Monday, January 20, 2014

Britain’s Anti-Jewish Parliamentarians. By Tom Wilson.

Britain’s Anti-Jewish Parliamentarians. By Tom Wilson. Commentary, January 20, 2014.

Wilson:

In recent days we have been presented with yet another reminder that while Britain’s parliamentarians are, for the most part, only coldly disinterested in Israel and its welfare, there is also a determined fringe that harbors fiercely hostile views where the Jewish state is concerned. Indeed, these views are often displayed in colors that are undeniably hostile not only to Israel, but also to Jews generally. Whereas congressmen and the American public they represent are almost universally supportive of Israel, the British parliament increasingly risks becoming a rather sinister opposite of Congress on this particular issue.
 
The latest incident concerns Labour Member of Parliament for Easington Grahame Morris, who has tweeted a picture of demonstrators flying the Israeli flag along with the caption “Nazis in my village do you see the flag they fly.” In fact the demonstrators in question also appear to have been flying the Royal Air Force flag, in addition to the Israeli one, and while it may be true that in recent years Israel has come to receive a certain degree of unwanted attention from some British right-wing groups, such as the English Defense League, the accusation that these people are Nazis, and the association with the Israeli flag, clearly carries with it an overt insinuation.
 
Grahame Morris appears to be fully aware of the nature of his insinuation and so, in a rather transparent effort to protect himself from accusations of bigotry, includes in the same tweet a link to a page regaling the reader with an account of an Anne Frank event Morris recently opened. Apparently Morris has no sense of shame in using the memory of Anne Frank and those Jews murdered by the Nazis to persuade us that there is nothing racist about associating Nazis with the Jewish state.
 
This belief that having expressed regret about the Holocaust somehow frees one to then make the worst allegations against Jews today has been echoed by other parliamentarians. Speaking last year shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament David Ward caused outrage by claiming that Jews had not learned the lessons of the Holocaust. Ward stated “Having visited Auschwitz twice…I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
 
Regardless of what precisely “the lessons of the Holocaust” may or may not be, Ward gave voice to a strange notion, common among some Europeans, that seems to imagine the death camps as having been something akin to academies of moral philosophy, and having been through them Jews and their descendants are now obligated to embody a level of conduct more pristine than anyone else.
 
Perhaps the year’s most explicit outburst of anti-Jewish racism on the part of a British parliamentarian came in June when Tory MP Patrick Mercer was caught by the BBC telling a reporter that a female Israeli soldier he had met didn’t look like a soldier, but rather, looked “like a bloody Jew.” Repeating the common trope of the Jew as bloodthirsty and murderous Mercer told the reporter that he had no doubt that had he given the Israeli soldier the wrong answer “I’d have had my head blown off.”
 
All three of these incidents took place over the past twelve months, but Westminster also has a number of infamous repeat offenders whose anti-Israel comments often betray an aggressive animosity that many would consider anti-Semitic. Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge leads the way here. In 2003 Tonge compared the Gaza strip to the Warsaw Ghetto and in 2004 remarked of Palestinian suicide bombers that ”If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself.”
 
For such conduct Tonge was rewarded by her party with the peerage that elevated her from the House of Commons to the Lords. From there Tonge continued her record, in 2010 giving legitimacy to the blood libel that accused Israelis of organ harvesting. Only then was the party whip finally withdrawn from the baroness. Her comments in 2006 when she spoke of how ”the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party” had apparently not been deemed sufficient to warrant that.
 
Jenny Tonge is admittedly an extreme example, yet she is hardly alone in that extremity. The far-left Member of Parliament George Galloway, formerly of Labour, has long been a particularly outspoken voice against Israel. Galloway, who in 2012 came out as having converted to Islam, has over the years gone out of his way to befriend such dubious regimes as Saddam Hussein’s Baathists in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, and more recently the mullahs’ theocracy in Iran. The far-reaching extent of his hatred for the Jewish state was made particularly apparent last February when Galloway stormed out of an Oxford debate upon the discovery that the student he was debating with was actually an Israeli.
 
It is of course impossible to know the extent to which the views of the individuals mentioned here might enjoy the sympathies of their more discrete colleagues. In recent years there has certainly been no shortage of similar outbursts by other members of parliament. Yet it would also be wrong to pretend that there is not still a small grouping of determinedly pro-Israel parliamentarians on both sides of the house.
 
The strongest anti-Israel expressions, however, are to be heard coming almost exclusively from one side: Britain’s parliamentary left. These members often tend to be largely suspicious of Western nations and the use of Western power in the world. Their belief in the need to champion the rights of non-Western victim groups renders them favorable of multiculturalism at home and sympathetic to Third World causes abroad. As such, they view Israel as a militaristic outpost of the West; guilty, from the point of inception, of having occupied and oppressed an indigenous people. As Baroness Tonge once quipped “America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel.”
 
Yet, this deep dislike of Israel stems not only from Israel’s alliance with America and the West, but also from the fact that it is a Jewish state. For the decidedly post-nationalist British left, Zionism is an anathema–the idea that a people as cosmopolitan as the Jews would have set themselves on the wrong side of history by establishing a nation of their own. The Jews were once favored by the left, when they were poor and widely discriminated against. But as Britain’s Minister for Education Michael Gove has explained of the left’s mentality, “when Jews are successful, assertive, self-confident or, worst of all, conservative, then they move, metaphorically, beyond the pale.”
 
Given the way in which those such as MP Grahame Morris would so casually associate the Israeli flag with Nazis, it would appear that there is a sense of growing confidence among the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish fringe in Britain’s parliament. But with such views flying around among lawmakers, there must be concerns about the future diplomatic relations between the two countries. And more than that, the questions about the future of the British Jewish community become ever more troubling.


The Humanities and Us. By Heather Mac Donald.

The Humanities and Us. By Heather Mac Donald. City Journal, Winter 2014.

Students Tuning Out Humanities Professors. By Walter Russell Mead. NJBR, November 1, 2013.

Who Ruined the Humanities. By Lee Siegel. NJBR, July 17, 2013. With related articles.

Humanities Committee Sounds and Alarm. By Jennifer Schuessler. NJBR, June 22, 2013. With related articles and studies.

The Humanities and Common Sense. By Roger Berkowitz. NJBR, February 20, 2013. With related articles.


Mac Donald:

Yet the UCLA English department—like so many others—is more concerned that its students encounter race, gender, and disability studies than that they plunge headlong into the overflowing riches of actual English literature—whether Milton, Wordsworth, Thackeray, George Eliot, or dozens of other great artists closer to our own day. How is this possible? The UCLA coup represents the characteristic academic traits of our time: narcissism, an obsession with victimhood, and a relentless determination to reduce the stunning complexity of the past to the shallow categories of identity and class politics. Sitting atop an entire civilization of aesthetic wonders, the contemporary academic wants only to study oppression, preferably his own, defined reductively according to gonads and melanin. Course catalogs today babble monotonously of group identity. UCLA’s undergraduates can take courses in Women of Color in the U.S.; Women and Gender in the Caribbean; Chicana Feminism; Studies in Queer Literatures and Cultures; and Feminist and Queer Theory.
 
Today’s professoriate claims to be interested in “difference,” or, to use an even more up-to-date term, “alterity.” But this is a fraud. The contemporary academic seeks only to confirm his own worldview and the political imperatives of the moment in whatever he studies. The 2014 Modern Language Association conference, for example, the annual gathering of America’s literature (not social work) faculty, will address “embodiment, poverty, climate, activism, reparation, and the condition of being unequally governed . . . to expose key sites of vulnerability and assess possibilities for change.”
. . . .
 
Yet though the humanist spirit is chugging along nicely outside the university, the university remains its natural home, from which it should not be in exile. We have bestowed on the faculty the best job in the world: freed from the pressures of economic competition, professors are actually paid to spend their days wandering among the most sublime creations of mankind. All we ask of them in return is that they sell their wares to ignorant undergraduates. Every fall, insistent voices should rise from the faculty lounges and academic departments saying: here is greatness, and this is your best opportunity to absorb it. Here is Aeschylus, whose hypnotic choruses bear witness to dark forces more unsettling than you can yet fathom. Here is Mark Twain, Hapsburg Vienna, and the Saint Matthew Passion. Here is the drama of Western civilization, out of whose constantly battling ideas there emerged unprecedented individual freedom and unimagined scientific progress.
 
Instead, the professoriate is tongue-tied when it comes to promoting the wonders of its patrimony. These privileged cowards can’t even summon the guts to prescribe the course work that every student must complete in order to be considered educated. Need it be said? Students don’t know anything. That’s why they’re in college, and they certainly don’t know enough to select courses that will give them the rudiments of culture. The transcripts that result from the professoriate’s abdication of its intellectual responsibility are not a pretty sight, featuring as many movie and video courses as a student can stuff into each semester.
 
When the academy is forced to explain the value of the humanities, the language that it uses is pathetically insipid. You may have heard the defense du jour, tossed out en route to the next gender studies conference. The humanities, we are told, teach “critical thinking.” Is this a joke? These are the same people who write sentences like this: “Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality. . . . of the self).”And we’re supposed to believe that they can think? Moreover, the sciences provide critical thinking skills as well—far more rigorous ones, in fact, than the hackneyed deconstructions of advertising that the left-wing academy usually means by critical thinking.
 
It is no wonder, then, that we have been hearing of late that the humanities are in crisis. A recent Harvard report, cochaired by the school’s premier postcolonial studies theorist, Homi Bhabha, lamented that 57 percent of incoming Harvard students who initially declare interest in a humanities major eventually change concentrations. Why may that be? Imagine an intending lit major who is assigned something by Professor Bhabha: “If the problematic ╬ęclosure≈ of textuality questions the totalization of national culture. . . .” How soon before that student concludes that a psychology major is more up his alley?
 
No, the only true justification for the humanities is that they provide the thing that Faust sold his soul for: knowledge. It is knowledge of a particular kind, concerning what men have done and created over the ages. The American Founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world’s most stable and free republic. They invoked lessons learned from the Greek city-states, the Carolingian Dynasty, and the Ottoman Empire in the Constitution’s defense. And they assumed that the new nation’s citizens would themselves be versed in history and political philosophy. Indeed, a closer knowledge among the electorate of Hobbes and the fragility of social order might have prevented the more brazen social experiments that we’ve undergone in recent years. Ignorance of the intellectual trajectory that led to the rule of law and the West’s astounding prosperity puts those achievements at risk.
 
But humanistic learning is also an end in itself. It is simply better to have escaped one’s narrow, petty self and entered minds far more subtle and vast than one’s own than never to have done so. The Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino said that a man lives as many millennia as are embraced by his knowledge of history. One could add: a man lives as many different lives as are embraced by his encounters with literature, music, and all the humanities and arts. These forms of expression allow us to see and feel things that we would otherwise never experience—society on a nineteenth-century Russian feudal estate, for example, or the perfect crystalline brooks and mossy shades of pastoral poetry, or the exquisite languor of a Chopin nocturne.
 
Ultimately, humanistic study is the loving duty we owe those artists and thinkers whose works so transform us. It keeps them alive, as well as us, as Petrarch and Poggio Bracciolini understood. The academic narcissist, insensate to beauty and nobility, knows none of this.
 
And as politics in Washington and elsewhere grows increasingly unmoored from reality, humanist wisdom provides us with one final consolation: there is no greater lesson from the past than the intractability of human folly.


In New Film, a Dramatic Look at Mitt Romney’s Loss of Confidence. By Byron York.

In new film, a dramatic look at Mitt Romney’s loss of confidence. By Byron York. Washington Examiner, January 19, 2014.

York:

As defeat settled in, Romney discussed what to say in a concession speech — which, for all his natural pessimism, Romney had not considered ahead of time. And it was in that moment that some of Romney’s passion about the race finally came out, far from the view of voters and television cameras. Stevens suggested that the losing candidate should play an almost “pastoral” role, “soothing” the American people after a long and divisive campaign.
 
“I don't think it is a time for soothing and everything’s fine,” said Romney. “I think this is a time for [saying], ‘This is really serious, guys. This is really serious.’”
 
“To get up and soothe is not my inclination,” an obviously anguished Romney continued. “I cannot believe that [Obama] is an aberration in the country. I believe we’re following the same path of every other great nation, which is we’re following greater government, tax rich people, promise more stuff to everybody, borrow until you go over a cliff. And I think we have a very high risk of reaching the tipping point sometime in the next five years. And the idea of saying ‘it’s just fine, don’t worry about it’ – no, it’s really not.”
 
Given what has come before it in the film — Romney’s defeatism in the debates — the scene leaves the impression that perhaps in his heart of hearts Romney never really believed he could win. That also seems the message of one of the last scenes of “Mitt,” the day after the election, when Romney addressed staff at his Boston campaign headquarters. The old lack of confidence came out again as Romney suggested he never felt comfortable in the race. He passed on something someone at headquarters had told him: “In some ways, we kind of had to steal the Republican nomination. Our party is Southern, evangelical and populist. And you’re Northern, and you’re Mormon, and you’re rich. And these do not match well with our party.”
 
A candidate who did not believe he could beat the president in debate, who always felt second-best to his father, who believed the country was moving away from him, and who didn’t even feel at home in his own party. The Romney campaign faced many uphill battles in the 2012 campaign. “Mitt” shows us that some of the most intense were in the candidate’s mind.

Andrew Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, January 19, 2014.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Some Conservatives “Have No Place in the State of New York.” By Dave Urbanski. The Blaze, January 18, 2014.

Gov. Cuomo, Comptroller DiNapoli, Bill Hammond, Susan Lerner. By Alyssa Plock. Audio podcast. WCNY, January 17, 2014.

Cuomo: “Extreme conservatives . . . have no place in the state of New York.” By Casey Seiler. Albany Times Union, January 17, 2014.

Andrew Cuomo Puts Up a “Catholics Need Not Reside” Sign in New York. By Kathryn Jean Lopez. National Review Online, January 18, 2014.

Gov. Cuomo: Pro-Life People Have “No Place in the State of New York.” Audio. jim hoft, January 18, 2014. YouTube.




Tobin:

There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.
 
That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:
You’re seeing that play out in New York. . . . The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.
Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.
 
Cuomo’s reference to abortion opponents is especially interesting in the way it seeks to declare them not only out of the political mainstream in New York (which is undoubtedly true) but also worthy of being driven out of the Empire State. As Kathryn Jean Lopez noted in National Review on Friday, the governor’s rant demonstrates the distance both the Democratic Party and the Cuomo family have traveled in the last 30 years. As Lopez writes, in 1984, one of Cuomo’s predecessors as governor of New York—his father Mario—famously articulated a nuanced position in which he restated his personal opposition to abortion while defending its legality and public funding.
 
This same intolerance is made manifest in the federal ObamaCare mandate that seeks to force Catholic charity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for abortion drugs and contraception for its employees. That is a far cry from Mario Cuomo’s attempt to build a wall between private opposition to abortion and a public right to it. The Democrats of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo will now brook no opposition to their dictates or, in Cuomo’s case, even allow opponents to reside in “his” state.
 
However, the spark for Cuomo’s anger—opposition to the gun bill he promulgated in his State of the State last year and then rammed through the legislature inside of a day as a sop to public anguish about Newtown—also demonstrates the incoherence of this new extreme liberalism. The SAFE act imposed new bans on assault weapons, gun magazines, and imposed even broader rules for background checks for legal gun purchases. But in the year since it was passed, it has gone largely unenforced since it has sown almost universal confusion among law-enforcement personnel and gun venders and owners who are unsure what is and what is not rendered illegal by the vague language in the sloppily-drafted legislation Cuomo championed.
 
One needn’t be an opponent of legalized abortion or a member of the National Rifle Association to understand the dangers of this sort of rhetoric and a legislative agenda driven by such sentiments. Liberals have spent the past few years posing as the champions of tolerance while denouncing the Tea Party and conservative Republicans as extremists. But now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has taken back the reins of the party from more centrist forces—or in Cuomo’s case, a former moderate has put his finger in the wind and changed his direction accordingly—the same dynamic could undermine their attempts to win national elections. Just as the GOP must worry about letting its most extreme elements dictate policy and candidates, Democrats should think twice about the spectacle of one of their leading lights going so far as to tell opponents of abortion and gun control to leave New York. If Clinton passes on the presidency and Cuomo makes a run for the White House, that intolerant line won’t be forgotten.

On and Off the Road with Barack Obama. By David Remnick.

Going the Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama. By David Remnick. The New Yorker, January 27, 2014.

Maybe the Jews of Europe Never Really Left Egypt. By Annika Hernroth-Rothstein.

Maybe the Jews of Europe Never Really Left Egypt. By Annika Hernroth-Rothstein. Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2014.

Gaza Wrecking Ball: Another Right-Wing Israeli Parody of Miley Cyrus. By Orit Arfa.

Orit Arfa: Gaza Wrecking Ball. Video. Orit Arfa, January 13, 2014. YouTube.

Jews Can’t Stop: A Right-Wing Israeli Parody of Miley Cyrus. By Orit Arfa. NJBR, December 14, 2013. With related articles.

Miley Cyrus: Wrecking Ball. NJBR, November 26, 2013.

The Israeli settler who makes Miley Cyrus seem subtle. By Adrian Hennigan. Haaretz, January 14, 2014.




Palestinian Foreign Minister: If Jews Have a History in the Land – Then We Don’t.

PLO foreign minister: If Jews have a history in the land – then we don’t. Elder of Ziyon, January 19, 2014.

Palestinian foreign minister: We will never recognize the Jewish character of Israel. Riyad Al-Maliki interviewed by Michel Abu Najm. Asharq Al-Awsat, January 20, 2014. 

Palestine, Peoples and Borders in the New Middle East. By Ahmad Samih Khalidi. NJBR, June 3, 2013.