The Third Lebanon War will be the Last Lebanon War

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If I’ve learned anything in my relatively comfortable and placid life it is that despite my good luck, evil is real. Sometimes it grows and sometimes declines. Today it’s gathering strength.

Hezbollah came into being in 1985, as a response to the Lebanese Civil War, Western interventions, and the Israeli invasion and its aftermath. Its stated goals were the elimination of Western influence, the assertion of Islamic (Shiite) dominance over Lebanon, and the destruction of Israel, which its founders saw as a tool of the West and an ally of Lebanese Christians.

Its attitude toward Israel is shown by this snippet from an “open letter” published by its founders in a Lebanese newspaper:

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The month-long Second Lebanon War in 2006 was fought by an IDF grown complacent from years of occupation duty and a leadership team (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz) who were only marginally competent. While Hezbollah suffered heavy losses and much Lebanese infrastructure was destroyed, Israel was unable to stop the heavy rocket fire on the northern part of the country, which continued until a UN-brokered cease-fire came into effect. 120 IDF soldiers and 43 Israeli civilians were killed, and as many as a half-million Israelis were displaced as a result of Hezbollah rocket attacks. Israel tried to destroy Hezbollah’s leadership both from the air and by commando operations, and failed to do so. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was negotiated by Livni to end the fighting, proved worthless in preventing Hezbollah from rearming and rebuilding military infrastructure. Wikipedia called the result a “stalemate,” and I agree.

By 2016, Hezbollah has achieved most of its goals. It now completely controls Lebanon for all intents and purposes. It has not destroyed Israel, and after its bloody skirmish with the IDF ten years ago, it seems to have decided that it will wait until its chance of success is much greater. Over the years it has lost most of its autonomy to its Iranian patron. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the way it has been used to fight – and suffer many casualties – on behalf of Iranian interests in Syria.

Militarily, Hezbollah seems to grow stronger as time goes on, despite its losses in 2006 and more recently in Syria. In the 2006 war, it fired about 4,000 rockets into Israel, mostly inaccurate short-range Katyusha or Grad rockets with a range of about 30 km. Although it possessed some longer-range rockets, they were destroyed by IAF bombardment before they could be launched. Hezbollah had about 13,000 rockets at the beginning of the war.

Today, thanks to Iran, it is estimated that Hezbollah has at least ten times as many rockets, many of them capable of longer ranges and/or larger payloads, and some with guidance systems that make it possible to hit a precise target, like a military base or industrial installation. Hezbollah has also made plans for incursions into Israel to kidnap civilians or even to hold territory, possibly by way of tunnels like those constructed by Hamas. If Hezbollah is allowed to actualize its plans, the destruction wrought in Israel will be worse  by far than in any previous war.

War is terrible no matter how it is fought, but Iran has planned our next one with a particularly diabolical twist: as the map preceding this post shows, it has embedded rocket launchers and other military infrastructure in civilian residential areas. A 2013 report describes an Iranian-funded program to enlist residents of southern Lebanon as human shields:

…the Shiite terror group launched a major social/real-estate project that bolstered its political standing: It purchased lands on the outskirts of the villages, built homes on these lands and offered them to poor Shiite families at bargain prices (to rent or buy), one the condition that at least one rocket launcher would be placed in one of the house’s rooms or in the basement, along with a number of rockets, which will be fired at predetermined targets in Israel when the order is given.

In addition, Hezbollah has set up camouflaged defense positions in villages which contain advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles it had received from Syria. Hezbollah gunmen have planted large explosive devices along the access roads, and inside the villages structures that were purchased by the organization were converted into arms caches.

In this manner some 180 Shiite villages and small towns situated between the Zahrani River and the border with Israel have been converted into fighting zones in which Hezbollah is preparing – above and below ground – for the next conflict with Israel. Hezbollah has some 65,000 [now more than twice that number — vr] rockets and missiles at its disposal.

The deliberate use of civilians as shields is a war crime, prohibited by the Geneva Convention. But according to the rules of war, an action that causes casualties among civilians is not considered ‘disproportional’ if the force used was necessary to achieve a military objective. In other words, if a Lebanese family is killed because there is a missile launcher firing from its garage, Hezbollah has committed a war crime, and Israel has not.

Israel has warned Hezbollah and the Lebanese government on numerous occasions over the past several years – most recently when it declassified and released the map above on Tuesday. Officials from the Prime Minister on down have made it clear that a rocket attack will be met with overwhelming force targeting the launchers and other infrastructure, regardless of where it is located. The IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff recently said that the next war would do “devastating damage” to Lebanon. They have correctly stated that both morally and legally, Hezbollah will be responsible for civilians that are hurt or killed as a result.

But emotional appeals are powerful, especially when it is claimed that children are being hurt. In 2006, Hezbollah made use of humanitarian concerns – both real and fabricated (fascinating link!) – to sway opinion against Israel. Even Condoleezza Rice was influenced to call for a cease-fire by the bombing of a building in which civilians including children were killed (although it’s likely that the number of casualties was inflated and heart-rending photos were faked).

This technique, also used by Hamas, will certainly be repeated. During the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, US Secretary of State John Kerry sarcastically referred to a “pinpoint operation” after 13 IDF soldiers and 62 Palestinians were killed in the battle of Shuja’iyya, where civilians were warned to evacuate but did not do so because of Hamas threats. President Obama also reacted to a widely-criticized attack on a UN school in Jabaliya and even held up shipments of arms to Israel as a result.

The use of human shields is therefore an effective political and psychological weapon, either because officials and the public are actually affected by emotional appeals or find it convenient to use them as justifications for the actions that they would like to take anyway.

But today Hezbollah is entirely different from Hamas. Tehran has built it into an existential threat. If war breaks out we will have to unleash as quickly as possible the most powerful conventional weapons at our disposal against the rocket launchers. Look at the map! Perhaps such an attack would kill tens of thousands in Lebanon. But there’s no alternative. Israel is a tiny country with a concentrated population. We can’t absorb hundreds of missiles an hour, especially accurate ones with heavy payloads. We can’t afford to wait, not even a few minutes, once it starts.

Incidentally, if Hezbollah and Iran want to reap the benefit of the human shield strategy, then now is the time to do it. I suspect that Trump and his advisors would be less biased against Israel than the present administration, and therefore less likely to interfere with Israel’s response. Our enemies probably agree with me, and this means war is more likely in the next two months than at a later time. Maybe that’s why our officials have made the effort just now to ensure that Iran and Hezbollah understand the consequences of their possible actions.

It only makes sense to threaten Iran as well. The regime would be happy to sacrifice Lebanon and its people to destroy Israel, and the regime is pulling the strings, not Nasrallah. There need to be consequences for Iranian leaders too.

Evil is growing stronger and good is retreating. Deterrence may put off the reckoning for a time, but unless something completely unforeseen happens, the day will come when our PM will have to give the order to save one nation by destroying another. I’m glad I’m not the one to do it.

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Israel needs a constitution, but won’t get one

Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that a constitution for the State of Israel “shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948.”

Clearly they’re running a little late. And this is more than Jewish standard time.  Despite (or because of) the Jewish proclivity for legalistic arguments, this never happened. In 1950, the Knesset gave up and decided instead to work toward a constitution piecemeal by passing a series of Basic Laws that taken together would ultimately serve the purpose of a constitution.

There are currently 11 Basic Laws. They determine some of the nuts-and-bolts issues of our political system, such as the way Knesset members are elected and how a Prime Minister is chosen and a government is formed. Two of them, Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation, which were adopted in 1992, represent a partial “Bill of Rights.” But nowhere in the 11 laws are such things as freedom of speech, press or religion mentioned. These rights do exist in Israel, established by Supreme Court decisions, but they should be constitutionally guaranteed. And while the Supreme Court is discussed, its powers are only sketchily described. In particular its relationship to the Knesset and the existence of a power of judicial review of laws passed by the Knesset are not discussed.

The Supreme Court exploded into the power vacuum left by the absence of a constitution. The Court more or less selects its own members, and has declared that it has the right to adjudicate any matter brought to it by anybody (the concept of standing, which requires that a petitioner be affected by the outcome of a case, has been eliminated, as well as limitations on the Court’s involvement in political and other issues). And unlike the US Supreme Court, Israel’s Court has original jurisdiction – it can rule on anything, whether or not a lower court has acted on it.

And this isn’t all, as Moshe Koppel of the Kohelet Forum explains. The Attorney General performs the function of the government’s lawyer when it must go to court. But in Israel the AG and the legal advisers to its ministries, paid by the government, don’t answer to it. Although it may seem unbelievable to those who are used to an adversarial system, the Supreme Court has decided that the government and its ministries must be represented in court by lawyers who have been vetted by the legal establishment and the Court, and who even have freedom of action to oppose their governmental clients! In several recent cases, the government backed down from taking a particular action because the AG advised it that he would not defend its policy at the Supreme Court.

As for the attorney general, although appointed by the government, he or she must be selected from a very small set of candidates nominated by a committee; that committee is headed by a retired supreme-court justice who is appointed, in turn, by the sitting chief justice. This system, devised by the justices themselves, makes the attorney general a judicial plant in the executive branch.

Would you allow your opponent in a lawsuit to choose your lawyer for you? This is essentially the position of Israel’s Prime Minister and his cabinet. And since the Court decided to give itself the power to review and reject laws passed by the Knesset without recourse – a power not specified in the Basic Law that established the Court – both the Executive and Legislative branches of the government are subject to the dictatorial control of the Judicial branch.

If you think the US suffers gridlock when the Congressional majority and the President are from different parties, imagine a right-wing Israeli government – elected by a large majority of voters – paralyzed by a left-wing Supreme Court and legal establishment. But no need to imagine it: just turn on our evening news.

Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, tried to make the Court less monolithic by changing the way the Judicial Selection Committee chooses Supreme Court justices. She was forced to back down when the Chief Justice threatened to completely cut her out of negotiations for candidates for the Court. If she had succeeded, it might have reduced the paralysis somewhat, but it wouldn’t have solved the basic problem: there is a massive imbalance in power between the branches of government.

The ideal fix would be for Israel to write herself a real constitution, which would define the relationship between the PM and his cabinet, the Knesset, and the Supreme Court in a balanced way. It could also include a Bill of Rights to protect citizens against the abuses of power by government agencies that are not unheard of.

Unfortunately, there is a reason this hasn’t happened yet. Israel’s self-definition seems to exist in a continuous condition of deliberate ambiguity, like the question of whether or not we have nuclear weapons.

For example, a constitution would probably begin by declaring that the State of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. But good luck in getting anyone to agree about what either Jewish or democratic mean.

Is a Jewish state one whose laws follow halacha? Should they be at least inspired by it? What in general is the role of Judaism – would it be an established religion like the Anglican Church in the UK, or more or less than that?

In order to explicate ‘Jewish’, it might be necessary to define ‘Jew’, something that today has a different meaning for someone contemplating aliyah or someone planning marriage. Do Modern Orthodox, masorti or Reform conversions count? How about those performed under the auspices of “Jews for Jesus?”

‘Democratic’ is similarly problematic. Is it undemocratic to have a flag and a national anthem that doesn’t satisfy the aspirations of some citizens? Is it undemocratic to expose foreign-funded NGOs? Some Israelis think so.

And then there is the question of whose state it is, anyway. Does it belong in some sense to the Jewish people, worldwide? Or just to Israelis? To Jewish Israelis or Jewish and Arab Israelis? If to the Jewish people everywhere, does the American Union for Reform Judaism get to vote? They seem to think so.

Although I would happily write a constitution myself, a real constitution must have broad legitimacy among most sectors of society; and what wasn’t possible in 1950 due to tensions between religious and secular Israelis would be even harder today as a result of increased Palestinian nationalism among Arab citizens.

A good solution would be more ambitious than Shaked’s effort (which itself may have been too ambitious to succeed): a rewriting of the Basic Law for the Judiciary, to spell out the powers and functions of the Supreme Court. It would have to limit some of the excessively broad powers the Court arrogated to itself, and create checks and balances to prevent one branch of the government from dominating the others. And it would make the court accountable to more than just the legal establishment and itself.

I really wish we had a constitution. As an American, I know that the US Constitution has been a very positive factor in the nation’s history. It has served as a source of unifying principles, and a touchstone to define national goals and provide stability in difficult times. The constitution and its amendments made the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s more than just an exercise in identity politics.

But as an Israeli, I have to be pragmatic. Today, I will settle for a right-wing Supreme Court Justice or two.

Posted in Israeli Politics | 3 Comments

Welcome to the world

On Monday morning at about 1:30 AM, I experienced the thrill of becoming a grandfather for the 9th time. A baseball team at last! Naturally I wonder what his life will be like. Will he be as tall and athletic as his father, or as competent as his mother? Will he like to work with his hands or his head? But most of all, I am wondering what kind of world this as-yet-unnamed boy will live in.

Technology has accelerated social and political change so much that what took decades 100 years ago takes only years today, and what took years then takes months now. The Soviet Union was here and then it was gone. Russia was a failing state, and suddenly it is reasserting itself on the world stage. Europe is undergoing mass immigration that will change it – is already changing it – beyond recognition.

Or maybe not. There are two possible outcomes for Europe: either its Muslim population will grow past the tipping point, and it will become much more like the Middle East than the Europe we’ve known, or it will be gripped by bloody conflict. The one thing I don’t expect is that it will peacefully absorb its third-world migrants, integrate them, and create a happy, vital synthesis of cultures.

And what about the United States of America? This is really the most interesting story, for me, anyway. It has already, under Obama, withdrawn from its role of world leadership, and retreated into itself where it twists and stews in a pot of controversies about race and gender that the rest of the world views with wonderment and incomprehension. It has just elected a president who will either “make America great again” or be the trigger for the implosion that will shatter it into pieces and end the 240-year experiment of the greatest democratic republic in history.

The Jewish state also faces internal and external threats. The hosts of Iran/Hezbollah are massing, and their intent to destroy our tiny country is crystal clear. It’s hard to imagine those 130,000 (or whatever the number is) missiles in southern Lebanon not being launched some day. There is no precedent for how ferocious Israel’s response will be. It would be nice if the principals could sit down and find a way that this doesn’t need to happen, but the ratchet works only one way, increasing the pressure and the likelihood of war.

My grandson will have a front-row seat to all this. He’ll be able to watch the struggles in Europe and the USA on TV as he grows up, and when he reaches the age of 19, he will be drafted into the IDF, where, if he is lucky or unlucky (depending on one’s point of view), he might be a combat soldier like his uncle. Will the contest with Iran be over by then? Will there still be a standoff – by then it will be a nuclear standoff?

There are lots of scenarios, and most of them end up with a world worse than the one his parents grew up in. But not all. There are possibilities that events will take a positive turn. The pragmatic, tentative and partial alliance of Israel with the conservative Sunni Arab states against Iran is a positive indicator in the Middle East. The weakness of the US and Europe might finally end the pressure on Israel to retreat to indefensible borders (on the other hand, their replacement by Russia, whose ultimate goals are still mysterious, could be worse).

I am not sure what could help the US. American society seems a lot like the San Andreas Fault, tightly locked and way past its deadline. Can the pressure be released gradually, or will it happen suddenly, in a massive shock that will shake the nation to its foundations?

Today is my 74th birthday and I get to give advice – which anyone is free to take or ignore, of course. So here it is:

To Israel: Reduce your dependence on the US. Build up the IDF. Plan for the worst. If you have to fight, don’t pull any punches. Hit them so hard that they won’t get up again.

To Iran: You are a lot weaker than you think, and Israel is stronger than she looks. Don’t be stupid.

To Europe: Accept that you are in a struggle between civilizations, and if you still care about yours, defend it.

To the US: Calm the ideological battles. Your most important goal today is to preserve the union.

Finally, to my grandson: You are fortunate to have been born a Jew in the land of Israel. Please love your country, the land and your people. They love you.

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The Rabbi and the Court

Some years ago I was in New York for my brother’s wedding. On Shabbat we went to a convenient synagogue (a Chabad shul), and the rabbi held a little study session before the service. The subject was parashat ki tetse, and in particular he talked about the part that explains what you should do when you take a beautiful woman captive in war.

In the context of a world where enslavement and rape of captive women was standard operating procedure, the Torah (Deut. 10.10 – 10.14) demands  a  different form of behavior. Before having relations with her, her captor is required to take her into his house for a month, and not before the end of that time, marry her. She is to cut her nails and hair (presumably to reduce her superficial attractiveness) and is given time to mourn relatives that were killed in the battle. If he later decides that he doesn’t want to marry her, he must set her free; he is not permitted to enslave or sell her.

Possibly this is not a 21st century feminist position, but it was extraordinarily progressive in biblical times. It clearly prevents the use of rape as a weapon, which is unfortunately quite common today in conflicts around the world.

I admit that I don’t remember exactly what the Chabad rabbi said that day, but I’m sure he did not say that the Torah condones rape in wartime, as Rabbi Eyal Karim, the nominee for the post of Chief Rabbi of the IDF has been accused of saying.

Rabbi Karim was asked in 2002 (Hebrew link) whether it was acceptable to rape a non-Jewish woman in wartime. The question clearly referred to “rape” and asked whether the opinion of “some sages” that one could skip the month-long procedure found in the Torah was correct.  The question was clear, but unfortunately Karim’s answer was not. He explained the reasons that war was a special situation, and gave examples of things that were permitted during war – consuming non-kosher food or wine – that were normally forbidden. He continued that relations with non-Jewish women were in this category, under the conditions that they are allowed.

The problem is, what conditions are these? Did he mean the month-long waiting period as prescribed by the Torah? Was he saying that the special situation of wartime was such that a soldier could have relations with a non-Jewish woman – normally forbidden – if he took her home and married her a month later? Or did he mean that the “some sages” who said the waiting period could be skipped were correct? He did not elucidate.

I want to note at this point, that he did not say that a woman could be raped to satisfy the soldiers’ evil inclination, as his statement was maliciously mistranslated by Ynet.

After reading and rereading the question and his answer numerous times, I concluded that his answer was either a boilerplate response that did not speak to the actual question, or a deliberately vague answer to evade a question whose direct answer he knew would be politically unpalatable.

Ten years later (2012), after his remarks were noted and created a furor, he issued a clarification (Hebrew link), in which he at last said unequivocally that rape in battle was forbidden, and referred to the month-long procedure described in the Torah.

Although in the context of the original question, I would have to interpret his initial answer as suggesting that rape in war is in fact permissible, the clarification establishes that either he did not intend this at first, or that does not believe it now.

I must also note that even if he had not issued the clarification, there are other mitigating arguments in his favor. For one, many of the harsh pronouncements in the Torah have been canceled by the rabbis throughout the years; who stones a disobedient son or tortures a woman suspected of adultery today? And there is a difference between biblical exegesis and practical advice: soldiers do not take prisoners of war home and marry them.

Fast forward to July 2016, when Rabbi Karim was selected to become the new Chief Rabbi of the IDF. Objections were raised to his appointment on the basis of this and other statements he made that were deemed misogynistic or biased against sexual-preference or gender minorities. But Karim satisfied (the secular) Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot that his opinions on these subjects were acceptable for an IDF rabbi, and the Defense Minister agreed. After all, we are talking about an Orthodox rabbi, not a social activist.

But that wasn’t enough for the anti-religious Left, as personified by the Meretz party. They petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to stop Karim from being sworn in on Wednesday, and the court agreed and issued an unprecedented injunction delaying his appointment “pending an affidavit from Karim on his past and current views on wartime rape and the role of women in the military.” The Court actually believes it has the right to define and enforce correct thought – in a rabbi no less!

The army acquiesced and canceled the swearing-in ceremony.

The Court, which in essence appoints its own justices and is not accountable to any other body, accepts no limits on what it can adjudicate. It does not require a petitioner to have standing (that is, he or she doesn’t have to be directly affected by the case). In short, anyone, any time, can ask the Court to take action about almost anything. And the Court isn’t shy about taking action.

The Left, having been emasculated at the ballot box, now uses the Court to achieve its aims. Recently it controversially stuck its nose into diverse issues like the proposal to develop offshore natural gas resources, a law to regulate foreign-funded NGOs, and a proposed law to compensate Arabs with claims to land on which parts of Jewish settlements stand. In every case it leaned leftward.

But interfering with the appointment of an IDF rabbi on the basis of his opinions is something new entirely.

Nobody wants to directly challenge the Supreme Court and appear to be opposed to the rule of law and the independent  judiciary, two pillars of democracy. But the Left and their legal allies may have gone too far this time. If the court can interfere in the appointment of a rabbi by the Chief of Staff, what else can it interfere in? Should it have a veto over other military appointments? Next it will decide to replace the Prime Minister!

The State Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday that the Court has no ground on which to intervene in this appointment. But there are no rules except the ones the Court makes for itself.

What is needed is a Basic Law that defines the functions and powers of the Court. Such a law should specify a way of selecting the justices so that they will represent more than one narrow ideological segment of Israeli society. It must include appropriate checks and balances so that the Court can’t become a dictator in the name of democracy.

This should happen soon, because our system is already suffering from Court-induced paralysis.

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Film Review: “Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus”

“Hate Spaces” is a documentary film (view the trailer here) produced by Ralph Avi Goldwasser and Americans for Peace and Tolerance, who also gave us “The J Street Challenge,” and as the full title suggests, it describes the recent surge of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity on American university campuses.

I’ve written about the phenomenon more than once, so I didn’t expect to be surprised by anything in the film. But despite knowing about the various incidents described, the sheer volume and intensity of them taken together left me shaken. Yes, shaken, and I’m not easy to shake.

I was an academic for a short time some decades ago, and the combination of ideological intensity and insulation from the real world that characterizes many students and faculty is not entirely unfamiliar to me, but I couldn’t have imagined that it would focus this way, on one group and one target – my people and my country.

Student activism has always centered around freedom, anti-authoritarianism, opposition to oppression of minorities and support for civil rights, especially free speech. What is happening on campuses is that these principles are being twisted so that the outcome, rather than a reduction in oppression and increased human rights, is the intimidation, marginalization, silencing and even persecution of Jewish and (especially) pro-Israel students.

Although only a few incidents of physical violence have been reported, psychological and academic pressure is widespread, and pro-Israel speech by students or invited speakers is disrupted – or restricted due to fear of disruption.

Multiculturalist political correctness has criminalized any speech critical of blacks, women, gender minorities, Muslims and almost every identifiable group – except Jews or Israelis. It is possible to say absolutely anything about Israel, accuse the IDF, the country or her people of the worst imaginable crimes – child murder, rape, organ theft, forced sterilization of minorities, even genocide – with absolutely zero proof or even evidence. It is possible to claim that Jews control the media and conspire to twist the international financial system to their own benefit, to say that Jews are responsible for black slavery and today’s racism in America, to accuse Israel of teaching American police how to shoot innocent black people. But woe be to one who asks a person with Asian features where she is from or uses the wrong gender pronoun to refer to a transgendered or ‘queer’ individual.

Anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred are closely associated, and the former often slides quickly into the latter. In any event, the distinction is impossible to maintain in the face of the glaring double standard that is applied to Israel, compared to any other nation on earth. Israel is treated like the Jew among nations because it is a nation of Jews.

Much of the anti-Jewish agitation comes from the group Students for Justice in Palestine, which exists on more than 200 campuses across the nation. SJP is funded by student activities funds, no differently than a student dance group or newspaper, and also receives outside contributions. It is closely tied to groups like the Muslim Students Association, CAIR and others, some of which have documented connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and other terrorist groups.

The membership of SJP includes the hard anti-Israel Left, foreign students (many of them Muslims) who grew up in places where Jews and Israel are demonized, and minority students who have been persuaded that their own struggles for a place in society will be enhanced by an alliance with other “oppressed peoples,” such as Palestinian Arabs. This argument has been very successful, especially with blacks, with the Movement for Black Lives including anti-Israel material in its manifesto. The echo chamber effect soon amplifies extremist ideologies, and mob mentality produces extreme behavior.

Their faculty supporters, steeped in the left-wing ideology that permeates academic life and often wedded to the post-colonial paradigm (by which the world is divided into colonizers and colonized, and the colonized have an unlimited right to “resist” by any means), also encourage extreme expressions of hatred for Israel, and by extension, Jews. Departments of ethnic and gender studies, since they are political by nature, are particularly active in promoting anti-Israel themes. Middle East Studies departments, often funded by Arab countries or Iran, are pleased to join the party.

University administrators by and large seem to be pathologically afraid of confrontation and do their best to pretend that nothing is going on until forced to take action, and even then often support the “rights” of disruptive students to disrupt. Attacks on Jews and Israel, no matter how false or outrageous, are justified by appeals to free speech or academic freedom; but other forms of bigotry are punished harshly (faculty members may be dismissed and student organizations suspended).

The film makes it clear that the antisemitic movement – that’s what it is – on campuses is well-financed, well-organized and very successful in gaining adherents. It is also becoming more extreme and more explicitly anti-Jewish as time goes by and the “Overton Window” shifts in the direction that favors anti-Jewish expression. What was beyond the pale yesterday becomes the conventional wisdom today.

Although the film mentions some pro-Israel organizations that are pushing against the trend, they are outnumbered and hampered by being continually on the defensive. Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens notes that it is much harder to prove that an atrocity did not happen than to say that it did.

The film does not try to provide a solution. Although there are some campuses with a large percentage of Jews where it should be possible to organize a resistance movement, even there it is difficult, because many Jewish students have internalized the hate-Israel viewpoint. In some cases they are even leaders of the anti-Israel organizations (the film highlights the particularly obnoxious example of Max Geller, a student at Northeastern University).

“Hate Spaces” will premiere in New York on November 30, and will be shown in numerous venues after that. Watching it won’t be a pleasant experience, but definitely an educational one. “Know your enemy” is still good advice.

Posted in Academia, American Jews, American society, Jew Hatred | 1 Comment