Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and the Jewish Question

Back in 2003 Tony Judt, an otherwise important historian, took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to explain why Israel was destined to disappear:
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.
The part about exclusive privileges etc was of course always nonsense, as the good professor knew perfectly well even at the time. The part about the end of nationalism in favor of all that international verbiage could, if you squinted hard enough, just have seemed plausible enough for an ivory-tower academic to have toyed with its implications.

A mere 13 years later it seems the announcements about the death of nationalism may have been a bit exaggerated and premature, and the celebration of the international world order of border-less communities of gooey-eyed-human-rights-and-general-nirvana was, well, totally wrong. It didn't take 13 years, either; Judt's thesis was always wrong but it's been glaringly so for a number of years already.

Which brings me to a second and related point. About the time Judt was being celebrated by the NYRB readers for his prescience and courage of his opinions, it was rather common for European intellectuals and Left-wing Israelis to dangle the prospect of EU membership in front of Israelis and Palestinians who were stubbornly not behaving well. Any number of times I was asked by well-meaning European colleagues (many of them Germans, because those were the folks I often dealt with in those days) if we didn't think that making peace would be an excellent step towards Israel joining the EU. They always meant well, my interlocutors, and were proud of themselves for offering us such a valuable prize; surely I would appreciate the great honor and recognize the advantage of relinquishing a handful of anachronistic habits and geographic baggage. I always thanked them for their sentiments but said I could think of no reason why, after 2,000 years without sovereignty, we would straightaway chuck it out. Invariably they were a bit offended though I assured them no offense was intended.

Some decisions made by one generation will form the world in which  following generations live their entire lifespans.  The terms of peace which Israelis and Palestinians will someday agree on will be like that: they'll create borders and conditions which will be solid for a very long time (assuming the peace holds). Creating a viable and long-term peace will be sufficient justification for those arrangements; adapting to a passing historical fad is neither a justification nor a motive. Imagine if in 2002 Israel had agreed to jettison its interests in the name of being part of the Zeitgeist of the future, without waiting to know if that particular future would happen.

(PS. Tony Judt died a few years ago and didn't live to see the Arab 30-years-war, nor the collapse of freedom of movement in the EU, nor tens of thousands of refugees perishing just outside its locked borders, terrorist forcing curfews in European capitals, the rise (so far) of Donald Trump, nor, obviously, Brexit. Yet before he died I made my peace with him and we even had a cordial e-mail exchange. He was a fine historian even if a poor pundit).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Politics and wars are about emotions

Bernie Sanders never made much sense. He may have had appealing ideas about some of the wrongs of American society, but the rational numbers of his proposals never added up, and you didn't need to be an economist to know it. Yet he racked up, what, 12 million votes? Quite a number.

Trump doesn't make any rational sense, not if you keep in mind the extreme complexity of running the United States and being the single top figure in international politics. Yet here he is, the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, which, like it or not, is one of the most important political parties in the world and in history, along with the Democrats. Observed rationally, there's no contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton. Yet given the numbers of votes cast, clearly there is.

The idea of Brexit is ridiculous. There's more or less total unanimity among economists that the UK leaving the EU would be a bad idea, one no sensible person would entertain for more than 3-4 minutes if it was early morning and they were still a bit groggy. Yet so far as we know, the voters of Britain are about to vote to leave, just next week, a prospect the polls are now giving more than an even chance of happening. (UK polls, as in other countries, can be seriously wrong).

Most people don't vote because of the numbers. Not on the Left, not on the Right. They vote mostly for emotional reasons of one sort or the other. That's in the venerable and functional democracies, of which the UK and USA are the two sizable oldest. So they can't be swayed by rational arguments, either. Marketing 101 will teach you that, and if it doesn't, go to sales 101.

All of which is generally forgotten when people discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict. Then, suddenly, the calm and rational outsiders look at the warring locals, tut-tut, and admonish them to be reasonable and rational just as they, the observers, are; and to make calm and rational decisions, since those are the only kind possible. Whenever we, the locals, try pointing out that the conflict we're embroiled in isn't about rational matters at all, it's about other and much more powerful issues, the observers roll their eyes and proclaim that we don't understand how reality works.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Neveh Dror - the town of the datlashim

The crazy kaleidoscope that is Israel is about to become just a bit crazier, with the creation of Neveh Dror, a new town which is being marketed to the datlashim.

No, datlashim wasn't a word you missed in Sunday School or when you were learning just enough Hebrew to squeak by your bat mizva. It's not really a word at all, or wasn't until quite recently. It's the initials of DATiyim LeSHe'avar, formerly religious. By which is mostly not meant people who grew up Haredi and became secular. Datlashim are the children of national religious (i.e. the Israeli version of Modern Orthodox) who have become, well, secular, sort of, in a way. Had they become fully secular, they would be secular. And they sort of are, secular, but with the added twist that their orthodox background still plays a significant role in their secular lives. Hence they need a moniker; one I think they themselves invented. It's not pejorative, and not even particularly judgmental, at last not in the way Israelis like to be judgmental.

How do they know they're it? Or how do the rest of us know? It's hard to say, but it's not at all insignificant. I think of two of my colleagues, one roughly my age and thus technically too old to be a datlash, a term invented over the past 10-15 years. Yet even today, probably 40 years after he left the fold, every now and then he'll refer to "us", meaning not us but those of you whom I used to resemble and still have a special affinity for and whom I rather resemble every now and then, when we all look askance at the secular Israelis who don't have our cultural baggage. Even tho he doesn't carry the baggage most days of the year. The other is about a decade his junior and thus a decade less into the secular fold, but she really has left all the baggage behind: she's not a datlash because she'd never regard herself as part of the old world she left behind, and she seems to have acquired some of the cultural ignorance she didn't grow up with.

So now that's all crystal clear, right?

Anyway, the forces of the market being the very delicate and perceptive mechanism that they sometimes are, someone has figured out there's money to be made by developing a real estate project aimed specifically at the datlashim, promising them a community where they'll feel just like everyone else: confused in their special way, which is recognizable, shareable, and distinctive. People with other confusions should go live in other communities.

I have no idea if this is a Good Thing. But clearly, it's a Thing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Jerusalem Day and Yoga

It's Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. According to the Jewish calendar, 49 years since Israeli troops took East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount.

Someday someone needs to write the story of Jerusalem in the past half century. Who knows, perhaps I'll even do so myself if I find the time. One of the most complicated parts of the story is the relations between Jews and Arabs. They've never been particularly good, yet as I've repeatedly written, beneath the headlines about terror and inequality, animosity and enmity, the past 10-15 years have also seen a growing sort of partial and halting and mostly undeclared integration.

For example: The proprietor of the Yoga institute I go to recently mentioned that the assistant who runs the administration is an Arab woman, and though her efforts there is a growing number of Arab Yogi at the center, to the extent that next year they may even open an Arab-language group; in the meantime she's about to launch a marketing campaign, which will be tri-lingual.

Of such materials are larger, historical developments made.