his loyal servant, Moses, has a unique role, while still being equally subject to the law. For Moses ìs “faithful in all my house.” However, the punishment meted out to Miriam seems totally out of proportion to what Miriam might have done wrong; she contracts leprosy. Finally, Aaron who joined with his sister, Miriam, in the criticism, seemingly escapes any punishment. How unjust does this all appear!

Look at the story within the context of what precedes it. The portion seems to be about political principles, the principles of governance such as intelligence guiding policy, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, burden sharing, sharing power, constitutionalism and moderation. Is anti-racism to be added to this list?

Other principles seem to be at work such as the political principle of exceptionalism – the norm that there is one rule for the people and another for the leadership. Further, another interpretation is that it is one thing for the people to turn against and criticize the great leader, Israel`s greatest prophet and the selfless shepherd of his people, but this is family. This is not only like Doug Ford criticizing Rob Ford, but Rob Ford`s sister – if there was one – joining in the criticism. And not for allegedly smoking crack cocaine or of not speaking about it, but for marrying a Black! Further, Moses does not even defend himself or Tzpora, his wife, but seems to meekly to let the criticism ride.  And, to repeat, Aaron who joined in the criticism seems to get off without so much as even a reprimand.

At the very least we have to be confused. More deeply, something appears not to be kosher.

Let`s go back to Miriam and Aaron`s criticism. Is it really racist? Perhaps Miriam and Aaron are criticizing, Moses not for marrying Tzipora – a criticism that might have been offered decades earlier, but for abandoning Tzipora, for sacrificing Tzipora for his public dedication to the Israelites. The criticism is not based in racism or abandoning religious continuity, but the irresponsibility of a politician who dedicates his life to a public cause but at an enormous cost, the sacrifice of his family life for a larger political purpose. That would make more sense of why Miriam is targeted for punishment for she was probably the instigator of the criticism in defense of all the suffering wives of male politicians.  

I want to bring one other element into the discussion before I try to make sense of the passage. In parasha Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33)        that we discussed last month as possibly a passage about spiritual impurity expressed in a physical form, for in the midrash, מְּצֹרָע, metzora (leprous) is read as a contraction for motzi shem ra, gossiping about and slandering another. As I wrote then, “Exiling someone from the community can be interpreted as a blessing, as forcing someone to get a rest and go on a retreat. After all, sometimes people suffering a spiritual breakdown need to get away and get out of the community.” Perhaps Miriam is punished for slandering Moses, for accusing him of sacrificing his wife and obligations to his family when he has dedicated his life to obeying God and service to his people. Further, the issue is not about Miriam`s punishment but her therapy and rehabilitation, about welcoming her back into the community after she has become an outcast for unwarranted criticism of the political leader and, therefore, of God and of God`sacrifice on behalf of the Hebrews.

Miriam became “leprous” (מְצֹרַעַת, m’tzora’at) in Numbers 12:1 for being critical of Moses not because he married a Kushite – Miriam and Aaron are not racists – and certainly not for intermarriage for Tziporah like many gentile women in the Torah are exceptional in their dedication to the continuity of the Jewish people. Miriam has slandered Moses by regarding his treatment of his wife critically when it was a necessary sacrifice for the people in the service of God. Moses was someone special, someone who could speak to God face to face, and exceptional leaders need to be respected as such, not as exceptions under the law but as understanding that they must make exceptional sacrifices.

Further, tzara’at is a special disease, an affliction brought on by failure to obey God. (Deuteronomy 24:8-9) or to understand God`s especially appointed one and to comprehend the sacrifices that entails. This failure in understanding and intelligence, this failure to comprehend what is required when one is accountable to an even higher calling than dedication to one`s family, the failure to understand that in addition to the principle of inclusiveness, some must be respected for their exclusive calling, that no matter the degree of burden and power sharing, a true leader in the end must carry an extraordinary burden while being also subject to the rule of law and governed by a principle of moderation.

Shimon Peres movie: The Price of Kings.17.04.31

Shimon Peres: The Price of Unsatisfactory Documentaries 17.04.12

by

Howard Adelman

I was going to review the documentary, Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace, but the analysis will take more time. Instead, today I will review The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres, a documentary filmdirected by Richard Symons and Joanna Natesegara that I saw yesterday afternoon. It is one of twelve planned documentaries on leaders that the directors plan to make. The first one was on Arafat released in January 2011. The Peres film is the second in the series released a year ago. (The third is on Oscar Arias Sanchez from Costa Rica was released in November 2012.) The opening of the Peres film is a confusing collage alluding to the theme of the series as focusing on the sacrifices leaders make to dedicate their lives to political leadership. The film asks: what would you sacrifice for your beliefs? Since the film never really even probes the question, I would be surprised if the film stimulated an intelligent answer.

I think it is very hard not to make an interesting film about political leaders. They have led eventful lives. If you can get an interview and have them talk on camera and then add views of associates, family members, friends and critics, over half your job is done. The filmmakers are to be congratulated for getting that part accomplished. The film not only has many minutes from Peres, but includes Yitzchak Navon, the 5th president of Israel, and Professor Michael Bar-Zohar, the biographer of David Ben Gurion, who also in 2006 published Shimon Peres: The Biography. Former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Querei and an Oslo negotiator for Arafat, and Ahmad Tibi, the Israeli-Arab leader of the Arab Movement for Renewal Party, make cameo appearances. Uri Savir, the Chief Negotiator for Israel in the Oslo process, has a much larger role. Uri Avnery makes an appearance as does Ruth Dayan who was married to Moshe Dayan. Gideon Levy, an ex-aide, and Peres’ friend, Danny Gillerman, have very serious parts. Human Rights campaigner, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, has much to say and is even given the final pronouncement. The problem then is editing the material and knitting it together. The directors use a simple technique – the historical trajectory of the life of the leader focused on the most famous historical events. For Peres, whose life covered the sixty-five years of the history of Israel, there is no difficulty in finding those key moments.

However, the selection of music, perhaps inspired by Peres’ current aged dour visage, is so melancholic that the film is often experienced as a dirge when the violins are not being used to bring forth your tears. Helena Bonham Carter, the actress from Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech and Les Misérables, is the narrator; her script is pedestrian, clichéd and often wrong, and the officious newsreel voice that she adopts, even though it is that of a woman, takes us back to newsreels of the fifties and sixties. The interrotron technique that appears to have been used for the Peres interview catches the face of the interviewee close-up, but also ensures formality and distance rather than intimacy and disclosure. The lighting on Peres when he is being interviewed against a black backdrop reinforces stiffness and platitudes rather than casualness and open comments. And some of the B-roll! At the end of the film there is a scene of the Tel Aviv beach with a cement podium as a backdrop and two sunbathers on chairs in the foreground. One of the sunbathers brings his legs together, then separates them, then brings them together again as if he suffers from ADHT. But then he appears to be exercising. What this scene has to do with the life story of Peres, I have no idea. It is just an ugly picture! Is that the message the director wants to convey about his view of Peres, that underneath his reserve and dignity he just sways from side to side wherever the political winds take him?

Peres left Poland at the age of eleven; before he left, he promised his grandfather that he would always be Jewish. Peres describes arriving Palestine with its golden sand beaches, blue skies and the perfumed air of the Mediterranean as arriving in paradise compared to the sullen gray skies of Poland and the crowded small shtetl of 1000 families that he left behind. Most of his extended family died in the Holocaust, including his grandfather to whom he made that solemn promise. One day, they were all gathered together by the Nazis, forced into the community synagogue and all shot.

One thesis in the film is that Peres remained an outsider because: a) he was not born in Israel and spoke Hebrew with a Polish accent; b) he never served in the army; and 3) he was too much of a thinker. But they never asked what he read, what his favourite writers were or where he got most of his inspiration. Further, surely the filmmakers knew that he served in the Haganah and was charged at a young age with giving an organizational structure to the collection of militias from pre-state Palestine to create the Israeli army. Finally, one would think that the filmmakers would have asked, why, if he arrived at 11 years of age, he still had an accent? They do not. Like many of the issues raised and theses propounded without any evidence, there are no follow-ups. As we heard the claim of the disadvantage of speaking Hebrew with an accent, we wonder about Begin and the hordes of other non-Sabra founding fathers, but do not expect the film to provide any answers.

In the film, Peres says that if you have to choose between being Machiavellian and doing everything you can to achieve power or naiveté, he prefers naiveté. I wanted to scream: Why did you not ask why Peres defined Machiavellian as the pursuit of power by any means, or the even easier question of why pose those as the only two alternatives? The film loves to capture protagonists cast between two poles. Peres might opt for one pole, such as naiveté and offer a rationale, but the director suggests that this is evidence of his being conflicted. The script writers themselves seem to have a propensity to favour a tryptych of concepts rather than visual panels to make pronouncements – Peres combined religion with a conscience with a commitment to good government. Other than the odd shot of Peres with a kippa, where is there any exploration of Peres’ religion in the film or even an allusion to the fact that as a young boy influenced by his grandfather, Peres was a Haredi while his family was really non-observant? Where are the questions about the influence of his religious beliefs on his politics? Whenever these summaries were offered, I had to mentally close my ears lest they distract from the focus on the events and actions in which Peres was involved.

Some of these were impossible to ignore – such as the erroneous cliché that the UN gave birth to Israel because of the guilt over the Holocaust, a cliché that even most Jews believe. A good historian will show you why this is utter nonsense. One of the more important reasons was the problem of dealing with the 200,000 Jewish refugees left after the war. But that issue is not raised in the film nor whether the intake of those Jewish refugees played any part in Peres’ early life. Instead, the film focuses on the exodus of the Palestinians who became refugees and whom the Israeli authorities banned from re-entering. Does this have anything to do with Peres? If so, what? If not, why is this episode in the film?

The film makes clear that Peres was on the side of those Zionists who accepted partition and an Israel with only 45% of the land of Palestine but ended up with 78% because the Arabs never were satisfied with the amount allocated to them. Thus, war was inevitable in a fight over land. If that fight was to be settled by force of arms at the Arab’s choice and not mutual agreement or external imposition, then why would Peres not take 100% and instead settle only for 78%? There are good answers to which Peres would probably agree, but the question is never asked, perhaps because the director is not neutral and cannot even imagine giving a respectful voice to the right wingers who are presented stereotypically as religious zealots. The film seems to have an underlying thesis – that peace was sabotaged simply by the work of Jewish extremists and the settler movement more generally, as if the Palestinian terrorist bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that are shown in the film and that turned the Israeli public against Oslo, played no part. Contrary to some commentators on the film commending its neutrality, I found the appearance of neutrality a sham. The issues are discussed superficially and without any depth.

The film is gripping because the events and characters are gripping. The film engages but doesn’t really probe – except with one provocative (and inappropriate question in the context) suggestion that Israel is an apartheid state. However, by an large the questions are left out of the film to enhance the impression of letting the characters voices carry the film.

Peres is given credit for organizing the arms supply to the army of the new state, but we are told nothing of how he accomplished the feat. If the directors asked Peres, the footage was left on the cutting room table. There is one interesting anecdote told in the film that I had never heard before. Peres was corralled by Ben Gurion to accompany him in the car to Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion told Peres out of the blue that Trotsky was a lousy leader. "No War, No Peace. That was not a decision. Decisions have to be clear and unequivocal." Lenin was the real leader for Ben Gurion. Peres was puzzled by the story. Why not explore the puzzlement? What was Peres’ view of leadership?

Peres is also credited with bringing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons to Israel and with building the "textile factory", the Dimona reactor. But how or why – you will learn nothing from the film. You will not even hear Peres’ evasions.

On the Entebbe operation, the film sums up the position that, while Yitzhak Rabin wanted to negotiate with the terrorists, Peres was totally opposed and was convinced that a plan of rescue could be developed, in spite of the total scepticism of the head of the armed forces, Mordechai Gur. This potted summary is all we get along with a mixture of facts and errors about the raid that Peres’ himself calls one of the bravest and most heroic deeds performed by Israeli troops. An example of an error is heard when the narrator states that five aircraft landed in Entebbe when there were only four Hercules aircraft.

The story and activities were quite a bit more complicated than the edited summary. As Peres himself described them when he opened the storyteller’s festival as recorded by Shahar Chai for Israel News (10.01.12) in a news item headed, "I convinced Rabin to launch Operation Entebbe." Here is what Peres said:

"The chances of rescuing 101 Jewish hostages 4,000 kilometers away seemed miniscule…The conclusion was that we should comply with the demands to release the terrorists," but Peres then left out the qualifier – if a feasible rescue plan could not be developed. It is true that most were sceptical that a feasible rescue plan could be created and he himself thought the chances were miniscule. "The Fantasy Headquarters" made up of gutsy creative officers did come up with a plan and Peres convinced the cabinet that the risks were worth taking. So while Prime Minister Rabin continued to give the impression that he was keen on negotiating, the plan was implemented.

This is a very different version that the impression created by the film of Peres as a determined decision maker willing to take risks and Rabin as a waffler willing to back down on a sacred principle of no negotiations with terrorists. Further, it contradicts the overall impression the film makes, and the stated conviction of the director, Richard Symons, in reinforcing the image of Peres as a very successful second in command but not a decisive and gutsy leader. In fact, Symons has said on tape that he thinks Peres lacked a backbone and was deeply conflicted even if the evidence in his own film contradicts that conclusion. The film spends a few seconds mentioning the back channels behind Oslo, but only a mention; there is no suggestion that this initiative might belie the stereotype of Peres as just a second and never qualified to be a first.

Further, there is so much about Peres that is omitted – his imposition of a military organization on the inchoate ragtag of militias inherited from pre-state Palestine, his early career initiatives in modernizing agriculture and spreading those innovations to Africa, his later initiatives that helped make Israel the "start-up" nation.

Peres is presented as a person with enormous self-control – which he did have – but he also cried when told of Yoni Netanyahu’s death, but that is not stated or admitted in the film. What is said by a colleague – I cannot recall who said it in the film – was that Peres was both very decisive and very flexible and willing to change. Peres admits he made many mistakes, but the filmmakers never ask him whether his decision not to call an election in 1995 in the aftermath of Rabin’s assassination, contrary to all the advice he received, because he did not want to ride into office on the coattails of Rabin’s blood, was one of those decisions. Had his own ego stood in the way of practicing proper Machiavellian politics? Again, the film provides no answers.

The film does provide a very moving account of the success of the rally in Tel Aviv in November of 1955 when Rabin was murdered, but especially of the close rapport Peres and Rabin had finally developed and when Peres had never seen Rabin so relaxed, happy, smiling and, most of all, friendly. The glint in Peres’ eyes as he described Rabin putting his arm on his shoulders could not and should not be missed. These touching moments – such as the account of and by Peres’ granddaughter, Mika, riding in the back of a car in Washington with her grandfather and saying what she thinks of him, are very moving.

Finally, to return to the ostensible theme of the series, what did Peres sacrifice? Peres explicitly states that the most rewarding and satisfying experience in life is work. Peres did a great deal of important work. His granddaughter cried when she expressed to him directly how proud she was of him and what he accomplished. Where was the sacrifice? What greater nachas is there?

Shimon Peres.17.04.13.doc