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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Friday, April 19, 2024

Ask and ye shall be given

 Nearly two weeks ago, when I concluded a post that referred to George Orwell and Animal Farm by wondering whether a parallel satire might be written about the present day, my old friend and college classmate the critic George Scialabba pointed me towards Lionel Shriver's new novel, Mania.  The library quickly coughed it up, and I read it pretty quickly.   It was the first of Shriver's many books that I had read.  This post will inevitably contain some spoilers but I will leave plenty of suspense for future reasons.  Mania isn't going to sell like Animal Farm did, but it is in my opinion a very telling satire--and so far the msm's reaction to the book is rather revealing as well.

I must say that while I liked the book, I was not bowled over by Shriver's writing.  She can be very funny, but she takes her time about everything.  The book runs to nearly 300 pages and I think 200 might have done the job just as well. Animal Farm has only 144 pages.  The book is an alternative history of the first quarter of the 21st century, written in the first person by a non-tenured literature professor at a mythical Pennsylvania university named Pearson Converse.  (I'd love to believe that "Pearson" is an homage to the great muckraker Drew Pearson, but I'd be surprised as well as delighted to find that Shriver knows anything about him.)   She has a partner, three children, and a lifelong "best friend" who figure very prominently in the narrative.  Raised as a Jehovah's witness, she became a hopeless contrarian, and therefore could not surrender to the ideological fad that swept the country (in the novel) in the early years of the century:  the Mental Parity movement, closely associated with the idea of Cognitive Equality.   Described by its mythical founder as "the last frontier of civil rights," the movement holds that no one is really more intelligent than anyone else, and that the illusion that some people are smarter is just a pretext for the oppression of the many by the elite few.  This has led to very significant changes in language, education, politics, and even in medical care, and has had severe consequences for the protagonist and her entire family, including her two brightest children.  Meanwhiles, her best friend, a television reporter, achieves new fame and fortune by climbing on the bandwagon.

Mania has already received mostly unfavorable reviews from Maureen Corrigan in the Washington Post, Anthony Cummins in The Guardian, Laura Miller New York Times.  While they recognized "cognitive equality" as a new form of wokeness, none of them seemed to share my view that it is an obvious stand-in for anti-racism, extreme feminism, and agitation for transgender rights.  More importantly, they did not acknowledge that those very real movements--along with a general decline in our educational system--have had exactly the same consequences in real life as cognitive equality does in the book.  That will be my topic today.

To begin with, the idea of cognitive equality, seasoned with the moral absolutism with which we have become so familiar, has in the world of Mania led to major changes in the English language.  Words like "stupid," "intelligent," "sharp," "profound," "idiot," "genius," and so on now represent thoughtcrime, and cannot be used in any context, as for instance to describe a sharp knife.  This has happened in our time.  Because slave owners described themselves as masters, the faculty heads of Harvard residential houses are no longer called masters--even though that title has a long academic history here and in Britain that had nothing whatever to do with slavery.  "People who can become pregnant" is now preferred in many quarters to "women" in deference to transgender ideology.  "Slave" has been replaced by "enslaved person," and "slave owner" by "enslaver," even though very few American slaveowners ever turned a free person into a slave.  Here, obviously, I could go on and on, but I don't really think I need to.

In other many other instances, however, I don't need to resort to parallelisms, because developments in the fantasy world of Mania and the one I've been living in for decades are identical.  "I'm supposed to stop focusing on traditionally towering figures of history. John Locke, Adam Smith, Rousseau. . .The point is, in my courses, I'm now meant to celebrate all the historical figures we've customarily overlooked."  That has been the watchword of the American historical profession for 40 or 50 years, and explains why, as Fareed Zakaria recently remarked, a white male who wrote about presidents would have no chance of getting tenure at most universities today.  And Locke, Smith and Rousseau are completely unfashionable, not because they were very smart, but simply because they were straight white males.  On another page, Pearson (the narrator) complains that the AP courses that her son would normally be taking have now been abolished.  School districts in California and in Cambridge, Massachusetts have dropped Algebra I for eighth graders, which allows students to take calculus as high school seniors, because so few black and Hispanic students found their way into it.  (Cambridge has recently reversed that decision.)  When Pearson insists to her friend Emory that "it's a fact," "not an idea," that some people are smarter than others, Emory replies, "According to you."  Postmodernism abandoned the concept of objective fact decades ago.  

And sadly, the thought police we encounter in Mania have real-world equivalents as well.  Pearson has to undergo some re-education on her job after she tries to assign The Idiot to her literature class, because the word is, of course, forbidden, and a few orthodox students turn her in to the dean.  Something very similar has happened to a tenured professor whom I know, who had to give up a very popular course in which he had stepped over linguistic boundaries (in a quotation) for a year.  She also gets visits from Child Protective Services who worry that she is steeping her own kids in false ideology.  In real life, parents in several states have lost custody of children after they refused to accept the child's desire to transition to a different gender.  

And last but  hardly least, the nomination, election, and now very possible re-election of Donald Trump proves that an obvious lack of intellectual distinction is no bar to highest office, and may even appeal to a significant number of voters.  That reflects the anti-intellectualism of the right, but the changes in the humanities that have favored ideology over creativity and judgment reflect an at least equally powerful anti-intellectualism on the left.  At one point in the book, Converse also notes that MacArthur genius grants are now being given to people of no intellectual distinction.  That too as happened with respect to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Ibram X. Kendi, none of whose writings, in my opinion, display exceptional intellectual ability.  It is even more interesting to compare the list of the first crop of MacArthur Fellows, selected in 1981, to the group selected in 2023.  

There is another critical aspect to our own crisis today that Shriver's work leaves out.  We still have very smart people who get very good educations--but what do they do with their lives?  A very large number of them reach the top positions in finance and industry--and there, because of another set of intellectual and legal changes, they focus all their brains and their energy on short-term economic gain.  That is why Boeing, for instance, can evidently no longer be trusted to build safe airplanes, and why our health care system is more and more corrupted by the profit motive.  That, however, is clearly a matter for another book.

I have been fascinated by greatness in a number of different fields all my life.  In 2017 I published Baseball Greatness, which used statistical analysis to identify the greatest baseball players of all time.  About 19,000 men had played major league baseball at that time--and many times that number had tried and failed to make the majors.  But out of those, my methods identified about 100 of them--less than one-half of one percent--who were demonstrably far superior to all the rest.  I see no reason to doubt that a similar percentage of individuals in any complex field of endeavor are capable of extraordinary achievements, but our whole society has indeed rebelled against that idea. This vast social change has happened much more slowly than the revolution in Animal Farm, but it may have equally fateful consequences. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Podcast discussion of the JFK assassination

 A new generation is hard at work muddying the JFK waters, and I managed to get on to this podcast discussion of the case earlier this month.  The host, Lorien Fenton, began with a 23 minute rant on her favorite subject, UFOs, but if you start at 23 minutes, the discussion is not bad, and I had no trouble trying to inject a good dose of reality into the situation.  While my interlocutors didn't agree with a lot of what I said, we were all unfailingly polite.  Paul Bleau, the other guy, has distributed several surveys to JFK researchers.  I'll have another important post, a book review, up by this weekend at the latest.

NOTE:  Getting to the audio may be a little more complicated than I thought.  Here are the instructions.  The date of the video was April 8.  Note:  read carefully as you go along, the instructions provide the username and password you need to log in.  You don't create one.

Finally, if you like the interview it is yours to share! A few days after the interview log onto https://Revolution.Radio, click on the "Archives" button. Follow the instructions to log in. Then scroll to "The Fenton Perspective" and click on the folder, then scroll to the date of our show. (Should be the latest/last entry). Download the file.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

More on States of the Union

     I have recorded and posted this seven-minute video about my new book, States of the Union, on youtube.  If you like it please pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested--and feel free to post comments! Thanks.  

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Our intellectual elite

 In 1937, the left wing publisher Victor Gollancz brought out George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier--an account of life in a British mining town and a political manifesto--as a selection of the Left Book Club.  My father, then in the mist of his Oxford Rhodes Scholarship, evidently belonged to the club, and I still have the orange paper-covered copy that he received.  The book included so many attacks on left wing orthodoxy and upper-class intellectual fads that Gollancz and his two colleagues on the club selection committee decided that Gollancz himself would add an introduction definitely disassociating the club from some of what Orwell said.  He commented, quite rightly, that while Orwell on the one hand professed is own belief in "Socialism,"  he held very traditional views on diet, family life, and other issues.  Gollancz blamed these views on his class background--just as a contemporary critic would blame such views on race and gender.  "Mr. Orwell calls himself a 'half-intellectual'," he wrote, "but the is that he is at one and the same time an extreme intellectual and a violent anti-intellectual."  Orwell was my first serious intellectual interest and I wrote my undergraduate thesis about him, and I see now, 55 years later, that the same could be said of me.  

A few months ago, following a respected friend's recommendation, I started listening to Cafe Insider, the podcast of the former New York US attorney Preet Bharara.  Bharara has a calm, very engaging delivery and does interviews very well, and he brings his legal expertise to various issues of the day, particularly the pending cases against Donald Trump.  Last week he interviewed the journalist Evan Osnos, who has written a recent biography of Joe Biden that apparently includes a lengthy analysis of the coming election.  (I haven't read it.)  That interview, available here, strikes me as a perfect example of what is wrong with our current intellectual elite, whose flaws may return Donald Trump to the White House in nine months.  I'm not attacking Bhrara and Osnos personally here.  I'm citing them as prime examples of the chattering class, center-left version.

Early in the interview, Bharara posed the question that dominated the discussion.

"Logic and common sense would dictate that if three or four years ago, we were in the throes of the pandemic in a very serious way, lots and lots of people were dying, there were lots of lockdowns, people were unhappy, the economy was uncertain, now, fast-forward three years, the pandemic still persists, but it is not what it used to be, the economy is thriving, and the pandemic and all of its associated harms, and ills, and catastrophes are a thing of the past, why wouldn’t the mood of the country be ebullient, and why wouldn’t the guy who was at the helm during that transformation, whether he was deserving of it or not, why wouldn’t he be lifted up and hoisted up on the shoulders of Americans who would be praising him to the heavens? If I had told you three years ago that this is what America would look like three years later, wouldn’t the logical conclusion be that he was going to roll into re-election?"

"Yes, is the answer," Osnos replied.

I would suggest, to begin with, that things are not really that simple.  Yes, the pandemic as a serious medical threat is over, but our authorities bungled certain aspects of it in ways that are having long-term effects.  The decision to shut down the nation's schools has created a new achievement gap and increased chronic school absenteeism greatly.  As for the economy, as Bharara and Osnos acknowledge later, while unemployment has fallen to remarkably low levels, inflation has been a big problem during most of Biden's term.  And a broader question looms.  When we say in 2024 that the economy is booming, what does that really mean?  Yes, the stock market has hit new highs, but that doesn't make much difference to the bulk of the population.  Young people in our major metropolitan areas are facing the worst housing crisis since the late 1940s, and the government is doing very little about it.  Inflation has at least neutralized many wage gains.  Things are fine for the upper quarter (approximately) of the population, and those are the people whom our intellectual elite knows  And they assume, as we shall see, that the rest of the country has some obligation to share their views.  Osnos, to be fair, does acknowledge that the economic picture is mixed.

A little later, Bharara argues at length that Biden should be able to take more credit for preventing a recession--because Larry Summers and virtually every economist was certain in 2022 that one was coming.  "Clearly," he says, "it’s the case that a determination as to whose fault something is or who gets some credit for something is within the province of the voter, and they can decide logically or illogically to lay blame at someone’s feet or give credit to someone. On the other hand, it is up to the candidate, in this case, Joe Biden, to seize the microphone and take credit, whether it’s deserved or not, for things that, traditionally speaking, any politician worth his salt would’ve taken credit for."  As it happens, however, I don't think that Biden deserves any particular credit for avoiding the recession any more than he deserves any blame for the inflation that occurred.  I also doubt that our leading economists really understand exactly what has increased unemployment or raised prices over the last few years.  Our economy has been out of the control of our political leadership for a very long time, and I think that the average American knows that.  And given that the American people no longer trust either party to make that much of a difference in their lives, it is natural for them to express their dissatisfaction by voting against the party in power.  The is what they have done in every election but one since 2006, in which either the White House or at least one house of Congress changed hands.

 Neither Bharara nor Osnos, meanwhile, ever mentions the immigration issue at all.  Illegal immigration has again surged under Biden, and applying Bharara's maxim, it would appear that he is the logical person to blame for this.  And indeed, many voters are blaming him, including nonwhite voters assumed to be part of the Democratic coalition, but who are now trending in the other direction.

 Here I will digress for a somewhat unrelated point:  it drives me crazy to hear pundits claim, as they often do, that the 2022 congressional elections were a victory for the Democrats because there was no "red wave."  In fact, they lost the House of Representatives, making any further progress on domestic issues nearly impossible, and having terrible consequences for foreign policy.  More importantly, the Republicans actually won the popular vote for the House by three percentage points--a margin which would have been expected to give them a much larger majority than they actually got.

Late in the interview, Bharara finally brings up the question of Biden's age--and Osnos,. who talks throughout like a Biden campaign manager, not a journalist, gives another typical center-left response. 

"I think you see that certainly showing up in poll numbers, that people just look at Biden and that is their question, the Biden world bet[sic]. And it’s a big bet, but it is a substantive one is, that it’s not just about age, yes or no, it’s age versus crazy. To tie it back into that point we were talking about before, Preet, that’s what it is. It’s age versus crazy. Okay. Sure, there’s no question that Joe Biden is older than he was, and you see it, you feel it, this gets to the innumeracy of our politics. You just read it, like one animal to another, Joe Biden is older, yes. But that is a different thing than, is his mind intact? Is his decision-making record defensible? And compare it to the alternative.

"The oldest Joe Biden line in the world happens to be truer now than it’s ever been in his career, which is, 'Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.' And we now know who that alternative is. So that’s where the age question becomes more complicated than just, is he too old to do this job?"

Biden, Osnos says, is running for re-election because he thinks he deserves it based upon his record--but the bottom line, in which so many Democrats believe, is that the electorate has no option but to vote for him because he is running against Trump, whom they have defined as un-American and impossible. And what if it turns out the country does once again elect Trump?  Osnos has his answer ready.

"I think some of this has to do with a basic orientation of the politics of the right as it is today, which is that it is fundamentally nostalgic in nature, it is about seeking to reclaim, or rebuild, or recover things that have been lost. And those things are basically forms of power, and they’re cultural power. Let’s be blunt about this, Preet, it’s about a certain white male dominated conception of the United States, and it is one that was largely intact for a very, very long time, and now feels to a lot of people on the right as if it is going away, and Joe Biden is the head of a party in a movement that represents that. And so that’s what they’re talking about. And they can lump into that bucket all kinds of things, they’ll say that it’s about getting rid of the right to bear arms, or the right to raise your children with the curriculum that you want.

"In some ways, it’s a kind of endlessly adaptable thesis, but that’s really what it’s about. And I really come to the belief that when we talk about freedoms being taken away on the left, that’s not abstract to people. I was having conversation with friends just in the last couple of days, if you’re a woman who’s looking at the state of abortion rights in this country, and you see them being taken away one by one in state after state, that’s a really specific thing that you can identify. On the right, it is a more atmospheric declaration."

Hillary Clinton's "deplorables" comment might have lost her the election, but it lives on in the words of Osnos.  People are voting for Trump not because of high housing costs or uncontrolled immigration or the impact of free trade on jobs, but because they believe white males no longer dominate the culture--something that most white males never did.  Among the Democratic elite, blaming opposition on racism and sexism and homophobia is a way of saying, those people don't deserve to be listened to anyway.   And there is plenty to worry about in blue state K-12 school curriculums, too, even among those of us who believe that all Americans deserve equal rights.

To repeat: I have enjoyed Preet Bharara's podcasts and will continue subscribing, but I think that the tone of this whole conversation was a big part of the problem we face.

Victor Gollancz's devotion to the left wing orthodoxy of the late 1930s and early 1940s eventually cost him very dearly indeed.  He forgave Orwell for The Road to Wigan Pier and published it with his own disclaimer, but he was not so forgiving later, with fateful consequences.  On March 3, 1944, Orwell wrote Gollancz--with whom he was under contract giving Gollancz the right of first refusal on his next three books--about a new manuscript.  "It is a little fairy story," he wrote, "about 30,000 words, with a political meaning.  But I must tell you that it is--I think--completely unacceptable politically from your point of view (it is anti-Stalin.)"  Gollancz replied heatedly that he had in fact disagreed with Stalin and Soviet policy many times, and asked to see the ms.  Twelve days later, Gollancz wrote Orwell again: "You were right and I was wrong.  I am so sorry. I have returned the manuscript to Moore [Orwell's agent.]"  No major publisher would take the book, but it made the career of a minor one, Fred Warburg.  

The book was Animal Farm, one of the best sellers of the twentieth century. I wonder if there is a parallel attack on contemporary intellectual orthodoxy waiting to be written today.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Israel and the United States

 I have hesitated for a long time to write something like this post.  Chuck Schumer's speech the other day pushed me over the edge, because it exemplified one aspect of the American-Israeli problem that no one else seems to want to talk about.  I will get to that in due course, but before I begin, I want to quote a remarkable passage from the autobiography of Zora Neal Hurston.  I am indebted to the podcaster Coleman Hughes for first bringing it to my attention.

“There could be something wrong with me because I see Negroes neither better nor worse than any other race. Race pride is a luxury I cannot afford. There are too many implications bend the term. Now, suppose a Negro does something really magnificent, and I glory, not in the benefit to mankind, but the fact that the doer was a Negro. Must I not also go hang my head in shame when a member of my race does something execrable? If I glory, then the obligation is laid upon me to blush also. I do glory when a Negro does something fine, I gloat because he or she has done a fine thing, but not because he was a Negro. That is incidental and accidental. It is the human achievement which I honor. I execrate a foul act of a Negro but again not on the grounds that the doer was a Negro, but because it was foul. A member of my race just happened to be the fouler of humanity. In other words, I know that I cannot accept responsibility for thirteen million people. Every tub must sit on its own bottom regardless. So 'Race Pride' in me had to go. And anyway, why should I be proud to be Negro? Why should anyone be proud to be white? Or yellow? Or red? After all, the word 'race' is a loose classification of physical characteristics. I tells nothing about the insides of people. Pointing out achievements tells nothing either. Races have never done anything. What seems race achievement is the work of individuals. The white race did not go into a laboratory and invent incandescent light. That was Edison. The Jews did not work out Relativity. That was Einstein. The Negroes did not find out the inner secrets of peanuts and sweet potatoes, nor the secret of the development of the egg. That was Carver and Just. If you are under the impression that every white man is Edison, just look around a bit. If you have the idea that every Negro is a Carver, you had better take off plenty of time to do your searching.”

I happen to agree completely with that sentiment.  It was popular among minorities, I believe, in 1942 when she published it, and it was very much in the air for the two subsequent decades during which I was growing up.  Martin Luther King Jr. echoed it in his remarks about the content of our character.  The middle of the last century was an era of extraordinary human achievement--technological, industrial, and political.  Men and women focused more naturally on human achievement then.  Now they are focusing more on tribe, defined in various ways.

Now let me quote a very parallel remark from Albert Einstein--to whom Hurston referred--recording his own feelings about his own ethnic and religious group, the Jews.

“For me, the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples. As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

If you enjoyed those quotes, you may well appreciate this post.  If you didn't, I doubt very much that you will.  And before I go any further, I happen to be the child of a Jewish-American father and a New England/Midwestern protestant mother.  They raised me without any religion at all, something that I have never regretted.  And that means, as you probably know, that the state of Israel does not recognize me as a Jew or a potential citizen, which I would have no desire to become in any case.  I have never had and never wanted any country but the United States, and I think that the observance of impartial laws--domestically and internationally--is the only way for the peoples of the modern world to live together in peace and happiness.

The decision to create the state of Israel in 1947-48 (six years before Einstein wrote those words, by the way), was an entirely understandable decision.  Jews had lived as minorities for many centuries, often in very cruel conditions.  Zionism had begun in the nineteenth century mainly to provide a new home for the Jews of the Russian Empire (including Poland), who were not regarded as Russian citizens, and who were already immigrating in large numbers ot the United States and elsewhere. (Two of my grandparents were among them.)  Initially Zionism aroused very mixed reactions in the Jewish communities in western nations, many of whom wanted nothing more than to be treated as equals in their current homes.  The rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the Second World War obviously changed the calculus.  Almost nowhere in Europe had the Jews been safe from destruction, and the United States had shut off large-scale immigration from anywhere in the early 1930s.  Perhaps in part because they could not welcome Holocaust survivors into their own country, many  more American Jews now became Zionists, and the US government played in important role in the international recognition of Israel after 1948.  No one, however, could force the Arabs then living in Palestine or the governments of the neighboring Arab states to accept the creation of Israel, and they did not.  Israel has lived under military threat for the whole of its 75 years of existence, first from the neighboring Arab states and later from the Palestinian population of the Gaza strip and the West Bank, both of which Israel occupied after the 1967 war.  Israel successfully made peace with Egypt in the late 1970s and Jordan in the 1990s, but attempts to make peace with the Palestinians in the 1990s failed, and the political organization Hamas gradually emerged as the center of Palestinian resistance, winning an election in the occupied territories in 2006 and eventually securing full control of Gaza.  A parallel Shi'ite organization, Hezbollah, developed in Lebanon under the patronage of Iran, which since 1979 has been an avowed enemy of Israel as well.

The creation of Israel was a remarkable political and economic achievement.  It also freed the Israelis from the relative powerlessness that Einstein referred to in 1954, with exactly the results that he seemed to anticipate.  It is easier for weak states to be virtuous than strong ones, as Tocqueville remarked in Democracy in America.  The Israeli government developed very significant military power and used it ruthlessly in 1956 and 1967--when it began wars with its neighbors--and in 1973, when it was attacked.  (I know some readers will dispute my characterization of 1967, when Nasser in Egypt created the crisis that led to the war, but it is not at all clear that war would have occurred if Israel had not begun it.)  In addition, the 1967 decision to occupy, govern, and partially resettle Gaza and the West Bank made the Israelis the rulers of a foreign people, a role that inevitably involves cruelty and injustice.  The current war in Gaza--triggered, of course, by a very cruel attack upon civilians by Hamas--has confirmed Einstein's suspicions.  Given enough power and provocation, any nation--including both Israel and the United States--can do terrible things.  That is human nature.

1967 was also a key date for some elements of the American Jewish community.  As historian Judith Klinghoffer pointed out in her book, Vietnam, Jews, and the Middle East, it deepened the feelings of many American Jews for Israel, and it helped create neoconservatism by convincing certain Jewish intellectuals that the United States had to be a strong presence all over the world because it was one of Israel's few friends.  The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) dated from 1959 but became much more powerful after the 1967 and 1973 wars, and by the 1980s it was using its political power to make it very difficult for elected officials to oppose anything that the State of Israel was doing.  In 2006 Michael Massing wrote the most detailed analysis of what AIPAC had become and the power it wielded that I have ever seen, and I don't think anything has changed very much since then. Massing emphasized that the small number of very wealthy individuals who controlled AIPAC were much more conservative and much friendlier to the Israeli right than the great mass of American Jews were, and that is undoubtedly still true today.  Yet they remain, effectively, the voice of the Jewish community in American foreign policy all the same.

I am not going to review the whole history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the attempts to end it.  I have said before that I doubt very much that the leadership of either side wants a peace that would recognize the rights of the other side--that is, a two-state solution.  The Israeli government offered less than that in 2000, when agreement seemed to be the nearest it had ever been, and we will never know whether that Israeli government, which ruled by a very narrow margin, would have been able to get those terms accepted by its own people or not.  And to the extent that various Palestinian leaders have shown a willingness to compromise, I am not convinced that this was anything more than a strategic move to get something now in order to try to get more later--the same strategy that the Zionist leadership used in 1948 when it accepted in principle the UN General Assembly's partition plan.  I will return later to the question of where that leaves the Israelis and Palestinians now.

The current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has explicitly rejected a two-state solution.  Some weeks before the October 7 attack he displayed a map of the Middle East before the United Nations in which the territory of Israel included the entire West Bank and Gaza.  In addition, several leading members of his government are calling specifically for turning most or all of the Gaza population of about two million into refugees in some foreign land and starting to resettle Gaza with Israelis.  Meanwhile they are once again expanding settlements in the West Bank and allowing settlers to terrorize Palestinians.  And in the five months since October 7, the Israeli air force and army have made most of Gaza almost completely uninhabitable, and are now preparing to finish the job.  I don't see how anyone can rule out the possibility that the Israeli government wants to complete the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza strip, or that it might carry out the same policy in the West Bank later on when a suitable provocation occurs.   And I don't want the US government to support that policy either openly or tacitly.

Senator Schumer's very strong criticism of Netanyahu and his government took courage, but it disturbed me because it reflected a fantasy that occurs among liberal American Jews who oppose what Israel is doing but want to continue to support it.  They tell themselves that Netanyahu does not represent most Israelis, that most Israelis oppose his policies, and even--as Schumer said openly in his speech--that Netanyahu has only adopted those policies to please the extreme elements of his coalition and stay in power.   I do not believe that.  My main source for what is happening in Israel is the liberal daily Haaretz.   It violently opposes everything Netanyahu stands for, and many other Israelis do as well--but they definitely appear to be in the minority now, and the Haaretz writers know that.  Netanyahu is personally unpopular, but were he to resign or be forced out of office, he might easily be replaced by someone whose views and policies were similar to his.  Schumer is apparently one of a number of liberal American Jews--exactly how many, I cannot say--who need to feel that Israel is made up mostly of Jews like themselves.  I do not think that that is true, and I don't think it made any sense for him to demand that the Israeli electorate choose someone else.   George W. Bush demanded the same thing of the Palestinians in 2002--and four years later they elected Hamas.

And what would a responsible Israeli policy look like?  Peace will be impossible unless both sides genuinely accept the other's right to exist.  Violence will continue at least intermittently until that day--if it ever comes.  Israel could in the meantime renounce the policy of making Gaza uninhabitable and stop further expansion into the West Bank--but no Israeli government has been willing to do that for a long time.  What both sides can do, and have done for long periods, is to make every effort to keep the level of conflict at the lowest possible level, even when seriously provoked.   Hamas would be in a much stronger position today, I think, if they had only killed Israeli soldiers on October 7.  Israel had to retaliate for that attack, but not to the extent of killing nearly 30 Palestinians--most of them civilians--for every Israeli who died on that day--a total that continues to increase. Yet having stated those views, I will do what Schumer did not do, and acknowledge that neither side cares what I think or shows any signs of adopting them now.  We are in the midst of a continuing tragedy.  I have found all my life that tragedy, real or imagined, can be cathartic in retrospect.  I don't know if there is any catharsis to be had from ongoing tragedies.