For the sheer political theater of it, it’s hard to top Israeli elections. New personalities, new parties critical to the formation of a government emerging from nowhere within a matter of weeks; powerful, even ruling center-right parties (remember Kadima?) falling abruptly off the map. Much about Israel is not really to envy, but I do wish we could try out their parliamentary system for a cycle or two to see how we liked it.
Yesterday, Israeli voters surprisingly delivered an unmistakeable if not decisive rebuke to their “King Bibi”—soon to be Israel’s longest-serving prime minister apart from David Ben Gurion. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party (which has become more right-wing during the past four years due to the sidelining of some of its relatively centrist figures, a process that parallels contemporary GOP developments) and its alliance partner, Avigdor Lieberman’s more extremist Yisrael Beiteinu party, held 42 of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament going into the election, and polls expected them to improve on that score. Instead, according to latest figures, they have 31. The “annex-the-West-Bank-and-put-the-Palestinians-in-bantustans” party of Naftali Bennett, who garnered much press attention as a rising political star, performed worse than expected. A centrist Tel Aviv television personality, Yair Lapid, also with a new party, did surprisingly well. Labor, campaigning solely on economic issues, did decently. The Israeli left—those who think a peace with the Palestinians is a practical and moral necessity for the Jewish state—showed some new life.
The preliminary results show a parliament nearly evenly divided between left and right. Netanyahu will probably be able to forge a ruling coalition with Lapid’s party, but it likely be a coalition less driven by the ambitions of ideological West Bank settlers or the burgeoning Israeli far right. For those who watch Israel from afar—and have in the past years observed a talented and wealthy small country seemingly driven to march itself inexorably off a racist-nationalist cliff (and probably exploding the Middle East in the process)—the election results appear to signal a pause: the emergence of “wait-a-second, where is this heading?” sentiment among the secular Tel Aviv middle class.
A few points, observed in the past few weeks. Several have noticed (and I heard this from ex-Israelis visiting us over the holidays) that the big Iran bogeyman played almost no role in the Israeli campaign. The great fear of the Iran bomb seemed to be something ginned up for American audiences only; even the Israeli right, if they are worried about losing Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, know that such fears don’t play much in the Israeli public. Read More…
Opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense is focusing on his on-the-record criticisms of Israeli policy. Beneath those criticisms, Hagel’s opponents claim, lies his alleged distaste for “the Jews”. The convicted liar Elliott Abrams has gone so far as to describe Hagel as “bigoted against Jews”. Bret Stephens echoes the charge (link behind paywall), which can be found in even coarser versions around the internet.
If these accusations had any basis, you’d expect Jewish organizations to work against Hagel’s nomination. For the most part, however, they’ve refused to do so. Arguably the most prominent group, the Anti-Defamation League, is holding its tongue. The more hawkish American Jewish Committee is urging that Hagel’s nomination be considered carefully, but is not committing itself to opposition. And the head of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Policy, Nathan Diament, has signalled a non-confrontational approach in public statements and on Twitter.
So “the Jews” can hardly be said to oppose Hagel, although many individual Jews clearly do. Where does organized resistance to his nomination come from? As Jennifer Rubin observes, it’s largely a product of the Christian Zionist movement. In fact, two of the most active sources of opposition are Christians United for Israel and Concerned Women for America. The leadership of both groups is inspired by eschatology based on the Book of Revelation, according to which the resettlement of the Jews in the whole of the Biblical holy land is a prelude to the return of Christ.
This divergence between the Jews as an organized community and of Christian supporters of Israel movement reflects an amazing transformation of America’s relation to Israel. Until the 1990s, the “pro-Israel” lobby was rooted in the activism and financial support of American Jews. Hagel was alluding to this fact when he used the rather unpleasant term “Jewish lobby” to describe American supporters of Israel.
Since then, however, American Jews have adopted more dovish views. In addition to their overwhelming support for a two-state solution, younger American Jews are less likely than their parents to see Israel as the centerpiece of Jewish identity. As a result, Jews are probably more likely than other Americans to support the foreign policy positions for which Hagel has been criticized (similar views are fairly common on the Israeli left). In any case, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, despite extensive and expensive efforts to shift Jewish votes into the Republican column.
At the same time, Christian Zionists have mobilized in favor of unconditional support for Israel’s increasingly hawkish governments. In addition to organizing hundreds of thousands of voters, groups like Christians United for Israel have cultivated links with Israeli politicians and activists who defend the occupation, as well as a relatively small clique of American Jewish hawks. Matt Yglesias describes the result as the “Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement“, which replaces the old “Jewish Lobby” with an alliance between millenarian Christians and the Israeli right, in which American Jews are little more than figureheads.
I agree with Yglesias that the Post-Jewish Pro-Israel Movement is bad both for Israel and for America. Nevertheless, it is extremely influential–and serves as the real base of opposition to Hagel. Hagel does have an “Israel” problem. But it’s a mainly a problem with Christian Zionists and their figureheads.
Update: I have been informed by a CUFI representative that the group rejects my characterization of their motives. They encourage readers to consider this op-ed by John Hagee as a statement of their principles.
Al Jazeera, the Qatar goverment-funded news channel, has purchased Al Gore’s Current TV cable channel, which means it will soon be available to 40 million more American viewers than at present. This is excellent news –not that Al Jazeera is so good–though it sometimes is–but because much of American TV coverage of the Mideast is so bad. I’ve been on this case before: two years ago, when much of the world was riveted by Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Egyptian revolution, I was stunned to discover that the overwhelming majority of American cable viewers, with hundreds of channels to choose from, couldn’t access the one station providing hour after hour of live coverage from Egypt. Comcast, my provider, has room for about two dozen channels devoted to various kinds of porn–but a spokesman said the station had “limited bandwidth to devote to new channels…especially if it’s perceived as a ‘niche’ service.”
The rap against Al Jazeera is that it is “anti-American”–indeed it was explicitly called that by some in the Bush administration: this was apparently sufficient to persuade America’s cable operators to shield the easily offended or easily duped psyches of American patriots from the channel.
A few small points. First there is no reason why any sort of national loyalty oath should be required of television stations. The idea is simply Soviet.
Secondly, yes, important neoconservatives did try to smear opponents of the Iraq war as anti-American, but it now seems pretty clear that the war’s proponents had a far less solid sense of this country’s interests than the anti-war opposition. Indeed, one could argue that there is nothing more “anti-American” than ongoing neoconservative efforts to push the United States into expending more of its blood and treasure in launching aggressive wars against various Mideast countries–and yet war-mongering neocons are all over the TV news. We ought to have learned enough from the last go-round not to conflate “pro-American” with war-mongering jingoism.
Finally, Al Jazeera can be quite good. I don’t watch it often. But, for instance this show – a talky analysis of media coverage of Israel’s recent war on Gaza–was considerably better than anything I could find on the same subject on True Red White and Blue American TV. (I was writing about the issue, so had to do a fairly thorough search.) We have learned, or ought to have, from bitter experience that what passes as an “American” perspective, particularly in the Middle East, can be so narrow as to be simply false.
Al Gore and his partners were motivated first of all by profit–they will walk off with a tidy sum from the sale. But they have, probably inadvertently, stumbled into an act of genuine public service by giving millions of Americans access to more viewpoints and information about the world than they now receive. When one third of Americans are reported to still believe that Saddam Hussein was “personally” involved in the World Trade Center attacks, that can’t be anything but a good thing.
In an unintentional contribution to the “fertility and decadence” debate provoked by Ross Douthat, the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung has a piece on Germany’s birthrate, which is among the lowest in the world. Here is a translation of the report, which is based on a study by the Federal Institute for Demographic Research in Wiesbaden:
In 2010, Germany’s birthrate amounted to 1.39. Within Europe, Latvia lagged behind with a figure of 1.17 children per woman, while Iceland led the statistics with 2.2 children, followed by Ireland (2.07), Turkey (2.04), France (2.01), Sweden (1.98) and Norway (1.95).
Why is Germany’s birthrate so low, despite its comparatively strong economy and significant subsidies for families? The piece suggests two reasons. First, Germans are less likely than other Europeans to believe that their personal satisfaction or social status will be increased by having children. In this sense, it seems, Germany is not a very “child-friendly” society.
At the same time, Germans are more likely to believe that children suffer from the lack of a “good mother”–namely, one who stays at home. That isn’t because there’s insufficient daycare or other services. A majority of German women, especially in the West, report that they could not in good conscience entrust their children to someone else.
So while Germans expect relatively small personal and social benefits from childbearing, they see childrearing as an extremely intensive activity. That makes family a low-reward, high-investment arrangement. With these attitudes, it’s no wonder that they have few children.
As Douthat argues, this is a matter of culture, not economic incentives. What’s more, it fits his account of decadence, in which the sacrifices of time and energy involved in reproduction don’t seem worth it.
But the FAZ article suggests that Douthat has the reasons for this calculation wrong, at least when it comes to Germany. It’s not that Germans don’t care enough about the future to have babies. In a sense, the problem is that they care too much: children seem like an unacceptable burden precisely because Germans (especially German women) place so much emphasis on being good parents.
There may be a lesson here for the United States. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the birthrate has fallen as cultural expectations for parents have increased. It’s no longer considered enough to pay the bills and provide a stable household. Young parents, especially those of the upper-middle class, think they must also provide exceptional schooling, a culturally enriching homelife, fairly luxurious material surroundings, and on and on.
Doing all that for one child is hard enough. But to do so for two or three is almost unimaginable, particularly because it is almost certain to require two full-time salaries.
If high expectations for responsible parenting are important obstacles to reproduction, the social changes needed to promote fertility might be counterintuitive. Rather than encouraging people to value children more highly, advocates for family like Douthat might have more success if they argued that children are not such a big deal. In doing so, they’d be going against the grain of a major current of modern morality, which insists on the priority of children’s perspectives and needs to adults (this begins with Rousseau). But that could be what’s necessary to reverse the trend toward shrinking population in Europe–and the United States.
Earlier this year, France’s Socialist president François Hollande raised taxes on incomes over 1 million euros in an effort to close the country’s budget deficit. The result has been predictable: a narrow but steady stream of les riches have left the country for more favorable tax regimes elsewhere.
The actor Gérard Depardieu, who earns about 2 million euros per film, is among the tax exiles. Last week, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu’s widely-reported move to the Belgian town of Néchin as “rather pathetic”. According to Ayrault, “He’s a great star, everyone loves him as an artist…[but] to pay a tax is an act of solidarity, a patriotic act.”
Now Depardieu has struck back in a letter addressed to Ayrault published by Le Journal du Dimanche. In addition to claiming that France punishes success, Depardieu offers the following explanation of his decision to give up his French passport: “We no longer have the same country. I’m a true European, a citizen of the world…”
Depardieu’s departure is of little fiscal consequence. The millionaires’ tax remains in effect for only two years and applies to a few tens of thousands of people. Even if they all remained in France, it would raise only about $300 million.
More interesting is the tension that the Depardieu spat reveals between two cherished principles of the French political establishment.
On the one hand, paying high taxes is seen as a sacred duty. This is not just a matter of raising revenue. As Ayrault’s remarks indicate, taxpaying appears in this view as a contribution to the solidarity that distinguishes France from the savage capitalism practiced by the “Anglo-Saxons“.
On the other hand, being a ‘good European’ is increasingly presented as a crucial aspect of being French. Just a few days ago, Hollande rebuked the U.K. for attempting to reclaim powers from Brussels on the grounds that “when a country commits it is for life.” This language is consistent with Hollande’s campaign for the presidency. While Sarkozy flirted with euro-skepticism, courting votes on the Right, Hollande made a point of his commitment to continued integration.
The problem for Hollande, and for the position he represents, is that these claims don’t go together. The kind of solidarity to which Hollande’s tax plan appeals is premised on the classic nation-state, with a relatively closed cultural identity and an independent political and economic destiny. It belongs, in short, to the “old” Europe that was brought into being by the Napoleonic wars and collapsed into barbarism in the 20th century.
Depardieu’s decision, by contrast, belongs to the new Europe of mobile professionals, open borders, and fluid money. In this setting, nation-states cannot offer either the incentives or the sanctions for loyalty that they once did. The issue, then, is not that Depardieu is “going Galt“. Rather, it’s that no single member of the EU has the leverage to press its wealthy citizens too hard.
Many figures in Brussels propose a solution: “harmonizing” taxes and financial regulations to the standards of the most restrictive member states. That’s unlikely to work, partly because it would encourage outbreaks of the Depardieu syndrome on a continental scale. Note that Depardieu describes himself as a “citizen of the world” in the same sentence in which he dubs himself a “real European”. Supporters of the increasingly unwieldly EU should pay careful attention to those words.
Twice I’ve been in meetings with former or future heads of state, but unlike Bill Clinton (before) and Richard Nixon (after), the only time I’ve spoken with someone who actually held office was with Bashar al-Assad, in Syria six years ago. I was with a Christian peace group, and Assad was trying to alleviate his isolation. He came across as the opposite of a prototypical strong man, tall and thin and somewhat geeky, intelligent and articulate.
It was rumored then that much tougher men were the real forces of the regime. Bashar had inherited the Syrian presidency from his father, and with it the rather heavy obligations attached to the fact of his father having brutally extinguished an Islamist insurgency in 1982. From the very beginning then, Bashar was in a rule-or-die situation. If he had any inclination — which seemed quite plausible — to allow free elections and lose them, others from his ruling group would have made sure he understood that giving up power and going back to practicing ophthalmology in London was not, for him and his family, actually an option.
The Damascus I saw seemed inching its way towards a kind of Arab cosmopolitanism. Our group surely spent an inordinate amount of our time with representatives of Syria’s large Christian community, and the ruling Alawites. One knew there might be a volcano underneath, but how long it would remain dormant was anyone’s guess.
Now the volcano has blown. The Times reports that American diplomats are scrambling desperately to assure that al-Qaeda is not the prime beneficiary of the regime’s collapse, a difficult task because al-Qaeda formations have been the most effective anti-regime fighters. They have the best arms, supplied by the wealthy Arab gulf states, who are supposed to be our closest allies in Middle East. I’m not sure of Israel’s role, but Israeli right-wingers have naturally welcomed the destruction of a state allied to Iran. There does not appear to be any obviously good solution: the best analysis I have seen is here, from a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, but closer cooperation with Russia doesn’t really seem in the cards.
When asked by us about the democracy six years ago, Bashar al-Assad told us that the Syrian people were not yet ready — but that hopefully, with more exposure to education and the Internet, they would one day not give their votes to Islamic fundamentalism. Had Assad’s regime been taken out of the penalty box then, had his regime been given access to Western business and cultural contacts — would that have headed off the current explosion? I doubt it, but the outcome could not have been worse. In any case, six years ago Damascus seemed an out of the way capital full of promise, a place where a young American might learn Arabic or write a novel or start a business. Clearly the future doesn’t portend anything like that.
My early twenties are often hazy, but I remember one evening pretty well. A woman friend came over, and we watched the 1975 UN debate on the notorious Zionism=Racism resolution on TV. I felt the Arab charges against Israel were completely outrageous, an inversion of truth quite literally Orwellian in magnitude. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Moynihan was eloquent in rebutting them, reading a speech (I later learned) partially drafted by Norman Podhoretz. Next year when Moynihan ran for Senate, I remember pulling the lever for him (in the Democratic primary, v. Bella Abzug) with more conviction than I’ve mustered in a voting booth before or since.
Moynihan and Norman Podhoretz eventually drifted apart, but I’m sure the senator never regretted the words he spoke on that night. Once, many years later, when he came to the NY Post editorial page offices, he told a story–I don’t recall the subject–in which he described a politician as “the most enthusiastic Zionist you could imagine, you’ve never seen such a Zionist” in tones which may, or may not, have exuded a whiff of mockery, you couldn’t be sure. In any case, in those days the idea that Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, a phrase central to the speech, could be defined racist was about as absurd, and obscene, a thought as one could possibly imagine. At least so we thought.
I recalled that night while watching on streaming web TV yesterday’s vote to recognize Palestine as an observer state, which passed 138-9, over the votes of the U.S. and Canada and a handful of small island countries. Unlike the 1975 vote, this wasn’t close: then Israel had on its side the entire Western world, the Third World was split, only the Communist bloc and Arab countries and much of Africa was in favor; despite its passage with 70 votes, there was no question that the free and economically productive part of the world was on Israel’s side.
Yesterday’s vote on Palestine was a different matter: it certainly didn’t disavow Zionism or Israel the way the 1975 vote did. Every speaker I saw explicitly recognized Israel and wished for its well being, free and secure with a Palestinian state alongside it, a phrase repeated ad nauseam during the debate.
But of course, 37 years later, Israel is different. The very day of the vote, one reads debate about a new bus line on the West Bank, for Palestinians, because the Israeli settlers (whom Israel has illegally settled on Palestinian land) can’t bear to see Palestinians riding on the same buses they do. One reads recently of Israeli laws expressing a national angst that a small population of Arabs remained in 1948–so there are rabbinic admonitions to landlords proscribing renting to Arabs. Recently Israeli youth have gone on violent rampages in Jerusalem, targeting Palestinians or random immigrants. Videos of young Americans imbibing the atmosphere in Israel reveal a mindset evocative of Mississippi in the early 1960s. Rather eerily, it seems almost as if the notorious Zionism=Racism canard anticipated what Israel would become, once it had the freedom and security to grow into its true self.
And yet Israel has won. There is no state in the world unwilling to recognize it, provided it makes peace with the Palestinians. If you compared the international atmosphere now with that of 40 years ago, you would have to conclude the Israelis had achieved everything they wanted: a durable peace with Egypt; no hostile superpower to arm its enemies; an oft-repeated readiness in the Arab world to recognize it, trade ambassadors, give it a place in the region. It has an international legitimacy that its founders–and the Israeli diplomats of 1975–would have delighted in.
But of course Israel doesn’t feel that way at all. Like some sort of compulsive eater, it has been unable to keep itself from gobbling up and settling Arab territory, especially East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As a result, it now finds itself losing the votes not only of the Arab world, but of France and Spain and Norway and Sweden and Denmark, and no longer has the support of Britain and Germany. This isolation Israel has chosen freely for itself–as a democracy, Israelis can’t even blame their rulers. Of course, Israel has enough influence over the U.S. Congress to generate resolutions in the Senate about protecting “our ally”; it actually seems possible that body may soon vote to exclude the United States from the United Nations in order to preserve Israel’s control over “Judea” and “Samaria.”
One can’t compare last night’s vote with the one in 1975 without feeling sadness and an enormous sense of missed opportunity.
I’ve lost touch with the Petraeus scandal since the Gaza war started, and obviously intense suffering with potentially profound geostrategic consequences will trump in importance a sex scandal, no how matter convoluted and potentially important the latter might be. But I came across Pat Lang’s column from a week ago, and thought it worth citing.
Confession: I believe there is likely a political or international angle behind the Broadwell–Kelley-Petraeus thing. When I first read of the scandal I thought, wow, how cool that these broads with such whitebread WASPy and Irish-American names were getting involved in such things. It’s a reaction parallel to the incomparable Julie Mason of POTUS, who opined how pleased she was to hear about women over 40 involved in a sex scandal. We older Americans (in both senses) are not finished yet!!
But you couldn’t watch the TV news, and read about Kelley’s background, and not conclude that something other than sex was in play. And yes, I did at one point last week google “Paula Broadwell maiden name” and was immediately linked to various neo-Naziish sites, which I of course purged from my hard drive. The commenters there did, in crude and unsubtle ways, assume that there had to be various ethnic and international agendas involved. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t. For some informed, cosmopolitan speculation on some of this, read Pat Lang.
Since the reelection of President Obama, there’s been a surge of interest in secession. A petition on the White House webpage requesting that Washington allow Texas to secede has attracted over 100,000 signatures. The Washington Examiner notes that similar petitions have been established for Alaska, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, although these have attracted fewer signatures.
The petitions have no legal force and are semi-anonymous. Nevertheless, Erick Erickson of RedState thought it worth the effort to read them out of the conservative movement. Texas governor Rick Perry apparently concurs.
These developments are little more than linkbait for liberal bloggers. No state is going to secede. And I doubt that many of the petitioners are serious about wanting to do so.
In Spain, by contrast, a real debate about secession is now in progress. An informative post by Joshua Tucker on The Monkey Cage observes that public opinion in Catalonia has grown increasingly favorable to secession in recent years, culminating in a pro-secession demonstration by over 1.5 million people this past September 11 (Catalonia’s national holiday). It’s not clear that all the participants really want to secede: many may favor a deal that would afford Catalonia more political and economic sovereignty. But the failure of negotiations for a so-called “fiscal pact” has encouraged nationalist sentiments.
On November 25, the Autonomous Community of Catalonia will hold elections. If the nationalist Convergencia i Unió party gains a majority in the the regional parliament or is able to form a coalition with other nationalist parties, the Catalan Prime Minister Artur Mas is likely to call a referendum on secession from Spain. The threat of a referendum could be a bluff to extract concessions from the national government. But it may also be a step toward the Balkanization of weak states in the heart of Europe, particularly Spain and Belgium.
This possibility has attracted less attention in the American press than the issue of Scottish independence. But it is potentially more significant. The rest of the United Kingdom can get on perfectly well without Scotland. But Spain cannot afford to lose Catalonia, and Wallonia cannot prosper without Flanders.
The danger here, in other words, is not that secession would lead to the creation of unviable states: the Catalans and Flemish would probably be better off in their own countries. It’s that it would leave behind economic basketcases. The European Union has proved unable to handle one Greece. What would it do with a couple more?
In a previous post, Daniel Larison wondered why Americans should care about non-violent separatism in Western Europe. The scenario I’ve just outlined, in which Europe remains economically and politically paralyzed, is one answer. As a critic of the EU and defender of traditional nation-states, it’s fun to contemplate the discomfiture of the Brussels elite. But our own economy will not fully recover as long as Europe remains in crisis.
Secession, then, is not the moral horror that some commentators imagine. There is nothing sacred about specific borders, particularly when they enclose several linguistically, religiously, and culturally distinct groups.
But secession tends to create as many problems as it resolves. It is a last resort that is wise only when these groups cannot live together in peace. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Spain. And it’s obviously not in these United States.
Scott McConnell has pointed out how Michael Bloomberg has cited the damage inflicted by tropical storm Sandy as a good reason to endorse President Barack Obama. But it seems odd that other Democrats nationally have avoided using Sandy as a club to beat the GOP, possibly because they consider it unseemly. The Republican Party platform expresses a clear reluctance to do anything to reduce greenhouse gases:
We also call on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations that will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century. The most powerful environmental policy is liberty, the central organizing principle of the American Republic and its people.
It does not take a climatologist to appreciate that “liberty” does not represent a coherent environmental policy. I am far from the expert on the subject, but it seems to be established that weather patterns are becoming more severe, possibly linked to global warming. If one assumes that global warming is at least in part attributable to the actions of mankind, efforts to reduce its impact would appear to be warranted lest Sandy become an annual occurrence along the eastern seaboard. Republicans appear to be reluctant to make that effort.
Admitting that climate change is taking place and is being caused by human activity does not necessarily imply any government policy, which would have to be carefully considered based on actual evidence and the options available. It seems that the GOP’s stubbornness on this issue is linked to a broader antagonism toward science, which possibly derives from its pandering to Christian evangelicals. Certainly if I were a Democrat I would be pointing to Sandy as one possible consequence of Republican unwillingness to be realistic or even “modern” in its policy prescriptions relating to the environment.