Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘Middle East’

The theocracy tour

Headline in The Guardian:

Trump to visit Israel, Vatican and Saudi Arabia in first foreign trip as president

They really mean it (a continuing series)

Once again, I am forced to revise my impression of the Trump White House. I assumed that their failure to mention Jews in their statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day was an oversight, sloppy drafting, which they then had to justify and insist was intentional because Trump. But no:

The State Department drafted its own statement last month marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that explicitly included a mention of Jewish victims, according to people familiar with the matter, but President Donald Trump’s White House blocked its release.

Together with the Trump administration’s decision that they really don’t like Israeli settlements, I wonder if the right-wing orthodox Jews and Israelis who thought they had the measure of the man are beginning to feel like building contractors on a Trump hotel project.

Foreigners in Britain and Germany

Many years ago, when I was hitchhiking through the US, I met a guy at a highway rest stop who, for no particular reason that I could discern, was agitated about foreigners. (My accent in English strikes some Americans as vaguely foreign, even though it is unmistakably American to any non-American native English speaker.) But I was surprised about why he was angry. I had always assumed that animus toward immigrants was directed at transients who have no roots or attachment, don’t speak English, are really oriented toward their home country. But this guy thought it was great to have people come and do unpleasant work for low pay for a few years, as long as they move on. What he didn’t like were immigrants who come and remain permanently.

Apparently the current UK government agrees. People like me are a failure of the system. Soon after they came into power the government announced the goal of “breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration.” Now, as net immigration ignores the government’s arbitrary goals and continues to rise, they are growing desperate, even forcing out highly skilled and expensively recruited foreigners who thought they had immigrated. They have introduced draconian fines and even prison sentences for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants; since landlords are hardly equipped to judge people’s immigration status, the effect (possibly unintentional) will be to make life difficult for everyone who looks or sounds foreign.

Most of Europe decided that “temporary workers” isn’t a category that you can reasonably force people into. As Max Frisch famously commented on the European experience of the 1950s through 1970s, “Wir haben Arbeitskräfte gerufen, und es sind Menschen gekommen.” (“We called for workers, but human beings came.”)

The contrast to Germany is stark. Universities are switching much of their lecturing to English, in an effort to attract bright students from around the world to study in Germany. UK universities scrabble for foreign students, too, but the justification is primarily mercenary: non-EU student fees are uncapped — typically they pay around £20,000 a year, whereas EU nationals pay £9,000. German universities, on the other hand, don’t charge fees. 

We could call it plutocratic tolerance: Germans are, by and large, willing to live with foreigners as long as they can profit from them. Britons are willing to exploit foreigners economically, but only if they don’t have to live with them. (The Home Secretary has particularly identified students as people whose otherwise welcome money is tainted by their propensity to continue existing after they have spent it, and to impose their existence on the long-suffering British. “Universities should now develop sustainable funding models that are not so dependent on international students” she said.) Next year’s EU referendum will force the population to decide which of the famous “British values” — greed or xenophobia — has priority.

This issue is not identical with, but obviously not entirely distinct from, the disgusting British government response to the refugee crisis in southern Europe — a combination of “it’s not my problem” and pompous moralising about the moral hazard of encouraging desperate people to make perilous journeys. Angela Merkel has resolutely refused to pander to anti-foreigner sentiment, and has even managed to pressure the UK into taking some small measure of responsibility for taking in some refugees — even if they’ll never accept that they, of all Europeans, bear the most direct responsibility for the Syrian disaster, which is part of the long-term aftermath of Tony Blair’s splendid little war in Iraq.

“Serving the purposes of the Israeli apartheid and colonial regime”

The American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu has been expelled from a Spanish music festival, for refusing to issue a statement in support of a Palestinian state. Apparently such loyalty oaths are required of suspect persons, such as Jews. His silence, they said, serves “the purposes of the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime”.

This buttresses the view that BDS has a significant dollop of antisemitism in its ideological matrix, even if not every BDS supporter is antisemitic (and not everyone motivated partly by antisemitism is entirely or even consciously motivated by antisemitism).

This takes me back to 2007, when one UK academic union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (since melded into the University and Colleges Union (UCU)) couldn’t find any more relevant challenge to higher education in the UK than a boycott of Israeli academics who do not “publicly dissociate themselves” from Israeli “apartheid policies”.

I immediately recognised a problem: What is the appropriate form for expressing such dissociation? And how would we test whether the self-criticism was sincere, or merely careerist dissimulation. After all, we wouldn’t want crypto-Zionists sneaking in to British universities and scientific conferences, infecting them with the taint of racism and colonialism. Leaping into the breach, I composed a form to enable the aspiring good Israeli to have his anti-Zionist bona fides tested and confirmed by the proper authorities.

More Zionist anti-semitism

I commented recently on the good fit between classical antisemitism and Zionism, despite the efforts of some to associate necessarily antisemitism with anti-Zionism, perhaps on the basis of both having the prefix “anti”. I just came across another forceful testimony to this alignment, from a figure less notorious than Adolf Eichmann. In the book Churchill’s Empire (about the development of Winston Churchill’s attitudes toward the British Empire), Churchill is quoted on the subject of Zionism from a 1920 newspaper article:

He distinguished between praiseworthy “National Jews”, loyal to the countries in which they lived, and the “sinister confederacy” of “International Jews” whom he claimed were largely responsible for the Bolshevik revolution. In this analysis Zionism offered a “third sphere to the political conceptions of the Jewish race”, and Churchill predicted that, “if, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown […] an event would have occurred in the history of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.”

Zionism and antisemitism

What is the connection between Zionism and antisemitism? The question is rarely posed, since those who are interested in these themes are usually concerned with the converse link, between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. That link clearly exists. Those who hate the Jewish state usually end up helping themselves to the stockpile of ideological weapons of antisemitism, honed over centuries; and it’s hard to miss the historical continuity between traditional left-wing antisemitism in Europe and modern anti-Zionism. (The crassest form, unsurprisingly, was in Germany, as recounted in Hans Kundnani’s book Utopia or Auschwitz, about the German ’68 generation, who simultaneously attacked their parents for their war crimes, and demonstrated their antifascist opposition by helping the PLO to kill more Jews — or by planting bombs themselves in German synagogues.)

And yet, the link in the other direction is also impossible to ignore. It’s hardly novel to point out that Binyamin Netanyahu is committed to fulfilling Hitler’s dream of removing all Jews from Europe. (It’s true that the ultimate methods of the Nazis were exterminatory, but that was not an inevitable part of their programme. Many ferocious antisemites were happy to have the Jews be genuinely expelled. For example, to Palestine.) And now I have just discovered, reading Hannah Arendt, that one of the 20th century’s most famous antisemites was also a committed Zionist: (more…)

Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding

US Republican-libertarian senator and unofficial presidential candidate Rand Paul has been castigated by true-blue Zionists for insufficient vigour in applauding Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress. “I gave the prime minister 50 standing ovations,” Paul said, and that should really settle the matter.

I was reminded of this passage from The Gulag Archipelago:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province… It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?… After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that ob- scure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! … Nine minutes! Ten! . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!…

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” (And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

Operetta diplomacy

I was somewhere between amused and frightened in skimming Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress, finding this passage:

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.

(APPLAUSE)

Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.

SPOILER ALERT! How are you going to get people to come to hear the whole megillah in synagogue if you just give away the ending? I love the fact that everyone applauded “The plot was foiled.” And what’s with this “Persian potentate” stuff? I thought the Iranians were supposed to be Islamo-fascists.

Seriously, though, if you’re an Israeli prime minister with a reputation for telling tall tales about your neighbours’ military plans and capacities, and you’re trying to make the case that this time it’s really really serious, maybe you don’t want to reveal right up front that your diplomatic calculations are heavily influenced by a 2500 year old fairy tale with as much inherent plausibility as the plot of HMS Pinafore.

Is Netanyahu auditioning for a bigger role?

Many people are wondering why Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to wreck Israel’s relationship with its superpower patron, a relationship that has been almost absurdly favourable to Israel, uniquely bipartisan and almost unchallenged within the US political establishment. For years he has appeared to be going out of his way to break this bipartisan link, working to undermine US foreign policy, embarrass the president, and show himself and his government to be allied not with the United States, but with the Republican Party. Why? Is it psychopathology or an ingenious scheme? Or both?

Most people who try to explain it (including those who write articles with titles like The real reason Netanyahu is willing to risk Israel’s relationship with the U.S.) tend to posit that the reason has something to do with Israel: Either he is doing it either out of a genuine belief that Obama’s negotiations with Iran threaten Israel’s survival, so demand desperate measures; or that it is a cynical short-term political calculation, intended to shore up his position with the Israeli electorate, particularly now, two weeks ahead of an election. But what if it has nothing to do with Israel’s future, or Netanyahu’s position in Israel, but with Netanyahu’s position outside of Israel?

My thinking here is inspired by a very insightful comment on Greek politics by Matthew Yglesias:

Normally you would think that a national prime minister’s best option is to try to do the stuff that’s likely to get him re-elected. No matter how bleak the outlook, this is your dominant strategy. But in the era of globalization and EU-ification, I think the leaders of small countries are actually in a somewhat different situation. If you leave office held in high esteem by the Davos set, there are any number of European Commission or IMF or whatnot gigs that you might be eligible for even if you’re absolutely despised by your fellow countrymen. Indeed, in some ways being absolutely despised would be a plus. The ultimate demonstration of solidarity to the “international community” would be to do what the international community wants even in the face of massive resistance from your domestic political constituency.

One constant of Netanyahu’s career has been his (for an Israeli politician) exceptional venality. Of course, Netanyahu (or any Israeli leader) has no future in Europe, or major international bodies; but the US is another very big world, and making himself the pet anti-terrorist Jew of the Republican Party could be a highly remunerative post, far more valuable in Shekels than anything that his home country can offer. And if he ends up destroying Israel in the process, he’s all set up to blame left-wing anti-Semitism allied with Islamo-fascism. It will be brilliant for business.

Come home to Israel…

Binyamin Netanyahu is back to grandstanding as king of the Jews — just days after announcing that he would be speaking to the US Congress as “a representative of the entire Jewish people” — telling European Jews that they will always be victimised by non-Jews as long as they stay in Europe, so they should move to Israel, where they can be victimised by fellow Jews instead. But at least in Israel Jews can pray in peace without armed police protecting them; because in Israel the armed police will break up their prayer sessions and arrest them (if they’re women and not Orthodox).

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