The historical fact upon which hung the Jewish interest as well as every other specific interest in the world was…
The historical fact upon which hung the Jewish interest as well as every other specific interest in the world was the sharpening conflict between the soviet Union’s expansionism and Britain’s effort to harmonize socialist evolution at home with colonial nationalism abroad. The United States had no immediate interest in Britain’s special internal problem. But it had a considerable interest in preserving certain political principles and economic arrangements which Soviet policy might undermine. Hence the U. S. was on the British side of the great struggle—at first passively, then actively.
The conflict was deeply disturbing to men of good will. They knew that if it were not resolved, civilization was not likely to survive. But they had little faith that the noble ultimate ends of either Russian communism or British socialism would survive the immediate compulsions of political totalitarianism or economic imperialism. Yet responsible men had to take sides.
For Jews who believed in Zionism the frustrations in this dilemma were compounded. It was possible for them to support British policy in the over-all conflict and also feel that Britain’s application of this policy in the Near East was inimical to the immediate and long-term interests of the Jews. Yet there was no alternative. It was also possible to support the Soviets and find in their policy no hope for Zionism.
“Why should the Jewish people again be made the scapegoats?” Dr. Abba Hillel Silver asked at the American Jewish Conference in February. “We do not wish to be made the shuttle-cock of power politics. We do not wish to be crushed between the upper and the lower millstones.”
The effect of the power struggle was broad and deep.
It was determining whether Palestine would become an independent Jewish state.
It was determining whether a Jewish tailor in Vienna would retrieve his sewing machine—the Allied powers could not agree on a definition of material subject to seizure for reparations.
It might in the end determine whether Jews of American nationality would go to war with Jews of Russian nationality.
The Middle East
More than ever, the Middle East was the vortex of the struggle. The Soviet Union pressed down into the northern areas of Iran, laid claim to two border provinces of Turkey, stirred the Kurds, reached into Egypt with propaganda among the fellaheen, flirted with the Arab League. Cutting clear across the Eastern Mediterranean, the Soviets laid claim to a trusteeship for Tripolitania.
To stop the Soviet glacier, Britain maneuvered to preserve its pre-eminence in this area.
On January 17, Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin solemnly told the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization that Britain would make Transjordan “a sovereign and independent state.” Formerly part of the Palestine mandate, Transjordan had about 400,000 inhabitants, a corrupt ruling family, and a treasury consisting largely of grants-in-aid from the British government and subsidies from the Palestine government. The UNO Trusteeship Committee politely applauded Britain’s intention, though the clamor of Transjordan’s impoverished inhabitants for complete independence rather than mandatory status had failed to reach outside observers.
Transjordan as a “sovereign and independent state” would be no less responsive to Britain than Transjordan as a mandate. Britain had given “independence” to the former Iraq mandate twenty years earlier and had had no trouble. But an independent Transjordan would look better, and it would mean another vote for Britain in the UNO. It would also enable Britain to freeze its influence in Transjordan by means of a treaty between two sovereign powers rather than risk it in the uncertainties of the new trusteeship system.
An independent Transjordan would strengthen the Arab League. It would also be easy to attach to it the Arab part of a partitioned Palestine.
On February 15, the Jewish National Assembly of Palestine adopted a resolution protesting the severance of Transjordan from Palestine.
Much more useful to the British in the Near East than an independent Transjordan dependent on the British, was an American corporation dependent on the Near East for oil. Last December the United States and Great Britain signed a-treaty in London providing equal facilities for the two countries in the Middle East oil fields. As a consequence of this treaty, the British Colonial Office approved a concession to U. S. oil interests to bring a proposed pipeline from the Persian Gulf across Palestine to an outlet on the Mediterranean. On January 8, the Trans-Arabian Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of the American-Arabian Oil Company, which is jointly owned by the Standard ‘Oil Company of California and the Texas Company, formally signed the agreement to this effect with the Palestine government. The pipeline, covering more than 1,000 miles, would cross Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine and debouch at Haifa on the Mediterranean. It would cost about $160,000,000 and carry about 300,000 barrels a day. It would make Palestine the fourth largest oil center in the world, following the United States, the Soviet Union and Venezuela. Haifa was already the outlet for oil from Kirkuk piped by the Iraq Petroleum Company, owned by British, French and Dutch interests.
The U. S. interest in the Middle East was further indicated by the possibility of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Yemen and by the departure of a three-man government mission for a four-and-one-half month visit to the Near East ? survey the possibility of long-term projects which governments in the area might initiate independently or in collaboration with the U. S.
The mission was under the sponsorship of the U. S. Departments of State and Agriculture. It was to visit Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and possibly Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Palestine was not on its itinerary.
Three items were of special interest to Jews at the first part ‘of the first session of the General Assembly of the UNO in London. These were the matter of human rights, the establishment of the trusteeship system, and the reshuffling of inter-governmental bodies to handle refugees and displaced persons.
Of the three, only the first escaped embroilment in the great ideological conflict of the day. On January 29, the General Assembly unanimously instructed the Economic and Social Council to establish a Commission on Human Rights. On February 8, the Council named nine experts as the nucleus of the Commission.
There was some indication, however, of the kind of problems that would have to be settled when the UNO actually got down to defining human rights. During a plenary meeting of the General Assembly on January 5, the Cuban delegate moved that a discussion of human rights be placed on the agenda of the Assembly itself. The motion was lost by a vote of twenty-seven to twelve, with ten abstaining. This could not be taken as an indication of lack of interest in human rights; the Assembly was simply not yet ready to take it up.
Only one delegate took the floor to oppose the motion: Dimitri Z. Manuilsky of the Ukraine. He declared that he was strongly in sympathy with the proposal, but that it should be postponed because of the extreme complexity of the issues involved. Many documents would have to be studied, he said, including the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Declaration of 1917 of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.
“Some countries,” Mr. Manuilsky pointed out, “have recognized very widespread rights; not only the right, for example, to employment, the right to work, but also the right to an education. Other countries define more or less narrowly the different rights which we may consider as human rights.”
One of the most delicate operations faced by the UNO in the transference of the Palestine mandate to its own jurisdiction would be providing for appropriate representation of the obvious interest of the neighboring Arab states without permitting them enough power to liquidate the Jewish position in Palestine. The UNO charter provided that the terms of trusteeship “shall be agreed upon by the states directly concerned.” The Arabs at first asked that the provision be interpreted in a manner which would assure their participation in any trusteeship for Palestine. But the Assembly avoided making any general ruling on this point, and the Arabs failed to press it. The whole issue of Palestine in relation to the UNO was postponed pending the report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry.
Rules for Refugees
It was the refugees and displaced persons who came closest to being victimized by the vagaries of power politics. The principal concern of the Soviet Union and the states within its sphere of influence on this point was to bar international assistance for Polish and other opponents of the Soviet regime. To achieve this they made a series of proposals which threatened the rights of all displaced persons. The Yugoslav delegation proposed that all displaced persons except German Jews and Spanish Republicans be’ forced to return to their homelands. This proposal was supported by the Ukrainian delegation. The Soviet spokesman proposed the prohibition in refugee camps of propaganda or political activities designed to dissuade refugees from returning to their homelands or against any of the United Nations. Another proposal would have required a refugee to obtain the permission of his native government before he could be resettled. The Soviet delegation also proposed to place the administration of refugee camps mainly under personnel from the refugees’ countries of origin and to provide that quislings, traitors and war criminals hiding as refugees should be returned immediately to their countries. For Jewish refugees adoption of these measures might have meant a prohibition of Zionist propaganda and, except for German Jews, forced repatriation to the countries of Eastern Europe.
All these proposals were voted down by the UNO Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Committee.
The Assembly’s final decision provided for the appointment of a special committee by the Economic and Social Council to study the problem of refugees and displaced persons and report to the next meeting of the Assembly. The compromise, sponsored by Mrs. Roosevelt, recommended that the following principles be taken into consideration in planning a refugee setup:
- The problem is international in nature and scope.
- No uprooted person who objects to returning to his country of origin should be compelled to do so, but his return should be encouraged.
- There should be safeguards, so that extradition of war criminals would not be prevented by protection set up for refugees.
- The future of the uprooted persons who express valid objections to returning to their homelands should become the concern of whatever international body will be recognized or established.
The special committee appointed consisted of representatives of the following twenty nations: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Byelo-Russia, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, France, Lebanon, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Soviet Union, the Ukraine, United States, Yugoslavia.
The Soviet Position
Shortly after the end of the war, Joseph Stalin was reported to have told Dr. Emil Sommerstein, Polish Jewish leader, that he was “certainly and seriously” interested in an international solution of the Jewish problem. Just what Stalin had meant was still not altogether clear. But it was becoming increasingly clear what he had not meant: for one thing he had not meant Zionism.
As usual the Soviet attitude could only be pieced together from fragments. There had been nothing at all from official Soviet sources, and there was only one unofficial indication from within the borders of the Soviet Union itself.
On February 3 the Moscow periodical New Times published an article dealing with the Arab League which contained the following sentence:
It is clear that the creation of normal conditions for the life and future of the Jews in Europe does not depend on the quota of Jewish immigration into Palestine but on the energetic extermination of fascism and liquidation of racial fanaticism and its consequences—on real help to the Jewish population.
Approach to the Arabs
The article attacked the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in a context which highlighted the Soviet Union’s advances to both the exploited Arab masses and the exploiters of the Arab League:
What are the lawful foundations for the functioning of the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine and who gave it authority to solve the problem without the participation of the directly interested parties? The Arab public is indignant at the attempts made to solve the Palestine problem behind its back. It is hardly possible to justify the necessity for the existence of the Anglo-American Committee, especially at a moment when the mechanism of the United Nations Organization has started to function. . . .
On the other hand the problem of Palestine has acquired such a sharp character because the difference of interests of England and America in the Near East is reflected in it. It must be recognized that during the short time it has existed the Arab League’s activities have not yet produced really positive results from’ the viewpoint of defense of the interests of Arabian countries.
In the sharp political situation which is forming in these countries the near future will show to what measure the League will justify the hopes of those who wish to see in it active support for the unity and independence of the Arab lands.
The Soviet Union was carrying out the themes in action. The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry announced that it would not visit the Soviet zone of Germany because the Soviet authorities said that there were no concentrations of Jews there. The Committee was also unable to visit Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania. The reason for this, Philip Noel-Baker, Minister of State, told the House of Commons, was that the Soviet government felt the visits were unnecessary since in each case the armistice terms forbade any religious discrimination.
Observers at the first meeting of the UNO Assembly commented on the Soviet Union’s support of the Arab states whenever such support could be harmful to Britain and its friends. Observers also noted the increased activity of the second secretary of the Soviet embassy in Cairo, who was a Moslem, and the appointment of a Moslem as Yugoslav ambassador to Egypt.
The Communist Parties
The Palestine Communist Party announced that it would not appear before the Committee of Inquiry because it was “devoid of any legal status.” The illegality, for that matter, extended to Palestine itself since the Soviet Union had never recognized the British mandate. The Communist delegates in the Jewish National Assembly of Palestine opposed the Jewish Agency’s appearance before the Committee and urged what seemed to be the international Communist line: the establishment of a bi-national Palestinian state, and a mutual declaration of non-domination by both Jews and Arabs.
The Communist Party of Britain, however, submitted a memorandum to the Committee stating that since Palestine was not a free country, it could not admit refugees. It would not be in the interest of refugees to change their citizenship from that of a free country to that of a country with colonial status according to testimony given by Philip Piratin, a Communist member of Parliament. The Communist memorandum asked for a bi-national state.
“We reject Zionism,” Piratin declared, “because it denies the possibility of solving the Jewish problem on the basis of equal rights in countries where Jews live.” Displaced Jews, he felt, should be told to seek rehabilitation in their countries of origin, while those who cannot return to their native, lands should be admitted to other countries and be made free citizens.
This blunt rejection of Zionism was not peculiar to the British Communists. On November Io, 1945, Alexander Bittelman, editor of Freiheit, the Communist Yiddish daily in New York, said in a report to his board of directors:
We must broaden the fight against the White Paper into a movement of all Jews and all progressive forces of the world, and that means that the demand” for a Jewish state in Palestine—the Zionist program—cannot be part of the demands of the broader struggle against the White Paper.
Among Zionists who hoped for Soviet sympathy there was recognition that some-thing had happened.
“From stray and, as yet, inconclusive incidents, it might be inferred that the Soviet Union, like Great Britain, may also be interested in winning over the Arab world to its side by offering up our legitimate national rights in Palestine as part payment for such an alignment,” Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver told a meeting of the American Jewish Conference. However, he continued to to hope that the handwriting on the Kremlin wall might change. He took issue with those “who resent every approach made to win over the sympathy of the Soviet government to, the Zionist cause.”
“They call it flirting,” he said, “and they point the finger of derision at Zionists whenever some anti-Zionist statement or act emanates from Soviet or pro-Soviet sources. This is an amazing phenomenon in Jewish life, which can only be attributed to a blind and bitter partisanship, which carries over from an area which is not related to Jewish life to a specifically Jewish issue of greatest moment.”
He emphasized that he was not asking the Zionist movement to align itself with the Soviet Union, but, he said, the Zionists were not discouraged in their efforts to win over Great Britain even though they have been grievously disappointed time and again; nor were they discouraged in attempts to win over the President and the State Department, even though they have encountered considerable misunderstanding and resistance there. Therefore he saw no reason why the Zionist movement should regard itself as being in any way inhibited from trying to win Soviet friendship.
“The Arabs,” Dr. Silver pointed out, “are certainly not adverse to carrying on their propaganda both in the direction of Great Britain and of the Soviet Union. My regret is not that we have tried, but that we have not tried hard enough, or soon enough. At the moment, the attitude of the Soviet government does not seem to be favorable to us, but there is nothing final about it. Some of us recall that up to a few months ago definite evidence seemed to point to a favorable and friendly attitude. The present attitude may, or may not, change again in the future. We may not succeed, but we certainly owe it to ourselves to do everything in our power to see that that attitude does change, and in our favor.”
With winter making escape across devastated areas of Europe virtually suicidal, the infiltration of Polish Jews into the Western zones of Germany slowed down. The respite was temporary. Thousands of Polish Jews were being repatriated from the Soviet Union and most of them were not expected to remain in Poland. The Jews in the Balkans were finding life less and less bearable despite their new-found equality. With the return of warm weather, the exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe seeking a haven in Palestine or elsewhere was expected to become a major problem.
The occupying powers in Europe were still without a policy for these new refugees or even a definition of their status.
Lieutenant General Sir Frederick E. Morgan, chief of operations in Germany of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, who had called attention to this situation in a few telling and ill-chosen remarks, was back on his job. He had appealed his dismissal to Herbert H. Lehman, Director General of UNRRA, who restored him to duty.
Lehman stated that he had given “the most serious consideration” to all the circumstances and concluded that he was “justified in continuing to place confidence” in Sir Frederick. Mr. Lehman added:
I believe he did not intend to impute sinister motives to individuals or organizations seeking to improve the sorry plight of groups of displaced persons, and that he does not hold religious prejudices; that when restored to duty he will treat all groups of displaced persons fairly and in accordance both with their needs and UNRRA principles; and that he will at all times deal with all displaced persons with understanding and sympathy. I have also been impressed with Lieutenant General Morgan’s deep concern for his work and his desire to return to carry it forward.
It would be possible for about 2,000 destitute Jews to obtain immediate admission into Palestine. The British government announced on January 30 that it would issue 1,500 certificates monthly while the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was conducting its investigation. From the total of 4,500 certificates thus made available for Jewish immigration (300 additional were made available for Arab and other immigrants), 1,350 had to be deducted for “illegal” immigrants reported by the government since the close of legal immigration under the White Paper; 500 had to be deducted for arrivals in January and 550 were earmarked for immigrants due soon. This left 2,100 for future immigration.
In Its hearings in Washington and London, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry turned up little that it could not have, found in a public library. It listened to spokesmen for all non-Palestinian Zionists except the Revisionists, who refused to testify. It heard from Jewish non-Zionists and anti-Zionists and from Gentile anti-Zionists and pro-Zionists. It heard Americans who supported the Arab point of view completely. It gave time to a few earnest and unknown characters who thought they had a solution that no one else had ever thought of.
The official and unofficial Zionist organizations—American Jewish Conference, Zionist Organization of America, American Zionist Emergency Council, Hadassah, Poale Zion, World Jewish Congress, Board of Deputies of British Jews—all demanded a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine.
Defining the Commonwealth
Naturally, a precise definition of a Jewish commonwealth was one of the principal lies of inquiry for members of the Committee. Witnesses were inclined to be elusive On this point. Perhaps the most honest effort to find the meaning of a Jewish state in terms of the current Zionist line was made by Dr. Hayim Greenberg, spokesman for the Labor Zionists.
The Jewish commonwealth, he explained, was a “political term” and not a phrase to be included in the constitution of an independent Palestine.
“The term Jewish commonwealth today has more the character of a regulative principle,” Dr. Greenberg declared. “It is to say plainly to the world that Palestine must be designated by the international forces as a country for the solution of the Jewish problem and for the establishment of a Jewish numerical majority in that country.”
Defining the Majority
Dr. Greenberg insisted that a Jewish commonwealth would be meaningless without a Jewish majority. The possibilities of achieving a majority became another important line-of questioning for the Committee. On this point careful attention was given to the testimony of Robert R. Nathan, consulting economist, who reported on an extensive study he and his associates had made on Palestine’s economic potentialities. Mr. Nathan said that in ten years Palestine could absorb at least 615,000 immigrants on the basis of “modest” economic assumptions. This would mean an annual increase of 3 per cent in the Jewish population.
Under more favorable economic assumptions, he felt Palestine could absorb 1,125,000 immigrants in ten years, which would mean a 5 per cent annual increase in the Jewish population. On the basis of the larger immigration and taking into consideration the normal growth in the Arab population, the Jews and Arabs would be equal parts of the population of Palestine at the end of ten years, Mr. Nathan concluded. Among the economic prerequisites for such an achievement were a capital outlay of $2,290,000,000 available at low interest rates, and active assistance from the government in its monetary, fiscal, foreign trade and irrigation policies.
Mr. Nathan said that it would take six to nine months to absorb the first 100,000 immigrants.
Getting the Majority
Mr. Nathan spoke as an economist, not as a political Zionist, and he declined to say what he thought the Arabs would be doing during the decade in which the Jews might try to achieve population parity. The Zionist view was that the process would be beneficial to the Arabs and that they could be made to see it. However, it was conceded that the Arabs might not see it and in that case, the Committee inquired, what did the Zionists suggest?
The most direct answer to this question came from Nathan Jackson, spokesman for the British Labor Zionists. The British chairman, Sir John E. Singleton, asked: “Do you think it is the duty of the mandatory power to look after the situation in Palestine until a Jewish majority is attained?” Jackson replied that it should, with the help of an international authority. Judge Singleton asked if he meant an international police force. Jackson said yes, if one were created.
On the general problem of handling the Arabs, Dr. Daniel A. Poling, who appeared in behalf of the American Palestine Committee and the Christian Council on Palestine, went further than most Zionists. Asked how far he would go in handling Arab objections to Zionist aims he replied: “I would definitely feel we should go as far in this, and with even greater justification in this, as we go now in the occupied areas of Germany and Japan.”
Frank W. Notestein doubted that the Jews could ever become a numerical majority under any reasonable set of circumstances and regardless of the Arab attitude. Mr. Notestein, Professor of Demography and Director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, testified that a Jewish majority could be maintained indefinitely only by continual Jewish immigration which would cause serious economic distress in Palestine. The Arab birth rate, he pointed out, was twice that of the Jews.
In London, interchanges between Committee members and witnesses grew more heated, but the inquiry lost the anti-British tone it had had in Washington. Professor Selig Brodetsky, spokesman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, insisted on one million immigrants and a Jewish state. But, he added: “If there was the possibility of the Jews believing that they could get justice in Palestine and that Great Britain would be at the head of this justice, I have not the slightest doubt that the Jews in Palestine and all over the world would want it to be part of the British Empire.” In Washington, Dr. Emanuel Neumann, American Zionist spokesman, had pointed to the advantages for Great Britain of a strong, modern, democratic Jewish state in the Near East.
Viscount Herbert Samuel, first Palestine High Commissioner, revealed in the course of his testimony that the original draft of the Balfour Declaration contained the term “Jewish State,” but it was later changed to “Jewish National Home.” Dr. Chaim Weizmann and Dr. Nahum Sokolow, who saw the draft, did not object to the change, Lord Samuel declared.
The most eminent witness to appear before the Committee was Albert Einstein. In a brief and confusing statement, he questioned the motives of the British and opposed a Jewish state. “The state idea is not according to my heart,” the great scientist said. “I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and a narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”
Dr. Leo Baeck; former Chief Rabbi of Germany, also testified. He said he hoped for immigration of 100,000 Jews annually to help create a new conception of statehood, not one of narrow, nationalistic sovereignty, but one in which “every state is part of the great world community and every nationality is a treasure-house of humanity.”
Perhaps the most surprising testimony given—at least to newspapermen covering the inquiry—came from Joseph M. Proskauer, President of the American Jewish Committee. Uninformed observers at the hearing who entertained the popular notion, gained largely from Zionist characterization during recent years, that the American Jewish Committee was violently anti-Zionist had to listen carefully to detect the difference between Judge Proskauer’s remarks and those of Zionist leaders. One reporter noted that the “only” difference was that Judge Proskauer didn’t advocate a state. The reporter’s minimization of the difference may have been a portent. Many observers felt that the Zionists would not be able much longer to maintain their uncompromising demands for a state now. This feeling seemed to be confirmed by the failure of Zionist spokes men to denounce the American Jewish Committee’s refusal to declare for an immediate Jewish state—as Zionists had made a practice of doing since this issue caused the withdrawal of the Committee and other groups from the American Jewish Conference.
The memorandum which Judge Proskauer presented in Washington contained recommendations which had long been the American Jewish Committee’s policy. On the subject of Palestine it urged recognition of the continuing validity of the principles of the Balfour Declaration and the mandate. It favored economic absorptivity as the only brake on Jewish immigration and land purchase in Palestine. It urged establishment of a United Nations trusteeship over Palestine to safeguard the existing Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration into Palestine and to help the country become a selfgoverning, independent and democratic commonwealth with cultural autonomy for all communities.
These and other recommendations—such as the immediate entry of displaced Jews into Palestine—could have been presented with Zionist or anti-Zionist overtones. Judge Proskauer did it the first way. In his fervent statement to the Committee he took pains to quote Zionist statements that were close to this position—by Selig Brodetsky, Henrietta Szold and the Council for the Jewish Agency., He called for the kind of state in Palestine that Dr. Weizmann wanted in 1936—a state in which neither Jews nor Arabs “should dominate and neither be dominated by the other, irrespective of their numbers.” He admitted in reply to a question that the Jewish national home could, under favorable conditions, be successful though the Jews were not a majority in Palestine. But he made it very clear that he would not advocate any form of restriction which would in the normal course prevent the Jews from becoming a majority.
In his final remarks, Judge Proskauer seemed to put himself in the ranks of cultural Zionists—or, at the least, he made it impossible to include him in the ranks of the anti-Zionists, or of those who saw Jewish continuity or survival in terms of creed only.
“To you British I will say that Matthew Arnold put it gently when he said that the great contribution of the Jews to civilization had been the concept of a God of righteousness and the attributes of right conduct. That is what we want to flourish again in Palestine,” Judge Proskauer said.
“And so I raise my voice here not chauvinistically, not for any kind of state in which any group dominates any other group, but for a democratic nation where all men shall live in peace and in harmony, and where we Jews can revivify ourselves for the task of making our great contribution to the history of civilization on its long road from savagery to the realization that we are all human beings created in the image of an Almighty God.”
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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.
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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.
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Convenience, wrote Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a tyrant. It makes our lives easier and more enjoyable, but everything comes with a price tag. We may not recognize that which we are sacrificing in the pursuit of convenience, but we are sacrificing nonetheless.
The instant gratification associated with on-demand society has made America’s shared cultural moments a thing of the past. The explosion of online shopping has eliminated the time consumers wasted traveling from store to store, but physical retail is dying as a result. The modern public square and the daily human interactions that it encouraged will disappear along with it. Machine learning has the power to introduce a “more compassionate social contract” and reduce physical risk associated with workplace hazards or lifestyle choices. But risk is just another word for freedom and, in the pursuit of convenience, we risk sacrificing our independence along with our hardships.
“We’re really reinventing the traditional insurance model with our vitality program,” said Marianne Harrison, the CEO of one of North America’s largest life insurers, John Hancock, in a recent appearance on CNBC. The beaming insurance executive boasted of her firm’s effort to marry a “technology-based wellness program” with an “insurance product.” That’s a loaded way of saying that this American insurer is soon going to charge based on the real-time monitoring of your daily activities. Behavior-based insurance will track the health data of policyholders through wearable devices or smartphones and distribute rewards based on individual choices. You don’t have to wear a tracking device to participate in this program—at least, not yet. Harrison assured skeptics that they could also dole out rewards to policyholders who take simple steps like reading preapproved literature, the consumption of which they presumably track.
This innovation is optional today, but the savings it yields for both consumer and insurer guarantee that it will soon become a standard feature of the insurance landscape. Your freedom to eat poorly, use tobacco products, drink alcohol, or perform any number of physical activities that include varying levels of risk are not limited. You’ll just have to pay for them. And if Democratic policymakers succeed in nationalizing the private health insurance industry under the auspices of Medicare-for-all or single-payer or whatever other euphemisms they apply to the public confiscation of private property, these “tools” will only become more pervasive.
A similar rationale—the primacy of collective health—can be applied to any number of activities that invite unnecessary risk that technology can mitigate. Foremost among these is the terribly dangerous American habit of driving a car.
In 2017, there were over 40,000 automobile-related fatalities. This was the second consecutive year in which the roads were that deadly and, if observers who attribute this rate of fatal traffic accidents to an increase in smartphone ownership are correct, there will not be a decline anytime soon. A 2015 study purported to show that replacing manual vehicles with autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems could eliminate up to 90 percent of all fatal accidents and save as many as 300,000 American lives each decade. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the option to own a driverless vehicle becomes a mandate with a hefty financial penalty imposed on those who opt out.
“[T]he threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend,” wrote National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Presently, the car transports its diver to wherever they’d like to go, whether there are roads to facilitate the journey or not. In a driverless world, as Cooke noted, the driver becomes a mere occupant. They must essentially ask the car for permission to transit from point A to point B, and the whole process is monitored and logged by some unseen authorities. Furthermore, that transit could ostensibly be subject to the veto of state or federal authorities with the push of a button. That seems a steep price to pay for a little convenience and the promise of safety.
The pursuit of convenience, as Professor Wu explained, has resulted in remarkable social leveling. We enjoy more time today for “self-cultivation,” once only the province of the wealthy and aristocratic, than at any point in history. And yet, we cannot know true liberty without hardship. “The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity,” Wu concluded.
There is more to celebrate in the technological revolutions of the last quarter-century than there is to lament. But in the pursuit of convenience, we’ve begun to make spontaneity irrational. In life, the rewards associated with experience are commensurate with that which is ventured. In a future in which the world’s sharp edges are bubble-wrapped, your life may exceed today’s average statistical length. But can you really call it living?
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Podcast: Christine Rosen on Brett Kavanaugh.
The podcast welcomes COMMENTARY contributor and author Christine Rosen on the program to discuss the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Have his confirmation hearings have transformed into another chapter in the national cultural reckoning that is the #MeToo moment?