Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Response to Charles Butterworth 2

                                

     Here are some striking further questions and challenges  from Charles Butterworth on the post Shadings – They consider me a ‘Nazi’ here” – Leo Strauss, December 3, 1933, here,   sent before he saw my last response here

       "Dear Alan, In a word, I think you have now let your preconceptions about Leo
Strauss outrun your evidence. It is, admittedly, difficult to pin him down.  But that is all the more reason to be utterly precise when trying to define this man. Here are two objections and a final general query. 1.  What possible evidence do you have to justify saying that "Leo
Strauss greatly admired Weber and studied him with some care (he was a third generation in Weber's lineage: Carl Schmitt was Weber’s student and Strauss's mentor)?" a.  Chapter Two of Natural Right and History is a masterful
critical analysis and then refutation of Weber's sociological enterprise, especially of the fact-value distinction.  Strauss, like many others, admired Weber's scholarship and recognized his great stature.  But, as he noted in that conversation with Rosenzweig, Heidegger's analytical skills made Weber look like an orphan-child. b.  What prompts the assertion that Schmitt was Strauss's mentor?  Strauss wrote a very critical review of Schimitt's book, Der Begriff des Politischen.  In the review, he pointed to the way Hobbes might clarify what lay behind Schmitt's analysis.  Schmitt was intelligent enough to discern how well Strauss had grasped his argument as well as its flaws and gracious enough to recommend Strauss for a Rockefeller fellowship to France.  (That this was also a convenient way
to get an otherwise potentially troublesome Jew out of Germany was merely icing on the cake.) 2.  Here, too, what is your evidence for claiming that Strauss's “views were much more tolerant of anti-semitism than Weber’s?” a.  Strauss never denied his Jewishness and belittled Jews.  To the contrary, his autobiographical statement shows how involved he was in figuring out a solution to “the Jewish question” that would not destroy Jewishness. b.  He was, by his own admission, not observant.  But that is not a criterion for not being anti-Semitic, is it? c.  Strauss’s political Zionism was his answer to how Jews
could withstand the National-Socialist onslaught without sacrificing their self-respect and without crawling on bended knee to beg for Christian decency.

3.  Are you aware of whom Weber is quoting at the end of the antepenultimate paragraph of the Protestant Ethic?  Repeatedly, I have asked Nietzsche scholars to show me where this phrase occurs in Nietzsche's oeuvre:  “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this
nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” To date, no one has been able to locate it.  Could it be a bad recollection by this otherwise meticulous scholar, even perhaps a witty pastiche to prove a point?  I do look forward to your responses to nos. 1 and 2, but would also be grateful for a reference for no. 3.  Best wishes, Charles"

Dear Charles,

      Strauss says he admires Weber beyond all others before he listened, urged by Klein, to Heidegger.  That makes sense to me.  He is very critical of many thoughts of Weber – I agree with his surface argument about value-freedom against Weber, though I am struck that he applies it so badly in the case of Brown v. Board of Education  - the Clarks, the psychologists cited in the Supreme Court decision were a) not value free (so he is wrong for indicting them as value free if he read them)  and b) were right on the issue of racism, and Strauss in his support for James Kilpatrick, a leading segregationist, was dead wrong and – in politics -  ugly – see here).  But he follows Weber in interpreting great power rivalry as the main point (Schmitt does also).

      Schmitt was Weber’s student (Weber had died in 1920 roughly at the beginning of Strauss’s academic career, and they had not met).   Schmitt  wrote a long piece about Roman Catholicism and its public impact as opposed to uniform, empty, spiritless, corrupting Protestantism  to challenge Weber’s Protestant Ethic morally.  Given the Nietzschean confusion about morals – that murdering a million people so that the Uebermensch may flourish, or that exploitation is nature, is just some form of morals,  an equivalent to valuing every human life - they all occasionally take practical moral stands without being quite aware when or that their stands are moral.  Protestantism is oppressive and constricting for humans, Schmitt wishes to suggest; Catholicism is better.   The confusion: they also vehemently take stands that are close to sheer evil, notably Schmitt. (Schmitt was an eccentric Catholic who disparaged Nietzsche; his stands are analogous on the last men - the influence of Satan - to Nietzschean ones, however).  In proclaiming what is evil as a form of morality, Nietzscheanism is about ethics self-refuting, or to look at it another way, Nietzsche reduces all morals to a will to power, whereas his justified will to power, that of the Uebermensch, is itself perhaps moral and would need a straightforward moral argument to sustain it.  But such a justification  could never be sanely attempted at the expense of slaughtering millions – hence the motives for metaethical reductionism and relativism. 

         I invoked this interconnnection between the three thinkers  in perhaps too vivid a way, metaphorically, to indicate that Strauss put a lot of effort and admiration into Weber  - among other reasons, as a fellow Nietzschean, as someone who didn’t attack Jews, etc - and then encountered Heidegger, and  became critical of Weber.  He disagreed with his Doktorvater Cassirer and moved, as the famous “Remarks” indicate, into a close and searching relationship with Schmitt (one which he praises to the skies and I think without irony).  I think this has some relationship to a spiritual lineage (Weber wanted to see German faces a thousand years hence, and both the others might have agreed with that) even though the differences are clear enough.  It is something a lot stronger on my view, has more passion in it, than a merely academic lineage.  If one reads Strauss’s late lecture Why we remain Jews, he intentionally sounds like a Weberian, looking at religion from the standpoint of sociology, as a scientist (this is a vehicle for speaking as an atheist which is not simply exoteric)…Across serious criticisms and differences, he retains central points of contact with Weber – again great power rivalry.  Interestingly, Strauss is far closer to Schmitt and Weber on this point, than either is to the more poetic and somewhat less practical Heidegger. The connection with Schmitt was far closer than with Weber and of course, once again, Strauss was to the Right of Schmitt. That is, Strauss  was not simply recommending Hobbes as your phrasing here seems to suggest; he was correcting Schmitt's error about Hobbes for whom the struggle to the death, among peoples, was not pure enough, who founded the detested liberalism and suggesting that Schmitt's anti-liberalism did not go far enough, did not cause the horizon of liberalism to vanish...

       I also reverse the question: on what basis do you suggest that Schmitt saw Strauss, then or ever, as “a troublesome Jew”?  He helped him get to France – which Strauss wanted, and was persistently and profoundly interested in Strauss’s interpretation of Spinoza.  Schmitt mostly makes this into the Jew Spinoza who creates the Satanism of the modern world, whereas Strauss, admirably in this regard, blames the last men on Machiavelli; in this respect, Strauss resembles what I admire in Weber, but Weber liked the Jews as a warrior people and did not buy in to Nietzsche’s hostility to democracy or even the poor.

         On your second question, in the original essay, I emphasize Strauss’s statement in his 1932 Religioese Lage der Gegenwart [Religious Situation of the Present] that

“The end of this struggle is the complete rejection of tradition neither merely of its answers, nor merely of its questions, but of its possibilities: the pillars on which our tradition rested; prophets and Socrates/Plato have been torn down since Nietzsche.  Nietzsche’s partisanship for the kings and against the prophets, for the sophists and against Socrates – Jesus neither merely no God, nor a swindler, nor a genius, but an idiot.  Rejected are the theorein and “Good-Evil” – Nietzsche, as the last enlightener.”

     “Through Nietzsche, tradition has been shaken at its roots.  It has completely lost its self-evident truth.  We are left in this world without any authority, without any direction.” (GS 2:389; trans. Michael Zank; h/t William Altman).”

Strauss continues insistently: “and even so, the Bible: we can no longer assume that the Prophets are right; we must earnestly ask whether the kings are not right.” 

Strauss went the whole way with what he took to be Niezsche.  Nietzsche mocked  gutter Antisemiterei but his own view about the slave revolt in morals lends itself easily to fascism (he is not wrongly regarded as the father of European fascism) and even to Nazism.  It is after all the Jews and the prophets, which played out as secular culture lead to the last men.  Strauss says this fiercely in 1932.  No statement of the kind appears in Weber, and Weber is only Nietzschean with regard to the ghosts of Protestant vocation and the emptiness in which they conclude (he, too, looks to a national revival – Valhalla – but not one which will extinguish a secular culture seen as Jewish).  As I emphasize in the essay here, Weber is far better than Strauss and Nietzsche on this point.

      Now Strauss, as you rightly say, was for Jews standing up and in the subtle relationship between Strauss and Schmitt over Spinoza, Strauss plainly and admirably stands for Machiavelli at the origins of the modern world (a view again qualified by his admiration for Machiavelli as nearest to Plato on legislation and the notion that a wise man needs a tyrant).   I didn’t emphasize this aspect of Strauss’s political zionism in the essay and I am happy to affirm it now.  But it doesn’t alter the basic point about Strauss’s hostility to the prophets and his fantastic connection of that - really the movement for justice for ordinary people everywhere for which Strauss has zero sympathy or even recognition - to modern decadence.

       On point 3, I said that Weber’s beautiful remark was Nietzschean in spirit.  I meant: it was different, creative and as gaudy a Niezschean thought as the last men.  I like it better than Nietzsche because it is plainly eudaimonist (as I emphasize in Democratic Individuality), that is sensualists without heart are corrupt, defile the decent reasons for relationship, as are specialists without spirit, those of routine. Weber here prefigures Arendt’s phrase about the banality of evil; there is here a kind of Nietzsche-Weber-Heidegger – “falling” into the “one” – Arendt lineage of insight, all stemming from Nietzsche’s tale of the last men.   The reason one thinks of the last men is because of the idea of “this nullity,” and its hubris: and this imagines itself the greatest thing that civilization has accomplished.  Consider the punditocracy in mainstream American  newspapers about for example whether Palestinians are human beings and Weber’s thought may emerge with some force.  It is Weber’s own, one of his best thoughts, and the words are not  in Nietzsche that I know of.

      Amusingly, Tracy Strong has an independent recollection of your possibility; his note to me: “the quote you have from Weber I am convinced I found once not quite word for word in the two volume of Nietzsche's Nachlass called Die Entschuld des Werdens (Kroner Verlag) and was so excited that I did not take it down -- and have never found it again... go figure.”

    Un otro fuerte abrazo,

    Alan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Fear and Anger of Michael Oren


     Interestingly, except to be attacked, the Goldstone report does not often make the mainstream press.*  The Israeli ambassador, sent by the reactionary coalition led by Netanyahu, Michael Oren, speaks definitively in the Boston Globe, a liberal paper, of its alleged distortions. He does not mention that Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone panel (hard to get people to listen to your case if you refuse to make it).  Instead, he makes the hypothetical case that if the US had entered Afghanistan and the Taliban had taken refuge in urban areas among civilians, it could not have avoided killing innocents (actually, the US relied on General Dostum who murdered some 1000s of prisoners in transporting them packed in sealed containers; reversing the Bush administration’s attempts to defend Dostum by suppressing any inquiry, the Obama administration has recently allowed this great war crime to be at least investigated).  Israel, Oren says, has been aggressed against by thousands of rockets fired by Hamas. He means to speak of aggression, I think, in the technical and legal sense (in international law mandated by Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations Charter).   What else could this small, beleaguered democracy and law abiding country do but defend itself?

       “Just as the United States entered Afghanistan in response to an unprovoked attack on American civilians in 2001, so, too, did Israel’s intervention, which followed more than 7,000 Hamas rocket and mortar strikes on Israeli towns and villages since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Given the UN Human Rights Commission’s silence in the face of this aggression, and Hamas’s rejection of Israeli offers to renew a cease-fire, Israel exercised its unassailable right to defend its citizens.’

Hamas hides, he says, behind civilians.  They are cowards and assassins.  Israel – with “the most moral army in the world” - takes every step to protect civilians.  Actually, through Breaking the Silence, Israelis soldiers at great risk have spoken out anonymously about the crimes that their fellow soldiers committed.   It would be enough for Oren to try to show that the “mistakes” they report were not a part of policy.  That would certainly indicate an integrity to the regime of the sort that the “most moral army” in the world might have prided itself on (even the phase  “most moral army” is of course psychologically speaking,  grandiose - whatever "moral" armies do, this campaign was not it - and an indication  that something deep is  being suppressed).  

      NATO committed crimes - the bombing of Serbia to protect the Kosovars obviously killed innocents and famously blew up the Chinese embassy; the US used depleted uranium – nuclear weapons which produce striking diseases even in survivors (birth defect and cancers).   Though the commander General Wesley Clark worries about war crimes and is quite thoughtful about it, to attack only from 30,000 feet was,  prima facie, cowardly compared even to the Israeli invasion.  Still, the stories from loyal Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence  about a commander, for instance, ordering a soldier to shoot an old women wandering at a distance of a hundred years sadly make some units obvious competitors.  Oren should be careful with the common Israeli government trope that the US committed far worse war crimes in the fire bombing of Dresden…What creates the necessity to use such metaphors? 

         He continues

        “Despite Hamas’s cynical use of civilians as human shields, the Israel Defense Forces repeatedly called off operations deemed too dangerous to civilian populations and endangered its own troops by warning Palestinian neighborhoods of impending attacks. Yet even the most moral army can make mistakes, especially in dense urban warfare; for every Serbian soldier killed by NATO in 1999, for example, four civilians died. By comparison, more than half of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza were military.”

There is no evidence for the last claim.  But let us suppose for the sake of argument that it is true. More than half - let's say half (maybe Oren can try to cut it to a third, just the children...) Of some 1300 killed, 650 would be civilians, many of them children.  Even an ordinary criminal who allowed himself to look might  express some repentance or sorrow, have some thought about whether he really wanted to have done this.  Surely, the "most moral army" in the world, one that engages in an external show of morality (warning Palestinians to leave their houses before blowing them up) to cover up crimes...Michael Oren is in a bad place.  Denial is necessary.

       Though the Israeli government refused unilaterally to cooperate with the United Nations (there is a common rogue state behavior between the Bush-Cheney regime and Israel), Oren says, Israel’s army is really investigating charges of crimes of war:

       “Still, Israel launched investigations into some 100 cases of alleged misconduct by its soldiers, 23 of which continue. If found guilty, as one soldier already has been, the perpetrators will be brought to justice under Israel’s internationally respected legal system.”

Following the standard Israeli government rhetorical move (a colleague of mine also uses it in debate), he might want to compare what the IDF is doing to Abu Ghraib (where a few American soldiers were made to bear responsibility for the Principals – the leaders of the Bush administration except Colin Powell).  Or he might want to contrast the courage and honor of the IDF with the Bush administration’s refusal to allow investigations of war crimes under law (American domestic and international law).  But sadly even the Obama administration, which seems to be limiting such investigations because of how many important people would go to jail for the American system of torture prisons, looks pretty good on General Dostum - though perhaps not US complicity with him - compared to “the most moral army in the world.”

     Oren suggests that the UN is a criminal organization – one which lives to support violence against jews and tolerates the murder of civilians.  The charge is interestingly selective about facts.  He does not recall that a United Nations resolution amazingly founded Israel.  He neglects that  except for the aggression in Iraq, it is too much an instrument  of American policy, for instance in its genocidal boycott of Iraq that killed by UN statistics 4,500 children a month during the 1990s.  The boycott drove  Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, chief of humanitarian operations in Iraq  to  bring anti-leukemia medicine to save a 9 year old girl in violation of the UN ban, and later resign, rightly charging the US, the UK and the United Nations Security Council with violations of the United Nations Convention against Genocide. There is no simple set of facts about the United Nations (composed of representatives of governments) or any government in the world. In Oren’s words,

      “The UN Human Rights Commission, which has condemned Israel more frequently than Libya, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea combined, undertook to investigate ‘all violations of international human rights law' in the Israeli operation - essentially presuming Israel’s guilt. The judges, one of whom had already denounced Israel in print, conducted their hearings in Hamas-controlled Gaza and interviewed witnesses, including several Hamas operatives posing as civilians, selected by the regime. They ignored Israel’s deeply-probing investigation into its own force’s conduct and found only the evidence that confirmed their preordained conclusion. Israel was found guilty of attacking ‘the people of Gaza as a whole,’ of violating their ‘fundamental rights and freedoms,' and arbitrarily killing them.”

See the full text of Oren’s op-ed "UN Report a Victory for Terror" here. The Globe does not reproduce the report itself.  On September 19th, however, it did print an op-ed James Carroll, "A Time of Reckoning" which captures the premedicated abandonment of proportionality by Israel - the Dahiya or perhaps more accurately, massacre doctrine - and its invocation of Truman during World War II here. Carroll writes:       

       Israel denies deliberately attacking civilians, but the Goldstone commission found evidence of an overwhelming assault on Gaza’s civilian population. Chapter XI of the report, for example, cites the shelling of a house in which Palestinian civilians had been forced by the IDF to gather; the intentional bombing of a hospital with white phosphorous shells; the shooting of civilians who were waving white flags, and the subsequent refusal to allow those wounded to be evacuated. 'From the facts ascertained in all of the above cases, the Mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute (sic) grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility.’

        "At the heart of the criticism of Israel is a charge that cannot be readily refuted - that the military operation involved 'the application of disproportionate force.’ Proportion in war has been an essential element of every just war theory. But in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war, Israeli leaders openly embraced what is known as the Dahiya Doctrine, named for an obliterated Beirut neighborhood that had housed Hezbollah fighters. Before the Gaza war, the head of the IDF Northern Command Gadi Eisenkof defined the doctrine: 'We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these are military bases. This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.’ The Goldstone commission found exactly that, a strategy of disproportionality adopted at the highest levels of command - and efficiently implemented against civilians 'on the ground.’"

      AIPAC and others who campaign against critics of the occupation often try to silence them.   But as Milton once said in defending freedom of speech in  Areopagitica, “so long as truth be in the field,” it will probably vanquish even the most powerful falsehood. Reality has a way of bringing round initially lonely points of view.   In contrast, speaking loudly and hoping to fill the world with his sound, Micheal Oren seeks to silence opposition rather than debate.

         Oren ignores 1) the fact that Israel conquered and occupies Gaza.  Israel is the aggressor, not the victim (a point that even the Goldstone report ignores).  This is decisive.  The ideal Israeli picture is that it is a small democracy in a sea of hostile Arab peoples and tyrants.  There is some truth in this (there would be more if the US and even Israel had not do so much to sustain, through military aid and intelligence cooperation. those tyrannies' crimes against democrats, reformers and civilians; in the attack, Egypt, too, prevented civilians from leaving Gaza).  Israel  was, I repeat, the home for the Jews allowed by the United Nations  after the genocide (in comparison, immediately after World War II, US immigration allowed in Nazi war criminals from Eastern Europe – to be used by the CIA against the Soviets - but refused “displaced” Jews from the same countries…).  But in organizing the initial transfer of the Palestinians, the Israeli government committed, as Ilan Pappe, an Israeli, sadly shows, the crime of ethnic cleansing.  It  could then have tried to settle with the Palestinians, at least commit no more crimes.  Instead, in its victory in the 1967 war, it occupied the territories and continues to ravage the Palestinians. States are, as Oren might say, often founded on crimes.  But the occupation has redoubled the earlier crimes and fitted out luxurious Israeli settlements amidst the misery, degradation and murder (by the state of Israel) of Palestinians.  The occupation is the crime of aggression.  This different and also real perspective is fatal to Oren's stance.   Once one notices that Palestinians are human, it is hard to look at Israel in the same way.  Oren’s loudness, his fear and anger, his denunciation of the supposed hypocrisy of the Goldstone report and the failure even to name the man who led the commission – must be Lord Voldemort - means to hide this central fact. 

        2) This fact explains the otherwise inexplicable.  It is not that the UN Human Rights Commission is fanatically opposed to Israel and that so many governments and European as well as nonwhite peoples are crazed at Jews.  Instead, this fact reveals the carelessness of innocent life that is characteristic of an aggressor and occupier.  Israel rightly points out that Hamas deliberately fires rockets into civilian areas, and murders innocents.  But Israel murders a far larger number.  The Goldstone report names some of this.  It is the tragedy of the Israeli political establishment (and leads to increasing isolation and self-destructiveness) that it sees only the one crime - the crime of the other - and is blind to the greater one.    3 ) In violation of the customs of war and pretty well alone among aggressors, it (along with the Egyptian tyranny) refuses to allow civilians to flee its attacks.  It thus murdered some 650 civilians like fish in a barrel  on Oren’s own account – and then protests that Hamas hides among them.  It must be Hamas’s fault that those children died.  But the bullets or rockets that murdered them were Israeli and US made (every Israeli helicopter is an Apache – a stereotype of fierce warriors but the name also  conjures the US government's genocide against Native Americans),  4) the Commission was headed by the distinguished international lawyer who is also a Jew and a Zionist, Richard Goldstone.  Goldstone helped heal apartheid in South Africa and to make a transition to a decent and elected regime without slaughters (it would be  like Bill Kristol denouncing Desmond Tutu). 5)  in another criminal aspect of closing the borders, Oren (and the United States) have collaborated in starving and denying medical care to the people of Gaza.  The Israeli Defense Forces even shot up UN trucks bringing medicine and food in Gaza.  The markings on the trucks were clear enough (if the IDF, according to the soldiers in Breaking the Silence, shot a wandering old woman 100 yards away to "protect themselves," perhaps this is not surprising).   Oren may feel good that there is an Israeli verdict against one IDF crime, but the facts make this less than reassuring to other observers, notably Goldstone.

       I have a wonderful Palestinian Ph.D. student who attends the Korbel School on a Fulbright.  Unsurprisingly, he is no fan of Hamas or Fatah.  But even if he were, it would do no whit to justify the constant threat of death and pain caused to his wife and four children or to him (so far, they have all  committed the crime of breathing while Palestinian).  In normal times under the Israeli government’s occupation, he calls home and speaks to his family with guns or bombs going off in the background (Israel doesn’t do major invasions and large-scale slaughters all the time, but it does often strike at “Hamas” and nearby civilians).  What Oren accuses Hamas of doing, being careless of or “hiding among civilians,” the Israeli government certainly does: taking out many civilians to get at Hamas. (In firing unmanned drone missiles from Langley, West Virginia into Pakistan, the CIA does similar and similarly self-destructive war crimes).

       Phoning home, Wael says good night to his children never knowing whether the bombs or the firing will make this conversation the last.  He is a Fulbright scholar and Fulbright - a U.S. government organization - asked Israel to let his family go.  But they would have to go to Jerusalem to get visas and "the most moral government" in the world, according to Oren, does not allow this.  It’s a free place, Gaza, Oren tells us, the Israeli army withdrew in 2005, but the Palestinian regime can’t give visas and Gaza has no airport, and every traded good is taxed by the Israeli government for Israeli “help” in facilitating trade and Israel, even against Obama's request, is expelling people from their homes and building new settlements every day… Anybody remember the objections to Pharoah?

        Wael’s wife and children can’t leave.  They were frightened during the invasion and thought they lived too near an Hamas leader.  They moved to her mother’s house.  No Hamas leader in the vicinity, but the house was hit by an Israeli (perhaps American-made) rocket.  Fortunately, they all survived.   But despite the Fulbright request, his family can’t get out.  Who, Michael Oren, is stopping them? 

       Wael has taken several political theory courses with me and we are friends.  I am reminded of such stories every week where I work (on other experiences of my American students, for instance, see here).  The mainstream “news” media show no footage of Gaza.  But the facts are widely and increasingly known.  The reactionary government is a seeming triumph for "greater Israel" but daily undermines what little legitimacy (only through ignorance) the occupation has.  Oren is roaring into a typhoon and the ultimate silence is not the one he seeks to compel…

      President Obama is trying to save Jews from the madness of Israeli policies, and work out some sort of decent settlement between Jews and Palestinians. Such a settlement will be remarkably favorable to an Israel within the 1967 borders roughly (currently the Palestinians have less than 10% of the original territory allocated to them in the UN resolution that created Israel; there is a wall running through it).  There has been too much death.    Hamas seems willing to go along.  Israel would be wise to negotiate an agreement and seek modestly to help the Palestinians rebuild.  But the illegal settlements are a stone around its neck.  The settlements – and not the self-image of the "most moral army," let alone the great egalitarian values which most Israelis initially embraced (undermined of course by racism toward Arabs) and which used to be spoken of by those who admired Israel though not its current leaders (Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, has the affection for such values of Mussolini) – drive Oren’s speech.

      Oren is right that Hamas shoots rockets against civilians.  These are crimes.  They also, counterproductively, strengthen the Israeli government in its course as an occupier and builder of new, illegal settlements (nonviolent civil disobedience would be a far wiser and better course).  They create an atmosphere of fear among ordinary Israelis out of which the Liebermans and Netanyahus emerge.   Hamas had however agreed to a ceasefire and its rockets in the preceding 6 months had killed no one until the Israeli attack. The Goldstone report spells out the crimes on each side.   The Israeli occupying army killed 13oo, including several hundred children, Hamas murdered a 7 year old Israeli child and 12 others.  What Hamas did is a great crime and politically self-destructive.  The Goldstone report criticizes Hamas's crimes.  But however he might have wished to, Richard Goldstone, a lawyer, a decent man, a Jew and a Zionist, could not make the facts different.  1300 dead, several hundred children by the occupiers; 13 dead, 1 child by the occupied.  The sound and fury of Oren’s oratory cannot make these facts go away.

H/t to Jeffrey Herz for sending me Oren’s piece.  As I say about Max Weber here, I have learned greatly from Jeffrey.  Shortly I will post on his long piece about modern totalitarianism in the New Republic which Marty Peretz announces beyond ideology and which makes a very important point about Germany in the 1930s, but talks almost not at all about Palestine.  I hope for willingness to have some conversation or debate about these matters.  As in the case of Strauss’s politics – one does not have to be in the abstract, for or against it  – one can simply look at what the case is, and try to figure out whether anything, livable or sustainable, for human beings can arise from the argument.

*for those who don’t know of Richard Goldstone, a September 23rd article by Claudia Braude in the Jewish newspaper, Forward, critical of the UN organization which commissioned the Report, “Will Goldstone's Gaza report prove him just a naive idealist?” draws a picture:

       “Interviewed four days before the report's release, Goldstone was upbeat about the prospects and unapologetic about his decision to take up the job. 'I was driven particularly because I thought the outcome might, in a small way, assist the peace process,' he told the Forward. 'I really thought I was one person who could achieve an even-handed mission.' Goldstone is widely credited with having helped bring down apartheid through a government-commissioned investigation he led that exposed the existence of covert state-sponsored terror units deployed by South Africa against its own black citizenry. Nelson Mandela, the country's first post-apartheid president, later appointed Goldstone to the country's highest court. More recently, Goldstone has served as chief UN prosecutor of war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. A proud Jew Goldstone is proud of his Jewish identity and links it firmly to his human rights concerns. A president emeritus of World ORT, a Jewish organization that runs several vocational schools in Israel, he also serves on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's board of governors. Characterizing the struggle for human rights as 'a secular religion of our time,' Goldstone once described Israel's existence as its Jewish embodiment. 'This struggle for human rights has been in the most profound existential sense very much the struggle for ourselves - for our own Jewish destiny. For the creation of the State of Israel,' he said. 'I've been involved with Israel since I can remember,' Goldstone told the Forward. 'My mother was very active in the women's Zionist movement.' Also, his daughter Nicole lived in Israel. But he insisted his appointment was due solely to his background in international criminal justice. 'I've no doubt the fact I'm a Jew wasn't the reason I was approached,' he said. On human rights, Goldstone told the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists in 1995, 'We must not only insist that we be judged by those standards by our neighbors and by the international community. We should indeed object vehemently when any [one] seeks to judge us by any other standards.’”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poem: Dances

         

                                                1

                                                          

my first day at KarachiAmericanSchool

      I didn’t dress for the    

         1850s

 

the senior class held a Slave Sale

       and Boj  the auctioneer

               top hat and blackwhip brandished high

                      jacked up the bidding

 

                      you can get the handsomest guy to

                               push a peanut with his

                                        nose across the floor”

 

                                                  two hundred rupees

 

                      and “who knows what a girl will do

 

                                  for fifty more

 

                                           2

 

I asked Brooks to the

   prom

 

           she practiced Indian dance

 

           showed me the liquid

                          moves of Shivaand

                                                    Parvat i

 

                                       on downtown afternoons  

 

          (Khan Driver

                     for 20 rupees a month

                            pressed the Ford

                                           round ambling

                                                               camels

                                                                          bikes

 

                                                       and through Punjabi

 

her dad  the herpetologist

        kept Indian Ocean

                 snakes

         slappedtheirflattails

                 in the bathtub

 

                 kraits curled

                             smokelike in his study

 

and Brooks was always late for supper

 

                                3

 

dreeeam   dream

  all you gotta do is

 

        and you stood there

                silked

                          in a blue sari

                               too much blush

 

         I didn’t wear a tuxedo

            stumbled through my

     

         when we snuck out

                    other dances

                               alive in our limbs

 

                    the eyes of chaperones

 

                           glittered

                                         upon us

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Response to Charles Butterworth

                      

     Charles Butterworth, a scholar’s scholar, a man of public insight and courage, and my friend, wrote me the following letter in response to the post: Shadings: “they call ma a ‘Nazi’ here” – Leo Strauss, December 3, 1933 here.

Dear Alan, This most recent post on Strauss is very interesting, but I continue to think that you are mistaken on the most important point.  So please do not take these remarks amiss.  I admire your willingness to keep at this and try to get it right, but here I think you have gone astray.  And these are my reasons for thinking so. The major point is that I do not think Strauss was an admirer of National-Socialism, but an advocate of using tactics similar to those of the National-Socialists to solve the Jewish problem.  He was a political Zionist, not a cultural Zionist.  And he was perfectly willing to lord it over others - e.g., the Palestinians - to accomplish his goal of making a place for Jews in Palestine. 1.  In your references to the Strauss-Klein correspondence, you stop short of citing the references to Zionism.  But you should cite them or at least re-read them, for they explain Strauss's position and show that he was not a National-Socialist nor even an admirer of it. Rather, he embraced its use of power. a.  You come close to this position here, but you do not draw the necessary conclusion: "Strauss's enthusiasm for national socialism paralleled his Zionism.  He was a Zionist who hoped for the dissolution among Jews in Palestine of modern secular sentiments, who, with Weber, saw secularization as a lapsed Christian stance (the ‘ghosts’ of lapsed Protestant vocation haunt the modern capitalist). He also scorned cultural Zionism or any orientation other than political." 2.  Similarly, remember to read Strauss with care, especially when he is speaking about the thoughts of other people or even other movements.  He carries those thoughts out to their ultimate conclusions in order to show what is wrong with them; carrying them out in this fashion does not mean that he embraces them.  I doubt that Strauss was a Nietzschean, even though he loved Nietzsche's language.  Strauss was too convinced that Plato and Aristotle actually had answers to the human dilemma.  This prevents him from siding with Nietzsche. 3.  Unless you and I are reading different parts of the Strauss-Scholem, I think you are mistaken to claim that "his dying
letters to Scholem, however, take on occasional shadings of mysticism
and ecstatic (if one may use such a word about Leo) affection for Jewish spirituality." a.  To the contrary, over and over in those letters, Strauss explains to Scholem that he would like to die as a philosopher and over and over he refers to himself as an Epicurean.  Observant Jewish colleagues tell me that to call someone an Epicurean is a great insult.  Yet to the very observant and pious Scholem, Strauss says this of himself. b.  Citing Averroes as his sources, he also says again and again:  "moriatur anima mea mortem philosophorum."  See GS, 3: 22 November, 1960, pp. 742-743; also 30 September, 1973, pp. 770-771. 4.  What possible evidence do you have for the following claim? "But Strauss did give his soul to that great philosopher and the
German 'national revolution' in 1933, and after, 20 years silence, again after Heidegger began speaking of true national socialism in 1953. . ."?  a.  Consider this as a counter:  Strauss recognizes the great mind of Heidegger and acknowledges to himself that he must have a very deep understanding of philosophy to refute Heidegger.  But he does not have that understanding, so he points to Heidegger's shortcomings
as a way of rejecting what Heidegger's thinking leads to. b.  To say, as Strauss does often, that in the 1956
edition of his 1933 Einführung in der Metaphysik, Heidegger said there was no reason to alter anything  and to note that this means Heidegger thereby means that his praise of National-Socialism in the preface need not be changed is to point to Heidegger's erroneous politics, but that does not refute Heidegger's understanding of philosophy.  Note, please, that Strauss cannot blame Heidegger for being a Nazi if he were a secret admirer of National-Socialism. c.  As I tried to indicate in one of our exchanges, in that 19-20 June, 1934 letter, Klein is scolding Strauss for not knowing enough to keep his mouth shut when speaking to people who have simple views about politics. 5.  Again, there is no evidence for this:  "It can have been, for Strauss, no pleasure to see his two great mentors, Schmitt and
Heidegger, join the Nazis on May 1, 1933, when he could not.” a.  Strauss's review of Schmitt shows that he thought
Schmitt simply did not understand where his thought led.  But he also
thanked Schmitt for being big enough to recommend him for the Rockefeller grant to France, surely all the while knowing that Schmitt especially wanted to rid Germany of this Jewish scholar. 6.  Here, I think you mis-read the letter to Loewith:  "He
also wanted, too much, to be German.  And he appalled all the Jews and
other decent Germans he knew." a.  Strauss greatly admired his German learning and was
happy about the way it allowed him to write.  He thought he would never learn to write in another language as he wrote in German.  As someone
who had studied many languages and liked to dabble in them as he became
familiar with them (see the letters to Klein and others in French and then in English), he recognized that doing so was not like writing German. b.  Few people learn to be as expressive in another language as they are in their mother tongue.  What would Conrad sound like if he had ever tried to write in Polish? Best wishes, and do let me know, please, what you think of these
observations, Charles

Dear Charles,

      Thank you for a very serious response which I think may move the argument to a new level.  As I emphasize in my post, Strauss pioneered a form of reading which casts light – sometimes great light – on important philosophers of the past.  At his best, he trained students brilliantly as a scholar, and created a network of important scholars – you, Seth Benardete, Stanley Rosen, George Anastaplo and many others – and this is something to be honored, admired, and learned from.  You are right to speak of doing justice, and as I currently see it, the politics – both in Strauss’s time and now – is another matter.  There is sometimes a certain nobility in surviving politically beyond one’s lifetime – Lincoln’s spirit in American life, for example in Obama and many others or Martin Luther King’s – but the partially intended and sometimes, unintended consequences are often sad and wretched.

     For instance, I am not sure that the defense you offer actually is, morally speaking, a defense.  That Strauss was willing to use national socialist tactics against the Palestinians is true and damning.  The “transfer” as we both know, was a horror. It is one thing, in its public self-image,  for Israel as a small democracy to struggle against Arab tyrannies; it is another, in fact, as a colonial and even in this respect, fascist project to brutalize indigenous people.  This context makes glaring Strauss's distinction between philosophy and politics.  In philosophy, Strauss admired Arabs, and sometimes taught and perhaps befriended Arabists; in politics, he justified or to some extent (later) spawned something close to genocide, and with a pretty self-conscious national socialism (just if you are right not quite at the extreme, but I also think this).

   Heinrich Meier, a self-conscious reactionary, says rightly in his introduction to Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem that students believe what they were taught rather than what the finished books – and in this case, the essays and letters say.  I suspect that this point is true to some extent for all of us who work with creative scholars.  In this respect, I am lucky to come at this from the outside, never having met Strauss, hearing only reports of the wonders of his teaching and reading some of his often subtle and delightful lectures, for instance, on the Symposium.

       In the early 30s, Strauss wrote to Loewith that between the ages of 22 and 30, he agreed with every word of Nietzsche that he understood.  What may have changed is his admiration for Heidegger against his Doktorvater Cassirer at Locarno.  That is, he appears to have moved in the direction of National Socialism.  But he says nothing then of Plato.  Esoterically, I think he often takes Plato as Nietzsche or Schmitt.  It is of course one of the perils of esoteric reading that one can never quite be sure of what meaning the ambiguous author is serious about. And to some extent, Strauss jokes around – enjoying his own ambiguities. Some students will always find reason to adhere to the surface.  But even if one gives his vision of Plato great, though I think anachronistic credit, where is Plato on the surface in his 1932 writings about Schmitt?

     You read Strauss’s critique of Schmitt as a scholarly one, moving toward the ancients (so does Robert Howse). Sure. But I also read it as, in practical terms, a more explicitly fascist one, urging Schmitt to go beyond detested liberalism.  I see Strauss as to the Right of Schmitt, a more coherent reactionary than Schmitt.  Think of the 1932 letter to Schmitt I cite: he speaks of men forming groups in the light of an enemy.  This is purifying Schmitt and has no element of – it is the farthest thought from his mind – a common good even among one’s own nation.  Pretty distant from Plato or Aristotle.  I think your view projects Strauss’s later teaching to his students back into his writing on Schmitt, into his earlier unalloyed affection for Nietzsche or Heidegger (the one great philosopher of our era).  Later American students took Strauss as he presented himself, interested primarily in philosophy, not a reactionary but a cautious or qualified democrat. They heard the affection for Churchill and more rarely, constitutional democracy favorably and not the undercurrent, for instance the nihilism of the end of the “Restatement” in On Tyranny. They learned from him, in this context, Plato and Farabi...The best argument on behalf of your perspective I think is to acknowledge how reactionary he was and then argue as Meier first suggested, that he was but on the way to becoming Strauss.  I grant the significance of the thought: in scholarly terms, he becomes in America the teacher and scholar that we think of first.  But I deny that he was speaking of that future in the remarks on Schmitt.  Instead, he was speaking of the “urgency” of the political change he and Schmitt were expecting in 1932 and 1933.  The triumph of national socialism.  To read Strauss in 1932 solely as a scholar and in the light of a future Platonism and qualified affirmation of democracy, interpreted against his great affection for Nietzsche and Heidegger, is implausible.

     Because I didn’t understand the political subtext of Strauss when I started out, I couldn’t figure out his anger at Schmitt for not citing him when Schmitt edited the text of On the Concept of the Political to respond to Strauss’s criticisms.  I thought his annoyance was purely scholarly – and he struck me as off his rocker about the politics – what did he expect from a Nazi and a vicious anti-semite (though not toward Strauss himself)? a leader of the new Reich?  Klein or Loewith if I recall, speaks about how sharply things have changed, how the ears of the Nazis are everywhere, how one (a Jew) can no longer write honestly from Germany.  Schmitt doesn’t answer Strauss's letters, and Strauss feels, as a scholar hurt…Something didn’t add up.

     Put differently, I think Strauss was both a German national revolutionary and a Zionist.  I think he, Klein and Loewith were all Heideggerian/German reactionaries, hoping that German Jews – at the expense once again of the Ostjuden – could be taken in to the new regime.  That had happened after all with Mussolini (many Zionists worked for Mussolini before later emigrating to Israel).  It took time to disabuse each of the German Jews  (as Klein says, apologizing for his onetime hope in the aufhebende Tendenz of the national revolution).  Your argument sees only the political Zionism as Strauss’s national socialism.  I see both.

      I now think I get it more psychologically.  Strauss was I think on the same team with Schmitt, and to the Right of him.  He was hurt by Schmitt's failure to acknowledge him politically. I think he was enormously riven about Jews, and even worried then about what might happen.  I just think he hated liberalism more even than Klein – and realized consciously what was happening much more slowly.  Hence, Klein’s reprimand in the 1934 (!) exchange.  I take this, as well as what Arendt said about him which I think is very likely true – not certainly as you say – and infer that he did indeed feel badly that he could not follow Schmitt and Heidegger into the Nazis because he was a Jew.  There is no letter from Strauss that says this, however.  You can certainly choose, and perhaps wisely, not to take it for what it seems to me to be plainly. I would rather have your view and I find it easy to understand.  But in the light of this consideration (that Strauss was hurt that Schmitt did not acknowledge his superior fascist formulations) and the previous one (that many Straussians seem to  project backward a supposed moderation from the ancients onto Strauss’s reference to getting beyond the horizon of Hobbes), this thought does not seem persuasive.

      Again, I think he envisioned two paths, was both a German national revolutionary and a Zionist.  Your argument sees only the political Zionism as Strauss’s national socialism. Your argument and Strauss’s future course provide evidence that he favors a sweepingly anti-Palestianian Zionism.  Perhaps this was enough to upset Arendt one might suggest, making her reject Strauss despite the engagement of both with Heidegger. But I don’t recall her being passionate about, as opposed to worried about the Palestianians.  Her affection for Heidegger who traded his customary black for a brown shirt and joined Hitler on May 1, 1933 seems to have, with a lapse of 20 years, continued.  But Heidegger was her teacher (the master of them all) and her love.  If Strauss as a Jew and a Zionist were to have affirmed the German national revolution...I think his affirmation of the national revolution, which she cuttingly emphasizes is just what he thought.  Where is the Zionism or the hint of it in his remarks about Schmitt?  Schmitt would have had no interest in this, but why did he engage with Schmitt politically, except that Strauss, a German Jew, was as  interested as Schmitt in ridding the world of liberalism?  Why does Strauss make such a hit with Schmitt, so that Schmitt continues to worry about Strauss’s views on two separate later occasions (what Meier writes about in his book on Strauss and Schmitt, a dialogue among the absent (Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss und der Begriff des Politischen. Zu einem Dialog unter Abwesenden), what I comment on explicitly in “Politics and the God” – I will post this when it is about to be published)?  Perhaps the same thought that would repel Arendt. Hannah says it was about his attitude toward the National Revolution.  My line of argument makes this obvious, yours obscure (perhaps Hannah just didn’t like Leo and rationalized it nastily, one might say in the end, but there is nothing else, given your argument, to say).  Affairs of the heart often have little philosophy or politics to them – or utilize the latter to some extent, to mask something else -  but for these two, and particularly in their long exile in Chicago, I wouldn’t bet on it.

     One other thought on Schmitt.  I think Strauss’s groveling to Schmitt – that Schmitt had offered him the highest praise he could ever hope to receive – is not sarcastic, but completely genuine.  Schmitt was a very smart man and Strauss worshipped smart men (the two or three who might really understand what he was saying as he later wrote to Kojeve; Schmitt was probably one of them). You take him to be critical of Schmitt and to write as a (potential) moderate.  And you unfairly say of Schmitt that he wanted to rid Germany of this Jew (even in 1938, as I emphasize, Schmitt praised "the Jew Strauss" for saying something true).  He wanted to rid Germany of the influence of the prophets (but so did Strauss, in fact, more explicitly as the citation from "Relgioese Lage der Gegenwart" in my post indicates).  He was of course willing to kill Jews, which Strauss did not dream of.  Strauss’s criticisms of Schmitt as a fellow reactionary were all to make him more reactionary.  No sarcasm was called for.

      Strauss blames Heidegger’s vulgar nihilism (see The courage to destroy here) but defends true nihilism (in the 1941 lecture on German nihilism) and becomes interested again when Heidegger defends a true National Socialism (though he does not make the connection explicit).  I am not sure that when he speaks of Heidegger in “Origins of Heideggerian Existentialism,” he is critical of Heidegger (I initially thought of course he favors Nietzsche who would “naturally” not have become a Nazi, not Heidegger. That is the surface. But as the essay goes on, he seems to combine them to indict the US and USSR as “the night of the world.” Yes, Strauss criticized Heidegger’s stance in 1933 (though perhaps he would have then had the same misunderstandng).  But Heidegger criticizes and defends true national socialism.  As opposed to your perspective, that is an exact parallel to Strauss on true nihilism as opposed to Hitler’s vulgar form in the 1941 lecture on “German nihilism.” Except as an ironic or bodily stance, Leo was not a poor, small and self-abnegating person; he said Heidegger was the great philosopher of our time because he believed it (I think Strauss was a great scholar but confused about arguments; I also think Heidegger has some striking insights, even though he bent them very directly toward fascism.  Strauss took them in and extolled them. No one else is required to make this sacrifice of intellect.

      Note that nothing in my argument that Strauss favored the German national revolution in 1933 – the central point of the post – requires that he still held that position when he taught at Chicago.  One could imagine that Strauss had genuinely changed his view and wanted to hide his previous, now regrettable allegiances (hence Cropsey’s remark: some of the letters might be misunderstood).  But here again the exoteric/esoteric distinction gets in the way.  Unless one believes with the Zuckerts’ that he is the “man who gave away the secrets” but alludes to none, it is very very hard to say that his 1941 writing, already in the United States, which distinguishes vulgar nihilism which he opposes from true nihilism with which he admires Churchill is not the underlying political point of view.  Or the 1952 version at the conclusion  in the "Restatement" to On Tyranny (republished by Strauss as chapter 4 of What is Political Philosophy?).  It all gets further and further into his later career, for instance, even his last book, admiring smart authoritarianism and detesting democracy, on The Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws (1973).

     On your note on reading, if one writes exoterically, of course one will spell out what philosophers think and say I am not advocating what others think, I am just spelling it out for the sake of argument (a careful reader has to figure out when this is true, and when he is saying something different; he points this out as a central mask of Farabi, advocating atheism in his writing on Plato, in the middle chapter of What is Political Philosophy?).  So I doubt that your claim about what Strauss is doing, given Strauss’s argument which you rightly admire as innovative, is plausible.  With the Socrates of the Phaedrus, one must be a careful reader, for “eternity.”  One need only read his interpretation of others doing this – writing between the lines – to see how he himself does it.  But how does one insist only on the surface of a writer who claims for himself the discovery and naming of hidden writing?

     You rightly emphasize Strauss’s affection for medieval men of science and his desire to die a philosopher.  He repeats this in many vital contexts.  In the exchange with Klein, he speaks of the decisive reservation he would have praying in a returned ghetto.  He also had such a reservation in Israel.  But does this alter his politics?  Was he not pleased by a Jewish revival – and military victory - at the expense of the Arab regimes and also, as he does not allow himself to say, of the Palestinians?  Was he perhaps not pleased by the German national revolution as I have suggested – even though he finally saw it as too anti-semitic some years later (slower than others)?  Is there not a reason for Strauss’s failure ever to mention the separation of church and state – the liberal solution to the theological-political predicament that was his central theme (at the panel on What is Political Philosophy? at the APSA this year, Will Altman rightly emphasized this question)?  Strauss saw philosophy as perfectly consistent with working toward political reaction – toward the use of the God to justify whatever policies an authoritarian ruler hopes to employ.  Not surprisingly, his political followers in America feed off the evangelicals even though few of them (Ken Masugi from Claremont excepted perhaps) have the slightest intellectual sympathy for them.  Think of the boat trip of Bill Kristol and Sarah Palin and her subsequent rise in American politics…

       As you say, Klein’s 1934 correspondence with Strauss raises the complexity of the attitude of both men toward Zionism.  Klein speaks with affection of teenagers (Strauss and Klein were still quite young) who take up Zionism and emigrate to Palestine. But he wonders if the Jews will not bring Europe (and liberalism) to Israel: in a cacophony (“Kultur”-Quatsch), he suggests they will but listen in Tel Aviv to Verdi's opera "Rigoletto" translated into Hebrew  (Klein to Schmitt in Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:513).  If one listens to this highbrow, clever remark in the context of their Nietzscheanism/Heideggerianism, however, it is not hard to hear frightening resonances.  Strauss himself says little in response except amusingly that the difference between them is like “Mixed Pickle” and raspberry sauce (Himbeersauce), nothing of principle (GS 3:517).

       So I don’t this restricts Strauss in the 1934 letter to hope in Zionism alone, as you suggest, nor does it make his politics, in either setting, more attractive.  On Klein’s behalf, he does see and regret his view on the aufhebende Tendenz of National Socialism in this long letter, and as Strauss would later judge their differences in their 1973 evening – “A Giving of Accounts” - was not political in the way Strauss was.

        The project of settling the Jews in Palestine – advocated by the United Nations and even Stalin once upon a time – had in it a desperate hope and a crime.  The pogroms of Europe, even before Nazism, are among those atrocities which make one wonder about humanity, which should give anyone pause about religiosity.  The spirit is impersonal; a God who could allow this has no human characteristics.  The Jews were under the influence of European colonialism – fascist toward ordinary people, even in the celebrated but in fact odious English version – and in Strauss’s case, of national socialism.  One should be careful about mocking Rigoletti in Hebrew. For one might look at Leo with the same cold eye.  In Paris or Chicago, Rigoletto sure beats Heidegger, Nietzsche or Schmitt (or even the Athenian Stranger) in Hebrew.  Strauss was a reactionary part of his time (many leftist Zionists went along with this; I seem to remember a Kibbutz which admired Stalin and the Russian Revolution but admitted no Arab members; the Histadrut taking no Arab unionists (internationalism or solidarity is the hallmark of Marx and, in this deep respect, of decency).  Emigres had the fantasy of a people without land for a land without people.  But the Palestinians were there and had done nothing to the Jews (Ben Gurion infamously speaks of indigenous people slaughtered or cast away in the United States, and how the West would do nothing about the transfer).  Jews needed to make a home in the Middle East and to commit no further crimes.  Palestinians, too, need a home and to live in peace (a very sad thing: both Jews and Arabs are semites, and both have been subjected to European and American racism; Edward Said’s Orientalism, which recognizes this, deserves to be taken in deeply by all of the Middle East).  The 1967 expansion and its impact on Israel – to create grotesque settlements, make the regime more and more overtly fascist – has greatly undermined Israel's limited, parliamentary democracy. It has harmed ordinary Jews.  In the name of fear, the current blind and greedy political leadership has a death wish.

        A minor point about Scholem – of course you are right that Strauss affirms his own philosophical stance and skepticism in the last letters. And somewhat self-deprecatingly, he jokes around about Epicurus.  But the correspondence has an entirely different and unusual element.  I think he amusingly acknowledges Scholem’s wife’s thought “that the BOSS can even make space for an apiquorsiut (unbelief) like mine” but that it moved him, and that his remarks on Scholem’s lengthy Sabbatai Sevi, the last thing he read, were at once scholarly and something very different.  Strauss’s last blessing on Israel is quite moving.  It doesn’t remove the crimes which he advocated against the Palestinians, but reveals: as the night opens to us we sometimes reach a place which is different from who we were before…

      Un fuerte abrazo (as one says in Spain),

      Alan

Monday, September 21, 2009

Indirection


     There is a round aboutness in all poetry, but particularly in contemporary language poetry, and even in – what is very different though with some of the coloring of it – what I write (see Poem: Anarchist here).  My friend Mark Kramer – we were brought together sometimes awkwardly in childhood by the friendship of my mom and aunt (inseparable) and his mom (my aunt’s dearest friend) – wrote me a beautiful letter seemingly about JJ [the anarchist, cigarmaker, educator and newspaper editor who had fled the tsarist police, the Cossacks, in 1898 – see also Poem: From a distant spot here] but actually about care and surprisingly blogging.  I was distracted by my cousin’s death at 7 in a car accident – we had been raised together and she was nearer to me than any one else -  and JJ, whom he remembers in a vivid image, died shortly after in the same year. A kind person Mark remembers me then as something of an arrogant, athletic sort – actually he was like my brother a sailor and found his own striking way in life, he senses the inside of things, and we did not connect so much then.  But we are closer now, living so far away, virtually (seeing the decadence of 24/7, the shadow of relationships and activities, the isolation – and the corruption and poisoning of American culture - one can miss some new connections). Mark himself writes elegantly (teaches journalism at Harvard) and finds his way round to the beauties of wrapping Christmas presents at my house (ah, assimilating Jews who celebrate Christmas) – not mine of course, I am often a klutz in the physical world, lacking the skill of delicate wrapping, admiring at a distance many family members, the Japanese and other artists in this respect - and realizes the dedication of women under the forms of patriarchy that are fading, the affection and consideration that flowed in and around and despite the awful harms, the love given through social form and sometimes not recognized or requited or in the grimness of the patriarchal social transaction abused…

Hi Alan,  I remember your grandpa JJ.  It was right around the time of Tessa's death.  You were not yet living in Westport, but in, was it . . .Rowaton, Darien? [the house was rented in Darien near Greenwich for a fateful summer, Jews not yet being permanently admissible to upscale Connecticut properties]. I'm guessing it was ~ 1953?  There was a big white house, and a pool with a picket fence around it.  JJ had set up his work outside, perhaps in the alcove of the pool house or under a sun umbrella.  I particularly remember walking near the table where he was writing, in longhand, him looking up and saying something friendly, but going right on with his work, and that he wrote with  a fountain pen that he held 180 degrees rotated along its axis--so that the nib's backside contacted the paper, and the fins of the nib's belly showed to the sky, like a flipped-over bug. 

        I think we visited that house a few times--Esther and I, and perhaps my sister-- always during the day--but it seems, perhaps it's one of memory's conflations, that in one conversation I recall, you were impatient, and walking past JJ, perhaps after we'd played badminton.  I asked if you were distracted by Tessa's death, and you said you were.  It's as likely that you were impatient because I was a poor athlete and you couldn't get a decent badminton game from me.  I also remember, by the way, visiting your Westport home on successive Christmas Eves, because we didn't do much with Christmas, and stopped to behold the under-the-tree display-- gift-wrapping had been raised to a craft in your home, and the boxes were surrounded by origami-like flanges and ties and visual jokes and built into models of other things.  I recalled that scene in the 70s when, living in the country a few hours west of Boston, I accumulated a few antique quilts and supposed that as family gifts by the maker, they'd represented the embodied hours of devoted labor that it had taken to make them, hours spent thinking about, presumably with benign delight, the person to whom they'd be given.  They also represented consent to the social order that had women performing these solo ritual deeds, assembling that evidence of compliance and the shaped charge of contemplating another. I even ran across wire coathangers girded in embroidery.    I learned more about what early 20th c. sociologists called 'exchange behavior' from Lewis Hyde's "The Gift," some years later.  Oddly, and with the object of generosity diffused, blogs are about the only current example of such time-lavish gifts I see around in our culture.  And longer-than expected emails. best, Mark

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A darkness unto the nations

 

       The Goldstone report and the reaction to it have further isolated the government of Israel.  The report is evenhanded, criticizing all atrocities and thus, the massive Israeli atrocities in Gaza.  Some 1300 Palestinains, unarmed, were slaughtered without any way of escaping, including several hundred children; one Israeli 7 year old and some 10 others murdered by Hamas rockets targeted on civilians. The writing of the report is careful; the truth is not “balanced.”   My teacher Michael Walzer wrote wonderfully once upon a time of the care of the Israeli army in honoring the rules of war.  Israel was intent then on being a democracy in the Middle East, if a democracy restricted largely to Jews.  One might have thought that the democracy might expand to Arab Israelis by civil disobedience (Jimmy Carter recently had that thought about what might happen, in the absence of regional or nuclear war, in a quasi-fascist Greater Israel, one state regime).  One might have thought that some powerful forces in Israel might support a Mossadegh,  a democracy elsewhere in the region.  One might have thought…

        Goldstone himself is a South African Jew and a Zionist.  He wrote a report in South Africa which helped prevent vengefulness and violence before the first South African elections.  He stands with Desmond Tutu whose No future without forgiveness, seeing the humanity of Palestinians,  has the greatest sympathy for Israelis.  Tutu was once shunned in Israel for recognizing the Palestinians as human.  But he led blacks in South Africa in a peaceful transition to a decent regime, one featuring the Truth Commission, a light unto the nations, in which they did not kill those who had – by their phobic bloodthirstiness and by their own standards about murder – earned that punishment.  He came back to Israel and many listened to him (though not the governing politicians) with great care.  In the book, he tells a sad story of Eli Wiesel, who was asked by a remorseful concentration camp guard, on his death bed, to forgive him.  Wiesel responded: “Only those whom you murdered can forgive you.” He turned away.  But the dead, however still living in us, cannot forgive.  Wiesel was imprisoned by his guilt (why am I alive when so many are gone?  How can I, even if I spend every day hunting the killers, earn the right to speak for others?).  As Bishop Tutu said, one cannot live in the prison of the past.  One must respond now. Only we can hear the remorse and those voices which ask for mercy. Only we can forgive.

       The establishment in Israel is huddled in a fantasy of righteousness.  All those 400 children – they are all dead because of the innocence of the occupation, the lack of arms of the IDF, the troublemaking of the Palestinians (who cannot leave or obtain food because the state of Israel prevents it)....   Every Jew, they say, including Israeli soldiers (if they were Germans in World War II,  they would be sanctified by Israelis and every decent person worldwide, but in Israel they dare not reveal their names) who spoke up against the atrocities must be denounced as the intellectual “prisoner of the Palestinians.”  Magnes Zionist has a fine post Wednesday here  on the crazed isolation of the Israeli regime:

      Remember the time when Israel was praised as a beacon of democracy in an undemocratic region, when the world cheered tiny Israel fighting a sea of hostile Arabs? Now that the Goldstone Report has come out – the last in a series of reports criticizing Israel's Gaza Operation -- Israel is supported by all the usual suspects – rightwing Jews, rightwing Israelis (Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres on the moderate nationalist right to hyper-fascists like Ayalon and Lieberman), and, I suppose, Christian evangelicals and some conservative goyyim. Not a single liberal or progressive will rise to Israel's defense, because let's face it – when Israelis, Jews, and the rest of the world rise to criticize the bully's actions, when the person accused by the prime minister of Israel as conducting a "kangaroo court" is one of the most respected judges and scholars of international law (and a Jew and a Zionist to boot), when all the evidence against the Goldstone report is linked to research done by the rightwing Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, or the rightwing NGO Monitor (which itself does not do fact-checking but instead a lot of googling to dig up dirt on its opponents), then you know that Israel has already lost.”

     This is Reaction in Israel – the racist authoritarianism of the government, featuring the foreign minister Lieberman who is a fascist, the debates in the Knesset over whether Arab Israelis, treated already as second class citizens, must swear a loyalty oath, the continuation of the settlements in which the government funds the destruction of Palestinian homes and/or eviction of their residents, smooths the resettlement of naïve or greedy Israeli rightists – mirroring the Nazis who took every bit of Jewish property off the persons of the dead, these settlers try to live with the madness of taking the homes of others, of ethnic cleansing,  looking out on the dispossession and poverty of the former owners.  If God did not will this, if one does not have racial superiority, if Palestinians are human (let alone, being as I sometimes say, the Jews of the occupied territories)…The teaching of the children not that the Jews, slaves and prophets exited from the bondage of Egypt to welcome strangers and oppose oppression, but that they themselves are worthy of becoming…barbaric, new Pharoahs.

    Magnes Zionist makes the profound point that the Israeli government has built a “legitimacy” at the expense of human rights. I mean this in the full moral sense, that they have made a regime against democracy with explicit, as in the Knesset, endorsement of evil.  The loyalty oath for Arab Isreals thankfully  did not pass the Knesset, but the fact of its discussion – are Jews really citizens of the Weimar republic? Must they swear a loyalty oath? would have been an equivalent discussion in a pre-1932 Reichstag – is tragic.  In its zeal to create a “greater” Israel, the establishment stands against human rights.  But the cause of human rights is the cause of the Jews who suffered the pogroms, the Jews stolen and hidden away in camps by the monsters while all the world looked on in silence (except the partisans in Russia – I have a student in my nonviolence class this quarter whose BeloRussian grandmother, a Jew, fought with the partisans against the Nazis - and of course the many Jews who fought for the US. Stalin sometimes nurtured bigotry against Jews, those near him, as did FDR whose government turned boatloads of émigré Jews back to Europe and would not mention the holocaust during the War because, as George Kennan ignobly said, that would make the war “a partisan effort”).  The cause of human rights is the cause of the Jews.   Perhaps that is why so many Jews following the path taken earlier by I.F. Stone or Noam Chomsky or Ilan Pappe,  with full recognition of the holocaust, stand against what the Israeli government so far does.

      Barack Obama is pursuing a complex path to try to save Israel from itself.  Bush had pursued the crazed policy of isolating Russia by expanding NATO, putting nuclear missiles in Poland and Czechoslovakia.  This was a policy only to help the military-industrial complex, since it placed ordinary people at the risk of war.  Over the shouts of reactionary and self-destructive officials in Poland and Czechoslovakia (if they have missiles, just who will be hit first in an exchange between the US and Russia?), Obama has reversed the Bush policy.  He seeks to decrease tensions with Russia.  This is, in itself, a brilliant move toward peace, toward hororing the end of rather than renewing the Cold War.  But his aim is not simply to achieve decency with Russia but to get Russia to put pressure on Iran to assure the world, by inspections, that its nuclear program is peaceful, that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons (there remains a standard American hypocrisy in this; Israel has several hundred such weapons, and is a great danger to use them, and the US has many more and is the lone power to have used them).  The aim is to reach out to the crazed government of Israel, egged on by Cheney (who was prevented only by the financial crash and some awareness, finally by Bush, that his Presidency had been eaten from within by Cheney’s literal madness), to get them not to aggress against Iran.  Hence, Obama, who has given marvelous speeches recognizing the humanity of everyone in the Middle East, also asked his UN representative, Susan Rice to speak on Thursday critically of the Goldstone Report (Magnes Zionist is right generally, but he wrote before Rice spoke).  The reason she spoke was not to harm the Palestinians but to reassure the isolated and crazed Israeli leaders that the US pressure on them to negotiate with the Palestinians and not bomb Iran was only at the expense of the monstrous greater Israel project, not at the expense of Jews. In diplomacy, very rarely, perhaps what is wrong is right.  Obama deserves to be criticized for this, but the purpose is clear.  Obama has set out a new course: the US  is working actively to save Jews and Palestinians, to push for a two state solution.  This move is  in the context of  making the reactionary Israeli government understand that bombing Iran is not on.  If you like complex realist policies on behalf of conflict resolution – after the Bush years, you would have to be a fool  not to (unfortunately there are a quite a number in the American establishment and news media) – it would be hard to beat Obama.  I again can’t think of a parallel in an American President (Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, was capable of listening and finally saved the world, perhaps Khruschchev similarly – but one could not call the moves of either sophisticated in this way)  or for that matter, a world leader. Let us pray that there will be further moves (that he can not only head off war with Iran, but that he will make himself clear...).

        An American President, Obama is still pursuing the madness in Afghanistan.  General McCrystal, a torturer in Iraq, has the bright idea that the US should stop murdering civilians.  He is acting forthrightly to prevent such murder.  It is good that he does this, every army should – learn from the self-conception of the Israeli army in the 1960s -  and his efforts cast a glaring light on the seven years of butchery conducted by the Bush administration of Afghanistan (Obama is allowing investigation of General Dostum's murder of some thousands of prisoners in 2001).  But McCrystal has mistaken his vocation.  The army which does not bloody the world with its so-called “collateral damage” does not exist.  Even the Chinese or the Vietnamense revolutions, genuinely popular forms of guerilla war by the home team, committed atrocities (read carefully, William Hinton’s Fanshen about the story of the Chinese Revolution in a village where he had then lived – the American immigration authorities stole and held his notes for 10 years, when he returned from China in 1953; the book was only published in 1965 - underlines this point; for instance, there is a story of a Communist leader whose parents, landlords, had been killed in the peasant uprising…).  If you want not to murder civilians, don’t invade.  If you seek not to create reasons for the survivors, and for children, to hate you for lifetimes, if you want to make the Taliban unpopular, to get Afghanis to fight and reject them, withdraw your army…Hamas had lost popularity dramatically among Palestinians until the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. 

      Leo Strauss’s writings are now popular among reactionary academics and activists in Israel.  I met Michael Kochin, a thoughtful Israeli student of Strauss, at the APSA panel I organized debating Strauss’s May 19, 1933 letter to Loewith in 2007. He characterizes Strauss as a reactionary and is perhaps himself an Israeli reactionary.  He even found something good in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon (another disaster, greater morally than even militarily).  Like many rightwing Israelis, he moves in a framework – lives on a planet of fear – that most of us fail to understand.  Strauss himself lived on such a faraway and later perhaps esoteric planet – available mainly if somewhat delphically to the political clique he inspired - for much of his political life. He thought modern society decadent.  Some late surface remarks aside, he detested democracy (often in the same essays if one reads on).  He saw a hope even in the German national revolution (a unique place for a very scholarly Jew) and of course in a political Zionism, which was in fact, and now increasingly overtly and brutally, a form of national socialism (the kibbutzes have faded; perhaps one should say national capitalism with the emphasis on benefits for Jews like the settlers; in any case, he favored an Israeli “national revolution” not sufficiently distinct from the onetime German revolution).  See here and here.   On Strauss’s Delphic account, he spent his life on the “theological-political problem”: how smart authoritarians or Fuehrers or “statesmen” can use the foolish religiosity of others to put across their views.  The political philosophers of Strauss’s inspiration in Israel encourage the demented rabbis who seek greater Israel, the advisors to the army who wish to save Jews by inciting soldiers to kill old women walking a hundred yards away, to make the only decent people those who put down their guns, refuse to serve in the occupied territories or speak out (even in fear of giving their names) to name the crimes.  Sadly, Strauss and the political zealots among his followers - a minority of devoted students of Strauss defend the humanity of Palestinians - encourage such a religious movement at the expense of "the childish and pathetic inalienable rights of man."

      Will Altman went to the meeting on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Strauss’s What is Political Philosophy of the Claremont Institute at the American Political Science Association this September, and asked the panelists a question which shaped the subsequent discussion.  Why didn’t Leo Strauss, who was centrally interested in the “theological political problem” ever mention the decent liberal solution, the separation of church and state?  No matter how attentive to Strauss’s hidden writing and subtlety, no one in a crowd of people enamored of Strauss, or for that matter, someone like me who am very critical of Strauss’s politics but would rather Strauss had not thought this, can think of any examples (I asked Peter Minowitz, who referred me to several interesting discussions of politics and religion by Strauss, but as he said, struck out on even a discussion, let alone sympathy for separation of church and state (since Peter wrote a book carefully defending Strauss against unjust attacks, this is quite an admission). He is still looking. It would be good to find one.  Given all this trouble among those who should know, Altman’s question makes it all too clear about why the neoconservatives in the US and Israel betray the recognition of human rights, the cause of equality, the way each of these regimes might be rather than is (I mean this in the sense of Gandhi’s response to the reporter’s question about what he thought of English civilization - he said: “it would be nice” - or perhaps in Obama’s sense of seeking a more perfect union).

    My friend Ilene Cohen tells a sad and memorable story about a reactionary response to a speech to a Kosher Jewish supper club by Michael Walzer at Princeton in which he defended the separation of church and state and talked of its possible benefits in Israel.

     “I recently sent out one of the regular Jerusalem Post columns by Michael Freund. As I believe I wrote, Freund, who is Orthodox, graduated from Princeton in the 1980s. He moved to Israel and worked for Netanyahu in the 1990s. Very right wing, now involved in an organization that seeks to bring ‘lost Jews’ back into the Jewish fold (I can’t even begin to explain that one).  Freund was part of a right-wing, pro-settler cohort at Princeton that included Yoram Hazony, one of the founders of the Shalem Center, a right-wing "think tank" in Jerusalem (which was home to Michael Oren before he went to Washington as Israel's newest ambassador). These Princeton students used to make little unscheduled speeches/harangues during dinner at the kosher eating club of the time (Stevenson Hall), telling students of their duty to go to Israel and ‘settle.’ Most striking memory of Michael Freund was his comment to the speaker at a Friday night Shabbat forum on the Princeton campus, as follows.

The speaker was Michael Walzer, who was addressing the topic of religion and democracy in Israel--the issue being the proper role of Orthodox Judaism in the government establishment. Walzer was talking American "separation of church and state" or some such thing.

Freund stood up to comment during the Q&A: "If I wanted democracy, I could stay here."

You know how there are some things that you hear that you never forget?”

This is a regime against democracy.

        Obama is trying to head off Israel from launching world war (and the US to attentuate the impact of its recent aggressions). With difficulty, we can step back from conflagration throughout the Middle East – with its dangers over the next 25 years  of nuclear war between Israel and Iran or Pakistan and India, or we can continue the Bush-Cheney-Israeli government course which leads rather plainly to destruction. See here.   If the Israeli government continues to brutalize Palestinians daily, and to hassle young women from the Middle West – some of my students -  who go to Palestine and try to protect the evicted even on programs organized with the Hebrew Univesity of Jerusalem, Israel is lost.  See here and here.  A tragic article by Naomi Chazan, sent to me by Ilene Cohen, underlines this point, though it also indicates again, in the Jerusalem Post, that decency is alive in Israel. The spirit of those who exited Egypt still lives. Like Richard Goldstone, it will take each of us naming the truth and standing up for democracy, undergirded by the human rights of each person,  in Israel and the US, to make a difference.

Critical Currents: A tale of two polls

Sep. 3, 2009

Naomi Chazan , THE JERUSALEM POST

The Jewish experience in the 21st century is marked by its democratic character. For the first time, Jews throughout the world, with virtually no exceptions, live freely in open societies. Yet recent polls conducted in the two major concentrations of Jewish existence today - Israel and the United States - reveal a growing divergence of views, interests and mind-sets. These focus squarely on differing approaches to the role of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. Without a thorough, honest and critical reassessment of the humanistic and moral underpinnings of Israel and what it represents, its centrality in the Jewish world will continue to wane.

Attitudes toward Barack Obama among American and Israeli Jews are symptomatic of a much deeper parting of ways. Last week, a Smith Research poll conducted on behalf of The Jerusalem Post showed that only 4 percent of Israeli Jews see the US president's policies as pro-Israel (down from a paltry 6% in June and a dramatic drop from the 31% who viewed them as such in May). A majority of respondents (51%) consider the new administration's position more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel, and 35% think they do not evince a bias for one side or the other.

The most progressive leader of the US in recent memory is not liked in Israel.

IN CONTRAST, a poll of Jewish Democrats (78% of American Jews voted for Obama), commissioned by the conservative Traditional Values Coalition and released a couple of week ago, shows that 92% approve of the president's job performance. In addition, 58% of those queried said he was doing a good job in promoting peace in the Middle East (only 16% disagreed with this statement). The majority of Jews in the US stand solidly behind Barack Obama.

The glaring gap in the attitudes of Israeli and American Jews toward the relationship between their respective governments is undeniable. Assuming that these latest surveys are methodologically sound (they are, indeed, entirely consistent with other polls carried out during the past few months), then the immediate lessons are clear. From the point of view of the present administration in Washington, recent steps have obviously not resonated with the Israeli public, whose built-in defensiveness has been magnified as a result of efforts to propel a resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict. From the vantage point of the Netanyahu government, the bulk of American Jewry is at odds with its basic precepts. Their identification with Israel no longer extends to unequivocal support for its actions.

The growing rift between these two major Jewish communities is not indicative merely of a disagreement over policy directions. It mirrors far more profound processes taking place in both settings.

In the US, Jews have, time and again, evinced steadfast support for the liberal principles of equality and social justice, which they equate with their Jewish heritage as well as with universal values. These binding norms have helped to fuse their collective identity and continually guide their outlooks and their behavior. Concern for the downtrodden, the disempowered and the other has become central to the Jewish ethic in the US. As Darren Pinsker so skillfully demonstrated in these pages just last weekend ("Obama and the Jewish vote"), most Jews in the US consistently adhere to social-democratic precepts domestically and to dovish positions internationally. These views are an inextricable part of their makeup as Jewish citizens of the US.

Trends in Israel point in quite different directions. As more Jews outside Israel - in Europe and Latin America as well as in North America - have internalized the democratic ethos, those in Israel appear to be disengaging from its roots. Six decades of independent achievement are increasingly being clouded by the acceleration of socioeconomic inequalities, the prevalence of discrimination among Jews of different backgrounds (shamelessly brought to the fore by the effort to exclude pupils of Ethiopian origin from some religious schools in Petah Tikva), the systemically unequal treatment of Arab citizens as well as continuing rule over another people, with all that this entails.

THE ISRAEL Democracy Institute's annual Democracy Index released barely a month ago uncovers an alarming rise in intolerance, bigotry and outright racism which flies in the face of basic democratic principles. A dangerous combination of religious formalism and unfettered patriotism, coupled with an almost inexplicable attachment to neoconservative doctrines, has narrowed Jewish horizons in Israel and threatens to erode its egalitarian foundations.

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Jews in Israel and abroad are drifting apart: The symbiotic relationship which bound them together in the past cannot survive in the free environment of the 21st century unless it is cemented by a renewed commitment to human dignity and the values of justice and equality that give it meaning.

Initially, the mutually sustaining link between nascent Israel and world Jewry was predicated on a commonality of tradition and destiny. Jews throughout the globe provided Israel with material support and political backing; in return, Israel's existence offered the promise of a safe haven and a much-needed rallying point for affiliation and mobilization. Implicit in this somewhat uneven exchange was the belief that Israel, as the homeland of the Jewish people, would exemplify the Jewish contribution to a just global order by constituting a ‘light unto the nations.’

This normative bond has gradually unraveled as Israel has become a fully industrialized country and Jews from the former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence have been liberated from the shackles of totalitarianism. It is also this ethical tie which is in desperate need of repair.

There is a steep decline in American Jewish sentiment toward Israel. If, in the annual American Jewish Committee survey of 2006, 37% of US Jews claimed that they felt very close to Israel, by 2008 -scarcely two years later - this figure dropped to 29%. Undoubtedly the Second Lebanon War, corruption in high places, the Gaza offensive and shifting global currents have left a mark on American Jews. They have found outlets other than Israel to articulate their Jewish identity and their ongoing dedication to its moral dictates. Israel's actions and the discourse of its leaders no longer dovetail with those of its founders and of many Jews who in the past drew inspiration from their deeds.

Any hope for the revival of a constructive partnership between Jews in Israel and elsewhere must build on the humanistic worldview that has informed the Judaic tradition in the past and has become the essence of Jewish existence today. This requires a serious, frank, egalitarian and value-driven global effort to review and update the Jewish agenda and to make it relevant to the challenges of the present century.

Such an undertaking is a reciprocal obligation - that is the only way to make Israel and the world it inhabits a better place for all. Until such a dynamic is put in motion, the two polls bear evidence to the dual poles which represent the Jewish trajectory today."

H/t Debbie Main for requesting that I write about this.