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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

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.