Monday, October 14, 2013

Rand Paul Tells Christians to Fight Global Persecution. By Mollie Hemingway.

Rand Paul Tells Christians to Fight Global Persecution. By Mollie Hemingway. The Federalist, October 14, 2013.

Rand Paul’s Hate Speech Sounded Just Like Al Qaeda. By Dean Obeidallah. The Daily Beast, October 14, 2013.

Sen. Rand Paul Speaks About Worldwide War on Christianity at 2013 Values Voter Summit. Video and transcript. Real Clear Politics, October 11, 2013. Also at Rand Paul websiteYouTube. YouTube.

The Tea Party Wants to Take America Back to the 18th Century. By Joseph J. Ellis.

Tea party wants to take America back – to the 18th century. By Joseph J. Ellis. Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2013.

Their ultimate destination appears to be the 1780s and our dysfunctional government under the Articles of Confederation.


When matters become extremely dire and disheartening, as they have been in the blatantly dysfunctional Congress, historians are usually the designated dispensers of perspective. As bad as things are, we like to say, they have been worse and the nation somehow survived.
But for the life of me, I cannot recall an occasion when a minority of elected representatives with such an absurdly partisan agenda was capable of stopping the government of the United States in its tracks. To be sure, stoppages have happened before, but not with a looming debt ceiling decision, which has threatened to throw the American economy back into recession, send the global financial markets into free fall and permanently damage America’s fiscal reputation. Such mindless political and economic devastation is unprecedented.
Clearly, most of the tea party radicals in the House of Representatives come from gerrymandered districts, which function as cocoons that resist penetration by alien ideas, like Keynesian economics, Darwinian evolution, global warming and yes, the potential popularity of Obamacare. They live in a parallel universe in which a rejection of any robust expression of government power is an unquestioned and unexamined article of faith.
Where does this irrational but obviously deep-felt impulse come from? Talk radio and Fox News obviously feed the beast. But the seminal convictions of the tea partiers defy any modern conceptions of government power. How far back in history do they want to take us?
My initial impression was that they wanted to repeal the 20th century. Radical Republicans of the tea party persuasion object to all federal programs that have an impact on our daily lives, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Federal Reserve Board. Even though tea partiers, like all the rest of us, are beneficiaries of these federal programs, especially Medicare and Social Security, ideology trumps self-interest in their worldview, though one wonders how they would respond if they had their way and their Social Security checks stopped coming.
Now, I believe these radicals want to go even further back in time. Though it wouldn’t be fair to pin a defense of slavery on them, they agree with the states’ rights agenda of the Confederacy and resist the right of the federal government to make domestic policy, which is their visceral reason for loathing Obamacare.
But their ultimate destination, I believe, is the 1780s and our dysfunctional government under the Articles of Confederation. The states were sovereign in that post-revolutionary arrangement, and the federal government was virtually powerless. That is political paradise for the tea partiers, who might take comfort in the fact that their 18th century counterparts also refused to fund the national debt. Their core convictions are pre-Great Society, pre-New Deal, pre-Keynes, pre-Freud, pre-Darwin and pre-Constitution.
This is nostalgia on steroids, and an utter absurdity, defying more than 200 years of American history. But this, I believe, is where radical Republicans are really coming from. It makes comprehensible their deep disregard for the destructive consequences of their anti-government policies, for they truly believe that government is “them,” not “us.”
The heartening news is that their like-minded predecessors over the last two centuries have lost every major battle, starting with the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and ending with the congressional vote and the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare.
The historical pattern is perfectly clear. They are going to lose again because they are running against the main currents of history. But along the way they are making all the rest of us pay a heavy price for their delusional agenda. And they really don’t care.
Dysfunction this deep strikes me as a new low in American history. This is not what the founders had in mind.

“Cultural” Jew Label Grates on Me. By David Laskin.

“Cultural” Jew label grates on me. By David Laskin. USA Today, October 11, 2013. Also at Green Bay Press Gazette.

American Jews: Laughing But Shrinking. By Jonathan S. Tobin. NJBR, October 1, 2013.


The findings of the recent report by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project nailed me. I am one of those 20% of American Jews “of no religion” and among the 58% of American Jews who have intermarried. The Pew study pegs me as a “cultural” Jew who honors his ancestors, feels proud to belong to the same group as Moses, Kafka, Freud and Barbra Streisand, wishes he had videotaped his grandmother making challah and chopped liver – but would sooner enter a church to admire the frescoes than don a yarmulke to davan with the faithful.
And yet, the more I think about it, the more it grates on me to be confined in this category. Having spent the last three years researching and writing a book about my ancestors – Orthodox Torah scribes who studied at the famous Volozhin yeshiva – I can honestly say that I have never felt closer to my religion.
Does this mean I am going to attend synagogue this coming Saturday? Highly unlikely. What it does mean is that I spend more time reading books about Jewish history, visiting Jewish neighborhoods and sites when I travel, discussing family history and lore with far-flung relatives, pondering the Holocaust, and studying the Bible.
My oldest daughter, who was snippily informed by Orthodox classmates in college that she was “Jewish on the wrong side” and thus technically not Jewish at all, knows more about Judaism than I do – and I’m willing to wager more than some of those classmates who excluded her from their community. Her knowledge derives not from hours spent hidden away in the women’s section of an Orthodox synagogue, but from reading, studying, thinking, analyzing, traveling and discussing.
If she has children, I’m sure my daughter will pass on as much of her knowledge and reverence as the children are willing to absorb. The Pew study’s “Jews by religion” will say none of that counts because my daughter isn’t Jewish and thus her children won’t be Jewish either. I say these are narrow categories that leave no room for imagination, for curiosity, for inspiration, for true holiness.
As Yossi Klein Halevi recounts in his brilliant new book, Like Dreamers, modern Israel was founded by cultural Jews of no religion – Jews who were fiercely proud of their Judaism but who never set foot in a synagogue. After the Six Day War in 1967, those cultural Jewish Zionists were increasingly challenged by the religious Jews who spearheaded the settler movement in the West Bank. Halevi tells the story of “Israel’s competing utopian dreams – and how the Israel symbolized by the kibbutz became the Israel symbolized by the settlement.”
The clash between these two utopian dreams continues with no end in sight, but the survival of Israel, the survival of Judaism, does not lie in one camp or the other. My favorite figure in Halevi’s book is Meir Ariel, a kibbutznik who became one of Israel’s most highly regarded folksingers. Ariel, a typical kibbutznik atheist, grew increasingly religious as he aged. He studied Talmud but sang in clubs on Shabbat when he had a gig. To my mind, he beautifully straddled the categories of cultural and religious Jew.
On a recent trip to Rome, I had the privilege of interviewing Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome’s Jewish community. At the end of the interview, the subject turned, inevitably, to anti-Semitism. “You know, there are many types of anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Di Segni told me. “There is one type that does not allow Jews to be Jews. Another type does not allow Jews to be non-Jews.”
To my mind, there are many more categories of American Judaism than “Jew by religion” and “Jews of no religion.” Folksinger Meir Ariel, who tragically died in 1999 at the age of 57, is my model of a good Jew – reverent, steeped in the language of the Bible, flexible, open to the promptings of the spirit. Cultural and religious.

The Rise and Fall of Israel’s Settlement Movement. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

The Rise and Fall of Israel’s Settlement Movement. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, October 14, 2013.


Moments after Hanan Porat and his fellow Israeli paratroopers had crossed the Suez Canal as spearheads of a furious Israeli counterattack in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he was severely wounded in an Egyptian mortar bombardment. The Egyptians and Syrians had surprised Israel on Yom Kippur, with an atrocious loss of life, and crushed the country’s post-Six Day War belief in its own invincibility.
As Porat lay recovering in his hospital bed, his chest ravaged by shrapnel wounds, he thanked God that he wasn’t in the burn unit. And then, as Yossi Klein Halevi writes in his new book, “Like Dreamers,” the next phase of Porat’s life mission was revealed.
He read, in his hospital bed, an article in a kibbutz newspaper by a writer named Arnon Lapid, titled, “An Invitation to Weeping.” Porat wasn’t a member of the secular kibbutz elite; he was a member of a more marginalized group of religious Zionists, who envied the kibbutznikim, and respected them as well.
He was stunned by what Lapid wrote: “I want to send you all an invitation to weeping . . . I will weep over my dead, you will weep over yours . . . we’ll weep . . . for the illusions that were shattered, for the assumptions that were proven to be baseless, the truths that were exposed as lies . . . And we will pity ourselves, for we are worthy of pity.”
Halevi writes that when Porat read this lament he “felt as if his wounds were being torn open. He would have shouted if he had the voice. Pity the generation privileged to restore Jewish sovereignty to the land of Israel? What small-mindedness, what weakness of character! Where would the Jews be now if, in 1945, they had thought like this Arnon Lapid? Israelis would do now what Jews always did: Grieve for their dead and go on, with faith and hope.”
Porat would soon help usher into existence a new movement, a settlement enterprise that would be self-consciously modeled on Israel’s original settler movement, the socialist, Zionist and fiercely anti-religious pioneering formations that built the original kibbutzim. The early kibbutznikim were the men and women who laid the foundations for the reborn Jewish state and led that state through the first decades of its existence, but by 1973 they appeared to be a spent force, exhausted spiritually, morally and politically.
Porat’s movement, which would cover the biblical heartland of the Jewish people with settlements – a heartland the secular world referred to as the West Bank, but which Jews knew by the ancient names of Judea and Samaria – would be driven by devotion to God and his demands, not by a secular vision of Jews liberated from the ghettoes and freed from the fetters of capitalism.
This movement, which coalesced around Porat’s Gush Emunim – the “Bloc of the Faithful” – has defined Israel’s political agenda for the past 40 years, just as the kibbutz movement and its leaders shaped Israel and its priorities through the early period of its existence. What is so fascinating about these two movements is that, for all their transformative success, they have both failed to complete their missions.
The kibbutzim didn't turn Israel into a socialist paradise, and the hubris and shortsightedness of the Labor elite, which sprung from the kibbutz movement, brought Israel low in October 1973.
And the religious-nationalist settlement movement has succeeded in moving hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the biblical heartland, but it has never been able to convince the majority of Israelis that the absorption of the West Bank into a “Greater Israel” represents their country’s salvation, rather than a threat to its existence.
The thwarted utopianism of these two movements is the subject of “Like Dreamers,” which is a magnificent book, one of the two or three finest books about Israel I have ever read. Halevi tells the story of seven men – paratroopers who participated in the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967 – who became leaders and archetypes of Israeli’s competing utopian movements.
When I met Halevi in New York recently, I was filled with questions about what this history augured for Israel’s future. The first one to cross my mind: How did the Orthodox settlers so easily supplant the leftist kibbutz elite as the nation’s pioneering vanguard?
“The left lost its vigor at precisely the moment that religious Zionism discovered its own vigor,” Halevi told me. “The key here is 1973. After 1967, not much happened. There were a couple of settlements, but the Labor government kept everyone on a tight leash, and the religious Zionists were intensely frustrated. The empowering moment for religious Zionists was due to Labor’s failures in the Yom Kippur War. A generation of young kibbutznikim came out of 1973 deeply demoralized. People like Porat realized that the left had lost the plot.”
Halevi went on, “In Israel, you never naturally evolve from one state of thinking to another. We careen. So we careened toward religious Zionism and the settlement movement.”
But in your book, I said, you suggest that the settlers have failed to gain legitimacy for their movement among the mass of Israelis. How did they fail? “The settlement movement failed during the first Palestinian uprising. Israelis realized then the price of the occupation, that there was no such thing, as settler leaders promised, as a benign occupation. That kind of illusion went in the late 1980s.”
Halevi noted one small irony here: If the first Palestinian uprising dispelled the idea that Israel could occupy the Palestinians cost-free and in perpetuity, the second Palestinian uprising – which began after the peace process failed in 2000, dispelled the left-wing argument that territorial compromise with the Palestinians would be easily achieved once Israel opened itself to the possibility of peace.
“The second uprising was the end of the dream of the Peace Now movement, because the worst terrorism in Israel’s history happened after we made the offer for real territorial compromise at Camp David, and after the Clinton proposals, and after we offered to redivide Jerusalem, becoming the first country in history to voluntarily offer shared sovereignty in its capital city.”
So, reality has discredited both the right and left. What comes next? The next great ideological movement in Israeli history is centrism, Halevi said. “The Israeli centrist believes two things: A. the Arab world refuses to recognize our legitimacy and our existence; and B. we can’t continue occupying them. I believe passionately that the left is correct about the occupation, and I believe the right is correct in its understanding of the intentions of the Middle East toward the Jewish state.”
I argued that “centrism” possesses neither the magnetic power of socialist transformation nor the messianic qualities implicit in the settlement enterprise. Halevi disagreed. “Centrism is taking a people that hasn’t functioned as a people, hasn’t functioned as a nation, for 2,000 years – that is in some ways an anti-people, who have so many different ideologies and ways of being – and learning how to function as a working nation. That’s a large cause.”
Will centrist Israel overcome the power of the right? And what is its program? In a coming post, I’ll look at the ideological and practical challenges to the solutions centrism puts forward to the Israeli-Arab crisis. In the meantime, go out and read Halevi’s book; nothing explains more eloquently why Israel, more than most any other country, lives or dies based on the power and justice of its animating ideas.

Some Things Are Far Scarier Than a Map. By Rami G. Khouri.

Some things are far scarier than a map. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star (Lebanon), October 14, 2013. More Khouri here and here.

Colonial Middle East strategy: Another complete fiasco. By Fadi Elhusseini. Daily News Egypt, October 7, 2013.


An article and map in The New York Times’ Sunday edition two weeks ago examined the possibility that current upheavals may cause some Arab states to break up into smaller units. Written by the veteran foreign correspondent Robin Wright, the article created lively discussion among Middle East-focused circles in the United States, and in the Middle East it sparked wild speculation that it evidenced a new plan by Western powers, Israelis and others of evil intent to further partition large Arab countries into many smaller, weaker ones. The title of the article, “How 5 Countries Could Become 14,” naturally fed such speculation, as did the immediate linkage in millions of Arab minds of how British and French colonial officials in 1916-1918 partitioned the former Ottoman lands of the Levant into a series of new countries called Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel, while their colonial handiwork had also created new entities that ultimately became independent countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and others.
Wright’s article explored the possibility that Libya could fracture into three units, Iraq and Syria into five units (of Druze, Kurds, Alawites, Sunnis and Shiites), Saudi Arabia into five units, and Yemen into two units. Syria might trigger such fragmentation across the region in stressed multisectarian societies. She did not advocate this, but only speculated whether sectarian stresses and conflicts might reconfigure countries that were not designed by the will of their own people.
Most critics of the article and map were horrified by the possibility that foreign powers may once again be at work redrawing the map of the Middle East, reaffirming two of the greatest lived traumas that have long plagued the Arab world: the ability and willingness of external powers to meddle deeply and structurally in our domestic condition, and the total inability of vulnerable, helpless Arab societies to do anything about this.
I understand the harsh reactions by Arabs who fear another possible redrawing of our map by foreign hands, but I fear that this is not really the bad news of the day; the really bad news is the state of existing Arab countries, and how most of them have done such a terrible job of managing the societies that they inherited after 1920.
The horror map is not the one published in the NYT two weeks ago; it is the existing map and condition of the Arab countries that have spent nearly a century developing themselves and have so little to show for it.
Not a single credible Arab democracy. Not a single Arab land where the consent of the governed actually matters. Not a single Arab society where individual men and women are allowed to use all their God-given human faculties of creativity, ingenuity, individuality, debate, free expression, autonomous analysis and full productivity. Not a single Arab society that can claim to have achieved a reasonably sustainable level of social and economic development, let alone anything approaching equitable development or social justice. Not a single Arab country that has protected and preserved its natural resources, especially arable land and renewable fresh water resources. Not a single Arab country that has allowed its massive, ruling military-security-intelligence sectors to come under any sort of civilian oversight. Not a single Arab country that has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign arms and other imports and found itself able to ensure the security of its own land and people. And not a single Arab country that has developed an education system that harnesses and honors the immense wealth and power of millions of its own young Arab minds, rather than corralling those minds into intellectual sheep pens where the mind’s free choice is inoperative, and life only comprises following orders.
This perverse reality of Arab statehood and independence – not any possible future map – is the ugly reality that should anger us, even shame us. We have endured this for over four generations now, unsurprisingly bringing us to the point today where every single Arab country, without exception, experiences open revolt of its citizens for freedom, dignity and democracy of some sort, demands for real constitutional reforms, or expressions of grievances via social media by citizens in some wealthy oil-producing states who are afraid to speak out because they will go to jail for tweeting their most human sentiments or aspirations.
There is not much to be proud of in the modern era of Arab statehood, and much to fix and rebuild along more rational, humane lines. I don’t much care about lines on a map. I do care about the trajectories of our own national management experiences, which have been mostly disappointing, and in some cases profoundly derelict.

I Am Suffering From Islamofatigue. By Brendan O’Neill.

I am suffering from Islamofatigue. By Brendan O’Neill. The Telegraph, October 14, 2013.


Behind these wild exaggerations of both the hatred for Muslims and the threat posed by Islamists, there lurk political agendas. Islam has effectively been turned into a proxy for the expression of ideas that might otherwise prove difficult to articulate. Among Leftish Islamophiles, ratcheting up panic about rampant Islamophobia has become a PC way of expressing fear of the masses, particularly the tabloid-reading white working classes. Claims that Muslims are constantly at risk from ignorant haters is just a more acceptable way of expressing prejudices about the volatility of the uneducated mob. And among the Right-leaning panickers about Islamism, bashing extremism is a cop-out from having a serious debate about the state of enlightened, reasoned thinking in Britain. How much easier it is to wail “The Islamists are undermining our values of free speech and tolerance!” than to examine the various homegrown trends, from environmentalism to multiculturalism, that are really mauling the enlightened, universalist outlook.

Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide? By Guenter Lewy.

Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide? By Guenter Lewy. History News Network, September 2004. Originally published in Commentary, September 2004.

The Shutdown Heralds a New Economic Norm. By Robert J. Samuelson.

The shutdown heralds a new economic norm. By Robert J. Samuelson. Real Clear Politics, October 14, 2013. Also at the Washington Post. And here.