Elliott AbramsDark clouds always seem to hang over the Jewish people, and today’s include old problems like anti-Semitism in Europe and new ones like Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. But to me the future seems bright.
I do not believe the Islamic Republic will exist in 2065. Even the superpower Soviet Union fell after three-quarters of a century, and the ayatollahs are now in year 36 of their revolution. They are loathed by the people of Iran, and I believe popular resistance and contradictions among the clerics will eventually spell doom. Of course we can make that more likely to happen, and sooner, by our own conduct toward Iran—reversing recent policy. But they will not last 50 more years anyway, and a normal Iran will not be an enemy to Israel and the Jewish people.
Second, both the Arab world’s chaos and its battles with Iran and jihadism point to improved relations with Israel. We see this happening already, and over time it can expand. The Palestinian issue is now page-10 news, not a headline and not something that much moves Arab governments. And I believe that the status of the Palestinian West Bank population will have changed in 50 years, from subjects of Israel to those of Jordan. Israelis want to separate from the Palestinians but need security, and the long-term solution is the Jordanian army and police. Perhaps the structure 50 years from now will look like something that disappeared 100 years ago, the Austro-Hungarian empire—with one king (by 2065, Abdullah’s son Hussein) and two prime ministers—one for Jordanians and one for Palestinians. Once the Palestinian issue has a different diplomatic face, other Arab governments will be freer to do what Jordan and Egypt have done: make peace with Israel. Relations with Gulf oil producers, who are also potential investors, will be helpful to Israel’s economy. And that will be a richer economy in 2065, benefitting from Israel’s huge gas discoveries.
Just which Arab states will exist in 2065 is harder to predict, but Israel will probably have decent relations with Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, and the independent Druze areas of what used to be Syria.
Israel will find American interest in the Middle East diminished due to North American energy independence, and interest from Asia increased—especially from China and India. While threats to the Persian Gulf and its oil will have lessened with the demise of the Islamic Republic, Israel will still find that the Chinese and Indian navies are patrolling those waters and occasionally visiting the Mediterranean. But its own relations with the world’s two most populous nations will be, as they are now, friendly and economically beneficial.
So 2065 will bring all sweetness and light? No. The American Jewish community will have declined as a percentage of the U.S. population, reducing its clout. And the American left, in whatever party represents it, will be as anti-Israel as the parties of the European left. Support for Israel will remain a divisive issue between left and right. Hatred of Jews in the Muslim world will remain a dangerous virus. Europe will be an increasingly hostile place for Jews, for political and demographic reasons. European Jewish populations will be small, especially after the French Jewish community begins to leave in large numbers. Israel and the United States will form the two poles of the world’s Jewish population, with everyone else playing a very minor role.
With the Holocaust an event more than 100 years in the past in 2065, its role as a cement of the American Jewish community will have dried up as well. Nor will Israel, per se, play that role as it did in the half century after 1948. The cement will be Judaism. Those Jews practicing it, in whatever form, will naturally be attached to one another and to Israel; those Jews not practicing it will drift away from the community and the Jewish state. Even more in 2065 than in 2015, Jews will be thankful for the support of American Christians in sustaining the ranks of the pro-Israel community.
Peter BerkowitzOf the multitude of factors that shape the Jewish people and that will determine their condition 50 years from now, few are more significant—and more in their hands—than education. Precautions can be implemented to protect against natural disasters, fanatical and ruthless adversaries, and massive disruptions to world markets, while preparations can be undertaken to exploit unexpected windfalls and favorable headwinds. Yet prudent precautions and sensible preparations will be for naught unless Jews understand their tradition and the moral and political conditions that in the 21st century will enable them to preserve it.
Current trends in Jewish education—or, more precisely, in how Jews are educated—are troubling. If these trends persist, the condition of the Jews in 50 years could well be dire.
Educational priorities in Israel and in the Diaspora may differ somewhat, but the education of Jews in both is crucial. A flourishing Israel and a flourishing Diaspora—which increasingly means a flourishing American Jewry, as approximately two-thirds of Jews who live outside of Israel live in America—are inextricably intertwined. While Israel has become the capital of Jewish life to which American Jewry turns for inspiration, Israel depends on Jews in America not only for economic aid and political support in a dangerous world, but also for models of the varieties of Judaism.
Neither the education of Israeli Jews nor that of American Jews, however, is adequate to sustain their flourishing and maintain their alliance.
Israeli Jews grow up informally educated by speaking their native tongue, Hebrew, the language of the Bible and of Jewish liturgy; by a calendar whose rhythms reflect the Jewish year; by living the clash between secularism and Jewish Orthodoxy; and by bearing arms to protect their lives and the Jewish state. At the same time, secular Israelis are deprived by their formal education of access to the riches of the Jewish tradition. Many will graduate from college knowing little of the Bible and the Talmud; the philosophical achievements of Maimonides and Spinoza as well as those of Herman Cohen, Martin Buber, and Franz Rosenzweig; the classics of Hebrew literature; and, not least, the roots and major strands of Zionism.
In addition, Israel does a poor job of providing students—secular as well as religious—with a solid grounding in the tradition of freedom. Few college graduates in Israel are conversant with the intertwined moral, economic, and political principles that put into practice the belief—inscribed in the Declaration of the State of Israel as well as in America’s Declaration of Independence—in the equality in freedom of all human beings.
The education of American Jews is in still worse condition. As a consequence of the decline of liberal education in the United States, most American Jews will also graduate college without a basic knowledge of the virtues that underlie free societies; the institutional arrangements through which constitutional government secures liberty and equality under law; and the assumptions, operations, and achievements of free markets. Most American Jews, moreover, will graduate from college, like their Israeli counterparts, unaware of the beauty and wisdom of the Jewish tradition. But unlike young Israeli men and women, most American Jews will, in addition to their other educational disadvantages, lack even minimum competence in Hebrew, which furnishes a gateway both to the study of the Jewish tradition and to the experience of the many dimensions of Israel’s marvelous vitality.
It would be foolhardy to count on reform of public schools in Israel or America. The damage wrought in both countries by the progressive aversion to disciplined transmission of knowledge and the politically correct war on liberty of thought and discussion will take a generation or more to repair.
To protect their long-term interests and to heighten the prospects that in 2065 the condition of their people will be good, Jews in America and in Israel must do what Jews have done throughout their history: reinforce, expand, and, where necessary, build from scratch educational institutions independent of government, in some cases as a supplement to public education and in others as an alternative.
But now Jews—in America and Israel—must go beyond what they have done in the past. It will not be enough for Jews to make sure that their children receive a Jewish education. Because of the sad state of liberal education, Jews must also construct private educational institutions that teach students the principles that support free and democratic government.
Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
In epilogue to his wonderful novel from 1930, Jews Without Money (how’s that for a literary reference!), the proletarian writer Michael Gold pictured his poor and oppressed father on the Lower East Side in 1899 looking up from a Yiddish newspaper and saying to his mother: “Great news, Katie! The 20th century is coming next Thursday night!” And Gold remembered his mother’s reply: “Whatever it is, it probably means more trouble for the Jews.” Such is my prediction for 2065.
But will the Jews of 2065 bear up under their difficulties? I remind them (I am assuming that readers in 2065 will be paying attention to our long-ago symposium) that Jewish well-being ought to mean something more than success in the oddly linked fields of demography and military affairs. And it ought to mean more than religious survival, though you would never know this from looking at the question that Commentary’s editors have posed. Jewish civilization is larger, after all, than Judaism the religion. There used to be something called liberal civilization, and, during the century-and-a-half between, say, the 1840s and these latter months of 2015, the civilization of the Jews contributed massively to it. Dear Jews of 2065, there used to be a natural and civilized dedication to universal human rights. Also a commitment to economic progress and equality, not just for Jews. Those are political themes. Something deeper: There used to be a certain Jewish feeling of being at home in the world of philosophy and the arts.
Will a proper and Jewish recollection of those sundry commitments and appreciations and ways of being survive and thrive, amid the glooms of 2065? Dear Jews of the future, some of you, the contented Americans, will disappear into the semiliterate and all-accepting maw of American mediocrity, where your Jewish memory will lose its textures and grandeurs, even if you continue to observe a few rituals. Some of you will disappear into rabbinical fantasies of ancient times, where you will steep in memory unto madness, you and your Islamic counterparts together, alas. But will there be somebody, anybody at all in America or Israel or France or someplace else, who will continue to uphold the broad and generous Jewish-inflected liberalism, cultural and political, of the past? There will be somebody. I squeeze that person’s hand. To that very old-fashioned person I say, “Chin up! Mother Gold’s worries apply to you especially! You had better work up a positive program to guarantee the hardiness and prosperity of your own principles!”
Paul Berman is a columnist for Tablet and the author of Terror and Liberalism, The Flight of the Intellectuals, and other books.
The Jewish people and the West are at a crossroads. We are at the same crossroads. We’ve arrived here at the same time.
The timing is not coincidental. The interdependence is not new. The future of both civilizations depends upon the choice each makes today.
One road leads to assimilation. Diaspora Jews who forsake their faith will become Westerners—Americans, Europeans, Argentinians—with little to distinguish them from their neighbors. Israeli Jews who abandon their ancient traditions will become the Hebrew-speaking gentiles of which so many early Zionists warned (and some dreamed).
But the Jews no longer face this dilemma alone. The entire West now confronts the same stark choice. Western man is once again slipping the bonds of the Judeo-Christian culture that undergirds his civilization. Yes, pleasure and ego have always beckoned. But only now do we find increasing numbers of our greatest minds telling us that resistance isn’t merely futile, it’s evil.
As the Jews and the West contemplate the way forward, they confront steadily rising stakes. At one time, a bad decision would have merely jeopardized our culture. Today, the wrong choice will endanger our lives.
This physical threat comes from an ascendant radical Islam. We mustn’t be fooled. Those chanting death to the Jews on Europe’s streets are not the descendants of Christian supremacists. They are almost always the cousins of those currently killing Christians in the Middle East in the name of Islam. We mustn’t be naive. The only reason such slaughter remains largely confined to the Middle East is that radical Islam lacks resources, not will.
The answer to these joint threats—cultural and physical—is the same. It is to turn our backs on the road to assimilation and embark down that other road, the one that leads us home. The answer is for Jews to engage with Judaism. The answer is for the West to embrace its Judeo-Christian roots.
Such return to tradition need not be reactionary. As radical Islam demonstrates daily, faith unchecked by respect for human dignity and reason quickly turns toxic. Happily, respect for both human dignity and reason is a core Judeo-Christian value. And besides, the root of the West’s current crisis is not hubris but low self-esteem.
A West reconnected to its Judeo-Christian roots will overcome its sophomoric spasm of multiculturalism. A West so educated will both acknowledge the reality of evil and recognize the evil of our time. A West so schooled will rediscover the will to fight this evil.
The Jews and the West stand together at the same crossroads. The road toward assimilation looms before us both. It’s a road we have taken before. And we’ve forgotten that it’s a dead end.
Without Judaism, Jews disappear. Those who abandoned their dusty desert rituals for Greek or Roman ways certainly had physical progeny. But these children ceased being Jewish centuries ago.
Fortunately, not all Jews chose to trade the Bible’s blazing moral code for nude olympics and vomitoria. Some clung to their ancient ways. Thanks to them, there are both Jews and a West today.
We mustn’t forget that the West we inhabit is far more than classical civilization electrified. Athens may have been a democracy, but almost every Athenian owned slaves taken from neighboring tribes. Romans may have developed advanced technology, but they also unceremoniously drowned their baby girls in rivers.
The ancients were nice Nazis who elevated their own race—and only the supposedly productive within their race—above the rest of humanity. Modern Nazis, Fascists, and Communists did the same thing with their own race, nation, and class, respectively. And when the West abandons its Judeo-Christian values, the Jews are almost always the ones who perish first.
Where will Jews be in 50 years? The answer depends on the path both the West and the Jews choose today. If the West chooses poorly, Israel and the Jewish people will face an increasingly hostile world with fewer and fewer friends. We’ve already seen enough early signs of this possible future to understand how badly it will end.
If the Jews choose poorly, they will disappear even more quickly. But the West will certainly pay a price for Jewish folly. It will lose its stubborn conscience, its living connection to its most nourishing roots. A West without Jews will more readily revert to the ways of its classical predecessors and become societies less human and less humane. It’s happened before, and not as long ago as we’d like to think.
David Brog is the executive director for Christians United for Israel and the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State and In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity.
In our collective Jewish memory, we came out of Egypt an erev rav, a mixed multitude. As we fled, we accepted like-minded people of all kinds who wanted to join us in this journey to freedom. They were not all Hebrews, but this scrappy, diverse group that stumbled through the wilderness was brought together by the shared and sacred purpose of redemption. And for the first time we were called Am Yisrael: the nation of Israel.
The Torah reminds us that when we came out of Egypt, we were scared, afraid of our own freedom. So many choices. We began to romanticize what it was like to be enslaved: “Do you remember all the leeks and fish we used to eat when we were slaves?”
It’s the most human of impulses. Even today, in an era of unprecedented Jewish freedom, we Jews look back at times of more limited choice with nostalgia: “Do you remember when Jews all lived in the same neighborhood, ate the same foods, joined the same law firms and country clubs, and followed the same rules in the same way?”
But none of us wants to go back to Egypt. Or the ghetto. Or the shtetl. If Judaism can endure only under the physical danger and emotional pressure of enslavement and anti-Semitism, we are not yet redeemed.
It took 40 years for the generation that was enslaved to be replaced by a generation that no longer yearned for Egypt. Fifty years from now, the Jewish people will only know complete freedom: freedom to choose how we want to observe the mitzvoth. Freedom to choose whom to love and marry. Even the freedom to choose whether we will be Jewish at all. So many choices. It is both frightening and a tremendous opportunity.
In 50 years, Jews will be Jewish because they choose Judaism—for its profound meaning and purpose. We will have multitudes of others, like-minded people of all kinds, who will choose to join us as gerei tzedek, righteous converts to Judaism, or as gerei toshav, non-Jews who become part of our community and raise Jewish families. Am Yisrael will still be a nation set apart, but it will be forged together in our freedom, not thrust apart by our enemies.
In 50 years, we will have eradicated Jewish diseases. Not only Tay-Sachs and Gauchers. But our racism. And narrow tribalism. And other diseases resulting from generations of insularity and inbreeding. No longer will you be able to identify the Jews in a room by their “Jewish” last names or “Jewish” appearance.
But you will remain able to recognize your fellow Jews—because you will recognize them from Sinai, when we all stood together, all men, women, children, and converts, woodchopper and water-drawer alike, and accepted Torah and our covenantal relationship with God. Our kinship will run deeper than ethnic identification, and we will have a broader understanding of Chosenness—because in significant part, the choice will have been our own.
In 50 years, we still will be the Chosen People. Chosen to pull ourselves and others out of mitzrayim, the narrow places. Chosen to share our particular light with all people. Chosen to help shape a redeemed world. But in 50 years, when we truly know what it is to be free, we will be confident enough to welcome anyone who wants to choose us. Confident enough to allow their unique cultures and perspectives to etch new crowns of Torah on our Jewish practice and observances. Am Yisrael will again be a mixed multitude.
And we may just look over Nebo and glimpse the Promised Land.
Angela Buchdahl is senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City.
My father, an immigrant factory worker who studied Talmud and sacrificed to keep Shabbat, would have been satisfied to know, 60 years ago, that his son would uphold his religious standards. Had he known that I would spend my life with hundreds of first-rate students, living for the study of Torah and religious observance, even while vigorously engaging Western culture, and that I myself would feel at home among non-Jewish intellectuals who respected Shabbat, honored kashrut, and valued Torah, he might have thought the Messiah was nigh. Had I told him that support for Israel, in 2015, would be an acrimonious issue dividing liberals and conservatives, he would have been puzzled and dismayed, but not wholly incredulous. Had I suggested that the cultural elites would despise people like us for professing traditional family ethics, he would have accused his bright boy of arguing for effect. Such is the fate of prognostication.
How many contemporary Jews have genuinely encountered a religious individual, meaning a person whose life is centered on the service of God? I don’t mean well-informed Jews, even those plugged into Jewish practice and organized religion. Those who know saintly men and women in their sober joy, their undistracted attentiveness to their fellows, who are swept up in the passionate intellectual precision of their quest for God in Torah, and infected by the sheer matter-of-factness of their uncompromised and undivided commitment to God, are driven and inspired to live and transmit their vision, as best as we can.
Can this make a difference for a larger public? Everything militates against it: the weakness of religious institutions, the trivialization of religious language, the ascendancy of relativism, utilitarianism, and entertainment as lifestyle axioms. Why should spiritual life be less commodified and impersonal than the rest of late capitalist culture? If these trends reign, external religious observance may yet survive; age-old rituals continue to fill psychological needs and enact ethnic pride or political pageant; charismatic leaders, harmless or malignant, will still attract followers; and a lush variety of superstition may proliferate where living models of service to God are absent or invisible. But the lines of communication between the un-extinguished and indomitable pockets of God-anchored life and mass society will have been severed.
Burke’s great secular wisdom: The stock of reason of each transient coterie is small; we must draw on the “general bank and capital of nations, and ages.” It goes without saying that the dominant dogma of “presentism,” which for current “enlightened” opinion makes truth, cuts off communication with previous generations and with all ways of thinking that are not aligned with the political correctness of the moment. That includes revealed religion. And so the resonance of traditional Judaism within the broader society depends on our success in countering the narrow parochialism that asserts its dominance in the public square and private psyche. I suspect that will require personal education. The mere conveying of information will not suffice. And that will also require vital, mutually fructifying encounters between us, the pillars of Orthodoxy, and those thinking individuals for whom those lines of communication still matter.
In 50 years, the fate of the Jewish people will appear to have been determined by many macro and micro developments we cannot foresee: the accidents of military technology and political fashion, the effects of environmental change, the vicissitudes of economic and social progress or degeneration. Within those limits, our destiny is what we make of it.
Shalom Carmy teaches Jewish studies and philosophy at Yeshiva University and is editor of Tradition, a journal of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Those who still believe that Jewish history can never again repeat itself must dispense with that illusion. Jewish history has always repeated itself and may continue to do so until the coming of the Messiah.
Fifty years from now, despite the cognitive war against the Jews—a global campaign whose big lies far overshadow all previous blood libels and which has accomplished a “perfect storm” alliance between Holocaust-denying Islamists and a politically correct Western intelligentsia—Israel, the world’s Jew, will still be here, a shining beacon of humanity.
In 1980, on the front pages of the Israeli media, I declared that anti-Semitism was on the rise; that anti-Zionism would be central to the new anti-Semitism; that politically correct Westerners, employing the left’s language of liberation, would lead the unholy charge. Israeli and Diaspora Jewish organizations did not listen. By the early 21st century, Zionism was considered a “Nazi, apartheid, colonialist” conspiracy; human bombs were “victims”; and Israel, who defended rather than endangered both her own and “enemy” civilians, was the “aggressor.” Anti-Zionism allowed anti-racist racists to enjoy their Jew-hatred without guilt.
In the past, local blood libels led to pogroms, massacres, and exiles. It is unlikely that Israel and Jews will totally escape the consequences of a defamation campaign gone viral.
Unlike other countries, however, Israel has been forced to become the world’s leading expert in counterterrorism because of continual and intolerable attacks. In response to the slow-motion Holocaust launched against it in 2001–2002, Israel stanched the flow of blood by building a much-maligned security wall and utilizing the Iron Dome. At high cost, Israel will continue to defend herself—even as other nations fall to ruin.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is fighting for the survival of Western values. Most European and American leaders are not.
Unchecked, Islamic barbaric atrocities will escalate, and nuclear catastrophes could be inevitable. This will affect many nations. The question is whether the Jewish state will be spared.
History teaches us that Jews have survived and flourished even after the gravest of devastations. Thus, the promised “remnant” of Jews will endure. Israel will continue making unexpected allies: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, India.
Diaspora Jews—not Israel—are spiritually endangered by their abandonment of Israel. Fifty years from now, secular, assimilated, anti-Zionist Jews—indifferent to or hard-hearted toward the fate of Israel—may disappear without a trace. As individuals, they may find themselves as vulnerable to anti-Semitic persecution as Jews were before 1948.
Can our Judeo-Christian civilization be saved? Its ideals and values are being vanquished in the Muslim world—and Europe is under siege.
Perhaps Europe has reaped a terrible, karmic destiny. The continent that repeatedly massacred millions of nonviolent and assimilated Semites (the Jews) has now reaped the whirlwind of 40–50 million hostile, unassimilated Semites (the Muslims) who are determined to destroy post-Enlightenment Europe.
A half-century from now, Europe will no longer be an enlightened, Judeo-Christian civilization. The Jews of Europe will have gone elsewhere.
America’s fate hangs in the balance.
Under Barack Obama, we have lost our standing and our soul. America has made common cause with Islamist barbarians who behead, stone, crucify, and publicly gang-rape the innocents, both Muslim and infidel.
America may be in for some terrible times—Israel is used to dealing with that as a given. America is not.
Judaism’s children (Christianity and Islam) mounted a bloody rebellion against Judaism’s parental authority. Historically, Christians worshipped a dead Jew whose crucifixion redeemed them; they continued killing Jews who denied this, repeating the patricide. Muslims felt theologically offended, dishonored, by anyone who did not convert to Islam. After 21 centuries, Christianity began to change. Islam is only 13 or 14 centuries into the game and may need another seven centuries before it initiates reforms.
Until then, do not expect those Muslims who are consumed with infidel hatred and jihad compulsions to renounce their views of Western-style freedoms, infidels, apostates, dissidents, women, or the “wrong” kind of Muslim.
Since Jews have always been travelers, perhaps Israel should invest in space travel and make preparations for lift-off in the event of nuclear holocaust. Let it lift the nation, holy unto God, its plants, animals, people, cities, archeological levels—the very earth itself—aloft, as in a Chagall painting, until it is safe to return.
Phyllis Chesler, professor emerita of psychology at the City University of New York, is the author of 16 books, including The New Anti-Semitism.
Had the keenest Jewish minds of 1945 been asked to imagine the Jewish future 50 years thence, it is likely that their predictions would have been distinctly cautious. All around them was the dawning realization of the Holocaust’s scale, the continuing persecution of Jews in the Communist and Arab countries, and, above all, the absence of a sovereign Jewish state. How many would have ventured that, come 1995, a nation called Israel would be on the cusp of its jubilee, with a stable population and a dynamic economy? Or that the Jews living outside its borders would do so with full civil rights, widespread affluence, and a comparative absence, by today’s standards, of mainstream anti-Semitic expression?
Yet hindsight reveals that there were reasons to be positive even in the dark aftermath of World War II, among them the confirmation that America’s exceptionalism applied to its treatment of the Jews too, and the renewed drive of the Zionist movement in Mandate Palestine to achieve Jewish statehood. Out of these combined nation- and community-building efforts, the age of Jewish empowerment was born—a period of Jewish history that, in the experience of the majority of Jews, has been more benign and more encouraging than anything that has gone before.
Still, the angst remains. Every debate, it sometimes seems, is accented by an unarticulated fear of what the future holds. Every challenge, from intermarriage, to the destiny of Jews in Europe, to the form and content of Jewish education, carries a barely disguised warning that failure to resolve the problem under discussion will erase the Jewish people from existence.
No apocalypse awaits the Jews: That much I will predict. But how we manage a future that is still to be made will be determined, in the last analysis, by how we use the modern freedoms—national self-determination, full civil rights—that earlier generations secured for us.
In that regard, we would be wise to assume that the Jews will continue to face enemies and adversaries in 2065, just as we always have. True, anti-Semitism in this century is turning out to be far less violent than during the previous 200 years, and no Jewish community of significant size currently suffers from legalized discrimination. That, however, does not tell the whole story.
The sources of anti-Semitism in our time are multiple and overlapping. In Europe, electoral successes on the extremes of left and right, along with more frequent instances of anti-Semitic thuggery, contribute to an insecurity that calls into question the long-term ability of Jewish communities to remain in places such as France and Hungary. In the Middle East, the rise of Iranian power poses the destruction of Jewish sovereignty as a genuine threat, and not the mere slogan our current crop of Western leaders pretend it to be. In America, the political center of Diaspora Jews, the whispers of “dual loyalty” are growing louder and more impatient, particularly from the citadels of progressivism.
Hostility to the existence of the Jewish state has, since the Holocaust, established itself as the principal vehicle for anti-Semitic agitation. This development was certainly not unexpected because, ironically, Zionism enabled the Jews to be the masters of their own future for the first time in more than two millennia. Resentment toward this reality runs deep and wide—a discordant chorus of languages and accents, cutting across a range of cultures, instantly available through myriad virtual communities, and embedded most of all in those Muslim countries where there are barely any Jews left. The anti-Semitism of the future will be shaped from this present context; the more we understand it now, the better positioned we will be to contain and perhaps, dare I say, substantively defeat it by the time 2065 rolls around.
Ben Cohen is senior editor of the Tower and the author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism.
Eliot A. Cohen
From a secularist’s point of view, this is the first period of Jewish history in which the Jews’ fate is in their own hands; from the believer’s point of view, in some measure it always has been. I incline more to the latter.
The rough shape of Jewish demography in 2065 is clear: two large, thriving communities in North America and Israel, with smaller Diaspora communities that will be at best static, at worst shrinking or disappearing, but in any case dependent on the two greater communities. The first problem the Jews will have to address is how those two poles of Jewish life will deal with each other.
That relationship, even now, is built on false premises. In the United States, there is a hard core of Zionist true believers who think of Israel as an imperiled little pioneering experiment or the earthly paradise where they aspire to live; there is a much larger group of Jews who have either modest interest or none at all in the Jewish state, or they are embarrassed by it. On the Israeli side, there is a pervasive dismissal of American Jews as being simply too lazy or comfortable to join them—mixed with a not always subtle envy centered on studying, working, or transplanting here.
Both sides need to renegotiate the relationship. Israel is no longer a poor and struggling Sparta in the Middle East but rather the “start-up nation,” in mortal danger, to be sure, but prosperous, armed to the teeth, and self-confident. It no longer needs bond drives and the saccharine Zionism they signify, but it does need the perspective of Jews who are wholly at home in a much larger world. For that, Israelis will need to develop an understanding of and respect for their American co-religionists that most of them do not have.
American Jews, for their part, will neither move en masse to Israel nor assimilate away (although many will drop out), but they need the vibrancy of Hebrew and Jewish culture emanating from Israel, which will in many ways become the center of the Jewish world. Working out a new relationship will endanger the prestige and power of existing Jewish elites and institutions, and undermine the self-confidence and influence of not a few intellectuals and leaders on both sides. It is overdue by some decades.
The second great challenge is one of faith, the reshaping of Jewish practice and beliefs. Particularly in the United States, the problem will be keeping together the major sub-sects of the Orthodox, Reform, and the dwindling Conservative community. It will mean accommodating some of the newer movements (partnership minyanim being a prime example). It will mean tackling both the absurdities of some Orthodox practice (my candidate for a quick win would be the second day of the holidays) while deepening knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish literature, and respect for traditional practice in the less observant community. The most serious issue is conversion: Without some accommodation by both sides—modifying Orthodoxy’s absurd restrictiveness on the one hand, without succumbing to laxity on the other—the Jewish community in the United States will continue to shrink, and to miss a demographic opportunity.
The Jews are peculiar, because they are a people and a faith, an ethnicity and, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik often put it, a covenantal community. Today, they are hemmed in, to some extent, by ossified institutions and habits of thought across the spectrum of observance. They are, as they have ever been, vulnerable to mere indifference about the deeper meaning of their pact with the Almighty. But I do not for a moment doubt that 50 years hence, the Jews, having survived for this long, will, with their perseverance and genius for creativity and the help of Providence, find a way.
Eliot A. Cohen is professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
Many years ago, Irving Kristol gave a lecture in Jerusalem on the “political stupidity of the Jews,” whom he accused of being misguidedly committed to economic socialism and naive internationalism. His solution: Jews need to go to school with Thucydides to learn about the realities of power, with Adam Smith to learn about the nature of economic liberty, and with Edmund Burke to learn about the complex relationship between tradition and politics.
The Jewish tradition probably has more political wisdom to offer than Kristol acknowledged. But he was basically right in pointing to the need for a Jewish political reformation as the only route to Jewish success or even survival. That reformation, alas, has not yet come.
In the ultimate sense, the fate of the Jews is probably in divine hands. And the genius of rabbinic Judaism—both in perfecting the God-seeking moral life and in preserving the earthly Jewish community through exile—deserves the greatest respect. The heart and soul of Judaism remains the distinctively Jewish way of sanctifying sex and family, eating and time, welcoming into life and mourning in death. If Jews forget this, all is probably lost, and the struggle against the potential sources of Jewish demise, whether via destruction or assimilation, loses its deepest purpose.
But rabbinic Judaism has little to offer, alas, when it comes to the current political crisis of the Jews. And in the realm of politics, Jews seem pathologically silly, despite the fact that the creation of the Jewish state is arguably the most impressive political founding of the past century. In America, Jewish liberalism is an old story, and in Israel the polity seems to oscillate between triviality and crisis management with a leadership deficit that should frighten us.
So what would political success look like in the decades ahead, and what would a bright future for the Jewish community look like 50 years hence?
In America, Jews should be focused on promoting school vouchers, the only hope for expanding the day-school movement and unleashing a new generation of Jewish educational entrepreneurship; on fighting to defend religious liberty, the only hope for ensuring that traditional Jewish beliefs and institutions are not marginalized by a hostile secularist culture; and on electing political conservatives, the only ones who still believe that Jewish nationalism is a noble cause and that American power is necessary to preserve decency and order in the troubled Middle East.
Yet whatever we might achieve in America, the fate of the Jews will probably depend on the fate of the Zionist project. And in Israel, we must acknowledge a very hard truth: Even the greatest Israeli political leaders, even an Israeli polity with otherworldly political courage, even the strengthening of the already impressive Israeli military force—all that might not be enough. Navigating a nuclear Middle East, as a tiny and hated nation, might simply be impossible.
But it is sinful, especially in politics, to give in to despair. And so what is needed, instead, is the birth of a true Israeli conservatism and a reinvigoration of Jewish nationalism. This means fighting preemptive wars to clean up the neighborhood, ideally before the Iranian nuclear umbrella is built; reforming, in a dramatic way, the Israeli economy, which is bogged down by regulation, high taxes, and the legacy of a socialist ideology that nearly every Israeli knows doesn’t work but feels obliged to support; promoting conversion for those who seek to tie their fights to the Jewish people; and doing everything possible to facilitate a mass exodus of Jews from Europe to Zion, where they will live or die with the dignity of national self-respect.
Horrible as it is to say, war in the past century has been good for the Jews: victory in World War II, rather than being slaughtered by the Nazis; victory in 1948, when a new state was born; and victory in 1967, when Jerusalem was retaken. Jews have fought bravely and reaped their just rewards. Yet the kinds of wars that might be required to establish some measure of peace in the Middle East over the next 50 years will probably require America’s moral will and military might. On the other side of those wars, I hope for a million circumcisions, and an eternity of children dancing with Torahs, and the restoration of Jewish holiness in the holy land. This is too much to expect in a mere 50 years, but one hopes that by then all hope will not be lost.
Steven M. Cohen
The past 50 years, as seen in 2065:
In September 2011, during the run-up to the Israeli elections, political newcomer Yair Lapid generated a good bit of favorable attention by informing Haredi higher-education students that their sector had “won” and secular Jews had lost:
We lost and you won. It’s a fresh victory, just a few years old, but it’s already here. And the initial significance of this victory is that we, the secular Jews, have to admit that our vision, the vision of a state that we run without you and in which you’re only guests, was a failure.
Just two years later, the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans 2013 delivered essentially the same message vis à vis American Jews. Demographically, if not in other ways, Orthodoxy was in ascendance while other American Jews were poised for decline. At the time, Orthodox Jews made up only 10 percent of American Jewish adults but as many as 27 percent of Jewish children and 35 percent of Jews younger than five. In New York City, a 2011 study showed that three-quarters of Jewish children were Orthodox.
Among the non-Orthodox, non-marriage, late marriage, intermarriage (running about 80 percent among Reform-raised Jews), and low birthrates (an average of 1.7 births per woman) were working to diminish their numbers in coming generations.
At the same time, ever-expanding Israeli settlement in the West Bank, ongoing friction with the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and even Israel proper, combined with the turmoil in the Middle East, all worked to perpetuate the occupation and make withdrawal from the West Bank undesirable, if not unthinkable, to the increasingly nationalist and beleaguered Israeli public. In the years to come, Israel would be militarily strong enough to ensure its security, but its ceaseless rule over another indigenous people would provoke isolation from much of Europe and condemnation by liberal sectors in the United States. Commercially, Israel would increasingly rely upon China, India, and a host of nondemocratic states.
The demographic forces in the United States and the rest of the Diaspora combined with the political dynamics related to Israel increasingly alienated erstwhile liberal Jews from Jews, Judaism, Israel, and other things Jewish. Either culturally liberal Jews produced few, if any, Jewish grandchildren, or the small numbers who were born Jewish saw a Jewish community with which they could not engage, and an Israel which they did not love. And those who tried to participate were in effect driven out by conservatives who relentlessly and repeatedly accused liberals of…naiveté, disloyalty, subversion, transgression. Where few, if any, liberal Jews sought to prevent their conservative counterparts from participating in Jewish life or questioned their Jewish bona fides, quite the opposite is true of the way conservatives often (typically?) relate to Jewish liberals.
While liberals constituted half the American Jewish population in 2015, and their counterparts were sufficiently numerous to make the 2015 elections in Israel something of a horse race, the political divisions in 2065 became lopsidedly conservative—in both countries and even around the world. Not only had conservatives expanded their numbers, Jewish liberals and their descendants essentially dropped out of the Jewish population or, in like fashion, emigrated in droves from a more and more militant and theocratic Israel in which Haredim, ultra-nationalists, and wealthy plutocrats increasingly asserted their values, interests, and agendas.
The summary above is offered more as a cautionary tale than a confident prediction. It presents an extreme version of a reasonable worst-case scenario that builds upon and extends current and genuine socio-demographic, religious, cultural, and political trends in Israel and the United States.
George Santayana is thought to have said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Similarly, those who cannot anticipate a tragic future and work to counteract it are doomed to confront it.
Steven M. Cohen is research professor at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University.
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The Jewish Future, Part 1
Must-Reads from Magazine
Cut bait while there's still line.
Nearly three months ago, Donald Trump reaffirmed his status as a maverick who’s liberated from the conventions that shackled past presidents by giving a North Korean despot something North Korean despots have sought for decades. Today, the planned bilateral summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un has collapsed. In the intervening weeks, those conventions of which Trump is so disdainful demonstrated their value.
In retrospect, it is a marvel that the prospect of a summit between the American president and the scion of the Communist dynasty in Pyongyang was taken so seriously. Initially, it took Donald Trump a whopping 45 minutes to accept Kim’s overture. In that timeframe, surely complex matters such as American grand strategy, Kim’s domestic position, our complex and conflicting regional alliances, and achievable objectives got short shrift.
Expectations for the summit were unreasonably high almost from the outset. Those high hopes were made physically manifest in the form of 500 collector’s coins commemorating the presumably historic event. For a time, though, those expectations did not seem entirely fanciful.
North Korea’s openness to secret contacts with Trump administration officials, including the CIA director and vice president, were welcome changes of heart. When Trump tweeted about Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize, North Korea did not correct him. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea even appeared to drop its opposition to military drills on the Peninsula and the U.S. military presence in South Korea. Mutual concessions seemed to mark the start of a new era. For a time, progress seemed possible. But that progress was only illusory.
This week, North Korea formally closed its nuclear test site. But North Korea’s test site collapsed in October of last year, taking as many as 200 trained professionals with it. Closing a defunct installation isn’t much of a concession. Nor, for that matter, is the surrender of American hostages. Indeed, the only reason to take hostages is to be able to give them up in a negotiation to generate concessions from your interlocutor without having surrendered anything of strategic value. The “peace treaty” that South Korea negotiated with North Korea is likely invalid because the U.S. and China—both parties to the 1953 cease-fire—were not part of the process. Recently, North Korea has rediscovered its opposition to military drills on the peninsula and its commitment to maintaining a nuclear arsenal, and communications between Washington and Pyongyang had broken down. The only thing the two parties agreed upon after ten weeks of preparatory work was on the summit itself. That is a recipe for disaster.
With no clarity on core objectives, the best that anyone could have hoped for from this summit was amicable ambiguity. But the more likely scenario was confusion, mutual hostility, and the closing off of lines of communication. It was a mark of maturity for the president to cut his losses before any irreplaceable American interests were sacrificed. That is, after all, how summits like these tend to end.
There are not many historical examples of bilateral summitry between two hostile powers, but the examples that we have to draw lessons from are not encouraging.
“I have never been so proud of my President as I have been in these sessions and particularly this afternoon,” Secretary of State George Schultz told reporters moments after Ronald Reagan’s summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, failed. Schultz put a positive spin on this summit’s failure, just as Reagan officials had the year earlier when a similar meeting at Geneva, Switzerland, did not produce anything other than an exchange of familiarities. But Reagan’s expectations for the summit were not met, and we are all better off as a result. As I wrote in April:
Had Reagan succeeded on his terms, the deal struck between the two powers in Iceland would have badly strained American relations with its nuclear-armed European allies and provided an economic lifeline to Moscow that might have postponed the Soviet Union’s implosion. In retrospect, the president’s willingness to walk away from the table set the stage for one of the most astonishing events of the 20th Century: the peaceful end of the Cold War and the fall of European communism.
The perils of a failed summit have proved all too real. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, Austria, stands as a warning to headstrong presidents seeking to leave their mark on the world. Kennedy studied closely the cataclysmic miscalculations made in Munich in 1939 and believed himself capable of avoiding the traps into which Neville Chamberlain had fallen, but he made his own unique mistakes. The young president allowed himself to be harangued by Khrushchev, which left the Soviet leader convinced of his weakness. “It was just a disaster,” said Assistant Secretary of State Paul Nitze. “I’m scared to death about what will happen next.” His trepidation was warranted. Within two months, Khrushchev ordered the walling in of East Berliners. One year after that, Soviet high command approved the deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba, touching off the most dangerous nuclear crisis the world has ever known.
The collapse of a fraught summit between the leader of the free world and the abhorrent head of one of the world’s most repulsive regimes does not signal the end of diplomacy. Indeed, it is a hopeful sign; a failed summit between the two countries’ principals might have closed off pathways to further negotiations. Negotiations between functionaries at lower governmental levels do not carry that risk.
Nor should Western diplomatic professionals worry that Trump has undermined Kim’s domestic position to the point that he will have to adopt a more confrontational posture and appease his regime’s hardline elements. A confrontational North Korea is the status quo ante; not optimal, but not an unknown quantity either. From Soviet generals to the Iranian mullahs, Westerners are frequently in thrall to the idea that a given interlocutor is surely preferable to uncompromising alternatives waiting in the wings. That is the appeaser’s construct. A deal that preserves the longevity of this criminal regime without a verifiable and long-term solution to the threat that a summit is designed to address is far worse than no summit at all.
Trump deserves credit both for being open to outside-the-box solutions to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and for recognizing when it was time to cut his losses on a bad idea. In the end, if maximum pressure on Pyongyang, Beijing, Moscow, and the rest of the rogues who support this disgraceful state convinces the Kim regime to make some hard choices about its survival, Trump may actually deserve that Nobel Prize.
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Podcast: The DPRK and the NFL.
The Trump-Kim meeting is off, and the question is this: If the announcement of thawing relations with North Korea helped Trump’s approval rating, will this hurt or harm it? And why won’t Trump trumpet the bipartisan legislative successes of the past few weeks? Give a listen.
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The great American novel.
Why won’t the child just listen? Why won’t she come to reason? Where did I do wrong with her?
Parents of difficult children have asked themselves such questions since time immemorial. For all of modern psychology’s advances, today’s parents are no more likely to have good answers than did their forebears a hundred or a thousand years ago. Indeed, modernity itself has compounded the ancient problem, by breaking taboos around honoring mother and father and spawning new reasons for children to rebel against parental order that would have been inconceivable under premodern conditions.
This tangle of themes is at the heart of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, perhaps the darkest and most acrid novel about parenting in all of American letters.
Roth, who died Tuesday at age 85, never had children. Yet he wrote perceptively and with great empathy for Seymour “the Swede” Levov, the novel’s protagonist, whose love for his daughter, Merry, knows no bounds and is utterly unrequited. Handsome, affable, responsible, and wealthy, the Swede does everything right by the standards of the midcentury American bourgeoisie. He manages a successful enterprise, procures a trophy wife, owns a tasteful estate in the Jersey suburbs, and fathers a girl who brings ruin to it all. There is a rage within Merry, which, as she grows older, explodes (quite literally) in political radicalism before she smothers her inner flames under Far-Eastern asceticism.
Why does Merry go wrong? What is the source of her rage? She isn’t as beautiful as her mother, Dawn, for starters. Dawn is vapid and cold, and she holds Merry as a judgment against her husband; their marriage is loveless. Then there is Merry’s severe stuttering, which speech therapy fails to alleviate for many years. The Swede’s love doesn’t suffice to overcome these natural disadvantages. Nor can the father’s love keep away the ferment and collective rage roiling America in the late 1960s: race riots, assassinations, all manner of sexual and cultural degradation. Merry is disordered because disorder is in the American air she breathes.
So it is that, five years after Merry commits a Weather Underground-style terrorist attack in the name of stopping the American war machine in Vietnam, the Swede finds Merry living in an almost animal-like state on the streets of Newark. Merry is now a fanatical Jainist, filthy and wafer-thin. Having committed bloody acts of terror, she has now adopted the opposite extreme–total pacifism, veganism–perhaps as a form of expiation. The father-daughter exchange that follows makes for excruciating reading for anyone who has ever loved a child:
“You’re not my daughter. You’re not Merry.”
“If you wish to believe that I am not, that may be just as well. It may be for the best.”
“Why don’t you ask me about your mother, Meredith? Should I ask you? Where was your mother born? What is her maiden name? What is her father’s name?
“I don’t want to talk about my mother.”
“Because you know nothing about her. Or about me. Or about the person you pretend to be. . . . Tell me why you’re pretending to be my daughter!”
“If I answer the questions, you will suffer even more. I don’t know how much suffering you want.”
Though set in the turbulent 1960s, American Pastoral has a striking contemporaneity. We, too, are living through an age of intense intergenerational conflict. Today’s aging Boomers are as mystified by the zeal for abstract justice and romantic politics among the young as Roth’s Swede is by Merry’s Marxist and Jainist turns. True, Millennials aren’t, for the most part, setting off bombs at post offices and police stations.
But they mob their professors, ruthlessly discipline and punish their peers online, and take up all manner of secular substitute religions, from mindfulness to “clean eating” to identity politics. They are hungry for order and solidarity and transcendence. Their parents, who only know how to fight battles of cultural and sexual liberation, are no more capable of nourishing that hunger than the feckless, well-intentioned, all-too-sensible Swede.
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Both sides of the issue.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “appalled.”
Crowned the “free world’s best hope” in 2017 by Rolling Stone, Trudeau has, since then, cut his foreign policy chops: heavy on gender equality, feminism, environmentalism and relatively light on security and geopolitics. He fancies soft-lens moments when he can tear up on cue, fun parades, dress-up extravaganzas and breezy feel-good stuff, all of which is reflected in his photo-posturing and official statements. His election slogan, when running against PM Harper in the 2015 federal election, was to promote “sunny ways.”
This naïve cheer has yet to resonate in the Middle East and, in particular along the Israel-Gaza border. Since withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2006, Israel has watched the Dante-esque destruction of what was a robust economy. Under Hamas rule, the Strip has become a theocratic terrorist state. Significant sums of foreign cash donated to develop and support civilian infrastructure are diverted to build terror tunnels, pay terrorist salaries, and produce of all manner of weapons. Incitement to violence against Jews and Israelis is fierce, endemic, and unrestrained. And every so often, a full-blown war breaks out.
Perhaps unaware of the long, complex, tragic backstory, Trudeau blasted Israel in a statement issued on May 16: “Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people.”
He pulls no punches, focusing on one individual who was injured in both legs by Israeli sniper fire at the border: “We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded–along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children.” For a leader who crows about his strong, principle-based support for Israel this is quite the invective. What seems to have stoked his previously dormant ire is the fact that Dr. Loubani was injured by Israeli fire on Monday, May 14, which was a very busy day: the 70th anniversary of the declaration of the state of Israel; the official ceremony opening the American Embassy in Jerusalem; and “Naqba” or “Disaster” Day, commemorated each year by Palestinians.
Each Friday since March, Hamas has staged a “March of Return” at multiple locations along the border fence. Billed as a “peaceful protest,” crowds tend to swell to the tens of thousands following midday prayers, during which Imams fire up the men to annihilate the Zionist occupiers and restore Palestinian and Arab honor.
Hamas recruits protest participants onto buses waiting outside mosques, throwing in financial incentives for attending, hoping to draw women and children as “extras” in this macabre, serial event. Many of the men show up with knives, Molotov cocktails, wire cutters, and other weapons and incendiary devices. A recent innovation is fire kites, which are launched and intended to burn Israeli farmers’ fields, and do. Pyres of car tires are lit, creating a dense, black, toxic screen to provide cover for physical border breaches and confuse Israeli snipers.
These “peaceful” protesters boast openly about their violent intentions, parroting Hamas leaders who, aside from one or two brief cameos well back from the fence, tuck away in their fortified bunkers under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and other safe havens in the Strip.
Hamas leaders have exhorted these “peaceful” protesters to tear down the border fence and then proceed to remove various bodily organs from Israelis they kill and eat them. They tell Gazans, and anyone paying attention, of their intention to foment chaos at the border. Ideally, the smoke and confusion would facilitate a goal they commend openly: the capture of one or more Israeli soldiers, and, if things go particularly well, perhaps a murderous romp in one of the many civilian villages within a few hundred meters of the border.
For those martyred in this jihad to murder Jews and destroy Israel, Hamas assures, there is an exalted place in Paradise.
Now, all this bluster may sound and seem “peaceful” to PM Trudeau, but it is quite the opposite. There have been multiple fence breaches by terrorists armed with more and less crude weapons. It isn’t necessary to have a tank to kill. Knives, meat cleavers and grenades do the trick, as Israelis know well. This is Hamas, for goodness sake. Read their Charter. Follow their “media.” It’s all there. Zero ambiguity. And they mean it.
Why, Trudeau must be asking, does the IDF not resort to less extreme measures? Live ammunition, he has surely been briefed, is a last resort. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Even leaflets, social media announcements and radio broadcasts warning people to stay well back from the border—all have been ineffective. And, for that, there is one reason: Hamas. Trudeau’s rage would more appropriately be directed at Hamas incitement, disregard for civilians and commitment to a hateful, murderous ideology.
And what about the “blockade” of Gaza, attributed solely to Israel? Reality check: Egypt enforces a much stricter blockade on the Strip, allowing almost nothing through. Israel, on the other hand, permits passage of truckloads of goods daily: medical supplies, food, even “dual use” materials like cement, gasoline and tires, which are more often than not taken for civilians and allocated to terrorist infrastructure.
Twice in recent weeks, “peaceful” protestors have torched the border checkpoint in Israel for the transfer of goods. It is destroyed.
The Gaza-Israel border is very hostile. Hamas has, in the last decade or so, dug 32 terror tunnels—complete with AC and internet wiring—with the sole intention of burrowing into Israel to launch murderous terror attacks. Jihad. This is not a nuanced struggle.
On this–all of this–Trudeau is silent.
Which brings us back to Dr. Loubani, the Canadian physician who has had at least one previous brush with misfortune in the region. During the protracted street violence in Egypt in 2013, following the coup in which General Sisi ousted Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, Dr. Loubani was in Cairo with a film professor from Toronto, who was also a strident anti-Israel activist. En route to Gaza to volunteer in a hospital, the travelers took a travel pause in Cairo. One afternoon, as they tell it, they happened, coincidentally, upon a large, violent demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and jailed, among them the two Canadians.
Friends and family of the Canadian duo launched a vigorous public relations campaign to draw attention to their plight and pressure the Canadian government to advocate with Egypt for their release. They went out for a walk, their advocates said, and were enjoying ice cream cones. Before they knew it, were surrounded by mayhem. Once there, they felt compelled to administer first aid to injured protesters.
As they languished in prison, however, the initial version gave way to a more complex story. It seems that Loubani and his friend had sophisticated camera and recording equipment with them. Not necessarily eyebrow-raising for a film professor. More unusual, however, would be that they thought to grab the pro gear when heading out for a jet-lagged stroll to get ice cream. (And then there’s the small matter of military dictatorships tending to be sensitive about having violent rallies photographed.)
However, the really interesting part is what Loubani arranged to have his father share with the media while he was still in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison: that they were also in possession of drones. Why? To ferry medical supplies to and from hospitals in Gaza, of course. That drone twist certainly piques one’s interest. There is only one use for drones in the Gaza Strip, and it is neither peaceful nor in any way related to humanitarian or hospital work.
On Monday, May 14, Naqba Day to Palestinians, Dr. Loubani says that he was standing near the border among a cluster of orange-vested medics during a lull in the chaos. He was wearing green scrubs from the Ontario hospital where he works. After being injured by Israeli sniper fire in both legs, Loubani asserted that he was likely targeted by Israeli snipers. (The IDF advises that it is investigating the incident but has no specific information at the moment.)
In light of this backdrop, Trudeau continued to blast Israel: “Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground—including any incitement violence and the excessive use of force.”
What we do know is that 50 of the 62 individuals killed that day at the border clash by Israeli sniper were Hamas operatives. We also know that Hamas regularly uses UNRWA schools, hospitals, and clearly marked ambulances to ferry fighters and weapons around the Strip. This is supported by documentary evidence collected over the years. Trudeau’s fury would be more appropriately directed at Hamas for its unconscionable leadership, encouraging extreme terrorist violence, and ongoing incitement against Jews and Israel. Hamas is, after all, listed as a terror organization in Canada and elsewhere for good reason.
The backlash to Trudeau’s statement was strong and quick. He seems, perhaps unwittingly, to have stumbled onto a hornet’s nest and turned to two Jewish MPs to clean up his mess—Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, representing electoral ridings in Toronto and Montreal, respectively, with large Jewish populations. They issued a peculiar statement. While not directly critical of the prime minister, they unequivocally condemned and held Hamas responsible for the deaths and injuries at border clashes.
It seems that Trudeau tapped two rookie Liberal MPs, of a total of 184 in his caucus, to be the fig leaves for what seems to be a rather bifurcated and confusing policy on Israel. Some observers speculate that Trudeau hopes to use this clumsy doublespeak to allow him to be “correct,” depending on where and how the chips fall. By dereliction, the prime minister has signaled that the Israel-Gaza issue is a “Jewish” one, as opposed to one of the most important geopolitical crises in the world. Hamas, like Hizballah, Syria, the Houthis, is yet another Iranian proxy. It is disturbing that two Jewish MPs, representing “Jewish” ridings, are the only ones in the Trudeau government speaking out in support of Israel.
On social media, Mr. Housefather, in particular, refers to Canada’s consistent pattern of supporting Israel in UN votes as clear evidence of the prime minister’s true support. Whereas UN votes are important, surely, so are Trudeau’s public comments explaining his support for Israel. He tends to express himself in a sweeping, imprecise manner, oft-repeating distaste for the obsessive bullying of Israel in international forums. All of which is laudable. And he likes to say things about what good friends Canada and Israel are, but that even good friends can, sometimes, disagree.
Indeed, and those are likely the lines he trotted out when he spoke on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu one day after his written thrashing of Israel following the Loubani incident. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the exchange, but Trudeau issued a short readout on the call, reporting that he had expressed “thanks for the consular assistance Israel is providing . . . reaffirmed Canada’s call for a neutral process to ascertain how the actions of all the parties concerned . . . contributed to the events of May 14, including the reported incitement by Hamas . . .” And that they “agreed on the importance of addressing the economic crisis in Gaza and jointly affirmed the close and abiding friendship between Canada and Israel.”
In other words, PM Trudeau did nothing to walk back his perfervid criticism of Israel other than to acknowledge, as a possibility, “reported incitement by Hamas.” As if there is any doubt. What Prime Minister Trudeau does not say, in this case, is far more important than what he does.
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When Washington works.
It’s understandable that cynicism has become the default approach for average Americans navigating the political environment. Interpreting events as the product of a raw power contest rather than a clash between competing principles is not only simpler but often correct. Occasionally, though, a purely cynical understanding of how politicians conduct themselves can lead observers astray. Sneering pessimism alone would not have led anyone to conclude that bipartisanship would be breaking out in Washington in an election year. But, to a degree, it is.
In March, two-thirds of the U.S. Senate voted to repeal aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill passed in the wake of the mortgage market’s collapse and the ensuing economic downturn. That bipartisan sentiment did not abate when the bill reached the House yesterday, where 258 members—hardly a party-line vote—approved the regulatory rollback measure. Predictably, progressive politicians allege that the vote was the culmination of a treacherous scheme hatched in backrooms between nefarious politicians and mustache-twirling special interests.
“Big banks have spent millions of dollars trying to roll back the rules we put in place after we bailed them out ten years ago,” Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote. “Today, they got what they paid for.” Rep. Keith Ellison called the vote indicative of America’s “full-on lurching towards plutocracy.” For Rep. Yvette Clarke, the rollback of Dodd-Frank regulations will facilitate “discrimination against African-Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups.” For Bernie Sanders, to whom everything looks like a nail, this was another indication that it was time to “break up the largest financial institutions.”
It is hard to square these hyperbolic reactions with the effects of this soon-to-be law. The bill reduces the number of large banks subject to onerous regulations imposed on them in 2010 and unburdens smaller banks with less than $250 billion in assets from complying with Dodd-Frank regulations. Progressive regulators have lamented the move as one designed only to improve the lots of America’s richest financiers, but this is a political message divorced from reality.
Critics of Dodd-Frank always noted that the risk to the foundations of the economy were not banks with relatively small assets but major institutions like JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America, which have well over $1 trillion in assets. It was the smaller community banks with $50 billion in assets and less that make up the vast majority of American financial institutions and once accounted for most small business loans. The balance has recently shifted in favor of big banks, though, as the regulatory environment has made it harder for smaller institutions to compete. Those institutions are the most burdened by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s compliance costs, reporting requirements, and lending restrictions.
“Dodd-Frank costs the banking system a staggering 83 million man-hours and $39 billion in compliance costs over its lifetime,” historian and COMMENTARY contributor John Steele Gordon wrote recently. Ironically, the only institutions that could easily absorb the costs of regulations favored by progressives like Warren are the institutions that were once deemed “too big to fail.” As Gordon noted, the effect of Dodd-Frank was to direct more assets into fewer hands and make the financial institutions the reformers said were already too big bigger still.
This victory for common sense didn’t just happen overnight. The bipartisan consensus around the notion that Dodd-Frank was a well-intentioned debacle was forged over the span of years. Conservatives have been making their case against the stifling regulatory mechanisms in Dodd-Frank for nearly a decade. They campaigned on the issue and pursued incremental legislative strategies designed to address the problems they enumerated. What’s more, all of this occurred in the plain sight. Progressives who write the rollback of their achievement off as the flowering of some kind of conspiracy are doing their supporters no favors. That is paranoia, not politics.
It’s not just conservatives who are celebrating a hard-won victory today. Yesterday, the GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the conditions in prison by a staggering 360 to 59 votes. The bill directs the Bureau of Prisons to increase access to and incentives to engage in inmate programs like education and vocational training, which reduce recidivism rates. If passed, the bill would also prohibit shackling pregnant inmates, provision feminine hygiene products, and limit the distance prisoners can be incarcerated to a maximum of 500 miles from their residences. The bill may not survive in the Senate as it is, but not because it goes too far. Rather, it doesn’t go far enough. Senate Judiciary Chairman and Republican Chuck Grassley told reporters that prison reform could not survive as is unless it includes broader sentencing reform.
Given Donald Trump’s tough-on-crime persona during the campaign and his choice for attorney general, few might have predicted at the start of the president’s term that Republicans would be charging ahead with a prison reform bill with Trump’s consent. Prison reform organizations are suspicious of the measure because it is not a comprehensive solution to the matter of over-incarceration, and the bill’s carve-outs for certain prisoners including immigrants raise civil libertarian eyebrows. But the bipartisan consensus about the necessity of criminal justice reform is bearing fruit, and those seeds were planted years ago by libertarian and progressive reformers. That consensus is also the product of years of labor by activists who refused to make the perfect the enemy of the good and who never scoffed at politics as the naïve preoccupation of the unenlightened.
The liberal and conservative activists who wallow hopelessly in the perception that the political process is irreparably broken should rejoice. Bipartisanship is not dead. Compromise is not impossible. These phenomena aren’t simply willed into existence on a whim; they take years and hard work to make manifest. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.