Sunday, August 10, 2014

Homogeneity Is Their Strength. By Kevin D. Williamson.

Homogeneity Is Their Strength. By Kevin D. Williamson. National Review Online, August 10, 2014.

Williamson: 

America used to be decent, stable, and diverse — until the welfare state took over.


“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
— Barack Obama on Trayvon Martin

It generally is taken as a given that the United States must become more Hispanic and less Anglo as a matter of demographic inevitability, but that assumption rests largely on the continuation of current patterns of immigration, which itself is predicated on ignoring the question: Does greater diversity serve the greater good? Glenn Loury once observed that the essence of conservatism is the belief that “human nature has no history.” Even as we hope to live up to the best of our natures rather than down to the worst of them, the evidence counsels a measure of pessimism on the subject — and not only for Republicans concerned that the demographic deck is stacked against them in the long term. Progressives who dream of a Nordic-style welfare state will find themselves challenged by the costs of greater diversity, as will those of us who hope, perhaps naïvely, for a politics and a culture that is more humane and individualistic, and less regimented along racial lines. We’ve been told that diversity is our strength, but the unhappy truth may be something closer to the opposite.

Since the time of Charles Darwin, evolution theorists have puzzled over the question of altruism. The remorseless logic of evolutionary selection suggests that individuals should be very selfish, but, in fact, they often are not. Vampire bats share food, primates groom one another, birds put themselves at risk by issuing warning calls when a predator is detected, and so on. In theory, evolution should weed out behavior that puts an individual at a relative reproductive disadvantage, however slight. Darwin himself, considering the question of sterile insect castes (e.g., the worker ants, which never reproduce but serve the colony queen, which does), thought that it was potentially “fatal” to his theory. He settled on the idea that the solution to his dilemma probably was in family relationships, and evolution theorists of subsequent generations developed that into the theory of “kin selection,” an evolutionary strategy by which we pass on our genes both by reproducing and by supporting our relatives — those who share genes with us — an example of what is known as “inclusive fitness.”

The human brain is a shrewd investor: We may be inclined to share and to cooperate, but we are much more inclined to share and to cooperate with those who are closely related to us, and with those who reciprocate. The evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have demonstrated that the brain contains a specific mechanism, probably in the limbic system, to detect cheaters — people who derive benefits from social exchange without satisfying social requirements. Human beings are not especially good at detecting rule violations — but in the context of social exchange, we are remarkably good at it, a fact that holds true for people of different backgrounds and in different cultures.

Reciprocity is intensified by relatedness. You don’t treat your old friend from high school the way you treat your children, and you probably wouldn’t be as apt to donate a kidney to a stranger as to a brother. As with cheating, the human brain is good at judging relatedness, through facial cues and, very probably, through other mechanisms as well. (Wasps detect relatives via pheromones; so might we.) We tend to have more faith in people who look like us, as Lisa M. DeBruine of McMaster University put it in the title of her 2002 paper “Facial resemblance enhances trust.” (But it doesn’t necessarily make us more trustworthy: “Resemblance to the subject’s own face raised the incidence of trusting a partner,” DeBruine writes, “but had no effect on the incidence of selfish betrayals of the partner’s trust.” We’re kind of an awful species.)

We are more inclined to share and to cooperate with people to whom we are related, and we are most likely to trust faces that look like our own. When President Obama noted that if he had a son, that son would look like Trayvon Martin, he was giving voice to a natural inclination, perhaps a more powerful one than he understands. (Nearly 200 Latino men have been murdered in Los Angeles County in the past twelve months, but they don’t look like President Obama.) I’ve always had some contempt for the idea that Mae Jemison wouldn’t be an astronaut if she hadn’t seen Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, but perhaps I am understating the power of identification. Jamelle Bouie points to a disturbing study in which white subjects were more likely to support harsh criminal-justice measures when they were given the impression that prison populations are even more disproportionately black than they actually are.

How wide we draw the circle of kinship and how we think about its boundaries are cultural issues, true, but our habit of scrutinizing and categorizing, and of adapting our behavior accordingly, is as much a natural part of us as our blood and bones.

The obvious and unfortunate flip side of this is that we are less inclined to trust and share with people who are less like us. This has been a well-established fact in social-science literature for a long time: Ethno-linguistic diversity imposes costs on societies by reducing trust and undermining social cooperation. It isn’t a linear relationship, because diversity has real value, too. There are very happy homogeneous societies and miserable homogeneous societies; there are rich diverse countries and poor diverse countries. Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor, economists at Williams and Brown, respectively, have argued that there is in effect a point of diminishing return for diversity, finding that excessive homogeneity has held back the economic performance of Native American populations but excessive diversity has hobbled development in Africa. Their position is a controversial one, but research from around the world has produced similar results: Peter Thisted Dinesen and Kim Mannemar Sønderskov surveyed Danish municipalities from 1979 to the present and found that increasing diversity was correlated with diminished social trust. The effect seems to be general, at least at some level.

In their fascinating paper on the subject (“Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance,” Journal of Economic Literature, September 2005) Harvard’s Alberto Alesina and Eliana La Ferrara of Bocconi University lay out the challenges: “The potential benefits of heterogeneity come from variety in production. The costs come from the inability to agree on common public goods and public policies.”

In the context of American politics, that inability to agree is striking. The two major political tendencies are racially polarized, though in different ways: The Republican party is overwhelmingly white, and non-white voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. Mitt Romney did nearly as well among whites — winning their vote by 20 points — in an election he lost as Ronald Reagan did winning 49 states. The trend is even more pronounced in areas in which white voters are closer to numerical minority status. Marisa Abrajano of the University of California at San Diego argues that white voting habits change dramatically in response to immigration, finding specifically that “neighborhoods that have been ‘encroached’ by immigrants in any way become less likely to endorse public spending [on] disadvantaged sectors of the population,” and that white voters have become relatively hostile to welfare and education spending in states where there are larger immigrant populations.

The northern-European welfare states that many American progressives embrace as their ideal were, until very recently, very homogeneous places. Norway, for much of its modern history, had a small minority population of Sami in the north, a few immigrants from neighboring countries, and approximately a thimbleful of immigrants from elsewhere. It was historically not a liberal society on the subject of immigration and integration: Its policy toward the Sami was fornorskning, or Norwegianization, and its 1814 constitution banned Jews from entering the country (a provision revived after the events of 1942). But enjoying an economic boom and fearing a population decline that would undermine its social-welfare model, Norway, beginning in the 1960s, permitted an influx of job-seeking immigrants from Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. The result of that experiment was a general ban on economic immigration enacted in 1975, with an exception for a few coming from other Nordic countries. Norway’s experience with the cohort from the 1960s and ’70s has been problematic: Their employment rate has dropped from 95 percent to less than 40 percent, their dependency on welfare has increased. Subsequent non-Nordic immigrants, partly the result of chain migration from the first cohort, are less likely to work, earn much less money if they do, and are more heavily dependent on welfare than their native-born counterparts. Trust in Norwegian political institutions is, no surprise, on the decline.

The resulting resentment makes problems worse. Tino Sanandaji, the Kurdish-born, Chicago-trained economist who serves as a fellow at Stockholm’s free-market Research Institute of Industrial Economics (and who of course is a National Review contributor) finds that immigrants in Sweden are eager to work but unable to find jobs. “International comparisons have shown that no other OECD country performs worse than Sweden in terms of integrating immigrants in the labor market,” he writes. “The unemployment rate is 18 percent among immigrants, compared to 7 percent among the native born. The explanation is hardly that immigrants enjoy being unemployed. Studies show that unemployed immigrants in Sweden search far more intensely for work than unemployed Swedes, but often have their job applications ignored. Due to low employment rates, 57 percent of welfare payments in Sweden in 2012 went to immigrant households.”

In Sweden, diversity is not their strength. Homogeneity is.

How much of this is social and how much is biological is unclear — as, indeed, are the boundaries between the social and the biological. But in political terms, Sweden’s more liberal policy toward immigrants may be judged in no small part by the Stockholm riots of 2013, whereas the much sterner Danish model has enjoyed more success with its active cultural-integration campaign, its insistence on Danish cultural norms and practices, and its emphasis on economic self-support. Though much remains to be seen, there is evidence to suggest that the Nordic welfare state is something that only really works in a society that is 98 percent Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish.

The striking counterexample is the case of Japan, which, like 1960s Norway, is concerned about a demographic trend — a baby bust — that threatens to undermine its welfare state. But Japan is a very closed culture, and the country historically has not been very open to immigrants. As Zeynep Tufekci notes, “Hundreds of thousands [of] ethnic Koreans who have been in Japan through multiple generations, for example, do not have Japanese citizenship and can only assimilate if they more or less give up their Korean identity.” Professor Tufekci writes as if that were a self-evidently bad thing — as if Japan’s rejection of multiculturalism and its insistence upon its own cultural identity were inherently malevolent. Japan places a very high value on Japaneseness, and there is no self-evident reason for believing that it is wrong to do so. There are real benefits to diversity — and there are real costs.

In the United States, we’re more like the Swedes than the Japanese. And that’s a problem, or at least a potential problem. Our current political trajectory suggests that we are committed both to relatively high levels of immigration and to a larger and more active welfare state, with many on the Left pursuing an explicitly Nordic model. It may be the case that these policies are mutually exclusive.

None of this is to say you cannot have a decent, stable, and diverse society — the United States is Exhibit A for the case that you can. But there are difficulties. In the earliest days of the American settlement, diversity meant Puritans here and Quakers there, and our institutions were incubated in a deeply and overwhelmingly Anglo-Protestant culture. But it has been a long time since anything like a Nordic level of ethno-linguistic homogeneity has been present here. Up until quite recently, and with the critical exception of the situation of African-Americans, we handled our diversity with the best tools there are: localism, federalism, equality under the law, integration, participation in civil society. But the aggrandizement of the public sector has diminished civil society, multiculturalism has hobbled integration, the centralization of power in Washington has undermined federalism, and the grievance industry chips away at the idea of equality under the law — ask a Korean-American kid applying to Berkeley how that’s going.

And, as with Stockholm’s ghettos and Paris’s banlieues, our relatively high sustained levels of immigration and our inability to integrate immigrants means the persistence of ethnic enclaves — and the sense of separatism, on both sides of the street, that goes along with them. Is continued steady immigration from Mexico and Spanish-speaking points south going to make that better or worse — including for Hispanic immigrants and their descendants already here? Is it likely in the long run to make our society more or less productive, prosperous, stable, cooperative, happy?

That is a question that makes us uncomfortable, and one that should make us uncomfortable, but it is one that we may be nonetheless compelled to ask.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Al Jazeera Panel: Is Zionism Compatible With Democracy?

Is Zionism compatible with democracy? Panel with Mehdi Hasan, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Avi Shlaim, Paul Charney, and Diana Buttu. Video. Head to Head. Al Jazeera English, March 7, 2014. Transcript. YouTube.




Transcript excerpt: 

Mehdi Hasan: Okay, how does a political ideology which, at its core, is about privileging a particular ethic group presumably over other ethnic groups. How do you reconcile that with the principles of Liberalism, which is about equal rights for all, equal citizenship for all?

Shlomo Ben Ami: I think you need an effort to reconcile the two, to square the circle. It’s not easy, but I do agree that there is a fundamental anomaly in the creation of the state of Israel. This can perhaps explain the controversy around the Jewish state because it was created in a very particular way. And, given the background of Jewish history as we know it. But I do believe that enlightened leadership and more sober political construction in Israel could have bridged that kind of squaring the circle.

Mehdi Hasan: But when you talk about squaring the circle or anomaly some people go further. They say “there is an inherent, more than just a tension, there is a contradiction when you talk of being a Jewish and democratic state.” It is like talking about hot ice. It’s a contradiction in terms, it is an oxymoron.

Shlomo Ben Ami: No it is not an oxymoron. I mean, you can be a Jewish state where the Jews are a majority but is fully, unconditionally respectful of the minorities. Look, without declaring it, many other states throughout the world gave priority to a majority ethnic or religion.

Mehdi Hasan: You’re right, if we take the United States, for example, you could say there’s a big debate about indigenous people there, Australia. The difference, surely, is that in the nature of Zionism, surely it’s about preserving a Jewish majority and that Jewish majority, of course, came about by expelling some of the Palestinians who were living within those original borders, those UN-mandated borders. You wouldn’t have a Jewish majority and a Jewish state had you not expelled Palestinians along the way.

Shlomo Ben Ami: Well, this is the way the state of Israel was created. I’m not trying to whitewash the anomaly in the creation of the state of Israel by saying that nations normally throughout history were born in blood and were born in sin. The difference is that Israel was born in the age of mass media. Imagine that the United States would have been born in the age of mass media after the elimination of the indigenous people.

Mehdi Hasan: Today, the United States does not say it is the nation or the country of one particular ethnic group or religion. And, whereas the Jewish state is called the Jewish state. You are, in its very title it is privileging one group of people over another group of people who happen to live within that state’s borders.

Shlomo Ben Ami: [INTERRUPTING] Ah, well…

Mehdi Hasan: …That’s why people talk about – it’s an ethnocracy, not a democracy, some suggest.

Shlomo Ben Ami: You need to see that against the background of Jewish history. Now what we need is to reconcile that complex historical background with what a normal state should be.


Tsar Vladimir the First. By Gal Luft.

Tsar Vladimir the First. By Gal Luft. Foreign Policy, August 5, 2014. Also here.

Putin isn’t trying to win the Cold War – he’s refighting the battles of World War I.


The Death of Sympathy in Israel. By Gregg Carlstrom.

The Death of Sympathy. By Gregg Carlstrom. Foreign Policy, August 5, 2014. Also here.

Some Israelis Count Open Discourse and Dissent Among Gaza War Casualties. By Jodi Rudoren. New York Times, August 5, 2014.


Carlstom: 

How Israel’s hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left.


TEL AVIV — Pro-war demonstrators stand behind a police barricade in Tel Aviv, chanting, “Gaza is a graveyard.” An elderly woman pushes a cart of groceries down the street in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and asks a reporter, “Jewish or Arab? Because I won’t talk to Arabs.” A man in Sderot, a town that lies less than a mile from Gaza, looks up as an Israeli plane, en route to the Hamas-ruled territory, drops a blizzard of leaflets over the town. “I hope that’s not all we're dropping,” he says.

Even before the war, Israel was shifting right, as an increasingly strident cadre of politicians took ownership of the public debate on security and foreign affairs. But the Gaza conflict has accelerated the lurch – empowering nationalistic and militant voices, dramatically narrowing the space for debate, and eroding whatever public sympathy remained for the Palestinians.

The fighting seems to be winding down, but it leaves behind a hardened Israeli public opinion: There is a widespread feeling that Israelis are the true victims here, that this war with a guerrilla army in a besieged territory is existential.

Hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found himself under pressure from politicians even further to his right. The premier has suspended negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, arrested more than 1,000 Palestinians, demolished the homes of several people convicted of no crimes, and launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 1,800 people. That's not enough, even for some members of Netanyahu's own party, who see worrying signs of weakness.

“We’ve seen the influence of [Tzipi] Livni over the prime minister,” Likud Knesset member Danny Danon told Foreign Policy, referring to the justice minister and her centrist party. “My position is to make sure we’re not becoming a construct of the left.... As long as he stays loyal, he’ll have the backing of the party.”

Netanyahu fired Danon from his post as deputy defense minister last month, because he was too critical of the government's strategy in Gaza. But Danon cannot be dismissed as a marginal figure: He took control of the Likud central committee last year, and has used the post to steer the party further right – an ironic turnabout, as Netanyahu used the same tactics to drive out former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a decade ago.

Even before his election, the 2012 Likud primary turned Netanyahu into perhaps the most liberal member of his own party. 

Public opinion polls confirm the Israeli right’s gains during the current conflict. A survey conducted by the Knesset Channel last week found that the right-wing parties would win 56 seats in the next election, up from 43 last year. The center-left bloc would shrink from 59 seats to 48. Other surveys suggest that the right could win a majority by itself, without needing religious parties or centrists to form a coalition.

But perhaps more striking is the public’s near-unanimous support for the Gaza war, from Israelis across the political spectrum. Roughly 90 percent of Jewish Israelis support the war, according to recent polls. Less than 4 percent believe the army has used “excessive firepower,” the Israel Democracy Institute found, though even Israeli officials admit that a majority of the 1,800 Palestinians killed so far are civilians.

Meanwhile, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, the ostensible head of the opposition, is doing public relations work for Netanyahu, defending the war at a gathering of foreign diplomats. Livni herself at times sounds more hawkish than the prime minister, arguing that Israel should topple Hamas and build a moat to separate itself from Gaza. “I have two words for you: Get lost,” she told the U.N. Human Rights Council after it voted to investigate possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

And Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who once threatened to bolt the coalition if talks with the Palestinians collapsed, has been another vocal advocate. “This is a tough war, but a necessary one,” he said last month.

Decades ago, a commentator coined the phrase “quiet, we’re shooting” – a reflection of the Israeli public’s tendency to rally behind the army in wartime. But this time, public dissent hasn’t just been silenced, it’s been all but smothered. A popular comedian was dumped from her job as the spokeswoman for a cruise line after she criticized the war. Local radio refused to air an advertisement from B’Tselem, a rights group, which simply intended to name the victims in Gaza.

Scattered anti-war rallies have drawn small crowds, mostly in the low hundreds; the largest brought several thousand people to Tel Aviv on July 26. But most of the protests ended in violence at the hands of ultranationalists, who attacked them and set up roving checkpoints to hunt for “leftists” afterwards. Demonstrators have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and bludgeoned with chairs.

In hundreds of interviews with Israelis over the past month, there has been little criticism of their government’s actions, much less sympathy for Gaza’s. “We have suffered terribly, but when you are pushed into a corner, you have no choice,” said one man in Ashkelon. “Their children? What about our children? If they cared about their children, they wouldn’t have chosen Hamas,” said a woman in Kiryat Malachi, a city in Israel’s south.

The media, by and large, has become a unanimous choir in support of destroying Hamas. The only exception is Haaretz, where Gideon Levy, one of the newspaper’s best-known columnists, has started reporting with a bodyguard after he was accosted during a live television interview in Ashkelon. Yariv Levin, a Knesset member from Likud and a chairman of the governing coalition, wants to charge Levy with treason because of his writing.

“I’ve never had it so harsh, so violent, and so tense,” Levy said.

“We will face a new Israel after this operation ... nationalistic, religious in many ways, brainwashed, militaristic, with very little empathy for the sacrifice of the other side. Nobody in Israel cares at all.” 

Already, figures who challenge Israel’s dominant narrative about the conflict – or even dare to tweak public sensibilities – have been met with an overwhelming and vicious backlash. Last week, Hanoch Sheinman, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University, emailed his students about their revised exam schedule. He opened by wishing “that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed.”

The dean of the law school pronounced himself shocked at Sheinman’s email, and wrote to students that Sheinman’s “hurtful letter ... contravene[s] the values of the university.”

“Even this trivial expression of concern stirred such a backlash, and that’s not trivial at all,” Sheinman told Foreign Policy. “To be shocked or angered ... by a trivial expression of sympathy to everyone is to betray a lack of such sympathy.”

Even in the Knesset, voices of dissent have been silenced. Knesset member Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is a favorite target for the right, has been barred from most parliamentary activity for six months. Her punishment, the harshest one meted out by the Ethics Committee, was a response to a radio interview in which she said the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers was not terrorism. “The atmosphere has become very radical,” said Basel Ghattas, a colleague of Zoabi's.

On the other side of the political spectrum – and dominating the conversation – are people like Moshe Feiglin, a clownish figure from Likud and a deputy speaker of parliament. He called last week for the “conquest” of Gaza, and the “elimination of all military forces and their supporters.” This is our land, he wrote, “only ours, including Gaza.” Nobody has demanded his censure.

Though this current bout of fighting in Gaza may be now at an end, Israel’s rightward turn appears here to stay. The deaths of more than 60 Israeli soldiers in the conflict have not dented public support for the war; if anything, it appears to have whet many Israelis’ appetite for vengeance.

At a funeral last month, hundreds of mourners sobbed softly as the flag-draped coffin of an Israeli officer was brought into the cemetery. The soldier’s mother lay her head on the coffin, refusing to let an honor guard lower it into the grave; steps away, the officer's pregnant wife consoled his anguished father, who wore a torn black shirt in accordance with Jewish custom. Next to the grave was another freshly dug plot.

One young woman, a casual acquaintance of the officer’s, leaned on the metal police barricades ringing the gravesite. “We should kill 100 of theirs for every one of ours,” she said.


Battle Cry of the White Man. By Dana Milbank.

Battle cry of the white man. By Dana Milbank. Washington Post, August 5, 2014.

Milbank: 

The unfriendly airwaves of talk radio this week gave us an inadvertently revealing moment.

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Republican immigration hard-liner and part of what the Wall Street Journal just branded “the GOP’s Deportation Caucus,” was giving his retort to the paper’s pro-business editorialists on Laura Ingraham’s radio show Monday: “They need to be patriots, and they need to think about America first,” Brooks said.

America First? How 1940! The congressman went on to condemn those who say the Republican position on immigration is dooming the party by alienating Latinos.

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party,” Brooks said. “And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare.”

It was the battle cry of the white man, particularly the Southern white man, who is feeling besieged. I don’t share the fear, but I understand it. The United States is experiencing a rapid decoupling of race and nationality: Whiteness has less and less to do with being American.

The Census Bureau forecasts that non-Hispanic whites, now slightly more than 60 percent of the population, will fall below 50 percent in 2043. Within 30 years, there will cease to be a racial majority in the United States. In a narrow political sense, this is bad news for the GOP, which is dominated by older white men such as Brooks. But for the country, the disassociation of whiteness and American-ness is to be celebrated. Indeed, it is the key to our survival.

This is not merely about a fresh labor supply but about the fresh blood needed to cure what ails us. To benefit from such a transfusion, we not only need to welcome more immigrants but also to adopt pieces of their culture lacking in our own — just as we have done with other (mostly European) cultures for centuries.

This is the theme of my friend Eric Liu’s provocative new book, A Chinaman’s Chance. Liu writes about Chinese Americans (Asians, as it happens, eclipsed Hispanics last year as the fastest-growing minority in the United States) but the thesis is similar for other immigrant cultures. Liu argues that the United States needn’t fear China’s rise, because the Chinese have already given us the tools to beat them economically: their sons and daughters.

“America has an enduring competitive advantage over China: America makes Chinese Americans; China does not make American Chinese,” Liu says. “China does not want to or know how to take people from around the world, welcome them, and empower them to change the very fabric of their nation’s culture.”

The son of Chinese immigrants, Liu observes that American culture now has an excess of individualism, short-term thinking and prioritizing of rights over duties. He calls for “a corrective dose” of Chinese values: mutual responsibility, long-term thinking, humility, moral character and contribution to society.

“What Chinese culture at its best can bring to America is a better balance between being an individual and being in a community,” he writes, offering the example of Tony Hsieh, the Taiwanese-American chief executive of Zappos who is pouring some $350 million into reviving downtown Las Vegas: “He’s an American gambler with a Chinese long view; he is supremely confident yet mainly silent; he has so little of the American need to sell himself, so little extroversion, that he jokes even his friends aren’t sure he likes them.”

Part of Liu’s confidence that the United States will triumph over China is that his ancestral land, in modernizing, is losing some of the best aspects of Chinese culture — and acquiring our own excesses. He notes that, as the Chinese extended family frayed, the government enacted a law requiring adult children to visit their elderly parents — the sort of thing Chinese did voluntarily for millennia.

China responds with edicts because it lacks the source of continuous adaptability and vitality that imported cultures give the United States. Creative change is easier here because we pick and choose from among all the world’s cultures. That inherent advantage in the American system will continue — if we don’t get hung up about whiteness.

The tea party movement was a setback because it elevated extreme individualism over collective responsibilities and because it tapped into nativism and further undermined trust in American institutions. Some tea partyers such as Brooks may never be able to leave the bunkers where they defend whiteness.

But for other conservatives and Republicans — and, more importantly, for America — it’s not too late.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Happened at Lydda. By Martin Kramer.

What Happened at Lydda. By Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014.

In his celebrated new book, Ari Shavit claims that “Zionism” committed a massacre in July 1948. Can the claim withstand scrutiny?

The Meaning of “Massacre.” By Benny Morris and Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014.

The debate between Benny Morris and Martin Kramer over Israel’s wartime conduct enters its second round.

Distortion and Defamation. By Martin Kramer. Mosaic, July 2014.

The treatment of Lydda by Ari Shavit and my respondent Benny Morris has consequences even they didn’t intend.

Zionism’s Black Boxes. By Benny Morris. Mosaic, July 2014.

Martin Kramer shows how Ari Shavit manipulates and distorts Israeli history; but Kramer has an agenda of his own. 

The Uses of Lydda. By Efraim Karsh. Mosaic, July 2014. 

How a confusing urban battle between two sides was transformed into a one-sided massacre of helpless victims.

Ari Shavit and American Jewry. By Caroline Glick. CarolineGlick.com, July 3, 2014.
 

Liberal Soul-Searching on Israel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. By Liel Leibovitz.

How Stupid Can You Get? Rethinking Israel Is the Way to Find Out. By Liel Leibovitz. The Tablet, August 1, 2014.

The Liberal Zionists. By Jonathan Freedland. New York Review of Books, August 14, 2014 issue. 

Liberal Zionism After Gaza. By Jonathan Freedland. NYR Blog. New York Review of Books, July 26, 2014. 


Leibovitz: 

A new genre of journalism brings up the good, the bad, and the ugly of liberal soul-searching.


The hottest story out of Gaza these days has nothing to do with Palestinians. It’s not about Israelis either. It features no rockets or tunnels or tragically misunderstood secretaries of state. Instead, it is about what is clearly at the core of this conflict, namely the growing ennui some liberal writers are feeling as they contemplate the fluctuating state of their support for Israel.

When attempted intelligently, this exercise is less entirely narcissistic than it sounds. Writing in New York magazine, for example, Jonathan Chait presented a reasonable—if far from uncontestable, as Chait himself fairly admits—account of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and concluded by arguing that responsibility for failing to strike a deal lies squarely on Bibi Netanyahu’s shoulders. If you believe in that story, the war in Gaza comes off as a cynical political maneuver by a desperate politician who, having squandered a wonderful opportunity for coexistence, vies for fighter jets and surges of patriotism instead.

But the further the genre of the soul-searching liberal moved away from a well-lit attempt at interpreting the available facts, the more it sailed up the river and into the dark heart of emotional entanglements, the weirder the pieces became. Jonathan Freedland—whose newspaper, The Guardian, has a tradition of running columns with such jaunty titles as “Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist”—produced his own musing in The New York Review of Books. “The first week of Protective Edge produced awkward statistics,” he wrote. “The Palestinian death toll kept climbing while Israel’s remained stubbornly at zero.” How awkward indeed, and how stubborn those Israelis are for simply refusing to die. And what a challenge they mount to the liberal narrative by investing in bomb shelters, missile defense systems, and smartphone applications to keep its citizens safe while the other side forcefully prevents its civilians from seeking a safe shelter.

Never mind about civilians, however, when something far more important is at stake: Maintaining the purity of the author’s identity as a good liberal as defined by the ever-shifting tides of the high-brow magazines to which he or she contributes and/or subscribes. “When Israelis and Palestinians appear fated to fight more frequently and with ever-bloodier consequences,” Freedland wrote, “and when peace initiatives seem to be Utopian pipe-dreams doomed to fail, the liberal Zionist faces something like an existential crisis. For if there is no prospect of two states, then liberal Zionists will have to do something they resist with all their might. They will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist. And that is a choice they don’t want to make.”  Naturally, the possibility that the Zionist entity with its civil rights lawyers and free press and internet start-ups is itself much more neatly aligned with anyone’s version of classical liberal values than the medieval ranting of Hamas’s bearded women-oppressing, gay-bashing, Jew-hating missile-launching zealots is never entertained.

It’s easy to pity the intellectual incoherence of soul-searching liberals; for the most part, they are honestly trying to resolve what they perceive as a real clash of values. But then there are those who let their incoherence blossom into something vile. In a recent post titled “The Shifting Israel Debate,” Andrew Sullivan gave his readers a thunderous account of how the times are a-changin’. Offering up Matt Yglesias’s Liberty Lobby-style piece about how Congress is basically bought and paid for by Jews with deep pockets and narrow interests, Sullivan writes: “not so long ago, anyone saying that Jewish donor money made an even-handed approach to Israel-Palestine a pretty dead letter would be deemed ipso facto an anti-Semite.”

As we’re in ipso facto territory, let’s forget about allegations of anti-Semitism—those never go very far—and focus instead on rudimentary journalistic skills. Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that a curious journalist came across the Israel-buys-congress’s-approval-with-campaign-contributions line of arguments. What might such an aspiring muckraker do? First, he or she might seek to prove causality, asking if cash contributions from pro-Israeli Jews were truly the sole or major reason behind American support for Israel. How to answer that complex question?

Hmmmmm. Let’s start with Google, which, if tasked with the phrase “American support for Israel,” reveals a Gallup poll from last year announcing that while 64 percent of Americans side with and support Israel, only 12 percent stand with the Palestinians. Did the Jewish lobby buy the voters too? Even among Democrats, liberals, and postgraduates—groups whose sympathies for underdogs are a matter of dogma—the Palestinians could not muster more than 24 percent of the population.

Why is that? The poll doesn’t specify, but it’s not hard to surmise that some folks way down yonder in the heartland find all that business about suicide bombings and rocket launchings and sacrificing 160 children  to build death tunnels a tad, well, un-American.

To say that American support for Israel, then, may have something to do with shared cultural values rather than balance sheets would have been enough. But a serious journalist could have gone a step further and discovered that when it comes to doling out the dough, Israel is a very low-grade player. How meek? Number 83 out of 84 countries surveyed, with a total of $1,250 spent, which is what some restaurants in New York charge for dinner for two with decent wine. Topping the list are the United Arab Emirates, $14.2 million of whose money flowed to Washington last year.

Sullivan, however, isn’t done. The other reason the brave champions of veracity who rule the internet can now break their shackles finally speak truth to power, he argues, is because blogging came along and liberated the hearts, the minds, and the pens of journalists. “Reporters from the scene,” he wrote, “can actually express in real time—outside the usual pro-Israel self-censorship that has existed for years at the NYT and WaPo – what they are actually witnessing.”

It’s tempting to chuckle at the idea of the Times censoring itself when it comes to Israel—Sullivan, apparently, is not familiar with the literary oeuvre of the Grey Lady’s crusader Robert Mackey—but more serious issues are at stake. To claim that the debate over Israel shifts because journalists on the ground are finally free to report what they’re seeing is to wantonly ignore the mounting evidence of Hamas harassing and threatening the lives of Western journalists attempting to question its rank propaganda. In recent days alone, we’ve heard the account of Gabriele Barbati, an Italian journalist who, once leaving Gaza, tweeted: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.” We’ve also heard from Radjaa Abou Dagga, a former correspondent for France’s Liberation whose attempts at practicing honest journalism got him summoned by Hamas thugs, accused of collaborating with Israel, and told to stop working as a reporter and leave the strip at once. If Sullivan was true to his vision, if he believed in unfettered reporting, he’d promote these gutsy correspondents and their accounts. But actually, Sullivan has never reported an actual story in his long career, let alone set foot in a war zone. He’s a click-machine with an animus.

Which is the real problem with the “Let’s rethink Israel” genre in both its sensitive soul-searching singer-songwriter NYRB version and Yglesias and Sullivan’s gleeful attempt to try to rebrand rancid bigotry as the brave new forward-think of the web. Journalists, Jewish or not, liberal or otherwise, should indeed reexamine their positions about Israel. In fact, they should reexamine their positions about everything. Being reporters, their positions should be rather tightly tethered to the facts, which often swing wildly and without warning. But when pundits with very little concrete knowledge of what is actually happening on the ground fail to produce even basic reporting and indulge instead their own creepy fetishes, the insight they offer is less than meaningless.