In Moscow, a council of foreign ministers wrangled hopelessly to write a peace treaty for the common German enemy.
Sidney Hertzberg seeks in this regular dement to provide a fair and impartial report of important trends on world affairs in their implications for Jews. Judgments expressed in these reports are his own and not necessarily the views of the editors.
In Moscow, a council of foreign ministers wrangled hopelessly to write a peace treaty for the common German enemy. It was a grim picture, familiar to Europe since the Middle Ages. The addition of the United States to the picture detracted little from the climactic feeling of futility.
For hundreds of years, what emerged out of Europe’s virtually continuous peace conferences had been of world importance because these decisions could affect the lives of people everywhere. Nearly all the controls of the world system, as men knew it, had originated in Europe.
But it was doubtful that European decisions would any longer have such global significance. The dynamics of world power were no longer concentrated in Europe—or in the United States. In the long pull of history it might well be that the discussions in Moscow would be of less moment than discussions in New Delhi, India, that took place at the same time.
A Billion People
In New Delhi, for the first time in history, men and women from twenty-five Asiatic nations, covering the great sweep from Egypt to the Philippines, sat down to talk over mutual problems in the Asian Relations Conference. They represented more than a billion people. For centuries the area had been limp under the domination of the West. But now it was moving into the world scene at a tremendous pace, equipped with its great human mass, its vast undeveloped natural resources, and its vigorous leadership.
“The countries of Asia can no longer be used as pawns by others,” Jawaharlal Nehru told the meeting. .“We stand at the end of an era and on the threshold of a new period of history. Standing on this watershed which divides two epochs of human history and endeavor, we can look back on our long past and look forward to the future that is taking shape before our eyes.”
Few Westerners were speaking in these terms. The West was weary of its past and afraid of its future. What the West was it had done to itself. What Asia was the West had done to it, but now Asia was freeing itself of the West. It moved into its own with hope and vigor. Asia was the new frontier, this time for the Asians.
In the Gargantuan task of moving Asia’s masses out of their poverty and ignorance, hopeful starts had been made in two places. In India, the progressive influence of the movement to oust imperialism was splattered throughout the subcontinent. In a free India the spots would merge and cover the whole.
The other place was Palestine, where Zionists had made a spearhead of democratic socialism and wedged it into the dry wall of the Asian borderland.
Significantly, Jewish Palestine was represented at the Asian Relations Conference. Professor Hugo Bergmann of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem spoke on behalf of a delegation which had been convened by the Vaad Leumi. To Western Zionists, what he said was a sharp reminder that Palestine, the Yishuv included, was part of Asia, and that its destiny was more deeply affected by the conference under the great tent in New Delhi than by mass rallies in Madison Square Garden, New York.
In presenting the greetings of Jewish Palestine, Professor Bergmann said:
“Those are the greetings of representatives of an old religion and an old Asiatic people which had been driven from its Asiatic motherland 1,800 years ago by the force of the Roman sword, but which has never ceased to be linked in thought and daily prayer with this Holy Land, which is at the same time the Holy Land to Christianity and Islam. We are happy and proud to take part as an old Asiatic people at this conference and we strive to be a loyal member of this great family of nations.
“The Asian system of multi-racial and multi-religious and multi-cultural political organizations has stood the test of time. I was told by an Indian scholar, whom I met here, that mutual tolerance of religions and races is so self-understood and so obvious with you that your languages do not even know the word for ‘tolerance.’ But tolerance is not enough. We have to learn to live together in a positive way and to cooperate in mutual benevolence and reciprocal help.
“This lesson Europe was unable to teach us. We do not want to be ungrateful to Europe. We have learned very important lessons there. We learned to appreciate logical reasoning, methodical thinking. We have learned in Europe and transplanted to Palestine the teaching and way of life of modern socialism.
“But one thing we could not learn in Europe: the mutual cooperation of groups of men belonging to different races and creeds. We have been everywhere a persecuted minority; and during the last war six millions of our brethren, the third part of our people—and the best part—babies, children, women and men, have been ruthlessly murdered in gas chambers. This last lesson of Europe to us we shall never forget.
“It is our hope that Palestine, notwithstanding the present difficulties, will not go the European way of ‘solving,’ so to speak, problems by dispossessing populations but by a common effort to use the results of science and research to make room for more people, and that will mean more good neighbors, more cooperation, more reciprocal help.
“We have come to learn, not to teach. But if we may contribute actively to the aims of this conference it shall be in the lines just mentioned. Because in Palestine it was and is our first aim to enlarge the economic capacity of our small country, we have used to the utmost our knowledge of scientific methods to solve the problems of settlement, to transform barren deserts into fertile soil, and to work out such forms of cooperative and collective colonization as would make it possible to intensify to the limit the fertility of our land and at the same time our health and social services. The experts in our delegation will be glad to offer their humble services to our common cause in the same way as our scientific research and our health service in Palestine desire to serve not only our community but the whole country and in certain measure the Middle East
“May God—God who is one God to all His children—bless our conference and its aims. We hope and pray that this conference will open a new chapter in human history.”
Professor Bergmann was elected a member of the Provisional General Council, which was authorized to set up a permanent Asian Relations Organization.
The precise form in which the Palestine question would come before the United Nations was settled in a British note to the Secretariat on April 2. .The note made two requests. First, that “the question of Palestine” be placed on the agenda of the General Assembly at its next regular annual session in September. At this time, the note said, the British “will submit to the Assembly an account of their administration of the League of Nations mandate and will ask the Assembly to make recommendations, under Article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine.”
Second, the note requested “the Secretary-General to summon, as soon as possible, a special Session of the General Assembly for the purpose of constituting and instructing a Special Committee to prepare for the consideration, at the regular Session of the Assembly, of the question referred to in the preceding paragraph.”
Under the democratic procedure of the United Nations, its fifty-five members were immediately polled to determine whether a majority favored calling a special session. Eleven days later a majority had approved and the session was set for April 28. .Approval had been a foregone conclusion, since France, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States, the other four members of the Big Five, had been polled informally and their assent obtained before Britain’s formal submission of the note. Big Five approval for a special session of the General Assembly was not a requirement of the Charter. The General Assembly was supposed to be the particular province of the small nations. However, the UN had to operate on the basis of the realities as well as the legalities of international life.
To Accept or Not
Article 10 of the UN Charter, under which the British submitted the Palestine question, confined the General Assembly’s function to making recommendations. The question was immediately raised whether Britain would “accept” these recommendations. Some British officials had indicated that the answer was not necessarily yes. But two days before the special session opened, the British Foreign Office declared that no British spokesman had been authorized to say that Britain would not carry out the recommendations.
It was essentially a moot question. Even though Britain might commit itself to carry out the recommendations, history demonstrated how international declarations could be subjected to varying interpretation and how nations could find reasons for delaying the fulfillment of their commitments.
In any case, while the British were being belabored for refusing to promise adherence to the General Assembly’s recommendations, it was relevant to ask whether the Arabs and the Zionists would assent to them.
In Cairo, after a meeting of the Council of the Arab League, Jemal Husseini, Deputy Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine, announced that if the UN decision was unfavorable to the Arabs, the Arab states would nevertheless continue their struggle for an Arab Palestine.
In Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, addressing a plenary session of the Vaad Leumi on April 1, said: “The Yishuv won’t accept a settlement which will suspend immigration and wind up our undertaking. . . .Neither political talk nor even a United Nations decision will decide the fate of the Jewish people.”
On April 6, Moshe Shertok, Chief of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, addressing the National Committee for Labor Palestine in New York, said: “Let us not forget that in the last resort our fate is in our own hands and that we shall be masters of our destiny in the measure that we shall will so to be—and act accordingly without waiting.” Shertok pointed out that no member of the United Nations had waited for the approval of an international authority before becoming a nation. .“One and all they have worked out their salvation by methods which have been found legitimate and appropriate.”
Obviously nobody was going to commit himself irrevocably in advance to an unknown decision. This had to be especially true of the Zionists, despite their strictures on the British, because for the Zionists there was the least likelihood of an acceptable recommendation from the General Assembly.
Indeed, the tactics dictated by the UN situation involved the Zionists in curious contradictions. While the Zionists were generally against delays and denounced the British move as a delaying device, some of the tactics that the Zionists were forced to adopt in effect added up to delay.
The five Arab states formally requested that the agenda of the special session be extended to include consideration of termination of the Palestine Mandate and the proclamation of Palestine as an independent state. Purely from the standpoint of expediting a solution, this move would seem desirable. However, the Zionists could not afford to risk an immediate decision and were against it. They found themselves in the unlikely position of favoring “still another” investigating committee.
Assuming the formation of an investigating committee, its composition became a matter of the utmost importance. The Zionist objective was to get the United States a seat, to bar the other four members of the Big Five and the Arab states. This was impossible. Practically, either all or none of the Big Five would be represented.
Given this choice, what were the considerations? Keeping all the Big Five off the committee was not likely to achieve the objective of eliminating British and Soviet influence. It would be virtually impossible to set up a committee without including a Soviet satellite state which would not stray too far from the fundamental Soviet line, and without one of the dominions or Western European nations which would express the British viewpoint. However, there was no small and presumably “neutral” nation that was likely to act for the United States, assuming the United States was interested in having one do so.
In other words, the net practical effect of barring the Big Five from the committee would be to keep only the United States off. The only sure way of making American influence felt on the committee was to put the United States on, and this meant adding the other Big Five powers as well. What gave all this jockeying a final touch of unreality was the fact that Zionists were not certain that they could really count on the United States for anything more than sympathy.
A committee confined to small and so-called neutral powers raised another round of practical considerations. If such a committee kept its eyes off the Big Five—or at least the Big Three—and emerged with ultimate wisdom distilled from its pure heart and just mind, would the Big Three pay any attention to its recommendations? Would not further delay be inevitable? But a really neutral committee that would concentrate on abstract justice and not consider the likelihood of Big Three acceptance of its recommendations was a mythological concept. Therefore why not have the big powers on the committee, thus insuring the widest and quickest possible acceptance of the recommendations by the General Assembly, and get it over with?
For the Zionists, the tactical situation was a series of circles that started and closed at a point marked Big Three. This situation was no different for any other pleaders before the United Nations. It underlined the Zionist assertion that the UN operation was simply a delaying tactic. But the Zionists’ willingness, nevertheless, to fall in with the delays emphasized the extremity of their situation.
The fact of the matter was that the Zionists were mortally afraid, and for good reasons, of the kind of recommendations the General Assembly would adopt. A recommendation of partition was a dim hope.
The Zionists also feared any move to convert the mandate into a UN trusteeship. In writing the terms of a trusteeship agreement, the United Nations would not be bound by the Balfour Declaration, which was the only internationally recognized juridical base for the Jewish national home. Thrown into the UN hopper, the mandate might emerge as a trusteeship with no commitments at all to the Jewish national home and with the involvement of one or more trust powers less sympathetic than Britain to the aims of Zionism.
In the end, realistic Zionist tactics boiled down to maintenance of the British mandate plus abolition of the immigration and land purchase restrictions of the 1939 White Paper.
The first move of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, therefore, was a request that the special session adopt an interim decision invalidating “the illegal provisions” of the 1939 White Paper. .“The General Assembly should call upon the Mandatory Power to conform in the interim period to the plain letter of the Palestine Mandate, to reopen Palestine to Jewish immigration on a scale commensurate with present needs, and to remove the existing measures of racial discrimination which restrict Jewish settlement on the land, which are repugnant to the principles of the UN Charter.”
Pressing for this demand, however, created another tactical circle. An interim decision on immigration would be a “substantive” question as against a “procedural” question such as electing an investigating committee. Should the special session throw itself open to the discussion of substantive questions? If it did, would it be possible to keep the agenda free of the Arab request for discussion of ending the mandate, which was also a substantive question? The Jewish Agency opposed the Arab request, but declared that if it was to be added to the agenda, the Jewish request should also be added. If this was reasonable, so was the converse. Neither request was likely to reach the agenda, as both sides were well aware.
Nor did there seem much possibility that the Agency’s next request, to be allowed to participate in the deliberations of the plenary meetings of the special session “even though without vote,” would be granted. The Zionists would probably be limited to appearing as witnesses rather than as participants.
Other objectives of Zionist tactics were: that the terms of reference of the fact-finding committee mention the British obligations under the Mandate and the need for Jewish immigration; that the investigating committee should visit Palestine and study the problem on the spot; that the committee be kept as small as possible; finally—and this was the central effort of the Zionists—to convince the United States that it should not take a neutral attitude but act in accordance with the statements on Palestine made by American presidents and with resolutions adopted by Congress and the major political parties.
In the weeks before the opening of the special session, American officials kept their intentions to themselves. There was no evidence that the United States delegation was prepared to “present the case of the Zionists” before the General Assembly. Whether or not the concentration of Zionist propaganda on the United States would pay off would now be seen.
As the special session approached, Jews were not completely united. The Hashomer Hatzair party in Palestine called upon the Jewish Agency to ask the United Nations for an international trusteeship over Palestine which would be followed by a binational state.
Peter Bergson’s Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, principal supporters of the terrorists, also requested a non-voting seat at the special session. The seating of the Agency, the Bergson group declared, would “be tantamount to official recognition that Jewish citizens of countries other than Palestine are not full citizens or have dual allegiance.”
The anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism announced that its only spokesman at the United Nations would be the duly constituted representative of the United States government.
Two new indications of attitude appeared before the special session began. In New York, the Daily Worker, Communist organ, presaged the Soviet position in an editorial on April 23. .“We think the special session of the United Nations on Monday must NOT appoint another one of those interminable investigating committees,” the editorial said. .“The world has had enough of that. The mandate over Palestine should be cancelled, and an independent Palestine organized. Let the UN then use its good offices, if necessary, to assist in the formation of a joint Arab-Jewish state, based on equal democratic rights.” This followed the known Communist line on Palestine except for its acceptance of UN jurisdiction; previously the Communists had advocated Big Three action.
In Pretoria, South Africa, Premier Jan Christian Smuts told Parliament on April 24 that he deeply sympathized with Jewish suffering, and pledged to do his best towards the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The fate of the Jews, he said, was “the greatest tragedy of our age.” He felt it was possible to arrive at some solution by which Arab and Jew could live together in Palestine. However, he was not so sure about Jews and South Africans. He opposed Jewish immigration into South Africa, he said, because it would “overload” the country with Jews and create anti-Semitism.
The rule of the bomb over lives and property in Palestine had become a major issue. It was undermining the position of official Zionist institutions and corrupting the nature of the entire Zionist experiment.
The situation reached a climax in the early morning of April 16 when Dov Gruner and three other members of Irgun Zvai Leumi were hanged. A week later two other terrorist youths who were scheduled to be hanged committed suicide in their cells.
The executions of Gruner and his associates were the first death sentences the British actually carried out against Jews since 1939. .Intensive efforts to obtain commutation of Gruner’s sentence went on for months before his execution. In the end he became a martyred hero for the terrorists and a serious threat to the anti-terrorists among the Zionists. The reactions to the Gruner incident exposed the raw nerves of the Zionist movement.
In the weeks preceding Gruner’s execution, Zionist denunciations of the terrorists achieved unprecedented vehemence. Chief Rabbi Herzog declared that they were “defiling the Holy Land.” Moshe Shertok, chief of the Political Department of the Agency, described them as “profiteers of anarchy and ignorance.”
David Ben Gurion, chairman of the Agency Executive, in addressing the Vaad Leumi on April 1, went the farthest of any:
“We must fight the terrorists in order to root out the possibility of civil war within the Yishuv. The Zionist movement will give its fullest assistance and power, which is by no means inconsiderable, to the Yishuv to fight terror. These crimes defeat our political struggle. I call on the Yishuv to increase its efforts against this wanton and insane lawlessness. The Yishuv won’t flinch from combating gangsterism since the Yishuv has larger forces than the gangs and these will be put into action. We won’t appeal to them any longer on moral grounds, but in the only language they understand—force. It is possible that the Government will obstruct us in this. We won’t be frightened by it. The entire Zionist movement will back the Yishuv in this fight.”
The Appeals for Clemency
But these bitter condemnations were made by persons who at the same time were frantically appealing for clemency for the doomed terrorists. Both Ben Gurion and Chief Rabbi Herzog made such appeals. They were made also by the Vaad Leumi, and by the Tel Aviv Municipal Council through Mayor Israel Rokach, a renowned moderate.
In the United States, the American Jewish Conference, representing most Jewish organizations, appealed to the State Department to use its influence to obtain clemency.
The apparent contradiction was explainable only on the grounds that the terrorists commanded widespread sympathy and that their execution would increase this sympathy and weaken the position of the official Zionist leadership.
The problem was put bluntly by Golda Myerson, head of the Political Department of the Agency in Palestine. Mrs. Myerson deprecated the idea that the terrorists were misled patriots driven insane by adversity. .“They are not more patriotic than we are and we did not go crazy,” she said. .“They know what they are doing, and their aim is internal as much as external.”
The Internal Threat
The fact of the matter was that the terrorists had become a serious challenge to the Jewish Agency and of other recognized Zionist organizations. .“They are pushing the Yishuv to the brink of ruin,” Shertok said.
In Tel Aviv, Haaretz, a widely-read middle-class newspaper, asserted that the Palestine government “does not seriously consider” the Agency’s representations any more. The terrorists “mocked” the Agency and it was no longer “the master but the victim of events.” Mishmar, organ of the Hashomer Hatzair, declared that the Agency’s primary problem was how to regain the political initiative from the terrorists.
The situation was beginning to be recognized by outside observers. The influential Christian Science Monitor, discussing the Agency’s request for a voice in the UN, wondered “whether a representative of the Jewish Agency can make commitments which terrorists would consider binding.”
The terrorist phalanx, at least outwardly, was united. .“Ben Gurion wants to fight us, all right let him,” Irgun’s underground radio boasted. .“We’re ready.” Rumors of ideological friction within the Irgun and the Stern groups trickled out of Palestine, and the numerous United States organizations supporting terrorism tripped over each other’s advertisements. But the terrorists themselves, in their terrorism, seemed to be operating with precision.
There was no such unity in the anti-terrorist Zionist community. Neither the denunciations of terrorism nor the pleas for clemency went uncriticized. Both the Revisionists and some General Zionists, such as Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, thought that Ben Gurion’s attack on the terrorists had gone too far. They reminded him that the World Zionist Congress sought to avoid civil war among the Jews. To this Ben Gurion replied: “All this talk of civil war is nonsense. When we fight internal terror, the whole Zionist movement will support us. We have force and we will use it.” An independent Jewish state could liquidate the terrorists “within three months,” he added.
On the other hand, there was sentiment, especially among Labor Zionists, against appeals for clemency.
An indication of the moral level on which Zionist leaders were operating was the fact that their appeals for clemency were essentially political maneuvers. Rabbinical pleas may have been on humanitarian grounds. But the other pleas were not based on individual mercy or justice. Would the executions help or hinder the authority of the Agency? If the executions had helped, urgent pleas for clemency would not have been made.
An official Agency spokesman took the trouble to explain that Ben Gurion’s appeal for clemency was for “security reasons only.”
After the Execution
After Gruner was finally executed, the world-wide reaction among Jews confirmed the Agency’s fears. An Agency spokesman in Jerusalem spoke bitterly of the new situation. The execution came at a time when the terrorists were forfeiting public sympathy, he stated. .“Now the terrorists have been presented with four martyrs.”
In the United States, Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, speaking for the American Zionist Emergency Council, found the hangings an example of Britain’s “organized banditry which recognizes no rules of war.” Dr. Stephen S. Wise declared that the executions had brought “ineffable shame to England.”
Sizable protest—demonstrations were held in the American and British zones of Germany, though the official central Jewish bodies in these areas did not take part in them. They were led by the Revisionists, who polled 30 per cent of the vote in the recent election of representatives to the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the American zone. Demonstrations were reported from Bucharest in Rumania, Montevideo in Uruguay, and New York.
Peter H. Bergson, chairman of the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, described the execution as “an act of premeditated murder.” Bergson’s principal American supporter, Guy M. Gillette, president of the American League for a Free Palestine, declared that the British had destroyed any hope of a United Nations settlement “by spilling blood.”
In the reactions to the execution, denunciation of terror was sidetracked for denunciation of the British.
The Toll of Terrorism
On the whole, the net results of terrorism were not impressive:
- The British had not been budged. If anything, the official attitude had been stiffened and the terroristic acts had consolidated British public opinion behind this stiffened attitude. Furthermore, if the British were interested in dividing the Yishuv, terrorism was an ideal instrument.
- In so far as terrorism proved “that the Jews know how to fight,” what admiration this accomplishment might inspire in world opinion was probably heavily outweighed by the revulsion against it.
- Perhaps the most important contribution of terrorism was its effect on the Jews in general, on the Jews in Palestine, and particularly on the Jewish youth in Palestine. It not only involved a breakdown in moral and ethical values among those who supported it, but it undermined these values among those who were forced to fight it. Among the youth of Palestine, terrorism based on intransigent nationalism was the good life. The constructive and ethical concepts of Zionism were becoming a minor part of the equipment of the future leaders of Palestine’s Jews. Already, skirmishes were taking place between terrorist youths and members of Hashomer Hatzair, thus deflecting the energies of a group that ardently emphasized Zionist construction and peaceful social progress.
Whether or not terrorism was an “understandable” outcome of the Nazi holocaust and of British policy, it was a menace to immediate Zionist aims and slow poison for the entire Zionist structure.
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A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find that kind of unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
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A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.
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Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.