Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Meaning of Brexit

History is replete with examples of attempts to bring the world together. In 1814, representatives of most of the nations of Europe met at  the Congress of Vienna.  They did not try to erase national borders, but did try to bring peace to the countries of Europe after the upheavals of the French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. One hundred and six years and two major wars  later – including the terrible horrors of World War I – and the League of Nations was born. The League of Nations was the first embodiment of the utopian notion that mankind  could bring unity to the world. That body, proved to be incapable of containing the winds of Nazism and a nationalist Japan. Before the last shots were fired and Nazi crematoria were discovered, the horrors of World War II convinced world leaders, under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that part of the answer was a new world organization. It was hoped this body might prove stronger and more resilient than the League of Nations. This organization became the United Nations. The UN while more effective than the League of Nations – thanks partially  to the active participation of the United States – has had its limitations.

For Europe, the United Nations was only a partial solution. The devastated nations of postwar Europe , needed a better way to compete in a world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, in 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community was born, to integrate the coal and steel industries of France and Germany. That was followed by the Treaty of the Rome that was signed in 1957 which established  the Common Market, starting as a European Free Trade Zone.

In  1993,  the free trade zone evolved, when the Treaty of Maastricht was signed establishing the European Union and common European citizenship. Nations maintained their own identities, but ceded a certain part of their sovereignty to the Union. Soon French, Germans, Brits, and eventually  Poles and Croats all became common citizens. When the new millennium dawned people who had fought for centuries were now forging a common identity.

Now, 16 years later that new millennia is looking much less hopeful. Yesterday’s decision by the people of Great Britain to exit from the world’s most ambitious experiment in common citizenship is the latest and by far strongest blow to that vision.

Why did this happen? Why are are the people’s of the world choosing to move apart instead of moving together.  It’s a question I have been asking these past few months – long before the results of last night’s vote were determined. While there are no absolute answers, the momentum towards unity came to a screeching halt in September 2001.  On the day the towers in New York fell, it became clear that  a fundamentalist strain of Islam that had widely been considered an aberration, had the power to impact lives far and near.

What followed? The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq  destabilized a vast part of the Muslim world and   created a  refugee crisis.  That destabilization intensified with the destruction of Syria combined with the rise of ISIS and spread what has become a massive refugee crisis to Europe.   This  was certainly a contributing factor to yesterday’s vote. But refugees are not the sole cause of the British vote, although their role should not be underestimated.  Underlying this vote are economic, financial and social factors that cannot be ignored.  The idea of one world and one European economy was sorely tested in the Economic Crisis of 2008. Suddenly, the very interconnectivity that had made aspects of prosperity possible, also proved to be the world’s economy’s Achilles’ Heel.  The subsequent Greek debt crisis proved simultaneously the strength and weakness of the EU, its ability to weather the short-term fiscal crisis, while not providing a solution to the underlying economic problem was not a good harbinger for the future of a United Europe.

In addition, the growing social and economic change brought about by the computer, smart phone, and all of the future innovations have created a clear disquiet among parts of the population. It also presents a true challenge to find jobs and occupations for those who have been and will be, replaced by computers, robots and self-driving cars. In times like this, individuals receive comfort in their national identities – e.g. “we are British and not European” or “We will make America Great Again”. People turn inward and blame the “other” for their problems, the “immigrants” the “migrants”, the “Muslims”, and I dare say – in some cases – the “Jews”.  People believe their nationality, their ethnic identity, their religion is superior to that of the “other”.   When people are uncertain they seek comfort in what they know, they believe promises even if they based on lies or falsehoods. It is a dangerous time. Of course, things are not always straight forward and membership in the EU was not always free of difficulties. That being said, there are few economist, who do not believe that the British have shot themselves in the foot with this vote, certainly economically.

In 1966, when I was eleven years old, the legendary science fiction series “Star Trek” debuted.  Star Trek depicted a future world, where mankind had overcome petty nationalistic and religious divides and joined forces with other races from other solar systems for the common good. Star Trek depicted an optimistic future, not one without its challenges, but optimistic all the same. I became a fan – maybe not quite a “Trekkie”, but a fan just the same. At the same age I also became a Zionist. I guess as much as I hoped for the future Star Trek imagined, I feared that history had not been kind to those who put too much faith in the better nature of mankind – a reality that was doubly true for the Jewish people. For most of my lifetime, I have watched a slow but steady march towards the Star Trek universe I first met in my youth. For the past 15 years, I have seen that march stop and reverse course.  Last night’s vote was the clearest indication of that, and I fear that the future of my children and grandchildren will not be as bright as I once could have imagined.

 

 

Brussels
Brussels
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Terror- Does the Name Really Matter

Terrorism is a hard topic to write about, simply because it seems to hopeless.  In the last few days terror has touched very close to home- when the attack in Tel Aviv took place at a restaurant I frequent often, and relatively far away- in Orlando Florida at a club I have never been to.

Terror has been a constant companion in my adult life, the first attempted hijackings occurred when I was in high school.  A high school classmate was on the El Al plane that was supposed to have been hijacked by Lylia Kaleb as part of the Black September hijacking.An El Al security guard thwarted that hijacking, others were not as lucky and had the pleasure of spending  time in the Jordanian desert including some fellow New Rochelle residents. This was the time the world and Israel lived through the Munich Olympics attacks.  As I have written previously terror has struck me personally when my best friend from Elementary school was killed when his TWA plane was blown up over the Mediterranean by terrorist under the employ of Qadaffi.  I could continue to list the cases of terror in the world, and they included the many bombings during the Second Intifadah here in Israel- One of them the bombing of a Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem occurred directly across the street from my daughter’s apartment.

The list goes on and on. Of course, one of the most striking elements of the list is that with a few exceptions most of the terror attacks have been done ( Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing being the biggest of them) by Muslim terrorist.  Of course,  America has suffered far more mass shootings motivated by factors other than political terrorism, and I would be happy to right an article how there is no reason in any sane society to allow its citizens to own AR-15 assault rifles but that is a whole other article.

While the net is full of the arguments whether to call this radical Islamist terrorism or not, I find the argument ridiculous.  Why is it important?  How does it solve the problem?  Yes an overwhelming majority of terrorist have been mMuslim, and yes for whatever reason parts of the Muslim world seem most angry and have been resorting to terror for two generations, but how does this help us? Its been clear to me for a while that one of the reasons we have not solved our problems with the Palestinians for a century clearly has to do with religion.  Ok now that we all feel better, and can blame everything on radical  Islam now what?

This morning when I read a story about a Rabbi who ruled that girls over the age of 5 could not ride bicycles I said to myself isn’t it time we say that these Rabbis are as insane as the radical Muslims.  That is probably true, thankfully they don’t tend to be violent- and their is no Jewish equivalent of Jihad.  But how does that help us?.

I have passed my 60th birthday- modern terrorism has been around since I was 13-  I am yet to hear a plan how to end it.  In Israel, we get into the arguments about yes we should pull out of the territories because it breeds terror or no we should not because its the only way we can stop it, and of course both sides have legitimate arguments, but in the end its once again irrelevant to ending terror.    The US has been actively fighting wars against terror since before 9/11.  Can it really say its made significant progress?

Do I think President Obama should refer to much of the terror that has occurred in the last few years as Jihadist- sure?  What percent of today’s attack should we ascribe to Jihadist ideology and what part to homophobia?  We will never know since the shooter is dead, and besides they seem to go hand in hand.  But would it make a difference if President Obama said Jihadist terror, I don’t see how?

So I will end my rant tonight where I began- I have no clue how to reign in this forever metamorphosing terrorism.  Its disheartening.  I have no solutions, I have no insight to spare- just sadness at all the lives that were lost for no reason today in Orlando- last week here in Tel Aviv and forty years ago when my friend who was studying at Harvard and was the smartest person I knew was killed, what lives all of these people might have lived.  I am not sure what the total number of lives that have been ended by terrorists in my lifetime is, but tonight I shed a tear for all them.

 

Eitan Bard  on the right and the author in the center
Eitan Bard on the right and the author in the center
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How Can All the Republican Politicians Support Trump?

Yesterday was another interesting day in American politics, as Secretary of State Clinton was giving a speech taking apart Donald Trump, House Speaker Ryan succumbed to the Republican political disease and became the latest Republican leader to announce that he would support Donald Trump in the general election.

The rush of Republican leaders to endorse Trump has been breathtaking.  The same man ,who many called a threat to the Republic is now someone that these politicians can now support to achieve the highest post in the United States.  Of course, why they have been doing it is really all too clear- self-preservation.  The single strongest instinct of a politician is self-preservation.  These Republicans fear that if they do not fall into line, Trump’s supporters will take retribution and they will be voted out of office.  In today’s highly partisan world the thought of supported a Democrat is unthinkable for these Republican politicians despite the many dangers that a Trump Presidency could bring. I must admit I did think that Rep Ryan would hold out longer and extract some concessions from Trump on issues of substance- but I guess…

There are two exceptions to those Republican who has slovenly thrown in their support for Trump- former Presidents and the largely Jewish neo conservative intellectuals of the party.  The former Presidents Bush as well as the 2012 contender  Romney are not now, nor will they be in the future running for office, so they have the luxury of being men of principle and state they will not support a man who is totally unqualified to be President and who could be dangerous to the United States and the world.

I have to believe that the neo cons could not divorce their sense of Jewishness from the potential threat that Trump presents.  While no one is claiming that Trump is anti-semitic, the same thing cannot be said for his supporters.  Supporters he refuses to repudiate. More important, however, Trumps rhetoric toward other ethnic groups whether Hispanic or Muslim should be making the hair of any Jew involved in the public sphere stand up on the back of their necks.  As one listens to Trump, it is easy to imagine another time, 80 years ago when another demagogue came to power in a democracy.  He was voted into power by the German people.  Not once have Jews asked How is that possible?  How did the German people not know?  How could they elect someone who spew hatred?  If you want to know the answer to we only have to look at events in the US these last months, and maybe more importantly, these past few weeks, as one Republican politician after another fell into line supporting the most dangerous major party candidate for the Presidency in the US history.

One final note, support for Trump has grown in Israel thanks to the support of Yisrael Hayom, the paper controlled by Sheldon Adelson- now an avowed Trump supporters.  That being said as a right leaning friend who I had lunch with this week said.  We know what Hilary will be like  and it might not be great for Israel but its not likely to be too bad either.  Trump adds a level of danger to the equation – a level of uncertainty that Israel cannot afford.

Donald_Trump

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