CBS News ‘60 Minutes’ correspondent Leslie Stahl reported Sunday night October 17 on the City of David archaeological dig under Silwan in East Jerusalem and the effort by the settler movement, the El-Ad organization and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to populate the congested Arab neighborhood with Jews. Watch it here.
Note: I’ve corrected this post in light of the comments below that produced the text I was unable to find.
In my blog post the other day about the Netanyahu government’s moves toward regulating the Israeli finance industry, I meant to elaborate about the role of Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, one of the architects of the surprisingly progressive plan. I didn’t elaborate on Fischer because I couldn’t find the on-line document that best captures his unusual place in the universe of international finance. It seems the document has disappeared from the Internet. (Postscript: It’s been found: here.)
(I guess this paragraph can be ignored, though I can’t explain how it escaped me.) It’s supposed to be in the on-line archive of the International Monetary Fund, where Fischer used to work. It used to be there. I read it there. It’s cited in other IMF documents as being available there. But it’s not there now. Somebody apparently took it down.
My point would have been that the seeming unexpectedness of the new Israeli regulation effort shouldn’t be unexpected if you know a bit about Stanley Fischer’s background. In a word, he’s a progressive within the world of international finance, close to the third-way approach identified with Tony Blair and Shimon Peres, miles away from the market fundamentalism that has brought down our own country and that Bibi Netanyahu is supposed to be identified with.
I wrote about Fischer’s background and leanings in a brief column in 2005 when he was appointed to head the Bank of Israel, the equivalent of the Federal Reserve. The appointment caused a fuss at the time because he was an American; Israelis were shocked that a foreigner would be imported to take such a critical role in the government. Some commentators were writing at the time that the conservative Netanyahu was obviously picking a vice chairman of Citibank who was associated with the University of Chicago, citadel of the arch-conservative Milton Friedman.
In fact, Fischer’s resume is anything but Friedmanesque. He was educated at the left-wing London School of Economics and spent most of his academic career at M.I.T., where he earned his doctorate. His time in Chicago, 1969 to 1973, was basically an interlude.
As for familiarity with Israel, he was intimately involved in the Israeli economy, as far back as the early 1970s, when he took the first in a string of visiting teaching positions at Hebrew University. In 1984 he worked closely with then-prime minister Shimon Peres to reverse the runaway hyper-inflation of the Menachem Begin years. The effort was notable, perhaps unprecedented, in reversing a hyper-inflated, runaway economy without impoverishing the middle class in the process.
But the seeds were planted much earlier.
There was a little business story in today’s Haaretz that you probably overlooked. It’s a real eye-opener. It’s about steps being taken by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to reform the regulation of the finance industry. But what it’s really about is how a determined political system can stop bankers from taking over, wrecking the economy and ruining everyone else’s lives.
The issue Bibi is looking at is the growing control by investment banking and the finance industry over the rest of the Israeli economy, and the damage that does to democracy. The similarities to our own situation here are creepy. The eagerness of the very conservative Netanyahu and company to deal with it in advance makes a striking contrast to the caution of Obama and the Democrats.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided last evening to establish a committee on economic concentration and ways to increase competition in the economy. Its conclusions on ways to increase competition will go to Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and the governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, within four months.
The new committee will discuss restricting large-scale pyramid-type holdings in public companies; strengthening corporate governance in public companies; the question of financial firms controlling non-financial firms; antitrust policy; and toughening the conditions for the purchase of state assets.
The decision comes after months of discussion. The fact that it took several months to convene the meeting and reach a decision is itself a scary comment on the influence of the financial world over the government, as this story from yesterday’s Haaretz explains in very readable detail.
The discussion in the Prime Minister’s Office should never have been necessary. The moment the prime minister and governor of the Bank of Israel decided last year that the concentration of wealth was hurting competition, productivity, financial stability and democracy, they should have appointed a team of experts to study the issue in depth and make recommendations.
Okay. So why the fear? Why the hesitation? Why summon a special debate on whether or not a committee to study economic concentration needs to be established?
The reason, the story says, is clear:
The Wonkette blog reported Thursday that former Virginia Republican senator George Allen is gearing up for a rematch against Democrat Jim Webb to get his old seat back. Webb took away the seat in 2006 when Allen ran into a barrage of heat over his calling an Indian-American Democratic campaign worker “macaca.” According to Wonkette’s Jack Stuef, Allen
likes to use old-timey racial slurs of which nobody has ever heard, so he was defeated in 2006 for saying “macaca” on YouTube. It was an important moment in American history, according to what all the pundits said at the time, because it was the first time voters elected an Internet meme to Congress.
What’s missing here? As alert readers recall, the “macaca” moment caused a buzz, but the crisis built slowly. While everybody thought it sounded like a racial slur, nobody knew what it meant. Allen said it had no meaning and it just came out of his mouth. The roof fell in after the Forward’s E.J. Kessler broke the story in late August that “macaca” is a nasty word for a black person in Tunisian French slang and Allen would have learned it growing up because his mother was born a Tunisian Jew. Allen was asked about the report a few weeks later on camera by a local TV reporter. He blew up and protested angrily about having “aspersions” cast against his mother. Calling someone Jewish is an aspersion? Well, the next day he acknowledged that he had known his mother was Jewish—that he had learned about it from the Forward article and asked his mother about it. As the Forward reported in a September 20 follow-up:
“I was raised as a Christian, and my mother was raised as a Christian,” said Allen, who is locked in an unexpectedly close race with Democrat James Webb. “And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line’s Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed.” Later in the day, Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, identified the article as a story by E.J. Kessler that appeared in the Forward last month. According to Wadhams, after reading the article the senator decided to ask his mother about her Jewish roots.
He didn’t explain why calling someone Jewish might be considered casting an aspersion.
Allen started the 2006 race in the spring as a hugely popular incumbent, a shoo-in for reelection and in fact a leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination until this happened. Now Wikipedia includes him on its list of Jewish former senators.
It gets weirder. Wonkette goes on to note:
William Saletan, a columnist at Slate.com, wrote a piece September 29 titled “The Ground Zero Synagogue: Should Jews build a synagogue near a site of Jewish terrorism?” He compares the debate over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York to the building of a new synagogue in Kiryat Arba, just outside Hebron, which he says is near the site where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994.
Imagine a place where Muslims were the victims, not the perpetrators, of the worst terrorist massacre in recent memory. Imagine, for example, that the killer was Jewish and that in the wake of his attack, on the very ground from which he had plotted it, Jews built a synagogue. How would today’s opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque” react? Would they condemn, with equal vigor, the “Ground Zero synagogue”?
We already know the answer, because the place I’m talking about isn’t imaginary. It’s Hebron, a city in the West Bank. The reason you haven’t heard about its new synagogue is that there has been no outcry. Apparently, the rule about keeping houses of worship at a respectful distance from scenes of terrorism is for Muslims only.
Today he posted a follow-up, titled “Jewish Terrorism: Readers Respond. Is it wrong to compare 9/11 to a Israeli settler’s slaughter of Muslims?” He quotes excerpts from some of the nearly 500 comments he received in reply to the first piece, with his retorts to each. Interesting reading.
My latest Good Fences column looks at the gloomy state of the economy and argues that it’s a mistake to blame either President Obama or the recent President Bush. What we’re experiencing actually is the collapse of a snake-oil economic cult theory that’s had us in its thrall for the past 30 years or so, the so-called Washington Consensus, also known as Reaganomics. In this blog post I run through some of the sources for my numbers, so you can check my math or even do your own exploring.
My column looks mainly at the paradoxical results of lowering taxes in order to encourage economic growth, which is a core tenet of our post-1980 economic faith. Between 1946 and 1980 the top income tax rate averaged around 80%. In the 30 years since then, the top rate has averaged around 35%. For some reason, the past 30 years have not seen increased economic growth. What they have seen is an explosion of the national debt, plus a colossal divergence between the incomes of the richest Americans and everyone else.
There are lots of other factors besides tax rates that play into the divergence, including deregulation of finance, killing off labor unions (thus increasing the bargaining power of the employer versus the wage-earner), technological changes and more. Slate.com has run a magisterial series by Timothy Noah, “The Great Divergence,” that explores the various factors, one by one. It’s worth the time.
Two recent newspaper articles have done a particularly powerful job of illuminating less-noticed aspects of the current crisis and its human impact. From The New York Times, “For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again.” And from The Washington Post, “Families struggle to build nest egg in wake of recession.”
Some people find it hard to believe that income tax rates used to be at 91% in the good old days. Well, it’s true. No, nobody paid 91% of all their income in taxes. It was a marginal rate — the amount you paid on any income above a certain ceiling. Today’s top marginal rate, for example, is 35%, but it only applies to your earnings after your initial $312,000.
This chart shows you the top marginal income tax rate, year by year, going back to 1913 (when income tax began), along with the cutoff point in earnings above which the top rate was applied.
The marginal rate throughout the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations — from 1951 (under Truman, actually) through 1963 — was 91% on income above $400,000. (Calculating for inflation, $400,000 back in 1963 was worth about $2.8 million in today’s dollars.) The only president whose full tenure coincided with the confiscatory 91% marginal rate was Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican.
Tomorrow, September 28, is the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the so-called Second or Al-Aqsa Intifada, the wave of Palestinian terrorism that left thousands dead and pretty much killed off Israelis’ faith in the possibility of peace with the Palestinians. Two surprising and very important articles appeared in the Israeli press today to mark the occasion.
One, on the Ynet website, is an op-ed essay by Sever Plocker (pronounced “Plotzker”), Yediot Ahronot’s widely respected and devoutly centrist economics editor and senior political commentator. It’s titled “The great national test: A decade after second Palestinian Intifada, Israel approaching fateful decisions.” The other piece is a brief story in the Jerusalem Post giving the total number of people who died in the conflict in the decade now ending. The Post relays the numbers, without comment, from a new report issued today by B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.
The second Intifada hardened Israel in the face of terror attacks and boosted Hamas, but did not take away the basic willingness of the majority of Israelis to withdraw from most of the territories in exchange for a diplomatic-security agreement.
There is no doubt that U.S. President Barack Obama referred to the lessons of the second Intifada last week when he addressed the Palestinians in his clearly Zionistic speech (“Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people”) at the UN General Assembly, telling them that their rights can only be realized in peaceful ways, via genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
In that same speech, Obama designated the attainment of Israeli-Arab peace as his top global objective. An urgent, burning mission. This means that Israel is approaching fateful decisions; among the most fateful in its history.
How ready are we for these decisions? Are we even interested in them? Karl Vick, the Israel correspondent for Time Magazine, captured the current Israeli mood in a cover story published two weeks ago under the headline “Why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” His answer: Israelis don’t care because they live well, surrounded by happiness and wealth, within a growing economy, with a rising standard of living, a strong currency, and lively culture.
Two points to note. First, Plocker’s casual reference to that September 13 Time cover story about Israelis and peace. The story has been slammed from here to Yenemsvelt as an anti-Semitic blood libel. Plocker mentions it as a pretty fair description of the way things are.
Second, Plocker believes Netanyahu is serious about reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians:
From The Root, a very cool black-interest webzine, this essay by Sherrilyn Ifill is the smartest piece I’ve seen on what happened to the Obama presidency (though it badly loses steam at the very end).
Here’s the bottom line:
The legitimate anger and frustration of voters at the massive bank bailout, and the pressures of the economic crisis, understandably inspired populist activism. Progressives, exhausted from the campaign or still celebrating the Obama election, missed the opportunity to take advantage of populist outrage to build support for resistance to the rise of the unfettered corporate state.
But the channeling of legitimate anger by town hall protesters and many Tea Party activists into an all-out challenge to the legitimacy of Obama as president has revealed the extent to which animosity toward Obama himself is what lies at the heart of these movements. The theory that this rise in anti-government activism is triggered by a concern for fiscal responsibility and the bloated deficit would carry more weight if these same concerned citizens had revealed their resistance to unfettered spending during the Bush administration’s run-up of a trillion-dollar deficit pursuing two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy.
It comes down to this, which seems obvious once you read it:
Republicans have shown themselves willing to dismantle the very apparatus of government to ensure Obama’s failure.
’Tis the season of family drama.
The three-week holiday season opened last week on Rosh Hashanah with the reading in synagogue of the biblical story of Abraham attempting to butcher his son Isaac. The season will close next week on the holiday of Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing in the Law, with the reading of the tale of Cain killing his brother Abel. That’s how we bookend this season of redemption. And they talk about Jewish family warmth.
As if to bring these morality tales to life in modern garb, we are privileged this season to witness the real-time reenactment of the eternal brother-vs.-brother struggle on two distinct playing fields, six days and an ocean apart. Yesterday, September 19, all eyes were fixed on Indianapolis for a rare, highly charged face-off between the brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, respectively the quarterbacks of the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants. Peyton, the older of the two, dealt his brother a humiliating 38-14 trouncing.
Next Saturday, a strikingly similar drama will be played out in Great Britain, when the Labour Party announces the results of the unusual leadership contest between the brothers David and Ed Miliband, respectively former foreign and environmental ministers in the recently defeated government of Gordon Brown.
If either Miliband makes it to 10 Downing Street, he will be Britain’s first Jewish prime minister (unless you count Disraeli). The Mannings, who have both led their teams to Superbowl victories, are not of the Tribe, but they did spend their early years attending the private Isidore Newman School, originally the Jewish Orphans’ Home in New Orleans, where their father Archie was a Saints quarterback.
The British contest won’t be as violent as the one in Indianapolis. David Miliband probably won’t have his followers physically jumping on Ed and wrestling him to the ground, though you never know. But the Milibands’ end result could be uglier than the Mannings’. The brothers Miliband took to the field last spring vowing not to let the political rivalry affect their family ties. The latest news reports indicate that it’s not working out that way. Jewish family feuds often tend to be more verbal, but less forgiving.
Now we’re coming into the home stretch. Coming up are Leonard Cohen, Hasidic crooner Mordecai Ben-David, Abbott and Costello, Louis Armstrong, Barbra Streisand, Meir Banai and The Band getting us, finally, released.
Berosh Hashana: On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on the fast day of Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die, but repentance, prayer and righteousness — teshuva, tefila u-tzedaka — avert the harshness of the decree. Here’s a lively Hasidishe version, sung by kosherer krooner Mordechai Ben-David. (Here is another take on teshuva, tefila and tzedaka, set to the tune of — what else? — “Tequila.”)
And here’s the piece you knew was coming: Leonard Cohen singing his version, Who by Fire, with Sonny Rollins on sax. (If you didn’t catch his tour last year, you owe it to yourself to check out this version, not for the vocals but for the incredible 3-minute intro by Javier Mas on the bandurria.)
Essential to the Yom Kippur cycle is the reading of the biblical Book of Jonah during Minchah in the late afternoon. Here are three versions of the story, first as stunningly related by Louis Armstrong; then perhaps the weirdest version of Jonah ever, by the eternal high priest of hip, the late Lord Buckley; and finally as told by Abbott and Costello.
Jonah and the Whale (Lord, Wasn’t That a Fish?) – by Louis Armstrong.
Jonah and the Whale, Lord Buckley’s hipster version, performed by Lord Buckley impersonator Rod Harrison. (If you’re curious, here is a clip of Lord Buckley himself in a 1949 television show, doing his impersonation of Louis Armstrong.)
And bringing up the rear, Abbott and Costello offering their learned exegesis, Captain Jonah and the Whale:
We’re back for Week 2 of our High Holy Day songfest as promised, this time in two parts. Part One includes Bob Dylan, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and Joe Cocker, plus the legendary Cantor Moishe Oysher, Jerry Lewis (in a serious moment, sort of), Larry David and the Red Army Chorus performing with the Leningrad Cowboys. Part Two includes Barbra Streisand, Leonard Cohen, Abbott and Costello, Louis Armstrong, Israeli rocker Meir Banai and The Band, among others.
We start as evening approaches and we prepare to stand before the Gates of Heaven. You know the drill: It’s getting too dark to see, and we’re Knocking on Heaven’s Door. This is a live version sung by Bob Dylan, from a 1976 concert. Déjà vu: Joan Baez is again singing along, and verse 2 is sung, I think, by Roger McGuinn. (For a different perspective, try this version sung very credibly by the Red Army Chorus with the Leningrad Cowboys, or this one sung Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, released in 1996 with an beautiful new verse written with Dylan’s permission by Scottish musician Ted Christopher in memory of the schoolchildren killed in the Dunblane massacre that year. Children from the village are singing backup.)
Off to shul. Do you have a ticket? Uh oh. Here’s a very, very funny clip (3:21 total) about a ticket scalper working the street outside the shul, Bad Karma on the Kippur, created for the 2008 L.A. Film Race by Men on the Streets. (And here is the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David picks up High Holiday tickets from a scalper and things proceed downhill.)
Next is the most powerful version of Kol Nidre ever committed to film, in my opinion. It’s sung by the great cantor Moishe Oysher in the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture to Glory” (“Der Vilner Shtot Khazn” or “Vilna City Cantor”). It’s a variation on the “Jazz Singer” theme with Oysher playing a young cantor who is lured from the synagogue to become an opera singer, learns his son has died, loses his voice, takes to the streets and finally stumbles back into shul for one last Kol Nidre before dying. Oysher joins in at 3:28.
The first Kol Nidre on film was in the very first talkie, “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson. I don’t have that piece of soundtrack, but here is the (partial) version Jolson recorded in 1947. For a complete Kol Nidre, you can’t do better than this one by Richard Tucker, the Lower East Side cantor who actually did become a famed operatic tenor. Note the fragment of Yaaleh Tachanunenu at the end. Here is a lovely Moroccan version of Kol Nidre sung by Erez Bitton. And for a peek at how the other half lives, don’t miss the renditions of Kol Nidre sung here by Perry Como and here by Johnny Mathis. Hey, if Irving Berlin can write White Christmas…
If there’s a Kol Nidre that comes close to Oysher’s for sheer pathos, though, it’s got to be the one that ends the 1959 televised version of “The Jazz Singer” starring Jerry Lewis. Following are the last 9 minutes of the show, with Jerry agonizingly torn between his big opening show and his papa’s pulpit. If you don’t have time for it all, the singing starts around 7:33.
O.K., so we did Kol Nidre and now we’re into the evening Maariv service, which more or less begins with the Maariv Aravim, Blessed is He who creates night and day and arranges the stars in the heavens. Up next is Manfred Mann’s Earth Band singing the Dylan version, Father of Night:
It doesn’t get much slimier than this: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, the GOP’s resident senior statesman, told the National Review Online late Saturday that President Obama’s actions might be “beyond our comprehension” — unless “you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.”
To be fair, Gingrich phrased it as a hypothetical — “what if” Obama is incomprehensible except as a Kenyan radical. But he went on to state affirmatively that this is “the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.” He also said that Obama’s 2008 presidential victory was the result of a “wonderful con” job convincing Americans that he was like them — that is, a regular American and not a stealth African revolutionary.
Gingrich was speaking in praise of a bizarre, breathtakingly dishonest thesis laid out by Dinesh D’Souza in the September issue of Forbes. D’Souza goes into elaborate detail about Obama’s supposedly inheriting the anti-colonialist worldview of his father, a drunken, polygamist, wife-beating African “tribesman” (never mind the fact that Obama met his father once and was raised mostly by his Kansas-bred grandparents). The diagnosis is based largely on an article Obama senior wrote in 1965 (which, D’Souza notes ominously, the younger Obama “remarkably” has “never mentioned”), coupled with some ludicrous caricatures of Obama’s policies, finely seasoned with ominous quotes from Frantz Fanon and Edward Said.
Thus, for example:
In a nod, intentional or not, to the holiday spirit of atonement, the Anti-Defamation League announced just before Rosh Hashana that it has formed a task force, together with Christian and Muslim groups, to support Muslim congregations facing hostility around the country, particularly in connection with building mosques.
The September 7 announcement came five weeks after the ADL drew a storm of criticism for coming out against the building of an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. The New York Times reported the ADL statement under a two-column headline at the top of its July 30 front page. Within days ADL had Joe Klein calling in Time magazine for Abe Foxman to be fired and a host of other pundits — in American Prospect, Vanity Fair, Salon and elsewhere — accusing Foxman and the league of betraying their anti-bigotry legacy by enabling bigotry.
Whether or not the ADL’s new Islam defense coalition is a reply to its critics or simply business as usual is hard to tell. What’s clear is that the criticisms stung. Foxman wrote a heated reply to his critics August 2 in the Huffington Post, calling the attacks “extremely painful” and reciting a list of ADL efforts against Islamophobia since 2001.
Since then the ADL has noticeably kicked up its anti-Islamophobia profile. Of course, that might simply reflect the fact that Islamophobia has been running wild in the streets. Either way, it’s on a tear. Key examples:
A new year approacheth, and it’s time for another holiday video concert. Actually, I’m doing two of them. This first one is a collection of songs that put me in the high holy day mood. The second one, coming next week, will include some holy-mackerel renditions of the Yom Kippur liturgy, including what I think might be the greatest Kol Nidre ever put on film and an Israeli rock ‘n roll version of a climactic moment in the closing Ne’ilah service.
But that’s next week. What I’ve put together right here includes songs on themes of sin, atonement, forgiveness and redemption, sort of in that order. It includes Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Connie Francis, an Irving Berlin number, a few gospel numbers, Nina Simone, Kinky Friedman and a unjustly neglected masterpiece from Bob Dylan ‘s early days. Also Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme singing Bashanah Haba’ah. And more…
Up first is a gospel number, “(Please Forgive Me, Lord) For the Wrong I’ve Done,” sung by the late, legendary Willie Banks and his Messengers.
“For the Wrong I’ve Done,” Willie Banks and the Messengers.
“Mama Tried,” country great Merle Haggard’s huge, breakthrough No. 1 hit in 1968, is a searing, more or less autobiographical statement about Haggard’s childhood poverty, the loss of his father and his (then recently ended) life of crime. Unlike the song, though, in real life Haggard was never sentenced to life, much less without parole. He did several stints in juvie and San Quentin for burglary, assault and repeatedly escaping prison, before hitting it big in music and giving up burglary. He received a full pardon from Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972, shortly after releasing “Okie From Muskogee.” He once told Johnny Cash that he had been with him at his famous 1958 concert in San Quentin Prison, and when Cash said he didn’t remember Haggard being on stage with him, Merle said, “No, in the audience.”
“Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard.”
Now we move on from sin to repentance and forgiveness. We begin with Connie Francis’s deep meditation on the meaning of contrition, “Who’s Sorry Now?” Kidding. Actually it’s a sardonic observation about the uselessness of apology in fixing a wrong that’s been done. It was written in 1923 by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Francis recorded it in 1958. It instantly became a monster hit and catapulted her to fame.
“Who’s Sorry Now?” Connie Francis.
Next is Nina Simone’s 1965 version of “Oh, Sinner Man (Where You Gonna Run To?).” It’s notable for its hypnotic beat and this recently created, powerful documentary montage that goes with it.
On to tachlis: The New Republic has a particularly seething confrontation on its website between the editor in chief, Martin Peretz, and his chief deputy, literary editor Leon Wieseltier, on the place of Muslims and Islam in America. Actually, that’s putting it too mildly. The debate is really over the question of whether or not Muslims can be trusted around our children. It gets pretty raw.
To be fair, Peretz doesn’t exactly say they can’t be trusted. But he did say, in a September 2 post on his blog, “The Mosque Is In Trouble, Very Big Trouble,” that the people fighting against the Islamic community center planned near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan are a fine bunch of folks fighting the good fight against bad people of various sorts.
In my view, the really modest struggle against the mosque is probably the closest thing we’ve had to a genuinely grass roots effort against the casual and elitist First Amendment fundamentalists. “No” to admitting in schools that Christmas has something to do with Christianity. But “yes” to public financing of what looks to me like a sleazy venture combining religion, marriage catering, sports activity, political propaganda and what would pretend to be kultcha.
Did I just hear the editor of The New Republic condoning Christian celebrations in pubic schools? That would be big news if he meant it. But he’s just getting carried away in his rhetoric. He’s after bigger game. First of all, Sharif El-Gamal, “the real estate hustler who is behind the project,” who has been “endlessly taken to court by his tenants” and owes back taxes. Imagine that. Who ever heard of a landlord, and a religious one at that, being taken to court by his tenants? Look what happens when you let infidels into your backyard.
And then there is the theological desperado, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose intellectual history is so flexible that no one (except, of course, Mayor Bloomberg) can tell what kind of Muslim he is. And, yes, there are different kinds of Muslims as there are different kinds of Christian Fundamentalists. (Emphasis mine.)
Wieseltier offers what sounds like a sharp rebuke in his “Washington Diarist” column, “Mosque Notes,” also dated September 2 (though the timing suggests he hadn’t read Peretz’s post before he wrote his piece).
He starts off indirectly by discussing Baruch Goldstein, “one of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time.” He recalls that critics who called for introspection by the wing of Orthodoxy from which he sprang were denounced as slanderers of religious Zionism or Orthodoxy or Judaism itself. You can see where he’s going with this. But read on:
Andy Silow-Carroll, the inestimable editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, offers a devastating dissection of the Sharia-phobia, as he calls it, that is invading our public and, via a certain cable channel, our living rooms as well.
The news lede for his column is a recent ruling by a New Jersey court, dismissing a Muslim woman’s request for a restraining order against her ex-husband, whom she accused of sexual abuse while they were married. Judge Joseph Charles “ruled that her ex-husband did not have ‘criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault’ her. Rather, he was exercising his prerogatives as the man understood them under Islamic law, or Sharia.”
The story appeared on the Fox News website under the headline, “Advocates of Anti-Shariah Measures Alarmed by Judge’s Ruling.” Carroll notes that the article only quoted one anti-Sharia advocate, but that the Web is rife with blog posts on the case, with titles like “New Jersey: the new hotspot of Sharia” and “Sharia judge in NJ gets lifetime appointment.” He continues:
The idea that America is this close to having the Constitution replaced by the Koran used to be a fringe notion, but has inched closer to the mainstream thanks to “Islamist watchdog” bloggers like Daniel Pipes and Pamela Geller and was given a huge boost by Newt Gingrich. “The fight against shariah and the maddrassas and mosques which teach hatred and fanaticism is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth,” Gingrich told the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow. “One of the things I am going to suggest today is a federal law which says no court anywhere in the United States under any circumstance is allowed to consider shariah as a replacement for American law.”
Police in metropolitan Tel Aviv are refusing to authorize a planned protest march in the largely Orthodox city of Bnei Brak by a secularist group called Forum for Equality of Burden, which advocates ending the automatic draft exemption for Haredi yeshiva students. Ynet reports that the forum announced plans to march through downtown Bnei Brak this coming Thursday, wearing their army uniforms and carrying Israeli flags.
Police reportedly told the forum that Bnei Brak residents have heard about the planned march and are afraid it will lead to violence. Forum chair Miri Baron told Ynet that she had been heard there were threats of violence against her group.
One member of the group told Ynet that his group wants the same treatment that police gave to Kahane-linked rightists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir in 2008 when they marched through the Arab town of Umm el-Fahm under heavy police protection. The government had sought to block that march on grounds that it would incite violence, pointing to a list of past incidents in which Marzel and Ben-Gvir had staged provocative protests leading to riots.
But the Supreme Court overruled the government and ordered the police to authorize the march and provide security.
Ironically, Ben-Gvir argued in the court hearing at that time that right-wing activists deserved to received the same treatment as left-wingers. He also argued that the court should not let permit the state to be cowed by threats of violence. (The march took place amid heavy police protection and resulted in rioting in which several police were hospitalized.)
I don’t know about you, but I find on occasion that there’s nothing more relaxing than to curl up with some good reading material. Well, the other day I was getting cozy with my favorite Geneva Conventions on the laws of war, and to my surprise I came across an annex to the conventions detailing the ins and outs of what’s legal and what’s not legal in the conduct of warfare at sea. How about that?
The document is fetchingly titled The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994.
Well, here’s what I found out: First of all, blockades are legal. A country that is at war is legally entitled to impose a blockade on the opposing party in order to cut off its supply of materials necessary for war.
You won’t be surprised to learn that neutral vessels on the high seas are almost always protected from attack by belligerents. What I didn’t know, and I bet most of you didn’t, either, is that vessels suspected of breaching a blockade may be stopped, boarded and inspected on the high seas by the party imposing the blockade. And if they resist search or capture, they may be attacked.
The manual actually spells this rule out twice, in two separate paragraphs, perhaps to catch the attention of people who might be under the misapprehension that attacking a neutral vessel on the high seas is necessarily illegal, or that passengers on a ship have a natural right to fight back when their ship is boarded by a military party enforcing a blockade. It isn’t, and they don’t.
(67.) Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:
(a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture;
My last two “Good Fences” columns on Oliver Stone and Tony Judt kicked up an unusual volume of reader feedback, most of it hostile, much of it downright vitriolic and occasionally incoherent. And some of it was instructive and chastening.
I usually prefer to keep my peace and let the dialogue play itself out, but I’m responding here for four reasons. First, the comments follow some interesting patterns that teach us something, I think, about the community. Second, some of the serious objections deserve a serious response. Third, I got some very warm messages off-line from colleagues of Judt’s at New York University, including several leading Judaic Studies scholars, that are worth sharing. Fourth, I found that I made a mistake in the Judt column that needs to be corrected.
It’s shouldn’t be surprising that the negative comments outnumbered the positive ones. That’s the Internet for you. That said, it’s fascinating how emphatic the protests were to these two columns. In both cases I was defending prominent liberals against charges of antisemitism and extreme, eliminationist anti-Israelism. I’ve written a lot of pieces challenging conventional wisdom in the Jewish community, but they rarely get this kind of outpouring. People seem to get especially exercised when they’re told that an enemy isn’t an enemy. Some of us just can’t stand hearing that they’re not hated.
It’s also fascinating how many people raised objections that actually had been asked and answered in the column. Several readers wanted to know why Tony Judt never publicly protested being called an Israel-hater if he wasn’t one — this despite the fact that the article specifically stated that he protested repeatedly. Some readers objected that he shouldn’t have waited to proclaim his Jewish identity until he was on his deathbed, though in fact he didn’t wait and there’s nothing to suggest that he did. My conversation with him about his continuing bond with Israel took place in 2006, when he was at the height of his powers (for all he knew), two years before he learned he was sick.
More substantively, several readers echoed the thought which I’ll quote from a friend who wrote privately, namely that I
whitewashed a man who caused immense damage to Israel in Europe. His words were misinterpreted as anti-semitism because he could not express himself without vitriolic hyperbole.
Frankly, I don’t think Israel’s detractors in Europe needed Judt to sour them on Israel. European anti-Israelism has its own deep resources of home-grown hostility to draw upon. But it’s true, as a friend of Judt’s acknowledged to me (below), that the anti-Israel left was as quick as the pro-Israel right to think he advocated Israel’s elimination.
The Atlantic has posted a compelling article by Jeffrey Goldberg, who for the record is not me, on the prospects of an Israeli military strike against Iran. It’s based on extensive on- and off-the-record interviews with Israeli political and military leaders, Obama administration officials and Arab diplomats. He puts the likelihood of an Israeli strike within the next year at higher than 50%.
He does a good job of laying out the thinking behind Israel’s fears, as well as showing the ambivalence in Washington, the arguments for giving sanctions a chance and the defensiveness of the Obama team in the face of skepticism about its resolve. He also paints a fascinating picture of Bibi Netanyahu’s relationship with his 100-year-old father, suggesting a deep need for respect from the old man (although, given the stakes for the world in this very human psychodrama, a bit more exploration would have been helpful).
A great deal of attention is devoted to Bibi’s and other Israelis’ sense of obligation to Jewish history and the lessons of the Holocaust — meaning, when somebody threatens Jews with annihilation and has the means to do it, take it seriously. He also makes a convincing case that leaders of Arab states in the region fear Iran almost as much as Israel if not more, though it would have been nice to hear more about why they’re afraid — what a nuclear Iran would mean for Arab society. It would helpful, too, to explore how they can be, on the one hand, sufficiently alarmed to favor a military strike with its possibly terrible consequences, and on the other hand blasé enough to contemplate fleeing into the Iranian camp if somebody else doesn’t come to save them. Maybe it’s simply a weakness of character on their part, but I wonder if there isn’t something else going on that we’re not hearing. On this score, Goldberg (the other guy, not me) raises as many questions as he answers and makes me hungry to know more.
In a posting about the piece on his blog, Goldberg writes that he will be blogging soon about his “own personal opinion” on hitting Iran, which “involves deep, paralyzing ambivalence.” It’s too bad he didn’t put that ambivalence into the piece, which basically lays out the case for an attack with only cursory attention to the case against.
You can hear the counterarguments at length if you talk to just about any senior European diplomat. Or, for that matter, to a serious Israeli military figure who isn’t in favor of the military answer. Yes, there are some, as Goldberg notes in passing. They reportedly include the enormously respected military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, which helps partly explain Ashkenazi’s ugly tensions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, including the fact that Barak has been unceremoniously and insultingly pushing him under the bus as his term of office prematurely winds down.