Virtue Signaling in Political Discourse

In a post-truth world, and one where the death of expertise is an increasing threat, it makes sense that artificial moral dialogue should find a place in political discourse. In other words, as Tom Nichols has pointed out in his book The Death of Expertise, the low-information voter and other sorts of political ignorance (e.g. the uninformed who disdain proper sources of expertise, the claim that those who are experts are nothing more than elitists, the emergence of the customer satisfaction model in education, and the merging of information and entertainment) have begun to rely more on virtue signaling than actually making an argument or refining their moral discourse.

Virtue signaling is a pejorative term for the expression of a moral position that signals the speaker’s morally superior stance on some issue. When your office mate declares that she does not eat red meat and advises that for the good of water management and the environment you adopt a vegetarian diet, she’s engaging in virtue signaling. It is a message (signal) that expresses the speaker’s virtues and carries the underlining implication that the speaker is morally superior. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is a banality that carries no logical path and is little more than a generality designed to portray Trump as someone who recognizes what it means to be great and therefore must be great himself. It carries the quality of virtue signaling because it’s not really designed to change minds as display himself as someone who is great.

All points along the spectrum of political philosophy virtue signal – those on the left and the right. But there seems to be slightly more moral outrage in the form of virtue signaling on the left. Social programs, the democratic state, moral positions on gun-control and welfare, etc. easily lend themselves to virtue signaling.

Signaling of course is part of human evolutionary development. Humans have evolved ways to signal availability for reproduction, danger, and ways to control the costs of signaling.

You are more likely to see virtue signaling in environments where decisions cannot be traced to a single person. In logical environments where actions are understood as having a connection between one act and another virtue signaling is less effective. So, businesses making financial decisions don’t virtue signal very often because it’s difficult and costly. But when a corporation wants to express its good citizenship it can virtue signal by common conscious slogans such as “We Are Going To Go Green” and our products are “Environmentally Friendly”. An article in Aeon explains how the use of religion to virtue signal is common. Appeals to God and religious morality certainly signal the speaker’s virtue along with a clear moral discourse.

Most citizens feel overwhelmed when it comes to real political action. They are exhausted by the possibilities and requirements, both organizational and financial, and consequently do nothing. So, the performance of ostentatious displays of virtue and high diction condemnations of others on the basis of “social justice” takes the place of actual moral mechanisms that guide our action.

It’s not surprising that virtue signaling has surfaced as an alternative to tighter logical systems of reasoning and decision-making. An alternative that political figures exploit in order to supply ideological images that stir our emotions more than anything else.

Israel’s Rights in the West Bank and International Law

Israel’s Rights in the West Bank and International Law.

Alan Baker

Tablet Magazine

November 20, 2019

The issue of international law seems to be increasingly important and an issue that can be interpreted as supportive of either side. Alan Baker weighs in on some issues as I will in a future post.

The issue of Israel’s rights in the West Bank under international law, as simple as it sounds, conceals a complex and extensive web of historic, legal, military and political issues that, for many years, have engaged and continue to engage the parties to the conflict, as well as the international community as a whole.

This article will briefly analyze the three major elements defining Israel’s rights in the West Bank.

Firstly, and underscoring all other considerations, are the international legal rights emanating from the indigenous and historic claims of the Jewish people in the area as a whole, virtually from time immemorial. These rights were acknowledged in 1917 by the Balfour Declaration’s promise of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, and subsequently recognized internationally and encapsulated into international law through a series of international instruments.

Secondly, Israel’s legal rights following the 1967 Six-Day War, as the power administering the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria (so described in the U.N. 1947 Partition Resolution 181), and the concomitant, unique sui genesis status of the area.

Thirdly, Israel’s rights under international law following the 1993-1995 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, and especially the 1995 Interim Agreement, (commonly known as Oslo 2) which established a unique territorial arrangement as a form of lex specialis, that divided the control and governance of the West Bank areas between a Palestinian Authority established for that purpose, and Israel.

***

Israel’s rights in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria did not originate with Israel’s attaining control of the area following the 1967 Six-Day War.

Long before, the Balfour Declaration issued by the British government in 1917 acknowledged the indigenous presence and historic aspirations of the Jewish people to reestablish their historic national home in Palestine. While legally the Balfour Declaration, in and of itself, was a unilateral governmental declaration, it received international legal acknowledgement and validity in a series of instruments, commencing with the 1920 San Remo Conference and Declaration by the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers. San Remo encapsulated the content of the Balfour Declaration into the post-World War I arrangements dividing the former Ottoman Empire. In this way, the Principal Allied Powers finalized the territorial dispositions regarding the Jewish people in respect to Palestine and the Arabs in respect to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, and Lebanon.

The San Remo Declaration stated inter alia that:

“The mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the 8th [2nd] of November, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …”

This was incorporated into Article 95 of the (unratified) Treaty of Sèvres of Aug. 10, 1920, and subsequently in the Preamble and Article 2 of the Mandate for Palestine approved by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922:

 “The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

The continued validity of these foundational legal rights encapsulated in the various international instruments predating the establishment of the United Nations was also assured under Article 80 of the United Nations Charter:

“… nothing in this Chapter shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties.”

***

The second element defining Israel’s rights under international law in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria relates to the period following the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequent to Jordan’s participation in the combined military action against Israel, in concert with Egypt and Syria. During this conflict Israel attained control of the areas of Judea and Samaria and established a military administration to govern the local population, pursuant to the accepted norms and requirements of international law.

However, the issue of Israel’s international rights in administering the area was complex in light of the unique legal and political status of the territory.

In classical situations of belligerent occupation of the territory of a sovereign state, the rights and obligations vis-a-vis the territory and the local population are set out in the 1907 Hague Regulations of Land Warfare and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

These instruments prescribe clear norms of behavior between an occupier and the local population as to the rights and duties involved in administering the area, protecting the forces of the occupier and respecting the humanitarian rights of the local population. Such norms cover issues of property, respect for local law and private property rights, ensuring public order and safety, and respecting the territorial rights of the sovereign pending settlement of the dispute.

With regard to the West Bank areas, the legal situation was not the classical situation of belligerent occupation of the land of a sovereign state. This irregularity stemmed from the fact that Jordan was not considered by the international community as having attained legitimate sovereign rights over the areas of Judea and Samaria, following its 1950 unrecognized annexation of the areas. As such, from the legal point of view, since there existed no legitimate sovereign power, a sui generis situation existed in which the classic laws of occupation were not legally applicable.

Israel’s status, as explained by its then Military Advocate General, Meir Shamgar (later to become Israel’s attorney general and chief justice), was:

“The territorial position is … sui generis, and the Israeli government tried therefore to distinguish between theoretical juridical and political problems on the one hand, and the observance of the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the other hand.”

From the start, Israel distinguished between the unique nature and status of the territory on the one hand, and accepted and requisite international obligations vis-a-vis the local population in the day-to-day administration of the territory, on the other hand, pending a peaceful solution regarding its final status.

Concomitant with its assuming control in June 1967 Israel committed itself, through a series of military proclamations and orders to act in accordance with the relevant norms of international law in all matters including property, respecting existing local legislation, and other general provisions.

In the same context, without officially acknowledging the formal applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories, which would have been tantamount to recognizing that the territory was Jordanian, Israel committed itself to apply vis-a-vis the local population, the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Pursuant to Article 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations dealing with the issue of property, Israel, as “administrator and usufructuary,” maintained the right to use public, non-privately owned land and property, pending the final outcome of the dispute.

This premise served as the basis for Israel’s settlement policy, enabling use of public lands and properties while strictly respecting private rights of ownership of local residents of the territories. Thus, residents of Israeli settlements never received ownership rights to the land, which is provisionally leased to them by a government custodian pending an agreed determination of the territorial dispute.

Israel has consistently rejected the oft-heard accusation in international political bodies that its settlement policy violates the prohibition in Fourth Geneva Convention on the mass transfer of its residents into the territory. This in light of the provenance of such prohibition in the post-Second World War mass transfers of populations in Europe by the Nazis in an attempt to alter the demographic structure of the countries involved. This was made clear in the official Red Cross commentary, edited by Jean Pictet, on the sixth paragraph of the Geneva Convention article 49, regarding deportation and transfer of persons into occupied territory.

According to Pictet:

“…. It is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race.”

The fact that the 1993-95 Oslo Accords determined that the issue of settlements will be a negotiating issue in the permanent status negotiations underlines the fact that the settlement issue has yet to be agreed upon, and is, of necessity, inherently linked to the other permanent status issues, including borders, Jerusalem, security and the like. As stated in the Oslo Accords:

“It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.”

Pursuant to the 1967 Six-Day War, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted on Nov. 22, 1967, set out the basic framework of rights and obligations intended to lead to a solution of the Middle East conflict. The nonbinding but key resolution, adopted under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter dealing with the pacific settlement of disputes, affirmed inter alia the rights of all states in the area to just and lasting peace, termination of belligerency, respect for sovereignty and independence, and secure and recognized boundaries, and called for negotiations to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement.

This resolution has constituted the basis for the subsequent peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors Egypt and Jordan. It also serves as the central pillar in the series of agreements signed between Israel and the PLO regarding the West Bank. Such negotiations proceeded over the years to develop possible models for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate between them the rights that they respectively claim in the areas of the West Bank.

During this period, and up to the signing of the 1993-1995 Oslo Accords, Israel continued to administer the areas on the basis of the rights to which it was entitled pursuant to international law.

***

The third element defining Israel’s rights in West Bank was the landmark 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Oslo 2) witnessed by the world leaders and endorsed by the U.N.

The parties agreed, pending the negotiation an agreement to determine the permanent status of the area, to divide the effective control between a Palestinian Authority established for that purpose, and Israel. In this way the Oslo Accords created a sui generis legal regime, a lex specialis that overrides any other, previously applicable legal framework that may have been applicable, including the Geneva Convention.

As such, the PLO, as the formal representative of the Palestinian people, formally agreed that in addition to those West Bank and Gaza Strip areas in which all powers and responsibilities for governance and administration would be transferred into the hands of the Palestinian Authority (Areas A and B and the Gaza Strip), Israel would retain powers and responsibilities in part of the area (Area C) vis-a-vis both local Palestinian residents in the area, as well as the Israeli citizens residing in settlements and villages. The parties agreed that this arrangement would remain valid pending the outcome of negotiations between them on the permanent status of the areas.

Despite attempts by the international community, through nonbinding political statements and resolutions in the U.N., to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations by claiming that the territories are “occupied Palestinian territories,” there exists no such legally accepted or agreed to determination.

Similarly, the Oslo Accords did not specify the form the permanent status of the area would take—whether one state, two states, federation, confederation or otherwise. Thus, states and organizations advocating a “two-state solution” are, in fact preempting the outcome of the negotiations that have yet to take place. Any agreed solution will only emanate from negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and Israel and cannot be imposed unilaterally by U.N. resolutions, or by any international forum, or individual leaders.

Any permanent status agreement, if and when reached, will be the sole agreed upon instrument duly determining the status of the area and the respective international and bilateral rights and commitments both of Israel and the Palestinians.

Time will tell.

The Dangerous Trend Toward Polarization and Ideological Purity

The problem of polarization continues and is likely to be the defining political characteristic of contemporary United States. The US populace has been polarized before but it is typically over a single issue. Slavery, for example, in the 19th century. Below is some data from the Pew Foundation on the increasing tendency toward rigid opinions and polarized values.

As the Pew report concluded, the fault is structural; it is not the sort of problem that can be solved by an individual or piece of legislation. Political parties are more ideologically coherent than they’ve been probably at any time since the Civil War. As citizens spend more time talking to those who are like them – which is intensified in the current social media environment – they become more easily reinforced for their particular perspective. The literature by Sunstein and others conclude that this mediated world of interaction with others who hold the same opinion as you do causes those opinions to become rigid and increasingly unmovable. And the dynamic of polarization is increasing. But with the realignment of ideologies that started over the issue of civil rights in the 20th century, ideological purity became a bigger factor in American elections.

Ideological purity is a dangerous form of essentialism. One’s beliefs become so strong, and the sense of ingroup and outgroup become so clarified, that perceptions of the outgroup are assumed to be biologically natural.

 

The Table above shows that from 1994 to 2014 a larger percent of Republicans became consistently conservative. And a larger percent of Democrats were consistently liberal. The two groups – liberals and conservatives – consistently drifted toward more rigid ideological opinions that do not vary and are less subject to moderation and persuasive influences.

 

The data reflected in the bar graph above shows that the two parties have increasingly unfavorable attitudes about the other. From 1994 to 2014 the unfavorable attitudes about the other party has more than doubled. I don’t need to reiterate the danger of these data. They make working together and solving problems in any sort of bipartisan way almost impossible.

Anti-Semitism and its Double Binds

Anyone who thinks anti-Semitism is exaggerated or not a growing problem should read Bari Weiss’ new book “How to Fight anti-Semitism.” It’s a sobering account of historical anti-Semitism and the renewal we are currently experiencing in the United States, Europe, and of course the Muslim world.

I have always found it interesting and a little perplexing that Jewish discrimination goes on, and even when conditions change anti-Semites find a new way to continue their twisted logic and maintain the strength of their anti-Semitism. For example, I have observed that curiously the Jews were hated when they were weak, so they got strong. And now that the Jews are strong (e.g. state of Israel) they hate them because they’re strong. Inferential reasoning is not the key process; observing some behavior and drawing a generality from it, which is a defensible cognitive process, is not what’s going on with crude anti-Semitism. The perpetrators hold the attitude about the Jews first and some crude behavior follows.

The power of this self-serving and recursive process provides an organizational framework for just about all anti-Semitism. Weiss’analysis of anti-Semitism from the right and then from the left is a further demonstration that there is not some logical inferential process. Rather, it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum, you’re capable of the same anti-Semitism as those who hold opposite political views.

So, for example, anti-Semitism from the right views Jews as not white enough and part of an international conspiracy. Jews have more universal values and global interests. From the left, on the other hand, the peoplehood of the Jews is denied and Israel is considered a remnant of ancient tribalism. So, from the right the Jews are criticized for being broadly global, and from the left they are criticized or being tribal. Which is it? They can’t win.

But there is more: the hard right is the home of white supremacists who hate everybody who isn’t white. But the group they hate the most, the Jews, present themselves as white (mostly in America and Europe). So once again the Jews become the great tricksters because the group that is most preventing them from natural dominance – Jews – is white. There is a mirror image of this argument from the left which holds that describing Jews as “white” strips them of their ability to claim victimhood.

This double bound logic is what catches people in the paradoxical binary that the Jews are at once white and nonwhite. They are the tools of white supremacy and the handmaidens of immigrants and people of color in cahoots with both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Alas, I could continue but encourage the reader to find Bari Weiss’ book. It’s not a perfect volume but it does remind one of the uniqueness of anti-Semitism along with the logical, semantic, and political stretches that characterize the distortions of anti-Semitism.

Public Discourse and Incivility

Amy Olberding, writing in Aeon, makes the case for the relationship between civility and morality

By Amy Olberding For Aeon Magazine 9-6-2019

Public discourse is in an accelerating downward spiral of coarse insult, free-flying contempt and general meanness. We will surely soon reach bottom, an inevitably inarticulate resting place where we quit wasting words and just mutely flip each other off. Since bemoaning our uncivil culture is almost as prevalent as incivility itself, let me forgo any ritual handwringing. I register the culture here because it so influences me: as public discourse grows crueller, nastier and more aggressive, my temptations to be uncivil increase apace, and I don’t like that.

My growing temptations to incivility are diverse and predictable. When one encounters disrespect, the desire to answer in kind is strong. Likewise, with so many pitched to provoke anger, one wants to give them just the outrage they invite. More basically, I find it ever harder to like people and so to act as if I like them – misanthropy does not seem so unreasonable as it once did. But incivility’s most powerful appeal is that it can seem downright righteous.

The desire to be civil, in its cleanest and most robust form, is a desire to be moral, to treat others humanely, with respect, toleration and consideration. But if one wants to be moral, one must also know that, in order to be good, sometimes one cannot be nice. The imperative to treat others civilly is never responsibly total because sometimes a moral good is won in rudeness. To display disrespect or enmity, to mock or shun, to insult or shame – these can be moral gestures. For even as we need to respect humanity, valuing human beings can sometimes require disrespecting some of them, precisely the ones who deny or damage our shared humanity. To show such people respect and consideration might let them have their way a bit, let them continue in their destructive ways.

My sneering contempt for your terrible moral outlook might not stop you, but maybe my disdain can slow you down or discourage others from doing like you do. This, then, is where temptation is at its greatest. There are many who do not so much succumb, but actively embrace it. The world at present is not just full of rude people, it is full of people being rude because they judge it to be righteous. I feel the pull. But I have doubts.

I believe that righteous incivility is sometimes better than civility and that it can indicate a pattern of reasoning we morally need. Civility typically requires conformity to social conventions that symbolically signal prosocial values; we follow customs of courtesy to display respect, consideration and toleration for each other. But, as the philosopher Cheshire Calhoun observes, morally mature people don’t just run on conformity – they also reason. They will have a ‘socially critical moral point of view’, she writes, an ability to develop values independently of social customs and conventions. When we experience a tension between conformity to convention and individual moral conviction, we will sometimes resolve it in favour of conviction – we decline to conform because we judge it morally better not to.

Having a strongly held, independent moral conviction does not inevitably prompt incivility – I can civilly disagree with what I judge wrong – but sometimes moral convictions can make more seem necessary. I need not just to object or dissent, but to disrespect and show it. Civility would have me shake your hand, but my conscience can revolt and rebel. If I in fact refuse to shake your hand, I won’t just be rude: I will take myself to be righteously rude. I disrupt the usual civil patterns because I morally judge they need disrupting, whether because integrity demands it or because some greater social good is won by it, or both. This pattern of reasoning is one we certainly need, lest we become unthinking conformists to superficial forms of niceness that would sacrifice higher values.

My doubts about righteous incivility are not about whether it’s sometimes best but about how to tell when that would be so. The abstract case I make for it leaves out the gnarly mess of how my motivations work. I can tell myself I want what’s good and right, but there is often more that I want as well. Civility entails restraint and this alone can make one want to fail it, for failure here is sweet release, a liberation one can like, and like too much. Awful people are just awful and there is a giddy, triumphal pleasure in announcing just how low they sit in my opinion. If I really don’t respect you, it feels quite good to deny you the conventions that conceal disdain. In short, the pleasure of incivility is a heady part of its appeal. Other parts of its appeal are discovered best in hindsight.

What I tell myself is righteous incivility is sometimes little more than ugly mood or bad attitude. I alibi my uncivil crimes by claiming to sit in a moral space of reasons while I am really elsewhere – perhaps revelling in foul temperament, swimming in annoyance or joyfully putting a boot on your neck simply because I dislike you. Later reflection will expose the ruse and I will see that the mood I called ‘righteous’ is better called ‘angry’, ‘irritable’, ‘impatient’ or just ‘tired’. There was no commanding moral good I sought through incivility. That was just the story I told myself so I could set my inner junkyard dog off the leash.

My mixed motivations make me distrust my ‘righteously uncivil’ impulses. One need not be puritanical or precious about what can motivate moral action to be suspicious when the ‘righteous’ brings pleasure and relief or lets me lash and thrash where I can’t like. Episodic self-deception will likely always be a risk when I am rude – I sometimes know better what I do only once I’ve done it – but I lately find myself prey to self-deception of a more systematic sort. I am encouraged to righteous incivility by forces greater than my own messy internal workings, by both other people and our public culture.

I used to think that, were I self-deceived, other people would be my help – after all, when one is wrong about oneself or what one does, other people tend to work as a quick but painful check. This is why Jean-Paul Sartre claims that hell is other people: they’ll reject the fictions that you tell yourself or even announce plainly where you err. This lately happens less to me than I can trust. The hellish sorts are now too easy to evade. Let me illustrate my trouble.

Protesting incivility is weakness – pathetic whining or mewling infantilism

There are loads of people whose values and conduct I disdain. I could right now take this fact to Facebook and deliver it, fantastically, to others: These miserable assholes need to fuck right off and die! I know exactly what would follow: lots of ‘likes’, as well as comments that align with mine and escalate the ire. There would be humour in abundance – indicting ribaldry about them, fantasised rough fates that they deserve. If they chime in to protest, they’ll quickly be subdued with more and worse or I can always cut them off, unfriend them for their failure to accept the contempt I think their due. Any milder sorts reluctant to accept my claims or methods will of course pass on in silence. If they doubt my views or vehemence, they’ll keep that to themselves, lest they too become my target. So when the dust has settled, I will come away assured that I am righteous, that I have stood for good and justly trampled bad. The experience will flatter my self-perception and help me fit myself inside the stories that our wider culture tells, all the many ways we valorise that rudeness we think righteous.

Popular rhetoric often depicts the righteously uncivil person as the brave iconoclast, one who heroically refuses the dissembling and pretence that stand between ourselves and the true, the right and the good. The uncivil person will be lauded for ‘keeping things real’, exercising a gritty rejection of polite fakery in order to say exactly what he thinks. He might be praised as ‘politically incorrect’, resolutely free from any forced and false consensus to which the cowardly rest submit. Or perhaps he valiantly ‘speaks truth to power’, audaciously defiant of what power can do. The metaphors that suit him best are martial. Where others cushion criticism with softening tact, he ‘takes the gloves off’ to deliver truth bare-knuckled. He ‘calls out’ others’ errors as a duellist would, issuing a public challenge that will force their choice between open confrontation or humiliated retreat. He plainly ‘punches’, though always in a noble way, ‘punching up’ but never ‘down’, ever sure that he can sort the ‘up’ from the ‘down’. When I am righteously uncivil, I can cast myself in any of these ways. I become a fierce combatant righting all that’s wrong. And I have unappealing stories I can tell about any who object.

Incivility requires strength and valour, but those who dislike it are frail and fragile. The offended like apologies but what they really need is to ‘man up’, ‘toughen up’ and grow a ‘thicker skin’, one that can better stand a lashing. They’re as delicate as ‘snowflakes’, melting in the slightest heat. Protesting incivility is weakness – pathetic whining or mewling infantilism. Or maybe it’s a bovine nature, a sign you live inside that unthinkingly conformist ‘herd’. Perhaps most basically of all, if my rough uncivil truths about your bad character or actions injure your pride, you have yourself to blame. Err less and save yourself the pain of my correction; stop being awful and I will stop pointing it out.

This style of talk infects my temptations to incivility. I can be unfettered from restraint and speak as rudely as I find. That plenty of people will both like and ‘like’ it reassures me that I am right, that my blows land on targets that need a little roughing up. Temptation can grow total and I will think: Fuck civility – not just now but always. When you know what’s right and good and true, take off the gloves and punch for it. Make this your habit and your way – why not? We have enough of the potent awful, and of the impotent but ‘nice’. Let me be the virtuous, righteously uncivil hero. This, I think, is the siren song of systematic self-deception, of righteous incivility’s near enemy.

Those who aim for virtue try to steer away from vice. ‘Pursue the good, avoid the bad,’ we tell ourselves, but bad will sometimes look like good. The good can have what Buddhaghosa, the Indian Buddhist philosopher from the 5th century CE, calls ‘near enemies’. Virtues, Buddhaghosa argues, do not simply have corresponding vices, they also have near enemies – seductive, plausible counterfeits that closely resemble the virtues but are nonetheless distortions of it. This is why, he explains, we can mistake indifference for equanimity, or attachment for love. These can look alike, and the risk is that we aim for one but hit the other. Worse still, because of their resemblance, we can call a bullseye when we miss. I can think I have achieved the unperturbed poise of equanimity when in fact I simply fail to care enough – I enjoy the dubious peace that indifference to the world and all its woes can bring. The near enemy is a far more subtle form of error than plain vice, for it is moral failure taken as success.

Buddhaghosa does not speak of righteous incivility or what its near enemy might be. But my doubts about my uncivil impulses concern how an eager, open, pugilistic temper is read not just as righteous but as heroic. Was valour ever so easy or so fun? Since I have a taste for ‘keeping things real’, I best start being real with myself. Popular heroics are seductive but they are not reliably righteous. Incivility can quiet critics and earn praise from friends, but neither mean I’m right or righteous. The social feedback that I get might not only fail to point to good, it could just be my problem. Where is hell when you really need it? I am trying to find it in myself.

A righteously uncivil person would, I think, care to make a difference. Where she finds wrong, she’ll want it righted. But that is rarely how the ‘righteous’ incivilities I see and practise work. The language that we use itself reveals the challenge. I can uncivilly punch but, for this to work a change, the one I punch must come to understand both that she deserved it and why – the punched must be persuaded. In my more reflective moments, I recognise the psychological implausibility of this posture. It takes a hardy moral character to receive a slap as a summons to be good. But why would I think that one so low in my opinion will not just rise but soar to heights of circumspection, receiving disrespect as a provocation to be better? If she’s bad enough to need a punch, she’s not likely good enough to take it well and change. The far more likely outcome is that she’ll answer like with like, return the punch, and we together will descend at speed into a gutter war for social dominance. ‘Victory’ will come when one of us is cowed enough at last to quit – no one changed, all bloodied.

If my pugilism won’t change the punched, perhaps the difference I can make lies with those outside the ring. This at least is the reasoning that we sometimes give. When we ‘speak truth to power’, for example, we lay claim to helping those without it – the punch is not aggression but defence. The righteously uncivil would here indeed seem to be heroic, but that’s the rub where my motivations are concerned. Using incivility in defence of others is reasoning I can like, but maybe what I like is how it honours my pretensions. The risk is that I valorise myself as specially righteous where power is concerned, all the while neglecting what a form of power righteous posturing can be.

What if the incivilities I call righteous are a way to seek approval and esteem?

If you will ‘speak truth to power’, it will help a lot if you also speak from power. Some of us, let’s face it, cannot really pull this off. We might get fired from our jobs or alienate people that we really need. Some of us can try for righteous incivility but fail because of who we are and how our incivilities will read socially. Uncivil black men will not be taken as refreshingly ‘real’, but instead as threatening or dangerous; the economically poor might well be taken as ‘punching’, but that’s because they are, as we’d expect, trashy, brutish and coarse. All of this is but to say that the fine and noble qualities I can claim in righteous incivility – my independence and my courage – are qualities not really mine or earned. They are instead propped up by a social system that lets those most free be freest with their rudeness. Because of this, my roaring impulses to deliver righteous punches are haunted by the whispered thought: Just look at what I get to do. And then self-doubting questions come: when I count myself the righteously uncivil warrior, have I challenged or changed the hierarchies of power? Or have I just enacted them? That some will see me as I wish, as the hero I would be, is no help with this.

Alongside the heroic stories I might tell about my boldly uncivil defence of the powerless are other, less attractive stories. The philosophers Brandon Warmke and Justin Tosi offer one that makes me squirm. ‘Moral grandstanding,’ they write, is a distinctive form of communication that ‘aims to convince others that one is “morally respectable”.’ It transpires when we advertise our moral convictions to others, hoping thereby to gain greater regard or to secure in-group belonging. Moral grandstanding – related to ‘virtue signalling’ – need not of course be uncivil, but I expect it often is. Uncivilly punching at the wrong and bad can well display that I am right and good. Indeed, that I show outrage so intense it overmasters all civility is potent proof of this, a way to pose as so distressed by vice that my virtue must show as rude.

‘Moral grandstanding’ and ‘virtue signalling’ are of course most often used as weapons in the wider wars – they are handy accusations I can hurl at others when they morally opine in ways I don’t like. A far better use of these concepts, though a use no one can like, is to turn them, weapon-like, upon oneself. What if the incivilities I call righteous are a form of self-promotion, a way to seek approval and esteem? What if they merely confess insecurity that I belong among the moral? If I really would be righteous, I need to ask this of myself, I think. Therapeutic cynicism about my motives might help me see when I don’t really act on conviction but instead seek to parade it. Worse still, it makes me reconsider just what might form my aversion to the civil.

Civil persuasion is a nasty sort of business, one that offers few heroics. It takes patience, care and work. It entails getting my hands dirty by trying to reason long and hard with others I often cannot like. It draws little admiration in an age like ours, little I can celebrate as triumph over all that’s bad and wrong. It could even lose me the esteem of those who share my values – they might well find in my politeness a tolerance for wrong. At the very least, I’ll lose the ribald joys I often get when me and mine take down you and yours, the atavistic satisfactions of the brawl. Civility is not at all seductive as a habit or a plan, yet I think the pull of the seductive is my problem. Near enemies exercise appeal. They take the superficial signs of goodness for the thing itself – bathetic, cheap heroics that others cheer stand in for whatever it might really mean to win some better world.

I doubt I can enumerate what genuinely righteous incivility would require, though I still believe it to exist. I doubt that it will match what I am often like when I think my rudeness righteous. I doubt it will be joyous or triumphal, that it will summon up attention and approval, or that it will show up dressed in self-valorising, violent language. I doubt it will find satisfaction in the pain and shame provoked in others. Most of all, I suspect it will involve regret.

Truly righteous incivility would issue from a deeply moral wish against its own necessity. It would come about as forced, a sorry step one feels reluctantly obliged to take. Morally good people want to respect others – they want a world in which we can, in all good conscience and effect, treat each other humanely and kindly. They do not want to signal disrespect even when they see they must. They are people who perceive a moral need to be rough and inconsiderate as distressing or at least a disappointment. Perhaps my disappointment in myself, in my too-eager impulse for the punch, can be used to turn me toward this better form of disappointment.

The Issue of Annexing the West Bank

 

The below is from the International Crisis Group. On this page is the executive summary of a report on the issue of annexation and Israel. You can access the complete report at the link below.

202-reversing-israels-deepening-annexation

Israel is advancing new policies to entrench its de facto annexation of most of occupied East Jerusalem. Moreover, depending on what coalition government emerges from forthcoming parliamentary elections, it could shunt the city’s Palestinian areas lying east of the separation barrier into disconnected Israeli administrative units outside the municipality’s jurisdiction.

Why did it happen? Israeli decision-makers are concerned that Jerusalem will soon have a non-Jewish majority. The Netanyahu government has conceded that its neglect of East Jerusalem has failed to induce Palestinians to leave. Instead, neglect has bred crime and violence, and created numerous lawless areas, particularly east of the barrier.

Why does it matter? Israel’s plans – removing from the municipality certain Palestinian areas outside the barrier, cataloguing all occupied East Jerusalem lands in the Israel Lands Registry and inducing Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem to adopt Israeli curricula – would exacerbate the conflict in and over Jerusalem.

What should be done? Palestinians, Israelis and allies of both leaderships should press the Israeli government not to carry out these plans. If it wants to reduce poverty and crime in East Jerusalem, Israel should allow Palestinians to establish civic leadership bodies in the city and end its ban on Palestinian Authority activities there.

Executive Summary

Israel is advancing new policies to entrench its de facto annexation of parts of occupied East Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem but never fully applied Israeli laws: land registration was partial, most Palestinian schools do not use Israel’s curriculum and East Jerusalemites have residency, not citizenship. In May 2018, with the stated aim of reducing socio-economic inequality, Israel adopted a five-year plan allocating $530 million to East Jerusalem. But the plan’s real goal is to assert Israeli sovereignty, including, most dangerously, by cataloguing all East Jerusalem’s lands in the Israel Land Registry and inducing its schools to use Israeli curricula. In parallel, to protect Jerusalem’s Jewish majority, Israeli leaders are thinking about redrawing the Israeli-demarcated municipal boundaries in order to remove Palestinian-populated areas that lie within these boundaries but to the east of the separation barrier. This “excision” scheme, along with the land registry and curricular initiatives, risks deepening conflict in Jerusalem. Whatever government Israel forms after the 17 September 2019 election should not carry out these plans.

For 50 years, the state has tried to attract more Jews to East Jerusalem and to prod Palestinians to leave. Israel’s national leaders increasingly recognise that this policy has failed to secure a lasting Jewish majority: too few Jews have moved in, and many continue to leave, while too few Palestinians have departed. If current demographic trends persist, Jerusalem could become a minority-Jewish city as early as 2045.

Unable to have all of East Jerusalem without most of its Palestinian inhabitants – and buoyed by support from the Trump administration, international neglect of the Palestinian issue and growing Israeli cooperation with Arab states – Israel is phasing in a plan that would consolidate Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem territory west of the separation barrier. (The separation barrier is a physical divide erected during the 2000-2005 intifada with the security aim of preventing West Bank assailants from entering Israel and the political aim of establishing that in any future solution, Israel would annex many Jewish settlements, including those in and around East Jerusalem, even as a large number of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents end up on the other side of the border.)

In East Jerusalem and its vicinity, the barrier mostly separates Jewish settlements from Palestinian communities, East Jerusalem from the West Bank and Palestinian areas from one another. In order to increase the proportion of Jews in Jerusalem and prevent the loss of a Jewish majority in the city, a number of Israeli leaders across the political spectrum advocate excising Palestinian-inhabited areas of East Jerusalem east of the barrier from the municipality, turning them into separate Israeli regional councils. The most widely supported excision proposal would leave Palestinians with status as residents of Israel in excised areas (there are also Palestinian citizens of Israel in these areas). Palestinians fear that this step would be the prelude to revocation of their residency – without which they cannot enter East Jerusalem or Israel. Other excision proposals call for rescinding the residency status of excised areas’ inhabitants.

Excising Palestinian-inhabited areas in order to forestall the loss of a Jewish demographic majority in the city could set a dangerous precedent, offering a model for how Israel could annex large parts of the West Bank while shunting Palestinian residents into separate Israeli administrative units, where they might have residency but not citizenship. Excision would also deepen poverty, chaos and militancy in the most forsaken corners of the city. An excision plan could go into effect shortly after a new coalition government takes its seats following the 17 September Knesset election, depending on its composition.

Israeli political parties, from both the coalition and the opposition, that seek to preserve stability and minimise the risk of escalation should block any excision of Palestinian areas, press their government to discard the most inflammatory components (East Jerusalem land registration and Palestinian adoption of Israeli curricula) of its five-year plan and loosen Israel’s ban on Palestinian Authority activities east of the barrier in areas that Israel has refused to govern. The international community, and in particular the EU and Arab states, should warn Israel of these schemes’ possible repercussions and signal that excision would bring Europe closer to recognising a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Outside powers also should allocate funds to help Palestinian Jerusalemites establish civic leadership bodies in East Jerusalem to operate both east and west of the separation barrier, in coordination with Israel. Indeed, Israel, too, should have an interest in having such a leadership, which can help reduce crime that spills over into West Jerusalem, provide services that could begin to correct for decades of neglect and create a mechanism for addressing conflict in East Jerusalem.

Bill Maher vs. Tlaib and Omar

The below is from the Jewish Voice published in the Jewish News Service by Fern Sidman

On his HBO program last Friday night, irreverent comedian and pundit Bill Maher pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of the BDS apologists and proffered some cogent arguments in defense of his position. He chastised the BDS proponents for their willingness to ignore their own biases and tendentious posture towards Israel while theorizing that their natural inclination is to take the side of the Palestinians in the protracted Middle East conflict because of their skin color, religion and ethnicity.

Of the BDS movement, Maher said on his program: “It’s predicated on this notion, I think—it’s very shallow thinking—that the Jews in Israel, mostly white, and the Palestinians are browner, so they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong. As if the occupation came right out of the blue, that these completely peaceful people found themselves occupied.”

Maher also called out the mainstream media for not offering even a modicum of coverage to the flip side of the BDS movement and for cavalierly dismissing Israel’s position on the Tlaib-Omar imbroglio.

Immediately subsequent to Maher’s biting commentary, Tlaib responded to Maher by calling for a boycott of his program because he publicly disagreed with her strident animus towards Israel and that of her colleague, Omar.

Taking to Twitter on Saturday night, Tlaib referenced Maher’s statement by saying, “I am tired of folks discrediting a form of speech that is centered on equality and freedom. This is exactly how they tried to discredit & stop the boycott to stand up against the apartheid in S. Africa. It didn’t work then and it won’t now.”

On Sunday, Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, issued a press release saying that his organization finds Tlaib’s suggestion of a boycott of Maher’s program “deeply disturbing.”

Focusing on Tlaib’s vocal support for the BDS movement, Lauder said: “Serious questions need to be asked about Tlaib’s motivation in supporting the extremist BDS movement, which is allied with terrorists and is not shy about its ultimate aim of destroying Israel.”

If that were not enough, other cultural icons piped up to add their opinions on the growing controversy.

Last Sunday, it was reported that Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem had also chimed in on the mushrooming Tlaib-Omar issue by claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “bully,” and that she refuses to visit Israel while he is still in office.

In a Tweet posted on Saturday, Steinem addressed her scathing criticism directly to Netanyahu, and said that his decision to bar a visit from Tlaib and Omar was “a welcome sign that I never have to enter any country or place under your authority.”

Steinem also said that during the 1980s when Netanyahu served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, she once joined him at his New York dinner table. She opined that he was a “conversational bully to his guests then, just as you are a bully to these two elected women leaders now.”

She also claimed that U.S President Donald Trump is “drawn to successful bullies, from Russia to Saudi Arabia,” but told Netanyahu that she “hoped that as leader of a nation dedicated to democracy and free speech, you would support the same rights for two elected leaders from my country.”

She concluded her tweet to Netanyahu by saying, “If you and Trump continue to imitate each other, you will eventually be alone together at the table. I could wish both of you no greater punishment than that.”

Responding to Steinem’s harsh critique of Netanyahu on Twitter was second-wave feminist icon and prolific author Phyllis Chesler. Speaking to the Jewish Voice, Chesler challenged Steinem’s double standard by saying, “Leaders and icons are rarely perfect. Great artistic talent does not spare artists from harboring rude and common prejudice. Gloria is not perfect—no surprise here. However, in this case, her singling out only one prime minister from among a world filled with genuinely awful tyrants is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. Gloria has called Netanyahu a ‘bully.’ If so, how does she describe the mullahs of Teheran? The leaders of ISIS and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria? The torturers-in-chief in Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia?”

Chesler added that “for the record: I was the one who got Gloria’s signature on the resolution opposing the U.N.’s Zionism=Racism, and I was the one who first invited both Gloria and [another co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Letty [Cottin] Pogrebin to the first-ever feminist Passover Seder, which we held at my home. Attending a few such sedarim does not constitute expertise on Israel, Judaism or the Middle East. If Gloria can proudly stand with [Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior Linda] Sarsour, Tlaib and Omar, that confirms that she is totally, blindly indoctrinated about Middle East reality. It is also an example of the way in which feminism has been co-opted, ‘occupied’ and ‘Palestinianized’ by anti-Semitic myths.”

Fern Sidman is a staff writer for the Jewish Voice (www.jewishvoiceny.com) and a former New York correspondent for Arutz Sheva. Her articles have appeared in numerous Jewish publications

Confusion About Democracy Getting Worse

Book after book in recent years has alerted us—as if we couldn’t tell by reading the news and absorbing the panicked media—that democracy is in crisis. Did it start with Trump or with Brexit? In Europe or the U.S.? The diagnosis varies among authors of different backgrounds and political persuasions, as do their prescriptions on what to do now. Not all of the books even share the premise that the loss of democracy is such a bad thing—at least one recent work argues that the real crisis was a democratic surplus.

I thought this link was interesting and wanted to share it with people. Click here to read: Read Article »

It is by Shany Mor in Tablet Aug 13, 2019.

Ilhan Omar’s Guide to Israel

The article below is reprinted from Tablet and makes a gentle and fair-minded case for why Representative Omar should expand her experiences in Israel. We expect her to criticize Israel for the occupation as well as labeling Israel a colonial state along with additional critical vocabulary. But if she truly is trying to learn with an open mind, then Omar should heed Carly Pildis’s suggestions.

August 2019

When news broke last month that Rep. Ilhan Omar was planning a trip to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank with some of her congressional colleagues, I felt a subtle sense of hope. I disagree with many of Omar’s comments on the conflicts, but, given her rapid change in viewpoint after winning her election, I hope that she’ll come to the region with an open mind and an open heart. And having myself visited Israel on numerous occasions—visits that were deeply meaningful to me and helped me shape my view of regional politics—I believe the right itinerary could make a real difference. I’m no travel agent, but I wrestle daily with a complicated view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, with that in mind, sat down to imagine the trip I would arrange for Omar and her friends.

Tzfat is a good place to start and get rooted. The town has a deep history of Jewish mysticism, religious study, and art. Local legend claims the city was created by Noah after the flood. Yes, that Noah. It has ancient Jewish roots, including mentions in the Jerusalem Talmud and the writings of Jewish historian of Roman times Josephus, as well as a vibrant modern Jewish culture of mystical study and art. I hope Omar will stop by Abraham Loewenthal’s studio and chat with him about mystic art; I have one of his pieces in my kitchen.I hope she walks the ancient streets, exploring its beautiful unique synagogues. Abuhav Synagogue, built by Rabbi Abuhav and his disciples after they were expelled from Spain in 1492, is a favorite of mine. Another is the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, built in 1570. In 1948 a piece of shrapnel flew through the synagogue while congregants were praying, and, miraculously, no one was injured. People still write notes to God and slip them in the the hole the shrapnel left behind. I have left my own prayers there.

Why should Omar spend a day touching ancient stones and chatting with hippie mystic artists? Because some of her fellow progressives are likely to tell her that nothing about Israel is authentically Jewish, that it is all a modern construction, a colonialist, white supremacist enterprise. I am hoping after a day in Tzfat she will vocally disagree. Tzfat was the home of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas before his family fled in 1948, and the home of Rabbi Abuhav who took refuge there in 1492. Roots tangle, especially in the Holy Land.

Now that Omar has rooted herself in history, I think she should visit those who best understand what’s at stake, because they have lost the most: the parents who lost a child to the conflict. Parents Circle-Families Forum is a grassroots organization of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost an immediate family member in the conflict. In 2007, I met with Aaron, a father from PCFF who told me lovingly and achingly about his son Noam, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War. His hands never stopped shaking, rolling and unrolling a piece of paper as he recalled hearing the news of his beloved son’s death and how he felt called to push for peace, reconciliation, and dialogue. PCFF brings families together to share their grief, and their hopes that by sharing grief they can create a path to reconciliation and peace. They have offices in both Ramat Efal and Beit Jala you can visit, where members engage in dialogue circles. Additionally, PCFF runs a summer camp for bereaved youth and a hotline that allows Israelis and Palestinians to talk for free and make new connections. It has had over a million callers. PCFF is both heartbreaking and inspirational, and it’s the kind of project that needs more support. In this era of American activists creating “anti-normalization” clauses and refusing dialogue and debate, PCFF stands in stark contrast to Western bombast. It is a model that is both heartbroken and hopeful for peace, deeply committed to recognizing the pain of all its members.

Another space that will help Omar understand the stakes of the conflict is Sderot. The people of Sderot have been hit with thousands of rockets over the past decade, including this past May, when over 450 rockets attacked Southern Israel from Gaza. One landed right outside a kindergarten in Sderot.  Forty percent of children in Sderot suffer from PTSD and anxiety due to the trauma of rocket attacks, which is far higher than the national average of 7% to 10%. The Israeli Education Ministry’s psychological service is now training teachers to help them better support children who are traumatized by the conflict. In 2009, the Jewish National Fund donated an indoor playground that doubles as a bomb shelter, so that the children of Sderot can play without risking being too far from a bomb shelter. When a Code Red alert sounds, residents have only 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter. There are over 200 throughout the city. Rep. Omar and members of her “squad” have proposed cutting U.S. military aid to Israel. I think when she is in the region, she should meet with the families in Southern Israel that would bear the brunt of that cut.

While examining investments in keeping the people of Sderot safe, both in terms of bomb shelters and the Iron Dome, it is important to contrast the average citizen of Sderot with the average citizen of Gaza, who does not have access to a bomb shelters. It seems the Hamas government is unwilling to invest in civilian bomb shelter, preferring instead to invest in underground smuggling tunnels that further the effort to bomb the citizens of Sderot. If Rep. Omar and her colleagues get a chance, they should question the Gazan government’s priorities.

More than any one specific tour stop, I hope Rep. Omar integrates into her itinerary a search for duality. Sometimes we must hold two difficult, even seemingly contradicting truths in our mind at the same time, especially as people of faith. When she visits a West Bank checkpoint, as I hope she will, and confronts the cruelty of the occupation and the hardship it causes, I hope Omar will also talk to the Israeli soldiers on duty.  If she does, she’ll see that they are often very young, just out of high school, and very frightened by the burden of responsibility for security placed on their shoulders. I hope she speaks to Palestinians who lost everything in 1948 and became refugees, just like her, and I also hope she speaks to Jewish refugees from Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Ethiopia, and the former USSR, who found a home in Israel when they were in desperate circumstances. If the congresswoman chooses to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I hope she also goes to the Kotel. When I touched the stones of the Kotel for the first time, I laid my head on it and wept, because God felt so close and yet so far away. It is the same way for peace in the region, it seems both within our grasp and devastatingly far away.

Trump’s Four Strategies of Information Manipulation

We all know that Trump  Lies. But he is actually more sophisticated than the simple bold faced fabricator. Check out some of his strategies for manipulating information. I am sure he is not consciously aware of  these strategies but they are characteristic of his discourse nonetheless. The below is from Foreign Affairs.

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