The gradual disappearance of Holocaust survivors has long been viewed with worry by those tasked with ensuring that the world never forgets the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. The passage of time means that the most able advocates of remembrance will soon be but a memory themselves. Fear that their experiences would be forgotten have fueled the proliferation of Holocaust museums and memorials, as well as praiseworthy efforts to create libraries of survivor testimony that will all remain once they are gone. But for some that is not enough.
For some grandchildren of survivors and others who care about the subject, that has led to a bizarre fad in which they have taken to having the numbers that the Nazis branded on the survivors tattooed on their own arms. As a New York Times feature published on Monday shows, this phenomenon has grown from isolated instances to what must considered a trend with large numbers of youths in Israel. While the motives behind this seem pure, one cannot help but wonder at anyone embracing a practice whose purpose was to dehumanize captive Jews. While survivors who lived long enough eventually saw that most considered those numbers to be a badge of honor rather than a mark of shame, the act of fetishizing this evidence of the Nazis’ crimes seems like something that says more about the current generation than it does about the experience of the survivors.
It is true that in the past insults directed at Jews have become symbols that transcended their original intent. Secret practitioners of Judaism in Catholic Spain were taunted as “Marranos” — a word that meant “pigs” but history has accepted the label as a mark of heroism. Yet while tattoos are — for reasons that completely escape me — all the rage in 2012, this is a very different sort of thing than a mere word.
For those grounded in traditional Judaism, the idea of using tattoos to memorialize the Shoah is intrinsically abhorrent since Jewish religious law forbids the practice under any circumstances. While not all the victims were religious any more than all the survivors and their descendants are, there is something profoundly distasteful about adopting a practice that was, in part, a Nazi effort to outrage Jewish sensibilities as well as to dehumanize the victims by replacing their name with a number.
But even if we were to somehow ignore this rather important point which is mentioned only in passing in the Times article, let’s understand that the tattoo craze seems like an effort to personalize an experience that can never truly belong to the person copying a survivor’s numbers.
Advocates for the practice will say that those who are appalled by this don’t understand today’s youth who see nothing wrong with tattoos and relate better to such individual gestures than more amorphous concepts. That may be so. A number on an arm may have a deep personal meaning for individuals, but turning oneself into a living Holocaust memorial via a tattoo is to merely become, as some of those interviewed for the Times story seemed to want, a conversation piece.
It might be admitted, as historian Michael Berenbaum told the Times, that a Holocaust number is preferable to some of the other things people pay to have drawn on their skin these days. But no one should be under the illusion that a tattoo can properly memorialize the six million slain in the Shoah or those who emerged from it.
The most important challenge for Jews today is to reconnect with Judaism, Jewish peoplehood and to act to protect the living Jewish state that is the best guarantee that the Holocaust will never happen again. That requires joint action that seems the antithesis of elevating a tattooed number inspired by Nazi dehumanization into a conversation starter.
It needs to be restated that the only proper memorial to the victims is a living breathing Jewish people determined to survive and thrive in a world still filled with anti-Semites who might like to emulate Hitler. Drawing a number on your skin may have meaning to individuals (or, as in one case, serve as a reminder to a young man to call his grandfather) but Jewish identity can’t be rooted in a vain attempt to relive a tragic past. Judaism is an affirmation of life not death. Seen in that light, the attempt by some secular Jews to grab onto a symbol of the slaughter as a way to connect with the past seems more like a futile provocation than a method of perpetuating the memory of this great tragedy.
Fetishizing Holocaust Tattoos
Must-Reads from Magazine
Podcast: Exit, stage left.
In John Podhoretz’s absence, Abe Greenwald and Noah Rothman take the helm in the first of the week’s podcasts devoted almost entirely the liberal anxiety at the Emmy Awards. Why are so many Americans tuning out of awards shows, movies, music, and sports programming? Could the answer be divorced from displays of liberal politics? The hosts also discuss the self-deluded antipathy toward “normalizing” a president, which is now inexplicably being directed toward his former press secretary.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
100 years of confusion.
Ben Steverman of Bloomberg News has an article up entitled, “Why American Workers Pay Twice as Much in Taxes as Wealthy Investors.” In it, he shows how an emergency room doctor with an income of $300,000 and an investor with the same income from capital gains and dividends would have tax rates respectively of 34 percent and 14 percent.
This is either sheer demagogy or Mr. Steverman thinks the corporate income tax is paid by the tooth fairy.
In fact, it is paid by some combination of higher prices for consumers, lower wages for workers, and lower dividends and stock prices for stockholders. The exact distribution between the three depends on the particular economic circumstances for each industry.
But let’s assume our investor is wholly invested in Amalgamated Widget and Congress decides to eliminate the corporate income tax (as it should, but won’t). The tax is currently at 35 percent, the highest rate in the world. Amalgamated Widget’s after-tax profit would instantly rise by 35 percent. This would translate almost instantly into both higher dividends and a greatly improved stock price.
Why are dividends taxed at a lower rate than wage income? Because they are paid out of after-tax profits. In other words, a tax of 35 percent has already been levied on that money. Bond interest, on the other hand, is considered a business expense, so bond interest is paid out of pretax income. That’s why interest on bonds is taxed at the full rate. Eliminate the corporate income tax and dividends would properly be taxed at the full rate as ordinary income as well.
Why are capital gains taxed at a lower rate than wage income? Again, stock prices (a function of perceived future profits) would be much higher if not for the corporate income tax, so taxing capital gains on stock at the full rate would, again, be double taxation. More, capital gains are not indexed for inflation (they certainly should be). So if our theoretical investor had bought 1000 shares of Amalgamated Widget in 1967 for $100,000 and sold them today for $1,000,000, he’d owe a capital gains tax on the “profit” of $900,000. But there’s been a cumulative inflation since 1967 of 635.1 percent. So his real profit is only $264,913.
The Supreme Court had struck down a personal income tax on the wealthy in 1895. In 1909, President William Howard Taft, a very gifted lawyer, devised the corporate income tax as a clever means of taxing the income of the rich anyway, as corporate stock at that time was almost all owned by the rich. But when the 16th Amendment was passed in 1913, and a personal income tax quickly levied, no attempt to merge the two income taxes was made.
The result has been 1) a century of ever-increasing tax complexity as tax lawyers and accountants played the two taxes off against each other to avoid taxation. And 2) a century of liberals screaming that the rich are not paying their fair share when that has often not been the case, as in the examples given by Ben Steverman.
Better things to do.
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reappeared last night, of all places, on stage at the annual Emmy Awards. All smiles at this gathering of television celebrities, the former chief spokesperson for Donald Trump performed a variety of self-deprecating antics and mocked his own preposterous appearances before the lectern in the White House briefing room. In essence, he turned in a good-natured homage to his caricature as portrayed by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live. Those who don’t share Spicer’s politics were not amused.
The Washington Post rounded up a herd of shaken liberal influencers who were horrified to see the Emmy Awards “normalize” a former White House press secretary. McCarthy herself may not have appreciated the reverence. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, she shared her anxiety over Spicer’s efforts to reclaim this satire with absurd self-seriousness. “No,” she described her thoughts hearing Spicer mockingly threaten to push his podium toward adversarial reporters in the White House briefing room. “That’s not your joke to make.”
This outrage is, of course, selective. No one evinced much agitation when former Press Secretary Josh Earnest became a political analyst despite advancing the myth that Barack Obama’s was “the most transparent” White House in history. None of Jay Carney’s three Hilary Rosens objected when he joined Amazon.com Inc. Robert Gibbs famously admitted that Obama asked him to mislead the press about the nature of the drone program. Woe unto McDonalds Inc. for normalizing that behavior, right?
Fortunately for the apoplectic celebrities who suffered through the briefest of humanizing interludes featuring Spicer, they had a comforting rationalization to which they could appeal. As the Post noted, some traumatized celebrities were relieved to learn Spicer’s self-effacing appearance on the program might also have been a subtly subversive assault on President Trump’s credibility. Unfortunately for the viewing audience, the rest of the program was much less subtle.
The actress Lily Tomlin called Trump “a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” The program’s host, Stephen Colbert, jabbed at Trump’s legitimacy by noting that, unlike the United States, the Emmy Awards honor the popular vote (they don’t). “At long last, Mr. President, here is your Emmy,” said Alec Baldwin while accepting an award for his portrayal of the president on Saturday Night Live—a line the New York Times described as “one of the night’s best zingers.” The most coveted award of the evening went to the streaming service Hulu for their adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has become “a symbol of anti-Trump resistance.” Indeed, with only 5 percent of respondents to a Katz Media Group survey having ever watched the show, more Americans are likely familiar with the Handmaid-inspired performance art than the show itself.
If this sounds to you less like an award show and more like a repellent therapy session for frazzled liberals, you’re in voluminous company. Though adjustments may change the preliminary verdict, this year’s Emmys are set to underperform even last year’s all-time low ratings. Maybe the politics on display were irrelevant; maybe the rise of streaming services has made traditional broadcast television a dying product. Maybe. But the Emmys misfortunes are of a familiar sort. This tune out is starting to feel like a trend.
In August, at just 5.4 million viewers, MTV’s Music Video Awards turned in their lowest ratings of all time. Occurring just days after a white-supremacist terrorist attack on peaceful demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, that event was explicitly political. But it was hard to avoid the impression it would have been political even absent events in Charlottesville.
Awardees delivered homilies praising NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for refusing to stand for the American national anthem and the network played a song titled “f*** Donald Trump” into breaks. For the first time, MTV presented an award for “Best Fight Against the System.” Host Katy Perry, a prominent member of Hillary Clinton’s squad of celebrity surrogates, displayed blinding originality when she joked about appearing in “Handmaid’s Tale” regalia and added that the VMAs was “one election where the popular vote actually matters.”
For months, liberal media outlets have contorted themselves into pretzels to support the claim that the sports network ESPN is not liberal, and conservatives who perceive it to be are addlebrained conspiracy theorists. Nevertheless, ESPN’s former personalities and even its regular viewers—according to a study commissioned by the network—don’t agree. Meanwhile, the network is laying off employees in droves, advertisers are panicking, and its ratings are cratering—the second quarter of 2017 was its least-watched Q2 in four years. Last week, ESPN John Skipper was compelled to admit that the network’s politicization is not a figment of conservative imaginations. “ESPN is not a political organization,” he wrote in a letter to his employees. “ESPN is about sports.” He continued, “we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.”
Even Hollywood is feeling the crunch. The summer of 2017 was the worst performing summer for domestic box office releases in years. “Without a film debuting widely over the Labor Day weekend, Box-office Media predicts the film industry will end the summer of 2017 with sales down by up to 15 percent,” Bloomberg reported. Contrary to some recent revisionism, the films that were released this summer were well-regarded and scored well among reviewers. It’s possible this collapse is unrelated to an epidemic of performing artists lecturing America on its lack of a “moral foundation,” the “cancer” afflicting its politics, and the deteriorating race relations. But what if it’s not?
Movies, cable and broadcast television, music; this tune out isn’t entirely about cord cutting. This is something broader. Any attempt to divorce politics from the public’s waning interest in entertainment media cannot compel without addressing the ubiquity of liberal political messaging permeating the products artists produce. Of course, no one can or should compel an artist to sacrifice their values for commercial viability. Nor, however, can you force consumers to endure a scolding they’d rather avoid.
A failure to persuade.
A new academic year has begun and, with it, we can expect new attempts to demonize Israel on our college campuses. As ever, the immoderation of those who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement should help. The most recent visible move by prominent BDSers has been to try to align their colleagues—in however hedged a manner—with the politically toxic Antifa movement.
So yes, we are not dealing here with strategic masterminds. But, in academia, such people have an advantage, nonetheless. They are “scholar-activists,” distant cousins of the 1960s New Left, who view campuses, as their forebearers did, as grounds from which to assail the powers that be. That is to say, they are there primarily, not incidentally, to engage in political activism. They have an influence far out of proportion to their numbers because most academics are at colleges and universities to teach and engage in research. They don’t, as people say in the movies, want no trouble. So they are inclined to leave politics to the people who care about it, so long as they are allowed to do their work in peace.
It is in part for this reason that organizations like Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the newer Academic Engagement Network exist (full disclosure: I have worked with both organizations). On the one hand, they enable scholars drawn reluctantly into a fight against BDS to learn from and support each other’s efforts. On the other hand, they try to spread the news that BDS is not only unjust to Israel—a fact that may worry those with no dog in the fight only a little—but also damaging to the academic enterprise, for which BDS seeks to substitute propagandizing.
At the beginning of the academic year, it is worth pausing to notice how many professors have been willing to put their reputations on the line to turn back BDS efforts and how often they have been successful. These include figures like Cary Nelson, Russell Berman, Rachel Harris, Sharon Musher, and Jeffrey Herf, to name just a few. These academicians have well-deserved reputations for waging long and successful campaigns for the integrity of their disciplines in the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association. But they also include physicist Azriel Genacka and biochemist Fred Naider, who, along with many of their colleagues at the City University of New York, stood up and opposed a pro-BDS resolution passed by a graduate student union there, and supported by some CUNY faculty.
Perhaps most impressively, they include scholars like the anthropologist Gila Silverman, who, despite working in a field that includes many BDS supporters and without the protection of tenure, was willing to fight publicly against a BDS resolution that very narrowly failed to win the support of the American Anthropological Association. Credit is due to the Academic Engagement Network for pulling together, as part of a new guide for faculty, these and other examples of faculty efforts to counter BDS.
Most of the participants in these efforts are left-liberals; in a profession in which conservatives have neither numbers nor much influence, that can hardly be surprising. But BDS has inadvertently brought together people on the left and right who have in common, at the very least, an interest in the health and integrity of their universities and professional associations.
The fight against BDS on our campuses is part of a broader fight to preserve our colleges and universities as homes of reason, in which following arguments where they lead is the aim, not standing, as our moralists are fond of saying, on the right side of history. The antidote to academic BDS in the long run, as its most successful opponents grasp, is to foster an intellectual climate in which all participants in a controversy are expected to be rigorous, and to allow their views and lives to be shaped by good arguments. Even in the best of circumstances, such a climate is present only intermittently at our colleges and universities. But it is also the only climate in which serious academic work can be pursued.
For that reason, even those who prefer to sit on the sidelines when it comes to political controversy might be engaged in efforts to better establish and maintain that air of studiousness. It also happens to be a climate in which BSD cannot breathe.
Not equal rights; special rights.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, he’ll undoubtedly devote part of his speech to the need to fight terrorist organizations. What he probably won’t mention is that in Israel, the fight is often hamstrung by the Supreme Court’s out-of-control judicial activism, as evidenced by last week’s mind-boggling ruling denying the government the right to revoke the Israeli residency of people serving in the Palestinian legislature or cabinet on behalf of Hamas.
In 2006, three Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were elected to the Palestinian parliament on behalf of the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform party, while a fourth was appointed to the Palestinian cabinet on behalf of that party. Israel responded by revoking their Israeli residency rights.
To most people, this would sound like a no-brainer. Many democracies view serving in a foreign government as grounds for revocation of citizenship because holding a policy-level position in one country’s government is considered to require a level of commitment to that country, which conflicts with one’s loyalty to the other country. Indeed, both America and Israel have such rules for their own citizens in policy-level positions; that’s why, for instance, when Michael Oren became ambassador to the U.S., he had to forfeit his American citizenship, despite the fact that America and Israel are close allies.
But these four Palestinians weren’t just serving in a foreign government; they were doing so on behalf of Hamas – a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. This, as the Israeli government correctly argued in court, constituted a massive “breach of trust” toward Israel.
Yet the court, in a 6-3 ruling, decided otherwise. Although the Entry into Israel Law allows the government to revoke anyone’s residency rights “at its discretion,” it said the law shouldn’t be used to revoke their residency for “breach of trust.” Why? Because most East Jerusalem Palestinians were born in Israel and had lived there all their lives, so they deserve greater protection than migrants, who have previously lived elsewhere and whose roots in Israel are therefore shallower.
That East Jerusalem Palestinians merit greater protection than, say, labor migrants, is obviously true. Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem back in 1967 so, logically, most of them should be citizens rather than permanent residents. That they aren’t is due to a unique catch-22: Israel cannot unilaterally grant them citizenship without outraging the international community, which wants them to be citizens of a future Palestinian state.
Most East Jerusalem Palestinians are reluctant to exercise their right to apply for citizenship because doing so is viewed by other Palestinians as treason against the Palestinian cause. The result is an entire class of permanent residents who, as the court rightly said, deserve to be treated more like citizens than permanent residents in many respects.
But in this particular case, the court’s otherwise valid distinction is completely irrelevant. After all, the case wasn’t about ordinary East Jerusalem residents, who, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, could reasonably be assumed by the court to view Israel as their primary home. It was specifically about people who chose to serve in a foreign government on behalf of a terrorist organization, and who thereby declared that their allegiance to this foreign entity supersedes their allegiance to Israel.
If you can forfeit citizenship for serving in a foreign government, you can certainly forfeit permanent residency. After all, Hamas officials surely don’t deserve more rights than Israeli ones. Yet that’s exactly what the court gave them: Hamas officials can now retain dual nationality even though their other nationality is Israel’s bitter enemy, while Israeli officials cannot, even when their other nationality is Israel’s close ally.
Moreover, it’s eminently reasonable to expect people who choose to serve in a foreign government to move to that government’s jurisdiction, unless some unusual obstacle prevents them. In this case, no such obstacle existed, as evidenced by the fact that two of them did relocate to Ramallah after losing their Israeli residency (the other two were arrested by Israel on unrelated grounds).
Even the majority justices appeared to realize how irrelevant their argument actually was. In a truly stunning statement, Justice Uzi Vogelman, who wrote the main opinion, said, “Our interpretative decision didn’t focus on the petitioners’ case specifically, but on an interpretive question of general applicability to residents of East Jerusalem.” Quite how any court can decide a case without focusing on that case specifically is beyond me.
Ostensibly, the case at least has limited application. After all, how many East Jerusalem Palestinians are going to become Hamas legislators of cabinet members? But in reality, the implications are broad, because if even swearing allegiance to a foreign government on behalf of a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction isn’t enough to make a Palestinian lose his Israeli residency and its attendant benefits, what on earth would be? Nothing I can think of. Thus, Hamas supporters in Jerusalem will now be emboldened to step up all kinds of activity on the organization’s behalf, secure in the knowledge that they need not fear expulsion from the country as a consequence.
The court’s judicial activism impedes the government’s ability to set policy in almost every walk of life, as I detailed in Mosaic last year, and several rulings over the past few months rightly outraged many members of Israel’s ruling parties. But last week’s ruling may have been a tipping point: In response, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her Jewish Home party submitted legislation to curb the court’s excesses. Whether it will pass remains to be seen. But this outrageous ruling in defense of Hamas legislators amply shows why it should.