In The Margins

Bret Stephens had an award-winning career writing columns on the top of the Op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. His conservative take on politics was thoughtful and balanced, as he appreciated nuance in the topics that he covered. He is continuing that insightful analysis over at The New York Times.

In an article printed on June 15, 2017 entitled “The Indigenous American Berserk Strikes Again,” Stephens wrote about the shooting of a Republican politician at the hands of a liberal wacko. He cautioned both liberals and conservatives to not draw any particular conclusions from the actions of a sole operator from the margins of society. A “one-off” does not mean that all liberals will be out to attack conservatives, any more than the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011 meant that conservatives were out to physically harm liberals. (Liberals made such an argument at that time).

It is a lesson that his new colleague at the NY Times, Thomas Friedman, needs to learn.

As described in “Thomas Friedman thinks Palestinians are Crazy in the Margins, While Israel is Crazy in the Mainstream,” Friedman has a long history of exaggerating marginal Israeli “radicals” and minimizing the mainstream Palestinian “radicals.”

  • Friedman described Israel as having a “right-wing” government, simply because it included a nationalistic party that had just 5% of the seats in the parliament. He neglected to mention that Israelis voted much more for the anti-Zionist Arab Joint List to 14% of the population
  • He described acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate,” while labeling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an extremist, even though it is Abbas that: argues for a country free of Jews; has capital punishment for Arabs that sells land to Jews; has laws that excuse men for the honor killing of their wives; incites violence against Israeli Jews; etc.
  • The vast majority of Israelis favor a peaceful settlement with the Stateless Arabs from Palestine (SAPs), while 93% of Palestinian Arabs are anti-Semites, more than any other region in the world. The SAPs voted the terrorist group Hamas to 58% of the seats in the Palestinian Authority government.

Stephens argued convincingly that actions of a lone radical should not tarnish the majority: “the fact that events are frightening, bloody and tragic doesn’t necessarily make them especially meaningful…. In 2011 the left wanted to blame millions of Americans for the acts of one crazed man. The indictment served nobody.

Bret Stephens speaking at an event in Westchester, NY July 2015

Meanwhile Friedman – and many liberals – seemingly use an inverted approach, whereby the actions of the PA leadership and majority of SAPs should be ignored, while the opinions of a minority of Israeli Jews should be scrutinized.

Why do liberals exaggerate the fringe while conservatives concentrate on the majority?

Self-Reliance versus Helping Out

Historically, liberals and conservatives could agree to disagree on a particular policy, say abortion. The action was debated about whether it should be legal or banned. Tax policy and welfare were topics to be debated. Climate change. Gun policy. Healthcare.

But the conversation has changed. Today political pundits talk about people. Defining the conservatives/liberals themselves is the focus, not policies.

According to Pew Research. conservatives primarily value responsibility, faith and hard work. In contrast, liberals are more drawn to empathy and helping others. This split in focus helps explain the different approaches to people in the margins of society.

In a conservative mindset, someone’s position in society is a result of actions for which they are responsible. In a traditional bell curve in which the vast majority sit in the middle, everyone – including those in the margins – got there as a result of their own actions. The successful people were the beneficiaries of hard work and risk, while the failures at the other end of the spectrum got there because of poor decisions and/or the lack of determination.

Conservatives study the habits of the successful as they attempt to emulate their path.Those at the top are their focus. When they look at the downtrodden, they are as case studies of actions to avoid.

Meanwhile liberals do not necessarily focus on what actions got a person into their predicament as much as how to get them out. The value of helping others puts liberals into an active mode of assistance. The successful outliers do not need help; they are not part of the liberal orientation. The liberals only attach themselves to the downtrodden – a select segment of those on the margins.

Conservatives and liberals are drawn to opposing ends of the spectrum because of their underlying value system. But conservatives use a common approach to all segments of society and learn from each; liberals end up only relating to a small segment of society. Right-leaning people extract data from both the majority and minority to validate their opinions, while left-leaning people can best apply their values of empathy to a select minority.

Liberal “Progessivism” versus Conservative “Traditionalism”

Not everything that divides conservatives and liberals can be divided between the attractions to the successful and the downtrodden. Sometimes it is the approach to religion and tradition.

Liberals are much less religious than conservatives. Pew polls found that only 36% of liberals found religion as important in their lives, while that figure was almost double – 70% for conservative Americans.

Free from traditional religious constraints, liberals have embraced homosexuality (which has been traditionally viewed as a sin) more than conservatives. Are most people homosexuals? No, they are a minority.

Liberals have also been drawn to the current trend of “self-identity.”

How many truly transgender people are there? It’s infinitesimal. But liberals have taken up this minority as consistent with their credo for empathy and helping others. They have pushed society’s traditional view of gender and advanced that the public must accommodate this new self-identity in matters such as public bathrooms. Conservatives have been appalled at both the new non-binary view of gender, and the demand that the public must adopt to their worldview.

The more religious and traditional conservatives have mostly remained with the majority in these matters of gender and sexual preference, while liberals have loudly campaigned for the minority.

The Parties in the Margin

While the two main political parties have hemmed to the margins, the parties themselves have become marginalized.

Democrats are much more liberal than ever in history, as the liberal wing grew to 44% of the party in 2016 from just 30% in 2000 according to Gallup. Not surprisingly, this liberal Democratic party has rushed to embrace far-left extremists like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As they have done so, Gallup polls show that the percentage of Americans that identify as Democrats has declined to 30%.

Republicans similarly have become more conservative, and their share of Americans stands at only 26%, even less than Democrats.

The beneficiaries are Independents who now account for 43% of Americans, more than Democrats or Republicans. These independents may share some values of liberals and conservatives, but have a negative feeling about the main policy issues and leadership of the two parties.


Those at the margins are part of our society, but they do not define our society.

As Democrats become more liberal and place an exaggerated focus on the margins, they will continue to marginalize their own political party. It will also continue to benefit Independents and thoughtful writers like Bret Stephens that do not get caught up in trendy thinking that obfuscates truths.


Related First.One.Through articles:

“Coastal Liberal Latte-sipping Politically-correct Out-of-touch Folks.”

Liberals’ Biggest Enemies of 2015

Magnifying the Margins, and the Rise of the Independents

Liberal’s Protest Bubble Harms Democracy

American Hate: The Right Targets Foreigners, The Left Targets Americans

Libertarian Validation and Absolution

Palestinians are “Desperate” for…

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The New York Times’ Select Defense of a Civilian

The New York Times often decries bankers and the excesses of Wall Street. But only when associated with Republicans.

On April 26, 2017, the Times ran an article about Hungary’s anger with billionaire George Soros. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was upset with the various left-wing institutions funded in Hungary by Soros including NGOs and a university.

The Times came to the billionaire’s defense.

“It was an exceptional attack by a head of government against a private citizen, albeit a wealthy and powerful one. Mr. Soros has been a frequent target of criticism from right-wing news media organizations like Breitbart and Infowars, which deplore his affinity for Democratic and liberal causes. Supporters of Mr. Soros, who is 86, a native of Hungary and a Holocaust survivor, have detected a whiff of anti-Semitism in the attacks in the United States.”

Wow.

George Soros spent more money on US lobbyists than Goldman Sachs and the National Rifle Association COMBINED. But the Times made light of the powerful global lobbyist by stating that he had an “affinity for Democratic and liberal causes,” as if he were simply an observer and not the master puppeteer. It slandered those opposed to Soros’s agenda by suggesting that the opposition was driven by anti-Semitism (as if a huge percentage of Jews weren’t also appalled by Soros’s behavior and causes).

And the Times was of course shocked that a head of a government would attack a private citizen. In this case.

Joe Biden Attacked Israeli Citizen

In November 2015, the Union of Reform Judaism invited Vice President Joe Biden to speak at its biennial. During his public address, the Vice President chose to berate a private Israeli citizen for remarks that he had made about the Obama administration’s handling of the Iranian nuclear deal. Biden yelled as he stabbed his finger at the crowd:

There is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of United States in derogatory terms. Period, period, period, period!

The crowd of Reform Jews applauded Biden’s rebuke of the Israeli (who was not employed by the Israeli government.) The New York Times decided not to cover the attack at all.

When the liberal head of the US government attacked a right-leaning Israeli citizen, there was no sound of alarm. But the Times came to the quick defense of the liberal billionaire.


George Soros
(photo: Niccolo Caranti)

Woe unto anyone criticizing a liberal – even a billionaire capitalist. The New York Times has ink for you.


Related First.One.Through articles:

New York Times Lies about the Gentleness of Zionism

New York Times’ Tales of Israeli Messianic War-Mongering

The New York Times Major anti-Netanyahu Propaganda Piece

Social Media’s “Fake News” and Mainstream Media’s Half-Truths

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The Anger from the Zionist Center

Yossi Klein Halevi penned a piece in the left-wing journal by the Forward, Sh’ma Now called “A Jubilee For Our Political Certainties.” The article advanced the notion that both the right-wing and left-wing camps have valid points regarding Israel’s administration of Judea and Samaria/ the “West Bank.” However, Israeli society – and increasingly the American one as well – has become more polarized and is unwilling to listen to the validity of the other side’s arguments. The goal of the center should therefore be to not have someone adopt their position, but to appreciate some elements of the counter argument.

In short, he argues for balance.

As someone right-of-center, I appreciate the sentiment of the article, but I disagree with the author’s contention that American Jews are simply engaging in “that dysfunctional Israeli debate.” Such language suggests that some American Jews are simply expressing a personal opinion. They are not.

They are actively pushing Israel’s largest benefactor – the USA – to abandon Israel.

Since 2008/9, the left-wing of the American Jewish community took a much more aggressive stance amid a backdrop of new wars from Palestinian Arabs and the ascendency of a liberal American president.

  • November 2007: Palestinians launched a push for a global boycott (BDS) campaign of Israel
  • April 2008: J Street founded
  • July 2008: J Street pushed against naval blockade of Iran, as sanctions were pushing Iran to the negotiating table
  • November 2008/ January 2009: Election and inauguration of President Barack Obama
  • December 2008/ January 2009: First Gaza War
  • May 2009: First meeting between Obama and Israeli PM Netanyahu in which Obama ignored Netanyahu’s argument for aggressively countering Iran and instead demanded settlement freezes
  • October 2009: Daniel Sokatch takes over as head of the New Israel Fund
The election of a liberal to the White House with absolutely no international experience was an opportunity for liberal Jews to actively advance a new set of policies towards Israel. J Street falsely billed itself to the Obama administration as an alternative to AIPAC (a non-partisan pro-Israel lobby) rather than an alternative to the Republican Jewish Coalition. J Street told Obama that many American Jews were against the “occupation of the West Bank,” and preferred a negotiated settlement of the Iranian nuclear program.
The left-wing “pro-Israel” group told Obama that American Jews hated Israel’s policies (counter to actual facts), and advocated that he take actions directly opposite the desires of the Israeli government.
Such activity is not joining Klein Halevi’s “debate,” but manipulating a judge to determine the outcome.

Peaceful protest against Iran nuclear deal in Times Square, NYC July 2015
(photo: First.One.Through)
Over the past decade left-wing American Jews:
  • pushed the US administration to allow anti-Israel resolutions to pass at the United Nations
  • pushed BDS proposals in universities, so schools could not invest in Israel and would ban Israeli speakers on campus
  • rewrote Jewish texts (the NIF Haggadah) in a shared assault with anti-Zionists to undermine Jewish history
  • supported a pathway for Iran, a state-sponsor of terrorism that has called for wiping Israel from the map, to obtain nuclear weapons

In short, the left has become an active participant in the attacks on Israel, not just a protestor. And they are pushing such arguments with Israel’s prime supporter, the United States.

And that is the main issue with Yossi Klein Halevi’s approach.

Klein Halevi is correct that the center can see the merit of the arguments of both the left and right. But many in the center cannot agree with ACTIONS taken.

While the right-wing may give money to support the “settlements,” those actions are: 1) supportive of Israelis; 2) limited in scope; and 3) can be reversed (such as Israel’s removal of settlements in Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005, or adjustments to the path of the security barrier).

However, the actions of the left-wing are: 1) harming Israelis by advocating for Israeli boycotts and Iranian nuclear weapons; 2) done on an international level; and 3) becoming permanent international law.

As the left-wing has moved from personal opinions to dangerous global actions, the split in the American Jewish community has moved passed a civil exchange on matters of policy. It has become a fight between people.

As such, Klein Halevi’s conclusion for “each side to concede the enormity of our dilemma and the compelling arguments of the other,” is insufficient. The two sides need to withdraw the weapons and from the forums of their disagreement:

  • The debate should be internal: Make the arguments about Judea and Samaria with the government of Israel, not with Israel’s key ally, the United States. It certainly should not be with Israel’s enemies or at the United Nations.
  • The actions should not be malicious: Calling for boycotts of Israeli businesses and people is harmful to Israel on many levels. Argue about policies; do not hurt people with whom you disagree.

The “centrist” article ultimately suggests “an invitation to humility,” to appreciate the merits of both sides of the Israel/Palestinian Arab debate. I would suggest another form of humility: that American Jews realize that they are not Israeli citizens. While they are deeply engaged and attached to Israel for many reasons, the day-to-day ramifications of policies are only felt by the people who live there. Have some humility about the actions that you advocate to advance your personal sense of “morality” on the backs of people living in a dangerous part of the world thousands of miles away.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Israel was never a British Colony; Judea and Samaria are not Israeli Colonies

The Evil Architects at J Street Take a Bow

J Street: Going Bigger and Bolder than BDS

For Liberals, It’s Israelis, Palestinians, and Indifference

Squeezing Zionism

Liberals’ Biggest Enemies of 2015

The Fault in Our Tent: The Limit of Acceptable Speech

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For Liberals, It’s Israelis, Palestinians, and Indifference

There is a common refrain that it is not easy to be a Liberal Zionist these days.

There was a time when Democrats and Liberals had a strong preference for Israelis over Palestinians in the ongoing 100-year conflict. In 2002, Democrats sympathized more with Israelis than Palestinians by a margin of 45% to 21% while Liberals had a margin of 41% to 19%.  Today, that gap has disappeared altogether.

In the latest 2017 Pew Research poll, Democrats split evenly in their preferences between Israelis (33%), Palestinians (31%) and neither (35%). The Democratic leanings are in sharp contrast to Republicans who still favor Israel by 74% to 11%. It is a remarkable phenomenon considering that Israel is the most liberal country in the entire region for a thousand miles in any direction.

pew-2017

This dynamic has become a struggle for Liberal Zionists who easily relate to their fellow Liberals on most matters, but not with 2/3rds of them when it comes to Israel.

Elliot Cosgrove, the liberal rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City felt that he had to pen a piece about the situation. In the January 11, 2017 edition of The Jewish Week he wroteFor socially progressive Jews, it is an awkward time to be a Zionist — to be both liberal and a Zionist at one and the same time.” Why is this the case, what has been done and what can be done?

The Causes

There are arguably many reasons why liberals have moved away from supporting Israel. Here are two.

Inequalities and the Size of the Conflict: A goal of many liberals is to bridge inequalities in society. The gaps may be between the haves and have-nots; between the rich and the poor; or between the powerful and the weak. Their desire is to flatten the field to cause the gaps to shrink or be virtually eliminated.

When the left-wing looks at Israel, they see a fiscally-strong, military power occupying a poor Arab demilitarized population. The inequalities between the groups are enormous and the goal to “flatten” the dynamics strikes them as fair and appropriate. As such, they conclude that Israel must sacrifice so the Palestinian Arabs can have more.

However, when many Zionists look at Israel, they see a dependable, democratic ally in the middle of unstable dictatorships. They admire a single, small Jewish State surrounded by dozens of hostile Arab and Muslim countries.

Both views are true, and two liberal Zionists can arrive at different conclusions: either looking at the situation very narrowly as an Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, or more broadly as a conflict between Israel and the Arab World. A liberal approach based on the second perspective would argue for Israel ceding no land as it is the more vulnerable entity in the region, while the former approach adopted by many liberals today, pushes for Israel to hand over all disputed land to be a new state of Palestine.

Multi-Culturalism and Relevancy: Liberals advance a cause of universalism over particularism. They see the underpinnings of a strong society as one that advances a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic existence over one that is more insular and monolithic.  Consequently, many liberals see the idea of a Jewish State as backwards thinking, as the essence of tribalism.  They therefore consider any association with such an entity as an embarrassment that would insult their liberal principles. These liberal Zionists support groups like the New Israel Fund and Adalah that seek to replace the Jewish State with a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society.

Other liberal Zionists see the thriving multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society that Israel has become, even a a Jewish State. The Jewish Mizrachi community is the largest in Israel, and includes people from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Thousands of Israeli Jews from Ethiopia, Yemen and Iraq have little in common with other Israeli Jews from Russia, Argentina and Poland. More so, roughly 25% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, leading Israel to be the most ethnically diverse population in the MENA region.

What Has Been Done

To accommodate the wide range of opinions, liberal Zionists have stretched the definition of a “Zionist.” In liberal circles, a self-described Zionist can be pro-BDS, as they fight for Palestinian Arab equality. A Liberal Zionist can donate to organizations that seek to undermine the Jewish character of Israel, as an expression of loving the modern thriving democracy. In contorting the bounds of Zionism, they have enabled themselves to sit comfortably with other two-thirds of “progressives” with whom they respect.

For traditional Zionists, this situation is an absurdity.

Imagine someone at a pro-choice rally with a large placard that argues for banning abortions after a fetus has a heartbeat at eight weeks, claiming that they are pro-choice because they are in favor of permitting the procedure in the first weeks of pregnancy. Many fellow pro-choicers might ask that person to move to the other side of the picket line to join the pro-life camp. They might negate the person’s self-declared status as “pro-choice” as they consider their actual position stands against the passionate tenets of the majority.

What Can Be Done

No individual needs to subscribe to an entire platform of a group. For example, a Democrat might agree with the party line on global warming, but disagree on tax policy. A Republican could agree with the party position on foreign affairs, but disagree on social issues. In dealing with conflict, some people stay within their registered parties while they disagree on many issues, while others leave the party to become Independents.

Single issue matters are more cut-and-dry. Someone may be in favor of gun control or against it. However, even within those binary choices, there is a range of opinion. For example, being against gun control doesn’t mean being in favor of getting rid of background checks or gun licenses. A single issue is still dynamic within itself.

Liberal Zionists are subset of two groups: Liberals and Zionists. Liberals cover a broad range of issues similar to Democrats and Republicans. As reviewed in many polls, Liberals are not sympathetic to Israel.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Liberal Zionists that break with the majority.

Israel is a single issue matter for Americans and more easily broken into binary choices. However, there is still nuance in the pro-Zionist camp, especially within the Liberal Zionist community.

Rabbi Cosgrove noted that it is hard to be both a Liberal and a Zionist today. That is a sentiment that is rooted in someone that defines themselves as a Liberal first and a Zionist second.

Zionists have no issues with Liberals, and Israelis are, by-and-large, liberal. Most Israelis and Zionists just believe in the essential nature of the country as a Jewish State and the critical need for security.

For Liberals, being a Zionist is a bit harder to swallow. It typically means running against the majority opinion of the group with which one has chosen to identify. To reconcile that struggle, liberals either counter the ambivalence or anti-Israel sentiment of the group, or redefine Zionism in a manner that accommodates either liberal or Zionistic preferences. Many have chosen the ladder, and twisted the definition of “Zionist” into something that is unrecognizable to the majority of Zionists.

There is another way.

An easy way to be a Liberal Zionist is to use a wide lens when looking at Israel from a security standpoint within the broader Arab world, and narrowly when examining Israeli society from a social vantage point. Such an approach would be consistent with the majority of Liberal regarding daily life and with the majority of Zionists regarding daily existence.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Black Lives Matter Joins the anti-Israel “Progressives” Fighting Zionism

J Street: Going Bigger and Bolder than BDS

Squeezing Zionism

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Obama’s Foreign Policy

Summary: Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed

Both liberal and conservative commentators had a lot to say after US President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address in January 2015.  They were not positive.

The liberals attacked their president as being divorced from reality.  They highlighted several areas:

  • Iran continues towards nuclear weapons despite assurances to the contrary
  • Islamic State takes over Iraq after Obama calls them “JV” and claims that US forces have stopped their advance
  • Yemen falls despite Obama recent assurances
  • Assad controls Syria after Obama’s claim of helping moderate opposition forces (so marginal, can it be called true?)
  • Russia gets a mere slap on the wrist for invading Ukraine and taking over Crimea despite treaties with Ukraine

Conservatives have often berated Obama for practicing a policy which coddled enemies and rebuked allies:

  • Continued snubbing of ally Israel, particularly the Prime Minister Netanyahu (calling him “chicken*hit”, not meeting with him, walking out on him…)
  • Not showing up for unity rally in Paris after terrorist attacks (one of the only major western allies to not send anyone)
  • Refusing to help ally Canada with approving the Keystone pipeline
  • Pulling all troops out of Iraq after thousands of American forces died, to let the country fall into a terrorist haven

Here is a music video early in the Obama presidency which showed these paths started from the earliest days of his presidency (music by Genesis):


Sources:

Liberals attack Obama “asleep at the switch“: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxsyVO23G38

Mainstream media saying Obama “not close to reality“”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FcQE32_HSU

Criticism for snubbing Paris rally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yt5xqO0FgI