Monthly Archives: July 2012

Romney cites David Landes, offends Palestinians (whose honor must be preserved at the cost of their prosperity)

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy had outpaced the economy of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”Palestinians said that Romney had ignored the long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which they say are an enormous drag on trade.

Romney’s campaign said afterward that the remark had been misinterpreted. “This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians,” Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, told reporters in a later stop in Gdansk, Poland. “And everyone knows that.”

Romney had said at a breakfast fundraiser that he had pondered the reasons for Israel’s huge economic advantage over the neighboring territories.“As you come here and you see the [Gross Domestic Product] per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said, according to a pool report.
And then compare it with areas with far less international capital pumping up the economy, like Jordan, or Egypt, or Syria, or Lebanon, and you realize that it’s not just an issue of Israel vs. the PA, but Israel vs. Arab political economy which, without oil, is the least productive in the world.
In fact, the difference is far more stark than that. According to the World Bank, Israel’s GDP per capita is actually $31,282. The same figure for the Palestinian areas is around $1,600.Romney said he had studied a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” searching for an answer about why two neighboring places–the U.S. and Mexico, for instance, or Israel and the Palestinian areas–could have such disparate prosperity.“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from that book, by David Landes [my father]. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
It has always been a matter of some wonder to me that while Israel represents the single most exceptional example of Landes’ thesis that culture counts (i.e., a place with virtually no natural resources which, in 1900, was at the bottom of the third world and in one century went from there to the top of the first world almost entirely on the basis of its cultural capital), he devoted none of his chapters to that case study. Indeed Romney seems to have made precisely that point in contrasting the argument of Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel about the critical factor of primary resources in economic advantage with Landes’:
As he has at home, Romney in Jerusalem cited a book titled, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” that suggests the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.”And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here,” Romney said, before citing another book, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by former Harvard professor David Landes.
Apparently at least two people in this debate know how to reason historically.(NB: Diamond’s book came out the same year as Wealth and Poverty of Nations and won the Pulitzer for its deeply flawed [it also doesn't deal with the Israeli economic development, despite being a "Short History of Everybody,"] but politically correct argument: it’s no one’s fault they’re economically retarded, it’s just lack of access to primary resources. In that sense Erakat [below] is a child of Diamond’s responsibility-free history.)

Kershner at NYT does her job as a rogue peace journalist: Levy Commission with outrage everyone (who matters)

Isabel Kershner has drunk the journalist/UN/NGO kool-aid for a long time now. This particular article illustrates nicelythe way that journalists have taken sides in the conflict between Israel and her neighbors.

Validate Settlements, Israeli Panel Suggests

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

At the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemya, the children of Jewish settlers found relief from the heat and the sun.

By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: July 9, 2012
JERUSALEM — Flouting international opinion, an Israeli government-appointed commission of jurists said Monday that Israel ’s presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommended that the state grant approval for scores of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts there.
Note the opening phrase. Objection, your honor, journalist is leading the reader. Before the reader even knows what’s going on, he’s been told what to think about the subject. Such a move suggests insecurity, a sense that the reader can’t or shouldn’t think for him or herself, a desire to impose a reading lest….
A government-appointed commission calls for the validation of scores of unauthorized Jewish outposts on the West Bank.
Actually, the commission has many interesting things to say. By selecting the implications for settlements – which is surely part of the commission’s finding – Kershner has the tail wagging the dog. In her world, to her [intended] audience, to the LCEs who adhere, knowingly or unwittingly to the PC Paradigm, the settlements are THE problem. Without them there would be peace. That simple.

The committee’s legal arguments, while nonbinding, could provide backup for the government should it decide to grant the outposts retroactive official status. But such a move would inevitably stir international outrage and deal a significant blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. And here’s the payoff. Such a move to legalize the settlements, regardless of the legal principles upon which that move was based, should not happen. The international community will be outraged (no need even to explain why, everyone knows); and it will deal a significant blow to prospects for a peace-settlement.

For those of us who do not live in the twilight world of post-Oslo denial, there is nothing remotely resembling a viable peace-negotiations at the moment. Palestinian – and more broadly Arab – political culture is light years from being able to make the necessary concessions for peace. Incitement to hatred against Israel (and the Jews) pervades the public sphere, with glorified “martyrs” who kill Israeli civilians, glorified, lethal narratives in profusion. “Moderates” (like the PA) assuage radicals (like Hamas) with promises that to use any concession for more aggression (as their way of assuaging the radicals, as in Arafat’s speech in South Africa, months after signing the Oslo Accords). And yet the logic behind the conclusion here presented as a fact, is that the Palestinians are innocent victims who just want a country of their own, eager to negotiate but frustrated by Israeli intransigence. One would assume that any undergraduate, looking at the evidence, would conclude that this paradigm has extensive anomalies. Thus this notion that international outrage would break out at the Israelis damaging the non-existent prospects for a peace settlement embodies the lunacy of the age. Note the use of the word “opinion” rather than “international law.” It bypasses the facts of the case, which are so anomalous and pose so many complex issues to the fairly young field of international law, that they do not allow for anything like the widespread belief that they are “illegal by international law.” In some sense we’re witnessing here a radical application of “constructivist” journalism: fabricated international opinion, never very far from outrage, creates a “reality” which then can be applied to leverage a (far less tractable) reality. Is it any wonder none of these fine folks from the international community can’t solve the problem?

Poison in the Middle East Conflict

The New York Times ran the following cartoon, allegedly about the poisoning of Yassir Arafat by Patrick Chappatte (HT/BR).

Some think this is an outrageous cartoon that supports the libel that the Israelis poisoned Arafat. And it may be just that. After all, either Chappatte is an advocate of the destruction of Israel, or he’s in total ignorance of what’s at stake, as in this cartoon (HT/DG)

As if the reunion of Hamas and Fatah would be good for peace…

But, unintentionally or not, it actually makes a very different and critical point. From the outset, the relationship between Israel and her neighbors has been poisoned by what Nidra Poller has called “lethal narratives,” stories accusing (in this case) Israel of intentionally murdering innocent civilians, preferably children. Lethal narratives are key elements in cognitive warfare designed at once to create hatred and a desire for vengeance among “us” (whose children are being murdered), guilt and self-loathing among “them” (whose soldiers are doing the killing), and hostility among bystanders (the Westerners whose judgments play a critical role in determining policy).

The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.

From the website of International ANSWER.

The move was a masterstroke of cognitive war. Jihadis got the Europeans to play their lethal narrative repeatedly on their TVs during the early intifada, waving the flag of Jihad in front of their immigrant Muslim population. And as a result, Europe, in the 21st century, got a “Muslim Street.”

The mainstream news media’s laundering lethal narratives and presenting them to the public as “news” plays a critical role in Palestinian (and beyond that, Islamist) cognitive warfare. Once they had gone wild over the al Durah poison, the mainstream news media believed any claims that Palestinians made that Israelis had killed children until proven wrong, and doubted any Israeli claims to innocence until proven right. And if that happened (long after the initial lethal narrative had been spread), the press mumbled corrections and moved on to the next lethal narrative.

I personally had a direct experience of this dynamic when I gave a talk at a conference in Budapest in 2007 on millenarianism. I presented al Durah as a key element in the “going viral” of Muslim apocalyptic memes, and referred to the story as a “blood libel.” The organizer of the conference noted:

“I’ve warned against sloppy use of terminology at this conference [I had previously suggested that Marx was a millennialist], and your use of blood libel is a prime example: it’s just simple murder of children, which we know for a fact Israelis are doing every day. (Italics mine)

In her very “statement of fact” the speaker proved the efficacy of the blood libel she denied.

One of the key functions of the mainstream news media is to serve as a dialysis machine, filtering out the poisons that can weaken the civil polities in which they operate. At least in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have, alas, played the role of injecting the poisons of lethal narratives into the information stream of the West.

We are all the weaker for it. Indeed, we find traces of poison in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the ludicrous story of Israel poisoning Arafat is only the most recent example, and the above cartoon, a pathetic illustration.

We could all agree to differ, but…: A Response to Bronner and Magid

In his response to my fisking, Shaul Magid noted that on certain matters concerning Israel’s conflict with her neighbors:

“I know you will disagree and I admit this is something two intelligent people can disagree about.”

In The Paranoid Apocalypse, I had a similar disagreement with Stephen Bronner. Here is that segment of the chapter:

We could all agree to differ.  But the problem cuts much deeper because, which approach to the evidence one adopts has impact far beyond an academic “difference of opinion.”  How one proceeds, and the intended and unintended consequences of proceeding according to the varying perspectives, carry great weight.

For example, proponents of the “progressive approach,” sometimes justify their epistemological inconsistency in adopting Palestinian narratives in the place of the Israeli on the basis of a kind of “therapeutic” approach: “if we bend over backward far enough, Palestinians and other Arabs will respond in kind.”[i] The withdrawal to the ’67 borders, based on accepting (one of the more “moderate”) Palestinian narratives that blames the “Occupation” for the conflict, operates in the same moral universe: “they” want peace and national autonomy just as “we” do, and if “we” make major concessions, acknowledge the Palestinian as the “other” whose hostility to Israel is the result of “our” having denied their existence, if “we” cease “our” imperial policies, then Arab hostility “will likely diminish with a change in that policy.”[ii]  Such moves are gambles, to be sure, proponents of this approach argue, but should we not take risks for “the peace of the brave”?

The opposing paradigm argues, however, that such a policy will backfire because it mis-identifies the source of the hostility. The deep wellsprings of aggressive paranoia, whose presence we can most readily detect in how the Protocols and its attendant demonizing of Israelis permeate Palestinian culture, suggest just the opposite: concessions to Palestinians at this point will far more likely bring on further aggression, as have the Oslo Process, the retreat from Lebanon and the withdrawal from Gaza – all moves that the adherents to the progressive paradigm greeted with great enthusiasm as major steps towards “peace.” Rather than seeing the Palestinian “other” as a projection of our own (liberal) cognitive egocentrism, this approach argues, we must see them as an autonomous culture with their own cultural imperatives.  (This approach does have the advantage of treating “others” with enough respect to consider them autonomous agents rather than as merely clones of the liberal West, and acting solely “in reaction” to Israeli actions.)

Nor is this only a matter of Israeli foreign policy, over which Jewish intellectuals have a limited impact.  How intellectuals judge the conflict has direct impact on a much larger issue – the sudden, (for most) astonishing, and continuing spread of Judeophobia around the world, above all in the Muslim world, but also in Europe and among the American “left” in the new century.[iii] Progressives tend to minimize this threat, presumably in order to insist that, with the new situation of Jewish “empowerment,” the sins of Israel outweigh the dangers of paranoid anti-Semitism.   Notes Bronner:

Terrible things still occur. A cemetery is still desecrated here and there, now and then a Jew is still beaten up on his way home from synagogue, and some crackpot or other denies the holocaust. But the police are usually on the case and grievances are generally addressed. Even anti-Semitic utterances are instantly condemned by most of the international community and, in western nations, even “salon” anti-Semitism is considered a vulgar holdover from times past.

Such a statement suggests a surprising lack of familiarity with the state of European attitudes towards Jews in the 21st century. In particular it seems to dismiss one of the most astonishing and disturbing phenomena of this current decade – the widespread failure of European governments (and cultural elites) to acknowledge or reprove a wave of Muslim violence against Jews in the wake of the Intifada’s outbreak in October of 2000.[iv]

As a result, any attempt to sound the alarm gets dismissed in a moral equivalence that dissolves rather than distinguishes shades of grey.

Little wonder then that the attempt by Israeli advocacy organizations to portray every new mention of the Protocols as a step toward the emergence of a new Hitler and, often with the same hysterical paranoia as the bigot, every criticism of Israeli policy as an expression of anti-Semitism.[v]

Thus efforts to mark off certain particularly virulent forms of Protocols use, of especially vituperative criticism of Israel as problematic, get buried in the banality of “every” and “any.”  For example, when Alvin Rosenfeld criticized the most extreme examples of Jewish attacks on Israel – e.g., comparisons of Israel to the Nazis, calls for the dismantling of the State of Israel – as feeding this “new anti-Semitism,” progressives counter-attacked by accusing him of trying to shut down debate by tarring anyone critical of Israel of anything with the brush of anti-Semitism.[vi]

The debate needs to occur, and to address precisely the problem Bronner identifies: “Disentangling genuine prejudice from legitimate critique of Israel should be the aim of all progressive inquiry into the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry.” But if, in such an effort, the eagerness of progressive Jews [and "peace journalists"] to downplay the anti-Semitism, and the morphing spread of conspiracism among the “Left,” leads them to dismiss the warnings as “right-wing Zionist propaganda,” and to attack those whose sound a warning about excessive Jewish self-criticism as “enemies of free speech,” then we are in serious danger of losing our bearings.  And such disarray comes at a crisis in Western culture’s (progressive) experiment with freedom.


[i] Ephraim Karsh, “Amos Oz’s Nostra Culpa,” Contentions (May 16, 2007) [http://www.commentarymagazine.com/contentions/index.php/karsh/443].

[ii] Bronner, in this volume.

[iii] See above, note 11.

[iv] This statement seems like it might have been written in the 1990s, a time when the disappearance of anti-Semitism brought on the Sartrean anticipation that perhaps Judaism might also disappear (Dershowitz, The Vanishing American Jew [New York: Touchstone, 1997]). For an analysis of this tendency to dismiss alarms about anti-Semitism, which permeated the discourse of French anti-Israeli Jews for the first years of the 21st century, see Muriel Darmon, “Du paradoxe identitaire au paradoxe dialectique: genèse d’un nouveau culte,” in Les Alter-Juifs, pp. 17-23. See Parliamentary report (above, n. 3).

[v] Bronner, p. **. Italics mine. See above n. 9.

[vi] “It is no surprise Alvin Rosenfeld’s article is creating a furor. The casualties of his onslaughts are rational dissent and language itself.  If you’re a Jew who has ever said or written anything critical of Israel, then you may be contributing to an “intellectual and political climate that helps to foster” hostility toward the Jewish state and exacerbates hatred against Jews…” Letti Pogrebin “Who Dares Criticize Israel?” Moment Magazine (April 2007) [italics mine]. [http://www.momentmag.com/Exclusive/2007/2007-04/200704-Opinion-Pogrebin.html]. [Italics mine.]  See above n. 26 on the Rosenfeld Essay, n. 9 on the rhetoric of “any criticism. . .”

Response to Shaul Magid

Here’s my responses to Shaul Magid.

Thank you, Richard, for your thoughtful response to my essay. As you can imagine, I disagree with much of your reading but will limit my remarks to a very few observations that, in fact, do not get to the heart of the matter. I will need some time to formulate more substantive reactions:

(1)   I think “berate” is neither a fair nor accurate description of what I was doing. I was respectful throughout and, as I wrote explicitly, I was using RFN simply as a heuristic device to ask a larger question about what I viewed as an incongruity (not necessary a blatant contradiction) between what I determined in broad strokes was a counter-cultural ethos and “right-wing” Israel policies.

“Berate” was an ill chosen word on my part.

(2)    I know you have a problem with “right” and “left” in describing a complex array of positions and I am sympathetic to that. I suppose I simply could not find a better way of expressing the categories in such a popular essay. When I say “right” I think most people know what I mean, even as there are great differences between positions that defined as such (I unpacked this somewhat in my previous essay on the “Pragmatic Right” that you also commented on, evoking similar criticisms). As a philosopher once said “generalizing is the occupational hazard of philosophers,” which is why historians have so much trouble with philosophers and why Hegel drives historians crazy. But still, granting your general point, I think you know what I mean. In general, I speak of what one private commenter called the “Rainbow Right” that is driven in large part, in my view, by the romanticism first absorbed in the counter-culture and then revised in Kookean theology.

I have no problem with generalizations. Historians need to make them. We make them every time we open our mouths and use words. And we also need to be careful. Blake nailed the paradox when he snapped, “To Generalize is to be an idiot; the minute particulars alone are real.”

But I think my problem with right and left goes considerably deeper than the problem of complex issues reduced to simple dichotomies.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the people who present themselves as the cutting edge of the progressive left – I’m thinking here of NGOs from New Israel Fund to Human Rights Watch, to academics engaged in post-whatever (pomo, poco, pozio) – have systematically, if in many cases unconsciously, failed to defend their progressive values which are under a massive attack from consciously malevolent Islamist Jihadis.

They have done this, in part by being dupes to demopaths, in part by turning on people who refuse to follow their folly and branding them racists, xenophobes, Islamophobes, in short, “right-wingers.”

Stuff about a romantic Kookian right may relate to some people, but I’m thinking primarily of two kinds of people when I say that right and left are no longer meaningful terms. In my mind they encapsulate the problem, since the one are labeled right wing when they’re not, and the other are labeled left-wing, when they’re not.

1) people committed to progressive values who see naked emperors in the guise of activists who are pro-Palestinian à la BDS, and journalists/politicians who think democracy is around the corner for the Middle East and deal with their failures by redefining reality (ie the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate and secular).

Anyone who doesn’t view the Palestinians as romantic expressions of “self-determination” (would that they had a Kook!), or who think that any meaningful democracy (not the cant about elections) is at least a generation away in the world of Arab political culture, automatically gets cubby-holed as anti-peace, anti-democracy type, prejudiced against the poor Arab people who keep getting “othered” by Orientalists and their progeny… in a word “right wing.”

2) people with a good enough sense of fairness, one not bent out of shape by a profound drive to self-abnegate, who think that the “world out there” (which includes Jews committed to conforming to “the world out there”) have been grotesquely imbalanced in their “judgments” of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially recently. Any well-informed Martian (i.e., someone who knew basically how earthling nations have treated each other and earthling elites have treated commoners over the millennia, and continue to treat each other in the Middle East), privy to the wave of hostility from the “left” to Israel for what they had done to the poor Palestinians since 2000, would wonder what madness had seized upon so many people who claimed to represent “leftist” values.

Shaul Magid Responds

I just got this email from Shaul Magid, responding to my critique of his piece in Times of Israel.  I post it here without responses. I’ll respond to various aspects over the next couple of days.

Thank you, Richard, for your thoughtful response to my essay. As you can imagine, I disagree with much of your reading but will limit my remarks to a very few observations that, in fact, do not get to the heart of the matter. I will need some time to formulate more substantive reactions:

(1)   I think “berate” is neither a fair nor accurate description of what I was doing. I was respectful throughout and, as I wrote explicitly, I was using RFN simply as a heuristic device to ask a larger question about what I viewed as an incongruity (not necessary a blatant contradiction) between what I determined in broad strokes was a counter-cultural ethos and “right-wing” Israel policies.

(2)    I know you have a problem with “right” and “left” in describing a complex array of positions and I am sympathetic to that. I suppose I simply could not find a better way of expressing the categories in such a popular essay. When I say “right” I think most people know what I mean, even as there are great differences between positions that defined as such (I unpacked this somewhat in my previous essay on the “Pragmatic Right” that you also commented on, evoking similar criticisms). As a philosopher once said “generalizing is the occupation hazard of philosophers,” which is why historians have so much trouble with philosophers and why Hegel drives historians crazy. But still, granting your general point, I think you know what I mean. In general, I speak of what one private commenter called the “Rainbow Right” that is driven in large part, in my view, by the romanticism first absorbed in the counter-culture and then revised in Kookean theology.

Review of Heaven on Earth by Alan Arkish

I did not expect Jewish publications to pay much attention to my book because I don’t deal with any Jewish movements. This review by Allan Arkush brings out much of the material about Jews and Judaism embedded in the work. Of all the reviews so far, it is most attentive to the political analysis I make. Thank you Allan.

The End is Nigh

By Allan Arkush • Friday, July 6, 2012

Richard Landes tells us on the very first page of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience that he isn’t going to confine himself to the usual suspects.  “To illustrate the near universality of millennialism,” he writes, “to cut against the grain that assumes a Judeo-Christian origin for all millennialism, I selected for treatment here only non-Jewish and non-Christian movements.”  Yet the Jews are by no means absent from his new book.  The first chapter begins with a famous Chelm story; the epigraph to the volume’s conclusion is a saying from Pirkei Avot.  And it’s not just a question of outward trappings.  In his taxonomy of millennial ideas and movements over the course of history, Landes ascribes a very important role to Judaism.  Heaven on Earth concludes with an urgent reminder of the danger posed by contemporary millennialism to the Jews.

Landes defines millennialism as “the belief that at some point in the future the world that we live in will be radically transformed into one of perfection—of peace, justice, fellowship, and plenty.”  He takes pains to show that this belief generated millennialist movements in Egypt before the Jews became a people and in China at a time when they were unknown.   But if the Jews didn’t invent millennialism, they are nevertheless responsible for a major innovation: “the very origins of ‘revolutionary’ (i.e., cataclysmic, apocalyptic), demotic millennialism arise in the contest between imperial hierarchies and the surviving Israelites after the Babylonian captivity, those from the tribe of Judah (i.e., the Jews).”

Even though he believes that every stripe of millennialism is rooted in delusion—in the anticipation of a historical denouement that will never occur—Landes is proud of the Jewish contribution. For the goal of what he labels the demotic—or popular—variety of millennialism is to dismantle authoritarian, hierarchical societies “and replace them with a universal network of free, productive civil polities, living in mutual and voluntary peace and exchange, enforced by a discourse of judicial fairness.”  These demotic values have developed in more than one place, Landes explains, but their principal source is the Hebrew Bible which, “as the canon of the dominant religion of European society,” made them much more accessible to a much wider audience than did any comparable classical Greek text.

“The Enlightenment’s dream of a society based on reason, equality, brotherhood, transparency/honesty, and justice represents,” according to Landes, “a secular version” of the Bible’s message.  The French Revolution, therefore, was in essence an attempt to translate the ancient prophetic vision into reality.  Despite its inability to do so completely, it implemented “significant features” of it.  In fact, an argument can be made that “modern democracies are the unintended consequences of inevitably failed demotic millennial experiments.”

This “new world of constitutional governments,” is one in which the Jews have enjoyed “phenomenal success.” “Demotic religiosity,” Landes tells us, “may explain this success retrospectively: having played by the rules of a civil society—equality before the law, self-criticism, meritocracy—for millennia, the Jews had little difficulty adjusting to the new conditions of civil polities of the nineteenth century.”  For many Jews who found these conditions unsatisfactory or unavailable, Zionism represented “a secular demotic millennial movement (with a strong religious undercurrent),” one that succeeded in providing the Jewish people with a civil polity of their own.

But modern millennialism has also had a downside for the Jews.  Landes understands Nazism as a manifestation of “genocidal millennialism,” more deeply indebted to Christian millennial movements for its ideas and terminology than many would like to believe.  And the defeat of the Nazis has not led to the disappearance of this most menacing form of millennialism; for, as the last chapter of Heaven on Earth discusses, it has resurfaced in an Islamic variant.

Contemporary Muslim millennialists sizzle in their outrage at the evil West’s ongoing humiliation of their part of the world.  Drawing on both the longstanding Muslim apocalyptic tradition and, in strange ways, the Christian apocalyptic tradition as well, they have “embraced any and every conspiracy theory, every fevered dread of annihilation, every envy-ridden and rage-soaked hatred that millennial visions can, at their worst, produce.”  Israel, an outpost of demotic millennialism in the midst of the Muslim world which upholds very different values, is the sorest point of all.  The sight of it has provoked Muslim apocalyptic thinkers to arrive at “the same conclusion as the Nazis: genocide.”  But for them, that is only the beginning.  “The extermination of the Jewish enemy represents a part of a larger claim: the entire West with its (Jewish-inspired) corruptions will fall.”

If the study of millennialism’s historical impact teaches anything at all, Landes thinks, it is that dreams of this sort should not be taken lightly, at least not by their potential victims. The Jews and everyone else in the West must remain alert to the terrible dangers that they face.  Whether the threat posed by Islamic millennialism is really as great as Landes believes it to be is debatable, but it is too complex a question to be usefully addressed here.  One curious aspect of his argument deserves, however, to be noted: he devotes very little attention to the Islamic Republic of Iran and mentions the name of Ahmadinejad only once.

Allan Arkush is a professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University, and the senior contributing editor of the Jewish Review of Books.

RL: I actually date the beginning of the current wave of apocalyptic millennial beliefs in Islam to the Khoumeini take-over in 1400 AH/1979 CE. The first draft of that chapter (the longest) was twice as long. Iran lies on the cutting floor.

Deadheads for Israel: What’s Your Problem?

The Times of Israel just ran a piece by Shaul Magid in which he berates the former counter-culture hippies of the 60s/70s who came to Israel and defend their adopted land without feeling guilty about the “Occupation” of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), of having betryaed their universalistic commitment to equality and justice into a mystical, romantic nationalism. He asks how anyone could justify such a thing?

Being one of those “60s” counter-culture types who has made Aliyah and do not feel that the “Occupation” represents an indelible moral stain on the character of Israel and its Jews, I welcome an opportunity to respond to such a challenge.

It’s the ‘spirituality,’ stupid

Shaul Magid, Times of Israel, July 2.

Some years ago I happened to notice on the “Political Views” of a Facebook “friend” living in Israel the following line: “Right on Israel, left on everything else.” The woman is a long-time ba’alat teshuva and an unreconstructed hippie from the ’60s. Her description stayed with me in part because I too was a baal teshuva and a hippie from the early ’70s who very much identified with her return to Judaism, her romantic ties to Israel, and her spiritual path, which was for the most part non-political. (I also happen to know her well and have great respect for her as a person.)

You can add me to the group. Spent over a year in the Pyrenees mountains in an abandoned farmhouse with no electricity or running water, guiding myself with Buba Rumcake’s Cookbook for a Sacred Life in the early 70s. And the Grateful Dead have always been my favorite group. (Indeed I’d say, my understanding of millennialism comes precisely from having participated in a [demotic] millennial movement, and dealt with the disappointment.)

A few weeks ago I was having a Facebook “chat” with an ex-student of mine who graduated from an American university and moved to Tel Aviv. Michelle (not her real name) is, as far as I know, a non-Orthodox but “spiritual” Jew and a devoted Deadhead. She is also quite “right-wing” on Israel and, I would assume “left on everything else.” She is of another generation from my Facebook “friend,” one of the “post-Garcia” Deadheads, and I felt I had the opportunity to ask her what has been bothering me for years: “How do you square your commitment to the values of the counter-culture with your right-leaning Israeli political views?”

Maybe because right and left are not — especially as they’re now used — useful terms for understanding what’s going on?

And maybe because the “counter-culture” is not a sacred cow whose beliefs and aspirations were so perfect that they can not/may not be subjected to a critique. At Woodstock, some thought they saw the bomber-jet planes turning into butterflies across our nation. It took less than a year for Altamont to come along and bring us back to reality.

As for the Dead, weren’t they the guys who thought it would be neat to have Hell’s Angels be the security guards at Altamont, where one of them stabbed a man high on meth amphetamines to death to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ Under my Thumb (one of the more regressive lyrics of the 60s)?

In other words, how did she understand the counter-culture’s commitment to freedom, justice, civil rights, pacifism, and equality with Israel’s continued occupation that includes systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population?

So we have your definition of “left” as counter-culture commitment to “freedom, justice, civil rights, pacifism, and equality,” and we have your definition of “right” as occupation and discrimination against Palestinians. Just for the record, anyone who takes any of these values – FJC-RPE – as absolutes, and forges forward towards accomplishing them in this world, now, is, in my book, a millennialist, someone who strives for a level of perfection that is genuinely messianic. Anyone interested in an excellent analysis of the 60s as a millennial movement, with all its contradictions, see Arthur Mendel’s chapter in his Vision and Violence.

On the other hand, understanding that there’s a dialectical tension between freedom and rights, between justice and equality, between pacifism and freedom, is part of a process of maturing. To assume that commitments to all these values always takes the same “counter-cultural” form, to consider anyone who doesn’t share that attitude has somehow abandoning moral commitments… that, to my mind, represents not progress but arrested development.

Churchill allegedly commented that “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” To which I’d add, “if your sixty and still haven’t figured out how to get your heart and head to communicate, then you’re lazy.”

Her answer was short, unapologetic, and not at all defensive. “I think the connection to liking the Dead and being right wing,” she wrote, “is spirituality…. just a divine connection to the land, I guess, like Rav Kook.” (I assume she meant Kook the father , but I did not ask.) I liked her answer because it was not justificatory; it did not dwell in “hasbara” rhetoric, and it was not political. In short, she was saying, “Its the spiritualty, stupid.”

She is not alone. Radio Free Nachlaot is a counter-cultural internet radio station transmitting “somewhere deep in Nahlaot” that is devoted to American and Israeli counter-cultural music that includes Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and his affiliates. They have a very popular annual “Nine Days of Jerry,” celebrating The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garica, who was born on August 1 and died on August 9, by playing live Dead shows and discussing them in impressive detail for nine full days. (They do a similar “Nine Weeks of Shlomo” between the yahrzeit of “the dancing rabbi” and his birthday.) The station’s programming includes classes in Hasidism and Jewish spirituality, taught mostly by American-born baalei teshuva. Here’s a video preview for the station’s broadcasts on “the second annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day:”

The station’s founders sport long hair and long beards, colorful head scarves, flowing dresses, and tye-dye T-shirts. Many of the announcers and guests reminisce about the good old days of the student protests, peace marches, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Some even talk about the Civil Rights movement. But when they talk about Israel they are almost exclusively right wing, defending the settlements and Israel’s right to the land, and repeating the rhetoric heard among many settlers. When they’re playing music, they sound like WBAI from 1970 (the famous radical leftist radio station in New York); when they’re talking politics, they sound like Arutz Sheva (the settler news network in Israel). All this is done seamlessly, as if playing Bob Dylan’s 1963 protest song “Masters of War” and defending Greater Israel are somehow congruous.

Wow. Masters of War was Dylan protesting American adventurism abroad and what Eisenhower denounced as the “military-industrial complex,” a wave of anger based on an article he read in England. Do you think that the same applies to Israel? Are all armies run by the military-industrial complex “masters of war”? How many “Masters of War” do you think there are on the Arab side?

Although my integration of counter-cultural values may differ from theirs — and I was once very much a part of their sub-culture in Israel — I only use them here as an example to ask a larger question: How does a progressive ideology devoted to fairness, equality, and justice became an ideology that defends what appears to me to be its opposite?

The key here might be “what appears…” If you come at a problem like the Arab-Israeli conflict with unreconstructed, simplistic notions acquired in the millennial wave of the 60s (and from the hard-left anti-Zionist camp of political radicals to boot), then it may well “appear” to be the opposite. 

Semiotically Aroused Salafis: Blasphemy in the Kitchen

In my book on millennialism, I talk about how apocalyptic believers are “semiotically aroused”:

For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused—everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.

Now we have, again, a sign of just how tragicomic such semiotic arousal can be. Egyptian Salafis warn: don’t cut your tomatoes wrong.

‘Tomatoes are Christian,’ Egyptian Salafi group warns

The group’s message on Facebook.

A Salafi group called the “Popular Egyptian Islamic Association” has warned Muslims against eating tomatoes on the grounds that the fruit is a “Christian food,” NowLebanon.com has reported.

The group based its claim on the fact that a shape resembling a cross is revealed when one cuts a tomato in half. 

The association published the warning on its Facebook page with a photo of a tomato cut in half, revealing a cross-shaped interior.

A message posted on the page read, “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian. [The tomato] praises the cross instead of Allah and says that Allah is three [in reference to the Holy Trinity].”

The message went on to say, “I implore you to spread this photo because there is a sister from Palestine who saw the Prophet of Allah in a vision and he was crying, warning his nation against eating [tomatoes]. If you don’t spread this [message], know that it is the devil who stopped you.”

If there’s a (legitimate) question about whether this semiotic arousal is apocalyptic or not, this suggests for former.

The message caused outrage among Facebook users, which prompted the group to clarify their warning, saying they did not tell people not to eat tomatoes. “We said don’t cut it in [such a way that it reveals] the cross shape.”

Of course, such semiotic arousal also plays a role in cognitive warfare.

In any case, warning to all you Muslim sous-chefs out there cutting tomatoes: watch how you wield your knife. It could consign you to the fires of hell, where you will be condemned to eat tomato sauce for eternity.

Cognitive War and the Failure of the Progressive West in the Aughts

The Problem: Democratic Vulnerabilities in the 21st century

Over the last decade, the primary spokespeople for the progressive causes of human freedom, equality, rights and dignity have lost battle after battle in a cognitive war launched by an astonishingly regressive foe. Global Islamism and Jihad openly champion intolerance of the “Other,” sacred violence, misogyny, homophobia, theocracy, scapegoating and hatred of other religions – the Manichean view of “us” and “them” that has, historically, led repeatedly to mega-death cults. One would have imagined that progressives, dedicated to dissolving that hard zero-sum dichotomy, would have won the battle of ideas rather easily. And yet, the opposite has occurred.

Islamist Jihadi apocalyptic discourse has, in this last decade, played an astonishingly prominent role in defining 21st century narratives, and has established major centers promoting their discourse in both the Muslim and even the Western public sphere. This has permitted a succession of stunningly stupid moves by the West which have not only weakened democratic culture, but strengthened radicalization is the Islamic world. In small and large hostile clashes, Westerners have backed down before Islamist aggression, allowing them to demand a wide range of deeply disadvantageous submissive responses. This has led to a new phenomenon of global Muslim street demonstrating/rioting (French riots of 2005, Cartoon scandal, 2005/6) in response to perceived insult. This reached comic proportions when Muslims the world over rioted and killed in response to the Pope calling Islam a violent religion.

But no one laughed. Instead, Western opinion pressured the Pope to apologize for provoking the violence. The pattern emerged that when faced with angry Muslims demanding “respect,” Western moderates backed down and Western radicals sided with the Islamists. In the end, not only did we look like fools (or dhimmis) to them, but the crowds that rioted were now mobilized within majority Muslim countries, for example, those rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the very suggestion that someone might leave Islam and live. In the West, our passivity in the face of Islamist maximalist claims has hardened over time into a strategic consensus: the best way to deal with Muslim violence is to make friends with (appease) it; sooner attack the critic of Islam for provoking the violence.

At the same time as a broad range of our cognitive elite has adopted these paralyzing measures of appeasement, making it difficult to even perceive the existence of a cognitive war, a more militant branch has actively mobilized on the side of the Jihadi enemy. In particular, “left-wing” radicals have adopted the Palestinian narrative of suffering, in which the Israelis are the Nazis and the Palestinians are the Jews, in which the existence of Israel represents the single greatest obstacle to world peace and justice. This is an only slightly less virulent secular version of the Islamic apocalyptic narrative about the Jews and Israel as the Dajjal (Antichrist). The repeated anti-War and anti-Israel rallies that spread the world over in the aughts (‘00s), beginning with the Durban Conference of 2001, testify to this deeply disturbing alliance, and its effectiveness in increasing belligerence and hatred around the world.

Among the demands that the Islamists make on those who would befriend them, is the acceptance of this particular scapegoating, “lethal narrative,” aimed not only at justifying and inciting the extermination of the Jews, but also the subjection of the kuffar (infidels) the world over. Sadly, this (characteristically) self-destructive anti-Zionism has become almost a shibboleth of identity for the mobilized, progressive left in the 21st century.

Such a scape-goating narrative – Israel is the cause of the evil, and hence must be sacrificed for the well-being of humanity – had not only an international dimension, but a regional one as well. Starting in October of 2000, radical Muslim preachers, using a violent anti-Zionist discourse that got approval from radical “leftists,” activated disenfranchised Muslim youth and young adults all over the West, in a series of increasingly violent attacks, first on Jews (and Muslims), eventually on (post-)Christian Europeans in general (especially women), climaxing in the 2005 Ramadan riots that spread to the whole of France. A new paradigm now animated the European “street,” Israel was the arch-villain, and peace lay just the other side of its destruction.

At the same time, with particular strength in France, radical Muslims and the gangs they nourished, drove Jews from the neighborhoods Muslims and Jews had once shared as North African immigrants with much in common – the first of the territoires perdus de la République. Increasingly, such “zones urbaines sensibles” have becoming no-go zones, and, in places like England, Sweden, and Holland, Sharia zones. To paraphrase a historian of the fall of Rome, “the new, and more powerful, Islamist groups were able to carve out autonomous zones for themselves from the European Union’s living body politic.”

Thus, the very young 21st century stands witness to a new and unprecedented form of aggressive cognitive war in which Islamists seek not to chase the West out of Dar al Islam, but to take over Western democracies to expand Dar al Islam into Dar al Harb. Unlike defensive asymmetrical warfare, this cognitive campaign involves getting Westerners to renounce their fight to defend their own territory, their own states, their own cultures, their own values and the painfully-won democracies built on them.

The Study of Cognitive Warfare: An Infant Field

Part of the problem derives from our lack of awareness, and in some cases aggressive denial, that there even is a cognitive war. While all modern militaries have psy-ops divisions, and study some areas of the cognitive war, few Westerners imagined that their public sphere, the very site out of which democracies have emerged, would become a theater of war, colonized extensively by religious zealots dedicated to destroying it. As a result, not only have few people thought about these problems on the scale they occur, but those who have find themselves stigmatized at the very site where such thinking should take place – academia.

So while for modern armies, psy-ops is an adjunct to military battlefield operations, for the weak side in an asymmetrical war, battlefield operations (terror attacks) are an adjunct to the cognitive war, the principal theater of war. In the 2007 edition of Military Strategy, Thomas Hammes noted that “Strategically, insurgent campaigns have shifted from military campaigns supported by information operations to strategic communications campaigns supported by guerilla and terrorist operations.” Terror aims at polarizing forces both within one’s own society, where it weakens moderates and recruits radicals, and within the target society, where it intimidates those who might fight back, and strengthens those who advocate appeasement.

Viewed from the perspective of the military battlefield, 9-11 was nothing but a painful scratch, a wake up call. But call to what? War in Afghanistan and Iraq? War on Terror? International police action against terrorists? Over a decade later and we don’t really know whom we’re fighting, partly because we’ve been forbidden certain discussions. But from the point of view of cognitive war, 9-11 has been an enormous, almost incalculable and as-yet uncalculated victory for Global Jihadis and their assertion of Sharia, both in Dar al Islam and in Dar al Harb. While they play on a three-dimensional global chessboard, we still play two-dimensional checkers.

Modern democracies are inherently susceptible to cognitive attacks for a variety of good reasons:

  • Publicly elected civilian commanders-in-chiefs subject to public opinion makes targeting decision-making rather than armies an effective strategy.
  • Public sphere in which images from the warfront can have enormous psychological impact on the public (TV, Internet) – targeting empathy.
  • Antipathy to violence and concurrent susceptibility to intimidation.
  • Ideologies prone to peace rhetoric and cooperative foreign relations, rationalizing appeasement as generosity and openness.

All of these are built-in, necessary, even healthy vulnerabilities in any successful civic polity: empathy and openness make it possible to learn and share; and free people choose their leaders. But in the 21st century, both our vulnerabilities and the nature of the attack have mutated into far more aggressive varieties, even as we push further into denial that cognitive wars even exist. Indeed, it seems racist to us to even acknowledge what Islamist Jihadis say and do; as one scholar of apocalyptic Jihad discovered, to describe someone else’s hate speech, is itself hate speech. Thus, whether out of fear or ignorance, most Westerners consider someone who takes these propositions seriously, to be a paranoid alarmist, an Islamophobe, a racist. Even thinking about the problem is forbidden.

21st-century cognitive war studies is thus in its infancy, at a time when it should be rathera sustained and sophisticated research endeavor. Academia, the very place that should have identified the problem early on, and developed effective responses, has not only failed, it has become largely hostile to any kind of thinking on the matter that deviates from the pacific formula: “War is not the answer.” Thus, while some people have, in one way or another, awakened to find themselves in the trenches of that ubiquitous war, and (fewer) have fought back, still fewer have stepped back to assess the larger context, to analyze the public sphere (journalism, academia, NGOs) as the central and highly successful theater of the Islamist cognitive warfare. We have many warriors, some officers, but no generals and no academies.