The Jerusalem think tank set up by the Jewish Agency in 2002, the Jewish People Policy Institute, appears to have dropped a bombshell into the middle of Israel’s political hothouse with a new report (PDF) it released May 21 on Diaspora attitudes toward Israeli democracy.
The report, titled “Jewish and Democratic: Perspectives from World Jewry,” is based on a six-month series of discussions and seminars involving several hundred community leaders, rabbis, academics and writers around the world. The discussions — about 40 of them, most lasting a day or two — are distilled into an 80-page summary with another 78 pages of appendices.
The process was set in motion when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last year to draft a bill defining Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland that would pass constitutional muster. Livni asked legal scholar Ruth Gavison to come up with a reading of what the idea of a homeland of the Jewish people worldwide actually means to Jewish people worldwide. Gavison, in turn, asked JPPI.
And here we are.
Like most JPPI publications, it’s a carefully constructed work, filled with on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand formulations to illustrate the broad range of agreement and disagreement. Still, the report says the agreements were greater than the disagreements, and what the community leaders had to say won’t make Israel’s leaders very happy.
JPPI offers a one-page summary here. Haaretz reporter Judy Maltz offers a more detailed summary here. And the report’s co-author, JPPI fellow Shmuel Rosner, does his usual excellent job of capturing the essence in his Jewish Journal column here.
But the bottom line is this: the consensus among the people they spoke to — admittedly a highly selective sampling of elites — is that most Diaspora community leaders believe Israel should be both Jewish and democratic, that one should not be given precedence over the other. To the extent that the two poles are in tension, the consensus is that it’s a healthy tension that benefits the society. Only the extreme right and extreme left, the report’s authors say, favor privileging one value over the other. Unfortunately, there’s also consensus that both values are seen as embattled, on the defensive in Israel, and it’s making it harder for Diaspora Jews to relate to Israel.
Israeli leaders are celebrating the upset victory in Indian elections of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leader, the reputedly anti-Muslim Narendra Modi, wants closer ties with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized economic ties on Sunday when he told his cabinet about his Friday phone conversation with the Indian prime minister-elect. The Israeli leader called Modi to congratulate him. Reports in both the Times of Israel and India’s Economic Times quoted Netanyahu telling the cabinet that Modi wants “to deepen and develop economic ties with the state of Israel.” The Times of Israel reported in detail on massive Israeli investment in the economy of India’s Gujarat state in the 13 years since Modi became its chief minister.
But in-depth analyses in two conservative dailies, Israel’s Maariv and the New York-based International Business Times, both describe a deeper reason for the two leaders’ shared enthusiasm: a belief on both sides that they share a common enemy in radical Islamist terrorism.
India’s 1.3 billion population, though roughly 154 times the size of Israel’s 8.2 million, bears a striking demographic similarity. It’s about 80% Hindu. Its 176 million Muslims, the world’s second-largest Muslim community after Indonesia’s, make up about 14.4% of the population. Christians make up just under 3%. Israel is 75% Jewish, 16% Muslim and just under 3% Christian.
British rule in India ended in 1947 with the partition of the country into two states, majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan. The partition was accompanied by massive bloodshed and has left ongoing bitterness.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is commonly described as Hindu-nationalist, favoring a stronger identification of the Indian state and nation with the majority Hindu religious tradition, from which India gets its name. The party opposes the strictly secularist ideology of founder Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress Party which ruled India for 61 of its 67 years of independence. BJP includes openly anti-Muslim elements, and Modi himself has a checkered past in Hindu-Muslim relations. His Gujarat state was wracked by deadly anti-Muslim rioting that left more than 1,000 dead in 2002, shortly after he became chief minister. His alleged role in the rioting led to his being banned from the United States until recently.
If you missed the holiday yesterday, take a moment to give it a second look. Yesterday was, after all, the Jewish festival of second chances. If you haven’t heard of it before, take a moment to catch up.
The formal name of the day is Pesach Sheni, or “Second Passover.” It’s decreed in the Bible (Numbers 9:4-13) as a make-up date, one month after Passover itself, for those who were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice because they’d been on a long journey or, alternatively, ritually defiled by contact with a corpse.
If that doesn’t speak to you, try this: This year, the Pesach Sheni festival of second chances offered us a second chance to look at a short essay of unearthly beauty by Jonathan Mark, posted on his Jewish Week blog in 2010 and reposted yesterday at a reader’s request. Think of this as a second chance to take advantage of yesterday’s second chance to learn of the wonders of the Festival of Second Chances. You won’t be sorry.
But before you click away, there’s something else in the holiday that’s quite remarkable and worthy of a second look. According to the biblical account, Second Passover wasn’t God’s idea. Moses asked for it at the request of “some men who were unclean by reason of [contact with] a corpse,” leaving them unfit to offer sacrifice on the appointed day. The scripture doesn’t say who those men were, but the later commentators suggest (after a fascinating debate — more on that later) that they were the crew assigned to carrying the bones of Joseph back to the holy land. Jonathan Mark likes that theory. After all, nobody ever knew more about second chances than the guy who was sold into slavery and ended up running the empire.
But, you might ask, what’s the deal with carrying Joseph’s bones back to Canaan? The short answer is that Joseph asked his brothers to swear it would happen some day (Gen. 50:24-25), Moses kept the promise (Ex. 13:19) and Joshua saw to their burial in Shechem (Josh. 24:32), back where the trouble all started (Gen. 37:12-28). The longer and more adventurous approach is to take a peek at a book called “Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible” (Amazon or free PDF download).
The Israeli military has sent what amounts to a barely disguised message to the political leadership and the troops in the latest round of senior command promotions, announced April 25.
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process frozen, settler militancy on the rise and right-wing religious nationalists increasingly making their presence felt at the junior command level, the appointments make clear that the General Staff, led by chief of staff Benny Gantz, is doubling down on its basic strategic outlook: cooperation with the Palestinian leadership, enforcement of the soldiers’ code of ethics, deterrence on the northern front — and zero tolerance for Palestinian terrorism. Call them the hardline doves.
The three most charged appointments are the promotion of Brigadier General Herzl “Herzi” Halevi, the IDF’s so-called “philosopher-general,” until recently commander of the Galilee Division, to major general and chief of military intelligence; the appointment of the outgoing intelligence chief, Major General Aviv Kochavi, as chief of Northern Command; and the striking decision to retain the left-leaning chief of Central Command, Major General Nitzan Alon, in his current post overseeing the West Bank.
Alon’s retention at the head of Central Command, which covers the West Bank, sends a clear signal of the army’s impatience with growing settler radicalism and the spread of so-called price tag attacks. Alon is regarded by settler leaders as an undisguised liberal; it’s frequently noted that his wife Mor has been a supporter of the women’s human-rights group Machsom Watch, which is viewed on the right as subversive.
Alon spent much of his career in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit before taking a series of positions in intelligence and field command, mostly in the West Bank. Shortly before assuming his current position as chief of Central Command in December 2011, Alon infuriated settler leaders by calling price-tag actions “Jewish terrorism” in a New York Times interview. He also warned against cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, then under congressional consideration because of the Palestinian application for United Nations recognition. He said cutting aid would destabilize Palestinian security forces, which he described as crucial to stability in the area. Under his command the army has clashed repeatedly with West Bank settlers, and he himself has been physically attacked by settlers and had protest demonstrations mounted outside his home.
Aviv Kochavi’s move from military intelligence to Northern Command, in charge of the Lebanon and Syria fronts, sends a more complicated message.
Yediot Ahronot published a survey of Israeli Jewish adults on May 5, aimed at showing where the nation stood on its 66th birthday and where the younger generation was headed. Broken down by generation — over 50, 35 to 49 and under 35 — it shows a population that’s growing steadily more religious, more politically right-wing and more pessimistic about where the country is headed and their own generation’s economic prospects.
The telephone survey was conducted by pollster Rafi Smith April 24-28 in a representative sample of 500 Israeli Jewish adults. Margin of error 4.5%
For the sake of brevity, we’ll call the three generations O for over 50, M for middle (35-49) and Y for younger, aged 18 to 34. CA stands for combined national average.
Is Israel headed in the right direction?
Yes/No: O = 33/46, M = 29/54, Y = 24/63. CA = 29/54.
Are your generation’s economic prospects better or worse than your parent’s generation? Better/Worse: O = 65/27, M = 53/40, Y = 45/45.
How would you describe your political worldview? Right/Center/Left:
O = 47/25/28, M = 50/21/29, Y = 58/20/22. CA = 51/22/27.
How would you define yourself religiously? (Religious = Orthodox + Haredi)
Religious/Traditional/Secular: O = 15/31/54, M = 19/25/56, Y = 30/21/49.
Here’s the live broadcast, as it happened. You can watch the accompanying images or follow along in English — the official translation is below.
Footnote: The British were to leave Eretz Israel/Palestine on Saturday, May 15. The Jewish Agency decided to declare independence at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath. A declaration was written, parchment was prepared, but there was no agreement on what to call the new state — Israel, Judea, Zion — until moments before deadline. That left no time for the calligrapher to inscribe the scroll. Accordingly, BG read from a typescript and the Assembly signed a blank parchment with the text tacked on, later filled in by a calligrapher.
Noteworthy, too, that while the English translation speaks of “Placing our trust in the Almighty,” the Hebrew original says “With trust in the Rock of Israel (צור ישראל — Tzur Yisrael).” This language was agreed to after some debate, as a term that allowed both religious and secular / believers and atheists to interpret it as they wished. I don’t know how the English mistranslation happened.
Click “Read more” to follow along in English while you listen:
One of the most interesting and curious aspects of the J Street membership vote in the Conference of Presidents is the fact that it was conducted by secret ballot. Thus an institution that presumes to be one of the most broadly representative bodies in the American Jewish community takes one of its most fraught and hotly discussed decisions in years and the delegates don’t let their presumed constituents know what they’ve done in their names.
In fact, though, not everyone kept their votes secret. Some members made their views public, either by discussing it with the press, informing J Street or speaking up during the brief debate before the voting at the meeting.
The official result of the vote was 17 organizations in favor of admission, 22 against, 3 abstentions and 8 members absent, for a total of 50. That’s the number of member organizations listed on the Presidents Conference website. (Actually there were 17 “yes” votes cast by 18 organizations, because two members, the Jewish Labor Committee and the Workmen’s Circle, share a vote for historic reasons. Consequently, there must have been 7 absentees, not 8.)
I think I’ve identified all 17 of the “yes” votes, 14 of the 22 “no” votes, 2 abstentions and 5 absentees. I’m left with 11 whose actions are unknown. Of the unknowns, 5 are known to have been present at the vote, which means they either voted “no” or abstained (again, all the “yes” votes are accounted for). The other 6 weren’t known to my sources; 2 of them were absent, and the other 4 voted “no” or abstained. The bottom line is that 7 organizations voted against J Street’s membership but haven’t acknowledged it. The beauty of the system is that it allows them to keep their actions from the public, their members and their donors.
Among them are several of the wealthiest and most influential organizations in Jewish life, including AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.
Note that nobody who voted to admit J Street kept their vote secret. The only members who have chosen to hide their actions were those who voted “no” or abstained.
Would J Street have been admitted to the conference if member-organizations were required to cast their votes openly, before the eyes of the public and their own members? Hard to say, but worth thinking about…
Here’s the list, as near as I can determine (updated late Saturday night) (apologies in advance if there are any mistakes — let me know of errors and I’ll correct them at once):
President Obama was in rare form at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, delivering zingers at House Republican leaders, Fox News, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his own Obamacare troubles. His best line of the evening, the pundits seem to agree, was this one aimed at House Speaker John Boehner:
I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the speaker of the House as well. These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.
But the most outrageous lines came from comedian Joel McHale, the star of NBC’s Community and host of E Network’s The Soup. The workover he gave Christie must have set some sort of record. He opened his act by promising to keep it “amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.” Later, he asked, “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? I could go half and half — I know you like a combo platter.” Then he did an incredible parody of Christie’s Bridgegate response, saying his joke was inappropriate but while it was written by his staff he took full responsibility and would appoint an independent investigation headed by himself to find out whose fault it was. But why read my summary? Watch it below.
New York magazine’s Caroline Bankoff put together a pretty good roundup of the evening, including useful statistics on how many jokes each were aimed at CNN, Fox and MSNBC and who was the most ragged-on politician of the evening (Christie). And Fox has a full transcript of Obama’s remarks, which shows either that they’re masochists deep down or that they want to use it to get their base riled up, perhaps hoping to emulate the ADL’s success in taking down Nation of Islam leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad in 1993 by running his anti-Semitic ravings as a full-page ad.
Here are the videos of Obama’s and McHale’s routines, in full:
Here are some corrections and updates to my earlier post on who voted how in the Conference of Presidents vote on J Street’s application for membership.
1.) I’ve learned from several sources that Mercaz USA, the Conservative movement’s Zionist arm, in fact voted “No,” breaking with the denomination’s other wings.
2.) On the other hand, I was wrong about Women of Reform Judaism being absent. I’d been told nobody had made it because of their leadership mission in Israel this week. In fact they had a representative there who voted “Yes.”
3.) I’ve been told that Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee abstained (not confirmed).
Again, the votes on J Street’s application were 17 “Yes,” 22 “No,” 3 “Abstain” and (apparently) 7 absent.
My current tally shows all 17 Yes votes accounted for (18 organizations listed, as Jewish Labor Committee and Workmen’s Circle share a single vote). 14 of 22 No votes accounted for. 2 of 3 abstentions accounted for.
Of the remainder, 5 were present but their votes are unknown; they either voted No or abstained. For 6 others, no information is available. 2 of this last group must have been absent; the other 4 either voted No or abstained. Again, out of this combined group of 11 unknowns, one abstained and two were absent. All the rest (8) voted No.
Here, then, is the rollcall according to my current information:
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known for his defiance of federal church-state separation laws, is under fire for arguing in a speech that the First Amendment only protects religions that worship “the God of the Holy Scriptures,” by which he appeared to mean Christianity.
The amendment’s mention of “religion,” Moore said, was meant to denote “the duty we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it,” quoting James Madison. (Ironically, the quote is from a 1785 Madison memorandum in favor of church-state separation.)
Moore continued: “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures on which this nation was founded.”
Moore’s remark came during a January 17 address to the Pastors for Life Luncheon in Jackson, Mississippi. His appearance gained little attention at the time, beyond local coverage in Jackson that focused mainly on his lengthy attacks on same-sex marriage. On May 2, however, a video of his remarks was posted on the news site RawStory.com.
The report brought an immediate protest from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR called on Alabama’s governor and attorney general to “repudiate” Moore’s statement and “reaffirm the constitutional rights of all that state’s citizens.”
In the speech Moore also attacked abortion and same-sex marriage, drawing criticism from the gay rights news site TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com.
‘Christianity Only’: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore at Pastors for Life Luncheon, Jackson, Miss., January 17, 2014:
Moore came to national attention in 2003 when, as the state’s chief justice, he defied a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments that he had put in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. That led to his removal from office that November by the state’s judicial disciplinary body, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He was reelected chief justice in 2012, following two unsuccessful bids for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Here’s a little video collection I put together for May Day 2010, with some updates, to help get in the holiday spirit. Fortunately, it’s still relevant. Unfortunately, that’s because we haven’t made much progress in the interim toward economic justice.
First of all, the anthem of Zionist labor, Chaim Nachman Bialik’s “Birkat Ha’am” (“The People’s Blessing”), better known as “Techezakna” (“Strengthen the hands of our brothers renewing the soil of our land — let your spirits not fail, come joyously, shoulder to shoulder to the people’s aid”). This is a version from 1970s, recreated in traditional Second Aliya style by the mellifluous Russian Jewish baritone Ilke Raveh (you may remember him from our recent Passover concert singing “Bein Gvulot”). Check out the mustache. (Here’s a great old version of same, with all the verses, in a film clip from pre-World War II Poland, sung by Cantor Israel Bakon, who died soon after at Belzec.)
That obviously has to be followed by the anthem of American labor, “Solidarity Forever.” The iconic recording is the 1940s session by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers. Here’s a link to that one (it’s accompanied by a moving black-and-white photomontage, plus it has all the verses). However, I’m posting the version below because it is so striking and up-to-the-minute that I couldn’t leave it out. It’s sung by group of members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, slightly off-key and holding mugs of beer, but clearly aware of which side they’re on.
Now, ripped straight from the headlines: Tales of border police in the Southwest turning back desperate migrants during a little economic downtown. “If You Ain’t Got the Dough Re Mi” was written back in 1940 by Woody Guthrie in his Dust Bowl Ballads collection. It’s a deceptively light-hearted number describing the desperate migration of farmers from Oklahoma to California after the dust storm disaster of 1935. Woody’s version is classically plain and unadorned. John Mellencamp did a rocking bluegrass version that’s a terrific listen. But I’m posting the 1977 version below by Ry Cooder and his Chicken Skin Band, because Flaco Jimenez’s amazing accordion turns it into a Tex-Mex-style commentary on today’s news.
Another one from today’s headlines: “Arbetloze Marsh” (“March of the Unemployed”) by the Bundist Yiddish poet Mordechai Gebirtig, who was born in Krakow in 1877 and died in the Krakow Ghetto in 1942. He’s best known for his 1938 alarm over the looming Holocaust, “Es Brent” (“Our Shtetl Is Burning”). But Arbetloze Marsh has been enjoying a revival lately, and for good reason. The version below, sung in English and Yiddish, is by the Berlin-based klezmer band Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird. For a more traditional rendition, here’s a spirited, unadorned version by Theodore Bikel, backed by an accordion.
Now, here’s another Bialik labor anthem, “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha” (usually if imprecisely translated “Song of Work and Labor”), known to generations of Zionist summer campers as “Mi Yatzilenu.” It’s sung here by a 1980s Israeli supergroup that includes Yehudit Ravitz, Shlomo Gronich, Shemtov Levi, Ariel Zilber, Poogy stalwarts Alon Oleartchik and Gidi Gov. The words mean “Who will save us from hunger? Who will give us milk and bread? Oh, whom do we thank, whom do we bless? Labor!”) (Click here for a fabulous old clip of Nachum Nardi, the prolific chalutz-era composer who set Bialik’s wordsto music, banging this out on piano with Bracha Zfira singing it Yemenite style.)
What follows are two versions of the Socialist Internationale. One is in Hebrew, belted out by what looks like thousands of teenagers from the Noar Oved youth movement at a May Day rally in front of Tel Aviv City Hall in (I think) 2008. (If those blue shirts look familiar, you may have seen them on local members of Habonim-Dror, the overseas wing of Noar Oved. There’s one American visible in the foreground — you can tell by the emblem of a fist and wheat sheaf silkscreened on the back.) Listen at the end as the announcer wishes the crowd “chag sameach.” The second version is sung in Yiddish by pensioners at what looks like a Mapam veterans’ May Day celebration. (I’m guessing. Anybody recognize this?) That’s Yossi Sarid at the dais, clearly unfamiliar with the Yiddish version.
Those racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, reveal something very important about the state of race relations in America today. Everybody seems to agree about that. Just what they reveal, though, is anybody’s guess.
On one hand you have the anxious observation of the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, that “60 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, and 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, there is still work to be done.” Hard to argue with that one.
On the other hand, the publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, David Suissa, sees a silver lining in the “immediate, widespread condemnation” from across the country and across the political spectrum, “including even a reprimand from President Obama.” (Who woulda guessed he’d come out against racism?) This makes Suissa “realize how far we’ve come. It’s not simply that bigotry of any kind has become so frowned upon. It’s also the new media environment we live in.” Privacy is dead. Anything you say, even in a telephone lovers’ spat, can and will be held against you.
So which is it? Is the glass half-empty, as Harris says, or half-full, as per Suissa?
Actually, they both miss the point. While the nation argues over how to measure the metaphorical liquid in the glass, we’ve got water coming through the roof and flooding the basement. We get all stirred up over obnoxious comments by a billionaire philanderer — as we did a week earlier over even cruder comments by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — but we sleep through the latest action by the Supreme Court to halt racial healing and protect our society’s structural racism.
Here’s the timeline:
This is a talk I delivered yesterday afternoon at the Holocaust commemoration ceremony of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park. My theme could probably best be summed up by quoting Joe Hill’s final message to Big Bill Haywood: “Don’t waste time mourning. Organize!
The Talmud teaches us that from the day that the Second Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken away from the prophets and given to the wise. But the great Rabbi Yochanan disagreed. He said prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children. And his is the lesson we most remember.
He told stories to show how wisdom can come from the most unlikely mouths, from infants and the mad. But what he meant to say was that prophecy was destroyed when the Romans destroyed the Jewish commonwealth and scattered the Jews to the four winds. Human wisdom remained, but there was no longer prophecy, no longer the living voice of God dwelling in His holy house.
So we learn: In the First Destruction, the royal line of King David was destroyed but prophecy remained. In the Second Destruction prophecy was destroyed but wisdom remained.
Now we stand in the shadow of the Third Destruction, when wisdom was destroyed. Nothing makes sense anymore. What remains is memory. Now we struggle in darkness to unravel the senseless contradictions of this new world, to understand what is beyond understanding. We are all children, and we are all fools. And still we struggle.
We come together every year on this day, Yom HaShoah, to remember the six millions of our people who were murdered by the Nazi butchers. We gather to tell their stories. To stand in solidarity with their memory and to promise, each year anew, that we will never forget them. We gather to join hands with those who survived, who came through that greatest of all human hells and lived to teach us their wisdom. We stand with them, and listen, and together we seek to gain some understanding of the past, for the sake of our future.
But why now? Why in April? Today is the 27th of Nissan on the traditional Hebrew calendar. What does this date signify?
Why not January 30th, the day Hitler came to power in 1933 and set the wheels of destruction in motion? Why not November 9th, when the violence exploded on the Night of Broken Glass in 1938? Or September First, the day the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 and began the mass extermination of Jews? Why not January 20th, the day the Final Solution was adopted as official policy at Wannsee in 1942?
Then again, why not choose January 27th, the date Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945? That’s the date the United Nations voted in 2005 to establish as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Why not come together with the nations of the world on a note of hope and human solidarity?
No, we do not gather on any of those dates. Not the days that mark the crimes done to us. Not even the date when our rescuers arrived. We gather now, in April, to remember the day that the Jews fought back.
Author-economist Thomas Piketty speaking at University of California-Berkeley, April 23, 2014 / Getty Images
If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, you might as well relax. First of all, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are sold out, so if you haven’t picked one up already, there’s no pointing in rushing out. Second, I’m about to give you a quick summary and point you toward some short readings that give you a taste while you wait. And then there’s always Kindle.
Piketty’s Capital is a publishing phenomenon. It’s a densely-written, 685-page analysis by a professor of modern economic history and theory, translated from French, that’s become a runaway international best-seller in the six short weeks since its publication in English March 10. The topic is inequality and the ability of free-market capitalism to mitigate it through growth and job creation. Piketty argues that it doesn’t work.
Unlike many popular books on the economy that spout opinion and toss in anecdotes, Piketty’s book is based on analysis of an unprecedented trove of data. He and a posse of colleagues collected hard numbers on income and wealth by digging through national tax records in the United States, Japan and a half-dozen European countries, going back to the beginnings of such record-keeping — in some cases more than two centuries. A lot of scholars and journalists are calling the result a game-changer that will prove as significant in redefining the terms of economic policy debate as Karl Marx in the 19th century, John Maynard Keynes between the world wars and Simon Kuznets and Milton Friedman in the postwar era.
Two new review-essays sum up Piketty’s findings and arguments in a few easily readable paragraphs. One is this Harvard Business Review blog post by Justin Fox, the executive editor of Harvard Business Review Group. The other, longer one is this essay by Jeff Faux, founder and currently distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank in Washington. You can read them to save yourself the trouble of reading the entire book. A warning, though: They’ll probably make you want to read the whole thing.
But if you’re impatient, here’s the quick version:
Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mahmoud Abbas in 2010/Getty Images
Israel’s decision today to suspend peace talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, in response to yesterday’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, is really three distinct decisions. One is sensible. The second is understandable if questionable. The third is inexcusable.
The first decision is the actual suspension of talks, pending formation of the new Palestinian Authority government. The second is to suspend transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, in retaliation for Palestinian actions. The third is to launch an international media campaign to “blacken the name” of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in international public opinion.
The first, suspending talks, sensibly reflects the gravity of the Palestinian step and the delicacy of Israeli domestic politics. Israel isn’t alone in viewing Hamas as a rejectionist, irridentist and terrorist organization; that’s the assessment of the international community.
The Middle East Quartet — the diplomatic partnership of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — laid out three conditions back in 2006 for Hamas participation in the diplomatic process: recognizing Israel, swearing off terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. To date it has met none of them. There have been unofficial trial balloons, never formally confirmed, about Hamas possibly accepting peaceful coexistence on some basis. And Hamas has largely observed a cease-fire across the Gaza border since taking a whipping in Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. But it has flatly refused to give up terror in principle, and the only thing preventing Hamas attacks in the West Bank, where no cease-fire exists, has been Israeli-PLO security cooperation.
Under the circumstances, then, it’s reasonable for Israel to suspend negotiations until it sees whether the new Palestinian unity government meets minimal international norms — in effect, whether unity means Hamas following Fatah toward coexistence or Fatah following Hamas toward endless war. It’s not merely reasonable — it’s the least Jerusalem can do to show its voting public that it’s doing its job.
The second Israeli decision, to suspend the monthly transfer of Palestinian tax revenues, is a longstanding tactic for retaliating over Palestinian provocations. It does seem to be useful as a political safety valve, to let the Israeli public know that their government is on its toes and not giving away the store. Like Palestinian-led boycotts of Israel, it’s a way to pressure (read: beat up on) the other side without actual bloodshed. Like those boycotts, its usefulness in encouraging Palestinian good-faith adherence is a lot less clear. Still more unclear is whether or not it’s legal under Israel’s signed agreements.
Palestinians in Gaza City on Wednesday celebrating Hamas-Fatah unity pact. / Getty Images
Old Jewish joke: The beggar of Chelm goes to the rabbi’s house and pleads in a most pitiful tone: “Please rabbi, I haven’t eaten in days. Won’t you please give me a ruble to buy some food?”
The rabbi is touched and gives the beggar a ruble.
An hour later the rabbi is walking downtown when he sees the beggar sitting in a café, eating a thick slice of cake. Incensed, he rushes across the square and accosts the beggar: “Scoundrel! I gave you a ruble to buy food because you were in need, and now I see you’ve wasted it on cake. How dare you?!”
“Excuse me,” the beggar replies indignantly. “Yesterday I had no money and I couldn’t eat cake. Today I have money and you say I shouldn’t eat cake. Tell me, rabbi, when can I eat cake?”
So it is with Hamas, Fatah and Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Last week there was no point in Israel closing a deal with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority because it could only speak for the West Bank half of the Palestinians, given that Gaza is controlled by Hamas. Today there’s no point in closing a deal because the Palestinian Authority is finalizing an agreement for joint rule with Hamas, which will put it in partnership with a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. So tell me, rabbi, when will there be a point in closing a deal?
Conventional wisdom offers two possible answers to the question. One is that the economic blockade of Gaza is intended to weaken and eventually topple the Hamas government so that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority can regain full control. That would allow it to speak for all Palestinians and become a viable negotiating partner—assuming, that is, that you believe Fatah could ever be a viable negotiating partner.
I was hoping to post Part 2 of the Passover concert before the first Seder and then log off for yomtov, but cleaning the oven took longer than I expected (don’t ask). So here it is. We’ve got some Psalms, some spirituals, some memories of Jerusalem and some visions of the Messianic Era.
This time we’ve got selections by Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Phish, the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, Dylan & Baez, Chava Alberstein, The Melodians, Matisyahu, Meir Ariel, Blind Reverend Gary Davis and Abbott & Costello, plus a few more.
As you’ll recall, Part 1 took us through Magid, the Seder narrative, and up to the meal. Part 2 opens with Jon Stewart hosting Jason Bateman, a self-described “goy” who attended his first Seder and describes it to Stewart with a sense of wonder.
(It should be noted that Jon Stewart acknowledged after the break that he’d been wrong about the word chazerai, which has nothing to do with chazir and does indeed mean, as Bateman said, Tchotchkes, flotsam or junk.)
After the meal, of course, comes Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. Here are two of them.
The first picks up the spirit of the traditional Birkat Hamazon, giving thanks for the land and its bounty, inch by inch and row by row. Some people think the best way to hear “The Garden Song” is from the guy who wrote it, David Mallett. It’s fine, but I don’t think anyone will ever match Arlo Guthrie’s madcap rendition:
The second way to give thanks is in the spirit of the Israeli pioneers, via Chaim Nachman Bialik’s Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha, “The Song of Work and Labor” (“Who will save us from hunger? Who will feed us bread and pour us a glass of milk? O, who gets our thanks, our blessing? Work and labor!”) Sung here by the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, featuring (front row and top left) Gidi Gov, Yitzhak Klapter and Alon Oleartchik, all of Poogy fame; plus Shlomo Gronich, Yehudit Ravitz and Ariel Zilber. Also worth watching: a wonderful clip from 1937 of the song’s composer, Nachum Nardi, accompanying his first wife Bracha Tsfira as she sings “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha.”
After drinking the third cup of wine, we open the door for Elijah the Prophet, hoping he’ll come this year to herald the messianic era. Here’s the Vienna Jewish Choir, conducted by Roman Grinberg, with a fine version of the prophet’s traditional song.
Bob Dylan laid out his messianic vision of the time of liberation: “The Hour That the Ship Comes In,” with Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (I’ve uploaded this before. I’ll keep doing it until it hits No. 1.)
Next comes the holiday cycle of readings from Psalms, known as Hallel. Since it’s getting late, we’ll run through it with a single song that captures all the main themes of the Hallel in just a few lines. It’s the 1942 pop tune “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” words and music by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business”), who donated all the royalties to the war effort. This 1943 version, by Kay Kyser (of College of Musical Knowledge Fame) and His Orchestra, hit No. 1.
To get us in the spirit of the Seder, here are a few songs of exodus, freedom, rebellion and an only kid. We’ve got selections by Bruce Springsteen, Chava Alberstein, Pete Seeger, Moishe Oysher, Bob Dylan, Shuli Nathan, Paul Robeson, Paul Simon, Lahakat HaNachal, the Maccabeats and many more, including two late and very much lamented friends, Debbie Friedman and Meir Ariel. Also Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
There’s a lot to tell. Tradition teaches that the Exodus was a long night, and so is the Seder. So I’m putting it up in two parts.
First up: a quick recap of the Passover story, as retold in this unusual version of the gospel classic “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep (‘coz Pharaoh’s Army got drownded).” It’s performed by the Soul Stirrers, gospel group where Sam Cooke got his start:
Next, of course, comes “Go Down Moses.” This song has many, many unforgettable versions, but for my money there are none as powerful as this one from Preston Sturges’s 1941 film, “Sullivan’s Travels.”
It was a tough choice: I was strongly tempted to go with the unparalled classic version by Paul Robeson. I lovethis up-tempo one by the great Golden Gate Quartet. And this swinging version by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong is a gem. All well worth a listen. But for sheer emotional power, none brings you to tears like the one below.
Background: Sullivan, a Hollywood film mogul who’s gone bumming to see the real America, gets arrested and put on a Southern chain gang. In this scene the prisoners brought to see a movie in a nearby black church. The pastor and lead singer is Jess Lee Brooks.
The Haggadah tells of four rabbis who were sitting all night in Bnei Brak recalling the events of the Passover, until their students came and said, Masters, it’s time for the morning prayers. Some commentators suggest that they were actually plotting their own liberation—the Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans—and the students’ message was code for “make like you’re praying, the Romans are coming.” If so, here’s what that all-nighter might have looked like, from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”
The Magid — the portion of the Seder that retells the events of the Exodus — reaches an early emotional climax with the passage “Vehi she’amda la’avoteinu velanu” (“And that which stood firm for our ancestors and for us — for not just one enemy rose against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise up to destroy us, and the Holy One, praised be He, saves us from their hand.”)
Here’s “Vehi She’amda” and the paragraphs that follow, sung by the great Cantor Moishe Oysher and choir. Even if it’s not your style, take a taste. There’s none better.
The exodus isn’t just an ancient story. In living memory the Jewish people were brought from a house of bondage to redemption in the land of Israel. Most didn’t make it, and those who did had to sneak across a much wider sea than Moses crossed, in an operation that would have tested Joshua. I speak of the pre-state Aliya Bet. Here’s their song (and one of my all-time favorites), “Bein Gvulot” (Between Borders) sung by Hillel Raveh. “Between borders, over impassable mountains, on dark, starless nights, we bring convoys of our brethren to the homeland. For the young and tender we will open the gates. For the old and the weak we are a protecting wall.”
And of course, the climactic moment when Moses stood on the Red Sea shore, “smotin’ that water with a two-by-four,” in the words of the old spiritual sung here by Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band.
Last minute Obamacare signup, Miami, March 31 / Getty Images
About 9.3 million more Americans had health insurance in late March 2014 than in September 2013, according to a survey released Tuesday by the RAND Corporation, the respected centrist think tank. Nearly all the new enrollments are a direct result of Obamacare. As a result, the percentage of Americans without coverage dropped from 20.5% to 15.8%.
The figure of 9.3 million is a net total, after subtracting the 5.2 million people who lost coverage during that period. (That is, 14.5 million people gained coverage, but 5.2 million lost it, for a net gain of 9.3 million.) Less than 1 million people who had individual policies before September are now uninsured.
At the same time, the total doesn’t include the last-minute surge of 3.2 million signups through government marketplaces at the end of March and beginning of April, since the survey was completed on March 28, before the surge began. The net total of surge signups that resulted in completed enrollment is still unknown.
The most surprising finding in the study is that most of the new coverage doesn’t come from Obamacare’s signature marketplaces, but from people gaining coverage at their workplace. Of the 14.5 million who gained coverage, some 7.2 million people gained it through employer-sponsored insurance; 3.6 million through Medicaid expansion; 1.4 million through Obamacare marketplaces, and 1.8 million through unspecified “other” sources.
The Palestinian daily Al Quds reported on its website Monday afternoon, quoting a “knowledgeable source,” that the Palestinian leadership had decided to return to the negotiating table for two more months, with the aim of laying out the borders between Israel and a potential Palestinian state, according to Walla! News reporter Amir Tibon.
The source “ruled out the possibility” that the Palestinians would reverse their decision to sign 15 United Nations conventions, but added that the Palestinians have “no intention” of joining any more international bodies “in the near future.”
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Cairo with Arab League foreign ministers to seek their backing for the Palestinian position. In advance of that meeting, the Jerusalem Post reports, the Arab League’s deputy secretary general said in a statement issued Monday that the United States still “has a role to play in pushing the peace process forward.”