Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II

Moderate Plaudits for Trump’s Moving the American Embassy Policy: Part II


Howard Adelman

“Whether motivated by the importance of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a concern for Israel’s and America’s relationships with key Arab partners, or a desire to cut ‘the ultimate deal,’ the new administration shows signs of investing heavily in Middle East peace negotiations. The president even assigned his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a potential peacemaker.” In such an interpretation, Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without predetermined borders had rational strategic goals: strengthening Israel, strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties and advancing the peace process towards an ultimate deal. Tomorrow I will consider the last goal and the technique seen as a method of achieving it – disruption. In this blog I want to analyze the positions of those who applaud the move as reasonable and strategic, and offer a rationale for its beneficence.

However, I begin this blog with other criticisms and caveats that, like the initiative, offered a more nuanced critical response, but without declaring the Trump initiative as stupid or rash or uncalled for or biased or as destroying the possibility of peace. American diplomats with a long history of engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, such as Dennis Ross, who served the Bush administration as Director of Policy Planning in the State Department and as a special Middle East coordinator for Bill Clinton’s government, offered a mixture of approval and reservations about the initiative.

The reference point was always the passage by Congress in 1995 of legislation obligating a transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, legislation with large bipartisan support, but with the inclusion of the waiver allowing the president to delay the move for six months at a time if needed to secure American interests. Up until Trump’s announcement, all presidents, including Trump six months ago, had signed the waiver. This time, however, Trump signed the waiver with two caveats: a) practical measures were now to be initiated to arrange the move; and b) Jerusalem was being recognized as Israel’s capital, but with the important caveat that this in no way preempted the determination of borders or the control over holy sites.

Previously, the waiver had been signed “to prevent damage to ongoing efforts to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Would such an initiative serve the pursuit of peace in the Middle East or undermine it? The signing of the waiver never meant that there was no recognition of “the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city.” The resolution of Congress sent a clear signal to those who wanted to delegitimize Jewish claims in Palestine more generally. However, there had also always existed practical administrative and security reasons for moving the embassy – convenience to American diplomats who must travel back and forth to Jerusalem all the time, the inadequate security in the existing Tel Aviv embassy, and the general perception that the U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The issue was when to take the initiative not whether, and under what qualifications. Would such an initiative be neutral or would it undermine America’s role as a useful arbitrator? Would it advance or impede the prospects for negotiations and peace? How would such a move fit in within this larger strategic goal? Would it enhance Israel’s willingness to make concessions or set back that possibility? Would it drive more Palestinians into a rejectionist corner or send a message that the U.S. tolerance for Palestinian procrastination was near its end? More specifically, would it give greater strength to Jared Kushner’s leadership on the question, propel it forward by signaling the possibility of further additional moves that would reinforce the Israeli government position, or drive the Palestinians and their supporters to distraction making them both unwilling to participate and/or accept America’s mediation efforts?

Supporters of the move asked for even more nuance and more statements of clarification. For supporters who approached the new position with qualms and qualifications, an embassy move must demonstrate that such an initiative would not prevent a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem from emerging through negotiations. It must explicitly and repeatedly be linked with an insistence that the initiative does not change the status quo at the city’s holy sites. U.S. statements should make even more explicit that the policy decision to move the embassy is not an endorsement of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city. These additional statements must make absolutely clear that the U.S. is committed to the status quo of the holy sites. Only when the initiative is followed by such reassurances can Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) be assuaged while Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall are reassured.

Even if the prime message still lacked substance and was only symbolic, it had to state clearly and unequivocally that the negotiations could not have as a starting point the cease fire lines of 1967. Those were not borders. It had also to signal that a one state solution was not in the offing and that only a two-state solution was and would be on the table, but one which offered the prospect of a continuing diminution in that state, its power and geographical reach. At the same time, Israel had to be sent a message that it too could not envision a one state solution including all of historic Israel and Palestine and, thus, that there was no alternative to continuing to substitute facts on the ground as an alternative to negotiations in that direction. The direction being pushed in UNESCO, in the absence of an American veto on a core issue, had to be reversed and done so loudly, clearly and backed up by the will and might of the world’s most powerful nation.

Further, Trump must further clarify the character of recognition without defining borders. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949. That is a fact and not a matter of negotiation. Negotiations are needed to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly without outside interference. Does the new initiative reinforce this route or undermine it by expressing a bias in favour of the Israeli position and, thereby, ruling out the American role as a supposed “neutral” intervenor?

There is a logic to the duality of recognition, on the one hand, and declaring that this still left the borders undefined. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested. There is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, a fiction which has gone on for 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, the ability of the parties to determine the boundaries of the city must be respected. The possibility even that Jerusalem will become the capital of two states must be left open.

Of course, those who are anti-Zionist and deny Israel’s legitimacy will never be satisfied by such nuances and elaborations. Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has already called for an uprising. In the violent riots thus far, several Palestinians have already been killed. The president’s declaration can be exploited further.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas never went as far as the Hamas leader. He merely declared that the U.S. could no longer assume the mediator’s role.

Jerusalem is an emotional issue. Any initiative will be misrepresented. That misrepresentation can help encourage violence or accompany the violence instigated by extremists. That, in turn, will strengthen the hand of the rejectionists and undermine the more moderate elements in both the PA and in Jordan. According to these modest plaudits, the initiative must be followed by a diplomatic offensive which repeats as a mantra that the two initiatives – moving the embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – do not, repeat, do not preempt any final decision on borders. How this will be accomplished without diplomats in place in critical centres is, of course, a related question, especially when this failure was accompanied by the appointment of David Friedman as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, an individual who openly opposes a two-state solution. The Trump administration has not named an ambassador to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar or a replacement of Barbara Leaf as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; this has already been considered a sign of disrespect by the countries in the region.

Beinart in opposing the initiative, even with the nuances and proposed elaborations, never wanted “to detract from the primary moral responsibility of those ‎Palestinians who detonate bombs or shoot guns or stab with knives. Palestinian terrorism ‎is inexcusable. It always has been. It always will be.”‎ However, he drew an equivalence between those who commit acts of violence and those who trigger a violent response because of their insensitive and unrealistic politics, however much they did not intend to do so. In answer to the criticism that this gave Palestinians a veto over policy since they need merely hold out the threat of an uprising to get those who initiated policies not to their liking to back off, critics of Beinart and defenders of the initiative claimed that Beinart’s stance was akin to blaming the victim, such as a raped woman, for the violence of the man who assaults her.

Peter Breinart, however, made the following distinction. The violence of a male rapist is a product of male pathology. The cause of Palestinian violence, however pathological, is a response to a genuine grievance. This is the nub of his position. He accuses Israel of being the primary reason that the peace process has not advanced. Israel has been guilty of creeping annexation.

It is on this that we disagree. For I hold both parties responsible at the same time as I hold neither responsible for their key difference – the final disposition of Jerusalem. The bottom lines of both parties are incompatible so there is no possibility of peace unless one side or the other budges from its position. Beinart is not simply concerned with the optics of Trump’s announcement; he finds Palestinians to be the lesser responsible party, even though they resort to initiating violence. He takes that stance because he holds that the responsibility for the violence ultimately rests in the hands of the Israeli government and its supporters. I try to bracket my evaluations about responsibility, however, when I undertake an analysis to try as best I can to minimize the effect of my own value priorities and dispositions.

It should be clear that Beinart’s evaluation is not a product of detached analysis but of a moral framework which stimulates within Peter a Cassandra perspective, not simply a very pessimistic outlook concerning political outcomes, but an absolute conviction that he has the power to prophecy accurately even if many or most do not buy into his prognostications.  Hence his support for boycotting products produced in settlements in the West Bank.

Different critics of Beinart who support Trump’s initiative offer some of the following arguments; I put them forth as an amalgam:

  1. The Trump initiative was indeed lacking in substance, and this was its merit; the pronouncement simply recognized the reality on the ground but there was not any there, there, that changed anything;
  2. The move actually made the U.S. more of an honest broker, in Israeli eyes at least, providing more leverage over the Israelis, but without diminishing American neutrality as well as U.S. influence among Muslims and Arabs, quite aside from the current theatrics;
  3. In openly and formally endorsing a two-state solution, the U.S., in fact, had made a step forward;
  4. The absence of a clear strategic vision can be read as a failure, but it could be an intentional step in keeping a mediator’s cards close to one’s chest;
  5. Though the action failed to spell out either the needs or demands of either side, this again was better in reifying America’s role as a neutral party;
  6. In answer to the claim that the initiative had given a green light to Israel to expand its settlement efforts, those were already well underway;
  7. Other initiatives, such as a temporary stop to settlement building, had not been sufficient in the past to drive the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but combining that with the signal of an even possible greater initiative, might do the trick;
  8. In any case, what was there to lose since there was widespread agreement that the so-called peace process had reached a dead end;
  9. Though lacking in substance, though consisting of only a move with great symbolic significance, this initiative was the only one available when the differences over Jerusalem had remained so intractable for far too long;
  10. When such a move had been preceded by envoys from the business world rather than the traditional diplomatic core, it offered the Palestinians an opportunity to signal back under the cover of street demonstrations by keeping those demonstrations confined and also restricted largely to the symbolic level.
  11. Finally, it was urgent that the Obama non-veto in the dying days of that administration, that had given encouragement and a greater rationale for the Palestinians becoming even more intransigent, be reversed if any breakthrough could be expected.
  12. The above points indicate, not a missing U.S. strategy for the Middle East and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, but may have also signalled a non-rational and radically new disruptive approach rather than being content with the so-called tried and true methods of international diplomacy [this will be the subject of my analysis in tomorrow’s blog].

As I will explore tomorrow, disruption rather than going-along-with-the-flow has emerged as the new mechanism to replace the old one of “trying harder,” of banging one’s head against an insurmountable wall of resistance whereby each side saw time on its side. At least one of the parties had to come to the realization that time was not on their side. That of necessity had to be the weaker party. Besides, hypocrisy had to come to an end, not only hypocrisy about the discrepancy between reality on the ground and the frozen postures of outside countries, but the hypocrisy whereby Arabs building on conquered land had never been branded illegal by the international community, but moves by Israel, including those in places such as French Hill and Gilo, were so branded in a way that ran completely contrary not only to the facts on the ground, but what could realistically be expected in the future given Israel’s real power and given Israel’s real control of the ground game.


Tomorrow: Disruption as a Foundation for International Diplomacy



Lordship and Bondage: Perspectivism, Empricism and Mindblindness

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 4: Perspectivism, empiricism & mindblindness

Chapter 3. Proving Hamlet Wrong                                                   


Howard Adelman

 Now a Jew by decree, AH found himself in Paris neither as a refugee nor as an immigrant but as a student soon enrolled in the École des hautes etudes commerciales de Paris (HEC) instead of the École libre des sciences politiques (Sciences Po). On the advice of the future Gaullist Prime Minister, Michel Dupré (appointed 8 January 1959), AH was told that, as a refugee, he would get no benefit from Sciences Po which served as a training ground for civil servants and politicians, positions to which AH could not aspire.  AH instead faced the boredom of studying business and accounting rather than economics and diplomacy, but he did learn about inter-state trade and regional commerce which freed him from the narrow dogmas of the labour theory of value, class conflict and world disequilibrium. Even boring inadequate schools can have unintended and unexpected benefits.

However, his reaction to his studies as largely useless was not what preoccupied him. On p. 96, Jeremy writes, “the passage from the Phenomenology about the dialectics of the master-serf relationship (in which the former depends on the latter’s recognition as a condition of his full consciousness, while the latter possesses only the power to deny this) had of course been the subject of endless scrutiny in Berlin.” The sentence comes near the end of a paragraph of Hegelian length of almost two pages. What follows is the comment that this section served as the explanation for his malaise and guilt about leaving his family behind and that the words for this explanation came forth unconsciously, “without me knowing it or wanting it”. That was why he had to know it and his mother had to be told. What precedes the sentence is the introduction which insisted that the troubled memories of his last year in Berlin served as an undertow. As Jeremy writes, the letters that survive from that long ago period are replete with efforts to come to terms with his family’s past. So the structure of the paragraph is a triptych: a) a reference to his family and their troubles; b) the reference to the Lordship-Bondage section of the Phenomenology and c) the comment that this section offered an unsought for and unreflected reference to explain the malaise and the reason for it.

What is the malaise and the wallowing in guilt that is the explanans in the paragraph? It is Albert’s mother’s disapproval of the academic path he chose. Economics was déclassé. Albert had failed to live up to his mother’s expectations. Albert was proposing an alternative to his relationship based on guilt on one side and resentment and bitterness on the other. Instead, he desired one based on mutual love and respect. And, of all things, he quotes the bible. “The bible says: God made man in his own image. Maybe. But man definitely can’t do the same.” His mother should not and cannot make her children in her own image. The paragraph then reverses track and goes back to the malaise, suggesting that April was always a horrendous month for bad memories to haunt him – the month of his mother’s birthday, of his father’s death and of his exit from Berlin, inspiring his thoughts about parent-child relations and recalling both his thesis on Hegel and the insights reading Hegel gave to his understanding of that relationship. Parents will always be disappointed when, in the critical age of an adolescent’s Bildung, his education and development, parents will always be disappointed when their children, if they are at all reasonable and independent, make choices that disappoint their parents, wanting an identity without difference precisely at a stage when the child is asserting his independence.  

Let me start deliberately with a double negative. I am not unacquainted with such a situation. Like Jewish, and many other mothers all over the world who have smart sons who do very well in school, my mother wanted me to be a doctor. I always said I wanted to be a doctor. I even manipulated my older brother who had been in the same grade with me to apply to medical school as well. He previously wanted to be an engineer. He eventually became a very well-known and highly reputed cardiologist. I had, I believed, delivered a double reward to my mother who as a single mother had dedicated her life to her sons. She would get two doctors not just one.

Medicine was not for me. My brother was a very good student, though he did not get the marks I did. He had athletic hands and could do an angioplasty, a technique he introduced to Canada, with finesse and speed. Much more importantly, he was a brilliant diagnostician and would defy logic as we did rounds in Mount Sinai Hospital as students. When symptoms of a case presented a number of possibilities, he would ignore the doubts of reason, choose one cause and hone in on one condition. The exasperating quality was that he was always correct while I protested that the answer could not possibly follow definitively from the evidence. I left medicine.

I was a lousy observer of fine anatomical and physiological details. Reason inhibited rather than helped in the art of diagnostics. And I continued to faint at the sight of blood. I had tried to leave two or three times earlier in my medical schooling, but always returned haunted by the thought of failing my self-sacrificing mother, my own ideals and the prospect of earning a secure and good source of income. I left when I went to see the Dean of Medicine and he gave me three hours of his time to discuss my conundrum and told me of how he had left medical school for three years to return to farming in Saskatchewan. He told me that I was a very smart student and I could come back anytime in the next three years, take up where I left off and finish my final two years. Shocking to me from a source that I thought saw me as a rebellious young student whom he disliked and resented, he gave me the confidence to leave even though I had no idea how I would support myself or my mother as she grew older. I faced myself with the invented line I used for the rest of my life: “I left Medical School to save lives.” Neither the Dean’s support nor my supposedly witty line helped to erace the clear and deep disappointment of my mother. “You are leaving medical school to study philosophy!” pronounced with a guttural contempt as if philosophy was an alien giant lizard from outer space. However, she was never overbearing in her disappointment and she was quick to forgive.

So though both my mother and the context were very different, I understood Albert’s struggles with guilt over disappointing his mother’s wishes and dreams, a disappointment which was doubly palpable since he had always been the dream son in his mother’s eyes. But what has this to do with the section of Lordship-Bondage in the Phenomenology? Why and how could that section explain either his guilt or his insistence on expiating that guilt by referring to it in a letter? The possibly tenuous link was the issue of “recognition”. His mother recognized him as one thing whereas AH was coming to the recognition of himself as a different person. But what has this to do with the Lordship Bondage section as Hegel wrote it or as AH interpreted it?

Let me first deal with Jeremy’s interpretation of AH’s interpretation of the section. First, and I presume he follows AH in his usage in his letter, the section is referred to as the passage on the dialectics of the “master-serf relationship”, though Hegel makes no explicit reference to serfs. AH had obviously been brought up with the Marxist legacy of interpreting the section in terms of class warfare. Even then, what did the master-slave (as it is usually called by Marxist and neo-Marxist interpreters of this section) relationship have to do with parent-child relations? Even in the relationship interpreted as a master-slave one, if the explanation of AH of the section is as AH understood it, and not Jeremy’s interpolation, then it makes no sense. In the predominant interpretation along these lines so influential on French intellectuals at the time, in Paris Alexandre Kojève, fourteen years senior to AH, was presenting his famous lectures on Hegel from 1933 on. The weird thing was that there is no mention of Kojève in the book, possibly the most influential Hegelian thinker of all time and one who shared with AH an identical vision of Europe after the war. Both men were very influential in creating the intellectual foundations for the European community, yet, according to the biography, they never seemed to have crossed paths physically or intellectually. I will come back to the latter issue in a later blog.

In Kojève’s interpretation, the master and slave relationship develops out of a competition between male peers for superiority. That superiority can be gained in a duel if one defeats another. But in defeat, the winner also loses for he gains a corpse who cannot give the recognition of the superiority that he is seeking. He demonstrates the superiority but does not have the Other remaining around to recognize that superiority. The situation changes when the victor in the battle holds a sword to the neck of his supplicant and offers him a deal. The victor will spare the life of the loser on two conditions, the loser recognize the victor as his master and the loser works as a slave to provide the necessities of life needed by the master. The master, thereby, gains both recognition and the labour of a slave. The servant in return gets to live and also has the protection of the master. This account seems to have little to do with the dialectic as Jeremy presented it in which the master depends on the latter’s recognition as a condition of his full consciousness. However, we are in a section on self-consciousness where the Other must be an individual self who offers the recognition and not a slave or serf from the get-go, and because the master never develops any “full” self-consciousness. In any case, the section is not about consciousness. Further, the slave only possesses the power to deny this recognition if he refuses to be a slave and is willing to die and, in that case, there would be no master-slave relationship at all.

Finally, the dialectic struggle for recognition is not only between the self who becomes the master and the self who becomes the slave, but there is a dissonance within each of them. The master is not really independent for he needs the slave in two radically different ways that are at odds. The master wants to be recognized as a self-made God, totally in control of himself and the world around him, but for that recognition he depends on someone who has surrendered heroism, has surrendered Desire, has surrendered Passion, in the trade for survival and self-interest. Thus, once the recognition comes, it no longer comes from an independent other self. Further, in wanting to free himself from mundane labour, the Master is now dependent on the slave for fulfilling those tasks. He is not a God who does not need the material world to live forever.

The slave is also internally divided. He must labour on the world and obtain material goods for the master’s benefit and for his bare survival. Second, though he works for his survival, that survival depends entirely on the whims and good will of the master who can dispose of him at will, especially if he refuses to provide either the proper respect and recognition and the labour to produce the luxuries to be enjoyed by the master.  The slave’s power to dent that recognition is a totally empty threat and possibility. That is why the only outlet for both the slave and the master, for both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, is stoicism as the route forward out of the master-slave relationship – at least, according to Kojève.

In sum, either AH’s account of the Lordship-Bondage section is very askew or Jeremy’s interpretation of it is. Further, it has no apparent connection with the issue with his mother and only a slender connection with the theme of recognition which manifests itself in other forms throughout the rest of the Phenomenology. Why spend so much time discussing one long paragraph? Because it is about one of AH’s favourite and most influential thinkers. Understanding distortions, misinterpretations and misapplications are crucial to a critical analysis. 

This does not even consider the fact that the scholarship of the last thirty years on Hegel has demonstrably discarded the Marxist interpretation of Hegel. Hegel was a religious man and a religious thinker. The Lordship Bondage section, in my writings, is a philosophical interpretation of the biblical text getting to the basic forces at work in both the human psyche and the development of our social fabric. It begins with man torn between his consciousness that looks at the world as objects (Adam names things) and his self driven by both the need to survive – by Life – or what AH will call interests, and by Desire, what AH will call Passions. This is how the section on self-consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology begins. Man’s desire is not, according to the labour theory of value, the desire both to survive and to acquire goods ad infinitum in accordance with possessive individualism, but to be like a God, pure consciousness without a body to feed but, like a scientist, can bring things into being by recognizing and naming them.

However, man is embodied. He needs to eat. He wants to have sex even if as a self of consciousness, this is not recognized. So he is torn between his self as a conscious being in relationship to objects, and a self-conscious being, and within self-consciousness, between Life (interests) and Desire (passions). This is a conflict in which man is riddled with conflicts, but conflicts which are external as well, external both as independent of the self and external as that which is rejected of the self and projected onto an Other. The dialectic within and between Adam and Eve morphs into the dialectic of Lordship and Bondage in their children, not in the relationship of the children with one another, but in the relationship between two sons, in this case, Cain and Abel.

Both strive to be close to God and want recognition from God of their almost divine status. They also work on the world. Cain is a farmer. Abel is a hunter. There is a conflict between two ways of life. The farmer and the cowboy cannot be friends. Each sacrifices the best of his labour to God to earn His recognition, the best of the crop or the best animal trapped. God recognizes Abel. Cain kills Abel. What is at stake is not recognition by the other but recognition by The Other. They sacrifice the produce of their labour to gain that recognition. The Lord in the section is God. The two competitors offer themselves in bondage to their Lord. They are not coerced to do so. The agents, the dialectical development and the critical elements in tension are all radically different than the Marxist interpreters of Hegel thought.

We will have to see how and whether this misinterpretation of Hegel affected the intellectual development and insights of AH. In the meanwhile, the burning of Berlin was followed by the smouldering in Paris. Yet the disease of the “:disappearance of hope” never affected AH. For a better understanding of the political dialectics of hope and despair and some insights if not explanation of why AH always landed on the side of hope, we could read Ron Aronson’s 1995 book, After Marxism and his article in the New School for Social Research Journal on “Hope After Hope” in the spring of 1986, and the article by Jeremy’s Princeton colleague, Patrick Deneen, who wrote not the Odyssey of one Worldly Philosopher but The Odyssey of Political Theory. His 1999 article on “The Politics of Hope and Optimism: Rorty, Havel, and the Democratic Faith of John Dewey” reinforces the understanding of “hope” as a central concept in studying political theory in juxtaposition against despair.

It means that the class struggle is not primary in understanding the political economy. It means that possibilism, the capacity to apply intellectual prowess to political conundrums to create active options for the future becomes a derivative concept. So is the obsession with observing and collecting facts, the foundation of empiricism, and the understanding that in order to do this we have to discard our blinkers that become limitations for nourishing hope. We have to overcome our ideological mindblindness. This does not mean a common understanding will emerge, but it does increase the possibility that different and perhaps complementary ones will. Bromides about inevitable laws of history, the sterile polemics around and about them and the didactic certainties promulgated by men such as Heinrich Blücher, Hannah Arendt’s future husband and Ursula’s beau for a short while, helped insure mindblindness. That is why men like AH’s eventual brother-in-law, Eugenio Colorni, with his stress on observing everyday life, were so important for the development rather than closing of Albert’s mind. Colorni also introduced Albert to Benedetto Croce and Erich Auerbach. From the latter, AH inherited the propensity for searching the classics to understand the roots of the present. From Auerbach, AH also learned that the comprehension that each era and each culture had its own unique perspective and understanding of the surrounding world. Most importantly with respect to the politics of hope, it was important to prove Hamlet wrong and ensure that doubt was not immobilizing but rather a foundation new beginnings. “Uncertainty means that you think you may be wrong; doubt means that you are not sure you know.” (p. 116)

Live or Die in Entebbe – a review

The Need for Recognition: A Movie Review 16.04.13


Howard Adelman

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut (יום העצמאות‎), Independence Day commemorating the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 which, as I wrote yesterday, then fell on the 15th of May, but is celebrated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th of Iyar. Unlike yesterday’s films that I reviewed, which were strictly about Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron – yesterday) and eschewed politics, this film, Live or Die in Entebbe, briefly deals with politics and the celebration of one of the outstanding military accomplishments of the Israeli Defence Forces, the rescue of 102 hostages (88 Israelis) captured and held by terrorists in Entebbe after an Air France airliner was hijacked. It is a coincidence of history that this widely recognized unprecedented heroic rescue took place on 4 July 1976, the 200th anniversary of America’s Independence Day. However, Live or Die in Entebbe skirts over the heroic elements of the mission in the first few minutes in a summary form and then deals with its core subject matter, the civilians who died in the rescue attempt and the effort to acknowledge and recognize their sacrifice.

But first the heroic parts of the story. In addition to the book, Ninety Minutes in Entebbe by William Stevenson, the following films have been made about the heroic political and military aspects of this episode:

Victory at Entebbe (1976 – 119 min.) directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Raid on Entebbe (1977 – 145 min.) directed by Irwin Kershner (Golden Globe winner)

Operation Thunderbolt (Mivtsa Yonatan Operation) (1977) Menahem Golan

(nominated for an academy award as best foreign film)

Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe (2000) Eyal Sher

Entebbe Hostage Rescue: Operation Thunderbolt (2011) National Geographic

Rescue at Entebbe: An Interview with the Chief Pilot (2012)

We now add Live or Die in Entebbe to the list.

Victory at Entebbe had a high powered list of actors, including Anthony Hopkins (Yitzhak Rabin), Burt Lancaster (Shimon Peres), Kirk Douglas (Hershel Vilnofsky) and Elizabeth Taylor (Edra Vilnofsky) who recriminate the Israeli government for not negotiating, for their daughter Chava is on the plane, Richard Dreyfus (Yoni Netanyahu, the leader of the 29-man assault team), Helen Hayes (Etta Grossman-Wise, a passenger on the plane who distracts an Israeli ex IDF officer from trying to tackle the hijackers), and others. It seemed as if every Hollywood star was keen on being involved in portraying such a heroic event. The movie was shot, edited and ready for showing in five months and tried to portray the story from four angles, the hijacking itself, the process of political decision-making, the military perspective and the plight of the hostages.

A superior film, Raid on Entebbe, did not have as stellar a cast, but top actors nonetheless – Peter Finch as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Horst Buchholtz as Wilfred Böse, the German terrorist, John Saxon as Major General Benny Peled, then commander of the Israeli air force, Jack Warden as Lt. General Mordechai (Motta) Gur, the IDF Chief of Staff, Charles Bronson as Brigadier General Shomron who was in overall charge of the total ground operation, and Robert Loggia as Yigal Allon. From the cast list it is clear that this film paid far closer attention to the military planning and execution, slighted the politics and virtually ignored the perspective of the victims.

Operation Thinderbolt, in contrast, was not a re-enactment but a documentary interspersing news footage with interviews of many of the key players such as Janet Almog (a hijacked passenger), Michel Bacos (the Air France pilot), Ehud Barak (then in the planning team for the operation), Moshe (Muki) Betzer who was responsible for integrating the intelligence information with a detailed plan and led one of the assault teams, David Kimche (Deputy Chief of the Mossad at the time), Tricia Martel (hostage), Benjamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Peled and Shimon Peres.

The core elements of the story are very straightforward. On 27 June 1976, an Air France passenger jet, Flight 139, an Airbus A300 flying from Tel Aviv to Paris with a stop in Athens, was boarded by two West German terrorists, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann as well as two Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine along with 54 additional passengers. The terrorists hijacked the plane just after it took off, forced it to land in Benghazi, Libya for refuelling (where a passenger escaped by pretending to be having a miscarriage) and ended up at Entebbe Airport in Uganda where the hijackers were joined by three other PFLP members and were protected by the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, and his guards. The passengers were divided into two groups, Israelis and others. The others were released, including Jews who were not Israeli citizens. Air France sent a plane to bring them back to France. The captain, Michel Bacos, refused to leave his passengers and his crew followed his example and opted to stay behind with the captive Israelis. Of the original manifest of 248 passengers, 94 remained behind (the Air France manifest showed that 92 carried Israeli passports) along with 12 Air France crew members. The hijackers demanded an exchange of the Israeli hostages for 40 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons on terrorist charges and 13 detained in Kenya.

At the time, Yitzhak Rabin had been Prime Minister for two years and was determined never to negotiate or compromise with terrorists. While foreign diplomats negotiated with the terrorists on behalf of Israel, mainly the Americans, an Israeli retired IDF officer, Baruch "Burka" Bar-Lev who had known Idi Amin for years, tried unsuccessfully to negotiate directly with Amin. During this time, the Israeli government immediately began planning a rescue effort for the deadline originally given by the hijackers was only five days away. Henry Kissinger, then Foreign Minister of the USA, subsequently criticized Israel in a private conversation with Israeli Ambassador Dinitz for using American equipment in the raid. Later, Jimmy Carter would try to imitate the Entebbe operation in Operation Eagle Claw to free the 52 American hostages in Iran on 24 April 1980, but it was a complete humiliating fiasco which was aborted halfway through. In turning back, a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft and eight servicemen were killed in the fire which destroyed both aircraft.

Israel had already decided to negotiate with the hijackers and release the prisoners, but only if a military rescue operation proved unfeasible. What they did get with American, Egyptian and Amin’s help, was an extension of the deadline until 4 July. Because an Israeli firm (Solel Boneh) had actually built the old terminal where the hostages were held, Israel had detailed plans and quickly, virtually overnight, built a mock-up of the old terminal where the hostages were held. Further, Mossad agents interviewed passengers who had been released, particularly one French Jew who had served in the French military and provided a detailed account of how many terrorists there were, the weapons they carried, where they were positioned, and how many of Idi Amin’s troops were seconded to guard the old terminal (100).

Special forces were selected for the attack, now codenamed Operation Thunderbolt, and one of the army officers came up with the plan to land the planes sent for the rescue under cover of darkness and then send a Mercedes limousine painted black, which they borrowed from an Israeli, accompanied by two jeeps. The three vehicles would role out of the back of the Hercules cargo plane and drive to the old terminal where the hostages were being held as if they held Idi Amin himself. One small team would head to rescue the hostages while another team took care of the 100 Ugandan soldiers (45 were actually killed). Troops led by Shaul Mofaz from the other planes would blow up Idi Amin’s air force (fifteen Soviet-built MiG-17s (3) and (12) MiG 21s) and surround the airport to prevent Amin sending in a counterforce. There was a plan B. If the operation failed and the troops became trapped, Israel would send in troops to overthrow Idi Amin.

The idea was very imaginative, but very high risk on a number of levels, both because of what the Israelis knew and what they did not know. The four Hercules aircraft, first of all, had to fly very low to remain undetected by radar on the way down for 2500 miles. Low meant flying at 100 feet and sometimes as low as 35 feet. That required exceptional skills, especially by the lead pilot, Lt. Col. Joshua Shani. Second, at that level, the four Hercules aircraft sent could not help but constantly hit air pockets. Most of the 300 or so troops on board the four aircraft became air sick repeatedly on the way down and were in the worst condition to act as a fighting force. Further, the planes did not have enough fuel to fly back. The Israeli government had to get Kenya’s cooperation to allow the planes to land in Nairobi for refuelling – which they received at the last minute with the help of the Jewish owner of the Block hotel chain in Kenya, which included the famous Norfolk Hotel – the hotel that was bombed on 31 December 1980 in revenge with 13 killed and 87 wounded. Kenyans had paid a price earlier when Amin killed hundreds of them living in Uganda after the raid as revenge against Kenyatta for helping the Israelis. Finally, the lead plane had to land at night with the runway dark until lights could be strung to guide the following three planes in to land. Two other Boeing 707s followed, one equipped as a flying hospital to treat wounded soldiers and civilians which landed in Nairobi and one with General Yekutiel Adam who would be in charge of Plan B if it was necessary.

Secondly, many things could go wrong. And they did. Israelis did not know that Amin had just switched to driving a white rather than a black Mercedes. Secondly, the surprise was not as great as intended. One Ugandan guard fired at the jeep and an Israeli soldier had to take him out with a silencer, but the element of complete surprise had been lost. The constant vomiting and the speed of disembarkation had disoriented the soldiers and made them unsteady so that they were unable to follow their routines exactly as they had practiced them. Nevertheless, the rescue team reached the terminal, but not before one of the Ugandan soldiers shot and killed the commando leader, Yonatan Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s older brother.

This is one item that virtually anyone who has heard of the Entebbe raid knows as well as the fact that Idi Amin afterwards had 75-year old Dora Bloch, an Israeli captive who had earlier been rushed to Mulago hospital in Kampala because of a piece of meat stuck in her throat, dragged out of her hospital bed, beaten, murdered and her body thrown into a swamp. A number of Ugandan doctors and nurses who tried to protect Dora Bloch from the soldiers were also killed.

But that was later. The hostages still had to be rescued. Once inside the terminal, one soldier was instructed to order everyone to remain lying on the ground. However, he was hardly able to speak after the quick run to the terminal, shooting guards on the way. He quickly shot the terrorists in the room guarding the hostages and in the process he and others in his small troop of four, killed three civilians and wounded ten others by friendly fire. All three had been near the terrorists. One was 20-year-old Jean-Jacques Maimoni, a French citizen who had wanted to immigrate to Israel but whose grandfather feared putting him in harms way if he was conscripted into the IDF. Maimoni, who is seen only in photographs, is the central attention of the film. For in Paris, Jean Jacques was to meet his two month old nephew, Jonathan Khayat, who thirty five years later would make this film with the help of his friend, Eyal Boers who directed the movie. Jonathan Khayat works as an Associate Director, Recruitment and Admissions, of the MBA Program in the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University. By all accounts, his uncle, Jean Jacques was remembered by the other passengers because he went out of his way to help others, one time being hit hard by a terrorist for standing up on behalf of another hostage. Further, he had a French passport and could have possibly left with the other non-Israeli Jews but evidently chose not to.

In the film we learn how precisely he was shot, why and how his great uncle had been first told that he died of an asthma attack, what the effects of suppression had been on the family, how his aunt and uncle in seeing the body knew he had been shot by Israeli soldiers, and what the effect of non-acknowledgement and non-recognition had been on the family.

Live or Die in Entebbe also interviewed the son of Pasco Cohen, 52, the manager of an Israeli medical insurance fund, who was travelling with his wife and children, and raised the upper part of his body off the floor to check on the safety of his son, Shai. His daughter, Tzipi, who was 8 years old at the time, always celebrated their rescue and never held anything against the IDF for killing her father by friendly fire. Jonathan Khayat had also tried to interview family members of a third hostage, 56-year-old Ida Borochovitch, a Russian Jew who had recently emigrated to Israel, who was also killed by Israeli gunfire. However, her family had emigrated from Israel and Khayat was unable to find where they had gone.

In the earlier documentary, a hostage had testified that Wilfried Böse had insisted that he was not anti-semitic but just anti-Zionist. Further, another hostage had testified that when he entered the old terminal in response to all the shooting, he could have opened fire on all the hostages lying on the ground but chose not to. When he opened fire at the commandoes, he was immediately shot by Israeli soldiers. The commandoes then burst open the door where the hostages said the remaining three terrorists were and killed them.

Though the film focuses on giving recognition to the civilian victims who are oft forgotten and put in the background to help enhance a myth, the documentary also gives recognition to the other five Israeli commandos who were wounded, particularly Soron Herschko who was shot in the spine by one of Amin’s soldiers. He too was interviewed in the film and Khayat told us in the Q&A after the film that in spite of being a quadriplegic, Herschko told him that he has never regretted for a moment going on the mission.

In turning a heroic tale into one of memory and recognition, in acknowledging that three of the captives were killed by friendly fire, the heroic story is not impoverished in the least but given greater depth and breadth. Further, the laws of war demand that civilians not deliberately be put in harms way; this law applies to your own civilians as much as the civilians on the other side. Four civilians were killed (Bloch by Idi Amin much later), and ten others were wounded; seven terrorists were killed – a high ratio. But almost a hundred civilians were rescued. Yitzhak Rabin said in advance that if 25 were killed, he would consider the rescue mission a failure and would resign as Prime Minister. He did not have to face that vow.

One last point! None of the films on the Israeli Entebbe raid adequately put the film in a longer range political context. It is no surprise that the memorial aspect and the more balanced perspective are now surfacing in a way that does not detract from the heroism. There is also the perspective of the past. One is Africa. The humiliation of the 1976 raid encouraged Amin to try to recover his status by military adventurism towards Tanzania that led to disaster and the eventual overthrow of the Amin regime in 1979. At the UN, most counties were in awe of what Israel had accomplished even if they were otherwise critical of Israel. The Westerm countries were generally very supportive. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, however, revealed his true colours and criticized the raid as "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state." Israel itself had been through a period of deep self-doubt since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The Entebbe raid changed the spirit of Israel overnight. Further, the role of Anwar Sadat in trying to free the hostages is not well known and Sadat would bring a new shock and a radical change in the relationship of Israel and the largest Arab state.

I will turn to the latter issue in my review of another film from the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tomorrow. Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace focused on the Sadat visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords and Peace Agreement. The film is being shown late this afternoon at the Sheppard Centre on north Yonge St. and I will review it tomorrow morning.

The Need for Recognition16.04.13.doc

Love and Lordship and Bondage Mishptim Exodus Chapter 21.1-24:18 10.02.13

The attached blog is long, too long. It is really made up of several parts but I could not analyze the Exodus text without a lot of other analysis.

The beginning offers an explication of the commandment to recognize God as existing and as your Lord and the commandment of placing the responsibility of unity for God on ourselves. It is complicated, philosophical and heavy going with a comparison between Kant’s categorical imperatives and Biblical commandments. The blog gets somewhat lighter after a few pages when it discusses the issue of recognition in terms of taking your kid to play hockey but then returns to the description of man’s relationship with God as a balagan (an untidy chaotic mess, but perhaps that is a characteristic of my interpretation of the relationship). If you manage to get through the first quarter, the reading eases up considerably with a discussion of Love focused primarily on Simon May’s book, Love: A History as well as a number of personal anecdotes of my memory of Birkbeck College in London that have a more serious purpose of reflecting on the utility and value of recognition. This section even includes an attempt to tell a humorous story. In the second half of the blog I return to a more detailed but quite incomplete analysis and critique of Simon May’s thesis on love which, in the last quarter, challenge May’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story. I then end with a brief explication of the commandment to love God as your Lord and the implications for interpreting the Exodus section on the relationship between an employer and his servants in Exodus 21.

Mishptim Exodus Chapter 21.1-24:18 10.02.13
Love and Lordship and Bondage
Howard Adelman

Part III

We are commanded to recognize God as a moral imperative as the a priori condition of all other commandments. Unlike Kant’s a priori proposition, this is not a transcendental condition of morality. Nor is it even universal. It is a condition for the Jewish people becoming a moral nation and a light unto other nations. But the condition cannot come from experience since God is not available to be seen or experienced in any normal way. The command cannot come from experience for a second reason – the commander cannot even be experienced. Third, the command is a necessary precondition for the Jewish people having any moral sense. In order to be moral, the Jewish people as a collectivity, and each Jew individually, has to commit to the very first commandment of the Mishneh Torah. So the condition is both logically and existentially prior to experience and is not derived from experience. But neither is it derived from either metaphysical or transcendental reasoning, via the latter establishing that without such a principle there would be no morality whatsoever.

The absence of a principle derived through a process of transcendental reasoning differentiates this Jewish account from Kant’s philosophical position. Second, for Kant, the imperative must be universal. But the two basic conditions of morality have one thing in common. For Kant, one must act according to the maxim whereby you can will that the imperative become a universal law. In the Jewish commandments, categorical imperatives are products of a covenant between a community, its representative and God, but imperatives only become active and operational if and when individual Jews commit themselves to follow the laws. In Kant, however, the act of willing is a theoretical possibility and condition built into the essence of the proposition. For Jews, the act of willing must be an existential reality. Further, in Kant the categorical imperative to treat all humans as ends and not as means only, is a condition of moral freedom and action. In Judaism, the maxim that requires humans to treat one another as ends and not as a means only is derivative. The precondition for that derivation is recognizing God, not as an equal Other, but as your master.

In another major difference, the Kantian principle that every other human must be treated as a free self-conscious individual, in his formulation, as an end in itself and never as a means only, is formulated as an abstraction, usually a utopian one in practice. The same requirement in Judaism is enacted by examining and/or enacting the principle in everyday life. The prime example, as we shall see, is when a relationship is not only based on use of an other, but on a contractual form of indenture for up to seven years. However, even in that situation, an individual with the lowest status must be treated as a free and rational agent and not simply as a submissive subordinate. One final major difference in the Judaic covenantal structure: there must be a prior commitment by the whole community even to be allowed to have the laws. Communitarianism is a precondition of autonomous freedom and any recognition of rights.

Since the recognition of God as existing and as one’s Lord is the primary principle, it is crucial that we unpack the meaning of that recognition. It is not the recognition of the Other as autonomous and free so that the individual made in the image of God can also be autonomous and free, for in such a conception one would clearly not have to recognize the other as one’s lord and master. On the other hand, the central issue is the possibility of freedom and its very nature. The complementary question is why acceptance of authority and dependence is a precondition for the realization of that freedom.

Several days ago I was listening to a radio call-in show on CBC at noon. The topic was what hockey had meant to you. A Canadian mother with a Chinese accent told the story of taking her ten year old son and helping him dress (he was a goalie, and in hockey, if your son – in my case, my grandson, Micah – is a goalie, then there is a long ritual of helping him get on all the pads and skates). The son tolerated the embarrassment of having his mother help him get dressed to play, but only for as long as it took. Then he changed from the dependent child into the independent man who wanted to be with his buddies and listen to and follow the instructions of his coach independent of his mother. It was at that moment the mother recognized that hockey was making a man out of her son as he entered into the camaraderie of his fellows as heirs of a “long” tradition and into a fellowship that required loyalty to each and every other one of his teammates. Through that solidarity and esteem they received, the team could get on the ice and do battle.

The mother recognized a basic principle that is at the core of the Judaic normative structure. Recognition of the others on the team and their recognition of him provided the conditions for the possibility of the realization of his essential individuality – in Hegel, Einzelheit. Her son became an independent actor; as a goalie he carried an enormous responsibility on behalf of the team. It is not as if on stepping on the ice he became a free individual in the sense that he was freed up from the physical laws of motion and gravity. Quite the reverse! The more he comprehended those laws and made them part of his instinctual response, the more he could carry out the responsibility he had assumed. Freedom then is both a relationship and respect for others and, at the same time, a high sense of self-regard that permits actions to be undertaken in a highly skilled manner.

If we extrapolate backwards from this conception, then the covenant requires that an individual recognize that God is, that the God that is, is the One who commands that He be recognized and that he be recognized as Lord and Master. One enters into the covenantal relationship freely. One enters with only the faintest glimpse of what you are getting into. But at the very least, you know that you want to be yourself and, at the same time, be with that Other, in the case of a more mundane level, hockey, with those others, and to assume a responsibility for oneself and to that Other. In highly important situations like hockey, the responsibility is to those others.

Note, like that young hockey player, the individual entering into a covenantal relationship with God is temporarily removing himself from his prior dependencies but not denying them. On the earthly level, he is not denying prior socialization into a feeling for hockey or soccer or ballet or orchestral performance, for that socialization does not take away from his freedom but makes that freedom possible. Freedom becomes the realization of the possibility of aligning his genetically endowed capacities, his developing skills with his performance in serving a higher and collective purpose, and, in the case of Judaism, at the highest level serving the redemption of the Jewish people to enable them to serve as a moral light to others.

So God and man start off on a very uneasy relationship. They begin with a blind date, but a peculiar form of blind date in which the Other makes it a condition of your entering the process of developing your freedom that you recognize that the Other exists before you ever encounter Him, but that He exists as your Lord and you become His bondsman. This is the first thing one learns upon entering into this relationship!!! You learn that you will never come to really know the Other as Other. More significantly, the Other lacks a coherent identity and the development of that coherent identity is your responsibility. What a balagan! (an untidy chaotic mess in Hebrew/Yiddish, a monster in Pashtun, an old rickety shed in Russian and chaos in Turkic and Pharsi)

How then does a process aiming at the mutuality of equals and the freedom of each individual begin with subjecting oneself to the will of an Other? Only if that Other cannot become what He is to be (I shall be He who I shall be, not I am what I am) without you taking on the responsibility of making Himself one. We learn freedom and initially gain recognition by actively joining a community and serving a collective purpose. That does not mean surrendering your individuality. It means developing that individuality by recognizing as accurately and profoundly as possible the conditions in which one finds oneself, the norms under which you are operating — whether they are the rules of hockey or the religious rules or the laws of the state in which one lives — the goals of any action you are considering, your motives and reasons for action and your assessment of the anticipated results. And each individual must take responsibility for that assessment and be accountable for the actions that follow in the sense of being willing to explain the reasons for his or her actions in precisely such terms. Further, each individual must regard each and every other being as rational beings responsible for their own assessments in precisely the same terms and accountable for the actions that follow from those assessments.

This does not mean that caprice does not play a role. The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. Freedom means not allowing oneself to be determined by chance and circumstance. On the same CBC program referred to above, one of the calls that came in was from a hockey player who had lost his legs and now played on a handicapped team. He perhaps got even more out of the game, out of the camaraderie and fellowship and mutual recognition, than players playing with full human capacities. You are free to the extent that you develop your natural capacities and, at the same time, do not allow your given incapacities to hold you back. That which is merely given by nature and/or society should not be allowed to determine who you become, but you cannot become that person without paying homage to what you have been given.

But God gives. He is not given. He is not of nature. That is why the realization of freedom depends on us. There is only self-determination when there is the negation and transformation to a higher level of what we have inherited. In the process we can come to recognize and know God as we re-cognize in the sense of recalling and seeing once again what has been seen by others, and allowing God to see while He does not allow Himself to be seen. In the process of re-cognition, we ourselves are granted recognition as someone with rights and a potential that can someday receive recognition of a very different order, and be cognized as someone of worth or who has produced something of worth. Thereby, we become partners of God so that He can become One.

How do the commandments to recognize God as existing and as your Lord, and to make God one, relate to the commandment to love God, your Lord? If you are to recognize that God exists as Lord and Master, if you are to take on the task of giving unity to the manifold that is God, you must love God. What does it mean to love God?

Instead of starting with the ancient world and its biblical scriptures, we can begin with the form of secular love that Simon May claims is the contemporary earthly distillation of the biblical conception. My daughter, Rachel, whom I have mentioned in an earlier blog who teaches biblical studies at a rabbinical college in Boston, occasionally works with Simon May and recommended his book to me. I highly recommend his 2011 book as well – Love: A History (Yale University Press). Thanks to the miracle of Amazon and kindle, I could get it instantly. I have not yet been able to read the book properly let alone study it carefully, but from dipping into the volume, it looks like a brilliant book. (If my interpretation of his thesis is out of line, please send me corrections.)

I had not read or encountered Simon May before even though he is also a philosopher who focussed on German idealism and ethics, though his concern is exclusively individual ethics while I have written mostly on international ethics. However, my MA thesis was on Hegel and Nietzsche. May in 2011 not only published Love: A History, he edited a volume on Nietzsche, Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’: A Critical Guide (Cambridge University Press). He is a visiting professor at both King’s College and Birkbeck College in London.

In the late 1960s, I too was a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, but just for one month in the spring semester when we had already finished our teaching at York. I taught at Atkinson College which had been modelled on Birkbeck as a college dedicated to the teaching of evening and part-time students. I was invited to Birkbeck as the college’s resident “radical”. I had been honoured to accept the invitation to a college with a history of eminent radicals. Karl Marx and Hugh Gaitskell had taught at Birkbeck. So had C.E.M. Joad. I would have loved to have met the latter for he had been a pacifist, as I was at the time. Etched into my brain was the story of Joad leading the debating team at the Oxford Union and winning a stupendous victory in 1933 for the proposition “That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”, thereby establishing the prototype for Britain as a country supporting appeasement. Who says scholars cannot be influential! C.E.M. Joad had been one of the first celebrity public intellectuals who based at Birkbeck, but he had already died more than a decade before my visit.
Julia Bell, the famous researcher and pioneer in medical genetics and its impact on inherited disease, whom I had read when I was in medical school, would not see me. The person who answered the phone informed me that she was old and had to protect her time. I presume she did not recognize me as being someone worth spending her scarce time meeting, and she was surely correct.

The most important scholar I looked forward to meeting was Eric Hobsbawm whose three volume history of the nineteenth century left (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848; The Age of Capital: 1848-1875; The Age of Empire: 1875-1914) I read and still have on my book shelves. But I never did meet him. He was, I believe, abroad as a visiting professor at Stanford at the time. I was less interested in talking to him about his historiography than trying to learn why he remained a member of and dogmatic defender of the Communist Party and the USSR even after the invasion of Hungary in1956. In fact, he stayed a member of the party until the end of the Cold War.

I also wanted to meet James Lovelock even though I really did not recognize at the time how important a scientist and inventor he was (the microwave oven and the atmospheric ozone detector that provided the early warning of the depletion of the ozone layer and its causes just to mention two). I just knew him as the inventor of the recently minted Gaia Hypothesis and the image of the earth as a balanced ecological system that could sustain life as long as the balance had been kept and not become a dead planet like Mars with an atmosphere with a superabundance of carbon dioxide. I never did manage to meet him and I cannot remember why. If I had I possibly might have devoted part of my life to being a crusading environmentalist. Such is the result of caprice.

I also remember never getting to see the Pablo Picasso mural at Birkbeck, but again I cannot remember why. I did meet anther communist, the famous and brilliant physicist, John Bernal, whom I recall being very old at the time and perhaps showing the strains of his commitment to the war effort. (I believe he died not long after I met him.) I had just read his recent book, The Origin of Life, but I recall being too embarrassed and tongue-tied to discuss it with him. We did have some discussion about the peace movement but I recall being very disappointed to learn that he was still active in the World Peace Congress which, if I recall, had failed to denounce the Soviet Union for its invasion of Hungary.

I mention these brief encounters and non-encounters not simply as asides but to help understand that they are about love and recognition. I wanted to meet people whom I really knew nothing about but who had reputations. I knew them as most of those know God, as individuals with enormous reputations. I recognized them even though I did not know them. And in one case I should have known far more about them in order to get something out of the meeting with them. How much more important is this when you have to prepare to meet God who is essentially unknowable.

Further, I wanted these encounters because they were expressions of my love for the intellectual life and all the dilemmas and both positive and negative aspects of public activism. Love is not restricted and perhaps not even mainly about a dimension of sexual passion, a point Simon May makes so clearly in his book. There is one other story of recognition I want to tell, a more humorous one.

The student body, at least the ones I met, were overwhelmingly active new leftists. As it turns out, I was there at the time of the annual chancellor’s dinner and, as a guest of the college, I was invited. They had arranged for me to be seated at high table with the Chancellor. The Chancellor was the Queen Mother. Since dinners were a formal affair, they said they would rent a tuxedo for me.

I informed them that wearing tuxedos was against my principles. They were both symbols of class and luxurious waste. They never questioned how not wearing a tuxedo could be a matter of such high principle and believed that I was sincere. They went into a real sweat. I could not be disinvited as that would be an insult to the Queen Mother. At the same time, they could not sit me beside the Queen Mother if I was not properly dressed for that would be an even greater insult. So they set out on an assiduous program of trying to get me to go and get me fitted for a tuxedo. As they reasoned and argued with me and as my own arguments became even more wild and absurd, I began to think I had become a sadist since they had become so worried, but I took such pleasure in their discomfort as I accused them of being ersatz radicals and hypocrites, married to obeisance to formal rules which reinforced a hierarchical and status burdened class system while professing a commitment to equality. I wish now that I had a cell phone then that could take pictures (though I suspect I would have messed it up given my terrible record as a photographer). The expression of relief, glee and absolute joy on their faces when I showed up at the reception prior to the dinner wearing proper formal attire (I had secretly gone to get fitted) remains only in my head as a faded memory. The experience taught me first hand the importance of recognition and the accoutrements of recognition and their value independent of and often in opposition to ideology.

For Simon May’s thesis on love you can get a brief introduction by reading his interview online with John Allemang of The Globe and Mail on 11 August 2011 and his own on-line article, “Rethinking our Fascination with Love” where he writes of the vision of romantic love in which, “love can be a cocoon of perfection: it can make us feel totally secure, wanted, and respected in all our individuality; it can redeem the brevity and imperfections of life; it can give meaning and purpose where nothing else can; it can protect us from every abyss.” Love of another has become “a democracy of salvation open to all” and a replacement for a love of God as our divine protector.
The thesis itself is not very complex for May has undertaken his historiography of love to set forth a polemical contention. May claims, and probably correctly, that the contemporary romantic view of love as unconditional and selfless, a sincere commitment by both parties to a relationship totally and unconditionally accepting of the other, is a delusion and a fraud, rooted in the history of thought and of religion. About the same time as humans entered the modern industrial world and redefined themselves as material possessive individualists, and, according to Professor Frank Griffith on Friday at his talk at Massey College, when the process of global warming as a result of human activity began, that is, in the mid seventeenth century just before Kant was defining the foundation of morality in terms of pure practical reason, the view that God is love was inverted into love is God.
For May, the contemporary notion of romantic love has become the secular religion of the modern age without any knowledge of its religious origins. May has written a polemical screed in a cool rational voice against an unrealistic utopian conception that he argues ruins relationships with its set of deluded expectations. What was once an ideal of pure unrequited love in the medieval period has come down to earth and been merged with sexual passion to forge this modern conception of romantic love. As a result, the conception of love as an eternal ideal has become ossified and turned into a material idol of worship. What divine love was once supposed to achieve has now been placed on the shoulders of contemporary romantic love. The notion is too fragile, too weak to carry such a heavy historical burden.
I have the impression that he roots this notion in 1800 rather than 1750, in Novalis’ Hymns to the Night, for Novalis adopted Spinoza’s vision of nature as one unified whole but infused it with “an immanent metaphysical reality which manifests itself in everything.” There was no need to participate in making the One; it was present in all its glory to be revealed and experienced through the beloved other. Acquiring that experience was “central, urgent and redemptive”. Sophie in the poem, who is sketched as an unreal phantasm, inspired precisely such a love for through the cloud he saw “the glorified face of my beloved”. The transcendent value of love merged divine and the embodied human and stood in stark contrast to wretched ordinariness.
As I wrote in my review of the film, Anna Karenina, as she came under the spell of romantic love, Anna played by Keira Knightly “metamorphosed from a beautiful and idealist saint of forgiveness into a woman driven mad and increasingly paranoid and possessive through passionate love and the sacrifice of her marriage. Devoted to love as she once was to goodness and forgiveness, her intimate connection with her son, her social standing and friendships are all lost along with the disintegration of her marriage and split from a dedicated and loving but very cold husband who idealistically dedicated his life and service in turn to mother Russia.” Anna surrendered to that transcendent yearning and suffered the consequences when it came face to face with reality.
The movie Amour, that I also wrote about, was not a story of romantic love. In it, we find the opposite, a very grounded tale of a couple who had been in love for half a century, who had built a home which is in May’s sense a sacred ground where each finds in the other someone who in day to day life affirms the existence and value of the other. The yearning for what May calls “ontological rootedness” seems to have been found – that is, until they are struck with the hubris of caprice. For even that very solid love is shattered as it encounters the vicissitudes of the world, as an Anne rather than an Anna has a stroke, loses her memory and faculties. The two gradually become strangers to one another as her husband is reduced to playing only the role of the servant and caretaker whose love cannot be reciprocated by the acknowledgement and recognition by the other. If true and grounded love that is truly solid and real, especially when it is atomized into nuclear units in the modern world, cannot withstand the blows that reality sometimes delivers, cannot be a bulwark against suffering and loss, what chance does contemporary romantic love have?
If Novalis wrote his poem Hymns to the Night in Prussia as a reaction “to the irretrievable loss of a divine world-order and the firm moorings it afforded”, he helped plant the seeds for the globalization in the contemporary world of romantic love fused with eros as the spiritual foundation for modernity, but a notion not rooted in reality but in the ephemeral. They are words expressed over and over again in the personal ads of the New York Review of Books (cf. Paul Hollander’s “Extravagant Expectations”) — and, as documented in the Canadian writer, Lisa Appignanesi’s, All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion, in an experience that “confronts us with the height and depths of our being”. If our environmental crisis is, as Frank Griffiths contended, an effort to steal the secret of fire from the gods by exploiting the reserves of fossil fuel and for which we are about to be punished, according to May, on the more personal level, “the divinization of love as the latest attempt by human beings to steal the powers of god…is [also] doomed to end badly.”
If we now return to Deuteronomy, love of God and love identified with God was first made the supreme value according to May before it was bestowed on humans as a divine gift to share with one another. Then earth and nature also became worthy objects of love before the crucial link with the divine source was severed in the modern world. Can we now get a better insight into the commandment to love God, your Lord and Master? In its Christian version as Judaism was merged with Platonic love, and through which framework the ancient texts were interpreted, love was associated with devotion and unconditional selflessness, with love of the transcendent rather than with that which provides a grounding to allow us to feel at home with ourselves, with one another and with the world.
May’s version tries to escape from the secularized Christian notion. Finding in one’s selfless love for the divine and opening oneself to God’s divine presence within us and His ultimate sacrifice for us, where God’s complete dedicated selflessness is to be reciprocated by our own corresponding commitment, and from which we could achieve a much richer and more eternal absolute intensity of feeling, s now transferred to and promised by romantic love. Romantic love is now given a capacity for redemption and regeneration but romantic love could aspire to, but never come near, divine love. Romantic love could not, in the end, achieve immoral life.
In contrast to divine love and especially romantic love, for May, love is pragmatic, a conditional contract of mutuality best freed of romantic notions. Nevertheless, it remains “the rapture we feel for people who (or things that) inspire in us the experience or hope of ontological rootedness – a rapture that triggers and sustains the long search for a vital relationship between our being and theirs”. This notion still appears entrapped in romanticism, granted a very different and more grounded version, but one that nevertheless elevates the couple in Amour into a heavenly pantheon without taking note of their social atomization and severance from an extended community, even the community of their very small family. Further, May’s notion remains a far cry from Jewish notions as articulated in different ways by Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber. For we neither have to sore heavenwards in romantic love nor seek solid ground in pragmatic love, but can find a horizontal mutuality in one another. However, that requires going back earlier to a very different understanding of the commandment to love God as your Lord and a different understanding of the Christian version of the Adam and Eve story that May offers.
What then is the Jewish notion of the commandment to love God as your Lord? It is not the Christian commandment to love God with all one’s heart that will in the end provide a the template for mediaeval unrequited love and contemporary romantic love in search of an ideal human relationship in which our “flourishing is founded upon a lifelong search for a powerful relationship to the ground of our being.” It is the demand that any expression of absolute devotion can never have a human as the recipient but must always be directed to God. Further, since God is unknown and unknowable and since the creation of God’s unity depends on us, then to the extent we express that love that is the extent that God can manifest it. Further, since God’s love in Judaism is always conditional, conditional for Jews on following His commandments, the love can never be absolute on our part either. It too must be conditional. If God commands something that crosses the line, that obliges an immoral act, we are commanded out of love not to obey. We are commanded to challenge and question and stay committed to the relationship but not to accept and surrender to an illusion of absolute perfection and truth.
For Lisa Appignanesi in her stories of love, reduced to a self-regarding sentimental amorous feeling, the expectation can and should be much more mundane, looking towards “a predictable steadfastness” in the beloved. The love that sees us through life “is a gift freely given by the other, not a form of enslavement”. However, in the Judaic version, this is only possible if the propensity for sacrificial love, for total commitment of oneself to the other, is restricted to God whose love is always conditional and, thereby, determines that ours must be as well. Otherwise the trap that was set for Anna Karenina to fall under the spell of the absolute and its extravagant expectations will remain an ever-present danger.
The injunction in Judaism is the command to love your neighbour and you should love God as your neighbour and not as your intimate Other. God will not provide the insights into either Truth or Beauty for we are charged with finding and creating the unity that is God’s. The reason for this can be found in the story of Adam and Eve, but not the common Christian version.
May portrays the Garden of Eden as an idyllic place, one “in which there is no want”. If love is as Socrates depicted it something which “originates in lack” as the child of Poverty, poor, weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, yet a scheming lover of wisdom nonetheless with a surfeit of resources, then love could not arise in the Garden of Eden. There could be plenitude but not want. Yet the relationship between Adam and Eve is portrayed as the Platonic one of two halves of an original creation seeking to reclaim their lost other, looking for and desiring that which they do not have. So there is lack. Love as the desire to possess absolute goodness and beauty perpetually cannot arise in the Garden of Eden because the requisite precondition of want is lacking according to the depiction of the Garden as without want. That love could arise if indeed want was the essential characteristic of the relationship between Adam and Eve. Can a self-contradictory story offer an accurate interpretation?
There is a different version. “The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (2:7) Adam lives alone tending the Garden. Out of the blue he is given what is usually translated as a commandment but is in realty an entreaty. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-17) In this version of the story, at the point it is offered, this is not a command but a warning. I advise you not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil for the result will be certain death.
This is a puzzling warning in at least three respects. Why is the tree of life, of immortality, in the garden if the implication is that Adam would live forever if he does not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Second, what is the relationship between carnal knowledge and good and evil? Third, the warning is given before Eve is there, so if the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is about carnal knowledge and a warning not to partake, why offer the warning when there is no possibility of normal heterosexual activity?
Immediately after the warning God thought to himself, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helpmeet suitable for him.” (2:18) Not a partner but explicitly a helper, presumably someone who can also work and care for the garden. But what has creating a helper have to do with God’s sensitivity to Adam’s loneliness? And why is it that Adam does not even think about being alone? The answer is offered in the next verse. Adam is too busy being a nerd and giving names to everything as God’s partner. Just as God created tangible things, Adam creates them for consciousness by designating and differentiating. And no suitable helper could be found.
So God hypnotizes Adam or puts him to sleep in some other way. In his sleep, god cuts Adam open, removes one of his ribs, sews him up again, and uses the rib to make woman, she who was taken out of man. More puzzling still! Why create woman when man is asleep? Why create woman from a part of man when God supposedly already created man and woman from the dust of the earth? Then comes the supposed hermaphrodite verse that suggests that until then, what was a Garden without want became suffused with want, for in creating woman from man, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (2:24)
In the hermaphrodite interpretation, the man and the woman are just two parts of one whole. Woman is part of man, an essential complement to man, not as a servant or minion for azer k’negdo in the Torah refers to an appropriate dominant force (Deuteronomy 33:7′ Exodus 18:14), a potent presence that will stir the desires of man and induce him to leave his family and make a life with a woman. The story of the serpent that follows certainly suggests a contrasting but complementary presence.
Working backwards, if Adam is alone but does not recognize it, if Adam has a conception in his imagination of the other, the woman, as just an extension of his own flesh without his mental powers and mission to name things, of woman as a lesser creature driven by estrogen hormones with one less carbon molecule that testerone, but in reality she is a complementary forceful presence, then this might explain what happens in chapter 3. But we have to notice one more ingredient. Once Adam was alone, he did not recognize he was alone. He was too busy being a biologist. Adam does not even seem to recognize he has a body with desires and passions. Woman made for man seems to have the same characteristic. But as the story unfolds, the woman has a keener sense of observation than the Great Namer.
If in Chapter 2 of Genesis, an other is brought into being as merely an extension of his own body, it also seems clear that his own body is objectified as other as well. For Adam and Eve are together in the garden but neither even recognizes that they are naked, A very different erect figure appears on the scene in chapter 3, one not driven by a passion to be a scientist, but full of guile. This erect cunning character at least talks to the woman. Adam ignores her. The erect figure queries, are you sure God told you not to eat from any tree? The woman corrects him. Not any tree. Just one tree! And she clearly displays a case of broken telephone for God never talked to her. God enjoined Adam before Eve came on the scene. The woman responds that, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 2:2-3)
Note that there are at least two differences between the woman’s hearsay version and the original. Not content to simply relay the instruction word for word, she adds her own bit. Not only can you not eat from the tree; you cannot even touch it. Further what first appeared to be just a warning about the consequences of taking a course of action is now clearly interpreted as an injunction.
Ignoring the hyperbole and the interpretation as a commandment, this beguiling presence slips rightly by and goes to the heart of the matter and, in effect, calls God a liar. You’re not going to die. Quite the opposite! Your eyes will be opened and you will now know good from evil. Then you will be truly like God and not just made in His image. (Genesis 3:4-5) He could have added that Adam only knows potatoes from turnips. You have a chance to know the difference between good and evil and become divine.
Adam sees himself as fulfilling his divine mission by bringing things into being by naming them. The slinky slippery but still erect one tells Eve she too can be divine by discerning moral differences and not just making taxonomic distinctions. In effect he challenges her: You’re not going to die. You are going to acquire a godlike quality, the ability to pronounce what is good and what is bad and not just which tree is an elm and which is an oak. Adam is there throughout the whole process of seduction but taking no responsibility for it. For Adam has defined himself as the detached observer and not an embodied individual driven by passions. He is a repressed voyeur.
Convinced by the moral argument and her own aesthetic observations and driven by a different route to gaining wisdom and not just knowledge, she took up the erect one’s offer, took the fruit of the tree and ate it. “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her.” (Genesis 3:6) So ends the porno movie. The consequences follow.
The first consequence is that, in contrast to a porno movie, they become self-conscious and embarrassed about their naked bodies. Instead of feeling really satisfied, they both feel humiliated and ashamed and enter into cover-up mode. It is not as if God walked in on them and caught them in a carnal act of oral sex. They are ashamed first and are found later. And Adam gives the game away by telling a white lie: I hid because I was ashamed of my nakedness. God then knew (so much for the omniscience of the divine) that they had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I warned you, God said. The consequences of eating and partaking in carnal knowledge is that you felt ashamed and felt like dying and hid yourselves for you could not even be master of your own flesh. Then Adam commits his sin. “I didn’t do it. She did. At least, she made me do it. She induced me.” When God confronts the woman, she says the erect one did it. He seduced me. Both refused to take responsibility for their actions.
If you think shame and humiliation and feeling like dying were the consequences, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” The erect one will suffer the most and eat dust, condemned to being responsible for the war between men and women and within man, for man will not just try to control you the slippery slithery one but to crush you. But you will bite his Achilles heel. The indifference of Adam to his own body and passions now means open warfare. For Adam experienced his erect penis as a separate entity with a mind of its own led by desire for the other rather than the job of cognizing and naming. The woman will suffer labour pains but even worse, your husband will rule over you. The consequences of such actions and failing to take responsibility and trying to cover up flouting my warnings is that you will become like God, but instead of respect between Lord and bondsman, there will be war between you and within you. The issue in the garden is neither sufficiency nor surplus re wants, but desire and taking responsibility for that desire.
What does this say about the commandment to love God as your Lord? The only way to minimize the state of endless enmity within and between self and other is not to love anyone as Lord and Master except God. Do not idolize another person of flesh and blood as a transcendent being. Reserve that kind of love for God.
So in Exodus 21 you are commanded not to base the relationship between a man and a woman as if it were one between God and his servant, for whether male or female such a relationship of service can never be a relationship of slavery. You shall not be enslaved to your own passions. But you must always regard the other individual who works for you as a free individual, free to choose at the end of the contract whether to continue or not that work. Even a maid servant will be eligible to marry your sons and there shall be no wall between a commoner and a member of the aristocracy. People with servants are employers, not lords and masters. Respect for the other must define human relations. And love of the other as an absolute, as total surrender must be reserved for your Lord and only your Lord.

[Category Judaism]
[Keys: recognition, lordship and bondage, love]

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