Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Douglas

Can Americans Tell European Jews to Leave for Israel?

Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

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Actor Michael Douglas came face to face with European anti-Semitism recently and didn’t like the experience. Neither have many of the European Jews interviewed by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for his feature, whose headline poses the main question about the upsurge in hatred and violence against them: “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Douglas writes about the abuse directed at his son because the boy was wearing a Star of David while staying in what was likely a posh hotel in “southern Europe,” in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times. He has plenty of commendable outrage but nothing other than an anodyne call for an ecumenical stand against hatred to offer in response to a trend that can’t be ignored. Goldberg delves deeper into the motivations of the haters and the responses of the Jews but seems ambivalent about what conclusions to draw from it all. But the answer remains obvious even if it is easier for American Jews, who live in a country where anti-Semitism touches few lives, to ignore it: Israel remains the only logical answer to the question that his article poses.

Douglas’s piece was noteworthy because he lends his celebrity status to the effort to draw attention to what even the U.S. State Department has described as a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism in Europe. Goldberg offers a far more comprehensive triptych through Europe, describing the dilemma of Jews in places as diverse as France and Sweden and everywhere finding the same thing: it is increasingly impossible for Jews to live openly Jewish lives in nations that were long assumed to be bastions of Western freedom. But while the two pieces together help establish the importance of the issue, they also show how hard it is for American Jews to speak out on this issue in way that offers any clarity about the choices facing their European brethren.

Goldberg concludes his piece with the following puzzling paragraph:

I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew—which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.

Is Goldberg telling us that Jews must make “a run for it” in Europe in order to assure their safety? Or is he making a point that American Jews, who live in a very different environment, lack the standing to tell Europeans what to do?

If the latter, there is a point to be made on that score. No one can stand in judgment on the willingness of Jews in France, Sweden, and other countries to put up with insults and violence while seeking to conceal their Jewish identity in public. Leaving a home where you have history, jobs, family, and connections is very difficult. As a general rule, most people only do so when they feel they have little to lose by leaving or are motivated by ideology. Certainly American Jews, who are not likely to leave their homes for Israel, are in no position to demand that European Jews wake up and depart. Nor are we in a position to assure them asylum here at a time when a broken immigration system has left so many waiting to get in while millions live here illegally, albeit with the promise of amnesty from President Obama.

But it is possible for American Jews to look at the situation in Europe and to cease pretending that scattered gestures of goodwill or appropriate statements of concern from European leaders is any kind of an answer. As Goldberg’s report makes plain, the problem is too widespread, the roots of anti-Semitism run too deep in European culture, and the hate brought with them by Muslim immigrants to the continent far too embedded in their religion and culture to be talked out of existence. If Jews fear to wear Stars of David in public in some of the most enlightened capitals of the world, then it must be conceded that they not only have no future, but not much of a present.

Nor should American Jews think this situation has nothing to do with them.

It is true that American exceptionalism renders even the most virulent anti-Semitism less dangerous on these shores. Despite a history that includes many instances of Jew hatred, unlike every European and Asian country, America is a place where there is no real history of government-sponsored discrimination against them. Moreover, unlike Europe, where Israel’s existence is considered a vestige of the original sin of imperialism, support for Zionism is embedded in the political DNA of America. Religious Christians are ardent supporters of Israel and opponents of anti-Semitism. So are the overwhelming majority of Americans of all faiths.

But the trends that Goldberg discusses in Europe have established beachheads here on university campuses where Israel is a constant object of hate speech and boycott movements are part of the mainstream of academic culture. Last month’s incident at UCLA where a Jewish student was initially disqualified for a student government post was just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of prejudice. So is the ability of BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movements to demonize supporters of Israel and to legitimize anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish rights on many campuses.

The difference is that American Jews are in a position to stand up against these disturbing trends while European Jews find themselves isolated and at risk. Though attacks on Jews still vastly outnumber those on Muslims (despite the incessant harping of the media on the myth of Islamophobia), Jews know they are at home in America in a way they can never be in places where they have already experienced expulsion and extermination.

But as we wrote in our February editorial on “The Existential Necessity of Zionism,” after the attack on the Hyper Cacher market, like the subsequent attack on a Danish synagogue and a host of other examples in recent years, it is no longer possible to treat anti-Semitic violence as if it were an isolated phenomenon.

Nor are the arguments of Israel’s critics, such as those recounted in Goldberg’s piece, even minimally persuasive. The State of Israel faces a nuclear threat from Iran and an ongoing siege of terror from Palestinians and other Islamists. But it has the capability and the will to defend itself and it can be counted on to do so no matter who is running its government. Israel will retain its Jewish identity and it will do what it must to preserve itself even if that means, as it has so often in the past, forfeiting the applause of Europeans who are indifferent to the rise of anti-Semitism in their backyards.

The only possible answer to what Michael Douglas and Jeffrey Goldberg witnessed in Europe is an effort to help those Jews who wish to leave Europe to do so. And it should remind all Jews and non-Jews that the need for a Jewish state is just as much of an imperative as it was in the late 19th century where the Dreyfus case convinced Theodor Herzl of the need for one or as it was during and after the Holocaust. Any response to anti-Semitism that seeks an answer that ignores the Zionist imperative is part of the problem, not its solution. And American Jews, who are for the most part, as Goldberg pointed out, descendants of people who had the smarts to leave Europe while the getting was good, should not be shy about saying so.

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Nukes Don’t Kill People

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

If you’ve seen the 1995 Rob Reiner movie The American President, with Michael Douglas as the title character, you recognize the Obama posture at this week’s nuclear summit. I saw the movie at a theater in Dallas and have told the story many times about its political punch lines falling flat with the Texas audience. There was the line uttered by Annette Bening, the female lead and presidential love interest, about turning any car with an internal combustion engine into a collector’s item. That produced only a restless silence. And there was this passage from the rousing, climactic speech delivered by Douglas in the final minutes of the movie:

You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

The Hollywood Congress onscreen applauded uproariously, but these lines got no appreciation from the Texas movie crowd. A good three-fourths of it would, I suspect, have informed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that guns don’t kill people — people kill people.

Barack Obama has believed, since his undergraduate days in the Nuclear Freeze movement, that nukes kill people. He may honestly think you cannot address global security without getting rid of enriched nuclear material; it’s hard to say. But he’s gonna get the nukes.

And so, like a mayor trumpeting a handgun turn-in program, he is getting the nukes out of the hands of the law-abiding. His takers to date include Ukraine, which will reportedly turn its enriched uranium over to Russia; Chile, which had already concluded an agreement to send its high-enriched uranium — used for nuclear reactors — to the U.S.; and Mexico, which will accept help from the U.S. and Canada to convert its reactors from high-enriched uranium to lower-enriched fuel.

Many commentators have pointed out that it makes little sense to hold a nuclear summit in 2010 and give scant attention to Iran, North Korea, and unstable Pakistan. But that perspective assumes a moral and prioritized approach to the problem: one that recognizes the motives of the human actors most likely to have weaponized nuclear components at their disposal in the near future.

Obama’s prophylactic approach, by contrast, is abstract, bureaucratic, and incremental. It weighs the problem by the kiloton of enriched uranium, as the anti-gun left weighs the crime problem by the number of .38 Specials not yet confiscated from the public. From this perspective, any transfer of physical material from one form of custody to another can be seen as a big, important step in the right direction.

But such symbolic physical transfers are important only if our most immediate global security threat really is terrorists, in the generic, getting hold of enriched uranium that could be anywhere. We have good reason to conclude otherwise. Islamic terrorists are much more likely to get nuclear material from Pakistan, Iran, or North Korea than from any other source. In the race to assemble a nuclear device that can be used against Israel, North America, or Europe, Iran holds the lead over any terrorist group. North Korea, meanwhile, can already range South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon.

Our greatest nuclear threat is not addressed at all by the uranium transfers commemorated with such fanfare at this week’s summit. The Obama administration would do well to heed the skeptical wisdom of Texas film audiences and remember that nukes don’t kill people; people kill people.

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A Cure for the China Syndrome

Do you remember The China Syndrome, the 1979 flick starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon, about a nuclear-power plant gone fahkahkt whose debut in theaters happened to precede by a matter of days the Three Mile Island nuclear-power-plant disaster, which released deadly radiation into the atmosphere for thousands of miles, killing off plants, animals, trees, bugs, vermin, and hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans busily going about their lives unsuspectingly not suspecting a thing?

Well neither do I. But the synchronicity of those events, I believe, went a long way toward putting the kibosh on nuclear power in this country, opening the doors for decades of nice clean fossil-fuel emissions.

Well, now that the French have paved the way for President Obama to advocate the employment of domestic nuclear power, none other than China Syndrome star Michael Douglas has announced that he supports the president in this. (h/t Big Hollywood)

I wish these people would make up their minds. How am I supposed to know what to hate if these movie-star actor-types can’t stay the course for more than 30 years?

Personally I believe going nuclear is a mistake. Granted, all those alternative forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, thermal, thermals with the feet in them – couldn’t produce enough energy to fuel a haiku. But that may be a blessing in disguise, because fostering the notion that there is a relatively cheap and abundant supply of energy only motivates people to do things, and doing things is the No. 1 cause of all the world’s problems in the first place. Why O why can’t people just stay in their assigned spaces and sit quietly, hands folded?

If only we could encourage people to stop doing things, then our energy-consumption dilemma would solve itself and we wouldn’t have to take our cues from movie-star actor-types to begin with.

Nothing. It’s our only hope.

Do you remember The China Syndrome, the 1979 flick starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon, about a nuclear-power plant gone fahkahkt whose debut in theaters happened to precede by a matter of days the Three Mile Island nuclear-power-plant disaster, which released deadly radiation into the atmosphere for thousands of miles, killing off plants, animals, trees, bugs, vermin, and hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans busily going about their lives unsuspectingly not suspecting a thing?

Well neither do I. But the synchronicity of those events, I believe, went a long way toward putting the kibosh on nuclear power in this country, opening the doors for decades of nice clean fossil-fuel emissions.

Well, now that the French have paved the way for President Obama to advocate the employment of domestic nuclear power, none other than China Syndrome star Michael Douglas has announced that he supports the president in this. (h/t Big Hollywood)

I wish these people would make up their minds. How am I supposed to know what to hate if these movie-star actor-types can’t stay the course for more than 30 years?

Personally I believe going nuclear is a mistake. Granted, all those alternative forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, thermal, thermals with the feet in them – couldn’t produce enough energy to fuel a haiku. But that may be a blessing in disguise, because fostering the notion that there is a relatively cheap and abundant supply of energy only motivates people to do things, and doing things is the No. 1 cause of all the world’s problems in the first place. Why O why can’t people just stay in their assigned spaces and sit quietly, hands folded?

If only we could encourage people to stop doing things, then our energy-consumption dilemma would solve itself and we wouldn’t have to take our cues from movie-star actor-types to begin with.

Nothing. It’s our only hope.

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