Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmastime for the Jews – A seasonal collection

These will be new for some of you, re-runs for others, but timely for all (or so I hope). With good will for Jews and goyim alike.   —Jeff Weintraub

Jewish Christmas - The Chinese connection

Christmastime for the Jews (contd.)

All I want for Christmas is ... Jews (Pseudo-Mariah Carey)

 (If you get a pop-up ad while the video is running, just click the X in the upper-right-hand corner of the pop-up.)

=>  And here's a little tidbit (parody! parody!) by David Mamet:

Sunday, November 06, 2016

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign" (Matthew Yglesias)

If we wind up electing a dangerous and manifestly unfit authoritarian xenophobic demagogue—who also happens to be a shameless pathological liar with a flamboyantly corrupt and sleazy record as an entrepreneur and entertainment figure—to be President of the United States, one factor contributing to that outcome will be the impact of an endlessly ramifying pseudo-scandal concerning Hillary Clinton's use of a non-governmental e-mail server while she was Secretary of State.  As Matt Yglesias and others have noted, "In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined."

Although most people have only a vague grasp of what this whole business is supposed to be about, many of them—including otherwise informed and intelligent people who lean both to the right and to the left—have the impression that this is somehow a Very Big Deal.  That is, they think that Clinton didn't just make a politically unfortunate but substantively not very important error of judgment, acting in ways that weren't very different from practices by other public officials in other administrations, but committed an exceptionally serious or even criminal offense.

But people who feel that way are wrong.  They've been conned.  In reality, "Emailgate" is a fundamentally bogus pseudo-scandal that has gotten blown grotesquely out of proportion, cynically and effectively, by a combination of Republican Congressional witch-hunters and the larger right-wing propaganda machinery, abetted by a remarkably gullible and easily manipulated mainstream media.

=>  Since this pseudo-scandal has so thoroughly distorted and poisoned the 2016 presidential election campaign, and since the right-wing attack machine will certainly keep pushing it after November 8 if Clinton is elected president (along with other phony Clinton "scandals"), it is important to understand that this is, indeed, a bogus and over-hyped pseudo-scandal.  If you're not sure whether "emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit", and even if you are, I strongly recommend reading this usefully clarifying—and justifiably irate—analysis by Matthew Yglesias.  Titles and headlines are sometimes misleading, but this one is very much on-target:

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

Some highlights:
[E]mail-related talk has dogged Clinton throughout the election and it has influenced public perceptions of her in an overwhelmingly negative way. July polling showed 56 percent of Americans believed Clinton broke the law by relying on a personal email address with another 36 percent piling on to say the episode showed “bad judgments” albeit not criminality.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way. [....]
The following point is so bizarre, and so telling, that Yglesias reiterates it at the beginning of his concluding section:
Network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined. Cable news has been, if anything, worse, and many prestige outlets have joined the pileup. One malign result of obsessive email coverage is that the public is left totally unaware of the policy stakes in the election. Another is that the constant vague recitations of the phrase ‘‘Clinton email scandal’’ have firmly implanted the notion that there is something scandalous about anything involving Hillary Clinton and email, including her campaign manager getting hacked or the revelation that one of her aides sometimes checked mail on her husband’s computer.

But none of this is true. Clinton broke no laws according to the FBI itself. Her setup gave her no power to evade federal transparency laws beyond what anyone who has a personal email account of any kind has. Her stated explanation for her conduct is entirely believable, fits the facts perfectly, and is entirely plausible to anyone who doesn't simply start with the assumption that she's guilty of something.

Given [Colin] Powell’s conduct, Clinton wasn't even breaking with an informal precedent. The very worst you can say is that, faced with an annoying government IT policy, she used her stature to find a personal workaround rather than a systemic fix that would work for everyone. To spend so much time on such a trivial matter would be absurd in a city council race, much less a presidential election. To do so in circumstances when it advances the electoral prospects of a rival who has shattered all precedents in terms of lacking transparency or basic honesty is infinitely more scandalous than anything related to the server itself.
But read the whole thing.  And if you read just one piece about "Emailgate", be sure to read this one.

—Jeff Weintraub

Friday, November 04, 2016

Slavoj Žižek would vote for Trump

As we approach our extremely serious political moment of truth on November 8, here's a bit of comic relief (of the "grimly amusing" variety):

Some characteristically pseudo-sophisticated, pseudo-radical, under-informed, and deeply irresponsible commentary on the US presidential election from the clever, sometimes stimulating, sometimes entertaining, occasionally even perceptive, but almost always wrong-headed philosophical/political provocateur and celebrity public intellectual Slavoj Žižek.

=> I think Alan Johnson's comment on this video clip in a Facebook post got it right:
I have been writing critical pieces about Zizek for about 6 years now. (He is an authoritarian communist, basically.) In response he called me "a jerk" in the New Statesman. I think it's pretty clear who the jerk is now. (By the way his nonsense is a reprise of the catastrophic decision of the German Stalinists in the 1930s to say "After Hitler, Us!" and so refuse to ally with the Social Democrats against the Nazis. Zizek says, in effect, "After Trump, Us!" My God, the state of our intellectual culture. (Oh, and leave your fucking nose alone!)
=>  For some further elaboration, see this Guardian piece:  "'Slavoj Žižek: Trump is really a centrist liberal'

=>  The fact that Žižek is an extremely famous public intellectual, and that a number of people take him seriously, may make all this a little less funny.

—Jeff Weintraub

Monday, August 01, 2016

Obama sticks to his central vision (continued)

This is a follow-up to my post last Friday, "Obama sticks to his central vision".  One of the responses I got came from my friend Bob Bell, who explored further some of the issues I touched on in the closing remarks of my post.  I think the issues raised by Bob in his own remarks are important, and what he has to say about them is perceptive and usefully thought-provoking.  So with his permission, I'm sharing his message below.

Here's the last paragraph of my Friday post:
OK, a full assessment would have to take into account some of the disappointments and shortcomings of Obama's actual presidency, and consider whether and to what extent they might have been linked to the ways that Obama tried to implement this orienting vision in practice. Among other things, it's clear that for a while Obama had unrealistic hopes about the prospects for working out constructive compromises with the Congressional Republicans. He underestimated the extent to which they would respond to his presidency with a strategy of unrelenting, indiscriminate, monolithic obstructionism and intensified partisan polarization, and did not foresee the political effectiveness of that strategy in terms of partisan advantage for the Republicans, damage to the country notwithstanding. (That strategy also, by the way, had the unintended side-effect of helping deliver the Republican Party to Trump.) But one can't do everything at once. And those errors and setbacks do not, in my view, undermine the validity and value of Obama's central message.
Bob Bell's response follows.  I've taken the liberty of bolding one set of points that I think are absolutely on-target and deserve special attention.

—Jeff Weintraub

This is a nice and timely message.

I would elaborate on your closing comment. A central problem in Obama’s politics, which will be even worse in another Clinton presidency, is the failure of the Democrats to mount a clear and sustained attack on the incivility of the Republican party. Obama, trying to build a working relationship with Republicans in Congress early in his first term, missed the opportunity to call out the obstructionism that undermined political compromise and frustrated majority rule.

Hillary, who is too flawed a character and too much the maneuvering tactical politician to articulate and stick to a civic vision that Americans can take seriously or even grasp, is running against Trump and his character, since she figures that will enable her to win. She needs to emphasize her opposition to the party that cultivates authoritarian and scorched earth politics and offers only the empty, hopeful, and failed free market fantasies of Paul Ryan and his friends. Only by running against that party, and not just its extraordinary candidate, will she be able to govern, which, surely, is the reason to run for office.

In a rational world, major themes of the Democratic primaries and convention would be (1) that the “brokenness” and “rigging” of the political system is a direct result of a Republican party that has largely abandoned the civil norms that enable American government to function and majorities to work their will and (2) that Democrats need to propose ways to make government work despite the influence of demagogues like Trump and uncivil, irresponsible ideologues like Cruz, who now dominate the opposition party. It is testament to the desperate state of our politics that Democrats have engaged in essentially no realistic discussion of how their party proposes to make government more functional—instead, we get candidates debating the relative merits of different plans (for college, for climate change, for inequality, etc.) and ignoring the reality that neither plan has any chance of being enacted into law.

[JW: To fill in some of the background to this dangerously dysfunctional situation, read this recent piece by Norman Ornstein & Thomas Mann, who correctly diagnosed the underlying problem years ago:  "The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.]

One other disillusioned comment. Trump has succeeded via attacks on two cardinal and consensual ideas of the American elite—that free trade produces economic growth and prosperity and that a broad and humane version of U.S. international leadership will help both our country and the world at large. Our elites have been remarkably silent as these bipartisan notions have come under attack and have offered very little rationale for why they hold these views. Countries are in bad trouble when their elites stop understanding or believing in the system for which they are responsible and from which they benefit (the Soviet Union is a case in point). We are in bad trouble.

—Robert Bell

Friday, July 29, 2016

Obama sticks to his central vision

One of the things that Barack Obama delivered in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, which has to rank among his truly great speeches, was a powerful restatement of his central orienting vision of political community and democratic citizenship, which he first presented during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. After all the trials and tribulations of his presidency, it's clear that he still remains committed to that vision, like it or not. In fact, anyone who follows Obama's speech closely and compares it with some key speeches he gave in 2008 will notice that he went out of his way to emphasize some of the continuities.

As I listened to Obama's speech, I was reminded of a piece that my friend Andy Markovits and I wrote way back in 2008 titled "Obama and the Progressives: A Curious Paradox". I think the points we were making there remain timely and relevant—especially in the context of an election contest against the threat posed by Trump and Trumpism.  So I offer some highlights as food for thought.  (Anyone who's interested can find the rest here.)

[....]  People often talk about Obama's soaring rhetoric, but what's the content of that rhetoric? To put it in terms that the Founders would have understood immediately, Obama has made civic patriotism and republican virtue central to the message of his whole campaign. He has consistently championed a politics of solidarity, active citizenship, national community, and the common good. Like Lincoln, Obama portrays the United States as a nation defined by certain constitutive ideals and charged with the project of imperfectly but continually striving to achieve, extend, and enrich these ideals in concrete ways ("in order to form a more perfect union"). Furthermore, Obama affirms and celebrates "the promise of America" (adding that "I know the promise of America because I have lived it"), while insisting that to fulfill that promise requires constant effort, civic engagement, shared sacrifices, and conflict as well as cooperation.

The most crucial requirement ("the great need of the hour," in a formulation borrowed from Martin Luther King) is active moral and political solidarity -- not only to empower oppressed and underprivileged groups, but to bind together and revitalize a more comprehensive national community.

(Obama is popular around the world, but it's no accident that he drives some hard-core anti-Americans up the wall. For example, the Australian/British journalist John Pilger dismissed Obama as "a glossy Uncle Tom" who believes, along with Clinton and McCain, that "the US is not subject to the rules of human behaviour, because it is 'a city upon a hill'"--whereas in reality it is just "a monstrous bully.") [Update: In 2016, Pilger prefers Trump to Clinton or Sanders.]

Historically, those themes have often been prominent in American politics, including progressive, reformist, and radical politics. (Let's not forget that the Pledge of Allegiance, which Obama has pointedly quoted, was originally written by a Christian socialist.) But in recent decades they have become increasingly unfashionable in some quarters--including those that have produced many of Obama's most passionate supporters.

Nowadays many (not all) self-styled progressives distrust any patriotic talk and regard appeals to solidarity and the common good as mystifying bunk or dangerous propaganda. Instead, serious discussion of politics is supposed to focus exclusively on competing interests, and much allegedly progressive discourse has gone beyond valuing diversity to supporting an irreducibly fragmented "identity politics" based on fetishizing "difference." (The main alternatives to balkanizing ultra-"multiculturalism"--more accurately termed "plural monoculturalism," as Amartya Sen points out--are often varieties of abstract legalism or cosmopolitanism equally allergic to the notion of national community.) From this perspective, Obama's invocations of "the American people's desire to no longer be defined by our differences," and his expressed conviction that "this nation is more than the sum of its parts--that out of many, we are truly one," should sound heretical. Ditto for his insistence that we have and must pursue "common hopes" that reach across our differences, aiming for more inclusive solidarity and effective recognition of the "larger responsibility we have to one another as Americans."

Put bluntly, the core of Obama's message would appear to be completely incompatible with the proclaimed beliefs of many of his most ardent progressive supporters. (And we haven't even mentioned the religious imagery of compassion, covenant, and redemption--analyzed thoughtfully and provocatively by Philip Gorski--with which Obama sometimes links his political message.) So what gives?

Three partial explanations, not mutually exclusive, strike us as plausible. First, the fact that Obama is African-American probably helps to make his appeals to American civic patriotism (along with his religious imagery) more acceptable in progressive circles than they would be coming from a white candidate. Second, some of Obama's supporters--and critics--probably assume that all this stuff is just empty campaign rhetoric that Obama doesn't really believe himself. We suspect they're wrong about that.

But the most interesting fact is that many of Obama's progressive supporters don't simply accept or tolerate his message. They are moved, thrilled, and inspired by it. As Gorski perceptively noted, this response suggests that Obama's message speaks to profound hopes, concerns, and emotions that--for good or ill--run deeper than explicit beliefs and positions. We hope so. For decades progressive politics in America has too often crippled itself by unilaterally surrendering the discourse of national community and the common good--and, with it, some of the key animating principles of active democratic citizenship. (Todd Gitlin and others have rightly decried this folly.) If Obama can help make these notions respectable again for self-styled progressives, that alone would be a valuable contribution.

=> OK, a full assessment would have to take into account some of the disappointments and shortcomings of Obama's actual presidency, and consider whether and to what extent they might have been linked to the ways that Obama tried to implement this orienting vision in practice. Among other things, it's clear that for a while Obama had unrealistic hopes about the prospects for working out constructive compromises with the Congressional Republicans. He underestimated the extent to which they would respond to his presidency with a strategy of unrelenting, indiscriminate, monolithic obstructionism and intensified partisan polarization, and did not foresee the political effectiveness of that strategy in terms of gaining partisan advantage for the Republicans, damage to the country notwithstanding. (That strategy also, by the way, had the unintended side-effect of helping deliver the Republican Party to Trump.) But one can't do everything at once. And those errors and setbacks do not, in my view, undermine the validity and value of Obama's central message.

—Jeff Weintraub

[Update 8/5/2016:  Andy Markovits and I have also published a slightly revised version of this post in Public Seminar titled "At DNC Obama Reaffirmed His Central Vision: Why It Matters for Democratic Politics Today".]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vote for the wolf ... to send them a message

This cartoon, which seems to be doing the rounds in Europe, brilliantly captures one element in the current political mood on both sides of the Atlantic. (Thanks to Suzanne Berger for the tip.)

It's clear that this was originally a Greek cartoon, since the Greek writing at the bottom of the campaign poster identifies the wolf with the swastika armband as a candidate for the Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Then someone translated the caption into French, possibly adapting it in the process.

For readers whose French is even weaker than mine ... what the sheep in the cartoon is saying can be roughly (though not literally) translated into English as: "I think I'll vote for the wolf. That will send the shepherd a message!" (borrowing a formulation from George Wallace). Protest voting, in other words.

—Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Did Antonin Scalia just die in Texas?

If the reports of Scalia's death are correct, which they seem to be, this is a Very Big Deal.  [Update: Those reports have been confirmed.]

There is absolutely no chance that the Republican-controlled Senate would confirm anyone that President Obama nominated to replace Scalia. (Mitch McConnell has already confirmed this.)  So this will almost certainly mean a vacant seat on the Supreme Court between now and the inauguration of the next President ... which will, among other things, help to underline the exceptionally high stakes involved in the 2016 election.

In the meantime, Scalia's absence means that, all of a sudden, there is no longer a 5-4 right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. That is likely to affect the outcome of some extremely important upcoming cases. At the very least, it will probably interrupt the Robert Court's escalating campaign of right-wing judicial activism.  It may also produce extended gridlock on certain key issues.

This is a bombshell.  And the aftershocks are likely to be very messy and prolonged.

—Jeff Weintraub

February 13, 2016  -  5:06 p.m.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at 79
By Daniel Politi

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in a luxury resort in West Texas on Saturday morning, according to multiple reports. The San Antonio Express-News says Scalia was found dead “of apparent natural causes” while at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. Someone apparently went looking for Scalia Saturday morning after the 79-year-old Supreme Court justice failed to show up for breakfast and found him dead in his room. There was no immediate evidence of foul play, according to a federal official cited anonymously by the Express-News.

Local ABC affiliate KVIA is also reporting the news, claiming it received confirmation that Scalia “died in his sleep … after a day of quail hunting.”

Ted Cruz appears to be the first Republican presidential hopeful to come out with a statement mourning Scalia. “A champion of our liberties and a stalwart defender of the Constitution, he will go down as one of the few Justices who single-handedly changed the course of legal history,” Cruz said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement shortly after the news broke, calling Scalia "a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law."


Scalia had been on the Supreme Court since 1986, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

*This post has been updated since it was first published.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Pope Francis says that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism

The irrepressibly outspoken Pope Francis, who has repeatedly shown that he's not afraid to make unexpected and controversial statements about difficult subjects, has done it again:
Jewish leaders met with Pope Francis in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

“Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. No to anti-Semitism,” the pope said Wednesday morning during the public audience on St. Peter’s Square.  [....]

The Jewish leaders were part of a delegation of representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Rome for a meeting of its governing board. The meeting focused on the situation of Jews around the world, as well as the current tensions in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Iranian threat.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. [....]
In case anyone wonders whether the Pope's Jewish interlocutors made up or exaggerated that last quotation, it has also been been reported in Catholic publications like the UK Catholic Herald:
Pope Francis told Jewish leaders an outright attack on the State of Israel is just as ‘anti-semitic’ as attacks against Jews.

The Pope made clear that attacks on the State of Israel are a form of anti-Semitism in a private audience with World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder and delegates.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”[....]
If I were in Pope Francis's place, I might have formulated that a little differently. As some of you reading this may be aware, I have argued for a while that, strictly speaking, anti-semitism and anti-Zionism  should be analytically distinguished. That's not because anti-Zionism is OK, but because the relationship between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism is actually complex. One of the peculiar features of our era is that, over the past half-century or so, anti-Zionism (by which I mean systematic bias and hostility against Israel, Israelis, and supporters of Israel, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization that is often accompanied by conspiracy theories about real or imaginary "Zionists") has emerged as an important and complex ideological formation in its own right, with some of its own distinctive roots and motivations, that is not always a direct product or expression of anti-semitism. (Though sometimes it is, of course.) Indeed, it sometimes happens that anti-Zionism helps promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. (For some further elaboration, see here.)

But it's certainly true that the two are very often intertwined or indistinguishable in practice ... and, anyway, anti-Zionist bias and bigotry is morally reprehensible and dangerously pernicious in its own right, whether or not it stems from (or is a coded expression of) anti-semitism. And the claim that Israel has no legitimate right to exist is, of course, a paradigm expression of anti-Zionism. So I think the Holy Father is fundamentally on the right track here, and his statement is welcome and important.

=> At first I wondered whether the Vatican bureaucracy would try to walk back, tone down, or explain away this statement by Pope Francis. Some of them must be quite unhappy and alarmed about it—along with many Catholic clergy & other leaders of Catholic minorities in the Muslim world, who have worried for several decades that papal condemnations of anti-semitism, let alone of anti-Zionism, put their communities at risk.

But so far the Church has not, in fact, repudiated the Pope's straightforward condemnation of anti-Zionism. Walter Russel Mead correctly emphasizes why this stance is significant and deserves attention:
[....] A Vatican spokesman confirmed the gist of the Pope’s remarks to CNN. His Holiness had previously told a journalist in June that, “Whoever does not recognize the Jewish People and the State of Israel falls in anti-Semitism.”

It is this stance, and not the Vatican’s controversial recognition of Palestine this summer, that is the break from the historical norm. The Pope was speaking on the 50th anniversary—a blink of an eye in the history of the church—of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that repositioned the Catholic relationship with Judaism from one of antagonism to respect for the “people to whom God spoke first.” And for much of Israel’s history, Vatican-Israeli relations were poor: the Holy See did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1993.

So while Pope Francis is often painted as pro-Palestinian, he’s actually very pro-Israel by historic standards. But now, in a time of increased anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, Pope Francis’ comments are a welcome ray of light.

—Jeff Weintraub

October 29, 2015
Pope Francis: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism
On the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Pontiff joined President Obama and other world leaders in calling out those who deny Israel’s right to exist

By Yair Rosenberg

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met with Jewish leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a crucial Vatican II declaration that revolutionized Jewish-Catholic relations by absolving Jews of collective responsibility for Christ’s death and denouncing anti-Semitism. At the gathering, Francis decided to continue in the spirit of that document by condemning what he described as a modern form of anti-Semitism: the denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a World Jewish Congress delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

Francis’s statement is noteworthy because the pontiff is far from an unconditional backer of Israel. He has criticized both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and been willing to make powerful symbolic gestures in support of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, as veteran Vatican reporter John Allen has noted, this Church stance predates the current pope. But with his words on Wednesday, Francis drew a bright red line between critiquing Israeli policies and critiquing Israel’s existence. The former, he said, is legitimate and sometimes necessary; the latter is bigotry.

With this declaration, Francis joined an illustrious group of global leaders who have asserted the same in recent months. In May, President Obama told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland represented a failure to learn the lessons of history, and ultimately an expression of anti-Semitism. Prior to that, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had similarly stated that anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of Israel’s policies—constituted anti-Semitism.

Notably, the vast majority of the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel opposes the Jewish state’s right to exist. As BDS leader Omar Barghouti famously put it, Israel “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” Ahmed Moor, another BDS leading light and editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, has been even more blunt: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” Likewise, California State University professor >As’ad Abu Khalil has similarly stated, “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.” The Pope was doubtless aware of this activism, which is particularly prevalent in Europe, and acted to address it unambiguously.

At a time, then, when college campuses are debating whether BDS constitutes constructive discourse on Israel, and local Hillel Houses are considering which sorts of critics of the Jewish state to lend a platform to, Francis’s and Obama’s guidance could not be more timely.

(Previous: Obama: Denying Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish Homeland is Anti-Semitic)

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

A last-minute deal to resolve the EU-Greek crisis?

It looks as though there will be a last-minute political deal, which Tsipras will now have to push through the Greek parliament.  (I suspect that may require votes from non-Syriza parties to make up for defections from the governing coalition.)  What this deal actually means will depend on the details ... which I presume will become clearer soon.

—Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 14.39 EDT
Greece debt crisis: Athens accepts harsh austerity as bailout deal nears
Greek cabinet reportedly backs a package of reforms and spending cuts worth €13bn to secure third bailout and modest debt writeoff

By Phillip Inman, Graeme Wearden, & Helena Smith

The Greek government capitulated on Thursday to demands from its creditors for severe austerity measures in return for a modest debt write-off, raising hopes that a rescue deal could be signed at an emergency meeting of EU leaders on Sunday.

Athens is understood to have put forward a package of reforms and public spending cuts worth €13bn (£9.3bn) to secure a third bailout from creditors that could raise $50bn and allow it to stay inside the currency union.

A cabinet meeting signed off the reform package after ministers agreed that the dire state of the economy and the debilitating closure of the country’s banks meant it had no option but to agree to almost all the creditors terms.

Parliament is expected to endorse the package after a frantic few days of negotiation that followed a landmark referendum last Sunday in which Greek voters backed the radical leftist Syriza government’s call for debt relief.

Syriza, which is in coalition with the rightwing populist Independent party, is expected to meet huge opposition from within its own ranks and from trade unions and youth groups that viewed the referendum as a vote against any austerity.

Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy minister and influential hard-leftist, who on Wednesday welcomed a deal for a new €2bn gas pipeline from Russia, has ruled out a new tough austerity package.

Lafazanis represents around 70 Syriza MPs who have previously taken a hard line against further austerity measures and could yet wreck any top-level agreement.

Emphasising the likelihood of further strife in Greece next week even should a deal be concluded, Brussels officials talked privately of plans to fly in humanitarian aid such as food parcels and medicines to major cities.

The urgency of Greek efforts to prevent an exit from the euro came after Brussels set a midnight Thursday deadline for Greece to produce a package of measures in line with previous demands.

With the support of officials from the French finance ministry, Greek negotiators are believed to have accepted the need for VAT rises and rules blocking early retirement as the price of a deal.

Several EU leaders said the troika of creditors – the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank - must also make concessions to secure Greece’s future inside the eurozone.

Donald Tusk, who chairs the EU summits, said European officials would make an effort to address Greece’s key request for a debt write-off.

“The realistic proposal from Greece will have to be matched by an equally realistic proposal on debt sustainability from the creditors. Only then will we have a win-win situation,” Tusk said.

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, aligned himself with France and Italy in seeking a way through the political maze that has defeated all previous efforts to find a breakthrough.

Sources close to Greece’s chief negotiator and finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, said he had finalised and submitted a plan of reforms for a third bailout to give creditors time to review it ahead of a summit of EU members on Sunday.

On Thursday, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble said the possibility of some kind of debt relief would be discussed over coming days, although he cautioned it may not provide much help.

“The room for manoeuvre through debt reprofiling or restructuring is very small,” he said.

Greece has long argued its debt is too high to be paid back and that the country requires some form of debt relief. The IMF agrees, but key European states such as Germany have resisted the idea.

Making Greece’s debt more sustainable would likely involve lowering the interest rates and extending the repayment dates on its bailout loans. Germany and many other European countries rule out an outright debt cut, arguing it would be illegal under European treaties.

The developments on Thursday boosted market confidence that a compromise will be found. The Stoxx 50 index of top European shares was up 2.4% in late afternoon trading.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with finance ministry officials ahead of the cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon which finalised his country’s plan, a day after his government requested a new three-year aid programme from Europe’s bailout fund and promised to immediately enact reforms.

The last-minute negotiations come as Greece’s financial system teeters on the brink of collapse. It has imposed restrictions on banking transactions since 29 June, limiting cash withdrawals to €60 per day to staunch a bank run. Banks and the stock market have been shut for just as long.

The closures, which have been extended until Monday, have led to daily lines at cash machines and have hammered businesses. Payments abroad have been banned without special permission.

Greece’s financial institutions have been kept afloat so far by emergency liquidity assistance from the ECB. But the central bank has not increased the amount in days, giving the lenders a stranglehold despite capital controls.

German ECB governing council member Jens Weidmann argued Greek banks should not get more emergency credit from the central bank unless a bailout deal is struck. He said it was up to eurozone governments and Greek leaders themselves to rescue Greece.

The central bank “has no mandate to safeguard the solvency of banks and governments,” he said in a speech.

The ECB capped emergency credit to Greek banks amid doubt over whether the country will win further rescue loans from other countries. The banks closed and limited cash withdrawals because they had no other way to replace deposits.

Weidmann said he welcomed the fact that central bank credit “is no longer being used to finance capital flight caused by the Greek government”.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dealing with copy-editors, journal-article reviewers, and positivists ...

... or, for an alternative heading:  Eclipse of dialectical reason.  —Jeff Weintraub