That New York City’s left-wing mayor had to voice his support for Israel in secret says much about the norms at work in today’s liberal Democratic circles.
Michael Rubin argues that the current state of Middle East studies in U.S. universities bears some responsibility for the present crisis in the region. Much of this can be traced back to the destructive ideological legacy of Columbia University’s Edward Said, whose best-known arguments licensed others “to prioritize polemic and politics above fact and scholarly rigor.” Rubin explains:
Rashid Khalidi, a close friend of Obama from their mutual University of Chicago days, now holds a chair named in Said’s honor at Columbia. He has consistently argued that politicians and diplomats do not listen to those like himself who claim expertise in the Middle East. . . . Khalidi, as with many others in his field, both sought to prioritize and to amplify the importance of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
At the same time, he appears obsessed with post-colonial theory, [according to which] American power is corrosive, and the road to Middle East peace runs through Jerusalem. Likewise, cultural equivalence predominates: what the West calls terrorism is not so black and white. Hateful ideologies? They are simply the result of grievance. America should apologize and understand and accommodate itself to the position of the other if it is committed truly to peace.
Barack Obama entered office having internalized such beliefs. Rather than act as leader of the free world, he approached the Middle East as a zoning commissioner. What he lacked in understanding, he compensated for with arrogance—dispensing with decades of accumulated wisdom and experience of predecessors both Democrat and Republican. Rather than jumpstarting the peace process, Obama succeeded in setting it back decades.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition recently conducted airstrikes against a refugee camp in Yemen, from which Houthi forces had purportedly fired on them—killing dozens of civilians and injuring many more. If Israel had carried out the attacks, Elliott Abrams notes, it would face global condemnation. For Arab states, however, there is none:
I cannot recall an incident where Israel struck at a refugee camp and killed 40 people all at once, also injuring 200 others, but I am willing to bet on the world reaction to this Saudi attack: zero. No meetings, no commissions, no reports.
What are the lessons to be drawn? That the Arab group and the Islamic nations have more votes in the UN than Israel, which of course has but one. That there is an indefensible double standard when it comes to evaluating Israel. And that hiding behind civilians is a widespread crime. Nothing new here.
I suppose it’s too much to ask that if Israel and Hamas enter another round of fighting in Gaza, those countries who have joined together to suppress the Houthi rebels in Yemen might think twice before condemning Israel, and might even condemn Hamas for hiding behind civilians. But the almost certain silence in the United Nations about the attack on the refugee camp in Yemen is worth recalling the next time Israel is attacked for doing far less to protect itself. I don’t know the details about the Saudi attack, and perhaps it was carried out with care and precision. The point is, no one is going to bother to find out.
This, writes Chaim Saiman, is the fifth question on everyone’s mind on Passover. Ancient rabbinic sources—cited in the haggadah itself—state that it is praiseworthy to elaborate at length on the story of the exodus, and Moses Maimonides in the 12th century mandated the practice as preceding the Passover meal. But the Shulḥan Arukh, a major 16th-century law code, cites another ancient tradition: that the seder should move quickly so that the children can fulfill the ritual commandment of eating matzah before their bedtime, with further discussion reserved for afterward. Saiman detects an underlying philosophical difference between the two approaches:
The view of . . . Maimonides and the haggadah itself is that what the seder is about is the retelling and discussion of the story of the exodus from Egypt to the point where one sees oneself as having been personally redeemed. Here, the entire family uses story, study, and song to relive the birth of Jewish nationhood. When successful, this is surely close to the seder’s ideal. There is, however, also a cost to setting ambitions so high: the kids might fall asleep and the adults may tune out.
The conception of the seder in . . . the Shulḥan Arukh is more modest. The seder starts promptly and is (relatively) short so that no one misses out on the essential, legally mandated, ritual elements. Then, once the seder is over, those with the ability to [do so] can stay awake all night discussing the laws of Passover. . . .
The difference between these two views of the seder also relates to what is being taught. According to the haggadah and Maimonides, the centerpiece of the seder is the retelling of the Passover story, a form of narrative. . . . By contrast, the Shulḥan Arukh emphasizes studying the laws of the Passover sacrifice. . . . The disagreement is really a debate over how to preserve and convey the essence of the Jewish experience. Through law or narrative, legal reasoning or theology? This tension is present in the earliest rabbinic texts, carried forward in the positions of the later great halakhic authorities, and is still present at our own seder tables.
According to Mary Eberstadt, Christians and other religious people in Western societies are suffering from a new and insidious form of persecution, which consists of “the slow-motion marginalizing and penalizing of believers.” She writes:
[T]here is no mercy in putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers in the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs—but that’s what the new intolerance does. There is no mercy in stalking and threatening Christian pastors for being Christian pastors, or in casting out social scientists who turn up unwanted facts, or in telling a flight attendant she can’t wear a crucifix, or in persecuting organizations that do charitable work—but the new intolerance does these things, too. There’s no mercy in yelling slurs at anyone who points out that the sexual revolution has been flooding the public square with problems for a long time now and that, in fact, some people out there are drowning—but slurs are the new intolerance’s stock in trade. Above all, there is no mercy in slandering people by saying that religious believers “hate” certain people when in fact they do not; or that they are “phobes” of one stripe or another when in fact they are not. . . .
This brings us to [another] fact about the new intolerance: it is dangerous not only for the obvious reason that it spells censorship, but even more because it spells self-censorship—including within the churches. Inside Christianity itself, the scramble over the sexual revolution turns a community of sinners united by the shared search for redemption into something very different: a discrete series of aggrieved factions, each clamoring for spiritual entitlement. It’s institutionally destructive. . . .
As a related matter, it’s worth at least pausing to wonder whether the revival of anti-Semitism in parts of Europe today might not have a religious component after all. For while the beatings and ostracism visited on Jewish people in parts of Europe today are delivered by those who hate the state of Israel, the inexplicable tolerance of these acts by many other people in Europe still demands explanation. Maybe some of it has to do with the shared moral code that joins Judaism and Christianity at the root—and the deep resentment of some people today that such a code has ever so much as existed.
The Judean date palm, once found in abundance in the land of Israel, has been extinct for some 1,500 years. In 2005, the botanical researcher Elaine Solowey tried planting an ancient seed that had been discovered in the ruins of Masada. The resulting tree (nicknamed Methuselah) has now produced offspring. April Holloway writes:
For thousands of years, the date palm was a staple crop in the kingdom of Judea, as it was a source of food, shelter, and shade. Thick forests of the palms towering up to 80 feet and spreading for seven miles covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. So valued was the tree that it became a recognized as a symbol of good fortune in Judea. It is chronicled in the Bible, Quran, and ancient literature for its diverse powers . . . and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria, and toothache.
However, its value was also the source of its demise and eventual extinction. The tree so defined the local economy that it became a prime resource for the invading Roman army to destroy. Once the Roman Empire took control of the kingdom in 70 CE, the date palms were wiped out in an attempt to cripple the Jewish economy. The effort eventually succeeded, and by 500 CE the once plentiful palm had completely disappeared, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest. . . .
[Elaine] Solowey now hopes she will be able to plant an ancient date grove. To do that, she would need to grow a female plant from an ancient seed as a mate for Methuselah, and it’s looking promising—Solowey has managed to sprout a small handful of other date palms from ancient seeds recovered at archaeological sites around the Dead Sea, and at least two of them are female.