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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Trump and anti-Semitism

Trump's no anti-Semite. He's merely an exemplar of the historical intersection of Zionism and anti-Semitism. That's why people ignorant of or in denial about the intersection are so shocked.

Friday, December 13, 2019

TGIF: But Mr. Trump, Is Israel Lovable?

Speaking before Sheldon Adelson's Israeli-American Council the other day, Trump took a shot at Jewish Americans who he says don't "love Israel enough."

"We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more," Trump said. "We have to get them to love Israel more because you have people that are Jewish people, that are great people – they don’t love Israel enough. You know that."

Typical of Trump, this is scatter-brained. He begins by talking about "the people of our country," which sounds like everyone, but ends up focusing on Jews who "don't love Israel enough." In either case, Trump talks rubbish.

First off, observe that although Trump stands accused of fomenting anti-Semitism by such remarks, he actually turns the loyalty issue upside-down. He doesn't say that some Jewish Americans are too loyal to Israel (presumably at the expense of America), which is what a classic anti-Semite would say, but that they are not loyal enough. Recall that he previously labeled Jews who vote for Democrats "disloyal." Disloyal to whom? Disloyal to Israel! We know this because he's criticized the Democratic Party for "defending [Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who sympathize with the Palestinians] over the State of Israel." Trump's critics seem to overlook this twist because it doesn't fit their stock narrative.

But turning to the matter at hand, Trump now entitles us to ask: what's so lovable about Israel anyway? The modern state was founded through a campaign of ethnic cleansing -- violent expulsion of Arabs, that is, non-Jews, from their long-held properties -- and outright massacres and terrorism. For the next couple of decades it subjected those who avoided expulsion to martial law. Then in 1967 it conquered the remainder of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, creating new refugees. Since then Israel has denied the inhabitants of those territories all rights while the Israeli occupiers built privileged Jewish-only settlements and otherwise usurped the land it acquired through aggressive force -- contrary to morality and international law. The West Bank today resembles apartheid South Africa. But things are even worse in Gaza, a small, crowded piece of land under blockade that dissenting Israelis call a concentration camp and others euphemistically refer to as merely the world's largest open-air prison. Gaza consists largely of refugees from the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing and their families.

So, I ask again, what's lovable about Israel? Is it because Israel calls itself the nation-state of the Jewish people (whether or not they live or want to live there) and Jews were treated horribly by Christian Europe, culminating in the monstrous Nazi Judeocide? That doesn't make Israel lovable. It is accountable for its crimes against humanity in Palestine regardless of the atrocities Jews suffered elsewhere. Israel is not exempt from moral judgment.

As for Jewish Americans in particular not loving Israel enough, Trump has again stuffed his foot in his mouth, something so commonplace that most people don't notice it. Like other Americans, Jewish Americans are not obligated to love Israel. How could they be? They are not part of a supposed Jewish national people -- they are Americans with a particular private religious faith (unless they are secular). If they wanted to become Israelis, they would have done so.

Israel, despite what it claims, cannot be the nation-state of all Jews everywhere (even atheists with Jewish mothers); it is the state only of its own Jewish citizens/nationals. The 25 percent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens unfortunately are out of luck, but then it shouldn't call itself a democracy. Jewish Americans have roots in many countries, yet no one would say they are obliged to love those places.

We may ask: what does today's state of Israel have to do with the Jewish creed, especially the universalism of the prophets? Little, really: Zionism was a secular movement that disparaged traditional and secularized Jews in Europe and America. Theodor Herzl et al. promised a new Jew in his own state, strong and hardy farmers and soldiers, unlike the frail bookish scholars and rootless "parasitic" financiers of the so-called "diaspora." (It wasn't a diaspora since the Judeans were not exiled by the Romans in 70 CE.) That's one reason Zionism was a minority movement for a long time.

No one is clear about what it means to be a Jewish state. True, you have to be a properly credentialed Jew to get the benefits the Israeli state offers, but that only means having a Jewish mother or being converted by an approved rabbi. Jews and non-Jews may not marry each other, but that is not a religious injunction for Israelis; rather it's a matter of secular (pseudo-)ethnic purity. It's feared that Israeli children of interfaith marriages are less likely than other children to identify as Jewish -- but then what would happen to the "Jewish people's" state?

In fact, no Jewish national ethnicity exists to be kept pure, but many Israelis (who do constitute an Israeli ethnicity) don't accept that. Nevertheless, Jews worldwide are of virtually every ethnicity, culture, language group, and color, and despite what Israel's apologists say today, Hitler was wrong: there is no Jewish race (or gene or blood). Most Jews descend from the converts of many ethnicities -- Judaism was a wide-ranging proselytizing religion roughly from 200 BCE to 200 CE (and later) -- and most ancient Israelites, Judahites, Yehudis, and Judeans never left their homes, although many of their offspring converted to Christianity or Islam.

For the record, ancient kingdoms of Israel, Judah, Yehud, and Judea, according to the Old Testament, were no more lovable bastions of enlightenment than any other kingdom in the vicinity, what with their authoritarian monarchies, military conquests, genocides, Hebrew and gentile slave labor, animal and occasional human sacrifice, forced conversion of gentiles, suppression of religious pluralism among the Hebrews, and persecution and even capital punishment of sundry peaceful nonconformists, such as homosexuals and dissenters.

Moreover -- and I wouldn't expect Trump to know this -- there is a long and honorable tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism. It goes back to the days of Herzl, though his idea of a "return" to Canaan originated earlier with non-Jews for perhaps less-than-honorable reasons. On different grounds, Orthodox and Reform Jews vehemently opposed Herzl's movement. (See details on this and other matters discussed here in my book Coming to Palestine.) The Orthodox regarded the Zionists as charlatans because a "return" was not to occur until the Messiah appeared in order to redeem the sinful Jews; the Orthodox anti-Zionists did not regard any of the atheists running the Zionist movement as Messiahs -- even if they had Jewish mothers.

The Reform shared that disdain for the Zionists and Zionism but on different grounds. First, they rejected the premise that the people around the world who profess Judaism constitute an exiled national people, race, or ethnicity. Judaism is just a religion, they said. Second, they objected to a country that would proclaim itself the nation-state of all the "Jewish people," including Jews who don't and won't live there. This, they said, would harm the Jewish citizens of other countries and the non-Jewish residents of Israel. Third, they knew that Palestine was not a "land without a people," and so they rejected the land theft and expulsion they knew would be required to make a Jewish state there. I would say the Reform were right. (The remnant of this movement resides at the American Council for Judaism.)

So, Mr. Trump, I can't see how Jewish Americans, who when surveyed rank justice high on their list social concerns, have an obligation to love Israel -- or how this admonition from you, an enthusiast for Palestinian oppression, could possibly be taken seriously.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

No US-Israel Defense Pact!

One of the most harebrained ideas to come down the pike in recent years is the proposed U.S.-Israel defense pact. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "made progress" on finalizing the pact while meeting in Lisbon recently.

This is an idea that has absolutely nothing to recommend it. At a time when the U.S. government should be ending its "collective defense arrangements" -- NATO and the other six --  such an arrangement with Israel is an especially bad idea. But it would be just as bad were it the only such arrangement the U.S. government had.

Imagine the American state being formally obliged to defend Israel no matter what. (It's clear the U.S. government has been informally, politically obliged since 1967, but Israeli officials have not wanted U.S. forces in the country. Israel receives $3.8 billion a year in military assistance, an investment that U.S. officials would not leave unattended if it were jeopardized.) This would be outrageous even if Israel confined its military actions purely to self-defense -- the government should not pledge American lives to another country's defense. But in fact, Israel is one of the most aggressive nations on earth. Over the decades it has initiated wars against neighboring countries, not to mention against the Palestinians, most recently in the Gaza Strip. Israel portrays itself as threatened existentially by Iran, but in truth, Israel has been threatening and acting against Iran for a couple of decades. Israel's ally in the covert, cyber, and proxy-terrorist warfare has been the U.S. government. Iran has no nuclear weapons, but Israel does.

Not everyone in Israel wants a formal defense pact for fear that it would tie the Israeli government's hands. Netanyahu's political rival Benny Gantz and former security officials think this, but not everyone in Israel agrees. Some also see the proposed alliance as Netanyahu's cynical way to assure he is returned to power -- facing trial on corruption charges, he has failed to form a new government, despite two recent elections. Pompeo, who apparently wants to run for the Senate, may also be acting in his own political interest.

At any rate, the American people should resoundingly let the politicians know that the proposed collective defense arrangement with Israel should be scrapped.

No blood for Israel!

Jewishness Is Not a Nationality

On Wednesday, Donald Trump signed an executive order that implicity defines Jewishness as a racial or national catetory and not as just a religious category. The order further reinforces the Department of Education's power to sanction colleges that receive federal tax dollars if they permit Palestinian solidarity activities. The Obama administration took a similar approach, which raises the question why Trump signed the order at all.

The New York Times first reported the story, but it was quickly criticized for misstating the nature of the order. However, the Times was correct in reporting that the "order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students." (Emphasis added.) This is true. The order does not openly declare that Jewishness is a racial or national category, but that is its indispensable premise.

The Times noted that "prominent Democrats have joined Republicans in promoting such a policy change to combat anti-Semitism as well as the boycott-Israel movement."

The key sentence in the order is this: "Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual's race, color, or national origin."
How would authorities know this is the case? What if the persons accused insist their actions were not based on racial or national-orgin considerations? Would that be an acceptable defense? Most likely not. Moreover, this sounds like we're in the area of thought crime. Someone charged with discrimination on the basis of race or national origin is treated differently from someone charged with discrimination on the basis of religion.

The impetus for Trump's actions is not admissions or hiring policy at colleges and universities receiving federal money; it's activism expressing Palestinian solidarity. Pro-Palestinian activism on campus is not "discrimination" even under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is true even if it makes some students uncomfortable.

More importantly, such activism is not about religion, race, or national origin. It is about land theft and oppression. The Palestinians would have been victims of injustice no matter who stole their land or oppressed them. Religion and ethnicity are red herrings intended to shut down Palestinian solidarity..

Israel and many of its defenders insist that the world's population of Jews consitute a single race, ethnicity, and nationality -- which is patent nonsense. Does their insistence mean that anyone who criticizes Israeli oppression of Palestinians is in reality attacking a mythical Jewish race, ethnicity, or nationality? That would be unfair. And what does it have to do with discrimination anyway?
Imagine that a pro-Palestinian student group disrupted a pro-Israel speaker. That certainly would be objectionable, and schools shouldn't let that happen. But why assume the disruption was based on race, national origin, ethnicity, or even religion? Why not assume that the action was based simply on objections to oppression and Israeli apartheid? Even someone who was prejudiced against all Jews could also hold a principled objection to Israeli policies.

You can see what's going on here: it's attempt to force schools to suppress protests against Israel.
Yes, of course, the government should not force taxpayers give money to anyone, but that's not the point here. The point is that, according to Trump and Kenneth Marcus, who heads the office for civil rights at the Education Department, Hitler was right: Jews constitute a separate racial group. (Many Israelis and Israel supporters agree.) Jewishness in the blood. Once a Jew always a Jew. Hitler wasn't the first to take this idiotic position, and Zionist leaders agreed with him. It was the view of pre-20th-century European rulers who confined Jews to ghettos (with rabbinic endorsement), treating them as mere members of a corporate entity rather than as individual citizens with rights. (Napoleon broke up this system and emancipated the Jews for a time.)

The problem that Trump and Marcus think they are solving, as I explain here, is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn't list religion as a forbidden discrimination category. It "prohibits discrimination [only] on the basis of race, color, or national origin." That being the case, how can the Trump administration claim that colleges and campus groups act illegally when they allow or put on programs designed to bring attention to the Palestinians, who have suffered so long at the hands of Israel, the self-described nation-state of the Jewish people everywhere, including the United States?
The administration was hoping that Congress would pass a definition of anti-Semitism that would shoehorn Jewishness into the Civil Rights Act clause and force schools to crack down on support for, say, the BDS movement, which opposes apartheid policies in the West Bank. But Congress hasn't passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. So here is the new tack: implicitly define Jewishness as a nationality or race. Voila! Problem solved. Students and professors who disparage the self-described Jewish state for its cruelty to the Palestinians can be charged with discriminating against Jewish American students who can be regarded as members of a nation or race, and the administration can cut off the money. It's all about inoculating Israel from criticism.

Liberal Jewish groups are protesting what Trump's up to, which is good. But in fact Israel itself defines Jews as constituting a nationality or race. As I explain here, no such thing as Israeli nationality exists in the Jewish state. For purposes of nationality, Israeli citizens are officially listed as Jewish, Arab, or any one of dozens of other categories. When fans of Israel point out that Palestinians are citizens, they ignore the fact that those citizens are not Israeli nationals and that it is nationality, not citizenship, that matters when it comes to Israeli policy regarding access to resources and services. Remember, Israel exists for the benefit of Jews -- everywhere -- and not for all of its citizens regardless of religion or religious background. It's a rigged game that cleverly manipulates the terms citizen and national.

Some Trump critics try to tar him as an anti-Semite, but their case so far has been flimsy. His actions -- including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, declaring settlements in conquered territory legal contrary to international law, quitting the Iran nuclear agreement, and working toward a mutual defense alliance -- fulfill every Zionists' wishlist. He's even overturned a classic alleged anti-Semitic trope by charging Jewish Americans with being insufficiently loyal to Israel.

But now some solid evidence is at hand. Declaring that Jewish Americans (including non-believers who have Jewish mothers) are members of a separate national and racial group is the essence of anti-Semitism -- even when the assertion is pressed into the service of the so-called Jewish state. Jewish anti-Zionists said this from the start. Trump's liberal Jewish critics will need to explain why he's wrong and Israel and its apologists are right.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Scott Horton & Me

Scott Horton and I discuss the roots of violence in Palestine/Israel. Listen here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Lions of Liberty Interview

I was a guest on the Lions of Liberty podcast to talk about Coming to Palestine. You can listen to the interview here.

Friday, October 25, 2019

TGIF: To Be or Not to Be a Jewish State: That Is the Question


Israel’s champions owe us an explanation. First, they insist that Israel is and always must be a Jewish state, by which most of them mean not religiously Jewish but of the “Jewish People” everywhere, including Jews who are citizens of other states and not looking for a new country. To be Jewish, according to the prevailing view, it is enough to have a Jewish mother (or to have been converted by an approved Orthodox rabbi). Belief in one supreme creator of the universe, in the Torah as the word of God, and in Jewish ritual need have nothing whatever to do with Jewishness. (We ignore here the many problems with this conception, such as: how can there be a secular Judaism?)

The definition of Jew has been bitterly controversial inside and outside of Israel since its founding. The point is, as anthropologist Roselle Tekiner wrote, "When the central task of a state is to import persons of a select religious/ethnic group -- and to develop the country for their benefit alone -- it is crucially important to be officially recognized as a bona fide member of that group." (This is from the anthology Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections, which is not online and is apparently out of print. But see Tekiner's article, "Israel's Two-Tiered Citizenship Law Bars Non-Jews From 93 Percent of Its Lands.")

Second, Israel's champions insist that Israel is a democracy -- indeed, the only democracy in the Middle East. They vehemently object whenever someone demonstrates how Israel-as-the-state-of-the-Jewish-People must harm the 25 percent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, most of whom are Arabs.

Yet Israeli law uniquely distinguishes citizenship from nationality. The nationality of an Israeli Arab citizen is "Arab" not Israeli, while the nationality of a Jewish citizen is "Jewish" not Israeli. Are citizens of any other country distinguished in law like that?

This has consequences. For example, the prohibition on marriage between Jews and non-Jews. This is not the result of political bargaining with religious parties but of a desire to protect "the Jewish people" from impurity. These contortions are required by Israel's self-declared status as something other than the land of all its citizens. Early Zionists said they wanted Palestine to be as Jewish as Britain is British and France is French -- a flagrant category mistake that has had horrific consequences for the Palestinians.

The insistence by Israel's supporters -- that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic -- thus is puzzling. What does it mean for Israel to be a Jewish state if that status has no real consequences for non-Jews? If all it meant was that the Star of David was on the flag, we might hear far fewer objections to Israel. But of course it means much more.

To see what it means, one has to look beyond Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Basic Law (its de facto constitution), and specific statutes, which contain language that on its face forbids discrimination against non-Jews. We should know better than to take official documents at face value. What matters in any society is the "real constitution," the principles that underlie commonly accepted behavior. The old Soviet Union’s constitution listed freedom of the press among the “rights” of Soviet citizens, and the U.S. Constitution says that only Congress may declare war and that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

More pertinent, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, wherein the British government “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” also stated that “it [was] clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” We know how that worked out.

So what’s the story inside Israel? (I’m not talking about the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel has occupied for 52 years and where Palestinians have no rights whatever.)

After doing an interview recently about my new book, Coming to Palestine, I was challenged by a listener over my statements that the Israeli government treats Arab and Jewish criminals differently depending on whether they shed “Jewish blood” or “Arab blood” (no such distinction actually exists) and that political parties can’t call for changing Israel from a Jewish state to a state of all its citizens.

Who is right?

Regarding criminal justice, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy shows anecdotally that Arab Israeli citizens who kill Jews can spend more time in prison than Israeli Jewish citizens who kill Arabs. “Arab blood is cheaper in Israel,” Levy wrote in 2014, “and Jewish blood is thicker.” He says things are the same today. Over the years, many articles have been published documenting this de facto, though not de jure, disparity. Indeed, Haaretz reported in 2011 that

Arab Israelis who have been charged with certain types of crime are more likely than their Jewish counterparts to be convicted, and once convicted they are more likely to be sent to prison, and for a longer time. These disparities were found in a recent statistical study commissioned by Israels Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association…. The [unpublished preliminary] study is unique in that it is the first of its kind to be commissioned and funded in part by the courts administration, and in that it sought to examine claims by attorneys that Israeli judges deal more harshly with Arab criminals than with Jews.

Note that government discrimination against non-Jews across the spectrum of issues is not usually written into the law, although it may be. Mostly flagrantly, discrimination is legally applied to the "right of return." People defined as Jews, no matter where they were born or live, can become Israeli citizens/nationals virtually on arrival, while Arabs driven from their ancestral homes in 1947-48 and 1967 may not go back, much less become full-rights citizens/nationals. Put concretely, I, an atheist born in Philadelphia to Jewish parents born in Philadelphia (with roots likely in the vicinity of the Black Sea), can "return" [sic] to Israel and become an Israeli citizen at once, while my friend Raouf Halaby, a naturalized American citizen born to Arab Christian parents in west Jerusalem three years before Israel was founded, may not. The only difference is that my mother was Jewish, making me, a Spinozist, a Jewish national in Israel's eyes, and Raouf's mother was not.

Regarding restrictions on political parties, the Basic Law: The Knesset states:

A candidates' list [party] shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include...:
1. negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;... 
Before proceeding, let us note a conundrum. The issue I'm raising here is whether a state be both Jewish and democratic. The root of the word democracy is demos, people. So if the raison d'être of Israel is the welfare of only some of its citizens and millions of certain others who are citizens and residents of other countries, how can Israel be a real democracy? Strictly speaking, considering that word and, the law's language legitimizes a party that "negat[es] the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish ... state" but not as a democratic state. Would the Israeli election authorities accept that distinction? I don't think so.

In the past the Israeli Supreme Court has reversed government bans on a party’s or candidate's inclusion in an election. Particular cases will revolve around the exact wording of a party’s mission statement or candidate's platform, and legal language is subject to endless, unpredictable, and political interpretation. But, regardless, the government has the power to ban at its disposal, and future Supreme Courts may not be so liberal. So the threat of a ban always looms. Incidentally, a party or candidate that engages in “incitement to racism” is also ineligible to participate in elections, yet this provision has yet to be applied to Jewish parties and politicians, such as Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu, that routinely spout racist rhetoric.

Israel's champions also deny that Arab Israelis -- citizens, mind you -- have grossly inferior access to land, most of which is owned by a “public” authority and the Jewish National Fund (very little is privately owned); building and village permits; public utilities; education; roads; and other government-controlled services and resources. The Israeli government has carried out programs in the Galilee and Negev, known as Judaization, from which Arab Israelis, especially Bedouins, have been cleared to make way for Jewish Israelis. Such restrictions inside Israel have the stink of apartheid.

In his book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Ben White documents that the Israeli government allocates resources -- unsurprisingly -- just as one would expect, considering that Israel by its founding doctrine is not the land of all of its citizens but only of some. This doctrine was reinforced last year in the Nation-State Law, which declares that “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
So, as Israel's champions say, all Israeli citizens are indeed equal. It's just that some -- those whose nationality is "Jewish" -- are more equal than others -- those whose nationality is "Arab" or anything else but "Jewish."

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays. This also appears at The Libertarian Institute.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Word Order Matters

What people of good will seek for Israel and Palestine is not just a peace, but a just peace.

The Double Essentialism of Zionism

Zionism, the Jewish nationalist philosophy that underlies the state of Israel, entails two kinds of essentialism: Jewishness for Jews and anti-Semitism for gentiles. In other words, no matter how hard they try, Jews cannot stop being Jewish and gentiles cannot stop being anti-Semites. (But see Shlomo Sand's How I Stopped Being a Jew.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Rights of Return Compared

Israel's defenders often ask how third-generation Palestinians can possibly be recognized as refugees with a right of return to the properties from which the Zionists drove their grandparents in 1947-48. But didn't those Zionists, most of whom had arrived ony three years earlier, claim to be 80th-generation refugees with a right of return to Palestine? (In the latter case, it could not be a real return because their ancient ancestors had not been exiled by the Romans and thus were not a diaspora. Most Jews today are likely the descendants of converts, of which there were many far and wide in antiquity.)

Friday, October 18, 2019

TGIF: Let's Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain


I don’t know how many times I've heard that if we don’t stand by Israel, the victims of the Nazi Judeocide will have died in vain. I knew something was wrong with that claim, but for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I think I can.

The claim is peculiar right off the bat. How would backing an Israeli regime that systematically and indiscriminately oppresses an entire non-European population in the 21st century possibly honor the victims of the Nazis, who were in power in Germany from 1933 to 1945? It makes no sense.

But that’s not all. To die in vain means that to die in the futile pursuit of a cause that remains unfulfilled even posthumously. This can include suicide as well as death at the hands of murderers. But someone who is killed while simply living dies neither in vain nor (perhaps eventually) triumphantly. A “passive” murder victim just dies, no matter what the killer intended. (No disrespect whatever is intended by the word passive here. I mean the death was not in a cause pursued by the victim.) It's a tragedy, but nothing more -- as though that were not enough.
The victims of the Holocaust did not see themselves as dying for a cause and were not expecting their deaths to accomplish anything on their part. They certainly did not think of themselves as dying for the future establishment of a chauvinist Jewish state in Palestine, although a small number might have been Zionists.

They died merely because their Nazi killers viewed them in a particular way. Indeed, most German Jews were surprised at being regarded as Jews rather than as Germans. In Nazi Germany one did not have to be a believing and practicing Jew to be targeted because the anti-Semites subscribed to the once-a-Jew-forever-a-Jew philosophy; having a Jewish mother was enough. (The philosopher Spinoza, who was excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1656, would have been branded a Jew, although he rejected religion and changed his first name from the Hebrew Baruch to the Latin Benedictus.)

I note that today’s Jewish nationalists, that is, Zionists, take the same essentialist position. In their eyes (and unfortunately in the eyes of many non-Jews), one can never stop being a Jew. For them, Judaism is not a matter of religion but of blood. (They too regard Spinoza as a Jew.)
This is utter rubbish: there is no Jewish gene, despite the shameful Israeli search. Moreover, Jews do not constitute a single distinct ethnic group: Jews are found among many ethnic, racial, and national groups. There is no universal Jewish language, food, theater, music, etc. -- that is, no worldwide secular Jewish culture. The dominant culture in Israel is not Jewish; it's Israeli. Judaism represents a worldwide religious community with common beliefs and rites. Why isn't that enough? (See Shlomo Sand’s How I Stopped Being a Jew, which eloquently defends a position I wish to associate myself with.)

So here we are: no matter what I and others do, the victims of the Holocaust cannot have died in vain or not died in vain. People who talk in such terms commit a category mistake.
I could leave the matter there, but I can take this a step further. While nothing we can do will determine whether the Jewish victims of the Nazis died or did not die in vain, all of us -- Jew and non-Jew -- can work to guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain. That's what we should want for any homicidal and tyrannical regime. The best thing to be said about a despot is that he lived in vain.
Now the question is: how can we best guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain? Jewish nationalists (including the ill-defined secularists among them) would give the same answer to other Jews as before: embrace Jewish identify, with Israel, the self-described "nation-state of the Jewish People [everywhere]," at the center of that identity.

I say that’s not a good answer. For one thing, as Shlomo Sand writes, to the extent that Jews and non-Jews embrace an ethnic/racial/genetic notion of “the Jewish People,” the Nazis are awarded a major ideological goal -- and that would mean their killing was not entirely in vain. I want no part of it.

For another, a Jewish national identity necessarily comes at the expense of millions of Palestinian Arab Muslims, Christians, and secularists, who are thrown a few crumbs but have no real rights in Israel itself and have even less than that in the apartheid occupied West Bank and the concentration camp -- some Israelis use that term -- known as the Gaza Strip.

A far more promising way to make sure the Nazis killed in vain is to work overtime for individual freedom and toleration in all spheres, which means minimal -- zero would be better -- political power. That is: embrace radical liberalism, otherwise known as the libertarian philosophy, to combat oppression and bigotry. How many Jews could Hitler have killed had he remained a failed artist and paperhanger in Austria because no state was available? None, I’d guess: the creep probably would have had the crap kicked out of him on his first try. Power is poison, and we must work to eliminate it -- and the myth-based nationalism that it fuels -- in favor of voluntary peaceful social cooperation.

Once we see things that way, we will be equally appalled by all genocides and lesser forms of oppression. (One, of course, is especially horrified by the sheer scale and methodical nature of the Nazi killing machine, but that should be true no matter the victimized group.) No special consideration can be accorded to Jewish tragedies -- no "hierarchies of suffering," to use Haaretz writer Amira Hess's phrase, can be accepted -- without preventing the Nazis from having killed in vain.

With all its splendid ethnic, cultural, and individual variations, the human race is one people with one proper code of justice for all. Invidious divisions undermine justice, liberty, peace, and cooperation by fragmenting and weakening the oppressed before their oppressors.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays. Also posted at The Libertarian Instiute.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Palestinians' Living Standard? Don't Change the Subject!

Opposing Palestinian self-determination because West Bank Arabs have a higher living standard than other Arabs is like opposing the abolition of slavery because, unlike white factory workers, slaves have job security.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thought for the Day

What Israel badly needs is for-Prophet Judaism.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Take That, Sartre


When someone solves an algebra problem for you and you understand why x=2, your believing that x=2 requires no extra step. That is, to understand is to believe. Once you understand, you are not free to believe otherwise. To modify Martin Luther: Here I understand. I can do no other, so help me Nature.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Another Interview

Scott Horton and I did another -- shorter (half-hour) -- interview about my new book, Coming to Palestine. Listen here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What Is Judaism?

From Rabbi Elmer Berger's A Partisan History of Judaism: The Jewish Case against Zionism (1951):
Judaism evolved from a primitive tribalism to as noble a spiritual and universal vision as man has ever attained. This fact attests, even without detailed proof, to the truth that "unity" and segregation may have had their partisans but that there must also have been undiscourageable partisans of another kind through the long history of Jews and Judaism.
For change and evolution rarely, if ever, are born from uniformity. Uniformity is imposed, as our modern world knows, in order to suffocate rather than encourage growth. That the history of Judaism reveals such growth is proof of disunity, of individualism, of liberalism, and of respect for these things in whatever degree necessary; to have accepted their achievements and grafted them into the organism of Judaism itself.
Both traditions and both viewpoints existed side by side. There has been a constant strugge between them. Sometimes the viewpoint of universalism and assimilation of all but religious identity prevailed. Sometimes the segregaton was initiated by separtist Jews. Sometimes it was enforced by segregation-minded people who were not Jews. Sometimes both groups or a combintion of circumstances created by segregationalists of both kinds established the pattern.
But the important fact remains that always, among both Jews and those of other faiths, there were those who respected the individual integrity of people of Jewish faith and the transcending, universal values of Judaism....
For people other than Jews to resist the apparent prevalence of "Jewish" nationalism and affirm that Judaism is a highly personalized conviction about God, the universe, and mankind is not, therefore, to violate either the feelings of Jews or the traditions of Judaism....
In plain English, to oppose Jewish separatism and segregation in our national life, except in the field of religion, is not the equivalent of anti-Semitism. 

Is the Bible a Title Deed?

I was asked on Facebook, "What is your response to many Jews and Christians who believe the Bible makes it clear that the land belongs to the Jews?" Here's is my (slightly edited) response:
  1. The Bible isn't a history book, and archaeology has not been kind to it. See Spinoza's and Paine's critiques, and more recent work by Rabbi Elmer Berger and Shlomo Sand.
  2. If it is, Joshua committed genocide, which can't be grounds for legitimate title.
  3. If it is, God threw the Jews out. Where's the Messiah?
  4. Most Jews are the descendants of converts who never set foot there. Judaism, which proselytized widely for nearly a thousand years, from the later centuries BCE to well into the Common Era, is a religious community and does not represent one people in a genetic sense. Jews have many ethnicities, races, cultures, nationalities, languages, foods, etc.
  5. The Palestinians, as Ben-Gurion and others argued at one time, are the descendants of people who have lived in Palestine continuously from time immemorial. These Palestinians have included Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
None of these points are original with me (they are well-documented most recently by Shlomo Sand), and all this is discussed in my forthcoming book, Coming to Palestine.

New Interview: Spinoza, the Constitution, and Palestine

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

Interview on Forthcoming Book


I was interviewed about my forthcoming book, Coming to Palestine (Libertarian Institute). Listen here and watch for news of the book's release.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Judaism, Zionism, and the Dual-Loyalty Charge

Zionists, that is, Jewish nationalists, who hold that Jews qua Jews constitute something more than a religious community, open themselves up to the dual-loyalty charge. And that is exactly what the majority non-Zionist Jews warned against from the start.

As Joseph Levine writes:
It’s particularly ironic that Zionists should be making this charge [that dual loyalty is an anti-Semitic trope]. When [Howard] Lovy (along with many others...) refers to the “ancient specter of Jewish disloyalty”, I take it he means in particular the standard anti-Semitic charge during the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe over the Emancipation of Jews from the ghettoes and their integration into civil European society as full citizens with full rights. Anti-Semites considered Jews a nationality, a people, a race, and as such they could never be truly assimilated into European society. The liberal democratic argument in response was to say that Jews can just as much be English, French, German, etc. as members of any other religious community. French Jews, on this view, are as legitimately considered full French citizens as French Catholics and Protestants. Judaism is a religion, not a nationality. 
But of course Zionism was founded on the Romantic nationalist idea that Jews really are a people apart from other peoples, and so historically shared a general outlook on the question of the relations between collectives and individuals with the right-wing and anti-Semitic camps. Yes, we are a people apart, argued the Zionists, and that’s why we deserve to have a homeland and state of our own. That this position leads inexorably to worries about “dual loyalty” is evident from the response to Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from leaders of the Jewish community throughout Europe and the US that the doctrine of Jewish nationhood is extremely dangerous for the position of Jews in these countries. They flat out rejected the Zionist-nationalist framework largely because it did rationalize the charge of dual loyalty. So, for Zionists and their supporters to now trot out this charge of anti-Semitism in the guise of “dual loyalty” is hypocritical and cynical.
So let's have no more of this hypocrisy, okay?

NOTICE: Watch for my new book, Why Palestine Matters, from The Libertarian Institute.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The FDA's Continuing Assault on the Principles of Justice

Eddie Gray, the owner of the online pipe-smokers' boutique The Pipe Nook, reports in his latest YouTube video that the FDA has accused him of selling to a minor but refuses to provide the evidence. This is nothing less than a direct assault on a basic principle of Anglo-American justice: innocence until guilt is proved, which means that the government -- exclusively -- has the burden of proof and the accused has no burden whatever to provide evidence of his innocence. One obvious aspect of this principle is that the state has an obligation to present the evidence to the accused, who may then rebut it. This is how things should work because one cannot prove a negative, namely, that one is not guilty, especially when one is given no details about the alleged offense.

When will those in Washington who love to rail against regulation finally pull the plug on the FDA, which tramples individual rights wherever it treads?

See my other FDA posts here, herehere, and here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What Is Fascism? What Is State Socialism

I was interviewed recently on how fascism differs from state socialism. The interview is based on my article, "Fascism," in The Concise Encylopedia of Economics. Listen here.

Friday, February 15, 2019

TGIF: Who Owns You?

Thomas Szasz (1920-2012)

Many people have legitimate complaints against the Food and Drug Administration. For example, during its long history, the FDA has delayed the marketing of badly needed drugs and medical devices, leading to unnecessary pain and death. Excessive bureaucratic requirements for testing have made drugs more expensive than they would have been otherwise. And, as I’ve detailed elsewhere, its regulation of tobacco and nicotine interferes with people’s enjoyment of those products. 
I want to suggest, however, such isolated complaints fail to go to the heart of the matter.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Friday, February 08, 2019

TGIF: The FDA's Assault on Tobacco Consumers, Part 3

Early one morning last December, Jeff Gracik was heading to his southern California home garage-workshop where he makes his living when he heard a loud, hurried knock on his front door. Thinking it might be a rushed UPS driver, he quickly opened the door. But it wasn’t UPS. Standing on his doorstep were three badge-flashing inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They had come to inspect Jeff’s business.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Interview: The FDA versus Smokers, Vapers, Dippers

I talked to Scott Horton about the FDA's oppression of tobacco and nicotine users. Listen here.

Friday, February 01, 2019

TGIF: The FDA's Assault on Tobacco Consumers, Part 2

A bill introduced in the U.S. House last month would ban the flavoring of any “tobacco product.” The targets are vaping devices (vapes, e-cigarettes), but also cigars and pipe tobacco. (Flavored conventional cigarettes other than menthol have already been banned.) The Food and Drug Administration deems vaping devices “tobacco products” even though they contain no tobacco. Introduced without sponsors by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill would allow an exception for some vaping products, but it is one that would be all but impossible to qualify for.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Interview: America's Bipartisan War Culture

I recently talked to Scott Horton about America's war culture. Listen here.

TGIF: The FDA's Assault on Tobacco Consumers

We’ve all heard horror stories about the run-amok regulatory state. Enabled by open-ended statutes passed by Congress and signed by presidents, regulatory agencies have acquired virtual carte blanche to write rules governing peaceful behavior. Even when a seemingly narrow purpose has been set out, regulatory rule-making has engaged in mission-creep with alarming regularity. 
Here’s an example that gets little attention because it directly impinges on the freedom of only a small number of Americans.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Friday, January 18, 2019

TGIF: America's War Culture

For most of the opinion-making class in America today, war is the default position. Representatives of establishment newspapers and TV news operations are not likely to grill someone who favors U.S. military intervention somewhere -- anywhere. He or she will have no burden of proof to sustain. But persons who oppose a new war or call for an end to an existing one are sure to be treated like oddballs if not traitors. They’d better have an extraordinarily strong defense of their position because the burden of proof will be squarely on them, but even a strong defense won’t get the heat turned down.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Friday, January 11, 2019

TGIF: Tucker Carlson Needs Love from His Leaders

Fox News host and Trump cheerleader Tucker Carlson is a culturally conservative, big-government, nationalist populist. As such, he’s upset that establishment politicians and their sponsoring elite don’t care enough to promote his and his fellow Americans’ happiness. 
That’s weird. Why would he want them to?

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!