THE PROTESTS AGAINST TRUMP
A friend who was a Hillary supporter recently criticized protesters in our county, saying that we would have criticized Trump supporters if they had done this. Here was my response:
Look, I’m not out there, and I’m keeping an open mind. Nobody really knows what Trump will do. But, for young people, Muslims, Latinos, and women especially, Trump’s words are real and threatening. That’s all we have to go by.
Young people in particular do not understand how someone can win the popular vote and lose an election. It seems undemocratic, and indeed it is. This is the second time in twenty years this has happened, and many feel disenfranchised. These kind of events where the majority loses strike at the heart of our democratic system and persuade many that this is no longer a free society.
I realize from a political point of view, demonstrating at this time may not be a smart move. I get that.
Yet, a man who threatens to deport an entire population of people and to ban an entire religion from this country is not someone we should ignore. This is a man who promised to torture people and to murder families of alleged terrorists. He recently mocked Somali immigrants in Minneapolis and has made fun of the disabled more than once. He is a self-admitted sexual predator, and many women have come forward to confirm this. His closing advertisement targeted Jews as part of a global economic conspiracy.
Bystanders have not been moral actors in the past. History has taught us that, when politicians make horrifying statements and threats, we should believe them until proven otherwise.
I still hope and would not be shocked to see Trump change. Rhetoric is one thing, action another. But, as a member of a family and a group affected by murder and torture in the holocaust, I’ll be damned if I would expect others to sit down and be silent in the face of hatred. That never works, and it never will. The only chance for Trump to change is to make known to him and his supporters that words have consequences and that we will resist evil when necessary.
This is not merely a political contest between two candidates and political parties. It represents a clash of worldviews, one of which expresses a group (white people, especially those less educated) that feels victimized and has decided to victimize others. This is serious and not a “normal” moment in American history and politics. It’s a visceral threat to many and potentially strikes at the core of freedom and democracy.
Maybe this is not the best political thing to do right now, and I’m not participating (yet), but it is understandable and justifiable given the raging hatred and threats that Trump spewed in this campaign.
Maybe we should all chill and not criticize those who are rightfully frightened.
TRUMP, HITLER, AND THE RETURN OF FASCISM
Laurence H. Kant
Many, including Melania Trump, have assured us that Donald isn’t Hitler. Some commentators object to the comparison outright; others simply bleat the equivalence hysterically, without further explanation. All should contend with the evidence:
Does anyone really believe that this self-described “really smart” Wharton grad draws on the Nazi tradition of political rhetoric, symbolism, and ethnic/racial scapegoating unawares?
The onus should be on those who deny the obvious connections to explain in detail why they’re not relevant.
Countless other items of evidence connect Trump to fascism more generally:
No, Trump doesn’t outline a genocidal philosophy or well-thought-out plans to implement discrimination—what coherent policy strategy has he ever enunciated?—but he is aware of Hitler and Mussolini and riffs off of them. He knows who they are and borrows their ideas—most notably the use of intimidation and violence to acquire political power.
Does this make him more like a third-world dictator (Marco Rubio’s assessment)? Would Mussolini serve as a better comparison than Hitler? Silvio Berlusconi?
We don’t know what he sincerely believes, but does that really matter? We can only judge him by his words, his actions, and what he promotes.
We don’t know what Trump would actually do if elected president. Given the American system of checks and balances, his attempt at authoritarian rule would likely be limited by the realities of governance. Yet, is that a risk worth taking?
Why don’t commentators address the specific evidence instead of asserting that Trump isn’t Hitler? Many in the press minimize the Trump phenomenon by laughing off his words or by rationalizing the crazy stuff he does. The reason is clear: because the evidence is so troubling and disturbing, and the implications so appalling, that they would rather it simply go away.
If we’ve learned anything from the holocaust, it’s that we can’t take on the role of bystanders and let troubling events transpire by ignoring or glossing over them.
Too frequently in the past, politicians and commentators trivially compared political adversaries to Hitler and the Nazis, leading to what many call “Godwin’s law”: the inevitable invocation of Hitler or Nazis to refute an argument. Neither mindless name-calling nor willful ignorance force us to face the facts before us.
The facts are clear: Trump uses language, images, and tactics that directly recall those of the Nazis and Hitler, along with other fascists. To allow him to speak destructively by incorporating this pernicious tradition and to permit him to encourage violence without calling him to meaningful account does nothing more than offer him a media get-out-of-jail free card. It amounts to an abdication of the sacred responsibility the founders gave the press in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Who is willing to stand up and be counted?
PNEUMONIA, HILLARY, AND ME
In late 2012 I had pneumonia, and I waited and waited to see the doctor–mainly because I didn’t know what the cause of my illness was. Finally I got so sick (high temp), was wheezing so much, and was throwing up a lot (which is not typical of pneumonia) that I had Dianne drive me to an urgent care treatment center here in Lexington (KY). I got out of the car while Dianne went to park it. I was so out of it that I walked into the wrong office–a nail salon where the employees spoke no English, and I tried to communicate with them in my somewhat delirious state. Finally I figured out what was going on and walked into the right office. I could barely sign the intake form and finally shakily headed off to the doctor who suggested I get a chest x-ray. I remember sitting in the x-ray room and going into a dream state where I was convinced that what I was dreaming was actually happening. Then the x-ray tech came in, told me put on the x-ray-proof vest, and stand beside a wall to get my x-ray taken. I told her I was feeling nauseated, and she told me that, if I threw up, please do it in the trashcan beside me. I remember looking inside the can and feeling disgusted that I would have to throw up in it.
The next thing I remember was waking up on a gurney surrounded by EMTs with all sorts of stuff attached to me. They were worried I was having a heart attack and doing an EKG (among other things), I said I was fine and felt rested because I had napped a bit. They were giving me intravenous fluids and told me that I had fainted, and they had put me on the gurney. They said I would have to go to the hospital by ambulance, I asked that they let Dianne drive me, but they were adamant. And I ended up at Central Baptist, where they x-rayed me finally, and I was found to have a relatively low-grade case of pneumonia. Apparently I was so dehydrated and wiped out that I had fainted.
Now we have the Hillary episode and the great drama that has ensued in its wake. Yet, all the huffers and puffers seem to have forgotten that pneumonia can make anyone faint and cough a lot, including teenagers. I’m sure that Hillary had no idea how serious what she had was and was just trying to keep her schedule.
And yet the media goes nuts, trying to imply that Hillary has some kind of mysterious disease or that she is hiding a secret health disorder. They are busy criticizing her for her lack of transparency. Say what?
Look I know Hillary has weaknesses as a candidate and does not always interact sufficiently with the press. Yet, the media and the pundits are way off base here. If anything, this incident makes me admire Hillary even more. As far as I’m concerned she’s a hero, a kind of political Wonder Woman, When I had pneumonia, I could barely move, except to engage with the toilet. Now here you have Hillary sitting and speaking at an emotional 9/11 event after having kept a schedule that almost no one could imagine keeping even with normal health.
I cannot think of a time where the media has seemed more pathetic and sexist, busily trying to equalize the two presidential candidates, as if they are both legitimate in their quest for the presidency.
No, Trump is not a legitimate candidate. He is a mentally ill fascist demagogue and con-man who cheats and lies almost every minute of the day and who appeals to hatred and bigotry to get the votes of those whose fears and dark sides have gotten the better of them.
On the other hand, Hillary works her butt off every day trying to make a difference in the world, and she gets smoked for it.
Now we have a woman who exemplifies what hard-working women have generally always done: Keep going and getting the job done no matter how they feel. That’s what makes Hillary a role model here. And I’m embarrassed by a press whose capacity to sink to new lows knows no apparent bounds.
Barring a unity government (which the Zionist Union under Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni have thus far resisted) or the sudden withdrawal of Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennett = the religious settlers’ party), there will be a coalition government of 61 MKs out of 120. This gives a 1-vote majority to the coalition and is a recipe for political instability and possible new elections. [MK = “Member of the Knesset]
Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beteynu made this possible when they opted out of the government for a variety of reasons (see my post from a couple of days ago: See http://mysticscholar.org/lieberman-and-yisrael-beteinu-out-of-israel-government/
Essentially one member of the Knesset can bring down the government. One member can sit out a vote to prevent legislation from passing. One member can exact retribution on political rivals by voting one way unexpectedly or by abstaining. If someone wakes up in the morning on the wrong side of the bed, that MK can simply gum up the wheels of the government. One member can basically do anything he or she wants. It’s a level of political chaos, which even for Israelis is quite extraordinary. I have no idea how much can get done under these circumstances, unless a military crisis compels unity of some sort.
In Israel, they have nicknamed this potential government: “EVERY BASTARD IS A KING.”
For the moment, there will probably not be new elections, simply because the politicians and the voters are exhausted by the previous campaign. No one apparently wants to face an election right way. That will likely change in short order, however, once the political circus again enters into full season.
Israelis are famously tough and resilient in these kind of circumstances. They will have to use every bit of that ingenuity to keep this government afloat for an extended period of time.
Anybody out there have ideas about how all this is likely to play out?
Uh-ho. It’s possible for Likud/Netanyahu to form a government with 61 MKs out of 120, but that would produce an extremely unstable government. All it would take is one member to bring down the entire government.
This may force Netanyahu to broaden the government to include the Zionist Union (Isaac Herzog/Tzipi Livni) or Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Otherwise, the current constellation of partners would be almost ungovernable. Good luck to a coalition with a 1-vote majority.
It’s well-known that Lieberman dislikes Netanyahu–both personally and politically. He doesn’t trust him, believes him to be opportunistic, and thinks he breaks his word (this is a common complaint even among many Likud members, as well as among Netanyahu’s political opponents). Lieberman also is upset about the Supreme Court, which he wants to diminish in power, but Moshe Kahlon/Kulanu is totally opposed to doing this–and Netanyahu can’t govern without Kulanu. And Lieberman wants pro-Jewish nation state legislation, but Kahlon/Kulanu also opposes that. Further, Lieberman thinks that Netanyahu is soft on Hamas (he wanted him to destroy Hamas in the last Gaza war), though at the same time is more supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians than Netanyahu–a paradox, reflective of Israel’s complex fault lines. And finally Lieberman strongly dislikes the ultra-Orthodox and wants a more secular government–for example on issues of civil marriage and not allowing the ultra-Orthodox to absent themselves from the military. This mirrors his own secular supporters.
I have no idea what will happen, but this does indicate the tremendous complexity of Israeli politics and society and the ideological divisions among Israeli voters.
I am not against fracking when properly overseen (our society still requires fossil fuels), but I am appalled (though not surprised) by the lawsuit attempting to overturn the city of Denton’s (Texas) vote to ban fracking. How can people who attack government power and who call for respect for individual rights, especially for property owners, suddenly do an about-face and file a lawsuit to nullify the will of a community? This has nothing to do with principles and everything to do with money and power, pure and simple.
So much for conservatives and property rights. So much for conservatives and local control.
Would people view President Johnson more favorably if they knew this story?
In spite of the Vietnam mess of which Johnson was obviously a major player, I think he was a great president and am disappointed in the low esteem in which many hold him. I despised Vietnam as a kid and still do, but there is more to a man than that disaster. How about civil rights, voting rights, fair housing, Medicare, anti-poverty legislation like Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, and work study, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, the Public Broadcasting Service, promotion of science including our first trip to the moon (started by Kennedy, finished by Johnson), immigration reform/liberalization, massive aid for education, among others?
That’s quite a list. However, this sordid tale of Nixon’s misdeeds makes Johnson even more appealing.
A troubling tale about how money moves in the world of the Koch Brothers. We talk about the oligarchs in Russia. How different are we from them? http://www.propublica.org/article/the-dark-money-man-how-sean-noble-moved-the-kochs-cash-into-politics-and-ma
I am certainly not a pacifist and would not agree with the protesters on several matters. This includes the notion that we can just unilaterally stop having nuclear weapons or that we should stop using drones.
Further, I expect protesters engaging in civil disobedience to be willing to accept reasonable punishment (which apparently these ones are). These sentences, however, seem retributive and excessive. How do we put individuals like this away for so long when we allow CEO bankers who have engaged in presumably criminal activity and thereby done infinitely more damage to millions of people and to the well-being of our nation and world to go scott-free? Not only do they have their freedom, but they even get to dine and schmooze with leading politicians, including the president, and other glitterati. There’s something wrong here.
Perhaps the government was simply embarrassed by their incompetent and ineffective security around the most powerful weapons in the world.
In any case, we apparently have a two-tiered society: one for the privileged, and one for the rest of us. This will have to change for us to meet our ideals.
Most U.S. newspapers, like the New York Times article below, have never really gotten it and still don’t get it. This is NOT only about Netanyahu. And it’s NOT just “kitchen-table” issues, a patronizing phrase that smacks of elitism and intellectual snobbery.
This is about studio apartments that cost $500,000 dollars. This is about the Ultra-Orthodox who don’t serve in the IDF and the rest of the population that does. This is about welfare for corporations and for the ultra-Orthodox who live off the hard work of the middle class. This is about a government fixated on Iran while ignoring the economic plight of its own citizens. This is about unemployment and youth who have limited prospects. This is about religious bullying and extremism. This is about a minority of settlers who put at risk the majority of Israelis just trying to live their lives. This is about the vast majority of Israelis from left to right who believe that Palestinians have no interest in peace, but who still place hope above despair.
Israelis do care about serious issues. The issues above are serious. Just because Israelis are not only focused on borders and negotiations, as we are when it comes to the Middle East, does not mean that they are superficial or materialistic consumers. Israelis have a right to live their lives without others imposing their social, political, and religious preconceptions on them.
We in North America and Europe love to babble on (including me) about the prospects for peace, about the children of Abraham, about Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, about the Bible, about oil, about democracy in the Middle East, and so much more. However, Israelis want to be able to have normal, healthy, fulfilling lives. This elections says to the Israeli government: you have to pay attention to the middle class and stop focusing on everyone and everything else but us. Without a middle class and without working people, there is no Israel. Peace starts at home.
By JODI RUDOREN – New York Times Online 1-23-13
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is likely to serve a third term, but voters gave a surprising second place to a centrist party founded by a celebrity who emphasized kitchen-table issues.
I don’t know if you saw this, but there was an electoral earthquake in Israel yesterday. Netanyahu is in trouble, and the election at this time is a 60-60 tie in the Knesset between right and left. Yair Lapid (leader of centrist and economically focused Yesh Atid) is king-maker with 19 seats. Netanyahu may still remain as prime minister, but it will be a much more centrist political landscape than before.
It rarely has happened in recent Israeli history (once under a Sharon government in 2003, but there is a real chance now of a government without the ultra-Orthodox (who only constitute 10% of the total population), if Likud/Yisrael Beteinu, Yesh Atid, Labor, Hatnua, and Kadima (probably not Meretz) join to form a government. (Habayit Yehudi is also a possibility, as they are modern orthodox, but they’re also far-right nationalists). Since everyone hates each other, that may not occur, but the possibility itself is a significant development whatever mess may ensue.
What people in the U.S. don‘t realize is that Israelis do not vote solely (or even primarily) on peace/war issues, but economics and religion-state issues are just as important to them. When it comes to the Middle East, we may only care about foreign policy, but Israelis (like Americans, and Arabs too by the way) are worried about their economic futures and their freedoms. Lapid won because people are sick of the ultra-Orthodox military exemptions and the crushing of the middle class by corporations and government expenditures on the fanatically religious. No one predicted this would happen, but secular voters, increasing numbers of moderately religious, and young people showed up in unexpected quantities (sound familiar). The polls were wrong, because they only used landlines and missed the cell-phone youth vote.
I know I’m surprised–and relieved. A new generation is beginning to assert itself in Israel. We‘ll see if they can help to manage the pandemonium about to ensue.
This article puts MLK into perspective, reminding us that he was not a bourgeoise moderate politician, but a radical social and spiritual acitivist with an economic vision for justice and equality. Whatever one thinks of his economic solutions, there is no question that levels of inequality in our society threaten our way of life, our democracy, and our freedom. MLK was well ahead of his time on that. We need to remember who MLK was and his vision of a just society and not depict him as the main character in a romance novel in order to domesticate him for popular consumption. .
Many environmentalists have criticized President Obama for not leading on climate change. I have defended him on this (see http://mysticscholar.org/climate/), arguing that environmentalists need to produce a movement that is politically effective. This is a question of what political leadership is: 1) having the courage to take positions that your constituents do not support in order to produce legislation that will have long-term positive affects; or 2) having the courage to wait until your constituents are close to supporting a position after you have guided them and persuaded them over time–then you can help them to get over the last impediments to produce the same legislation. It’s my view that #1 can produce short-term results, but cannot produce lasting political change, which only happens with #2.
Of course , there are times of crisis when #1 may be the way to go, in an emergency or a time of horror when waiting is morally and practically indefensible. However, helping people over the last hill that they need to get over is generally what political leadership in a democratic society is. I can’t think of many examples where political leaders in the U.S. have successfully advocated for a policy well beyond where people are ready to go. I include Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt in this. Each one of them took positions as they made sense both from both a moral and political point of view.
For example, it took Lincoln a long time to push for emancipation of slaves; he did not do so until he thought he could so successfully. Now you can criticize him for not doing this sooner given the horror and evil of slavery, but he successfully pulled it off where many others might not have. In the case of Roosevelt, many have criticized him for not intervening sooner in the Holocaust (e.g. not entering the war sooner or not bombing Auschwitz), but the U.S. eventually won the war and defeated Hitler, ending his reign of evil. That was not always a given–it wasn’t even a given that the U.S. would enter the war. It’s easy to criticize Roosevelt in hindsight, but the result was the end of the Nazis. Arm-chair theorists can hypothesize all they want, but political leadership involves difficult decisions that may seem cowardly, yet are in fact acts of courage given the time and situation.
Now, at the same time, it’s the job of activist leaders like Bill McKibben to persuade people to support their positions so that political leaders can act. That what abolitionist leaders in the nineteenth century did. It was true for civil rights leaders such as MLK. It’s the same for women’s rights advocates in the early 1900’s and more recently and for gay rights activists now.
Leadership is different when applied in different contexts. A political leader does not have the same role as an activist leader. Of course, some politicians can AFFORD to act, because their constituents will support them anyway. That was true of abolitionists, and it’s true today of many northeastern and west-coast politicians on the environment. But it’s different for politicians the bulk of whose constituents oppose a particular position and will continue to oppose that politician no matter how artfully or powerfully they craft their oratory.
Of course, many politicians misjudge events either by not acting whey could do so effectively or by acting before people are ready. For example, FDR might have been able to push for healthcare reform, while Bill Clinton did not have the political climate to win on healthcare. Of course, I could be wrong about that too (Clinton’s failure may have set the stage for Obama’s success): in the end, these leadership calculations are an art, not a science.
If you want to push for change before people agree with you, you should be an activist leader (or a writer or scholar or artist), not a political one. That’s one reason why I personally was never interested in professional life in politics. I do not have the patience to operate in such an environment, but thank God there are people who do. Politics is all about patience and the waiting game. It’s only in retrospect that political movements look as if they come from nowhere. They almost never do.
I don’t normally focus on party politics here, but this story is particularly disturbing, because it strikes at the heart of American freedom and democracy. If Republicans succeed in rigging the electoral college so that Democrats win the popular vote by substantial margins but lose the presidency, the U.S. will no longer have a voting system that is free, fair, or representative. I know Republicans are upset about losing elections and the demographics that are making it more difficult to win in the future, but changing the winner-take-all system only in Democratic-leaning states (like Pennsylviania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginian, Florida, Ohio) will lead to a goverment that no longer represents the will of the people. It’s one thing to buy elections so that money rules, which is what we have now, but it’s even worse to set up a voting system that’s more likely to be found in third-world dictatorships. This is a time when Americans of all political stripes need to speak out and try to preserve some fragments of what makes us great and free. Destroying our voting system by ending ‘majority rule’ is a form of evil and ought to be labeled as such.
I see this as a spiritual crisis? Will Americans allow ourselves to have the voting process converted to a meaningless charade, or will we stand up and say that we may disagree on policies and politics, but we believe in the fundamental values of democracy and representative government? If we don’t have that, what’s left?
Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.
Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.
Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.
The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.
From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.
The linking of banks with off-duty police in full uniform is a perilous development for our freedom. Corporations and public security join forces to potentially oppose the will of the people. What’s happening to our freedom and democracy?
Both Israel and Switzerland are extremely careful about letting civilians own guns in their homes. When you travel in Israel, you see lots of soldiers with potent guns. However, in Israel, outside of the settlements, there is a very low gun ownership rate. In fact, with the exception of those who live in settlements, you are not allowed to own guns unless you held the rank of at least captain in the IDF and have a good reason to own a gun. Those who do own are required to go through a rigorous series of physical and psychological tests. Further, Israel rejects 40% of applications for gun purchase and requires that every gun sold have a government trace mark in case of investigation. Even off-duty soldiers are required to leave their guns on base when they return home.
A fundamental cause of our time. Without a free press that actively challenges state authority and secrets, we cannot have free societies. Whatever you think of Wikileaks (and I have my issues) and of other muckracking organizations, we need them. They are the rock on which our freedom stands.
The real divide in the U.S. is not Democrat-Republican or even liberal-conservative, but urban-rural: (via Nelson French): http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/red-state-blue-city-how-the-urban-rural-divide-is-splitting-america/265686/
THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SCENE
Laurence H. Kant
Thomas Friedman is right on the mark in this recent New York Times article, “The Full Israeli Experience,” describing (on the one hand) the justifiable frustration Israelis have with left-wing Europeans who don’t understand what it’s like to live in the Middle East and (on the other hand) pointing out the depressing absence of significant political support for peace initiatives among Israeli parties and political leaders.
As Friedman explains, Israelis will not listen if you don’t demonstrate you have a clue as to what’s going on in the Middle East. In my view, most left-wing Europeans–and some left-wing Americans as well–haven’t got the foggiest idea. They just don’t. They live in la-la land without a meaningful sense of the history of the Middle East or of Jews (or of Arabs and Muslims for that matter). Further, their own self-confidence leads them to think that they are somehow exempt from the prejudice and antisemitism that so deeply inhabits their being. They are just too arrogant and self-righteous to see it.
I would add, however, that Israelis are themselves naive at times. They think the US religious right is on their side, and they’re wrong. As some have said, fundamentalist Christians may love Israel, but they don’t like Jews much. Or maybe they like Jews from the “Old Testament” (as they envision it), or if Jews look funny in black hats from another time. However, such Christians are not very comfortable with mainstream Jews (secular, Reform, Conservative, and some Modern Orthodox, among others) who participate in global society, wear modern clothing, and constitute the vast majority of worldwide Jewry. Many millennarian Christians are not that different from the Palestinians in an odd sort of way. The PLO and Hamas are ok with the state of Israel as long as it’s inhabited by Arabs and Muslims. These evangelicals just replace “Arabs” and “Muslims” with “Christians” (after Jews convert, and Israel becomes a Christian state in the millennial age). Other evangelicals just want all Jews to convert to Christianity. Nobody, it seems, can envision Israel as Jewish, or can see Jews as staying Jewish, much longer. Apparently that concept is verboten.
The Middle East climate is rough right now, with the Arab/Muslim world in a whirlwind of tumult. In the midst of that, Israeli politics is more confused and chaotic than usual, an environment that is, to put it simply, a crazy mess (a mischigoss, balagan).
The main thing Bibi Netanyahu seems to care about is winning elections, while Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beteinu, is racist and authoritarian (though Lieberman is progressive on reducing the power of the religious). Lieberman and Netanyahu especially use the settlers (who constitute about 10% of the total Israeli vote) to drive their foreign policy and keep them in power, because in the fragmented Israeli system relatively modest numbers can drive your vote numbers high enough to win a lot of seats. Moshe Kahlon threatened a breakaway party that would espouse a challenge to corporate interests in Israel, but he decided to stay with Likud and not run this year. Recently emerging further on the right is Habayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home), a coalition of the National Relgious Party and the National Union, which are further to the right of Israel Beteinu, but represent a religious Zionist approach (in contrast to Likud/Israel Beteinu, which is secular). Led by Naphtali Bennett, this party is a settlers’ movement (closely associated with the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha) that envisions a greater Israel including the West Bank, opposes a two-state solution (in a wierd way, aligning with Hamas), and takes away votes from Likud/Israel Beteinu.
The religious parties (who represent the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), besides bent on discriminating against women, primarily want welfare for themselves and military exemptions. They are not Zionist or genuine supporters of the Israeli political system. These include primarily Shas (representing the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, led byEli Yishai) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, representing the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi). They rely on the weakness of the Israeli political system to essentially shakedown whatever government (right or left) is in power. Despite the portrayals of them in Western media, these groups have very little interest in, or influence over, the debate on Palestinian statehood or on West Bank settlements.
The center- and left-wings of Israeli politics are splintered and in tatters, filled with narcissists and limelight seekers (there are plenty of them on the right also, but there are more constraints on them at the moment). Friedman’s favorite centrist, Ehud Barak just sold his Tel-Aviv apartment for 26.5 million shekels or 6.5 million dollars–now there’s a real man of the people at a time when many Israelis cannot make ends meet. Beside his fondness for intrigue and drama, Barak also badly misjudged negotiating tactics in the Camp David discussions with the Palestinians in 2000. Tzipi Livni has added former Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, to her new party (Hatnua) list so that we have two leaders whom many Israelis perceive as having failed miserably during the 2006 Lebanese war. Most Israelis naturally don’t want them in leadership. Shaul Mofaz, the current leader of Kadima, is not a popular leader, lacking charisma and political skills. Some have floated the name of Shimon Peres. While he’s been quite a statesman and leader (the man partly responsible for Israel’s nuclear program), he’s not at the right age to reenter politics at 89, and, though popular now, he did not inspire confidence in Israelis when he was in power as a Labor Party politician. Ehud Olmert has serious legal problems and his own political baggage. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, who is growing in popularity, has virtually no foreign policy or security experience. Yair Lapid, head of the new party, Yesh Atid, advocates for a secular society and for women’s rights in explicit opposition to the religious, but his platform is probably too narrow to attract enough votes to make him a significant player. The left-wing party, Meretz, describes itself as the peace party and as socialist, but most Israelis view it as too idealistic and unrealistic.
Overall, most Israelis don’t particularly like Netanyahu, but at least he’s competent in their view.
HBO or Showtime could easily serialize Israeli politics into a weekly evening soap opera, with wild twists and turns, intrigues, plots and counter-plots, jam-packed with drama-kings and drama-queens.
At the same time, one can trace the currently disturbed state of Israeli politics back to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhaq Rabin by a right-wing settler (Yigal Amir) who was himself goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of settler leaders, politicians, and rabbis. Many Israelis (and diaspora Jews as well) are still stunned by the idea that a Jew would murder the Jewish leader of a Jewish state. Just as it took the US a long time to recover from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, it may take Israel a long time to find its political way after this traumatic event. The incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in 2006 just after he had successfully led Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza further exacerbated the political trauma and left Israel without another of its seminal leaders. Rabin and Sharon may not have seen eye to eye, but they were powerful leaders who had a vision for Israel and its place in the Middle East. They had obvious military credentials, were tough individuals with strong egos, and possessed a willingness to fight in the political underbrush. They also believed in seeking peace through strength, taking measures to demonstrate both their toughness and their openness to reconciliation. Their loss has had a deeply depressive effect on the Israeli body politic. We should not forget this.
Of course, the structure of the Israeli political system is flawed, allowing for the proliferation of smaller parties some of which wield power well beyond the numbers of their supporters. It makes coherence, consensus, and political stability more difficult to achieve than it should be. What we end up with is an already fragmented electorate even more fragmented.
Israelis are particularly bleak at the moment about the Arab world and about Palestinian society. All you have to do is take a look at the recent statement of Hamas leader, Khalid Meshal, about Israel: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” How do you have a rational discussion with a group that openly states that it wishes to annihilate you? Plus, Israelis have their own internal problems with an outrageous cost of living and enormous divisions between the secular and the religious.
Yet, in the final analysis, most Israelis want peace and will go a long way out of their comfort zone to make peace. Eventually the political culture will reflect that. Unfortunately, it may take more time. Given the situation in the Arab world and the lack of acceptance of a Jewish state, Israel’s neighbors are clearly in no mood to recognize a Jewish Israel. And, given Israel’s own divisions, Israelis find it difficult to harness a unified vision and national identity.
Things never move as quickly as we would like, but still they’re moving, however slowly. For example, attempts to bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together are flourishing in all sorts of unlikely places in Israel and the West Bank. Within Israel we are seeing attempts from all sides of the political spectrum to lower the cost of living and help disadvantaged Israelis. And there are movements now to bridge the divide between the secular and religious in Israel.
Further, while the so-called Arab Spring could devolve into chaos or produce fanatic Muslim fundamentalist governments (see Iran, but this time potentially mostly Sunni rather than Shiite), it also presents the only real possibility for change in the Arab/Muslim world. The risks are enormous, but the previous corrupt, repressive governments of the Middle East (some of which still exist, with a few more barely holding on to power) would never have been able to bring about peace with Israel or democratic prosperity at home. Realistically, as dangerous and as anxiety-provoking as possible outcomes are, this change is the best hope Israel has for peace.
Part of the problem is that we can visualize peace, and that makes it seem closer than it actually is, but in reality peace is there on the horizon, just further out than we would like. Sometimes hope (as Pema Chodron says) holds us back and pushes us to do things which we should not. What we really need is neither hope nor despair, but an honest, clear-headed view of what’s in front of us, supported and nurtured by a fundamental trust in the universe (which is, after all, the Jewish way).
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-full-israeli-experience.html (Thanks to Nelson French! for this article)
Social conservatives go after the Girl Scouts, of all things. Wow, is our country polarized and divided. The viciousness and nastiness of discourse is reaching new lows.
I just saw Rachel Maddow’s program this evening. Did you know the extent to which Democrats have been winning unexpectedly in heavenly Republican districts? Obviously there’s the stunning victory in New York 26, but there’s much more going on. Democrats are winning everywhere: for Jacksonville mayor, for Tampa mayor, in New Hampshire for a state senate seat, and in Wisconsin for a state assembly seat. In a 50-50 Maine state senate district, the Democrat won by over 40 percentage points. In Ohio a Republican state senator who voted for the union busting bill resigned after relentless criticism for that vote. In Alabama, a state senator flipped from Republican to Democrat. The Republican governor of Florida (Rick Scott) has a 29% approval rating, while Republican John Kasich in Ohio is cratering in the polls and Republican Scott Walker is doing poorly in Wisconsin. In Ohio a poll showed an 18% lead for the opponents of the union busting bill.
What’s going on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this quick of a political turn-around? This is more dramatic than what happened after the government shut-down in 1994-95. Now you never know what will happen down the road, but what were the Republicans thinking? Their strategy makes no political sense. It’s as if the end of the world were coming, and the Republicans tried to grab as much stuff as they possibly could before all hell broke loose. Busting unions, destroying Medicare, eviscerating social programs, offering tax-give-aways to the super-rich and corporations, gutting the environment, criminalizing abortion, and much more does not seem to be working out so well for them politically.
Honestly, I can’t make sense of what they’re thinking politically. It’s totally illogical and just plain bizarre. They could have caused a lot of damage and still maintained some semblance of political viability, but they chose instead to take a wrecking ball. The only thing that I can postulate is that Republicans were not thinking politically, but were instead doing the bidding of a few very powerful super-rich people such as the Koch Brothers. In other words,, Republicans had marching orders and happily walked the plank. Somehow, I guess, they think that these guys will rescue them or do something. I’m not sure, but that’s all I came come up with.
They are handing the 2012 general election on a silver platter to the Democrats. Why????? Do you have any ideas out there? It makes no sense. I’m perplexed.
Now, that said, I am concerned for our country. Yes, I want far-right-wing crazies, nut-jobs, and loony-tunes to lose, but our country needs at least two viable competing parties. Without that either party will probably mess things up even more. I can’t imagine that Democrats will know what to do with the massive majorities they might win in next election if things go as they seem to be going. We need two real parties with serious ideas that must compete with the serious ideas of the other party. Right now the Republicans are nuts, like invading locusts destroying everything in their paths, while Democrats are gleefully watching the self-destruction, but they don’t have any real ideas. Now Obama, I believe, has a vision, but the Democrats as a whole are pretty much empty. So where does that leave us as a country?
What I wish for are two parties: one which is expansive, trying to move the nation forward by advocating expenditures that will improve our quality of life and develop a new strategy to keep our economic global prominence; and another party that stands for fiscal responsibility that creatively figures our ways to save money, keep taxes reasonable, and act as good managers and stewards of our resources.
What’s happened? Where are these parties? I consider myself a progressive independent, a strong supporter of Obama, who has no alternative but to vote Democrat in light of the madness that currently passes for Republican policy. But that’s not what I want. I want a Democrat party that stands for something meaningful and hopeful and a Republican party that recognizes itself as a solid citizen watching over expenditures carefully and supporting change while also understanding the value of tradition. Instead, the Democrats just kind of float along living in FDR’s shadow, while the Republicans have gone off the deep end. Where is the imagination and creativity? Where is honor and responsibility. It exists with a few individuals, but it’s absent from political groups as wholes.
This is a wild time. Maybe we have to go through it as a country, but we are sure facing tremendous uncertainty and volatility unlike anything I can remember and really know about historically, at least since the Civil War. This is, I think, part of the great shift happening at a global level. We are entering a new period of history and consciousness, watching the collapse of old systems (including political ones) while new ones emerge. Perhaps we should not get caught up in the day-to-day, political and social earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but look through and beyond that to the world that is coming–for us and the globe. Perhaps nation-states will disintegrate as new forms of governance emerge that act at both global and local levels. A lot of people focus on up-and-coming countries like China, but perhaps we need to look toward the new structures that are emerging that have nothing to do with nations or political parties, but with movements–such as environmental activism or freedom movements in the Middle East or micro-financing or the post-religious “spiritual but nor religious” phenomenon or whatever –that are creating systems that we can’t even really seen just yet.
I have for a long time sensed a global shift and world transformation bubbling up from the depths, but experiencing it is completely different from envisioning it.
Any thoughts out there in the blogosphere and web world?
If you don’t like history, simply rewrite it and persuade people that lies are true. That’s the conservative method of attaining political victory.
It’s occasionally possible for the facts to change the minds of climate change deniers. The politicization of this issue in the U.S.. as well as the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific basis of American evangelical Protestants and the power of corporate interests, has made the U.S. one of the only places in the world to have such a substantial number of people who deny the clear conclusions of science. In the U.S., this follows the pattern of denying other scientific assessments, including evolution, damage to the ozone layer, the use of marijuana, the age of the earth, the dangers of nuclear power. and much more.
http://www.slate.com/id/2293607/pagenum/all/ (via Dianne Bazell)
For my discussions of this topic, go to the following: http://mysticscholar.org/category/5jewish-quarter/israel/
See the following specific items:
Freedom from bondage in Egypt still has not finished. We are still wandering in the wilderness to the extent that we are in bondage to the expectations of others. Such a plight might indicate “peer pressure,” but even more it refers to the manipulations of powerful cultural forces and vast corporate empires.
Yet, in the din and confusion of screeching bullies and con-men, it is within our power to listen to our own authentic voices and act accordingly. A difficult journey faces us, but the land of milk and honey beckons.
Now that the birth certificate is out, there are those who doubt that Osama bin Laden is dead. Sadly the wackos have some mainstream attention.
This illustrates the great danger of media monopolies. Because Al Gore hired Keith Olbermann, Murdoch’s News Corp. will keep Current TV off the air in Italy. A conservative media power blows off a progressive upstart. And once again corporations show us who has the real power in the world.
Former General William “Jerry” Boykin is busy promoting Christian dominionism, targeting Islam, and promoting “Christian warriors.” This is one wierd world. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that “earth is the insane asylum of the universe.” I guess General Boykin and his allies are not very familiar with cultures and traditions other than his own. Just living in his own little isolation chamber, I guess
I could not agree more with Reverend Wallis. As the recent dismissal of Chipotle employees (in Washington, D.C.) demonstrates (because the company was afraid of their legal status), our immigration system is broken. Reverend Wallis is right when he notes that our country would grind to a halt without Latino/a immigrant workers. We would simply not function as a country without them. These are hard-working people with the kind of drive and energy that is at the core of the prosperity and dynamism of the U.S. The xenophobia and fear that characterizes so much of our national discourse on this topic is not only economically and morally harmful to us, but it diverts us from the real problems we face.
Except for Native americans, we are all immigrants, including my grandparents who came to this country from Russia and Poland. The Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) is one of our greatest symbols, representing the most deeply held values of our people. Let us not react to our anxieties and hatred, but let us live out our dreams and hopes. That is the meaning of every great moral and spiritual tradition.
I could not agree more with Bernie Sanders. It’s also practical if we want our country to be able to compete effectively in the world. Right now our companies are saddled with huge costs, and patients face obscenely high payments and inadequate, uncertain coverage.
I think there is a deeper issue here as well. Giving everyone access to basic health care means they many more individuals will have the opportunity to embark on building start-up companies and on accepting higher risk jobs without fear of losing their health insurance coverage. I see universal coverage as an issue of freedom. When you don’t have to stay in a job in order to have your health problems covered, then you are free to take on careers and jobs that are more meaningful and rewarding. Universal health care adds to our liberty, because it gives us more choices and more mobility.
I wonder sometimes whether opposition to universal coverage stems from a fear of allowing people too much freedom. Universal coverage would take leverage from those in power (in corporations and in government) and put it into the hands of working people and our creative class. Denying individuals this opportunity concentrates power in the hands f those who already have it.
Thus, there are ethical and politco-spiritual dimensions here: ethical in that a civilized society needs to insure basic health care for its citizens; and politico-spiritual in that universal health coverage increases the level of human freedom, putting more decision-making power into the hands of more people. Universal health care coverage is a global, transformative movement of the human species toward greater freedom and independence.
I respect Reverend Wallis, and I understand his point of view on Afghanistan. War is always awful and tragic, and hideous things have certainly happened in Afghanistan, including American military kill teams and our support for corrupt and misogynist Afghani political leaders, among others.
Yet, the nature of war and violence does not necessarily make it wrong in every case. The American Civil War and World War II are two wars that were ethically defensible and, in fact, morally required. Sometimes war is the best option among a set of worse options. That does not justify the crimes and horrors inevitably committed in violent contexts that degrade our consciences and moral compasses, but it does justify the use of violence in certain instances.
We did not go to war in to Afghanistan simply to kill Osama Bin Laden, but also to destroy the Taliban and to assist in creating a Afghan society that is stable and free, able to resist corruption, terrorism, and tyranny. We made that promise when we decided, in a bipartisan fashion that crossed political lines, to bring our troops into Afghanistan. This was not supposed to be dependent on how simple or swift the task was or to be a quick jaunt that we could end when the going got muddy and rough. We gave our implicit word that we would stay the course until we transformed a divided, undeveloped society into a nation that could function healthily and proudly on its own.
This was never going to be easy or quick. From the beginning, anyone who knew something about Afghan society understood that this was a long-term task that would realistically last no less than ten years and could take 20-40 years. If we aren’t ready to embark on such ventures, then we shouldn’t make the commitment to others. If we don’t hold to our commitments, no one will take us seriously on anything. Other countries will view as fair-weather friends.
The majority of Afghans have experienced violence for centuries and understand that our military will screw up and do bad things (it’s in the nature of war and human weakness). Most also realize that screwing up does not mean that we should give up. That’s an adult view of the world.
I support continued involvement in Afghanistan, but with a lower military footprint and a stronger non-military, society-building presence. Many Afghans don’t currently trust us for good reason–not because of kill teams and incompetence, but because they believe that we will leave sooner rather than later. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s show that we stand by our commitments and don’t abandon those who put faith in us.
On what basis are Americans qualified to pontificate on democracy if we pull this kind of garbage?
An interesting analysis projecting long-term demographic trends (especially the growth of the Latino population) that favor progressive Democrats in the South. We shall see. In any case, it will take at least ten twenty years, I would guess.
IRS signals that political donors may own back taxes. This is potentially game-changing for the 501(c)4 world and may have a major impact on the 2012 election. Not many donors want to pay thirty-five percent gift taxes
Great idea, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Which century do we live in?
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