As I write this, in late December, we in Berkeley are in the Christmas lull. But faculty studies, teaching-assistant rooms,…
As I write this, in late December, we in Berkeley are in the Christmas lull. The university's 18,000 undergraduates are for the most part at home, many of the faculty and even some of the graduate students are away. But despite the quiet, the campus is full. The American Physical Society is meeting, which probably explains why it is still difficult to find a parking space even with a faculty sticker ($72 a year). For the first time in weeks, the steps of Sproul Hall, the administration building, are bare of demonstrators and loud-speakers, the entries to the campus are empty of tables collecting money, students handing out literature, or posters announcing meetings. But faculty studies, teaching-assistant rooms, and libraries are busy and show no signs that this is a holiday.
The Regents of the University of California met the day before the Christmas recess began, declared that they “do not contemplate that advocacy or content of speech [on the Berkeley campus] shall be restricted beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution,” and set up a committee to review university policies in consultation with faculty and students “with the intent of providing maximum freedom consistent with individual and group responsibility.” (After an earlier meeting, on November 20, during which thousands of students were sitting outside being led by Joan Baez in singing, the Regents had said that their policy was to make campus facilities available for “planning, implementing or raising funds or recruiting participants for lawful off-campus action, not for unlawful. . . .”) The Emergency Executive Committee of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate (the faculty) issued an optimistic statement after the Regents' meeting, asserting that substantial progress had been made.
Despite all this, I—and many other faculty members—are filled with foreboding. We see neither a clear nor a near end to the crisis. And I am afraid it will not be easy for our friends in other places to understand what is going on here; it is hardly possible for those of us closest to it to agree on an interpretation.
To begin with, we must dispose of the ingeniously simple slogan of “free speech” which has made it possible for so many who are far from the events at Berkeley to send in forthright statements in support of the Free Speech Movement or the position adopted by the Faculty on December 8 (that political advocacy or organization should be limited only by minimum regulations designed to permit the university to function normally). Those of us who watched the Free. Speech Movement (FSM) daily set up its loud-speakers on the steps of the administration building to denounce the President, the Chancellor, the newspapers, the Regents, the faculty, and the structure and organization of society in general and universities in particular, could only admire the public-relations skill exhibited in the choice of a name for the student movement. Life, however, is not so simple as to present us with a classic free speech issue on the shores of San Francisco Bay.
During 1963-64, my first year as a teacher at Berkeley, student political activity was vigorous beyond anything I had recently seen at any other American college. In front of the concrete posts that mark the main pedestrian entrance to the campus from the busy intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, one could find, on an ordinary school day, students handing out leaflets advertising many different kinds of political meetings and actions, to be held on the campus itself and off it as well. Various student groups would set up tables stacked with literature, both free and for sale, and members of the group would be available at the tables for discussion, information, and argument. The chief groups represented were socialists—evolutionary, revolutionary, and ambiguous; civil rights organizations such as CORE, or Friends of SNCC; Young Democrats; Young Republicans; and Conservatives. One could expect to come upon supporters of Khrushchev or Mao, Castro or Ho Chi-Minh, marijuana or LSD, not to mention the more garden-variety political and social positions. (We smiled then at the backwardness of Eastern campuses where straight sex was still an issue; only homosexuality or perversion, it seemed, could make an issue at Berkeley.) Outdoor meetings were also held at this same location, often as preludes to expeditions to San Francisco, Oakland, and downtown Berkeley to picket business establishments which had failed to negotiate or sign an agreement with CORE or some other civil-rights organization. On the campus itself, large posters were always in evidence announcing a great variety of events, many of them political. Berkeley was one of the few places in the country, I imagine, where in 1964 one could hear a public debate between the supporters of Khrushchev and Mao on the Sino-Soviet dispute—there were organized student groups behind both positions.
Of course regulations existed, administered by deans of students, which these groups had to observe in conducting their activities on campus. For example, the university required 72 hours' notice for visiting speakers. If a speaker was controversial, the university would demand that a tenured member of the faculty chair the meeting. On occasion, disputes broke out between the university and a student group over who should pay for putting out the chairs on Dwinelle Plaza (the open-air area in the center of campus where particularly large meetings are held), or whether a student group sponsoring a speaker who was expected to draw a large crowd (for example, Malcolm X) should be required to pay for police protection. These disputes were perhaps portents of what was to come, but the regulations did not seem to inhibit a degree of political activity that was perhaps unique on American campuses.
Nor did they inhibit a number of actions that can only be considered questionable political stunts. Thus, Slate, a student political party, decided that it would be a good idea to bring the West Coast leader of the American Nazi party to the university. He spoke in the largest enclosed space on campus, the men's gym. I do not recall any objections from the administration. The morning of his talk, young men and women wearing Nazi uniforms were posted at the chief entrances to the campus, handing out leaflets announcing the meeting. Later I heard an intense argument between two students at one of the entrances; it transpired that the young Nazi-clad figures were not really Nazis, but adherents of the liberal-progressive Slate, who had hit upon this as a clever way to publicize the meeting.
On another occasion, Slate invited the chief western organizer for the John Birch Society—I chaired that meeting. One could only conclude that inviting Communists to the Berkeley campus had become pretty tame, and an aspiring progressive organization had to invite John Birchers and Nazis to get an audience or to assert its absolute belief in free speech. But whatever one thought of this particular tack adopted by Slate, it was clear that free speech prevailed on the Berkeley campus.
It turned out, at the beginning of the fall semester of 1964, that this grand chaos—as it appeared—of oratory, advocacy, and action, was based on a tangle of distinctions that only the administrative staff that dealt with regulations affecting student organizations, and the leaders of the organizations they regulated, understood—and perhaps not even they. The regulations go back to a time when no political activity of any kind was allowed on campus. Under this earlier situation, even candidates for the Presidency were not allowed to speak at Berkeley: to have permitted such a thing would presumably have involved the university in “politics,” and as a state university it was not supposed to be involved in politics. But gradually these rules were qualified and changed to the point where the Berkeley campus, like all other campuses that are proud of their devotion to the principle of free speech, was allowed to have Communist speakers. Largely as a result of such changes, last spring President Clark Kerr was given the Alexander Meiklejohn award by the American Association of University Professors for having made a major contribution to academic freedom.
But through all these modifications of earlier restrictions, a distinction was maintained. The campus was a place for “free speech.” It was not, however, a place for advocacy,1 for organization, or for collecting money. Thus an “off-campus” political organization (like CORE) could run a meeting “on-campus” but would have to explain to those present that certain kinds of discussion (for example, on implementing a demonstration) must be held off-campus. This was not as great a hardship as it might have been in other colleges or universities, where the campus is separated physically from the town (as is Stanford) or where the community possesses few meeting places suitable for student groups. Further, just as Berkeley is required to be free of “politics,” it is also required to be free of religion in all forms—proselytization, worship, or even the organizational activities of student religious groups. The city of Berkeley, however, surrounds the university. And across the street which marks off campus from city, there is a row of institutions—YMCA, Methodist, Jewish, Episcopalian, etc.—which have often been available for political meetings banned on campus.
But to return to the distinction that underlay the regulations (or that some people in the administration believed underlay them)—that is, between “speech” on the one hand, and “advocacy and organization” on the other: traditionally, the chief area for advocacy was the sidewalk in front of the concrete posts which mark the boundary of the university. This was also the area where impromptu meetings would precede the march to the picket lines and the demonstration sites. But at the beginning of the fall semester of 1964, the university administration decided to enforce the distinction between “speech” and “advocacy and organization” on the strip of sidewalk in front of the posts (which is also the property of the Regents of the University of California).
Various reasons for this decision have been given. The administration at first asserted that the number of tables and meetings had become so great as to interfere with traffic. The students argued that there were more forceful reasons. During the preceding summer, while the Republican Convention met at the Cow Palace, students were recruited here not only for the usual civil rights activities (which included in this case blocking the entrances to the Cow Palace for a while) but to pack the galleries for Scranton. During that summer, in addition, civil rights demonstrators decided to move against the Oakland Tribune, owned by the family of former Senator Knowland, and the students charged that it was his complaint that led the administration to ban “advocacy and organization” on the strip of sidewalk in question.
There now began a conflict between two very unevenly matched opponents: the student political organizations and the administration of the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Berkeley has a long history of student agitation for the widening of freedom of political action on campus. This history has involved petition, picketing, demonstrating, research and argument, and the like. Many alumni of these efforts are still on and around the campus. A number of lawyers, in and outside the law school, have been involved in such past disputes and know them in detail. But the present student constellation differs markedly from that of only a few years ago, and thus a radically new style was adopted for this newest conflict with the administration over political activity.
The great new factor has, of course, been the civil rights movement, and particularly the development of the new techniques of civil disobedience, which opened up the lunch counters of the South and then spread to the North. Nowhere have these techniques been adopted with more enthusiasm and success than in the Bay Area. Last year hundreds of Berkeley students—along with students from San Francisco State College and elsewhere, and non-students as well—“sat-in” at a chain of lunch counters, “shopped-in” at a chain of supermarkets (they would fill a cart with groceries, let the clerk reckon the total on his machine, and then leave the mess of groceries on the counter, insouciantly declaring they did not have the money to pay for them), “slept-in” at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, lay down in the automobile showrooms of Van Ness Avenue. This activity led in each case to an agreement to hire a certain number of Negro workers. It also led in some cases to mass arrests and mass trials, which seriously strained the court system of San Francisco. The fact that the state of California has a law banning discrimination in employment and a commission devoted to ending discrimination in employment seemed to leave the demonstrators unmoved. Indeed, they often insisted that they themselves rather than the state agency should police the agreements they had won from the employers.
The civil rights movement created a situation among the student political groups on campus quite different from the one which had prevailed when such groups were fighting for the loosening of the strict regulations which once governed their political activity. Besides introducing new tactics, the civil rights movement developed a large body of students committed to these tactics, and a substantial body of public opinion—in the faculty and among the liberal population of the area—sympathetic to them. Admittedly, Berkeley was ideally suited to serve the expansion of the radical civil rights movement in the North. It had never been affected to the extent other colleges were by the mood of the “silent generation” of the 50's. (In 1960, remember, when the House Un-American Activities Committee met in San Francisco City Hall, hundreds of Berkeley students were willing to attempt to disrupt its hearings.) Indeed, in 1957, when I visited Berkeley for the first time, a number of socialist youth leaders from the East had just migrated here, because they found the political climate peculiarly congenial to their work. (In addition, it was my impression that Communism too retained more life and relevance in the Bay Area than in the East.) Some of these socialist youth leaders became students; some worked at the university; others worked in the community, becoming part of the penumbra of campus life which at Berkeley involves many people who are neither students, faculty, nor staff, but who may have been part of the university at one time in the past and who possibly will again be part of it in the future.
The strains produced by the application of the new tactics in the mild racial climate of San Francisco had already been intense. Was the Bay Area Mississippi, it was asked, that actions had to be taken which destroyed private businesses when there was legal redress for the wrongs that the students believed existed? Few people in public life thought so. Even many liberals were troubled, and during 1963-64, some state legislators and others demanded that the university move against the students who had been arrested in civil-rights actions. President Kerr refused, asserting that what students did off-campus was their business, so long as they did not use campus facilities for it. Here again was the distinction between speech on the one hand and advocacy and organization on the other. On this distinction the President, the Regents, and Chancellor Strong of the Berkeley campus apparently hoped to ride out the hard year ahead, while students leaders were attempting to produce the degree of chaos in the surrounding community that they calculated was necessary to achieve fair treatment for Negroes.
When the Chancellor's office passed on to the lesser members of the administrative hierarchy the decision that the strip of land on Bancroft Way outside the concrete posts was now to become subject de facto (as it had been de jure) to the university ban on advocacy, collection, and organization, the student leaders and their constituencies were already attuned to and experienced in the use of the new tactics. The first rank of the administrative hierarchy to deal with the new regulations, on the other hand, were deans who up till now, one assumes, had been concerned principally with such matters as lock-out rules in female dormitories. Initially the student groups protested the new regulations to these deans. They were immediately able to show that the distinction between “speech” and “advocacy” was difficult or impossible to maintain and ridiculous in an election year; they also showed that traffic could easily flow despite the tables. The administration withdrew somewhat; tables were permitted and advocacy was allowed, but collection and organization were still prohibited. This was unsatisfactory to the students, who resorted to a direct test of whether the administration would enforce the new regulations: they set up their tables and collected money. A number were then directed to appear before a dean on September 29 to discuss these violations. The official account of the Chancellor to the faculty, presented a few weeks later, will suggest something of the quality of the ensuing confrontation:
At 3 o'clock that afternoon some 300-400 students moved into the second floor of Sproul Hall and Mario Savio announced that all of them acknowledged violating University regulations in the same manner as those students who had been instructed to make appointments with the Dean of Students, and they all wanted similar appointments. The Dean of Men declared that he was then concerned only with observed violations, and if students wanted appointments they could leave their names and he would determine if and when such could be made. He also asked [the students who had been observed in violations] to go in and see a dean because each was involved in a matter of personal discipline, and requested that the crowd disperse, since he had scheduled a meeting of the leaders of the student organizations and their advisers to discuss the problem at 4 o'clock. Savio responded that the group would not leave unless they were guaranteed that the same disciplinary action would be meted out to all there. Unable to make such guarantees, the Dean of Men again asked the group to leave, and later announced that since, in the opinion of the administration and some of the advisers of the student groups who had come to attend the 4:00 meeting, the environment was not conducive to reasonable discussion, the meeting was cancelled. . . . The group remained in Sproul Hall until 2:40 in the morning.
In this way, what had originally been a protest by all the student political groups—from revolutionary socialist to extreme conservative—was transformed very early into a movement run by the civil rights leaders. For as soon as the tactics of the protest “escalated” into questionably legal activities (like sitting-in at Sproul Hall, which was done for the first time on September 29) the right-wingers could not go along. They were still part of the protest movement for a few more days. But they stood aside from further escalations—the surrounding of the campus police car containing an arrested prisoner on October 1, the loose and then the tight sit-in at Sproul Hall that day which prevented the deans from leaving or anyone from entering, the decision to maintain the sit-in around the police car throughout October 2. By that time, it was clear that the leadership of the movement was now coming exclusively from the civil rights and left-wing political groups. But there were too few students directly committed to the left-wing groups to provide the necessary “bodies”—to use the term popular with the civil rights leaders. Only the civil rights groups, and only with the good issues handed to them by administration action, could raise hundreds ready to sit-in.
On October 2, the movement won its first great victory—the withdrawal of the menacing array of police that had been concentrated on the campus, and a meeting with Clark Kerr in which a pact was signed calling for an administration-faculty-student committee to deal with the issue of political activity. At this meeting with President Kerr, the right-wing and religious student groups were still represented. Then the Free Speech Movement, at a marathon two-day meeting, organized itself officially, and from that meeting neither the right-wing nor the religious groups emerged with any positions of leadership. More than that, the Young Democrats and even the right-wing Socialists, who had played an important role in the demonstration around the police car, were excluded. In a pattern similar to other and grander revolutions, the student uprising had moved to the left—into the control of the civil rights leaders identified with direct action, and of the leaders of groups in a direct or indirect line of descent from the Communist and Trotskyist student political groups of the past. As for the followers, they mainly came from students involved in or touched by the civil rights movement.
If the leadership of the student movement was rapidly concentrated into a coherent and tightly knit cadre, sharing very much the same philosophy and outlook, the other elements of the university community were split and in disarray. Let us look first at the “administration.” Where in the history of American higher education has the administration of a university loomed so large as at Berkeley? In the past, presidents, faculties, and boards of trustees have been important—but administrations? This is another sense in which Berkeley may be unique; and yet one fears that the future of American higher education may be foreshadowed here. Everyone—arriving faculty members, arriving deans, visiting authorities—is astonished by the size of the administration at Berkeley, and in the statewide University of California. One large building near the campus is completely devoted to the statewide administration, another on the campus to the Berkeley administration. The title “dean,” which at other universities carries dignity, is used at Berkeley to cover a wide variety of jobs, only some of them academic (where the traditional dignity still attaches to the title), but many deans have not come up through the faculty and have little to do with it. They deal with student affairs. For presumably 27,000 students provide a good number of non-academic problems which neither the faculty nor the academic deans would want to be bothered with.
Academic matters are handled by the academic deans and their assistants. The size of these staffs is impressive, and unfortunately—given certain conditions—necessary. Many students move to Berkeley from other campuses of the state university, from state colleges, from junior colleges, from other institutions outside the state. Each institution has its own requirements—for entrance, for graduation, for majors—and the work done elsewhere therefore has to be evaluated and harmonized to the Berkeley requirements. The evaluations are often argued and fought over, and the student is often frustrated in his fight. In the end a bureaucracy is probably the only system by which a vast number of cases can be managed equitably. Yet while the rules may be just, the sense of justice done is rarely communicated by a clerk or an assistant dean's determination. Could we operate with a smaller administration? Very likely. Yet one thinks of such matters as vast numbers of migrating undergraduates to be fitted into the university, and thousands of graduate students, a large proportion of whom are also employees receiving regular checks for research assistantships, teaching assistantships, fellowships. There are also hundreds of new faculty members every year, each of whom has had to be passed on by various committees. There are scores of research institutes, hundreds of research contracts, each involving separate budgets, all to be coordinated. It is difficult to communicate any sense of the scale of the administration at Berkeley. Let me give a personal report: when I arrived in Berkeley after working for the Federal Government, my feeling was that the quality of the two settings—organization piled upon organization, reaching to a mysterious empyrean height—was remarkably similar. I understood from other faculty members that this was rather new, that it was only in recent years that the administration had become so huge.
Ironically, President Kerr, in his Godkin lectures,2 has offered the best general text—perhaps the only existing one—on what is happening. The students have been among its most avid readers, and have not shared the admiration of some reviewers of the book who see in the University of California, as described by its President, the democratic university of the future, combining high standards and mass education. President Kerr describes the shift from the liberal arts college offering a humane education, to the early university which trained men in the traditional professions and for scholarship and college teaching, to the modern “federal grant” university, half of whose budget may come from federal research grants.
It would be an error to think of these grants as being devoted only to warmaking and to statecraft. Vast sums flow for social and psychological and policy research, research as useful to a benign welfare state—or, for that matter, a modern authoritarian state—as to a cold-war America. Obviously, however, the federal grant university is not entirely dependent on federal grants. All undergraduate and graduate teaching is covered by state funds, and in many departments—languages, philosophy, history, English, art, and music—little if any part of faculty salaries comes from research grants. Nevertheless, the effect of the federal millions is larger than one would suspect from a direct accounting of where the money goes. The research funds strengthen the university's capacity to compete for faculty, for they allow members to be relieved from teaching and to supplement their regular nine-month salary from a research budget during the summer. These funds also permit the recruitment of greater numbers of graduate students, who normally expect to be supported out of research and teaching assistantships—and even if the latter are covered by state funds, the students are there because federal money will eventually support their own research.
It is easy to conclude that everyone benefits from this except the undergraduate, whose instruction is largely in the hands of teaching assistants. And yet a year ago, when I was spending my first term on the Berkeley campus, I could not find much restiveness or resentment among the undergraduates. Indeed, several told me they preferred Berkeley to the junior colleges and state colleges from which they had come, despite the fact that a layer of graduate students was interposed between them and the professional staff. And they said that the lectures at Berkeley were more stimulating despite the size of the classes. Of course, such undergraduates had moved to Berkeley from schools with smaller classes for other reasons besides the quality of the education, whatever that might be: the life of the campus and the college town around it was undoubtedly a great attraction.
But resentment ran higher, I would judge, among graduate students, many of whom discovered that their professors were just as busy when it came to bothering with them as they were where undergraduates were concerned. Once again the pleasurable environment of learning had escaped them; they were working hard as research assistants and teaching assistants, on other men's research and courses, but they were denied the satisfaction of an intellectual community which brought students and teachers together. Their relations with faculty were too often quite businesslike, the exchanges of services for money. And how could it be otherwise when the professors were burdened with so many governmental, teaching, administrative, and research duties?
Resentment also ran high among the faculty. Many remembered an easier life as junior faculty, on the Berkeley campus or elsewhere. They could not understand why they were always so busy, and found that scholarly labors could best proceed away from the campus. Thus many protected themselves from their students and their colleagues by working at home. But there was another source of resentment for them—the incorporation of Berkeley, which had previously enjoyed a good deal of independence, into the structure of the statewide university, with its eight or nine campuses and its statewide administration, trying to coordinate the varied institutions that had been brought together or were coming into existence as parts of the University of California. Berkeley's incorporation meant that in one matter after another which affected faculty—the shift from semesters to quarters, the setting of standards of admission, the distribution of students among campuses—decisions could be and were taken that were not the decisions the faculty, or individual members of it, wanted.
As a result of these changes, and as a result of the administration's insensitivity to the problems involved, a degree of distance developed between statewide and campus administration, between administration and faculty, between faculty and students, that may well have been unique in American education. The question we must ask, however, before distributing blame is this: given the need or the desire to create an enormous system of statewide university education, how could such a situation have been avoided?
Certainly the faculty, while complaining of the inaccessibility of the administration and its insensitivity to faculty needs, was not very responsive on its own part to student needs. A public meeting some of us ran on the problems of education at Berkeley last year was attended by only a handful of faculty (and not much more than a handful of undergraduates and graduate students). The faculty does not respond enthusiastically to occasional efforts by the administration to get it to consider ways of improving undergraduate education. But at the same time it must be said that faculty members generally censor their impulses to educational reform because they are aware of the many barriers that would have to be vaulted to get the change through. The new faculty member learns rapidly enough that if he devotes himself to his research, his courses, and his pro forma service on committees, he is doing all that is expected of him—and all that any reasonable man, in the prevailing system, would want to undertake.
The university administration, then, was both rigid—as we all knew from experience—and fragile—as we discovered in the crisis raised by its attempt to change the de facto rules governing student political activity. For in the situation created first by reasonable student demands and secondly by new and radical student tactics, the administration showed itself incapable of consistent, decisive, or effective action. Again and again it was forced to withdraw from positions either because they were poor ones, or poorly argued and defended, or because the higher levels (the President) moved in and changed the positions taken lower down (the Chancellor).
The confusion above, a confusion veiled by silence and inaccessibility, could only increase by geometric progression down below. Asked to enforce policies about whose rationale and stability they were uncertain, the deans could only put up a very poor show, and in the course of the crisis the student leaders—having discovered very early how to break through to the top—treated them with greater and greater insolence and arrogance. Rapidly becoming more expert in the techniques of organization and publicity, these leaders soon added a powerful wing to their original movement—the graduate students. They soon discovered too that there was little to fear in breaking the rules, for the faculty was so unsympathetic to the administration and its rigid and mechanical handling of the problem that, while it would not at first directly support the students and their tactics, it was always ready to attack the administration.
The next casualties were the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellors. As early as October 2 the President, ignoring the advice and actions of the Chancellor's office, had intervened to make a direct pact with the students—which the Chancellor was expected to carry out. More important than the structure of authority which permitted the Chancellor to be overridden was the fact that neither he nor his staff could come up with a leader to handle a political crisis for which a close study of the French and Russian revolutions might well have provided the only suitable training. Certainly there was no one at this level who could influence the students or deal effectively with them. Nor, as it turned out, was there anyone at this level who could deal effectively with the faculty and convince them that the matter was being handled intelligently or morally. On at least two important occasions faculty members-including myself—who did not support the tactics of the students felt that the administration had acted against the spirit or the letter of an agreement in trying to discipline student leaders. In both cases it was unclear whether it was the Chancellor, the President, or the Board of Regents—the highest authority—who had ordered the action. But whatever the facts, the Chancellor's authority was weakened by these incidents.
We must now speak in more detail about the role of the faculty. At the start, the faculty for the most part looked upon the conflict between the administration and the students as detached and neutral outsiders. From the beginning, however, groups of faculty members thrust themselves into the situation as mediators. They (or some of them) were distinguished from the great majority of their colleagues by the fact that they had been involved in student politics in the past and remained interested in them in the present. The first such group of mediators (of which I was one) helped to draw up the pact of October 2. But we eventually joined the administration as casualties of the developing crisis. We became casualties, I believe, owing to the critical change in the issues of the conflict that occurred around the beginning of November. This change became apparent in the discussions of the faculty-student-administration committee that had been set up by the October 2 pact. For the first month there had been two fairly straightforward issues: the attempt of the administration to change the status quo, which all the student political groups, left and right, and all interested faculty opposed; and secondly, the student tactics, which some of the student groups and most of the interested faculty opposed, but which everyone agreed should not lead to disciplinary action (on the ground that the original issue which had occasioned the tactics had been a just one). To my mind, these two problems were settled when the administration's representatives on the committee provisionally accepted a much wider range of political advocacy and organization on campus than had been permitted before, and when a second committee (faculty) set up under the October 2 pact called for the lifting of the suspensions that had been pronounced against the students who had violated the old regulations.
Until this point, the interested faculty members and the student FSM leaders had stood together. But now the student leaders and the administration raised a new issue, created by the prospective liberalization of the rules. If the campus was to be opened up for advocacy and organization, what of advocacy and organization that led to illegal actions or was designed to produce illegal actions? This was no abstract question. The administration's insistence on a line between the legal and illegal—a line it had not drawn when no advocacy or organization was permitted on campus—was immediately seen by the students as a threat to actions they were already planning (against the Oakland Tribune, various local merchants, etc) and which in their minds were being held up by the involvement of their forces in the campus dispute. (They were, of course, aware of the large number of potential recruits they had attracted on the basis of the free-speech issue.) The student leaders fully expected further mass arrests as a result of these actions, and they hoped to protect their rear against university discipline.
On this issue of illegal action the faculty-student-administration committee split in November. The student representatives insisted on a specific guarantee that nothing they advocated or organized on campus would lead to any measures by the university against them or their organizations. The administration members insisted on the right to discipline individuals or organizations who advocated or organized illegal action. The faculty group proposed a formula which neither gave the students a specific guarantee of immunity nor the administration a specific ban against illegal action on campus. Under this formula the students would have conducted their demonstrations and sit-ins in all likelihood safe from university interference, for the university's policy of the year before had been not to discipline those arrested for civil rights activities and it seemed improbable that this policy would be changed. If, however, the University decided on a change, the students could have tested in the courts its right to punish them for illegal action advocated or organized on campus—a contingency which, they asserted, would be “against the 1st and 14th amendments” and would constitute “double jeopardy.”
This course, which would have permitted the students to turn their attention to what they felt to be such critical substantive problems as discrimination on the Oakland Tribune, they rejected. Their movement would not give up the issue provided them by the split on the question of illegal action. Those faculty members like myself who had been sympathetic until this time, but now withdrew their support, were denounced orally and in print as “finks” and stooges of President Kerr (who had become the bête noir of the students, his hand seen in every move).
On this issue the students decided to abrogate the pact of October 2 (in which they had agreed to stick to legal action), pronounced (on their own authority) new rules to govern political activity on campus, and began to operate under them. The students now hoped that the Regents would give them what the committee set up under the pact of October 2 had not, but on November 20, the Regents insisted on maintaining the distinction between lawful and unlawful actions. At this point the student leaders split, some arguing for further drastic measures, others urging de facto acceptance of the new rules under which they had full freedom of action, but were threatened by the possibility of university punishment for illegal action. A new sit-in was staged at Sproul Hall, which involved only 300 students; the administration did not act against it, and it was called off after a few hours.
Then, on November 30, it was learned that the administration (Strong? Kerr? the Regents?) had summoned four student leaders to appear before the Faculty Committee on Student Conduct (advisory to the Chancellor) to hear charges against them stemming from their tussles with the police on October 1 and 2. As a result of this blunder, an issue that was capable of arousing the students—the disciplining of their leaders—was fortuitously tied to one that could not—immunity for advocacy or organization of illegal action. The rest of the story has been covered by the national news media. Once again, on December 2, Joan Baez—no other figure in the United States could better symbolize the tangle of protests, amorphous and specific, that moved the students—sang with them as they occupied Sproul Hall. In the early morning of December 3, a small army of police began carrying out students—about 800 of them. That afternoon, yet another impromptu group of mediating faculty, the department chairmen, met to formulate a compromise which offered full amnesty to the students for the actions of the past two months; they hoped to sell this to the President and the Regents. On December 4, a long threatened strike of teaching assistants was launched, and on Sunday, December 6, the President and the Regents accepted the department chairmen's compromise.
By this time, however, the student leaders had glimpsed the possibility of complete success. For some days a substantial number of liberal faculty members had been preparing a resolution which asserted that political activity on campus should be regulated only as to “time, place, and manner” in order not to interfere with the functioning of the university, and they were rounding up support for its adoption. The great majority of this group had little sympathy for FSM tactics, but they believed its position on the rules was right. In any case, the larger part of the faculty had now become involved, because they had been forced to confront and take a stand on the strike of their teaching assistants. Many were also shocked by the December 3 police action. The FSM hoped that the faculty resolution supporting their position would pass and they joined its drafters in campaigning for it.
On December 7 the compromise negotiated by the department chairmen was presented by Professor Robert Scalopino and President Kerr to the student body and faculty at a large open-air meeting at the Greek theater. The radicalization of the students—thousands of whom had now participated in sit-ins, strikes, and picketing—had proceeded at a frightening pace over the weekend; full victory was now seen as possible, and the compromise was denounced by the student leaders as a “sell-out.” It was at this meeting that Mario Savio, head of the FSM, attempted to seize the microphone, and the campus police dragged him away.
Because of their desperate desire to settle things, because of their experience of one administration failure after another, I believe most of the faculty was by now ready to accept any agreement that might lead to peace. The administration—President Kerr and Chancellor Strong—was absent and silent when a thousand members of the Academic Senate met on December 8 and by a huge vote endorsed the resolution of the liberal faculty members mentioned above. This resolution—in addition to backing the view that political activity should be unrestricted except for time, place, and manner—demanded that responsibility for disciplinary measures in the area of political activity should be placed in the hands of the faculty. Having lived through months of non-existent or ineffective leadership and increasing disruption and disorder, the faculty also voted for the election of a strong Emergency Executive Committee to represent it. A few days later, however, as if in recoil from the resolution, the faculty elected a moderate executive committee, the majority of whom had not been identified with the preparation and propagation of the resolution that had been adopted so overwhelmingly.
But what of the issue of illegal political activity itself? Did the seven-to-one vote of the faculty resolve that? I do not believe so. At the December 8 meeting Professor Lewis Feuer proposed an amendment to the main resolution which would have excepted speech or advocacy “directed to immediate acts of force and violence” from the general immunity. In suppport of this amendment, he spoke not of the civil rights movement, which was uppermost in the minds of all the protagonists, but of Mississippi, where such a resolution as had been endorsed by the faculty would deny a university administration the right to move against a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and of pre-Nazi Germany, where a similar position in effect prevented university administrations from moving against Nazi students engaged in the destruction of the ground-rules of democratic society. The discussion was intense. Many of those who opposed Feuer were convinced that his amendment raised serious constitutional issues. On the whole it was obvious to those of us who supported his amendment—and had other amendments in mind as well—that the temper of the faculty did not favor any extended consideration of the issues at that time. The students were barred from the meeting, but thousands were outside, and we could hear their roars of approval or disapproval as the debate went on. It was scarcely necessary to be reminded of the terrible power of the student movement, though two professors, both of whom supported the majority resolution, did remind us that chaos was at the door. I think there was a good deal of hysteria mixed in with the action of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate that day. Afterward men who had been friends for years but had taken opposite sides approached each other with hesitation, and felt it necessary to reaffirm their friendship, so deeply had their emotions become involved.
I hope it is now clear why the issue on the Berkeley campus is not simply one of “free speech.” The immediate issue is the student demand that the university allow them facilities for full political action and give up its right to discipline them for what it considers improper use of these facilities. If the university is to be equated with the administration, the students have a point. For the administration has the least claim to the power to determine the standards which govern the university. But what of the Regents, who represent the people of the state? What of the faculty? What of the students? Are all incapable of determining what is proper on a university campus? The constitution of the university—the distribution of powers among its various elements—may well be out of joint. At one time the faculty exercised student discipline at Berkeley; on some campuses it is the faculty and students together. Constitutions can be changed. But should the constitution of a university include a grant of immunity to any and all forms of action that go by the name of politics? If it did, the university would abdicate its responsibility to set standards for its students, its faculty, and its staff in one critical area of their life on the campus. We are now in the following ridiculously inconsistent posture at Berkeley: no religious activity of any kind is allowed on the campus and no one challenges that; students can be penalized for infractions of rules involving the consumption of liquor and the like, and no one challenges that; but it is asserted that any political action whatever should be permitted without any step being taken by the university against any person or organization as a result.
It is possible that this huge and on the whole practically oriented university has no basis on which to set any standards. I am not sure we have come to this yet. The students—now backed by most of the faculty—view any assertions of power by the university as designed only to reduce the scope of their self-evidently good and just activity. They do not see that the power to regulate on the basis of standards appropriate to a university also increases the potential scope of their activity and protects them from the civil arm. It is easier to run meetings on the Berkeley campus than on the city streets—even the streets of enlightened cities. The students and their faculty supporters do not agree that this higher degree of freedom, established under the protection of the university's authority, may be organically connected to the university's power to regulate this freedom and prevent its abuse.
How then is the dispute to be finally resolved? One can envisage circumstances that would give us a temporary peace, but it would be a very fragile one. Many of the FSM leaders are also deeply concerned with the academic conduct of the university, the curriculum, the courses, the character of the faculty, the nature of student-faculty relations. It is a concern which many faculty members applaud. But if strikes and sit-ins should be held on the campus to impose student views of how the university should be run academically—and nothing in FSM ideology prevents this—there would be an end to peace once again.
Secondly, one must see these events in the context of the students' desire to protect their university status and privileges while conducting their operations in the community. Will the community in turn, however, respect these rights and privileges if the actions of the Berkeley students maintain their intensity of 1963-64, or if, as the students hope, they increase in intensity? A number of supermarkets against which they directed some of their most powerful efforts, I notice, have closed down. Will the community, which votes hundreds of millions of dollars for the university through the state legislature, remain docile in the face of what they may consider a one-sided bargain?
At a press conference called by a group of faculty members after the mass arrests on December 3, Professor Henry May, chairman of the history department, was asked by newsmen what lay at the bottom of the crisis. He answered thoughtfully that he saw two major issues. One was the inevitable strains and pressure stemming from the attempt to create at Berkeley a mass university that would at the same time be great; the second was the rise of new forms of political action which aroused deep emotions and whose legal status was in doubt. I believe these are the two chief underlying causes of what is happening at Berkeley. We have the answer to neither problem; this is why we must be concerned and disturbed, and why what is happening at Berkeley is more than a local story.
Epilogue, January 6.—On January 1, the Regents suddenly appointed a new Acting Chancellor for the Berkeley campus, Martin Meyerson. He took office at a time when the Emergency Executive Committee of the Academic Senate was performing prodigies in negotiating with and mollifying all parties. With the advice of the Emergency Executive Committee, the new Chancellor issued temporary and minimal “fail-safe” rules (the language of nuclear warfare is common in the controversy) with which to greet the students returning from vacation, and FSM is abiding by them. Meyerson has brought a new atmosphere to the campus, and every day we congratulate each other on an unaccustomed peace.
1 “Advocacy” was used throughout the ensuing dispute to mean advocacy of action, not of ideas.
2 The Uses of the University, reviewed by Harold Taylor in the December 1964 COMMENTARY.—Ed.
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Progressives can’t remodel the country through politics—and it’s making them miserable.
The liberal malaise that has followed Trump’s shocking victory is a by-product of the left’s unreasonable expectations. Many liberals and progressives were encouraged to see Barack Obama as messianic and to understand his politics as emancipatory, and they fell for it. But political shifts in America just aren’t that radical, and never have been—even though that’s what the flimflam men who run American politics always promise.
Delusions about what big election victories can achieve are nurtured by the politicians who stand to benefit from the passion of those who are swayed by their portentous prognostications. (“This is the most important election of our lifetime,” says the party that needs to win to come back from defeat.) And they are husbanded by the commercial enterprises—paid consultants, super PACs, single-issue peddlers, cable networks—that profit from them. But the vows they make—primary among them the vanquishing for eternity of the bad guys on the other side—cannot be fulfilled, or cannot be fulfilled enough to satisfy the voters who are seduced by them. This is a problem for both sides of the ideological divide.
At the moment, what we’re living through is disillusion on the part of progressives, and on a grand scale. A consensus has begun to form on the politically engaged left that the day-to-day work of American politics—meaning what happens in government and in public service—is simply unequal to the challenges that plague our country. This follows, in turn, the same sort of consensus that rose among conservative voters in 2015 and 2016 that led to the rise of the insurgent Trump candidacy.
Fewer and fewer Americans see the grinding work of passing legislation and formulating policy as anything other than a sham, an act, a Washington con. This view encourages frustration and, eventually, fatalism. The conviction that the political process cannot address the most relevant issues of the day is paralyzing and radicalizing both parties. It is also wrong.
THE LIBERAL SOUNDTRACK OF DAILY LIFE
People on the american left have reason to be happy these days. Boilerplate liberalism has become the soundtrack to daily American life. But they’re not happy; far from it.
Superstar athletes don’t stand for the National Anthem. Awards shows have become primetime pep rallies where progressive celebrities address the nation on matters of social justice, diversity, and the plague of inequality. This year’s Academy Awards even featured the actress Ashley Judd’s endorsement of “intersectionality,” a once-abstruse pseudo-academic term meant to convey that every kind of prejudice against every victimized minority is connected to every other kind of prejudice against every other victimized minority. These are the outwardly observable signs of a crisis facing the liberal mission. The realization that the promise of the Obama era had failed predated Donald Trump’s election, but it has only recently become a source of palpable trauma across the liberal spectrum.
These high-profile examples are just the most visible signs of a broader trend. At the noncelebrity level, polls confirm a turning away from conservative social mores altogether. In 2017, Gallup’s annual values-and-beliefs survey found a record number of Americans approving of doctor-assisted suicide, same-sex relations, pornography, both sex and childbirth out of wedlock, polygamy, and divorce.
Then there’s the ascension of supposedly advanced attitudes about religion, or rather, the lack of religion. In 2017, Gallup pollsters asked Americans: “How important would you say religion is in your own life?” A record low of 51 percent answered “very important,” while a record high of 25 percent said “not very important.” San Diego State University researcher Jean M. Twenge found that twice as many Americans said they did not believe in God in 2014 than was the case in the early 1980s. And a 2015 Pew poll revealed that “younger Millennials” (those born between 1990 and 1996) were less likely to claim religious affiliation than any previous generation.
Finally, a 2016 Harvard University survey found that, among adults between ages 18 and 29, 51 percent did not support capitalism. Positive views of socialism have been rising almost inexorably, even as a 2016 CBS/New York Times survey found that only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism.
But today’s progressive activist isn’t content with cultural domination; he’s after something grander. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a memorandum dated March 2003:
“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change the culture and save it from itself.”
The election of Obama seemed the moment at which the central liberal truth could finally be given shape and form and body. It didn’t quite work out as progressives hoped.
The first bill President Obama signed into law in 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was sold to progressives as a visionary effort to root out workplace discrimination. In fact, all it did was relax the statute of limitation on holding firms liable for discriminating on the basis of sex and race—a fine-tuning of one part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Yet the “pay gap” persisted, and Obama and his administration spent the next seven years hectoring the private sector over it. They claimed that the figures showing that women in aggregate earned less than men in aggregate demonstrated that the entire society was somehow in violation of the spirit of the law. But the real source of this gap—as Obama’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics confessed—was individual behavior patterns that led women, on average, to work fewer hours than men over the course of their lives. “Among women and men with similar ‘human capital’ characteristics,” BLS economist Lawrence H. Leith wrote in 2012, “the earnings gap narrows substantially and in some cases nearly disappears.”
Similarly, in 2013, Obama credited his Violence Against Women Act with steep declines in rates of reported sexual assault. “It changed our culture,” he said. “It empowered people to start speaking out.” But this legislation did not change the culture. Many women continued to endure abuse at their places of work, with that abuse treated as just a consequence of doing business. The behaviors revealed by the #MeToo movement in the national outing of abusive men in positions of power had been addressed in law long ago, and long before Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act. The stroke of his pen did nothing to change the culture.
ObamaCare is another example of an exercise in cultural engineering that has failed to take. The Affordable Care Act wasn’t only a health-care law; it was an effort to transform society. The law’s true goal was a “culture of coverage” that would foster a new “norm” in which health coverage was an “expected” part of the social contract, according to California Health Benefit Exchange board member Kim Belshe. But once again, the political process failed to match the transformative ambitions of the progressive activist class. A late 2016 survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that tighter doctor networks as well as higher deductibles and co-payments meant people were cutting back on doctor visits—the precise opposite of the law’s philosophical objectives.
Donald Trump and his GOP majorities in Congress could not overturn the ACA (though they did manage to get rid of its mandatory aspect). But ObamaCare’s preservation has not prevented the health-care left from sinking into gloom. This is because the politicians who pursued these reforms set unrealistic expectations for what they could achieve. These are not blinkered ideologues, but they are in thrall to a grandiose idea of what politics should be and out of touch with what politics actually is: a messy, narrow, often unsatisfying project of compromise and incrementalism.
Some left-of-center thinkers have addressed this penchant for overreach and its consequences. “Our belief in ‘progress’ has increased our expectations,” lamented the clinical psychologist Bruce Levine in 2013. “The result is mass disappointment.” He reasoned that social isolation was a product of American institutions because, when those institutions resist reform, “we rebel.” That rebellion, he claimed, manifests itself in depression, aggression, self-medication, suicide, or even homelessness and psychosis. What can you expect when the problem is the system itself?
Progressives have come to believe that America is beset with difficulties that must be addressed if the country is to survive—but they recognize that the difficulties they diagnose are extraordinarily hard to deal with in conventional political terms. Income disparities. Sexual and racial inequities. The privileges and disadvantages associated with accidents of birth. Such matters increasingly dominate the agenda of leftist politicians because they preoccupy the minds of their voters and donors. But what can be done about them? Great Society legislation in the 1960s—the farthest-reaching effort to reorder and reframe our country along social-justice principles—was designed to extirpate these evils. It is clear that today’s progressives are convinced we have not progressed very far from those days, if at all. This can lead to only one devastating conclusion, which is that the United States is a structurally oppressive nation. The system is the problem.
For the left, no problem is more hopelessly systemic than racism. It is powerfully attractive to believe that because some American institutions were forged in racial bias, the country is forever soiled by discrimination and white supremacy. Economics, politics, education, criminal justice—all are soiled by what Harvard professor Derrick Bell has said was an indelible stain on American life. Bell’s theories have been amplified by celebrated literary figures such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. “White supremacy is neither a trick, nor a device, but one of the most powerful shared interests in American history,” he recently wrote. You can understand why exasperated activists might conclude that devoting themselves to a Sisyphean torment is not the best use of their time. “I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself,” wrote the British journalist and feminist speaker Reni Eddo-Lodge in 2014. In a 2016 Washington Post op-ed, Zack Linly concurred. “I’ve grown too disillusioned to be relieved and too numb to be frustrated. I’m just tired.”
Violence, too, is seen as systemic. Acts of small-scale and mass violence are the result of many factors in American life. The individual who commits those heinous acts is often a secondary concern to activists on the left. For them, the problem rests in our militaristic national character, which is foremost exemplified by a pathological devotion to guns. As a recent headline at the New Republic put it: “America’s Gun Sickness Goes Way Beyond Guns.”
What about substance abuse? “It became clear to us that there is something systemic going on,” said Steven Woolf, director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health, on the issue of substance-abuse-related deaths in America. And poverty? “Poverty is systemic, rooted in economics, politics and discrimination,” reads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guideline for elementary-school teachers. Its lesson plan is explicitly designed to convey to students that “poverty is caused by systemic factors, not individual shortcomings.” Corruption? According to Fordham University Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, when the courts find that corporate entities have much the same free-speech rights as individuals, “corruption becomes democratic responsiveness.” Obesity and diabetes are systemic too, according to TakePart magazine’s Sophia Lepore, because they stem from the industrial world’s “increasingly commercialized food supply.”
When faced with this constellation of systemic challenges, progressives are left with a grim conclusion: We are impotent; change on the scale that is necessary is out of reach. Instead of practicing “the art of the possible,” they have made a totem of the impossible. The activists who are consumed by these phenomena have come (or are coming) to the conclusion that the political process cannot resolve them precisely because the oppression is a feature, not a bug, of the system. It is logical, therefore, for them to determine that engagement in traditional forms of politics is an exercise in naiveté.
Indeed, under this set of beliefs, legislative incrementalism and compromise seem like detestable half measures. Mistaking deep-rooted and immensely complex social and cultural circumstances for problems government can solve blinds participants in the political process to the unambiguous victories they’ve actually secured through compromise. This is a recipe for despair—a despair to which certain segments of the right are not immune.
LIBERAL DESPAIR TRUMPS CONSERVATIVE DESPAIR
By the time donald trump’s presidential candidacy sprang to life, dejected voices on the right had concluded that the country’s leftward drift constituted an existential emergency.
In late 2015, the author and radio host Dennis Prager devoted most of his time to mourning the “decay” of absolute moral categories, the blurring of gender distinctions, the corruption of education, and the dissolution of the family, all while blaming these conditions on a wrecker’s program. In the fall of 2016, the Claremont Institute published a piece by Republican speechwriter Michael Anton (under a pseudonym) in which he postulated that the United States was all but doomed. He compared the republic to United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that went down in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11, and its political and bureaucratic leadership to the suicidal Islamist hijackers who killed everyone on board. Four days before the 2016 election, the Heritage Foundation’s Chuck Donovan declared America in decline in almost every way and blamed a “dominant elite who thrive on the dissolution of civil society.” These catastrophists agreed on one thing: The time for modesty and gradualism was over.
The issues that most animate these conservatives are significant, but they are only indirectly related to conventional political matters. Disrespect for authority figures in law enforcement, the accessibility of pornography, assimilation rates among immigrant groups, the bewildering exploits on college campuses, and the ill-defined plague of “cultural Marxism”—these are widespread social trends that resist remedy from the inherently circumspect political process.
Also like those on the left, some conservatives have come to embrace their own forms of fatalism about the American system. “We need a king,” wrote the Hoover Institution’s Michael Auslin in 2014, “or something like one.” Auslin theorized that such a figure would liberate the presidency from weighing in on polarizing social issues, thereby lubricating the gears of government. Reflecting on the disillusionment and pessimism of his big-thinking peers in the middle of the Great Recession, the libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Patrick J. Buchanan devotes at least one column a month to the virtues of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism. Why? Because, as he wrote in January 2018, “Nationalism trumps democratism.”
Intellectuals like Buchanan and Anton have a profound weakness for extremism; it is one of the grave dangers posed by the life of the mind. William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound found much to admire in how nationalists detested moderation. For Yeats, the “love of force” was a visionary trait. Pound, of course, literally became a fascist and rooted for America’s destruction. These perverse judgments on the right were nothing next to the seductive power of leftist totalitarianism. George Bernard Shaw was a Stalinist convinced of the virtue of eugenics and murderous purges. Theodore Dreiser became infatuated with the Soviets’ brutal adaptation of social Darwinism. Stuart Chase’s 1932 book A New Deal, predating FDR’s governing program of the same name, heaped praise on the nascent Soviet state. The book famously concluded, “Why should the Soviets have all the fun remaking the world?” Chase later became a member of Roosevelt’s inner circle of advisers.
When the political process fails to perform as they would like, activists and ideologues become disillusioned and embittered. They also become convinced not of the unreasonableness of their position but of the incompetence of their representatives. Thus conservative activists hate the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House, even though both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan work tirelessly to advance conservative ideas through the bodies they help manage. Leftists have turned on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is among the most effective legislative players in recent American history and easily the most progressive Democratic leadership figure of our time. McConnell and Ryan and Pelosi know from bitter experience that the Constitution places obstacles in the path of anyone who wants to use America’s political institutions to remake the culture wholesale. These marvelous obstacles are designed to thwart the human impulse for radical change.
The tragedy here is how this dynamic has convinced tens of millions of Americans that the political system is broken. Pull back from the granular view of events and try to examine America over the past decade and you see something else. You see American voters responding in complex ways to complex events. Obama overreaches and the voters elect a Republican House. Mitt Romney says 47 percent of Americans are losers, and he loses an election. Hillary Clinton says people who don’t care for her are “deplorables,” and she loses an election, too. The GOP appears to be on a path to electoral disaster in November 2018 because Trump may be bringing about a counterattack against the way he does business. Democratic overreach inspires conservative backlash. Republican overreach inspires liberal backlash. The electoral system is responsive to the views of the people. The system works. It works by restraining excessive ambition.
Those restraints annoy people who think change should just happen because they will it. In 2009, for example, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was so annoyed by Congress’s failure to devise a bipartisan environmental bill that he lamented the fact that America did not have China’s political system. The People’s Republic, he wrote, was demonstrating the great “advantages” of a “one-party autocracy” led by “reasonably enlightened people.” Amazing how Chinese Communism had the ability to circumvent public opinion—the same ability also leads to the construction of well-populated labor camps.
You don’t need a one-party autocracy to effect change. Sometimes, when change is needed and needed urgently, government can rally to address the change—when voters make it clear that it must happen and when the change is preceded by rich experimentation and vital spadework. For example, New York City is no longer the crime-ridden, pornography-addled, graffiti-marred archipelago of needle parks that it once was. There has been a generation now of civil peace in the city, notwithstanding the act of war against it on 9/11.
But the change wasn’t the culmination of a grand governmental scheme. It was in part the product of work done by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation in the early 1980s, which developed a model followed by the Rockefeller Center Complex, the Grand Central Partnership, and more than 30 other business-improvement districts. These parties engaged in a block-by-block effort to restore streets and relocate the homeless. The NYPD and the transit police could not focus on “quality of life” policing without hyper-local input that shaped what that campaign should entail and without an intellectual framework provided by the “broken windows” theory promulgated by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. The zoning reforms that cleaned up Times Square began as an initiative submitted by the City Council member representing the porn-plagued blocks under the Queensboro Bridge, with input from the Manhattan Institute. By the time Rudolph Giuliani was elected mayor in 1993, a quiet consensus had been building for years about the nature of the problems afflicting New York City and how to solve them.
BETTER THAN WE WERE
Moynihan’s famous quote is usually cut off before the end. After identifying the divergent liberal and conservative truths about the junction of politics and culture, he observed: “Thanks to this interaction, we’re a better society in nearly all respects than we were.”
His insight into the American political equilibrium was not a lamentation or a diagnosis. It was a reflection on why America is forever reinventing and refining itself. But as partisan actors and media outlets confuse the practice of politics with exhilarating bouts of cultural warfare, this equilibrium begins to come apart.
The quotidian, custodial duties that typify public service are neither dramatic nor entertaining. Zoning laws are boring. Police reforms are boring. Business-improvement districts are boring. Functional governance in the United States is unexciting governance.
Unexciting governance is limited governance. And the fatalists are driven mad by the limits our system imposes on them because they don’t want governance to be limited. That is exactly why those limits are so necessary and why, rather than getting dirty fighting inch by inch for the things they believe in, fatalists write themselves out of our political life. The danger the fatalists pose is that they are convincing tens of millions more that our system doesn’t work when it most certainly does, just in a fashion they wish it wouldn’t. In doing so, they are encouraging mass despair—and that is an entirely self-imposed affliction.
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Seventy years after Israel’s founding, we need it more than ever.
Hertzberg understood how helping the Jews over there in the Middle East had helped Jews over here in North America. After decades of American Jewish ambivalence about Jewish nationalism, the Holocaust had created an instant consensus for a Jewish state. The fight to create that state galvanized the community, rousing it from depression—and shielding it from guilt. By doing the right thing in the late 1940s, American Jews atoned for their failure to save more of their doomed brothers and sisters.
Hertzberg’s fear that Zionism was “a movement in search of a program” in 1949 proved wildly premature, because Israel would continue to call on and depend on the support of American Jews for its survival. The nation’s creation was followed by a host of new problems and opportunities that kept the global Jewish community engaged with Israel and kept alive the American Jewish connection to “peoplehood”—even as many American Jews abandoned religious practice entirely.
In 1959, Hertzberg published a seminal anthology, The Zionist Idea, for the purpose of establishing the movement’s intellectual and ideological roots. At the time, Israel was fragile and the Zionist conversation was robust. Today, Israel is robust and the Zionist conversation has turned fragile. Israel’s 70th anniversary offers an opportunity to reframe the Zionist conversation—asking not what American Jews can do for Israel, but what Zionism can do for American Jews. Hertzberg understood that Zionism wasn’t only about saving Jewish bodies but saving Jewish souls. As the celebrations of Israel’s 70th birthday begin, Zionism’s capacity to save our souls remains vital.
Many American Jews in the 1950s helped their fellow Jews settle in the new land. The fundraising short from 1954, “The Big Moment,” featuring Hollywood stars including Donna Reed and Robert Young, celebrated the secular miracle. “When you support the United Jewish Appeal, you make it possible for the United Israel Appeal to help the people of Israel,” the short told its viewers. They could help “rush completion of new settlements, new housing for the homeless, the irrigation of wasteland acres…. Israel’s people who stand for freedom must not stand alone.”
Four years later, Leon Uris mythologized the Zionist revolution in his mammoth bestseller, Exodus. “As a literary work it isn’t much,” David Ben-Gurion admitted. “But as a piece of propaganda, it’s the best thing ever written about Israel.” In Uris’s Zionist paradise, New Jews lived noble ideas and heroic lives. Exodus captured the texture of the Jewish return: the trauma of the Holocaust, the joys of the kibbutz, the thrill of rebuilding, the anguish of the Arab fight, the sweetness of idealism, the wonder of mass migration. In the 1960 movie version, Exodus even tackled serious ideological issues within Zionism. As Ari Ben Canaan escorts his non-Jewish love interest, Kitty Fremont, around Israel, the two look over the Valley of Jezreel. They marvel at seeing the “same paving stones that Joshua walked on when he conquered” the land, along with “every clump of trees” Ari’s father planted.
Thrilled that the valley is becoming Jewish once again, Ari proclaims: “I’m a Jew. This is my country.” Kitty dismisses differences between people as artificial. Ari makes the particularist case against universalism: “People are different. They have a right to be different.” They suspend the debate, Hollywood-style, with their first kiss.
In print, on screen, and in song, Exodus cast Zionism in such glowing terms that it condemned Israel to the inevitable comedown. Decades later, Thomas Friedman, trying to justify his anger at the Jewish state as its popularity flagged, would define this mythic place he missed as “your grandfather’s Israel.” Actually, Israel today—Friedman’s Israel—is more compassionate, just, equitable, and democratic than his grandfather’s.
As Exodus climbed the bestseller lists, Hertzberg’s Zionist Idea showed how a series of abstract debates spawned an actual state in mere decades. The texts, Hertzberg’s editor Emanuel Neumann wrote, illustrate “the internal moral and intellectual forces in Jewish life” that shaped this “idea which galvanized a people, forged a nation, and made history…. Behind the miracle of the Restoration lies more than a century of spiritual and intellectual ferment which produced a crystallized Zionist philosophy and a powerful Zionist movement.”
Recalling this period, Abraham Joshua Heschel would say American Jews took that miracle for granted. We became so used to the Tel Aviv Hilton, he said, that we forgot Tel Hai, where the one-armed Zionist warrior Josef Trumpeldor sacrificed his life for his country. Heschel was chiding American Jews for failing to use Israel to find greater meaning, to revitalize their Jewish identities, to launch “an ongoing spiritual revolution.”
Several political shocks in the 1960s upstaged the cultural and spiritual conversation that Heschel, Hertzberg, and others sought. Having grown up feeling secure as Americans, some Baby Boomers questioned American Jewish silence during the Holocaust. Frustrations at their parents’ passivity “while 6 million died” altered the community’s course—triggering a move toward activism. Cries of “Never again” shaped the Zionist, peoplehood-centered fight that ultimately brought 1.2 million Soviet Jews to Israel even as it nurtured and brought to adulthood two generations of new American Jewish leaders and activists.
The biggest shock was the Six-Day War. Both their fear of losing Israel in May 1967 and their euphoria when Israel won that June surprised American Jews. Many discovered that they were more passionate about Israel than they had realized. This “extraordinary response” led Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and others toward “a strategy of making Israel central in religious and Jewish educational life—if only because thereby we can tap strong loyalties and deep feelings.” The Holocaust and Israel’s founding partially Zionized American Jewry, showing how to live with a Jewish state while living happily ever after; 1967 showed most American Jews that they couldn’t live without the Jewish state.
Zionism became American Jewry’s glue. Israel reinforced a sense of peoplehood and renewed Jewish pride. It inspired the teaching of Hebrew, revitalized summer camps, and invigorated the Conservative and Reform movements. The community learned how to mobilize politically and raise money prodigiously. Indeed, writing in the 1970s, as periodic terrorist massacres kept returning Jews to the traumatic 1973 Yom Kippur War, Hertzberg declared that Zionism had become the only sacred commitment all American Jews shared. “Intermarriage, ignorance in the Jewish heritage, or lack of faith do not keep anyone from leadership in the American Jewish community today.” Hertzberg complained. “Being against Israel or apathetic in its support does.”
But while it was succeeding politically in America, Zionism was failing culturally and spiritually, Hertzberg charged. “Today there is no Zionist education in the U.S., no schools, no teaching seminaries, no commitment by Zionists” to cultivating “a Zionist kind of Jewish personality”—Ben-Gurion’s New Jew. Instead of stirring charges of dual loyalty, instead of adding “to the discomfort of the Jews in the Diaspora,” Hertzberg noted, Zionism contributed to Jews’ “acceptance of themselves and their acceptance by others.”
Today, it seems, personal concerns predominate. Now we wonder how having a Jewish state helps Jews navigate what Birthright Israel calls “their own Jewish journeys” and their quests for meaning. That could seem to be a chaotic souk, an oriental bazaar resulting in a gay Zionism and a Mizrahi Zionism, an Orthodox Zionism and a Reform Zionism, a feminist Zionism and an environmental Zionism. This is not entirely new. Early Zionists also fused their secular, Western agendas with the Jewish agenda—creating the kibbutz and the Histadrut Labor union, among other hybrids of hyphenate Zionism. In fact, a thoughtful Zionism might cure what ails us by focusing on what Israel means “to me, to us.” Which brings us to the greatest contradiction of our age: Succeeding as Americans individually poses a threat to Jews communally. Building careers usually trumps the labor of deepening traditions, morals, or communal commitments. Increasingly, many American Jews are happy being Jew-ish, reducing a profound cultural, intellectual, religious heritage to props, a smattering of superficial symbols to make us stand out just enough to be interesting—and not too much to be threatening.
Academic postmodernism validates that professionally driven Jewish laziness. After slaving away to perfect the CV and GPA, to get into the best college possible, Jewish students arrive on campuses that often caricature Judaism—like all religions—as a repressive system while slamming Zionism as particularly oppressive, privileged, and aggressive. This postmodernist updating of Marxist universalism loathes the kinds of red lines Jews traditionally drew around multiple behaviors and beliefs—among them, intermarrying, denouncing Israel, or indulging in self-indulgent behaviors from tattooing your skin to blowing your mind with drugs or alcohol. But a community cannot exist without any boundaries—it’s as useless as a house with no walls.
More powerful than these ideological issues is the simple fascism of the clock. Few high-achieving American Jews devote much time in their week to being Jewish. The demands of work and the lures of leisure leave little room in the schedule for much else—especially such unhip, pre-modern, and un-postmodern activities.
Then, perhaps most devastating, once American Jews carve out the time and overcome the static, what awaits them in most synagogues is a stale stew of warmed-over nostalgia. Judaism must be more than gefilte fish and lox, more than some colorful Yiddish exclamations and shtetl tales. The superficiality of so many Jewish experiences inside the walls of the large Semitic cathedrals that fill up just three times a year is so dispiriting that it takes most Jews another year to screw up the courage to return.
No comprehensive cures exist, of course. And Zionism, which is in many ways a conservative cultural initiative despite Israel’s liberal democracy, faces a hostile environment. American Jews, whose parents and grandparents were once more culturally conservative than the rest of American society, tend now to be far more liberal. Moreover, the systematic campaign to delegitimize Zionism has done great damage, just as conservative dominance of Israel has tarnished Israel’s luster among America’s passionately liberal Jews.
Nevertheless, Israel and Zionism still have a magic, illustrated by the great counterforce that most lamentations about the Israel-Diaspora relationship overlook: Birthright Israel. Young American Jews on those 10-day trips are thrilled by the experience. The enthusiasm comes from tasting a thick, dynamic, 24/7 Jewish experience that is qualitatively different from their thin, static, fragmented American Judaism. The impact comes from what Jonathan Sacks has aptly called turning Israel into world Jewry’s classroom, its living laboratory demonstrating vibrant, thriving Judaisms in sync with the environment. Seeing Jewish garbage men and police officers normalizes Jewish society, broadening the range of Jewish career paths and class stances, reducing the implicit pressure wherever American Jews look to be the next Zuckerberg, Spielberg, or Sandberg.
Swimming in a pool of Jewish symbols, traditions, values, and stories, Jewish pilgrims to Israel encounter an alternate universe that reveres the past, that seeks meaning beyond the material, that is more communal than individual and is more eternal than last week’s most forwarded YouTube video of cats frolicking. Israel proves Theodor Herzl right: Fitting in, not standing out, because you’re Jewish is liberating.
Even more surprising, unlike the media’s dystopic portrayal, Israelis are happy and fun-loving. Israel’s recent score of 11th on the world happiness index comes on the heels of reports about American mass unhappiness, especially in the upper-middle-class neighborhoods where American Jews live. The findings that half of Yale’s undergraduates at some point in their four years will experience severe psychological distress goes far beyond the anxiety produced by the crazy process of getting in. It suggests a specific sort of soul sickness that an elite life increasingly stripped of community, tradition, nationalism, God, group responsibility, and virtue produces. As the occasionally embattled Jewish state in an old-new land, Israel remains a Republic of Something, even as America risks degenerating into a Republic of Nothing. The shared past, purpose, and principles produce happier, more grounded, people.
Israeli normalcy risks its own laziness. But it’s the laziness of an instinctive, normalized Judaism in all dimensions rather than a Judaism you need to carve out time for, picking and choosing just what to do and when to do it—while often looking over your shoulder because you don’t want to look like a weirdo or a fanatic.
Beyond that, Zionism answers some core ideological conundrums many American Jews don’t even know how to formulate. Zionism resolves the confusion whereby the Judeo-Christian connection in America makes many nonreligious Jews feel Jewish even while calling Judaism their “religion.” Zionism welcomes Jews through the peoplehood portal—remembering that Judaism is this unique mix of nation and religion, of peoplehood and faith. Zionism celebrates nationalism as a force for good, cherishes religion and tradition as valuable anchors, providing meaningful “software” of values and beliefs running on the “hardware” of belonging. And Zionism celebrates the virtues of having red lines to respect, as well as blue-and-white lines to affirm. It “rewards togetherness,” in Anne Roiphe’s lovely phrase, and demands loyalty in many ways—especially considering Israel’s military situation.
With Judaism providing the background music to so much that is Israeli, with Israel instilling a strong sense of belonging in visitors, let alone citizens, American Jews encounter new ways of being Jewish. They see total Judaism, immersive Judaism, public Judaism. And, often without realizing it, they see a startling contrast, even with secular Israeli Jews who have figured out how to keep their kids and grandkids Jewish without being religious.
Finally, Israel helps American Jews shift from Anatevka to Jerusalem, from what Irving Howe called “the world of our fathers” to the lives of our brothers and sisters. Israeli Jewish identity is about speaking Hebrew and eating cheesecake on the holiday, often overlooked in North America, of Shavuot. It’s also, unfortunately, about fighting and defending the state. The need for American Jews as allies in that fight continues to offer nonreligious American Jews a passionate Jewish cause, a defining Jewish mission in their lives. And judging by the fact that AIPAC’s Policy Conference is the rare mass event that parents often attend with their teenage and twenty-something children, Zionism offers something one generation can pass on to the next.
Beyond that, the excitement—and, to be sure, the frustrations—of working out Jewish dilemmas and governing problems in real time with high stakes to keep this grand Jewish national project alive and thriving, is a lot more compelling than humming “Sunrise Sunset” as you enter your synagogue.
When done right and understood properly, Zionism can offer an important clarification to all Americans, especially in the age of Trump. In the 2016 campaign, whenever the word “nationalism” appeared in the media, it often came poisoned by words like “white” or “extremist” or “xenophobic.” The reaction against Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Brexit, neo-Nazis, and other manifestations of populist nationalism has soured too many Americans on any form of nationalism.
At its best, what might be called “liberal nationalism” infuses democratic ideals into the natural tendency for people to clump together with those like them. In the 1950s, Isaiah Berlin described this constructive nationalism as “awareness of oneself as a community possessing certain internal bonds which are neither superior nor inferior but simply different in some respects from similar bonds which unite other nations.” Many Enlightenment thinkers, following the 18th-century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, compared this communal impulse with other human “desires” for “food, shelter, procreation, and a minimum degree of liberty.”
Today, this nationalist vision goes against the prevailing cultural tide. Amid what the sociologist Robert Bellah calls “radical individualism,” young Americans experience a “negative” process of “giving birth to oneself” by “breaking free from family, community, and inherited ideas.” By contrast, commemoration of the bar and bat mitzvah defines maturation as accepting communal responsibilities rather than shirking them. The Zionist reality demanding that young Israelis enlist in the army also roots them in communal commitments. In this view, national service is the defining step toward adulthood.
A resurrected, refreshed, Zionist conversation, one that focuses on what Israel does for us, might help Jews see liberal nationalism as a neutral tool that can unite a divided community and make us more determined, more purposeful, and more fulfilled than we can be individually—precisely what the young Arthur Hertzberg proposed seven decades ago.
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The last remnant of Oslo crumbles
The whirlwind changes left Clinton unprepared for the meeting. Perhaps that accounts for the momentous mistake he made that day. “Rabin can’t make further concessions until he can prove to his people that the agreement he just made with you can work,” he told Arafat. “So the more quickly we can move on your track, the more quickly we’ll be able to move on the Syrian track.” Clinton thus tipped his hand: The U.S. saw an Israeli–Syrian peace deal as the real goal, and the president needed Arafat to make it happen. “Now that Arafat had used that deal to open up a relationship with Washington, he did not want to let Clinton shift his attention back to Syria,” reports Clinton foreign-policy hand Martin Indyk in his memoir. “And the more he managed to involve us in the details of his agreement with the Israelis, the less we would be able to do that. In his good-hearted innocence, Clinton had revealed his preferences. Arafat would not forget them.”
Indeed he would not. No foreign official would be invited to the Clinton White House more than Arafat. The Israeli–Palestinian peace process would not be a mere sideshow to the wider Arab–Israeli conflict. It would be a tapeworm inside U.S. foreign policy, diverting and consuming resources. Arafat had made the Palestinian Authority the center of the world.
Twenty-five years of violence, corruption, and incompetence later, the PA lies in ruins, with the Palestinian national project right behind it. Arafat controlled the PLO for a half-century before assuming control of the new PA. Thus his death in 2004 was the first moment of serious potential change in the character of Palestinian institutions. Mahmoud Abbas, far less enamored of violence than the blood-soaked Arafat, was his successor. Rather than reform Palestinian institutions, Abbas has presided over their terminal decline. As Abbas’s own health fades and as the world again turns its attention to Gaza, the part of the Palestinian territories not controlled by him, it’s worth wondering if there is a future at all for the Palestinian Authority.
The PLO was created at an Arab League summit in Cairo in 1964 to serve as an umbrella group for Palestinian organizations seeking Israel’s destruction. It was paralyzed by intra-Arab rivalries until various factions figured out how to wag the dog and draw the Arab states into war with Israel. “Palestinian guerrilla action was insufficient to achieve liberation, and so it needed to overturn reactionary Arab governments and assist Arab unity in order to provide the power necessary to attain the ultimate objective of liberation,” writes Palestinian intellectual and historian Yezid Sayigh, describing how some within the PLO saw it. Arafat’s Fatah faction, which delayed in joining the PLO but influenced it from the outside, was more explicit in a 1965 memorandum: Arab national armies would “intervene to decide the conflict, and to bring it to an end after the revolutionary masses had prepared the way for them.”
Palestinian provocations played a part in helping to fan the flames that exploded into the Six-Day War in June 1967. Yet rather than destroy Israel, the Arab armies lost territory to the Jewish state, including the West Bank of the Jordan River. The following year, Fatah—which had by now joined the PLO—provoked a costly battle with Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Karama. Fatah lost nearly 100 fighters, but Arafat’s mad gamble paid off: The Palestinians survived a face-off with the Israeli military and demonstrated their independence from Jordan. Arafat used this failure-as-success to complete Fatah’s takeover of the PLO in 1969 and become the undisputed public face of the Palestinian guerrillas. Documents captured by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon in 1982 showed extensive training and sponsorship of Palestinian guerrillas across the Communist bloc—the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Hungary, Soviet-aligned Pakistan—in addition to PLO support from Arab states. After its expulsion from Lebanon in the wake of the Israeli incursion, the PLO went into exile in Tunisia.
The first intifada broke out in 1987, and even as it publicized Palestinian resistance, it gave the West a chance to consign Arafat and the PLO to irrelevance. Foreign Minister Moshe Arens proposed allowing the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza to hold mayoral elections, after which Israel would recognize the winners as official Palestinian interlocutors. Rabin, then the defense minister, opposed the Arens plan, fearing it would undermine Israel Defense Forces’ control of the West Bank. A compromise plan was for the Palestinians in the territories to hold elections for negotiators, not officeholders. In his memoir, Arens explains that the idea “was meant to begin a process of negotiations with the Palestinians while bypassing the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
Before Arens or Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir could present the plan to the George H.W. Bush administration, Bush and Secretary of State James Baker preempted the Israelis by leaking to reporters their preference for the PLO and their belief that talks with Arafat should broach the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. Shamir’s right-of-center Likud party revolted, and the government eventually collapsed. Bush had succeeded not only in throwing Israeli politics into chaos in the midst of the intifada, but also in effectively legitimizing Arafat as the rightful representative of Palestinian nationalism. This put the PLO and Israel on the glide path to that September 1993 breakthrough and the creation of the Palestinian Authority.
All this history taught Arafat one unmistakable lesson: Violence works. And so, after the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993, violence continued. Some of it was ordered by Arafat; some tacitly encouraged by him; some his security services merely allowed to happen. More than 250 people were killed by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the signing ceremony. Arafat’s political rivals in Hamas pioneered the use of suicide bombings as a regular feature of terrorism. This served Arafat well: He could crack down on Hamas if and when he needed to but could also keep his fingerprints off some of the most heinous violence against Israeli civilians.
A perfect example of this double game occurred in February 1996. The Norwegian diplomat and UN envoy Terje Rod-Larsen met regularly with Arafat at the Palestinian leader’s Gaza home throughout the Oslo period. On February 24, 1996—a Saturday—Arafat asked his guest his plans for the next day. Rod-Larsen said he was thinking about spending the day in Jerusalem. According to the journalist Michael Kelly, Arafat cryptically said: “Why don’t you stay away from Jerusalem on Sunday.” The next day, Hamas blew up a bus in Jerusalem and another in Ashkelon, killing 26. “Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who thought he had persuaded Palestinian radicals to refrain from attacks on Israelis, condemned the bombings, saying they threatened the peace process,” reported CNN that day.
Violence wasn’t the only way Arafat hindered the cause of Palestinian statehood. Corruption tore through nascent Palestinian institutions. The numbers are staggering. After Arafat’s death, David Samuels surveyed the damage for the Atlantic:
The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs…. In 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and…another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president’s office…. A total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, [was] spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza.… Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.
Why didn’t the creation of the PA result in Arafat’s transition from guerrilla leader to civilian state-builder? Three problems kept cropping up. The first was that his lack of accountability was enabled by both Israel and the United States, out of the naive belief that it didn’t matter how Arafat built his state and abided by agreements just so long as he did so. Arafat exploited this—he never built his state, in part because nobody was willing to make him.
The second problem was that the PA only added a layer of opacity to Arafat’s power structure. As the analyst Jonathan Schanzer notes in State of Failure: “Was he the chairman of the PLO, the president of the PA, or the leader of Fatah? These varying roles made it difficult to firmly establish his accountability.”
The third problem was more fundamental: Arafat shaped the PLO, and thus the Palestinian national movement, for a quarter-century before the PA was established. The only thing that changed was that nothing changed. Arafat’s predilection for violence, secrecy, and authoritarianism would be deeply corrosive to the institutions of an existing state; to a nonstate tasked with creating those institutions, they were fatal.
Not until Arafat died did the full extent of the PA’s failure become clear to all. Arafat’s absence was supposed to be cause for hope; instead, it revealed the bankruptcy of the PA’s model. Mahmoud Abbas inherited not a state but an illusion.
There is no doubt that Abbas was an improvement over Arafat. As Arafat’s deputy, he tried in vain to convince his boss to halt the second intifada (2000–2003), a bloody campaign of violence instigated by Arafat after he turned down Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000. The intifada sapped Israelis’ faith in the PA as a negotiating partner and delivered Likud’s Ariel Sharon—the godfather of Israel’s settlement movement and a man who, as defense minister, had been instrumental in driving the PLO out of Lebanon two decades earlier—to the prime minister’s office.
Abbas’s ascension left policymakers in Jerusalem and Washington playing Weekend at Bernie’s with the corpse of the Palestinian Authority, waving its arms and propping it up in public. Both wanted to show the Palestinians they could get more with honey than with vinegar. But by 2004, it didn’t really matter. With President George W. Bush’s backing, Sharon went forward with plans to pull Israel completely out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The “Disengagement” of 2005 was a political earthquake: Israel’s great champion of the settlers uprooted thousands with no concessions from the Palestinians. More important, perhaps, was the fact that it was unilateral. How much did the PA even matter anymore?
Abbas’s legitimacy was another nagging problem. Though he won a presidential election in 2005, the PA was haunted by the ghosts of Arafat’s corruption. In 2006, Abbas called for legislative elections. Confident of victory, he permitted Hamas to participate in the elections, and the U.S. didn’t object. Had his Fatah party won, its legitimacy would have been undeniable. But in a shock, Hamas won. Fatah was hobbled not only by the perception of Arafat’s venality but also by the consequences of his one-man rule. In their biography of Abbas, Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon write: “Palestinian legislative elections are essentially a local election, in which every ‘district’ chooses its own members of parliament from the different political lists. While Hamas’s candidates ran under one banner, Fatah showed disastrous disunity by having splinter lists in multiple camps, towns, and villages.” Civil war engulfed the Palestinian territories. Hamas took control of Gaza and was booted from the government in the West Bank. Abbas is now in the 14th year of his four-year term.
His legitimacy in tatters, Abbas went about consolidating power and cracking down on dissent. But it wasn’t just the democratic deficit that made Abbas’s reign resemble his predecessor’s. The courts, legislative institutions, education, civil society—Palestinian state-building simply wasn’t happening. In 2010, the Carnegie Endowment’s Nathan Brown studied Palestinian government and society under Abbas’s Western-educated prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and he came to a dispiriting conclusion: “There was far more building of institutions under Yasser Arafat than there has been under Fayyad. It is true that many institutions were built in spite of Arafat and that Fayyad’s behavior suggests a greater respect for rules and institutions. But that is consolation only for those who mistake personalities for politics.”
Yet in one way Abbas is arguably more dangerous even than his predecessor. Arafat was notoriously defensive about possible successors because he had created an entire system centered on his role as the Indispensable Man. Nonetheless, PLO bylaws made Abbas the rightful successor, and he remained the consensus choice.
But to say Abbas has failed to claw back any control over Gaza would be an understatement. With a bevy of foreign benefactors—among them Turkey, Iran, and Qatar—no pretense of democracy, and no easy way in or out, the strip has become a Philadelphia-sized Islamist police state. Every few years, Hamas instigates a war with Israel to remind the world that no degree of physical isolation can make it irrelevant. On March 30, the group organized the first so-called “March of Return,” a day of protest and mischief at the border with Israel in which 20 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops. A top Hamas official said the marches will continue until they succeed in overrunning the border and driving the Jews out of the land. For this, the protests were rewarded with absurd media devotionals; the New York Times hyped a Palestinian analyst’s comparison of the border rushes to the civil-rights protesters trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Hamas displays the organizational control Abbas can only dream of, and the ability to have its propaganda amplified by the Times, CNN, and other major media across the globe. Abbas is reduced to gritting his teeth, and lately seems ready to just give up, telling Egyptian interlocutors in early April that unless Hamas turns over “everything, all institutions and ministries, including security and weapons,” the Palestinian Authority “will not be responsible for what happens there.”
The 82-year-old Abbas is in deteriorating health—yet he has dragged his feet on succession. He now indicates he’ll designate deputy chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul his next in line. But “anyone who thinks Aloul’s appointment will find smooth sailing within Fatah is wrong,” warns Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor. The largest challenge could come from Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s former Gaza security chief, whom Abbas sent into exile in 2011 and who has been cultivating Sunni allies abroad. Jibril Rajoub is the party’s secretary general and believes he’s the rightful heir. Hamas could leap into the vacuum to try to take the West Bank by force, or it could play havoc by supporting someone like Dahlan. If the succession battle becomes a proxy fight among Arab states, it could get bloody fast. The PA as an institution survived Arafat’s death. It may not survive Abbas’s.
There is, of course, one remaining way for Abbas to distinguish himself from Arafat and ensure that he leaves something tangible behind: He could take yes for an answer and actually seek a negotiated settlement. Sadly, his track record here isn’t any better. In 2007, he walked away from a generous Israeli offer by Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert. The 2008 U.S. election briefly appeared to vindicate him—Barack Obama was elected president and proceeded to browbeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into giving away the store. But Abbas made a fool of Obama, too. At first, he sat back and played for time. Then, seeing how difficult Obama was making life for Netanyahu, he thought he could wait for Netanyahu’s government to crumble. When Obama left office in 2017, Netanyahu was still prime minister. The one time negotiations got anywhere, in 2014, Abbas blew them up by abruptly agreeing to bring Hamas into the government, a move that cannot be countenanced by the U.S. or Israel as long as Hamas remains committed to terrorism and refuses to abide by existing agreements.
Obama did two other things that backfired on the Palestinian Authority. One was the Iran nuclear deal, which gave tacit American support to Tehran’s expansionism in the Middle East, scaring Sunni regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt into strategic alignment with Israel. The other was more subtle but just as consequential: He helped orchestrate the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that deemed East Jerusalem, home to Judaism’s holy sites, occupied Palestinian territory.
The UN resolution at first seemed to be a clear gift to Abbas. But in reality, it was a ham-handed attempt to tie the hands of President-elect Donald Trump, who would be taking office just a month later. Trump wouldn’t have it. In the first year of his presidency, he publicly declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced that his administration would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (While a new embassy compound is being built, the White House plans to officially designate the existing consulate in Jerusalem as the embassy in time for Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations on May 14.)
The Jerusalem moves have been an unmitigated humiliation for the PA. They undid the damage to the U.S.–Israel relationship inflicted by Obama. Worse for the PA, Trump called the Palestinian bluff. Contrary to the fears of Western observers, and the ill-disguised morbid hopes of some in the media, the region did not go up in flames. The “terrorist’s veto” did. And the coordination that such a move required between the United States and its Arab allies made crystal clear just how isolated the Palestinian Authority has become—how vulnerable it is to the politics of the Arab world, and how impervious to Palestinian politics the Arab world has become.
It took four decades, but the dog is once again wagging the tail.
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The covert and overt sins of a celebrated scholar
Kristeva categorically denies the charges. Her critics argue that it is unlikely that the Bulgarian government would fabricate an 80-page dossier for the purpose of embarrassing a 76-year-old academic who is of no particular contemporary political importance. Professor Richard Wolin of the CUNY Graduate Center, who has written extensively about Kristeva, says flatly: “She’s lying.” And he adds that the Bulgarian government’s claims about her did not materialize ex nihilo: Kristeva recently began writing for a Bulgarian journal, and Bulgarian policy is to publish the dossiers of public figures who had served the state intelligence agencies during the Communist era. That policy is carried out by “ComDos,” the Committee for Disclosure of Documents and Announcement of Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens to the State Security and the Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army.
But what Kristeva did or did not do in secret is if anything less troubling than what she did in public. For decades, she lent her intellectual prestige and her powers as a writer (and propagandist) to some of the most repressive and vicious regimes of the second half of the 20th century. And she did so as someone who had first-person experience with real-world socialism as it was practiced in what was arguably the single most suffocating regime in Eastern Europe.
Once inescapable on college campuses (I was assigned readings from her work in at least four different classes in the 1990s), Kristeva has faded a little: She has authored a number of novels that have not been generally well-regarded, and she has got on the wrong side of her fellow feminists by criticizing the subjection of the individual identity to the demands of identity politics. She belongs, with Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes and a few others of that kidney, to an era of postmodernist excess during which American academics aped the jargon-heavy (and famously unreadable) prose style of their Continental idols, especially the French ones. Discipline and Punish took on the totemic status later enjoyed by Capital in the 21st Century—which is to say, a book with many more owners than readers, A Brief History of Time for Reagan-era graduate students. Revolution in Poetic Language might not have generated quite as much awe as Foucault’s famous lump, but The Kristeva Reader ornamented a great many coffee tables—and who could resist “Experiencing the Phallus as Extraneous”?
Kristeva arrived in France in 1965 on a research fellowship. She soon moved from the École normale to the Sorbonne, and she studied under Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan, taking in the intellectual fashions of her time: psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, semiotics, feminism, and, of course, radical left-wing politics. Indicting midcentury French intellectuals for covert or overt support of Communist dictatorships around the world is like writing speeding tickets at the Daytona 500, but Kristeva’s political history and that of the journal with which she was long affiliated, Tel Quel, is a remarkable testament to the weakness of Western intellectuals for totalitarianism—provided it is dressed in sufficiently exotic trappings—careering from Marxist-Leninist to Stalinist to Maoist. Kristeva was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Communist Party, arguably the most servile of all of the Western European Communist parties, indulging Adolf Hitler when it suited Moscow and later justifying the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 as a necessary prophylactic against “counterrevolution.” There was no Communist outrage too great for Tel Quel, whose editor, Philippe Sollers (Kristeva married him in 1967), declared in the familiar language of the period his opposition to all things “counterrevolutionary” and advertised his allegiance to “Marxist-Leninist theory, the only revolutionary theory of our time.” V. I. Lenin was later displaced from the Tel Quel intellectual pantheon by Mao Zedong. Professor Wolin, an intellectual historian, tells the story in his 2017 book Wind from the East:
As a result of the May  events and their contact with the Maoists, French intellectuals bade adieu to the Jacobin-Leninist authoritarian political model of which they had formerly been so enamored. They ceased behaving like mandarins and internalized the virtues of democratic humility. In May’s aftermath, they attuned themselves to new forms and modes of social struggle. Their post-May awareness concerning the injustices of top-down politics alerted them to the virtues of “society” and political struggle from below. In consequence, French intellectual life was wholly transformed. The Sartrean model of the engaged intellectual was upheld, but its content was totally reconfigured. Insight into the debilities of political vanguardism impelled French writers and thinkers to reevaluate the Dreyfusard legacy of the universal intellectual: the intellectual who shames the holders of power by flaunting timeless moral truth…. The Maoists started out as political dogmatists and true believers. But they soon found it impossible to reconcile their pro-Chinese ideological blinders with the emancipatory spirit of May. Once they ceased deluding themselves with revolutionary slogans, they began to understand politics in an entirely new light. The idea of cultural revolution was thereby wholly transformed. It ceased to be an exclusively Chinese point of reference. Instead it came to stand for an entirely new approach to thinking about politics: an approach that abandoned the goal of seizing political power and instead sought to initiate a democratic revolution in mores, habitudes, sexuality, gender roles, and human sociability in general.
There was a substantial intellectual component to the Maoism of the Kristeva-Sollers set, but there was also a superficial one: Sollers began affecting the Maoist mode of dress, and Kristeva, one of the most important feminist thinkers of her time, dutifully authored articles in defense of Chinese foot-binding, which she described as a form of feminine emancipation. Calling to mind Senator Elizabeth Warren and her fictitious “Cherokee princess” ancestor, Kristeva boasted that she is a woman who “owes my cheekbones to some Asian ancestor.” Despite having almost no facility with the Chinese language and very little knowledge of its culture, she authored a widely read and translated book, About Chinese Women, in which she made unsupported claims about the “matrilineal” character of classical Chinese culture. Tel Quel adopted an editorial line that was uniformly and cravenly pro-Mao, even going so far as to argue that the absence of professional psychiatric practice from China resulted from the fact that Maoism had delivered the Chinese people from “alienation,” the traditional Marxist diagnosis for what ails the capitalist soul, rendering professional mental-health care unnecessary.
“I don’t fault her” for serving the Committee for State Security, Professor Wolin says. “It was the most repressive dictatorship in Eastern Europe.” Signing on to inform for the Bulgarian government might well have been a condition for Kristeva’s being permitted to study in France in the first place, and she had vulnerable family members still living under the Bulgarian police state. “I don’t know why she doesn’t come clean,” he says.
But that is not the end of her story. “What I do fault her for is jumping on the Communist bandwagon,” Wolin adds. First she served the interests of Moscow and then those of Chairman Mao. Unlike most of her French colleagues, the Bulgarian expatriate was in a position to know better from direct experience. Nonetheless, Kristeva and the Tel Quel set undertook a pilgrimage to Maoist China in the middle 1970s, where they saw the usual Potemkin villages and came home to write fulsome encomia to the wisdom and efficacy of the Great Helmsman. “By ’74, everybody knew that the Cultural Revolution was a power play and a debacle on every level,” Wolin says, an excuse for the Chinese authorities to purge their rivals. “People who had been sent down wrote memoirs, and those were published in French in 1971 and 1972…. Kristeva knew how repressive these regimes were. She didn’t have to celebrate Communism. No one compelled her to do that.”
If this were only a question about a Bulgarian-French intellectual who is obscure beyond academic and feminist circles, then it would be of limited interest, one of those French intellectual scandals that give Anglophone writers and academics a twinge of envy. (When was the last time there was a truly national controversy in the United States over a book? The Bell Curve?)
But Kristeva’s advocacy of what was in terms of gross numbers the most murderous regime of the 20th century is only one tessera in the great mosaic of Western intellectuals’ seduction by totalitarian systems, especially those that come wearing exotic costumes. (Jeremy Jennings, writing in Standpoint, describes Kristeva’s Maoism as “part radical chic, part revolutionary tourism, part orientalism.”) Sometimes, that seduction has come from the right, as with Italian Fascism’s ensorcelling of Ezra Pound and F. A. Hayek’s embarrassing admiration for the government of Augusto Pinochet, a political crush that earned him a private rebuke from no less a figure than Margaret Thatcher. But, more often, that seduction has come from the left: Lincoln Steffens returning from the Soviet Union to declare, “I have seen the future, and it works.” Walter Duranty’s embarrassing misreportage in the New York Times, which still proudly displays the Pulitzer prize earned thereby. The moral equivalence and outright giddy enthusiasm with which Western intellectuals ranging from the left-wing to the merely liberal treated Lenin and Stalin. The New Republic’s footsie-playing with Communists under Henry Wallace. Noam Chomsky’s dismissal of the Cambodian genocide as an American propaganda invention. The reverence for Fidel Castro. The embrace of Hugo Chávez by everyone from Hollywood progressives to Democratic elected officials. Chants of “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh / The NLF is going to win!” on the streets of New York in 1968. Ten million Che T-shirts.
“There are Western intellectuals who don’t succumb,” Professor Wolin says. “The George Orwells, Susan Sontags, and others who learn the lesson. Among the French leftists in the late 1960s who swooned for the Cultural Revolution, many of them came to their senses in the ’70s.” But what about those who are seduced? “Often, they’re naive about politics, and they project holistic and idealistic solutions—totalizing solutions—onto events that don’t admit of those kinds of solutions.”
Political ideologies tend to define themselves in two important ways: first, in opposition to the most important and prominent of their direct ideological competitors; second, in an effort to distinguish themselves from immediately adjacent ideologies and factions. In the case of 20th-century radicals such as Julia Kristeva, the enemy was capitalism, and the most prominent alternative to capitalism was Communism. Whether the pursuit of the idealized new man and his utopian new society took the form of old-fashioned bureaucratic Soviet socialism or the more rambunctious and anarchic mode of the Cultural Revolution was a dispute between adjacent factions, something that may seem almost immaterial from the outside but that is the source of all-consuming passions—and rage—inside the radical milieu.
The West is perversely fortunate that its hedonism and materialism have inoculated it against the premier radicalism of the early 21st century—jihadism, which has gained very little purchase in the West outside of poorly assimilated immigrant communities, mostly in Europe. But Islamic radicalism is not the only rival to democratic liberalism on the world stage: As Xi Jinping consolidates his position in Beijing (a project that goes far beyond the recent removal of the term limits that would have ended his rule at the conclusion of his second term), where are the Western intellectuals with the moral authority and political acumen to articulate a meaningful critique of what he represents? The left in Europe and in the English-speaking world has never been obliged to make an accounting—or a reckoning—for its indulgence of a far more dramatically violent expression of Chinese nationalism, and even liberal technocrats such as Thomas Friedman dream of turning America into “China for a day,” begrudgingly admiring the Chinese government’s raw ability to simply act, unencumbered by democratic gridlock.
And if the left and the center-left are ill-equipped to mount an intellectual defense of democratic liberalism, the right is even less prepared, having mired itself deeply in the very kind of authoritarian nationalism practiced by Beijing. Like the 20th-century left, the 21st-century right has gone looking for allies and inspiration abroad, and has settled upon Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, the fascist Le Pen political dynasty in France, Alternative für Deutschland, neo-nationalism, neo-mercantilism, and ethnic-identity politics. The right-wing populists of Europe do not have Mao’s practically unbounded scope of action (or his body count), but they play for intellectuals on the radical right the same role that Maoism once played for intellectuals on the radical left.
It is not clear that Kristeva has learned very much from her political errors, or even indeed that she ever has come to understand them genuinely as errors. Her alleged collaboration with the Bulgarian secret police, tawdry as it might have been, would not constitute the greatest of those errors. But it is that allegation, and not the plain facts of her long career of advocacy on behalf of inhumane political enterprises, that embarrasses her. In that, she is typical of the radical tendency, a spiritual cousin to the Western progressives who once winked at Stalinists as “liberals in a hurry.” But radical chic is not an exclusively progressive fashion. Xi Jinping is in a hurry, and so is Marine Le Pen, and both have their attention set on matters of more consequence than “intersectionality,” the matter of who uses which pronouns, and the other voguish obsessions of our contemporary intellectuals.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
It was Ben-Gurion himself who proposed a compromise: Israel’s Declaration of Independence would conclude by asserting that each signer placed his trust in the “Rock of Israel,” the Tzur Yisrael, a phrase from the Jewish liturgy inspired by the biblical reference to God as tzuri ve-go’ali, my Rock and my Redeemer.
By referring to the “Rock of Israel,” but refraining from any explicit mention of divine redemption, Israel’s declaration was one that both devout and atheistic Zionists could affirm. For believers in the Bible, the phrase could refer to the divine defender of the Jewish people; for the secular socialist signers of the document, the words could instead make reference to the flint-like resolution of the Israeli army. The compromise was accepted, and the modern Jewish state was born by eliding the issue of the existence of God.
For myself, a religious Zionist and American-history aficionado, the story is doubly painful. Thomas Jefferson, the deistic drafter of the Declaration in Philadelphia, produced a first version without any reference to the divine designs of history. The continental Congress, however, representing an America obsessed with the Bible, edited the dramatic closing of the original draft so that it made clear that the revolution was being launched with “a firm reliance on divine providence.”
The irony is difficult to miss. America, inspired by the Israelite commonwealth in the Hebrew Bible, ordered that a reference to a providential God be added to its Declaration of Independence. But in the 20th century, the restored Israelite commonwealth went out of its way to remove any such reference.
For religious Zionists, however, removing God from a document did not do away with God’s role in the divinely directed drama that is Jewish history; in fact, the contrary is true. Sidney Morgenbesser, the kibitzing Columbia philosopher, once inquired of a colleague at the end of his life: “Why is God making me suffer so much? Just because I don’t believe in him?” Morgenbesser’s droll dialectic captures, for people of faith, something profound: It is those agnostic of God’s existence who can at times reify that very same existence. In a much more profound sense, the events that preceded and followed Israel’s declaration of statehood are so staggering that providence alone explains them.
Harry Truman, the former member of the Missouri political machine whom no one had ever expected to become president of the United States, overrode his hero, General George C. Marshall, in supporting and recognizing the birth of a Jewish state. And he did so, in part, because of his relationship with a Jew named Eddie Jacobson, with whom Truman had run a haberdashery business decades before.
Joseph Stalin, whose anti-Semitism rivaled Hitler’s, ordered the Soviet bloc at the United Nations to support partition, and then he allowed Czechoslovakia to sell airplanes and arms to the nascent state. The Jews of the IDF, fighting against overwhelming odds, did indeed illustrate flint-like toughness in their heroic victory; but the honest student of history can see that this is only part of the story.
Seventy years after May 14, 1948, religious Zionists still smart at the words with which Israel came into being. At the same time, they take comfort in the fact that what followed that extraordinary day vindicates their own interpretation of the words Tzur Yisrael. In his memoir, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the youngest survivor of Buchenwald, describes the moment when the concentration camp was liberated by Patton’s Third Army. Many inmates, having longed for release, ran to the gates—and as they did so, the Nazis, in a final attempt at murdering the prisoners, opened fire from the guard tower. Lau was in the line of fire; suddenly, someone jumped on him and held him down until the shooting had stopped. Having no idea who had saved his life, Lau made his way to Palestine, attended yeshiva, and entered the rabbinate. The first position for which he interviewed was chief rabbi of Netanya. Interviewing for the job with city officials, he encountered hours of question from the mayor of Netanya and his staff. The deputy mayor of Netanya, a man by the name of David Anilevitch, who ought to have been deeply involved in the interview, sat on the side and oddly said nothing. As the interview came to a close, Anilevitch stood up and said:
Friends, honored rabbi, before we disperse, please allow me to say my piece…. I have been reliving 11 April 1945. I was deported from my hometown to Buchenwald. On April 11, American airplanes circled in the skies above the camp. The prisoners, myself among them, were first out of the barracks. As we ran, a hail of bullets passed us. Among those running toward the gate was a little boy.…I jumped on top of him, threw him to the ground, and lay over him to protect him from the bullets. And today I see him before me alive and well. Now I declare this to all of you: I, David Anilevitch, was saved from that horror, fought in the Palmach, and today serve as deputy mayor of an Israeli city.
Anilevitch, Lau concludes, then banged on the table so that all the glasses shook and said: “If I have the merit of seeing this child, whom I protected with my body, become my spiritual leader, then I say to you that there is a God.”
The definition of a miracle is an event that should not naturally have occurred. For us, this tends to mean the splitting of the sea, the stopping of the sun, the opening of the earth. Yet, by the very same definition, it is a miracle that Israel was born, and endured in the way that it did. It is a miracle that after a generation in which many Jewish children grew up without parents, let alone grandparents, we have experienced the fulfillment of Zachariah’s prophecy that grandparents will watch their grandchildren play in the streets of Jerusalem. It is a miracle that after so many civilizations have disappeared, Jewish children continue to be born. It is a miracle that as anti-Semitism continues to haunt the nations of Europe that persecuted the Jews for so long, religious Judaism flourishes in Israel even as a now secular Europe demographically declines.
More than any other event in the last 70 years, the state that was born in avoidance of any explicit affirmation of Israel’s God now stands as the greatest argument for the existence of that very same God. And that is why many Jews, on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, will recite with renewed fervor prayers in the daily traditional liturgy that 70 years ago had been at least partially fulfilled:
O Rock of Israel,
Arise in defense of Israel,
And redeem, as you have promised,
Judah and Israel.
Our redeemer, the Lord of Hosts is your Name, the Sacred One of Israel
Blessed are you, O Lord, Who redeemed Israel.