When actor Seth Rogen, an atheist of Jewish heritage, announced that he no longer supports Israel — “I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life” — he was criticized for his apostasy. (Being an atheist does not constitute Jewish heresy, but breaking with Israel does.)
Then, during a call with Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, Rogen learned that “many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist.” Herzog says Rogen apologized, explaining that his comments were meant to be humorous.
But Rogen has “distanced himself from a statement from the Jewish Agency that claimed [he] had ‘apologized,'” the Times of Israel reports. That must mean he wasn’t just trying to be funny.
I stand with Rogen. His comments about Israel were spot on. I too was told lies about Israel growing up (“a land without a people for a people without a land”) — but I hasten to add that the people close to me did not know they were lies. I’d bet Rogen would say the same thing.
I am also happy to hear that he did not apologize for his comments. Why should he? The State of Israel came into being through the systematic dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians. Many Jews know this and criticize Israel for it. Not only that: many Jews would have been uncomfortable with the idea of an exclusivist Jewish state even if Palestine really had been a land without a people. (Rogen expressed the same view.) Reform Judaism was explicitly founded in the 19th century in opposition to Jewish separatism.
But what I most want to focus on here is Herzog’s statement that Rogen had “personally hurt” Jews and Israelis. I assume he meant that Rogen had hurt their feelings. My question is: if someone’s feelings are hurt by condemnations of injustice, why should anyone care? Are some people’s feelings more important than other people’s very right to live free and dignified lives? I don’t think so. Some feelings ought to be hurt.
This preoccupation with not hurting feelings is at the root of the ominous cancel culture and the burgeoning informal PC constraints on free thought and free speech. If you look hard enough you will find that these unfortunate things originated in attempts to inhibit good-faith criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians by stigmatizing the speakers as anti-Semites.
As long as we’re talking about feelings, let’s do a full accounting. Yes, I’m sure Rogen hurt some people’s feelings. But I’m also confident his courage to speak also made Palestinians, anti-Zionist Jews, and other champions of justice feel more hopeful. Why don’t their feelings count?
People on the big-government left who are distraught over the condition of black lives in America are logically committed to opposing the police and teachers unions — whether or not they realize it. That is because the first indispensable steps in the direction of justice and decency lie in changing the poisonous dynamic between cops and communities on the one hand and bringing competition, entrepreneurship, and parental choice to education on the other. The police and teachers unions, which make it exceedingly hard to fire bad cops and bad teachers, inevitably oppose changing those practices or supporting those key reforms out of sheer institutional self-preservation.
Thus activists, who typically sympathize with government-employee unions, are in fundamental conflict with two of the most powerful government-employee unions in America, again, whether or not those activists get it.
You may be in the presence of mere virtue-signalers if they:
wring their hands about police brutality without ever calling for repeal of all victimless-crime laws, which create a poisonous dynamic between police and public precisely because the conduct being policed is consensual for each party to the illegal transactions;
bemoan the lack of growing black-family wealth without calling for the elimination of Social Security, which imposes a regressive tax to confiscate savings that would otherwise be heritable by the savers’ children;
lament the inadequate economic mobility of people in minority communities without condemning occupational licensing, which prohibitively raises the cost of entry into many kinds of work;
condemn the inadequate economic mobility of people in minority communities without opposing zoning and other land-use controls, which inflate the price of housing in areas with superior economic opportunities;
decry the sad state of education for minority children without demanding parental choice in an entrepreneurial free market in schools;
denounce minority unemployment without acknowledging that the legislated minimum wage kills jobs for people with the least skills and makes the surviving jobs more onerous than before.
When Peter Beinart, a self-described liberal Zionist, abandoned the two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict and embraced one state with equal rights for all, he quickly drew the ire of orthodox Zionists, some of whom went so far as to describe Beinart as a “Nazi” who favors a single state as the “Final Solution” for the more-than-century-old problem. By this, Beinart’s critics mean that equal rights in the unified land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River would surely bring the extinction of Jews.
It’s a repulsive smear, of course, one that well confirms what Beinart wrote in his Jewish Currents article. What gets overlooked, however, is that the early Jewish anti-Zionists, especially the founders of American Reform Judaism, warned that the incipient movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine would nourish the anti-Semite potentially endangering Jews everywhere, including the United States, where they enjoyed unprecedented freedom.This view was no better articulated than by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900), founder of American Reform Judaism.
Wise insisted that Jews did not constitute a single people, nation, or race but rather a worldwide religious community embracing many cultures and nationalities. Embracing one of the traditions of Judaism (which for much of its history was unified on little if anything), he preached a universalist, against a separatist, conception of his religion. This entailed the view that the human race was one people deserving of equal individual rights and freedom. For Wise, Judaism and Americanism were cut from the same cloth. (Ironically, in our time Israeli geneticists frantically and futilely search for the Jewish gene, which the Nazis also believed existed.)
As he watched the Zionist movement develop, Wise was horrified at what the future held. Writing in the final years of his life, he said: “The only class that will derive any advantage from the [1898 second Basel Zionist] Congress will be the anti-Semites, whose strongest argument that the Jews the world over are mere sojourners in countries, not a constituent part of their peoples, will receive expected support from the public acts and declarations of the Jews themselves.”
He was not stretching the point. Theodor Herzl and his Zionist colleagues appealed for the support of European rulers by vocally assuming the anti-Semitic slur that Jews were a parasitic alien presence in the nations of the world and that the “Jewish Question” could be answered only by establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. All Jews could then be concentrated there and away from the gentiles. (I use the word concentrated advisedly.) Whether the Zionists believed what they said or were just lied strategically, they made a consequential move.
A year before Wise made his statement, a committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a Reform organization Wise founded, stated: “Such attempts [to establish a Jewish state] infinitely harm our Jewish brethren where they are still persecuted [Russia and Romania, for example], by confirming the assertion of their enemies that the Jews are foreigners in the countries in which they are at home, and of which they are everywhere the most loyal and patriotic citizens.”
This point has been a staple of the anti-Zionist case ever since. It was so widely known that the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which expressed official British approval of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, lamely tried to address it by stating that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” How’d that work out, Zionists?
When Zionists today cite Hitler’s attempted Judeocide as proof that the Zionist movement should have been listened to in 1897, one can reasonably ask, in light of what the anti-Zionists foresaw: is it unreasonable to view the horrors of 20th century as resembling a self-fulfilling prophecy? In other words, notwithstanding the tentativeness of counterfactual history, might things have been different had prominent and well-connected European Jews not adopted the anti-Semites’ smear that Jews were indeed parasitic aliens who could never belong to their societies and had instead joined forces with the world’s liberals to promote equal rights for all?
Maybe no one would have noticed if Trump had sent in some FBI guys just to help guard the federal courthouse in Portland, but Trump lives by the motto “Be ominously obnoxious or go home.” So he sends in unidentified agents from customs, the border patrol, and other such agencies to scoop demonstrators off the streets. Now he’s threatening to do the same thing in other cities, including Chicago. State and local officials in Oregon and around the country are concerned.
Trump may like the optics in this election season. To many of us, however, it looks bloody fascistic. Let local communities work this stuff out. The last thing they need is an escalation of trouble compliments of an invading federal force.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains under a cloud of personal corruption, had more or less promised to annex some of the West Bank in July. He’s let his deadline slip, we’ve been told, because he doesn’t want to proceed while his buddy Trump is preoccupied with other matters. He must need the cover, which is interesting in itself. Meanwhile leading Jewish Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer are uneasy with annexation talk, perhaps because his party is no longer solidly in Israel’s corner.
So who can say when and if a formal annexation will occur? I prefer to ask: does it matter? If the state of Israel does nothing, the Palestinians of the West Bank will remain without rights, ruled under an apartheid regime either by Israel directly or by Israel’s subcontractor for security, the authoritarian Palestinian Authority.
As the indefatigable Norman Finkelstein often reminds us, Israel has already de facto annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is just a big open-air prison. Under international law, when a government occupies an adversary’s territory during a war, it is obliged to regard the occupation as strictly temporary. Keeping it and moving citizens into it are indisputably illegal acts. The law makes no distinction between offensive and defensive wars, although the 1967 war, in which Israel seized the Palestinian territories (which Jordan had occupied since 1948), was not defensive.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice reaffirmed this aspect of international law when it condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Jewish-only settlements, and the wall of separation as illegal.
By now, after 53 years, we are entitled to notice that Israel’s occupation is not temporary. And that means the territories’ status is not one of occupation but of annexation. It won’t do to say that Israeli governments have tried to negotiate with the Palestinians according to the land-for-peace formula called for by the postwar UN Resolution 242. Israel has often pretended that it would be willing to give up some land for peace, but it is hard to take those gestures seriously. Every so-called “generous” Israeli offer contained so many conditions and Israeli prerogatives that the Palestinian territories would have been nothing more than a scattered archipelago of vassal districts. This is no less true of Trump’s grand plan for Israel and Palestine.
The Palestinians have been victims of a cruel Israeli (and American) joke — often with the complicity of what are laughably called their rulers, who have put their personal interests ahead of the people they claim to represent.
No wonder Netanyahu is in no hurry. He’s already got what he wants. If he were to formally annex some of the West Bank, he would get flak both from those who support the long-suffering Palestinians and from his domestic right-wing, which will complain that he did not annex enough.
In 1949, the first year of Harry S. Truman’s only elective presidential term, three things happened that were of huge importance … at least to me. Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) published Human Action. Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) published The Concept of Mind. And, oh yeah, I was born. The connection here is that Mises’s and Ryle’s books are two of the most influential things I have ever read.
What’s also interesting is what else the books have in common. Human Action sets out the logical structure of all purposeful action as well as its socioeconomic implications. Mises called the study of human action praxeology. Thus while Human Action is one of the most important books on economics ever written, it is so much more.
Ryle’s book is also about human action, but his philosophical accomplishment was to show that our purposeful pursuits require no “ghost in the machine” — no soul, spirit, or mind conceived as a nonmaterial organ — to explain them. (The ghost explanation in fact creates philosophical problems rather than solves them.) Ryle went a step further and showed that, contrary to determinists, neuroscientists, and the like, human action also would require no exemption from the laws of physics to exist. In other words, Ryle set out to solve the old mind-body problem that had plagued philosophy at least since Descartes, and he did it without dismissing purpose, which we all understand in our everyday lives, or objective reality. I’m not aware that the two men ever encountered each other or commented on each other’s work.
Here’s a morsel of Mises:
Human action is purposeful behavior. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life. Such paraphrases may clarify the definition given and prevent possible misinterpretations. But the definition itself is adequate and does not need complement of commentary.
Conscious or purposeful behavior is in sharp contrast to unconscious behavior, i.e., the reflexes and the involuntary responses of the body’s cells and nerves to stimuli. People are sometimes prepared to believe that the boundaries between conscious behavior and the involuntary reaction of the forces operating within man’s body are more or less indefinite. This is correct only as far as it is sometimes not easy to establish whether concrete behavior is to be considered voluntary or involuntary. But the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness is nonetheless sharp and can be clearly determined….
The field of our science is human action, not the psychological events which result in an action. It is precisely this which distinguishes the general theory of human action, praxeology, from psychology. The theme of psychology is the internal events that result or can result in a definite action. The theme of praxeology is action as such….
Action is not simply giving preference. Man also shows preference in situations in which things and events are unavoidable or are believed to be so. Thus a man may prefer sunshine to rain and may wish that the sun would dispel the clouds. He who only wishes and hopes does not interfere actively with the course of events and with the shaping of his own destiny. But acting man chooses, determines, and tries to reach an end. Of two things both of which he cannot have together he selects one and gives up the other. Action therefore always involves both taking and renunciation.
…Wherever the conditions for human interference are present, man acts no matter whether he interferes or refrains from interfering. He who endures what he could change acts no less than he who interferes in order to attain another result. A man who abstains from influencing the operation of physiological and instinctive factors which he could influence also acts. Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.
We may say that action is the manifestation of a man’s will. But this would not add anything to our knowledge. For the term will means nothing else than man’s faculty to choose between different states of affairs, to prefer one, to set aside the other, and to behave according to the decision made in aiming at the chosen state and forsaking the other….
It is true that the changes brought about by human action are but trifling when compared with the effects of the operation of the great cosmic forces. From the point of view of eternity and the infinite universe man is an infinitesimal speck. But for man human action and its vicissitudes are the real thing. Action is the essence of his nature and existence, his means of preserving his life and raising himself above the level of animals and plants. However perishable and evanescent all human efforts may be, for man and for human science they are of primary importance.
We need not ask if human action exists. As human beings, we know it does “from the inside.” Mises called this knowledge a priori because we don’t first discover human action “out there.” In fact, one obviously would demonstrate the existence of human action just by attempting to prove or disprove its existence. To ask if human beings act is in itself to act.
And now Ryle:
The fears expressed by some moral philosophers that the advance of the natural sciences diminishes the field within which the moral virtues can be exercised rests on the assumption that there is some contradiction in saying that one and the same occurrence is governed by both mechanical laws and moral principles, an assumption as baseless as the assumption that a golfer cannot at once conform to the laws of ballistics and obey the rules of golf and play with elegance and skill. Not only is there plenty of room for purpose where everything is governed by mechanical laws, but there would be no place for purpose if things were not so governed. Predictability is a necessary condition of planning…. [Thus] there is no need for the desperate salvage-operation of withdrawing the applications of [biology, anthropology, sociology, ethics, logic, aesthetics, politics, economics, historiography, etc.] out of the ordinary world to some postulated other word, or of setting up a partition between things that exist in Nature and things that exist in non-Nature. No occult precursors of overt acts [e.g., volitions] are required to preserve for the agent his title to plaudits or strictures for performing them, not would they be effective preservatives if they did exist.
Men are not machines, not even ghost-ridden machines. They are men — a tautology which is sometimes worth remembering….
Questions of … patterns are properly asked of certain chain-processes. The question ‘What makes the bullet fly out of the barrel?’ is properly answered by ‘The expansion of gases in the cartridge’; the question ‘What makes the cartridge explode?’ is answered by reference to the percussion of the detonator; and the question ‘How does my squeezing the trigger make the pin strike the detonator?’ is answered by describing the mechanism of springs, levers and catches between the trigger and the pin. So when it is asked ‘How does my mind get my finger to squeeze the trigger?’ the form of the question presupposes that a further chain-process is involved embodying still earlier tensions, releases and discharges, though this time ‘mental’ ones. But whatever is the act or operation adduced as the first step of this postulated chain-process, the performance of it has to be described in just the same way as in ordinary life we describe the squeezing of the trigger by the marksman. Namely we say simply ‘He did it’ and not “He did or underwent something else which caused it’.
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears on occasional Fridays.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., ruled 6-4 that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of various categories (race, religion, color, sex, etc.), by implication also covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e., homosexual and transgender persons). The case was really two cases, one involving the county government, the other a private company.
The ruling has brought the usual conservative gnashing of teeth about unelected justices’ making law rather than doing their proper job, interpreting law. Note this delicious fact: the majority opinion was written by Justice Neil “But” Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the court.
If I am asked what I think of the ruling, I will say this: I favor repeal of Title VII (and other parts of the law that restrict private persons), but I also favor the ruling. That will strike some as incoherent, but it’s not.
Gorsuch held, “An employer who discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees necessarily and intentionally applies sex-based rules.” He noted that the employers “seem to say when a new application [of a law’s language] is both unexpected and important, even if it is clearly commanded by existing law, the Court should merely point out the question, refer the subject back to Congress, and decline to enforce the law’s plain terms in the meantime. This Court has long rejected that sort of reasoning.”
That seems right: sexual-orientation discrimination is sex discrimination — even if those who wrote and voted for the bill did not understand this. We often fail to see implications of the positions we hold. (Pointing that out was Socrates’s occupation.) In the case of legislation, why should we be bound by the narrow understanding of its authors and those who voted for it? Thomas Paine would call that being ruled by the dead.
Most people don’t understand that in the 18th century, free press meant freedom from prior restraint, not freedom from ex post punitive action by the government. Should we have stuck with the narrower meaning? I don’t think so. (But conservatives might.)
I say all this as one who rejects the state and its monopoly court system. But as James M. Buchanan liked to say, we have to start where we are. Sorry, abolishing the state isn’t on today’s menu. So what do we want that we can have? And what do we do?
Of course I would repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act as it applies to private persons. I despise bigotry and invidious discrimination, but we don’t need the government to fight it. On the other hand, such discrimination by governments ought to be banned. The 1964 act struck down state Jim Crow laws, which mandated racial discrimination in both the private and government sectors.
But repeal of that law is not on today’s menu either. Yet that should not keep us from applauding the court for recognizing the clear fact that sex discrimination includes sexual-orientation discrimination regardless of what some political hacks might have thought in 1964. (Maybe they just didn’t think.)
By the same reasoning, good-faith libertarians should oppose removal of individual categories from Title VII. Who would favor striking out race or sex from the list if it were proposed on ostensibly libertarian grounds? Not I.
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