Byline: The Editorial Board
On Remembrance Day, we reflect on the sacrifices made by Canadians who fought to defend freedom. Many of us recall the solemnity of our childhoods standing in a school auditorium, first beginning to understand the meaning behind the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the moment of silence.
Similar ceremonies occur worldwide, including in places where the loss of life in wars has been far greater and more recent than our nation’s experience.
At the same time, it is impossible not to reflect on how some of the messages of tolerance, coexistence and peace seem to have been lost on leaders of various countries – as well as those who vote for them.
Across Europe, the Americas and some other places, extremism is growing. Far-right governments in Italy, Poland and Hungary advance xenophobic and scapegoating policies. While not yet reaching the highest echelons of power, far-right groups in Germany and France are growing in popularity. The defeat of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s extreme-right and volatile president, is a bright spot, though the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who beat him only by a hair, demonstrated in his previous term as president that he is also no archetype of impeccable governance.
Enormously alarming were this week’s midterm elections in the United States. More than half of the Republican candidates for Congress and state offices, including crucial officials who oversee election processes, are “election deniers” who claim that the 2020 presidential race was not rightfully won by Joe Biden. The refusal of the former president to acknowledge defeat and accede to the peaceful transition of power, hand-in-hand with the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, represent the greatest threat to American democracy since that country’s Civil War. The last two years have shown how fragile this form of governance is and how dependent it is on the goodwill of its participants to abide by the rules and accept the will of the people. The fact that about half of American voters don’t seem the least bit bothered by this reality is the scariest part.
Then, and by no means least, are the results of Israel’s most recent national elections. The good news is that, after five elections in three years, the country will apparently have a stable coalition government. The bad news is that it will include individuals whose political and moral values should be scorned by people who support democracy, pluralism and respect. Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the third-largest bloc, was forbidden from serving in the Israel Defence Forces because military leaders deemed him too extreme. Until he decided to get serious about politics, Ben-Gvir had a framed photo in his home of Baruch Goldstein, the extremist who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. His policies include annexing the West Bank and forcibly expelling (at least some of) its residents, an idea that is, put mildly, against international law, and would almost certainly lead to a serious regional conflagration.
Israelis must deal with the situation they have created. Diaspora Jews and other supporters of Israel have a tough row to hoe as well.
Jewish organizations worldwide have issued unprecedented statements of concern and condemnation about internal Israeli affairs. There has always been tension, ranging from a low simmer to a full boil, between Israel and the Diaspora over a vast range of issues. Israelis, we must state, are the ones who put their lives, and those of their children, on the line to defend the Jewish state and they alone have the right to determine its direction. This does not mean, however, that the opinions and concerns of overseas family and allies do not matter.
Israel has always lacked dependable overseas allies. In far too many instances, this has been an unfair situation driven by geopolitical issues and, to an extent, bigotry and antisemitism. But Israel is not entirely blameless in its isolation. Decades ago, Golda Meir said, “I prefer to stay alive and be criticized than be sympathized.” Sometimes, Israel needs to make unpopular choices in the interest of its security.
There are moments when Israel’s hand has been forced, when its leaders have made choices that are unpopular among outside observers but deemed necessary for national security. This is not one of those moments. Israeli voters have chosen some extremely unsavoury people to represent them. They have sown the wind. It is the responsibility of decent people in Israel and abroad – including Jewish institutions – to advocate for tolerance and human rights in order to moderate the inevitable storm.
Israel’s best revenge
In an email briefing this week, the English-language news platform Times of Israel declared: “UN releases 2nd damning report on Israel; real estate soars.”
These were two unrelated stories. The United Nations had unveiled another in its persistent condemnations of the Jewish state and, on a completely different issue, it reported that Israeli housing prices have spiked 19% this year over last – the largest jump in recorded history.
As curious as this combination of stories was, it could hardly compete with an adjacent mashup about two of Israel’s leading far-right politicians, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the latter of whom, in an apparent effort at humanizing himself, appeared on a cooking program: “Ben-Gvir stuffs peppers and Smotrich proposes legal reforms.”
But, returning to the first items. The connection between UN condemnation of Israel and soaring real estate prices in Israel may be remote but perhaps not random. In any country, high real estate prices indicate a demand for housing that is larger than the supply, a situation due in part to rising economic prosperity (which is not generally shared equally, it should be said, and is too complex to fully discuss in this space).
The larger issues, for our purposes, are the curious parallels between this fact and the accompanying story, about yet another of the UN’s broadsides against Israel. Late last week, a report by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory declared that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal. Not a surprise considering the commission’s mandate, to say the least. Leaving aside whatever legitimacy that investment of resources may or may not have on the ground, it is safe to say it will have little impact on most Israelis beyond a déjà vu. UN condemnations against Israel come fast and furious.
In their 2009 book Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, Dan Senor and Saul Singer argue that Israel’s economic miracle is not despite the external and internal challenges the country and its people have faced but, to a large extent, because of them. Political and economic isolation bred a degree of self-sufficiency. Military and terrorist threats demand enormous investments, which have had the largely unintended consequence of building a range of high-tech and other industry sectors. The imposition on young adults just out of high school with life-and-death decision-making authority accounts in part for the risk-taking that drives Israel’s entrepreneurship.
On a daily basis, Israelis may not make the connection between their broad economic successes and the incessant rhetorical assaults it receives from the UN and self-appointed arbiters of righteousness worldwide. Even in times of war and other existential threats, Israelis have traditionally continued building their individual and collective futures. What is more, they are consistently ranked in surveys and studies as among the world’s happiest people.
Fighting inflation and inequality, resolving the ongoing conflict, addressing infringements of human rights and all of the other challenges facing Israel must be addressed – and, in the seemingly endless successions of national elections the country is mired, there is no shortage of inventive and outlandish suggestions for resolving every issue.
There is a saying: living well is the best revenge. The world, including the world’s ostensible parliament, can rail all it likes. We should not ignore criticism. But we should celebrate the achievements that others ignore or defame. The arrows aimed at Israel, whether we or the slings that shot them like it or not, seem to strengthen rather than weaken the resolve of its people.
Make voting a priority
Voters throughout British Columbia will elect new mayors, councilors, school trustees and (depending on the jurisdiction) other officials on Oct. 15.
Over the past several decades, terms for municipal officials have gone from two years to three years to, now, four years. This makes the significance of these elections greater, as the choices we make as voters will last four years. (This longer commitment also may be one reason for what seems like an unusually large number of elected officials opting not to seek reelection this year.)
It is notable that voter turnout in municipal elections is almost always lower – often far lower – than in provincial and federal elections. In some ways, this is understandable. The “senior” levels of government are associated with greater powers, which may be true, and with portfolios that may seem “sexier.” Foreign affairs are more exciting than sewage (generally speaking) and the proper functioning of our healthcare system is, for many of us, literally a life-and-death matter, which the mowing of boulevards is not.
Local government issues, however, often affect our lives in the most intimate and powerful ways. Anyone who has traveled in places without well-functioning local governments sees the evidence around them. Uncollected garbage amasses on boulevards and in public spaces. Feral cats, dogs and rodents roam largely unhampered. Petty, even serious, crime may be rampant. In other words, when civic government is running as it should, it is often invisible. When it is not, it can make ordinary life difficult or, at worst, impossible.
As often-privileged citizens of developed Western countries, we can sometimes use hyperbole about the challenges facing our communities. Overheated rhetoric about issues as comparatively banal as bike lanes, which demand that car drivers share a bit of the road with cyclists, can become so frenzied one might think a cabal of medieval tyrants had stormed the ramparts at 12th and Cambie. We should really put things in perspective.
Successful cities are, in their way, modern miracles. It is precisely their success that blinds us to their exceptionalism. Imagine: no matter where you live in Vancouver, a truck comes past your home once a week to collect the recycling you leave on the curb, knowing it will be collected (depending on the weather) without incident. Your children are within walking distance of public schools that are of truly outstanding quality by any measure of time or place. The bus we curse for not showing up at the exact moment we arrive at the stop is, for all our complaining, a remarkable operation. Hundreds of small cogs combine to make a city run.
Of course, we have complaints. A recent Leger poll indicates that 48% of Vancouver respondents (and, for example, 60% in Surrey) said things in their city have gotten worse in the past four years. This may be true. Certainly there are serious issues affecting residents, including but not limited to a housing affordability crisis, widening inequality, a drug poisoning crisis, and the impacts of climate change. And yet, for many, things are still pretty good.
This is not to say that voters should not always be pushing our elected officials to be better and do much, much better; merely that we need to remember that we live in one of the most fortunate places in the world, with millions of people envying that which we take for granted. Things can be better, at all levels of government, but the occasional language we hear that our governments are “broken” or “failing” is shortsighted and out of proportion.
The at-large system, which operates in Vancouver and every other city in British Columbia, is a barrier to an informed electorate. Voters in the City of Vancouver, for example, are expected to make educated choices for one mayor, 10 city councilors, nine school trustees and seven park commissioners from – by our count – 138 candidates who are contesting these positions this year. There is no earthly way even the wonkiest voter could adequately inform themselves about the pros and cons of this many contestants.
But we should do our best. The adage that those who don’t vote have no right to complain is nonsense. Everyone has the right to complain.
But voting is not only a right, a franchise. It is an obligation. For whatever flaws B.C. communities might have, all of our cities and towns remain among the finest societies anyone could hope to live in. To preserve and strengthen the places where we live, voting is, almost literally, the least we can do.
Extremism not helpful
Over the Labour Day weekend, while many Canadians were soaking up the declining rays of summer or doing last-minute back-to-school shopping, Middle East politics eclipsed everything else – well, for those of us who track these things closely, which, it turns out includes Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party.
In fairness, it is not clear when Singh hit send on an email that made the rounds over the holiday weekend. But the contents led the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to send out not one but two urgent emails on the issue, both of which included the word “outraged” in the subject line.
And “outrage” is a fair reaction to the contents of Singh’s missive.
“We believe Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the centre of the challenges facing the Palestinian and Israeli people,” wrote Singh. This essentialist view ignores the reality that the occupation continues due to a complex interplay between anti-Israel terrorism, a lack of political will, and intractability around a two-state solution or some other coexistence plan that would lead to greater peace, which includes a lack of willingness to coexist from factions on both sides of the conflict.
“We all want to see a future where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side, in peace,” Singh writes. But then he goes on to outline a list of grievances that places responsibility only on Israelis and which, therefore, is unlikely to do anything to realize such a future.
The demands include that the Canadian government increase funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, “which supports Palestinian refugees.” The letter makes no reference to the controversial nature of UNRWA’s definition of refugees, which has refugee status passing down generations, thereby continually increasing their number, perpetuating rather than ameliorating the problem. Nor does the NDP letter mention the organization’s Palestinian education curriculum, which contains antisemitic elements that directly impede any progress towards peace in the region; allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the agency; and even UNWRA’s witting or unwitting aid of the terrorist group Hamas, with tunnels reportedly being found under UNRWA schools and rockets stored on their premises. Instead, the letter calls on Canada to “condemn the Israeli government’s attacks on civil society in Israel and Palestine, including the recent designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as ‘terrorist.’”
There are wishes for “peace in Israel and Palestine” in the NDP letter, but the lack of peace is blamed solely on one side, without acknowledging the violence and harms inflicted on Israelis. The fundamental fact of the issue is that no blatantly one-sided position will make things better for either Palestinians or Israelis and any position that places all the blame on one side will not lead to a resolution. Such a stance will only perpetuate conflict. Peace and coexistence in that region will depend on compromise on both sides.
In the larger scheme of world events, an imbalanced missive from the leader of a Canadian political party is largely irrelevant. Singh’s catalogue of blame will move the dial in Israel and Palestine not an inch. What it does is inflame the issue here at home and reinforce the trend in Canadian politics that sees this issue as a political football. At the same time as there are legitimate and important critiques of Israel’s behaviour and treatment of Palestinians, particularly those under occupation, Jewish self-determination should not be anyone’s campaign talking point.
There is a lesson here for those who support Israel, too. There is a strain that sees Israel supporters as more moral, more fair and more realistic than the activists who march against “apartheid,” “genocide” and what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently called “50 holocausts” against Palestinians. However, the incessant and dishonourable contesting of the very existence of Palestinian people – if you haven’t seen it, you’re not on Jewish social media – does nothing to advance the cause of Jewish self-determination or end the human suffering or move anyone towards peace.
Extremism is not a Canadian value, nor a Jewish one – and it will not result in an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor will it solve any of the countless challenges we are facing around the world. We need to resist the attraction of simplistic solutions to complex human problems. We need to do, think and behave better. And we need to demand that our leaders to do so, as well.
Chance to win 2 tickets to VIFF’s screening of The Forger
A still from the film The Forger, starring Louis Hofmann.
The 41st Vancouver International Film Festival takes place Sept. 29-Oct. 9, 2022. This year, the Jewish Independent is the media sponsor of The Forger (directed by Maggie Peren, Germany/Luxembourg), so we’re doing a draw for free tickets to one of the screenings!
Email [email protected] by Sept. 23, 2022, to be entered in a draw for the Thursday, Oct. 6, 1:15 p.m., screening at International Village 9.
Synopsis of the film:
Based on a true story, Cioma Schönhaus, a young Jewish man living in 1942 Berlin, works at a munitions factory until he’s recruited by a former Nazi bureaucrat to forge passports for Jewish people to escape the country. Cioma waltzes through Berlin with reckless abandon, impersonating military personnel even as he risks discovery by the Gestapo. Adapting the story from Schönhaus’s memoir, director Maggie Peren gives her film the same immaculate attention to detail as Cioma does his forgeries, contrasting the dimly lit Berlin of Jewish people struggling with food rations with the decadence of the Nazis. The film balances the playful atmosphere of his ingenuity against the sombre backdrop of Nazi Germany and the looming danger he faces.
Must confront lies
Leslyn Lewis, a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership that will be decided in the coming days, made a stir last week when she invoked the Nuremberg Code, apparently with regard to coronavirus vaccines.
The Nuremberg Code is a postwar set of principles on medical ethics arising from the horrific medical experimentations of the Nazi era. Although Lewis did not explicitly mention COVID-19, the issue was clear in context. She warned of government overreach, saying, “even in modern times the tenets of informed consent and voluntary participation in scientific experiments can be easily undermined by even our modern governments.”
If for no better reason than avoiding a communications crisis, reasonable candidates for elective office should avoid comparing things to Nazism. In almost every instance, there is nothing to be gained. In this instance, where the candidate appeared to be referring to a vaccine that can prevent or seriously reduce the impacts of a potentially deadly virus, the comparison is irresponsible and base.
Around the same time as Lewis was causing controversy here in Canada, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, stood next to the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and declared that Israel had perpetrated “50 holocausts” on the Palestinians. Scholz has been criticized for not immediately condemning Abbas’s atrocious act of Holocaust desecration – words that took place on German soil.
This incident was a flashback to the time, in 1999, when Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. first lady, got in trouble for standing on stage with Suha Arafat, wife of Yasser, when Mrs. Arafat accused Israel of poisoning the Palestinian water supply. This accusation, an unoriginal claim pilfered straight from antisemitic Medieval European well-poisoning canards, was akin to the latest outrage from Abbas in both form and international reaction.
About the only time the West expresses any concern about such defamations is when they are uttered in the presence of world leaders in front of less credulous media than the Palestinian leaders face at home. While Clinton and Scholz certainly deserve some censure for not speaking out instantly in the face of such overt libels, their presence is a sideshow to the main event: a narrative that is founded on grotesque demonizations.
Abbas is no newcomer to Holocaust revisionism and defilement. His PhD dissertation at a Soviet university contests the number of Jewish dead and accuses Zionists of participating in the Shoah to advance their nefarious aims.
These sorts of lies – “holocausts,” poisonings, genocide, even Zionist sharks attacking tourists – are routine fodder for Palestinian leaders, newscasters, media and even the United Nations-funded Palestinian education system. It is the nature of dictatorial leaders and undemocratic movements that they grow intellectually lazy, having groomed an audience so inured to lies and exaggerations that they will accept, or at least not contest, the most depraved allegations. After 70-plus years of exposure to increasingly preposterous conspiracies like Zionist-trained sharks snapping at European tourists at beach resorts, many are ready to accept and repeat them.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” Winston Churchill colourfully said. Churchill died before the internet was born. Today, a lie gets even farther even faster.
Mix the range and speed of the internet with millennia of conspiracies about Jews and the reality that most people are inundated with Israel-Palestine news without context, and it is easier to understand why people who are overwhelmed by complexity and who seek simple solutions don’t resist or even question such lies.
For similar reasons, we must both keep a critical eye on how science evolves with coronavirus and vaccines, as well as encourage people to get vaccinated, to reduce the risks of disease. Terrible experiments have been done on marginalized populations so, as a society, we must be sensitive to these experiences and traumas. The mistrust has a real history, but some people are using this fact to sow more mistrust in institutions and governments, which adds to the fires of conspiracy, which is bad for everyone, but in particular marginalized and minority populations.
While miles apart in quality, the remarks by Lewis and by Abbas deserve condemnation. The world, especially now, tends to move on quickly from one moral atrocity to the next, from this outrage to the next. But we cannot let these things go unchallenged – whether they come from dictators or from potential leaders in a democracy. The job of decent people is to come along and clean things up. It’s a dirty job. But somebody has got to do it.
Does history matter?
The promise of the internet was that people could access unprecedented volumes of information for the benefit of themselves and society as a whole. What has regrettably proven to be the case is that it is a fount from which people draw to “prove” falsehoods they choose to believe – or, for nefarious reasons, claim to believe.
Amid the oceans of “information” online, it is sometimes difficult to tell what people genuinely believe as opposed to what they say they believe in public to mislead their audiences. For example, does the U.S. member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene actually believe that reliance on solar energy means the lights will go out when the sun goes down? Or is her apparent stupidity a deliberate foil for her support of polluting energy sources? If she believes what she said, this is misinformation. If she knows she is telling a lie, it is disinformation.
The terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” are sadly necessary to understand what is happening in our era, as we have said in this space before and feel moved to repeat. In few places is this difference as consequential as in discussions of the history of the Holocaust.
Correspondence between Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and right-wing journalist Bronislaw Wildstein (and two others) leaked last week defines some of the world’s foremost Holocaust scholars as “enemies of the entire Polish nation.” There is other chilling language in the back-and-forth, detailing how top Polish authorities are expending enormous energies to rewrite the history of Polish collaboration in the Shoah.
A 2018 law forbids any suggestion that the Polish state or Polish people participated in Nazi crimes against Jews. International pressure saw the penalties for breaking this law reduced from a criminal conviction to a civil matter potentially resulting in a fine. But the intent and impact remain clear. Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-born Canadian academic, and a Polish colleague, Barbara Engelking, were victorious in a 2021 appeal that saw an earlier court decision order to apologize to a descendant of a Shoah-era perpetrator for betraying Jewish neighbours to the German Nazis. But this court decision has not quenched the thirst for revisionism.
The obsession among top Polish officials on this subject is unabated. The email exchange includes the suggestion that Polish authorities should strategically coopt the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to their own benefit, recasting Poles as the Nazis’ primary targets and victims.
Poland also recently extended its Holocaust-related legislation to explicitly forbid financial restitution or compensation to survivors or their heirs.
The Polish government has steadfastly asserted that Nazi atrocities catastrophically affected non-Jewish Poles, which is plainly true. But two things can be true simultaneously. Many Poles were victimized by the Nazis and many Poles collaborated with the Nazis – and, in some cases, both involved the same individuals.
Wildstein, the journalist who seems to have the prime minister’s ear, makes threatening noises about top Holocaust research and archival bodies, including the Jewish Historical Institute, in Warsaw, and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and mentions “the possibility of introducing our people into their midst.” He accuses the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research of presenting “an almost obsessive hatred of Poles.”
There is paranoia in the idea that exposing historical truth is identical to hatred. Ironically, while Germany is the European country that has engaged in the most introspective contrition, as much as a society can hope to do for so unparalleled a crime, Poland has steadfastly dug in its heels. The society that bears more blame for complicity with the Nazis than any other is the one that is not only refusing to confront its grotesque past but most stridently whitewashing it.
All of this has led to strained relations between Israel and Poland. It should also be a source of friction with other countries, including Canada, partly because it is a Canadian citizen, Grabowski, who is among the most targeted objects of Polish scorn, and partly because all democracies should stand up to this appalling historical revisionism.
There is a grim silver lining in this “debate.” The Polish authorities understand, as too few in the world seem to, that history matters. What happened in the past informs our present and future. If they can recast the past, they can affect the future.
The question for us is whether we, as a society, have the same understanding of and commitment to historical power. Are those who seek truth as motivated as those whose goal is to subvert it?
Editor’s Note: For a contrary point of view, click here to read the letter to the editor that was published in the Jewish Independent’s Sept. 2/22 issue.
Games, fun and serious
Team Canada’s 600-strong contingent marched into the opening ceremonies of the quadrennial Maccabiah Games July 14 at Jerusalem’s Teddy Coliseum. They were led by a trio of flagbearers – Toronto’s Molly Tissenbaum, a hockey goalie who has overcome serious health challenges to return to the ice, and Calgary twins Conaire and Nick Taub, volleyball players who are slated to enrol at the University of British Columbia in the fall. Canada sent the fourth largest team to the 21st “Jewish Olympics,” after Israel, the United States and Argentina.
The flag-bearing trio, their 600 teammates and about 10,000 others streamed into the stadium at the start of the largest-ever Maccabiah Games. Also on hand was an American visitor, President Joe Biden, who was the first U.S. leader to attend the event, flanked by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
The trio of leaders appeared jubilant, and no doubt there is a natural bond between Biden and Lapid that neither shares with either the former U.S. president Donald Trump or the once and possibly future Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had a legendary bromance together.
While athletes began their friendly skirmishing for medals, the politicians began skirmishing themselves, around issues more existential than soccer scores.
Whatever personal affinity Biden and Lapid might share is at least partly restrained by reality. Lapid took over from Naftali Bennett as a sort of caretaker during the election campaign. Whether he remains leader after the votes are counted in November looks, at this point, less than likely.
Far more importantly, the two leaders disagree on the approach to Iran’s nuclear threat.
“Words will not stop them, Mr. President,” Lapid told Biden in their joint public remarks. “Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that … if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.”
Biden has returned the United States to the Obama administration’s approach, aiming to revive the 2015 agreement between Iran and the West, which was supposed to slow that country’s march to nuclear capability. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal.
After Biden left Israel and headed to Saudi Arabia, words heated up dramatically Sunday. A top aide to the Iranian leader asserted that Iran already has the capability of creating a nuclear bomb but has chosen not to do so. In response, Aviv Kochavi, head of the Israel Defence Forces, responded with uninhibited forewarning.
“The IDF continues to prepare vigorously for an attack on Iran and must prepare for every development and every scenario,” Kochavi said, adding that, “preparing a military option against the Iranian nuclear program is a moral obligation and a national security order.” At the centre of the IDF’s preparations, he added, are “a variety of operational plans, the allocation of many resources, the acquisition of appropriate weapons, intelligence and training.”
Meanwhile, the inevitable moving pieces of Middle East politics continued shifting.
Biden walked a fine line, visually demonstrated by his choice to fist-bump rather than embrace the Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman, who has on his hands the blood of dismembered journalist, author and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose grisly murder at a Saudi consulate in Turkey shocked the world. Rumours of warming relations between Saudia Arabia and Israel – the rumours go from the opening of Saudi airspace to Israeli planes, to the full-on recognition of Israel – remain mostly that. Saudis reiterated the old orthodoxy that relations would never develop until there is a Palestinian state.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, is openly mooting returning to diplomatic relations with Iran after six years. The UAE has sided with the Saudis against Iran in the ongoing proxy war in Yemen, but the Emiratis are making noises about “deescalating” tensions.
Back in Israel, meanwhile, divergent approaches to issues foreign and domestic are very much on the front burner. With the diplomatic niceties of welcoming the leader of Israel’s most important ally now in the past, parties are holding their primaries to select their leaders and lists for the Nov. 1 vote – the fifth since April 2019 – and forming new partnerships that reshape the landscape in advance of the nitty-gritty campaigning to come.
Much closer in time, the Maccabiah Games close Tuesday, with final results expected to be more definitive than the national election, which will almost inevitably end up with weeks of negotiations leading to a tenuous coalition government.
New era in U.S. politics
The explosive debate around abortion spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s right to reproductive self-determination reminds us that the Jewish perspective on the topic is nuanced.
“Jewish law approaches each case according to its particular circumstances,” notes an article at chabad.org. This central dictum of halachah, Jewish law, makes generalizations difficult. One thing is almost universally accepted: abortion can be halachically required if the life of the mother is in danger.
In 2015, 83% of American Jews told Pew Research Forum that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, which is more than any other religious group, a finding around Jewish support for reproductive choice that has been true for decades. However, a story from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently noted that a growing alignment between some Orthodox Jews and the Republican party in the United States has led a minority of Jews to adopt what has been largely a conservative Christian approach to the subject.
The Orthodox Union released a statement that they are “unable to either mourn or celebrate” the court’s overturning of Roe. Their position is that an outright ban is unacceptable under Jewish law, but that abortion should be limited to cases where the mental or physical health of the mother is at stake, with an emphasis on the preservation of life. Further, they stated that abortion should be available regardless of someone’s economic status.
The tectonic decision by the court, overturning 49 years of precedent set by the landmark Roe v. Wade case, has set in motion frenetic activity across that country and beyond. State officials have had the issue thrown into their laps. The United States will become a patchwork of regulations on the subject. The ruling has led to triumphant celebrations by opponents of abortion and it has reenergized those endorsing reproductive freedom. What all of this will mean, not only for abortion rights but for social movements and society more broadly, can only be remotely imagined at this point.
The abortion decision was only one of several massive reversals of existing norms the U.S. court issued in its session. In other cases, the court made it more difficult for lower jurisdictions to limit access to firearms, weakened the power of federal agencies to address climate change and struck down a ruling that limited prayer in public schools (in this specific case, Christian prayer at school football games).
The succession of cases throws down a gauntlet that most people – whatever their opinions – knew was coming when the former president appointed three justices to the court, creating a 6-3 conservative majority.
In many cases, though, these decisions are deeply out of step with what the majority of the population believes. Of course, court rulings should not necessarily mirror societal norms. Historically, courts have made society-altering decisions in spite of opposition – desegregating public schools against the wishes of white racists, for instance. Leaving aside philosophy, public opinion may not be able to impact a Supreme Court packed with political appointees (three of whom testified in their nomination hearings that the abortion question was settled law) but public opinion will change society.
Anti-abortion activists (and anti-climate, anti-secularism and anti-gun control activists) have been celebrating their big wins in these cases.
In 1973, as pro-reproductive choice activists were celebrating their Supreme Court win, a new movement was gaining its footing. It would develop into one of the biggest, most powerful movements in American history, a new conservatism that led, among many other social and economic changes, to the elections of Ronald Reagan, two Bushes and Donald Trump. And it accomplished one of the core objectives it set out to address: it tipped the scales of the Supreme Court and stripped women of rights they have had since 1973.
Those who were celebrating in 1973 are today experiencing a vast array of emotions: grief, disillusionment, fear. But also rage, determination and purpose.
As the Roe decision did in 1973, last month’s ruling will launch a new movement that, like the new conservatism before it, will address a broad range of social issues and injustices. It was impossible, 49 years ago, to foresee the changes that would come. Whichever side one may be on, be assured that we have entered a new era.