Monthly Archives: July 2014

Jackson Doughart: What’s different about this Gaza war?

From the beginning, there seemed to be something different about the present war between Israel and Hamas, at least in comparison to Israel’s response to Hamas rocket fire every couple of years in “mini wars”. The “backstory” of alleged ethnic killings and revenge killings, the length of the conflict, the changed landscape of the Middle East (including for Hamas a more hostile Egyptian regime than it found under President Morsi), and of course the eventual ground campaign by Israel are all factors in this sea change.

But what may in time emerge as a great consequence to the Middle East conflict in general is twofold. First, the nature of the international response—to say nothing of the local reaction from Arabs in the West Bank and within Israel proper—has blurred the distinction between anti-Semitism and “anti-Zionism”, the latter of which has long presented itself as a principled opposition to Israeli policy on the ground of alleged colonialism and apartheid. But the character of demonstrations over the past couple of weeks, including in such cities as Chicago, London, and Paris, have shown the two to be increasingly indistinguishable, with accusations of “human rights abuse” going hand in hand with the blockading of a Paris synagogue, ostentatious anti-Semitic caricatures, and Holocaust-praising chants. (One echoes Douglas Murray from Britain’s Spectator in noting that the thousands of European Muslims taking to the streets in rage over Gaza stayed home through the continuing carnage of the Syrian civil war and the present calamity in Iraq, suggesting that the taking of Muslim life is unimportant to them unless the enemy party is Jewish.)

Second, the willingness of liberal Jewish commentators to defend ideological co-thinkers who sympathize with Hamas seems to be diminishing. One of many examples is this article from the Forward by progressive writer Tova Ross, who describes how the present events have disabused her of the naïve pseudo-even-handedness which once animated her view of the conflict. She has been persuaded that her hawkish father was right all along.

Now there are surely gradations to this phenomenon and many a hold out, but it’s worth noting that the anti-Israel crowd’s desired legitimacy has long been aided by people such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein—leftist Jews who advance the rhetoric of apartheid and delegitimation. So if more progressives feel conflicted by lambasting Israel alongside the sordid types who praise Hamas, it must be good for Israel in the long run.

The Hustings


Barbara Kay: A Macleans columnist’s selective nausea trigger

Emma Teitel, a columnist of progressive views for Macleans magazine, recently walked into a north Toronto camping stores serving a largely Jewish clientele. There she saw something “that made my stomach turn.”

Pundit stomachs don’t “turn” lightly, so I braced myself for the answer. Was it a big, slimy rat poking its head out of a sleeping bag? A drug addict shooting up in a pup tent?

The answer (put off for 10 suspenseful lines) was quite a letdown: there on a table “piled high with T-shirts…sitting neatly right beside stacks of Batman and Superman shirts, a pile of forest-green tees bearing the bright yellow lego of the Israel Defence Forces (my emphasis).

Teitel then informs us she was so agitated at the very idea that “war” and “fashion” and “superhero movies” could be conflated that she took a photo of the offending T-shirts, intending to “share” them via a disapproving hashtag (#Jewsishdiasporafail strikes her as a possibility). Then she realizes this could be something anti-Semites might seize on (ya think??), and resists the temptation.

Good call, Emma!!

But let’s backtrack a bit here. The IDF is a democratic nation’s legitimate military branch. Its mandate is to defend Israel. What’s with the stomach-turning over Jewish kids declaring pride in the armed forces of a nation to which one is historically, culturally and emotionally attached?

Let me guess. Because the IDF, in the course of defending Israel from a barbarian, exterminationist gang of terrorists bent on murdering as many civilian Jews as possible, has ended up killing Gazan civilians whom they warned to evacuate buildings but who refused (or Hamas did not permit) to leave?

Teitel has fallen into the victim-numbers trap: she’s rewarding Hamas with the moral high ground because Israel actually protects its citizenry. More than any other military, the IDF routinely risks – and loses – lives to minimize civilian loss of life. To Israeli children huddled in shelters, and to Diaspora kids who feel their fear, the IDF is indeed as heroic as Superman. They merit proud sartorial lamination.

Know what turns my stomach? Impossibly high standards for Jews alone. I’ve probably seen a thousand T-shirts bearing the iconic likeness of bloodthirsty massacrist Che Guevara gazing romantically into the future. Now those are tees deserving of condemnation. But so far I’ve never read of a progressive writer, certainly not Emma Teitel, even burping at the sight of them. Check your #Jewishself-righteousness.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: The myth of “Jewish solidarity”

I recently finished Menachem Begin’s White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia. It’s one of the most remarkable and unforgettable books I’ve read. Early in the memoirs, Begin recounts a conversation with sympathetic Polish officers in an NKVD holding cell in Vilnius. They complain of Jewish solidarity, that tenacious and pernicious anti-Semitic canard. Begin’s response is timeless: “If only!”

One of the principal arguments of Israel’s leftist detractors is that Israel cannot be considered a Jewish state, simply because it doesn’t enjoy universal support among the world’s Jews. I may be wrong, but this notion presupposes that Jewish solidarity is both possible and necessary, when in fact unanimity in any group is illusory and transient at best. It’s also essentialist, to use academic jargon: it suggests that the default state of world Jewry is “rootless cosmopolitanism,” to use Stalin’s phrase.

I am not accusing those who hold this position of anti-Semitism or “Jewish self-hatred” (Karl Marx syndrome). But it does correspond with classic anti-Semitic logic, and it’s simply wrong, to boot. Predominantly Jewish in population, Israel has the world’s largest Jewish community. Unbeknownst to most of Israel’s critics, the first Jewish settlements in littoral Palestine were founded by Sephardi Jews in the nineteenth century, before the word “Zionism” existed. Hebrew is an everyday spoken language, rather than merely administrative. If Israel has no legitimate claim to being a Jewish state, then Armenia and Ireland, which each contain less than half of the global population of their titular ethnic groups, cannot be called Armenian and Irish states.

Israel doesn’t profess to represent the world’s Jews in any substantial sense. When the Knesset passes a law, it applies only to the citizens and territory of Israel. Such is the custom of nation-states.

Jakub Berman was a fanatical Stalinist who played a key role in the establishment of communism in Poland. Beset by anti-Semitism in Poland and in the Kremlin, he vehemently denounced Zionism and even denied that the Holocaust was separate from the greater total war against the Soviet Union. Considering so much anti-Semitic sentiment is directed towards the State of Israel, it seems rather disingenuous to deny its status as the Jewish state. It effectively allows anti-Semites to set the parameters of the debate, and suggests that the existence of Israel is the sole source of global anti-Semitism.

Jewish solidarity is a myth. But we should all stand in solidarity with Israel, the Jewish state.

The Hustings


Geoffrey Wale: Hobby Lobby and religious freedom

The decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is the latest development in U.S. society in the effort to reconcile the right to religious liberty with that of reproductive freedom and the right to privacy.

Challenges to the sexual mores of U.S. society concerning fertility, contraception and abortion began in earnest in the 20th-century, largely through the efforts of Margaret Sanger. Sanger stood up to religious opposition, notably the Roman Catholic Church, in founding the American Birth Control League (ABCL) in 1921. Contraception was widely used, though not legalized until 1965 when SCOTUS ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut. A law that prohibited any person from using “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception” was struck down. The “right to marital privacy” were the grounds on which the Justices declared the law unconstitutional.

Religious liberty is a hallmark of U.S. society and Congress saw fit to enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) in a near unanimous vote. However, with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) on 23 March 2010, the addition of contraception in 2011 that would be provided without patient co-payment, became a requirement for all new health insurance plans, starting in 2012. The ACA allows for religious exemptions that include churches and houses of worship, but does not include exemptions for “enterprises owned or controlled by religious organizations that oppose contraception on doctrinal grounds.”

David Green–founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby–and his family are Pentecostal Christians and conduct their business affairs in accordance with their religious principles. In ruling in favour of the court challenge filed by Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS found that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it is written, runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. That Hobby Lobby is required to pay for contraceptives, on behalf of its employees, contraceptives the owners of Hobby Lobby believe are abortifacients, constitutes “laws or other governmental action [that] substantially burdened their religious practices.”

This is but the latest development in the social life of the U.S. by which the mores concerning sexuality are changing and as a society the U.S. makes adjustments in striving to accommodate the respective interests. The branches of the U.S. government perform their respective roles in this process and the issues of sexuality and religious liberty will be hotly debated for some time to come.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Bloodlust in Europe

Even murder can become mundane. Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist who sat on a euthanasia review committee for nine years, recently recounted in the Daily Mail some of his reasons for reversing his support for the practice of consensual killing. Here is one chilling excerpt:

Under the name End of Life Clinic, the Dutch Right to Die Society NVVE founded a network of travelling euthanizing doctors. Whereas the law presupposes (but does not require) an established doctor-patient relationship, in which death might be the end of a period of treatment and interaction, doctors of the End of Life Clinic have only two options: administer life-ending drugs or send the patient away.

On average, these physicians see a patient three times before administering drugs to end their life. Hundreds of cases were conducted by the End of Life Clinic. The group shows no signs of being satisfied even with these developments. They will not rest until a lethal pill is made available to anyone over 70 years who wishes to die. Some slopes truly are slippery.

There are two wretched facts that accuse these “travelling euthanizing doctors”. The first is the dark reality that they exist. Real physicians who, like all of their colleagues, have spent a decade of toil and sweat in training on the methods that give, protect and save life. Now they spend their careers ending it. Many doctors are not willing to kill as an exception; these doctors are willing to do it as a rule.

Second, and extending from the first, is Boer’s observation that these doctors of death are restless—restless for more “patients” even as body counts climb 15% every year; restless until the Dutch parliament expands the prescription for their morbid medicine.

The human reality underlying this wretchedness is a vice which tempts like any other. It is not a vice we ordinarily indulge, but as we see, it afflicts even the civilized and educated among us: it is the desire to kill. Appetites only need whetting. For someone with a murderous predilection, the first taste might be one suffering cancer patient, an exception under the rule of a supposedly unslippery law.

Well-meaning euthanasia laws are the “infinitely small wedged-in lever” Leo Alexander warned of half a century ago in the aftermath of a darker period of Dutch history. As euthanasia’s death tolls enter the order of magnitude of that era’s, let us consider that bloodlust is not far from our hearts.

The Hustings