Thursday, May 13, 2004

A Few Words on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In my previous few posts, I made the assumption that Baker and Carters' approach to the Mideast conflict were "bad for Israel." This seems to be a view that most American Jews share, and, as far as I can tell from the comments here, so do most readers of this blog.

Still, having raised the subject, I'm not comfortable leaving off without some sort of explanation.

The problem with the Baker/Carter/Clinton approach is that it hasn't been successful. In fact, it's been quite the opposite of successful. As a Jew, and someone with friends and relatives in Israel, I'm particularly concerned about Israel's security. I don't want to see it compromised in exchange for promises of peace that will never be fulfilled. The status quo isn't good for Palestinians, either.

The reason for my general avoidance of discussions of Israeli policy is that I don't pretend to know how to bring an end to the present crisis. I do, however, have some idea of what a successful approach might look like. It's not my idea, of course. You'll find it outlined in these two articles, by Natan Sharansky and Omar Karsou.

In Sharansky's 2002 article, he praises Bush for expressing views similar to his own. You'll find approximately the same ideas in this summary of Kerry's views on the Middle East (thank you, Avi). Kerry attempts to differentiate himself from Bush by stressing "active U.S. involvement" in the process.

In the end, as I've said before, I doubt there's much the U.S. can do, one way or the other. This matter is in the hands of Israel and the Palestinian people.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Kerry, Israel, and the Jewish Press

An anonymous reader commented on yesterday's political rant with a link to this Jewish Press article on Kerry and Israel. In its usual alarmist tone, the JP warns us that Kerry is only "pretending" to have aligned himself with Bush on Israel policy, and that his "actual" position is more like Jimmy Carter's.

I'm reading the same information as they are, and frankly, I don't see a devious man trying to hide his "actual" position. I see a whore.

I don't like John Kerry. Yesterday's post notwithstanding, I am still seriously considering not voting at all. Or abstaining. Or writing in the name of one of my favorite bloggers. Or writing in "Homer Simpson" -- he seems more responsible than either of the actual candidates. I live in a solidly Democratic state; it's not as if my vote matters, anyway.

However, to those whose sole reason for leaning toward Bush is his position on Israel, I say: think practically. Even if Kerry did employ Baker and Carter as envoys to Israel, what's the worst that they could do? Make a lot of noise, propose new "peace plans," and otherwise waste people's time. Israel is under no obligation to obey special envoys from the United States. There is no reason to feel so threatened.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Wrinkle Treatment

It seems that everyone has found this delightful interview with Madeline L'Engle via Protocols. I'll probably alienate a number of people by saying this, but I agree with L'Engle's assessment of Harry Potter as well as with most of her thoughts on religion.

If you're still thinking of watching tomorrow's TV adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time after reading the interview, read this review.

My Jewish Vote

I tend to think that when Jews (or blacks, or gays) stop voting it a bloc, it's a sign of progress. It means that we've come far enough and been sufficiently integrated into society not to have to subordinate whatever individual views we might have to our group identity.

Still, for many Jews, there's one issue that trumps all others: Israel.

It may be true that our continued existence as a people depends on the continued existence of the State of Israel. I would certainly never vote for a candidate who I believed would threaten Israel's continued existence. I'd even go so far as to say that I'd subordinate most, if not all, of my other views to this one issue if such an individual were running for office.

But that isn't the situation we're in right now.

For all intents and purposes, only two men are running for president: George Bush and John Kerry. I wish there were someone else running, but there isn't. We have to deal with what we've got.

Bush alone of the two candidates is a clear supporter of Israel. He may have some nutty fundie reasons for this, but who cares. I appreciate the support. I even called the White House a few years back to thank the president for supporting Israel. I may even call and politely thank him again, before politely voting him out of office.

I realize that this requires some explanation. Let's be candid: Bush has said a number of very nice things about Israel. But what has he done? Absolutely nothing. Now, that may be the best thing an American president can do for Israel --– stay out of its business --– but you have to admit, it hasn't improved the situation any.

Now let's take a look at John Kerry. The best piece I've seen on Kerry's relationship with Israel is this article by Lawrence Kaplan for the New Republic. (Unfortunately, it's only available to New Republic subscribers, but the bulk of it is preserved by Kesher Talk's William Leon in his May 3rd post.) The article essentially indicates that Kerry doesn't give a damn about Israel, one way or the other. He does, however, give a damn about the voters --– those who support Israel as well as those who don't. This isn't terribly inspiring, but it isn't terribly threatening, either. We can expect Kerry to say things about Israel that are displeasing to both sides. We can expect him to do as little as possible, for fear of incurring the wrath of voters.

Worst-case scenario? Kerry tries to pressure Israel into making concessions that compromise her security. The pressure can only be verbal, since the threat of economic sanctions would lose him a sizeable number of voters. Israel will resist the pressure, the American Jewish community will be up in arms, and Kerry will back down.

Wouldn't I rather vote for an ideologue than a political whore? Certainly, if that ideologue didn't hold positions with which I disagreed on just about every other issue.

It's become popular among neocons to assert that domestic policy doesn't matter much when you're at war. But I live here. I'd like it if we didn't let the place go totally to hell.

One of the things I like about this country is the separation of church and state. So what am I supposed to think when the government uses taxpayer money to support missionary work? Or opposes abortions and equal rights for gays for the sake of religious principles? Or interferes with scientific research because the data doesn't line up with fundamentalist Christian doctrine? I'm not exaggerating. Stem cell research is one thing – it's a complex issue, although I know where I stand. But what about insisting that there may be a correlation between abortion and breast cancer, contrary to all evidence? Or refusing to fund research into GBLT communities? If there's anything that should be free from religious influence, it's scientific inquiry.

Another thing I kind of like about this country is democracy. Sure, the American people act like idiots most of the time. But on the whole, it's better that let the idiots get involved than rely on the government to make decisions without our knowledge. The degree of secrecy that this administration has introduced to American government is really quite astounding. The best treatment of this subject that I've seen comes from Matt Welsch's column in the National Post. The gold medal quote:

Is the Bush administration... uniquely venal in its manipulation of information...? I'd wager probably not ...But that's all the more reason for vigilance today. If the next president turns out to be the Antichrist, then the Antichrist will take the reins of a government that has greatly expanded its ability to conduct affairs under the cover of secrecy, and set a tone where public scrutiny and insider criticism is distinctly unwelcome.

I'm sorry this rant has gone on so long. But this is really just the tip of icebergburg for me. There's so much that this administration has done that's upset me -- suppressing evidence of environmental damage by industry, promoabstinencenance-based sex education,
curtailing Medicareicare, cutting veterans' benefits in wartime --– looking back, I can't think of one domestic policy decision they've made that hasn't turned my stomach. And, frankly, I'm not sure they're handling this war thing very well, either.

I love Israel. But I also love the United States. And, in the end, actions speak louder than words. Saying nice things about Israel isn't enough to win my vote at this point.

The Great Fallacy

[T]he outrage among Arabs and Muslims seems hypocritical when most of them live under regimes that are guilty of far worse abuses. But to say that we're better than brutal dictatorships is not saying much. This isn't a standard by which we should measure ourselves.
--Cathy Young, "Cruelty cuts across nationality, gender lines"

The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong. I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn't sense how they would grotesquely under-man the post-war occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events span out of control. . . .Shock has now led - and should lead - to anger. And those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it.
--Andrew Sullivan, "The Inexcusable"

The great fallacy is our tendency to recognize when others do evil things and then to assume that anything we do in response is Good. I've certainly been guilty of thinking this way. Every time there is a terrorist attack in Israel I become so filled with righteous indignation that I think that "we"* can do no wrong. Then something happens to remind me that my faith in "us" is misplaced.

Righteous indignation is not enough to guide us in these difficult times. We must tread lightly.

*A typical American Jew, I tend to identify with the United States and Israel interchangeably.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

I'm going to have to do some serious political blogging soon, since by not committing to vote for Bush in November I've managed to convince my dear family that I have no moral clarity. I'm kind of tired right now, though, so instead of getting into specific political issues immediately, here are a few thoughts on moral clarity.

I do recognize the existence of evil. This is not a philosophical statement. It is a statement about the way I approach the world. Deliberately crashing passenger planes into buildings filled with innocents is evil. Blowing up buses and trains full of civilians is evil. This is clear to me. What isn't clear to me is that we can so easily identify who is evil and use that as our sole criterion for determining policy.

I continue to believe that the United States and Israel are, as societies, morally superior than the Islamist regimes that sponsor the murder of our citizens. Far superior, even. I don't, however, think that we can take our moral superiority for granted.

Have you seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib? You can say, "Saddam was worse." But, true or not, that is hardly the point. If you look through this overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment (thanks again, Iris), you can see how easily ordinary people can become perpetrators of evil. It's really chilling.

Life is full of complexities. You can say that Jewish lives are more important to you than Arab lives, or that foreign policy is more important than domestic policy, or that national security is more important than civil rights. It feels good to know what your priorities are, to think that you've got it all figured out. But things are rarely that simple. I think, if there's any way not to sacrifice one important value for the sake of another, we should by all means pursue that course. At the very least, let's not give up so quickly.

I know. I'm a relativist. I'm a self-hating Jew. I've sold my soul to liberal academia. Maybe I'm simply young and foolish. One day I'll grow up and see the light. For now, though, this is the way I think.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Oh, yeah, Yoel changed the name of his blog. I have it listed as "The Land of Oz." He's also actually posted something this month ;-). Check it out.
Devout heretic Andrew Sullivan has a few things to say about the Catholic Church's politics. Please read them. His thoughts on this subject carry more weight than mine.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Correction: Fleurdelis notes that the case of a Kohen marrying a divorcee also involves a biblical prohibition. Yet another instance of Elf undermining her own argument.