I just returned from the Rabin Memorial in Rabin Square, after years in which it was a totally apolitical affair, tonight it became something else. It did so largely because the traditional organizers did not have the money to organize and in the last moment the Zionist Union stepped forward to become the sponsor. In many ways I actually think this was more proper. Over the years when all the youth movements sponsored it, the event became too parve. It was too important not to insult anyone and be in the consensus that included Betar and Bnei Akiva than to present anything but the most general educational message against violence. When they organized it there could be no hint that the assassin was rightwing, or had religious motives. Tonight was different. The Zionist Union took a risk organizing the event- were people going to show up? They received a great assist from the head of the government coalition today when he gave a talk and said the assassination of Rabin was not a political act. It was of course the most successful political assassination in recent history. The crowds came – the square was full, between 50 – 70,000 people turned out. Recent actions by the government to silence the opposition were very much on the minds of the people who came and the people who spoke. The music was good but the best speech by far was given surprisingly by Tzpi Livni, who spoke about the values of Zionism. She said Zionism was not attacking the press, Zionism was not attacking the courts, and Zionism was not living in a country where we become the minority.
Of course events in Israel are eclipsed by American politics. Its been an interesting few days for me. I was reluctant to write my article on Trump and the Jews and said so at the very beginning of the article. I felt I had no choice since, however small my soapbox was I have at least a small following and maybe I can do my part. I was shocked when my article went viral – and has now been shared 33,000 times. At this point it is the most read article on the Time of Israel today, this week, and this month and it shows no signs of slowing. I have to hope that most of the people who shared the article agree with it. So I guess I did my part. On the other hand, when you look at the responses that the article has garnered and the names I have been called it’s very impressive. It’s interesting how most of the people just call me names and don’t try to refute the facts. I am also always struck by the amount of hate out there and how much nonsense people repeat. I am cautiously optimistic that Hilary will win, and yet I fear she might not, since I truly cannot understand how anyone could vote for Trump, so maybe I am truly underestimating his support.
The Israeli world of journalism and politics is an uproar today, not over the fate of the Supreme Court or of the settlement of Armona and certainly not over the latest anti-Israel decision as Unesco. But rather at something more prosaic and maybe over something more important in some way-the accusation by an American Jewish Journalist, Danielle Berrin that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Israeli journalist later self identified as Ari Shavit. Frankly I am not surprised, not that I know Shavit personally, but rather I spent a fair amount of time around places where Israeli males met American Jewish female professional and have seen what the results have been. Of course my experience is from another era- I worked in the American/Israeli/Jewish years when I was young 17-20 and than later in my mid 30’s and it was a different time with different expectations. Certainly during my service in the Israeli Air Force I saw things that in todays world, would end careers. But during my years working for Jewish Agency I saw first hand the actions of Israeli visitors. It was still the years of the macho Israeli soldier, and they felt free to get their way with often willing American Jewish women students and professionals. Many of the women were willing participants, although in retrospect since many of the sinners were their bosses or other in a hierarchy above them in many of the case one can not speak about willing consent, others less so. It was widespread, and reached to people today who hold some of the highest positions in the government.
I think it is better today, although I obviously cannot be sure. My daughters did not experience in the army any of what I saw when I was serving. The problem seems to be greater among older Israeli men who seem to be stuck in the past, a past that might have been pleasant for them but not for women who were on the receiving ends of unwanted attention or much more. We cannot be a society that tolerates this sort to behavior in any way. Ari Shavit role as the spokesman for the liberal Israel is over. Its too bad he was not a bad spokesman. Hopefully American won’t elect someone to be President who is guilty of as much or more than Shavit- but its irrelevant- there can be no excuses, no questions, sexual harassment is a career ender however talented an individual may be.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of our return to Israel. Our landing was tough having arrived soon after my Mom passed away and watching in the first months we were here my Fathers health deteriorate to the point that he died three months after we arrived. Living here continues to be struggle financially, but that has unfortunately been my fate most of my life. Moving back and forth between between Israel and US probably never helped that. This is my first experience living in Tel Aviv and I must say that while in my high school year book I have a quote that says that even though I was not born in Jerusalem, I have felt a Jerusalemite my whole life, today it’s Tel Aviv that I love more than any other city in the world. Becoming a Newsweek columnist with a column called Tel Aviv Diary has certainly cemented that relationship. The research for our App Journey Tel Aviv combined with my column has allowed me to know the city from the top( I interviewed the mayor) and the bottom( I have walked almost all the city adding locations to our App).
Being in Israel has also resulted in another change. Its very much in vogue today to write how people will need multiple careers. While that is certainly true for the future, that has certainly been true for me. While one hand I have been involved in the development of software for three decades and the writing of history even longer, what defines my prime activities in life has changed a number of times over the years. Much to my surprise and certainly not something that I would have guessed before we came, I am now more of a journalist than anything else. While having a regular column in Newsweek has certainly given me both access and a certain level of prestige, it was not until I started working for European economic web site, who are actually paying me to file multiple stories a day that it became clear that today I am primarily a journalist. I probably still spend more time a day working on software and history, but its become my writings that defines me today
I was worried about returning here this late in life, I was 56 when we came back and was concerned about being the outsider. That is the one worry that was unnecessary. The combination of having been in the IDF, having two children who have served, and having a third on the way has eliminated any concern in that direction. Of course it helps to be fluent in Hebrew and have a dog, but there is no question that I feel totally at home as if I lived in Tel Aviv all my life and am thankful every day that we live here. We have made many friends, and have access to all aspects of life in Tel Aviv. (Well almost every we will never be a 20-30 year old single).
One finally thought, none of this would have been possible without my family, Amy who has always been at my side and been my partner in everything I have done these last 25+ years and three great kids.
Its been a while since I wrote a blog piece. For the last month since I stated working for Emerging Market Reports plus started MYIsraelNews I have gone from writing one or two articles top for Newsweek plus a blog piece or two every week, to writing on average ten stories a day. While I am enjoying it and Emerging Markets is helping to pay our bills, writing a blog article which is more writing sometime seems like a mountain too high to climb. Since we are effectively in the midst of a five day weekend in Israel and I cannot imagine there will be any economic news until Wednesday to write about and hopefully no political military news, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some thoughts. Furthermore I am hopeful that this will be a quiet week and my Newsweek article long planned but not yet written will be this week about the Jewish vote in the US. On Wednesday we will have been back in Israel for five year, I hope to reflect on that then, so here are some random thoughts that I did not want to write for Newsweek as a new Jewish year begins
First on the decision of the Joint Arab List not to attend Peres funeral: it was in my mind one of the stupidest things I have seen lately, and while they are not part of the traditional left in this country it is another example of the left committing collective suicide. The Left including the Arabs seem more concerned about being right than accomplishing anything. Accomplishing something is a matter of convincing voters. You do not convince voters this way. You do not convince the average Israelis that is ever a chance at reconciliation when you effectively say that even Peres who spent the last quarter of his life trying to find a way to achieve peace cannot be forgiven for earlier “mistakes” than how do you ever reach peace. It was terrible decision and will effectively delegitimize the Joint List further.
The decision of the White House to correct the Email to the press: I am officially a member of the White House press corp- (because of my section on the web site on the Obama Presidency. ) I along with the rest of the Press Corp received Friday night an Email that corrected an earlier E-mail with Obama remarks at the funeral. The original one said Mt Herzl Jerusalem, Israel the corrected one marked out Israel .One has to keep in mind this has been US policy since Harry TrumanI checked back at all my E mails from the earlier visit and everything said Jerusalem without Israel. My daughters passports say Jerusalem and not Israel as place of birth. The US never officially recognized any de jure borders beyond the 1947 partition plan and Jerusalem was suppose to an international city under that plan, This time it was a mistake that should have just been left alone. President Obama left behind good will with his speech, it was partially undermined by this correction
A few thoughts on the death of President Peres: Israel faces a real crisis. When I was speaking to Herzog on Thursday night he compared it to the US after the Founding Fathers, but I mentioned to him that did not go that well for the US- He agreed and said that was our challenge. It really is a problem for the country, after Netanyahu the other leaders of Likud are not very competent people to say the least. That does not bode well for the future. They say the whole world suffers from a lock of leaders, our suffering is worse than many places.
One comment on the US elections: I am astounded that there are people who are actually planning to vote for Trump. Its seems inconceivable that anyone can think after all we have seen that this man should be in the Oval Office. There has never been someone less prepared and less suited for the Presidency. You can agree or disagree with policy but I am not sure how anyone can disagree about the man fitness to be President. A further issue for Jews remains the fact that he brings out the worse in Americans, including a level of anti-semitism that we may have all thought existed but are shocked to see out in the open the United States
My last thought Before Rosh Hashanah relates to Syria. As an American and as an Israelis I am ashamed. We have been spending the past 70 years saying never again, and yet when it comes down to it, its Never Again only when its easy- or maybe when its Jews, I am not sure which. There are only two countries that could have stopped the at least part of the slaughter in Syria, the US and Israel. The US for reasons I will never fathom did not because of President Obama’s unwillingness to use conventional force, has led to his decision not to even threaten the use of forces, and Israel because it’s not in our interest. From the Israeli perspective we need to stop talking about how the world did not do enough during the World War II to stop the holocaust. It was not in their military interest to do more, even if they could have, which is a highly disputed historic point . It’s not in our national interest to get involved, but if we wanted to we could ground the Syrian air force in a matter of minutes.
I have not written much in the past few weeks, but that is about to end. As of September 1 I will for the first time being writing professional (being paid) for regular reporting primarily economic news from Israel- more about that later in the week. At the same time I will be launching a new mini web site of news from Israel- more on that later as well. Tonight I wanted to write about something that has been bothering more and more lately- The daily killing that has been going on to the North of us in Syria. Of course it’s nothing new its been going on for 5 years, but somehow in the last few days some of the pictures posted in my Twitter feed of the kids being killed in Syria have stuck a new chord with me. Maybe its my son preparing for what is a right of passage in this country a trip to Poland that has once again made me reflect on the meaning of the trip and the meaning of the lessons of the holocaust.
The horrific killing in Syria go on year after year. The use of the illegal chemical weapons continue despite the so called agreement to remove them, and no one seems to care. Yes people want to stop ISIS and they are doing what they can do to attack it, but as to the deliberate killing of civilians- nothing. Two days ago the Syrians took an Israeli tactic and perversely stood it on its head. Israel is known of the doubt tap on the roof when it wants to attack a building. A small bomb that does no damage to warn people to get out and then the real bomb a few minutes later. The Syrians instead double tapped by attacking a hospital and then coming back and attacking the funeral of those being buried as a result of the first attack. The UN has just concluded that the Syrian government has continued to use Chlorine Gas as a weapon- Where is the outrage? The Russians bomb civilians and the world is silent. Where are the people out in the streets of Europe in front of the Russian embassy’s?Where are the crowds demanding that the Iranians stop supporting Assad. I do not see anyone demonstrating in front of the White House demanding the US ground the Syrian airforce. As a matter of fact I do not see anyone here doing the same. In Israel the Syrian story has almost disappeared from the newspapers. Unless an errant shell falls on the Golan Heights- no one cares?
During World war II the world could say they did not know- at least until it was too late they did not know- and once they knew there was little that they could have been done. But the whole world has been seeing what has been going on in Syria- WE all know and yet we are all complicit. President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, President Putin, Prime Minister Netanyahu and you and me are all complicit in the crimes that have taken place 80 miles Northeast of my apartment. We do not care- We will continue to memorialize the holocaust but as we do so we continue to dishwner the memory of those who died, because instead of Never Again we have been saying “Never Again to the Jews”.
Tonight is Tisha B’Av, it’s a fast that I have always felt should be eliminated. To me it has always been antithetical to basic Zionism to be mourning the loss of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago,when today it is once again under Israeli sovereignty. I understand those who said, that despite events of modern history, Jerusalem is far from living in peace. I have also understood the arguments about how we have to remember the events so we avoid the internecine hatred that to many was the cause of fall the Jerusalem. As many of you know my concern for the country that I live (Israel) is very real. Most of that concern is not from our external enemies but our internal problems, but strangely this Tisha B’ Av my concerns are more about the United States the land of my birth and less about Israel.
Something very dangerous occurred in the US this past week. While the whole candidacy of Donald Trump has been problematic and so many of his comments that he has made that are troubling have been too numerous to list, his comments in the last few days are very dangerous. I am not talking about his 2nd amendment comment, which while to most it’s clear what he meant, was at least ambiguous. No, it’s been his comments that the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen by his opponent. He repeated that on Thursday when he said that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if it’s stolen. Polls currently show him losing that state by11-16 points. He has requested that people sign up to be poll watchers so the election is not stolen by “crooked Hilary” . The United States is in uncharted territory. Months before an election the results are already be discredited. When what seems inevitable happen on November 8th and Donald Trump loses large number of his supporters will indeed believe that the election was stolen. They will believe that Hilary Clinton is not the legitimate President, and a few might take actions that I do not even want to imagine.
One of the most basic facts about United States history has been the peaceful transition of power after an election. The acceptance of the results. Even in the most divisive election in US history 1860 when Lincoln won, no one questions whether he had won or not. Some states were not willing to accept the results and therefore attempted to secede from the Union causing the Civil War. In the last 20 years there has been a troubling attempt to discredit and not truly accept the new President. We saw that to some extent with President Clinton with Whitewater and of course much more so with President Obama with the birther movement. One could rightly blame the Republican establishment from never totally disavowing the birther movement- and we can easily use the analogy of riding a tiger- that tiger has brought Trump. However, we cannot go back in history and undo the damage. Even if every Republican elected official comes out tomorrow and says that they respect the electoral process and have no fears that the election will be stolen it may be too late.
America is a strong a resident nation and in its 240 year history has endured many challenges. I lived through the turbulent 60’s and although I was a young boy remember 1968 well. Never in my life however have I feared for America as I have in this election and more so in the past week. I am confident that Trump will lose this election by close to a landslide- but fear two things: first that there are actually people after all that has occurred in the past two weeks who are planning to vote for him, second, that sometimes a bell cannot be unrung. The bells that Donald Trump has rung since beginning his campaign are going to be very difficult to unring. It will be up to President Clinton together with the Republican leadership after this election is over to find a way to the bring American people together. Today on Tisha B’Av I fear not for the disunity here in Israel- but rather for that in the United States.
It’s been a strange two weeks in Israel, clearly the most important news has been happening abroad and not here. That is frankly very nice. Of course the news abroad been either bad or very strange. Bad of course, is the repeated terror attacks. As I have written before my fear is there are no solutions at least any time soon. It’s the fear of terror that might bring the far right to power in Europe, and it’s the fear of terror that might further destroy the European Union, and it is the fear of terror that might bring Donald Trump to the White House. The Donald Trump story is the strangest, the fact that he is the nominee of the Republican party is astounding, and frankly the fact that I know people who are actually thinking of voting for him is even more astounding to me. To me the policies that Presidents come to office with is not of great consequence. I wrote biographies of both FDR and JFK and what made them both in my opinion great Presidents, was two things, the first and most important their ability to analyze new situations, draw on both their own knowledge and that of their advisors as well to come up with the best solution to the problem. Does anyone truly believe that Trump is capable of that? There is nothing in his history that would show him qualified to be President, and just the opposite it’s unbelievable that his actions and statements have not disqualified him to date to run and be taken seriously. But I guess these are not normal times, and the hatred that has been directed at Hilary is not normal hatred. I hear from people she is a liar, but than hear they are going to vote for Trump who by all accounts does not even know the difference between the two. Furthermore, while people may or may not like the expected policies that Secretary Clinton might bring to the Presidency, at least we can anticipate what they are going to be. When it come to Trump it’s completely unknown. The world is fragile place at the moment, what it does not need is a “bull in a china shop” which in the best case will be what Trump will be. The second trait that FDR, JFK and for the matter Reagan shared was a fundamental belief in the greatness of America- something they do not seem to share with Trump.
While these have been relatively quiet weeks in this country, the are certainly not weeks without local news. Most of that news has been taking place on the plain where religion and state meet. It’s been taken place on two levels. On one between the mainstream of the country and the what are called “Chardal ” Rabbis. These are not Charedim who wanted nothing to do with the state, but rather people who consider themselves Zionist, who believe that our return to the land is part of gods plan. But they are much more rigid in their interpretation of orthodoxy, thus they are called Chardal. Two weeks ago one of the Chardal Rabbis who runs a pre army school, called homosexuals degenerates and objected to some of the policies of the army relating to homosexuals and related matters. That same week the writing of the newly nominated Army Chief Rabbi came out, in which he condoned the rape of captive women in war, and wrote against having women in the army. He claimed that he was merely answering theoretical questions and does not share those beliefs today. Both events created a domestic firestorm that lasted for a day or two
This week with a little less controversy, the Knesset under the prodding of the government passed two laws that the Charedim (Ultra Orthodox) demanded. The first barred Conservative and Reform Jews from using public mikve ( ritual baths)for conversions. The second removing the requirement from Ultra Orthodox schools that receive government funds from teaching Math and English. One thing became perfectly clear this week, this government is so dependent on the Ultra Orthodox that even if its decision have a strong negative impact on relations with diaspora Jewry they will give in to their demands.
A final note, this week while testifying in the Knesset Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot stated that the greatest threat the IDF faces is not from external threats, but by elements of the Israeli society that seem to be trying to delegitimize the IDF.
The news last night from Nice was truly horrific. A terrorist did not need a gun, nor did he need explosives (although he had both) to allow him to kill over 85 people and wound an even larger number. The dimensions of the Nice attack are hard to imagine. Once again, people were out to enjoy the night, enjoy the fireworks, enjoy the celebration of French Liberty – and now 85 of them are no longer. There are children who will never see adulthood, and adults whose children will never know them. I can go on …
I guess those of us who have studied history should not be surprised. Compared to even one day of World War II, the terrible terror attacks of the last month simply pale in comparison. That is without even taking in account the Holocaust – just accounting for the shear number of battlefield deaths, deaths from bombings and other violence. I guess we somehow believed the world was beyond that. For those of us who grew up in the 60’s the fear of nuclear annihilation was ever present, and yet abstract. It was nothing like seeing a truck mowing down dozens and dozens of people. Of course, to some extent, those of us who live in Israel are used to such terrible events. But, as I have written before, though nothing justifies acts of terror, at we least understand why they do what they do. It seems much harder to understand how a Muslim resident of France can just murder so many people in cold blood; murder so many children.
I see people on Twitter saying the Nice attack just proves we have to fight terror even harder. But what does that mean? What can we do? There are one billion Muslims in the world – and only a very very small percentage of them are potential terrorists. That being said, even a small percentage of 1 billion is a very big number. Unfortunately, there is no supreme authority in the Muslim world who can make it clear that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a supreme commandment. So what is the alternative?
The Western World is in for difficult times. The line between the right to be free to say whatever one wishes and/or believe whatever we wishes is colliding with our collective right to live in safety. I fear there will be no choice, but to further impinge on all of our civil rights in order to successfully fight against terror. However, even then, in a world where communication is instant and constant how do you stop hate from seeping in? How do you stop words of incitement from reaching those who are susceptible to it? I wish I had an answer, but I am clueless.
Originally this whole post was going to be all about Rabbi Haskel Lookstein and the unwillingness of the Israel Rabbinate to accept his conversion. I have known Rabbi Lookstein for 46 years, since I was a freshman at Ramaz. When I first met Rabbi Lookstein he was a young rabbi starting to take over the helm from his father who had founded Ramaz, and was the firebrand of the Orthodox community. Over the years, I worked with Rabbi Lookstein on a few projects in the world of Soviet Jewry and Jewish communal affairs (most of which took place almost 30 years ago.) As the principal of my high school; later, as the high school my oldest daughter attended, I always held him in esteem.
To be truthful I was not shocked that the Rabbinic Court in Petah Tikvah did not accept Rabbi Lookstein’s conversion – Not because there was anything questionable about it; and not due to any doubt that Rabbi Lookstein is anything but a fully practicing Orthodox Rabbi. Rather, because Rabbi Lookstein has always been identified with the more progressive elements of the Orthodox community; which is the polar opposite of the stilted, backward, 18th century rabbis who run the Rabbinic Courts in this country.
Needless to say, everyone in the organized Jewish community was outraged. Natan Sharanskly issued a statement, UJA/ Federation did the same. However, it’s really for naught. The political realities of this country are that Netanyahu prefers the ultra-Orthodox over everyone else as his coalition partner. Therefore, Netanyahu will never do anything to upset that apple cart. Even the “firebrand fighter” of the ultra-Orthodox, Yair Lapid has said he will no longer fight them, (after realizing he will never become Prime Minister if they opposes him.) If American Jews truly care about these issues, it is time for them to rethink their relationship with Israel and find ways to pressure this, or future Israeli governments in ways that would truly be effective.
My opinion of Rabbi Lookstein was not enhanced this week by his decision to speak at the Republican National Convention. I understand that he converted Trump’s daughter and Ivanka is a member of his congregation, but …
One last word … The latest investigations surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu seem to be getting very serious. The situation will become clearer in the coming days.
It has been a quiet week in Israel- its about time. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the world and certainly for the rest of the Middle East. Last nights shooting in Dallas was just another terrible event in a string of horrific events. Most of those events of course occurred in the Middle East and South Asia mostly the doing of ISIS. The terror attacks in Istanbul, Lahore and Baghdad were particularly brutal and the death toll is hard to imagine. They do not get the press that attacks in Paris or Brussels get but for those who are victims the results as ever as devastating.
To me the events of the past few weeks have been particularly depressing, in some ways more so than attacks that take place here. When there is a terror attack here we can always rationalize it and say that if only.,.. If we were not occupying them .… However, when we see Muslim killing other Muslims or just killing westerners who are visiting Muslim country it certainly undermines those thoughts. These past few days the concerns that I have always had as to whether it would ever be possible to reach a peace agreement have strengthened. Will the Palestinians ever be willing to finally accept the division of the land. My fear is even if we were to reach an agreement with some entity representing the Palestinian people, there will always be those who will never accept it, and will be willing to blow themselves and some of us up to stop it. Can people who find it is unacceptable for a non Muslim to have dinner in a restaurant in Lahore ever accept the our presence in the midst of the Muslim world?
Forty years ago while in the army I met a soldier whose Father had fought in Israel’s War of Independence. I vowed than that I would do all I could to make sure that my children would not have to serve. Well two have already served and my youngest this week had his first call up notice- pre induction exams. Like any Israeli parent the moment is alway a combination of pride and dread. Pride since my son like all those who went before him is ready to do his service. Dread because the idea of having another child don a uniform is simply frighting. Its been 40 year and so little has changed. We are a richer, more developed society, but no more secure than we were back then. Our enemies are diminished, but the lethality of new weapons have given unconventional armies capabilities far beyond what they had in the past. It’s depressing.
On a totally other note- Former Minister of Finance and leader of the Yesh Atid party caused a small firestorm in Israel today when he criticized the appointment of Noa Landau as the new English editor of Ha’aretz. He criticized her because her significant other (not sure if its her husband) is very involved in Breaking the Silence. 55Lapid has had an active campaign against breaking the silence these past few weeks, as part of his campaign to show that his heart is in the right. The firestorm that he rightly created was from the sexism shown by saying that a persons suitability to hold a job should be questioned based on what his or her significant other does.
If you want to become a little more depressed just read this statement by the this Iranian military leader IRGC Deputy Commander Salami on the coming destruction of Israel
On a final note- it looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very pleasant trip visiting Africa this past week. He looked like he enjoyed it far more that he has enjoyed his recent trips to the US. He also seems to have improved our relations with the nations in the region significantly. So while I generally criticize him, his actions both in restoring relations with Turkey and improving our relations in Africa have both enhanced Israel’s strategic standing in the world significantly. So for once kudos to the PM.
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.