Not everyone taking part in the war on Israel shoots rockets, tries to stab random Jews on Israeli streets, or even openly promotes anti-Semitic propaganda. Some do it in the name of Judaism and Jewish values and what they claim are high moral purposes. By that I don’t refer to the Neturei Karta, a tiny sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have always lurked on the margin of Jewish life, showing up at demonstrations as token supporters of Palestinian terror groups and doing so in the name of a perverted vision of Orthodoxy rejected even by those on the most extreme end of the religious spectrum.
Rather, I write of a relatively new group of liberal millenials that have taken to organizing sit-ins at the headquarters of American Jewish organizations in cities throughout the country before Passover. Calling themselves “If Not Now,” they say their purpose is ending “the occupation” and their demands are simple: that all American Jewish groups disavow the government of Israel. Though it is small and has little influence, it is nevertheless significant because its activities are indicative of the way demographic changes are causing American Jews to abandon Israel just at the moment when the siege of the Jewish state is once again heating up. Rather than ignore it or foolishly seek dialogue with it, American Jews should regard If Not Now as the thin edge of the wedge of a new Jewish front in the war against Israel.
To those who follow the American Jewish debate on Israel the basic demand for the end of the occupation sounds fairly familiar. But If Not Now is not to be confused with J Street or Americans for Peace Now, groups that also believe that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and think the Netanyahu government is not doing enough to make peace with the Palestinians or that it should be pressured into further territorial withdrawals by the Untied States. The growth of If Not Now represents an insidious shift in Jewish opinion that makes even those groups — whose views are at odds with the overwhelming consensus of Israeli opinion and serve to enable and encourage anti-Israel activism — look tame. Peace Now and J Street may advocate views that are rejected by most Israelis as well as by the mainstream organized Jewish world and constitute a damaging irritant, but they are still explicitly Zionist and, at least in principle, are supposedly opposed to the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement that seeks to wage economic warfare on Israel. That is not the case with If Not Now. It proclaims neutrality about Zionism. It is equally non-committal about BDS.
But the tactics of the group make clear the meaning of such supposed neutrality. The entire point of If Not Now’s activism seems aimed at undermining the entire structure of American Jewry. Their demands are simple: all those who will not renounce support of Israel are subjected to sit-ins and demonstrations aimed at hampering their ability to carry on their work. This means their principle targets are groups that are themselves explicitly neutral about Israeli politics while being generally supportive of Israel as well as those whose activities are mainly focused on promoting Jewish life in the United States. Such targets include Jewish federations or groups monitoring anti-Semitism, such as the Anti-Defamation League.
According to an article by Haaretz’s Debra Nussbaum Cohen, when faced by sit-ins by highly organized demonstrators who sometimes chain themselves in place in order to maximize the disruption, leaders of Jewish groups have been flummoxed. Their natural reaction to such activity is to call for dialogue and to seek common ground. But If Not Now seeks no common ground with other Jews and refuses offers of meetings. They demand surrender to their call for breaking ties with Israel and will not so much as sit down with liberal Jews who are laboring under the delusion that their activities are merely over-enthusiastic demonstrations of their own concerns about the conflict in the Middle East.
One such person is Jeremy Burton, the executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, a group that is not exactly a stronghold of right-wing opinion or sympathy for Netanyahu.
“We want the same thing, an end to the occupation and a two-state solution,” Burton, told Haaretz. “If I’m wrong about that then it requires conversation to understand what they’re talking about. If I’m right then I don’t understand INN’s overall strategy and vision.” …
“I don’t see how just showing up outside buildings or a couple of people getting arrested without having a real conversation about the vision with the people they say are the target of that work will achieve anything,” Burton told Haaretz. “It’s not clear to me what their overall goal is in terms of the Jewish community here.” …
Unfortunately, it’s obvious what their goal is. The goal of a campaign of disruption that explicitly disavows support for Zionism while failing to oppose boycotts against Israel isn’t a two-state solution or anything else that leads to peace.
If Not Now poses as a defender of traditional Jewish ethics by taking its name from the famous saying from the Ethics of the Fathers by Rabbi Hillel the Elder: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” It also says it opposes violence against “our community” though it is deliberately unclear about whether that sense of community extends to Israelis.
But the point of this group’s efforts isn’t about peace or even making the lives of Palestinians easier. It’s about lending the weight of liberal millenials to a campaign that will isolate the Jewish state while ignoring the realities of the Middle East conflict, the intentions of the Palestinians, and even the desire of Israelis and American Jews for peace. It’s about severing the ties of Jewish peoplehood and speciously doing so in the name of an allegedly prophetic vision that doesn’t seem to include rights for Jews or a Jewish state.
The self-righteous tone of If Not Now is reminiscent of J Street’s jeremiads against Netanyahu and their unfortunate cheerleading for Obama administration pressure on Israel. But the difference here is that, like the more explicitly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace (whose members reportedly are also involved in this new group), If Not Now no longer thinks it worthwhile to add to its platform a fig leaf of support for the idea that Jews have rights to a nation or self-defense. As such it must be considered the logical next step for left-wing activists whose animus for Netanyahu and the majority of the Israeli people who keep re-electing him isn’t merely a matter of support for U.S. pressure but has morphed into efforts to intimidate Jews into abandoning Israel to its fate. That one of the leaders of this group is Simone Zimmerman, the anti-Zionist activist who was fired from the Bernie Sanders campaign for her insults of Prime Minister Netanyahu is significant.
Let’s put aside the notion that this campaign has much to do with peace or ethics.
Nor is this about seeking to suppress criticism of Israel. Israelis debate these issues every day, but groups like If Not Now are doing something very different than just debating what Israel should do: they seek to delegitimize and isolate the Jewish state.
The obstacle to peace isn’t Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. It’s the continued refusal of Palestinians to accept peace on any terms short of Israel’s destruction. Most Israelis would gladly divest themselves of the West Bank just as they did in 2005 when every soldier, settler, and settlement was pulled out of Gaza. But instead of becoming an incubator for peace, the strip became a bastion of terror. The independent Palestine in all but name that exists there now is a Hamas fiefdom used for launching thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and building terror tunnels whose purpose is to kidnap and murder Jews.
Three times Israel offered the Palestinian Authority peace and an independent state that would have included almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Three times the answer was no. In the last few years, even the Netanyahu government agreed to a two state solution and offered a West Bank withdrawal. Again the answer was no. And just as Yasir Arafat replied to the first such peace offer in 2000 with a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada, again today Palestinians have sunk U.S.-sponsored peace talks and launched a new “stabbing intifada” leading to the spilling of more blood and deaths rooted in religious incitement and blood-libel canards.
Why do they say no? They do so because not even the supposed moderates of the PA, like its leader Mahmoud Abbas, can bring themselves to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Even to Abbas, all of Israel, including the land inside the pre-1967 borders has been “occupied” since 1948. Which brings us to If Not Now’s obsession with ending the “occupation.”
It is significant that it doesn’t say what “occupation” it opposes. Is it just the West Bank? Jerusalem? Or do they agree with Abbas and Hamas that those older “settlements” like Tel Aviv must also be liberated from Zionist rule? The ambiguity on that point, like their neutrality about economic warfare waged against Israel, is telling.
Such stands are consistent with the decline in a sense of Jewish peoplehood that was reflected in the 2013 Pew Survey of Jewish Americans. For too many people of Jewish origin, their liberal sensibilities and sympathy for the Palestinians are more important than any sense of obligation to stand in solidarity with Jews who are under attack.
Israelis — including the liberal opposition to Netanyahu in the Knesset — understand that there is currently no partner for peace and that replicating the Gaza experiment in the larger and more strategic West Bank would be suicide. But instead of urging Palestinians to make peace, these critics of Israel are only intent on ignoring the will of the Israeli people to survive and crushing the desire of the majority of American Jews to stand in solidarity with them.
Instead of trying to coddle these activists, the leaders of mainstream liberal groups such as the ADL should be condemning these demonstrations whose main point seems to be to put a Jewish face on anti-Zionist activism. Though it avoids the transparent anti-Semitism that is easily seen among most BDS activists, If Not Now’s activities are no less insidious. Those who call upon Israel to endanger itself while ignoring or tacitly justifying terror campaigns are not really neutral or seeking to promote peace. Those who seek to rupture ties between Israel and U.S. Jews in the name of a spurious notion of morality detached from reality are not promoting Jewish values. At best, they are useful idiots serving the cause of hate. At worst, they are an anti-Zionist fifth column assisting the war on the Jewish state that deserves to be vigorously opposed by all those who care about Israel and Jewish rights, whether on the right or the left.
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When Jews Join the War on Israel
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Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
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The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.
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Convenience, wrote Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a tyrant. It makes our lives easier and more enjoyable, but everything comes with a price tag. We may not recognize that which we are sacrificing in the pursuit of convenience, but we are sacrificing nonetheless.
The instant gratification associated with on-demand society has made America’s shared cultural moments a thing of the past. The explosion of online shopping has eliminated the time consumers wasted traveling from store to store, but physical retail is dying as a result. The modern public square and the daily human interactions that it encouraged will disappear along with it. Machine learning has the power to introduce a “more compassionate social contract” and reduce physical risk associated with workplace hazards or lifestyle choices. But risk is just another word for freedom and, in the pursuit of convenience, we risk sacrificing our independence along with our hardships.
“We’re really reinventing the traditional insurance model with our vitality program,” said Marianne Harrison, the CEO of one of North America’s largest life insurers, John Hancock, in a recent appearance on CNBC. The beaming insurance executive boasted of her firm’s effort to marry a “technology-based wellness program” with an “insurance product.” That’s a loaded way of saying that this American insurer is soon going to charge based on the real-time monitoring of your daily activities. Behavior-based insurance will track the health data of policyholders through wearable devices or smartphones and distribute rewards based on individual choices. You don’t have to wear a tracking device to participate in this program—at least, not yet. Harrison assured skeptics that they could also dole out rewards to policyholders who take simple steps like reading preapproved literature, the consumption of which they presumably track.
This innovation is optional today, but the savings it yields for both consumer and insurer guarantee that it will soon become a standard feature of the insurance landscape. Your freedom to eat poorly, use tobacco products, drink alcohol, or perform any number of physical activities that include varying levels of risk are not limited. You’ll just have to pay for them. And if Democratic policymakers succeed in nationalizing the private health insurance industry under the auspices of Medicare-for-all or single-payer or whatever other euphemisms they apply to the public confiscation of private property, these “tools” will only become more pervasive.
A similar rationale—the primacy of collective health—can be applied to any number of activities that invite unnecessary risk that technology can mitigate. Foremost among these is the terribly dangerous American habit of driving a car.
In 2017, there were over 40,000 automobile-related fatalities. This was the second consecutive year in which the roads were that deadly and, if observers who attribute this rate of fatal traffic accidents to an increase in smartphone ownership are correct, there will not be a decline anytime soon. A 2015 study purported to show that replacing manual vehicles with autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems could eliminate up to 90 percent of all fatal accidents and save as many as 300,000 American lives each decade. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the option to own a driverless vehicle becomes a mandate with a hefty financial penalty imposed on those who opt out.
“[T]he threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend,” wrote National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Presently, the car transports its diver to wherever they’d like to go, whether there are roads to facilitate the journey or not. In a driverless world, as Cooke noted, the driver becomes a mere occupant. They must essentially ask the car for permission to transit from point A to point B, and the whole process is monitored and logged by some unseen authorities. Furthermore, that transit could ostensibly be subject to the veto of state or federal authorities with the push of a button. That seems a steep price to pay for a little convenience and the promise of safety.
The pursuit of convenience, as Professor Wu explained, has resulted in remarkable social leveling. We enjoy more time today for “self-cultivation,” once only the province of the wealthy and aristocratic, than at any point in history. And yet, we cannot know true liberty without hardship. “The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity,” Wu concluded.
There is more to celebrate in the technological revolutions of the last quarter-century than there is to lament. But in the pursuit of convenience, we’ve begun to make spontaneity irrational. In life, the rewards associated with experience are commensurate with that which is ventured. In a future in which the world’s sharp edges are bubble-wrapped, your life may exceed today’s average statistical length. But can you really call it living?
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Podcast: Christine Rosen on Brett Kavanaugh.
The podcast welcomes COMMENTARY contributor and author Christine Rosen on the program to discuss the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Have his confirmation hearings have transformed into another chapter in the national cultural reckoning that is the #MeToo moment?
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Justice both delayed and denied.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor, did not want to come forward. In an eerie echo of Anita Hill’s public ordeal, her accusations were “leaked to the media.” With her confidentiality violated, Ford had no choice but to go public. Coons could not say where that leak came from, but he did confess that “people on committee staff” had access to the letter in which Ford made her allegations. Draw your own conclusions.
Though many observers insist that what we have witnessed since Ford’s allegations were made public is about justice, it’s hard to see any rectitude in this process. Ford has been transformed into a public figure apparently against her wishes. The details of the attack that Ford alleges are deeply disturbing, but they are not prosecutable. Ford’s recollection of the events 36 years ago is understandably hazy, but what she alleges to have occurred is too vague to establish with much accuracy. She cannot recall the precise date or location in which she was supposedly attacked. Contrary to the protestations of Senate Democrats like Kamala Harris, the FBI cannot get involved in a matter that is not within the federal government’s jurisdiction. And even if local authorities were inclined to involve themselves, the statute of limitations long ago elapsed.
With precious few facts available to congressional investigators and without the sobriety that public scrutiny in the age of social media abhors, the spectacle to which the nation is about to be privy is undoubtedly going to make things worse. A public hearing featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh will be a performative and political display, if it happens at all. It will be adorned with the trappings of courtroom proceedings but with none of the associated protections afforded accused and accuser alike. It will further polarize the nation such that, whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, public confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court will be severely damaged. And no matter what is said in that hearing, it is unlikely to change many minds.
Given the dearth of hard evidence, it is understandable that observers have begun to look to their own experiences to evaluate the veracity of Ford’s allegations. The Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan is the author of a powerful and compelling example of this kind of work. Her essay, entitled “I Believe Her,” is important for a variety of reasons. Maybe foremost among them is how she all but invalidates defenses of Kavanaugh that are based on the positive character references he’s assembled from former female acquaintances and ex-girlfriends. Flanagan was assaulted as a young woman, and her abuser—a man she says drove her to a suicidal depression similar to what Ford has described to her therapist—was not interested in a romantic relationship. CNN political commenter Symone Sanders, too, confessed that “there is no debate” in her mind as to Kavanaugh’s guilt, in part, because she was the victim of a sexual assault in college. The similarities between what she endured and what Ford says occurred are too hard for her to ignore.
These are harrowing stories, but they also reveal how little any of this has to do with Brett Kavanaugh anymore. For some, this has become a proxy battle in the broader cultural reckoning that began with the #MeToo moment. Quite unlike the many abusive men who were outed by this movement, though, the evidentiary standard being applied to Kavanaugh’s case is remarkably low. His innocence has not been presumed, and a preponderance of evidence has not been marshaled against him. It is not even clear as of this writing that Kavanaugh will be allowed to confront his accuser. At a certain point, honest observers must concede that getting to the truth has not been a defining feature of this process.
In the face of this adversity, there are some Republicans who are willing to sacrifice Kavanaugh’s nomination. Some appear to think that Kavanaugh’s troubles present them with an opportunity to advance their own political prospects and to promote a replacement nominee with whom they feel a closer ideological affinity. Others simply don’t want to risk standing by a tainted nominee. The stakes associated with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court are too high to confirm a justice with an asterisk next to his name—a justice who may tarnish future rulings on sensitive cases by association. Those Republicans are either capitulatory or craven.
Based on what we know now, Kavanaugh does not deserve an asterisk. Maybe he will tomorrow, but he doesn’t today. Those who would allow what is by almost all accounts an exemplary legal career to be destroyed by unconfirmable accusations or outright innuendo will not get a better deal down the line. Some Republicans are agnostic about Kavanaugh’s fate and believe that his being stopped will make room for a more doctrinaire conservative like Amy Coney Barrett. But they will not get their ideologically simpatico justice if they allow the defiling of the process by which she could be confirmed.
The experiences that Dr. Ford described are appalling. Even for those who are inclined to believe her account and think that she is due some restitution, no true justice can be meted out that doesn’t infringe on the rights of the accused. Those in the commentary class who would use Kavanaugh as a stand-in for every abuser who got away, every preppy white boy who benefited from unearned privilege, every hypocritical conservative moralizer to exact some karmic vengeance are not interested in justice. They want a political victory, even at the expense of the integrity of the American ideal. If there is a fight worth having, it’s the fight against that.