Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Why Are Lawmakers Attacking This Archbishop for Requiring Catholic Teachers to Not Slam Catholicism?
If McDonald’s told its employees that it was unacceptable to diss its fast food as gross, disgusting or unhealthy at either McDonald’s or in a public setting, would it elicit a heated reaction from lawmakers? Probably not.
So why are lawmakers getting involved in a Catholic bishop’s decision to tell diocesan employees he expected them to not publicly object to church teachings?
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is under fire for adding new clauses to archdiocese’s high school teachers contract that require “Catholic teachers in their professional and public lives uphold Catholic teaching,” according to the diocesan newspaper Catholic San Francisco.
Acknowledging not all teachers are personally Catholic, the archdiocese is pushing that its public and classroom statements and behavior reflect Catholic teaching on matters ranging from abortion to contraception to the Eucharist being the real presence of Jesus Christ.
Enter, after public controversy, California state lawmakers.
Last week, eight California assemblymen and state senators, representing the areas in the archdiocese, sent Cordileone a letter, saying the new clauses “conflict with settled areas of law and foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.” They continued:
Although your position wields discretion over working conditions at schools affiliated with the Catholic Church, the standards within the morality clauses would be illegal for any other [sic] employer. Your proposal goes beyond regulating behavior in the workplace and infringes upon the personal freedoms of your employees.
Let’s remember a few facts.
First, no one has to work for the San Francisco archdiocese. Plenty of people would find the clauses far too restrictive—and they can choose to never work at these Catholic high schools or to quit their current jobs there.
Second, it’s fairly typical for people to want to hire employees who are comfortable with and in agreement with the mission of the person or company—or who at least won’t publicly bash the company line. In his response to the eight lawmakers, Cordileone made that case, writing, “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” He added:
On the other hand, if you knew a brilliant campaign manager who, although a Republican, was willing to work for you and not speak or act in public contrary to you or your party—would you hire such a person? If your answer to the first question is “no,” and to the second question is “yes,” then we are actually in agreement on the principal point in debate here.
Two of the San Francisco lawmakers, Assemblymen Phil Ting and Kevin Mullin, who assigned the initial letter weren’t happy with Cordileone’s response.
On Monday, they asked the California Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee to investigate the archdiocese’s actions. In particular, Ting and Mullin questioned the archdiocese’s decision to classify high school teachers as “ministers”—a classification that matters because of the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, explained in a 2012 Public Discourse article how the Supreme Court decision broadened the definition of ministers:
The principle established by the First Amendment is that a religious group has the “right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments” and thus has plenary “control over the selection of those who will personify [its] beliefs.” This includes teachers, lay leaders, and persons who perform a mix of religious and seemingly “secular” functions. The right extends to those whom a religious community, operating under its own system of rules, designates as central to its religious mission and identity. The court’s one-word descriptor perhaps says it best: those persons that the community identifies as personifying its religious identity. The court decided only the case before it, but it made clear that the right itself is one of religious community autonomy, broadly understood. It is not a right limited to pastors alone.
It seems clear that the archdiocese has legal precedent to call high school teachers at Catholic schools “ministers.”
This week, however, the archdiocese suggested that it would no longer push for the teachers to be called ministers. The National Catholic Register reported an archdiocesan priest “clarified that while the archbishop is no longer considering the use of the word ‘ministers’ to describe the Catholic teachers, he is now using the word ‘ministry’ instead to define their work.”
Regardless of the legal terms the archdiocese ultimately uses, what’s clear is that it is not unreasonable—or illegal—for a religion to ask teachers in its schools to adhere to certain practices. As written in the Hosanna-Tabor decision:
By forbidding the “establishment of religion” and guaranteeing the “free exercise thereof,” the religion clauses ensured that the new federal government—unlike the English crown—would have no role in filling ecclesiastical offices. The establishment clause prevents the government from appointing ministers, and the free exercise clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.
Ting, Mullin and the other six lawmakers may vehemently disagree with Cordileone’s decision—and that’s their prerogative. But it should concern all religious or religion-friendly Americans that a religious leader’s decision to ask teachers employed by the religion to refrain from public bashing of that religion has elicited such a strong reaction and a request of a probe from lawmakers.
Religious leaders should be free to make such decisions without worrying about interference from the government.
Decline of the stay at home mother: Just one woman in ten is a full time mother
Only one woman in ten now stays at home to raise a family. Official figures show the proportion of women who are stay-at-home mothers has dropped by more than a third in the past two decades to a historic low.
But there has been no compensating movement towards staying at home among men. Just over one man in 100 brings up his children full-time.
The findings, published in an Office for National Statistics report, come at a time of continuing controversy over the pressure on mothers to go out to work and warnings over the welfare of children.
Specifically, the figures detail those who give their occupation as ‘looking after family or home’. It does not include unemployed women, who are classed as looking for work.
Last year Chancellor George Osborne published plans to encourage up to half a million more women into work by the start of 2016. He said he wanted to ‘support women who want to work’ by increasing access to child care.
But at the time critics warned that the Government risked ‘stigmatising’ stay-at-home mothers. A childcare voucher scheme worth up to £1,200 to parents will go into operation next month.
The report said the number of adult women who are ‘economically inactive’ – in other words they neither work nor want to work – has dropped fast since 1980.
It said: ‘There are many reasons for economic inactivity, such as study, looking after the family or home, sickness or disability, or not needing to work.
‘However the main reason for the decline in female inactivity rates over the longer period has been a decline in the share of women staying out of work to look after the family or home.’
The report said the proportion of women aged between 16 and 64 who are economically inactive because they are looking after the family or the home was 15.9 per cent in the spring of 1993, but fell by last autumn to 10.1 per cent.
The figures showed the share of adult women who were stay-at-home mothers dropped below 15 per cent in 1995 and had reached 13.5 per cent when Tony Blair entered Downing Street in May 1997.
The proportion of women who are stay-at-home mothers briefly dropped below 10 per cent last summer, and stood at 10.1 per cent at the end of 2014, the report said.
By contrast, the proportion of men who choose to become house-husbands has remained low, despite the encouragement of politicians who believe men should take a larger share of childcare duties.
In the spring of 1993 just 0.6 per cent of men were economically inactive because they were looking after family or home. While the proportion doubled over the next two decades, that still meant that just 1.2 per cent spent their days looking after home or children last year.
The march of women into the labour market follows the increasing importance of education and jobs to girls, and the pressure on women to remain in work to pay ever-higher mortgages and keep up with the cost of living.
But critics accuse successive governments of doing nothing to help those who want to bring up their own children since the decision to tax married couples separately in the late 1980s first left stay-at-home mothers without any support in the tax system.
While working mothers have gained heavily from tax credits, increasing maternity leave, and state-subsidised childcare, those who stay at home with their children have no help from the benefits system.
Laura Perrins, of Mothers At Home Matter, said: ‘It is a reflection of Government policy that women have to look for work when many want to look after their children instead.
‘The Government is only interested in income tax revenue. It has no interest in the wishes of mothers or the welfare of their children.’
Research for the Department for Education last year found more than a third of working mothers would like to give up their jobs and stay at home with their children.
More than two out of three women are now in employment – 68.5 per cent in the last three months of last year, according to the ONS. At the beginning of the 1980s the level of working among women was barely over half.
The percentages mean there are now more than 14million women in work, but only two million are full-time mothers or homemakers.
Discrimination against Christians ‘ignored’ across Europe
Discrimination against Christians is being “ignored” by governments and courts, MPs from across Europe have warned in the wake of a string of cases involving the rights of British workers to wear crosses or discuss their beliefs.
The parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe has issued a formal declaration urging states to recognise the principle of “reasonable accommodation” for the beliefs of traditionalist Christians on issues such as homosexuality for the first time.
The first test of the new call will come as early as this week with the opening of an employment tribunal case involving a London nursery worker who claims she was dismissed for telling a lesbian colleague her beliefs on same-sex marriage.
Sarah Mbuyi denies claims that she harassed the woman, who cannot be named for legal during the conversation in January last year.
She also alleges that she was asked to act against her beliefs by reading stories about same-sex couples to children
Ms Mbuyi is supported in her case by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed the human rights barrister Paul Diamond to represent her at the tribunal in Watford.
The legal team is planning to cite a new declaration issued through the Council of Europe, the international body which operates the European Court of Human Rights, insisting that Christians are now subject to “intolerance and discrimination” across the continent.
Members of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, made up of MPs from national parliaments, passed the resolution in response to a report detailing a series of cases involving British Christians.
They include Gary McFarlane, a former Relate counsellor, and Lillian Ladele, a marriage registrar, who both resisted performing tasks they believed would amount to condoning homosexuality which they believe is against the teaching of the Bible, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was forbidden from wearing a cross at work.
The three challenged their treatment at the European Court of Human Rights but lost. However the court upheld a claim from Nadia Eweida, a BA check-in clerk who was sent home because the small cross she wore contravened the airline’s uniform policy.
“Numerous acts of hostility, violence and vandalism have been recorded in recent years against Christians and their places of worship, but these acts are often overlooked by the national authorities,” the declaration says.
“Expression of faith is sometimes unduly limited by national legislation and policies which do not allow the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices.”
It goes on to urge countries to adopt the principle of “reasonable accommodation” meaning that workers should be able to conscientiously object to tasks which conflict with their beliefs if practically possible.
“The reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices constitutes a pragmatic means of ensuring the effective and full enjoyment of freedom of religion.
“When it is applied in a spirit of tolerance, reasonable accommodation allows all religious groups to live in harmony in the respect and acceptance of their diversity.”
Ms Mbuyi said: “In a Christian country one should be free to explain what Christians believe on issues if asked.
“And in any country, to state the agreed view of the historic Abrahamic Faiths on sexuality should simply be a matter of fact and history, and not taken by anyone, whether employee, or employer as personal or abusive.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre said: “This is a straightforward case of an employer not respecting the religious rights and freedoms of an employee and deciding to favour the views of homosexuals over the historic factual teaching of the of the world’s major faiths.
“In court, the panel will also be advised that her employers also required Ms Mbuyi to act in violation of her faith by the promotion of same sex unions to children.
“Ms Mbuyi was dismissed simply for holding and expressing a view on homosexuality, based on her religion, in a conversation.
“Whether or not her employers could lawfully penalise her for holding and expressing such a view is the central issue of this claim.”
"The Jews" as a scapegoat lives on in the form of Israel
When bad things happened that people did not understand, it was customary for many centuries to blame "The Jews" for the problem. Hating Israel is the modern form of that
by Matti Friedman
I have been writing from and about Israel for most of the past 20 years, since I moved there from Toronto at age 17. During the five and a half years I spent as part of the international press corps as a reporter for the American news agency The Associated Press, between 2006 and 2011, I gradually began to be aware of certain malfunctions in the coverage of the Israel story – recurring omissions, recurring inflations, decisions made according to considerations that were not journalistic but political, all in the context of a story staffed and reported more than any other international story on earth. When I worked in the AP’s Jerusalem bureau, the Israel story was covered by more AP news staff than China, or India, or all of the fifty-odd countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. This is representative of the industry as a whole.
In early 2009, to give one fairly routine example of an editorial decision of the kind I mean, I was instructed by my superiors to report a second-hand story taken from an Israeli newspaper about offensive T-shirts supposedly worn by Israeli soldiers. We had no confirmation of our own of the story’s veracity, and one doesn’t see much coverage of things US Marines or British infantrymen have tattooed on their chests or arms. And yet T-shirts worn by Israeli soldiers were newsworthy in the eyes of one of the world’s most powerful news organizations. This was because we sought to hint or say outright that Israeli soldiers were war criminals, and every detail supporting that portrayal was to be seized upon. Much of the international press corps covered the T-shirt story. At around the same time, several Israeli soldiers were quoted anonymously in a school newsletter speaking of abuses they had supposedly witnessed while fighting in Gaza; we wrote no fewer than three separate stories about this, although the use of sources whose identity isn’t known to reporters is banned for good reason by the AP’s own in-house rules. This story, too, was very much one that we wanted to tell. By the time the soldiers came forward to say they hadn’t actually witnessed the events they supposedly described, and were trying to make a point to young students about the horrors and moral challenges of warfare, it was, of course, too late.
Also in those same months, in early 2009, two reporters in our bureau obtained details of a peace offer made by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinians several months before, and deemed by the Palestinians to be insufficient. The offer proposed a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in a shared Jerusalem. This should have been one of the year’s biggest stories. But an Israeli peace offer and its rejection by the Palestinians didn’t suit OUR story. The bureau chief ordered both reporters to ignore the Olmert offer, and they did, despite a furious protest from one of them, who later termed this decision “the biggest fiasco I’ve seen in 50 years of journalism.” But it was very much in keeping not only with the practice at the AP, but in the press corps in general. Soldiers’ vile t-shirts were worth a story. Anonymous and unverifiable testimonies of abuses were worth three. A peace proposal from the Israeli prime minister to the Palestinian president was not to be reported at all.
Vandalism of Palestinian property is a story. Neo-Nazi rallies at Palestinian universities or in Palestinian cities are not -- I saw images of such rallies suppressed on more than one occasion. Jewish hatred of Arabs is a story. Arab hatred of Jews is not. Our policy, for example, was not to mention the assertion in the Hamas founding charter that Jews were responsible for engineering both world wars and the Russian and French revolutions, despite the obvious insight this provides into the thinking of one of the most influential actors in the conflict.
100 houses in a West Bank settlement are a story. 100 rockets smuggled into Gaza are not. The Hamas military buildup amid and under the civilian population of Gaza is not a story. But Israeli military action responding to that threat – that is a story, as we all saw this summer. Israel’s responsibility for the deaths of civilians as a result – that’s a story. Hamas’s responsibility for those deaths is not. Any reporter from the international press corps in Israel, whether he or she works for the AP, Reuters, CNN, the BBC, or elsewhere, will recognize the examples I’ve cited here of what is newsworthy and what is not as standard operating procedure.
In my time in the press corps I saw, from the inside, how Israel’s flaws were dissected and magnified, while the flaws of its enemies were purposely erased. I saw how the threats facing Israel were disregarded or even mocked as figments of the Israeli imagination, even as these threats repeatedly materialized. I saw how a fictional image of Israel and of its enemies was manufactured, polished, and propagated to devastating effect by inflating certain details, ignoring others, and presenting the result as an accurate picture of reality. Lest we think this is something that has never happened before, we might remember Orwell’s observation about journalism from the Spanish civil war: “Early in life,” he wrote, “I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. … I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’” That was in 1942.
Over time, I came to understand that the malfunctions I was witnessing, and in which I was playing a part, were not limited to the AP. I saw that they were rather part of a broader problem in the way the press functioned, and in how it saw its job. The international press in Israel had become less an observer of the conflict than a player in it. It had moved away from careful explanation and toward a kind of political character assassination on behalf of the side it identified as being right. It valued a kind of ideological uniformity from which you were not allowed to stray. So having begun with limited criticism of certain editorial decisions, I now found myself with a broad critique of the press.
Eventually, however, I realized that even the press wasn’t the whole story. The press was playing a key role in an intellectual phenomenon taking root in the West, but it wasn’t the cause, or not the only cause – it was both blown on a certain course by the prevailing ideological winds, and causing those winds to blow with greater force. Many journalists would like you to believe that the news is created by a kind of algorithm – that it’s a mechanical, even scientific process in which events are inserted, processed, and presented. But of course the news is an imperfect and entirely human affair, the result of interactions between sources, reporters, and editors, all of whom bear the baggage of their background and who reflect, as we all do to some extent, the prejudices of their peers.
In the aftermath of last summer’s Gaza war, and in light of events in Europe in recent months, it should be clear that something deep and toxic is going on. Understanding what that is, it seems to me, will help us understand something important not only about journalism but about the Western mind and the way it sees the world.
What presents itself as political criticism, as analysis, or as journalism, is coming to sound more and more like a new version of a much older complaint – that Jews are troublemakers, a negative force in world events, and that if these people, as a collective, could somehow be made to vanish, we would all be better off. This is, or should be, a cause for alarm, and not only among people sympathetic to Israel or concerned with Jewish affairs. What is in play right now has less to do with the world of politics than with the worlds of psychology and religion, and less to do with Israel than with those condemning Israel.
The occupation of the West Bank, with which I opened, would seem to be at the heart of the story, the root cause, as it were, of the conflict portrayed as the most important on earth. A few words, then, about this occupation.
The occupation was created in the 1967 Mideast war. The occupation is not the conflict, which of course predates the occupation. It is a symptom of the conflict, a conflict that would remain even if the symptom were somehow solved. If we look at the West Bank, the only Palestinian area currently occupied by Israel, and if we include Jerusalem, we see that the conflict in these areas claimed 60 lives last year – Palestinian and Israeli.
An end to this occupation would free Palestinians from Israeli rule, and free Israelis from ruling people who do not wish to be ruled. Observers of the Middle East in 2015 understand, too, that an end to the occupation will create a power vacuum that will be filled, as all power vacuums in the region have been, not by the forces of democracy and modernity, which in our region range from weak to negligible, but by the powerful and ruthless, by the extremists. This is what we’ve learned from the unraveling of the Middle East in recent years. This is what happened in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt, and before that in Gaza and southern Lebanon. My home in Jerusalem is within an easy day’s drive of both Aleppo and Baghdad. Creating a new playground for these forces will bring the black-masked soldiers of radical Islam within yards of Israeli homes with mortars, rockets, and tunneling implements. Many thousands will die.
Beyond the obvious threat to Palestinian Christians, women, gays, and liberals, who will be the first to suffer, this threatens to render much or all of Israel unlivable, ending the only safe progressive space in the Middle East, the only secure minority refuge in the Middle East, and the only Jewish country on earth. No international investment or guarantees, no Western-backed government or Western-trained military will be able to keep that from happening, as we have just seen in Iraq. The world will greet this outcome with sincere expressions of sympathy. Only several years ago I, like many on the left, might have dismissed this as an apocalyptic scenario. It isn’t. It is the most likely scenario.
People observing this conflict from afar have been led to believe that Israel faces a simple choice between occupation and peace. That choice is fiction. The Palestinian choice, it is said, is between Israeli occupation and an independent democracy. That choice, too, is fiction. Neither side faces a clear choice, or clear outcomes. Here we have a conflict in a region of conflict, with no clear villain, no clear victim, and no clear solution, one of many hundreds or thousands of ethnic, national, and religious disputes on earth.
The only group of people subject to a systematic boycott at present in the Western world is Jews, appearing now under the convenient euphemism “Israelis.” The only country that has its own “apartheid week” on campuses is the Jewish country. Protesters have interfered with the unloading of Israeli shipping on the West Coast of the United States, and there are regular calls for a boycott of anything produced in the Jewish state. No similar tactics are currently employed against any other ethnic group or nationality, no matter how egregious the human rights violations attributed to that group’s country of origin.
Anyone who questions why this is so will be greeted with shouts of “the occupation!”, as if this were explanation enough. It is not. Many who would like to question these phenomena don’t dare, for fear that they will somehow be expressing support for this occupation, which has been inflated from a geopolitical dilemma of modest scope by global standards into the world’s premier violation of human rights.
The human costs of the Middle Eastern adventures of America and Britain in this century have been far higher, and far harder to explain, than anything Israel has ever done. They have involved occupations, and the violence they unleashed continues as I speak here this evening. No one boycotts American or British professors. Turkey is a democracy, and a NATO member, and yet its occupation of northern Cyprus and long conflict with the stateless Kurds – many of whom see themselves as occupied – are viewed with a yawn; there is no “Turkish Apartheid Week.” The world is full of injustice. Billions of people are oppressed. In Congo, 5 million people are dead. The time has come for everyone to admit that the fashionable disgust for Israel among many in the West is not liberal but is selective, disproportionate, and discriminatory.
There are simply too many voices coming from too many places, expressing themselves in too poisonous a way, for us to conclude that this is a narrow criticism of the occupation. It’s time for the people making these charges to look closely at themselves, and for us to look closely at them.
Naming and understanding this sentiment is important, as it is becoming one of the key intellectual trends of our time. We might think of it as the “Cult of the Occupation.” This belief system, for that it what it is, uses the occupation as a way of talking about other things.
As usual with Western religions, the center of this one is in the Holy Land. The dogma posits that the occupation is not a conflict like any other, but that it is the very symbol of conflict: that the minute state inhabited by a persecuted minority in the Middle East is in fact a symbol of the ills of the West – colonialism, nationalism, militarism, and racism. In the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, a sign hoisted by marchers linked the unrest between African Americans and the police to Israeli rule over Palestinians.
The cult’s priesthood can be found among the activists, NGO experts, and ideological journalists who have turned coverage of this conflict into a catalogue of Jewish moral failings, as if Israeli society were different from any other group of people on earth, as if Jews deserve to be mocked for having suffered and failed to be perfect as a result.
Most of my former colleagues in the press corps aren’t full-fledged members of this group. They aren’t true believers. But boycotts of Israel, and only of Israel, which are one of the cult’s most important practices, have significant support in the press, including among editors who were my superiors. Sympathy for Israel’s predicament is highly unpopular in the relevant social circles, and is something to be avoided by anyone wishing to be invited to the right dinner parties, or to be promoted. The cult and its belief system are in control of the narrative, just as the popular kids in a school and those who decide what clothes or music are acceptable. In the social milieu of the reporters, NGO workers, and activists, which is the same social world, these are the correct opinions. This guides the coverage. This explains why the events in Gaza this summer were portrayed not as a complicated war like many others fought in this century, but as a massacre of innocents. And it explains much else.
So prevalent has this kind of thinking become that participating in liberal intellectual life in the West increasingly requires you to subscribe at least outwardly to this dogma, particularly if you’re a Jew and thus suspected of the wrong sympathies. If you’re a Jew from Israel, your participation is increasingly conditional on an abject and public display of self-flagellation. Your participation, indeed, is increasingly unwelcome.
What, exactly, is going on?
Observers of Western history understand that at times of confusion and unhappiness, and of great ideological ferment, negative sentiment tends to coagulate around Jews. Discussions of the great topics of the time often end up as discussions about Jews.
In the late 1800s, for example, French society was riven by the clash between the old France of the church and army, and the new France of liberalism and the rule of law. The French were preoccupied with the question of who is French, and who is not. They were smarting from their military humiliation by the Prussians. All of this sentiment erupted around the figure of a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, accused of betraying France as a spy for Germany. His accusers knew he was innocent, but that didn’t matter; he was a symbol of everything they wanted to condemn.
To give another example: Germans in the 1920s and ‘30s were preoccupied with their humiliation in the Great War. This became a discussion of Jewish traitors who had stabbed Germany in the back. Germans were preoccupied as well with the woes of their economy – this became a discussion of Jewish wealth, and Jewish bankers.
In the years of the rise of Communism and the Cold War, communists concerned with their ideological opponents talked about Jewish capitalists and cosmopolitans, or Jewish doctors plotting against the state. At the very same time, in capitalist societies threatened by communism, people condemned Jewish Bolsheviks.
This is the face of this recurring obsession. As the journalist Charles Maurras wrote, approvingly, in 1911: “Everything seems impossible, or frighteningly difficult, without the providential arrival of anti-Semitism, through which all things fall into place and are simplified.”
The West today is preoccupied with a feeling of guilt about the use of power. That’s why the Jews, in their state, are now held up in the press and elsewhere as the prime example of the abuse of power. That’s why for so many the global villain, as portrayed in newspapers and on TV, is none other than the Jewish soldier, or the Jewish settler. This is not because the Jewish settler or soldier is responsible for more harm than anyone else on earth – no sane person would make that claim. It is rather because these are the heirs to the Jewish banker or Jewish commissar of the past. It is because when moral failure raises its head in the Western imagination, the head tends to wear a skullcap.
One would expect the growing scale and complexity of the conflict in the Middle East over the past decade to have eclipsed the fixation on Israel in the eyes of the press and other observers. Israel is, after all, a sideshow: The death toll in Syria in less than four years far exceeds the toll in the Israel-Arab conflict in a century. The annual death toll in the West Bank and Jerusalem is a morning in Iraq.
And yet it is precisely in these years that the obsession has grown worse.
This makes little sense, unless we understand that people aren’t fixated on Israel despite everything else going on – but rather because of everything else going on. As Maurras wrote, when you use the Jew as the symbol of what is wrong, “all things fall into place and are simplified.”
The last few decades have brought the West into conflict with the Islamic world. Terrorists have attacked New York, Washington, London, Madrid, and now Paris. America and Britain caused the unraveling of Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of people are dead there. Afghanistan was occupied and thousands of Western soldiers killed, along with countless civilians – but the Taliban are alive and well, undeterred. Ghaddafi was removed, and Libya is no better off. All of this is confusing and discouraging. It causes people to search for answers and explanations, and these are hard to come by. It is in this context that the Cult of the Occupation has caught on. The idea is that the problems in the Middle East have something to do with Jewish arrogance and perfidy, that the sins of one’s own country can be projected upon the Western world’s old blank screen. This is the idea increasingly reflected on campuses, in labor unions, and in the media fixation on Israel. It’s a projection, one whose chief instrument is the press.
As one BBC reporter informed a Jewish interviewee on camera several weeks ago, after a Muslim terrorist murdered four Jewish shoppers at a Paris supermarket, “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffered hugely at Jewish hands as well.” Everything, that is, can be linked to the occupation, and Jews can be blamed even for the attacks against them. This isn’t the voice of the perpetrators, but of the enablers. The voice of the enablers is less honest than that of the perpetrators, and more dangerous for being disguised in respectable English. This voice is confident and growing in volume. This is why the year 2015 finds many Jews in Western Europe eyeing their suitcases again.
The Jews of the Middle East are outnumbered by the Arabs of the Middle East 60 to 1, and by the world’s Muslims 200 to 1. Half of the Jews in Israel are there because their families were forced from their homes in the 20th century not by Christians in Europe, but by Muslims in the Middle East. Israel currently has Hezbollah on its northern border, al-Qaeda on its northeastern and southern borders, and Hamas in Gaza. None of these groups seek an end to the occupation, but rather openly wish to destroy Israel. But it is naïve to point out these facts. The facts don’t matter: We are in the world of symbols. In this world, Israel has become a symbol of what is wrong – not Hamas, not Hezbollah, not Great Britain, not America, not Russia.
I believe it’s important to recognize the pathologies at play in order to make sense of things. In this context it’s worth pointing out that I’m hardly the first to identify a problem – Jewish communities like this one, and particularly organizations like Bicom, identified a problem long ago, and have been expending immense efforts to correct it. I wish this wasn’t necessary, and it shouldn’t be necessary, but it undoubtedly is necessary, and becoming more so, and I have great respect for these efforts. Many people, particularly young people, are having trouble maintaining their balance amid this ideological onslaught, which is successfully disguised as journalism or analysis, and is phrased in the language of progressive politics. I would like to help them keep their bearings.
I don’t believe, however, that anyone should make a feeling of persecution the center of their identity, of their Judaism, or of their relationship with Israel. The obsession is a fact, but it isn’t a new fact, and it shouldn’t immobilize us in anger, or force us into a defensive crouch. It shouldn’t make us less willing to seek to improve our situation, to behave with compassion to our neighbors, or to continue building the model society that Israel’s founders had in mind.
I was in Tel Aviv not long ago, on Rothschild Boulevard. The city was humming with life. Signs of prosperity were everywhere, in the renovated Bauhaus buildings, in the clothes, the stores. I watched the people go by: Kids with old bikes and tattoos, businesspeople, men with women, women with women, men with men, all speaking the language of the Bible and Jewish prayer. The summer’s Hamas rockets were already a memory, just a few months old but subsumed in the frantic, irrepressible life of the country. There were cranes everywhere, raising new buildings. There were schoolchildren with oversize knapsacks, and parents with strollers. I heard Arabic, Russian, and French, and the country went about its business with a potent cheer and determination that you miss if all you see are threats and hatred. There have always been threats and hatred, and it has never stopped us. We have enemies, and we have friends. The dogs bark, as the saying goes, and the convoy rolls by.
One of the questions presented to us by the wars of the modern age is what now constitutes victory. In the 21st century, when a battlefield is no longer conquered or lost, when land isn’t changing hands and no one ever surrenders, what does it mean to win?
The answer is that victory is no longer determined on the battlefield. It’s determined in the center, in the society itself. Who has built a better society? Who has provided better lives for people? Where is there the most optimism? Where can the most happy people be found? One report on world happiness ranked Israel as the 11th happiest country on earth. The UK was 22nd.
Israel’s intellectual opponents can rant about the moral failings of the Jews, obscuring their obsession in whatever sophisticated way they choose. The gunmen of Hamas and their allies can stand on heaps of rubble and declare victory. They can fire rockets, and shoot up supermarkets. But if you look at Tel Aviv, or at any thriving neighborhood in Jerusalem, Netanya, Rishon Letzion, or Haifa, you understand that this is victory. This is where we’ve won, and where we win every day.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.