Sanders’ foreign policy worries me less than Clinton’s, but irks me so much more

Sanders-Clinton debate.
Sanders and Clinton debate on MSNBC, February 4, 2016.

The Western left in general is wrong about America, wrong about the world, and wrong about the morality of their politics.

On foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, I lean closer to Bernie Sanders’ hands-off instincts than to Hillary Clinton’s interventionist ones. Americans do not have the will to fight another Iraqi or Afghan war in Syria, or Libya, or Yemen or anyplace else around here, and I don’t blame them. These wars tend to be futile, bloody, and cause more harm than good. And because Americans so clearly do not want to get stuck in another long-term Mideast war, it becomes very dangerous for U.S. leaders, like Hillary, to think they can intervene “surgically” and safely, that they can drop a few bombs, get rid of the bad guys and go home, mission accomplished. If that’s all you’re willing to do – and that is all America is willing to do – it’s generally safer all around to do nothing. So Sanders’ foreign policy worries me less than Hillary’s.

But it irks me so much more. This week Sanders said of the Hillary-Trump exchange of accusations over foreign policy:

I think frankly they both make a point. I think that her support for the war in Iraq was not just an aberration. I think that her willingness to push President Obama to overthrow [Libya’s Muammar] Qadhafi and lead to the kind of instability we’re seeing now in Libya, not inconsistent with her views on Syria, where she wants a no-fly zone. … Bush’s era, Clinton’s era has caused us incalculable harm.

Sanders implied Hillary was no better than Trump on foreign policy, and explicitly lumped her policies together with those of the George W. Bush administration. The comparison to Trump is beyond ridiculous, while the Hillary-W. equation is just crude, especially since she’s publicly regretted her support for the Iraq War over and over.

But beyond distorting Clinton’s policies, Sanders’ remark shows the kind of automatic rejection of any use of American military power abroad, and the self-righteousness that goes with it, that plagues the Sanders campaign and the Western left in general. They’re wrong about America, wrong about the world, and wrong about the morality of their politics – again, in an irksome way.

Cold War is over

America has changed since the end of the Cold War. It doesn’t support leaders like Augusto Pinochet against those like Salvador Allende anymore, it doesn’t kill masses of Vietnamese fighting for their independence because it wants to lick the Commies. America’s enemies are no longer people like Ho Chi Minh or Mohammed Mossadegh, popular left-wing figures trying to throw off foreign domination.

No, since the Cold War ended, America’s enemies have been people like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qadhafi and Bashar Assad. Leaders whom the locals, or most of them anyway, experience as monsters. So America’s involvements in Syria, Libya and yes, Iraq, have been on a whole different, much higher moral level than the policy of supporting fascists against Communists and socialists that the U.S. pursued during the Cold War. But the Western left doesn’t recognize this.

For months I’ve been debating Sanders supporters on Facebook, most recently about foreign policy, and the most common view of Hillary is that she’s simply a war-monger. Few of them seem to see any respectable argument for fighting the Middle East’s monsters, few are ready to say that Hillary’s approach, while mistaken, is honorable – no, it’s rotten, not to say evil. She can’t be motivated by any desire to save innocent people, it’s just power, glory, American triumphalism (some also mention oil and arms sales), she’s no better than the worst Muslim-hating GOP hawk.

I have a hard time getting these people to acknowledge that as terrible as the Iraq war has turned out, ousting Saddam was a historic achievement, as was the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north. I get the same resistance when I suggest that no matter how bad the situation in Libya has gotten, helping get rid of Qadhafi before he could take his revenge on his opponents  was not an immoral act, certainly not at the time. It’s the same story in the debate over Hillary’s support for a no-fly zone in Syria. And these are obviously not fringe views in the Sanders camp – they’re endorsed by the candidate himself.

Not good vs. evil

I don’t see what is so morally superior about watching passively while the likes of Saddam, Qadhafi and Assad slaughter hundreds of thousands of people. I agree that for America to intervene militarily to stop them is probably a bad idea – but it should not automatically be ruled out, which is the instinct of the left. American military power is not always futile; for instance, it got Saddam out of Kuwait in the first Iraq war and cut him down to size, another historic achievement. (Even though the postwar sanctions were a humanitarian catastrophe, American power at its worst.)

American military intervention in places where people are under attack by genocidal dictators is not immoral. It may well be a bad decision, even a reckless one, but evil it’s not. Immoral is when you’re fighting on the side of the bad guys against the good guys. America used to do that a lot; it doesn’t anymore.

Unlike what the Western left in general and the Sanders campaign in particular thinks, the foreign policy challenges facing America are no longer  about good vs. evil, like they were in Vietnam and Latin America; they’re about the lesser evil vs. the greater one, like in Iraq, Libya and Syria. I prefer Sanders’ choices to Hillary’s. But they’re nothing to cheer about, and Hillary’s are nothing to boo. The left should learn a little humility, especially in the face of the Middle East’s tragedies.

Neo-fascists threaten the West; in Israel they’ve already arrived

From America to Austria, belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism is rising. But its hold on power in Israel is far more secure — and uncontested.

Israeli neofascists
Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014. Photo: Ofer Vaknin

I hear a lot of Israeli liberals saying that yes, things are bad here, but they’re bad everywhere. On the one hand, Avigdor Lieberman is running the army, a majority of Israelis believe the soldier who executed a prone Palestinian in Hebron behaved “responsibly,” and it’s gotten so that even Roni Daniel, Channel 2 news’ superhawk, is wondering whether his children should leave the country.

But on the other hand, they point out, America has Donald Trump. In Austria, the party of Jorg Haider just came within an inch of taking over. In France, Marine Le Pen is the rising power. All over Western Europe, even in Scandinavia, the neo-fascists are gaining strength.

So Israel isn’t alone in its slide into the swamp of belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism — it’s happening in the most “enlightened” countries of the West. We’re in no worse a political predicament than they’re in, according to this view.

But this view is mistaken; our political predicament is worse. In the 21st century, the forces of belligerent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism have a much stronger, more secure hold on power in Israel than they do in any Western country (not counting Eastern Europe).

Israeli right getting more radical, powerful

Netanyahu has been elected prime minister four times, and each of his governments is more right-wing than the last. Meanwhile, the so-called center and center-left parties grow increasingly antagonistic toward the Palestinians and the Israeli Arab parties, until it’s become a bad joke to refer to them (except Meretz, the lone party of the Zionist left) as a liberal opposition. And now their leader, Isaac Herzog, has left them more divided and weaker than ever.

In Israel today, the right-wing powers-that-be are only getting more right-wing and more powerful; except for the Supreme Court (to a limited degree), there’s nothing and nobody to hold them back.

In America today, the situation is quite different. The president, now in his eighth and last year, is Barack Obama, the sort of liberal politician who has become extinct in 21st-century Israel. And even if the grotesque Donald Trump does win the November election, the Democrats, with their larger share of the electorate, will have a good chance of beating him the next time. The Republicans have no hope of ruling American politics without challenge for nearly a generation like the Likud and its allies have done here. Over there it’s the Democrats, davka, who have such a hope.

In Austria, the Freedom Party, running on the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform common to all European far-right parties, came within 0.7% of the vote to winning the presidency. But not only did it lose, the winner was a member of the liberal Green Party. And even if that result gets turned around in the coming years, the liberals will almost certainly remain contenders for power in Austria, unlike what’s happened in contemporary Israel.

In other Western European countries, even France with its National Front, the demagogic, nativist parties and movements are growing — but they are all still at a far remove from having national power such as that enjoyed here by Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and current-day Likud.

European consensus still liberal 

Since World War II, Western Europe has developed a strong liberal, tolerant consensus; this is fraying due to the large influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees and the influence of radical Islam in their ranks, but it remains the norm. By contrast, liberalism and tolerance for Arabs, while always a stream in Israeli politics, only came to the fore during the Oslo years — and even they were interrupted by Netanyahu’s first term. Since Oslo imploded in 2000, this stream has been steadily drying up — except during the anomaly of Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza – while the racism and militarism of the right keeps running stronger.

Western Europeans have problems with immigration, refugees and jihadism, and often with economics; these problems may grow to the point where they derange the public and the neo-fascists start taking power. But this hasn’t happened yet, and there’s a very good chance it won’t.

Israel, on the other hand, is a tiny ethnic-religious minority in a hostile region on a permanent war footing with its neighbors. Israel believes (wrongly) that it has done everything it can to make peace and been turned down, and so it trusts its security to the subjugation of the Palestinians and the periodic bombing of Syria and Hezbollah, with no expectation or even reasonable hope that things will change.

This is a much more deeply entrenched and volatile problem than the Western Europeans, or, certainly, the Americans have been dealing with.  What ails Israel is the sort of condition that’s just made for a long-term takeover by belligerent, xenophobic ultranationalists, which is what’s happened here and hasn’t happened there. No, unfortunately, this is not a Western country we’re living in.

Originally published in Haaretz.com, May 31, 2016.

Have the Palestinians given up?

Palestinian with flag
A Palestinian youth waves the national flag as the Israeli military digs in search of smuggling tunnels at the border east of Gaza city on May 15, 2016, on the 68th anniversary of the “Nakba.” Photo: Mahmud Hams, AFP

They may not admit it to themselves, but facts on the ground look as though Palestinians are conceding to the occupation, with no change in sight.

“The Palestinians will never resign themselves to Israeli rule.” This is an axiom of the anti-occupation camp, the so-called pragmatic argument against the status quo – that it’ll blow up in our faces sooner or later, like it always has.

But maybe this prediction isn’t accurate. Maybe the Palestinians, after fighting Israel for 100 years, have finally given up. They wouldn’t admit it, of course, probably not even to themselves, but on the ground that’s the way it looks, and has looked for several years.

I’m not declaring this situation as permanent; that would obviously be premature. But I am saying that there’s no sign of change, and that the possibility of ongoing, long-term Palestinian acquiescence to the occupation ought to be recognized, if only for the sake of honesty.

‘Better than ever’

The wave of terror that began last September has died down. It was never more than a streak of hysteria in the air, a collection of lone-wolf attacks; it never gained mass support. Hamas gave it little more than verbal encouragement while every day the Palestinian Authority helped the Shin Bet and Israeli army put it down. Israeli-PA cooperation in fighting terror is “better than ever,” according to top Israeli security officials quoted by Haaretz’s Amos Harel three weeks ago.

In Gaza, Hamas acquiesces to Israel’s blockade of the Strip, as well as to its violent enforcement of the no-go zone on the Gazan side of the border and the arbitrary nautical limits on fishermen. Hamas also restrains jihadist groups from firing rockets at Israel, while its own rocketing has slowed to a trickle since Operation Protective Edge two summers ago. In fact, it wasn’t much more than a trickle for most of the five and a half years before that, having been effectively overpowered by the first of Israel’s Gazan onslaughts, Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009.

On the diplomatic front, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ “UN strategy” continues spinning its wheels. He’d planned to bring an anti-settlement resolution before the UN Security Council, but he backed off last month at the behest of the French, who didn’t want anything to interfere with their new peace initiative, such as it is. In the international halls of power, Abbas is powerless.

On the whole, Palestinians in the West Bank have been fairly docile since Israel put down the second intifada a dozen years ago, while those in Gaza have been largely impotent since Israel first bashed up the Strip seven and a half years ago. There have been flare-ups – two more mini-wars with Gaza, a mini-intifada in East Jerusalem, and this last wave of terror – but in each case Israel gave incomparably more than it got, and when the dust cleared the occupation remained rigidly in place.

Military power can be a very useful thing. So can diplomatic power. And Israel has used its military and diplomatic power over the Palestinians very, very effectively. The Palestinians seem exhausted – and why shouldn’t they be?

Who would close down PA?

Aside from Israel’s military and diplomatic advantages, there are two other important things that have pacified the Palestinians – money and relative security. In a sense, the Palestinian Authority is a business, one that collects about $2 billion a year in foreign contributions and provides jobs to some 200,000 Palestinians and their families. It keeps the peace for Israel in the West Bank’s cities, villages and refugee camps, making the occupation quite tolerable for the occupier, which galls the Palestinians, of course – but on the other hand, who among their leaders and insiders is going to close down a business that gets $2 billion a year in donations and employs 200,000 people?

Abbas has cried wolf so many times about “giving back the keys” to Israel, about letting it resume policing nearly 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank like it did before Oslo, which would turn the status quo upside down and make the occupation acutely uncomfortable for the occupier – but Abbas has never gone through with the threat. Too many Palestinians (especially the leaders and insiders) have too much to lose. The population would be made destitute, and would once again get much, much the worse of it in the inevitable violent confrontation with the IDF. Abbas, at 81, won’t be around much longer, but the PA almost certainly will; the battle for succession is well underway.

As for the “international community,” they’re so weary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as long as the Palestinians aren’t making things difficult, why should the EU or UN or anybody else pay more than lip service to saving them?

Cave-in

I get no pleasure charting the Palestinians’ cave-in. As an Israeli I don’t want to see Israelis get hurt, and as a human being I don’t want to see Palestinians get hurt, but as a supporter of freedom, I don’t like seeing the Palestinians go on being subjugated, especially when the one holding them down is my country.

But what’s taking place is a cave-in. That’s what’s been taking place for a long time. The Palestinians as a nation are not mobilized for the cause of freedom, neither violently nor non-violently. And while this may change, there is no sign of it. Israel has overpowered them – and now comes Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Tragically, there are examples in history of weaker nations being crushed permanently by stronger ones. In his last days, humiliated and under house arrest in the Muqata, Arafat said defiantly that the Palestinians “are not red Indians,” meaning American Indians. I really hope he was right, but I wonder.

Originally published in Haaretz.com, May 20, 2016.

Finally, America taking sharp left on economics

trump rally
Trump rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Protectionism, raising minimum wage, raising taxes on rich – this, by popular demand, is economic platform of GOP’s new leader.   

It’s ironic: America has been moving left on social issues in recent years because there are more minorities and “millennials” in the population, yet the country is finally, in this election campaign, moving left on economic issues as well because of white, generally middle-aged Middle Americans – mainly those who support the fascistic Donald Trump.

These are the people who, ever since Reagan, exasperated the liberals by consistently acting against their economic self-interest and voting for a Republican Party that so clearly favored the rich and disdained the working class and poor. The reason they voted Republican was the social issues, the symbolic issues, the ones that involved their likes and dislikes, that pitted their culture against liberal, cosmopolitan culture. These are patriotic, traditional Americans, and the Republicans talked like their kind of people, while the Democrats talked like big-city college kids who didn’t know how to change a tire. On economics, these voters said they hated government and taxes, and the Republicans said they did, too, so it was a perfect match – even though the GOP-style economy left these people further and further behind while the rich kept getting more obscenely rich.

But this year the alliance between Middle America and Republican economics broke apart. It happened mainly because Trump jettisoned the GOP’s laissez faire dogma, and instead told Middle America’s inadequately educated whites, “I’ll save you. I’ll get your jobs back. I’ll stop all those businesses from leaving the U.S. and they’ll have to hire you, at good wages.” In other words, protectionism. Prohibitive taxes on foreign imports, and confiscatory taxes on U.S. businesses that dare defy the government. What Republicans call socialism, totalitarianism.

And the salt-of-the-earth white folks of the heartland loved it. Meanwhile, on the social and cultural issues, Trump threw them more raw meat than any serious presidential candidate ever had – the ugliest racism and nativism, the worst abusiveness, the most fuck-you brand of hell-raising – and between that and his economic wonder drug, he left the Republican free-market purists in the dust.

PROTECTIONISM IS AN idiotic idea in this day and age – among other awful effects, it would lose America billions of foreign customers for its exports, and thus cost more Americans their jobs than Third World competition ever did – but the important thing is that Trump, by making this idiotic claim so successfully, has separated Republican voters from Republican economic doctrine. Which is a great thing, because Reaganomics, which has held sway in America since the 1980s (the big exception being the passage – and success – of Obamacare), has helped expand the country’s pool of have-nots, strike fear into the middle class and give the upper class an abominably large share of the nation’s wealth.

Trump – purely by accident, because he doesn’t have an economic idea or principle in his head – has torn down the Republicans’ facade and allowed the party’s educational lower class to acknowledge, very loudly, that economic freedom isn’t working for them, and that they want somebody in charge – say, the next president – to give them economic security one way or the other.

As a result, Trump has had to keep moving left economically – now he’s changed his mind and come out in favor of raising the minimum wage, which is the sort of thing that would have gotten a Republican hanged as recently as last year. In another forced reversal, he’s even talking about raising taxes on the rich. Protectionism, minimum wage hikes, higher taxes on the wealthy – this, by popular demand, is the economic platform of the Republican Party’s new leader.

After this, after Trump’s exposure of the dissatisfaction in party ranks with laissez faire, is any Republican going to try to sell voters on Milton Friedman or the Laffer curve again? I don’t think so. That way has failed, first economically, now politically.

TRUE, IT’S NOT only Trump and his white Middle Americans who are moving the country left on economics; it’s also Bernie Sanders and his white Middle Americans, along with his millennials who believe in equality, and who also believe they shouldn’t have to pay so damn much to go to college. They’re right, of course, and hopefully their nudging of Hillary and the Democrats leftward (except on free trade, where they’re as wrong as Trump), will be a lasting thing. But by far the most significant development – the shredding of America’s economic Right – has come from the heart of the Republican electorate, driven forward by a sociopathic billionaire. If that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.

This isn’t too good to be true, either: After Reagan, it was Bill Clinton who said “the era of big government is over” as the Democrats joined the Republicans in keeping taxes low, slashing welfare and in general burying the party’s New Deal legacy (until Obamacare). For 3½ decades, American economic policy has been moving one way, right. Now, from the force of reality and the advent of Trump and, to a lesser extent, Sanders, the pendulum is swinging back.

So, assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the November election, which I think is a very safe assumption, the 2016 election campaign should go down as a turning point for the better in American economic history. (And assuming that Trump gets wiped out electorally, which I think is a likelihood, this will have been a healthy year for American national life all around.)

I don’t know if Hillary and the Dems will make things better for average-income and poor Americans; if they don’t, the Repubs could come back to power later – but not with more of their economic bullshit. They can’t make life much easier for the rich or much harder for the poor and working class without turning America into something like a Third World country itself – and without chasing more and more voters away.

The Republicans are going to have to deliver the goods to their struggling supporters, because these people won’t listen to promises of trickle-down anymore. The GOP has no choice but to rejoin the Western world and accept that a mixed economy, one that includes reasonable taxes and reasonable government intervention, is necessary for a fair society.

Remember Nixon’s wage and price controls of 1971? There really was a time, and not so long ago, when even a Republican could have an idea like that. Such times appear to be coming around again.

 

Trump’s style reflected in ‘redneck’ comedy of cruelty

Larry the Cable Guy
Larry the Cable Guy, first major star of “redneck” comedy, fan of Trump.

It’s no mystery why he’s gotten so far while being vicious to the handicapped, minorities, and women whose appearance he doesn’t like: Millions of people among his base of support have been lapping this stuff up for years.

Of all the outrageous, unprecedented things Trump has said and gotten away with on the campaign trail, the most amazing has got to be his ridicule of people for their disabilities. There was his spastic caricature of a New York Times reporter who has a congenital joint disease, and his counterattack at pundit Charles Krauthammer, who is paralyzed from the waist down (“I get called [out] by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?”)

Trump’s audience seemed to love his imitation of the Times reporter; it certainly didn’t cost him any support, nor did his putdown of Krauthammer. How does a presidential candidate get away with such cruelty? The injunction against public ridicule of disabled people is one of the most absolute, iron-clad taboos in civilized society, yet breaking it didn’t hurt Trump at all; if anything it enhanced his reputation for “telling it like it is.” I wondered – how could this be?

And then I remembered a video I saw of Larry the Cable Guy (stage name of Daniel Lawrence Whitney), the first big star of contemporary, right-wing “redneck comedy,” doing his version of Christmas carols at one of his concerts. “Hark the harelip angels sing,” he begins, then splutters through the next line like he figures a person with a harelip would sing it – and the audience is laughing like crazy. Then, to the tune, of “Frosty the Snowman,” he sings, “Donny the retard, had an eight-pound waterhead,” finishing up with an imitation of a severely retarded person, and again the audience is cracking up.

This was not at a nightclub filled with drug-addled young people; from the YouTube of the skit (which has over 4 million views) you can see that this was a big auditorium filled with moms and dads, a Grand Ole Opry crowd. And it was uploaded in 2006 – before the global recession, before Obama, before gay marriage, before “safe spaces,” at a time when George W. Bush was in the White House, so I don’t want to hear about the anger of the white working class. This was just pure, elemental meanness, and the audience was loving it – a preview of heartland America’s embrace of Trump’s abusive style.

The Christmas carols skit by Larry the Cable Guy featured another theme that was considered off-limits in a presidential campaign until Trump famously made it work: overt racism. “O come, all ye illegal immigrants / Come and get your green cards / And learn some damn English / And then how to drive,” sings Larry, and this time the audience isn’t just laughing, it’s cheering.

For some reason, Trump hasn’t ridiculed gays, nor hinted that Hillary is a lesbian, even though much of his base – white, non-evangelical, right-wing Middle Americans – are no doubt itching for him to do it, and Larry showed how it’s done. To the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

You better watch out, I think she’s a guy, /  I ain’t quite sure, but somethin’ ain’t right, / Hillary Clinton’s comin’ to town.

So it’s not a mystery why Trump has gotten so far in American politics even while being vicious to the handicapped, minorities, and women whose appearance he doesn’t like: Millions of people among his base of support have been lapping this stuff up for years.

I’VE ONLY LEARNED about “redneck comedy” from Googling, so I’ve only seen the tiniest fraction of what’s out there – but the Christmas carols video wasn’t the only one in which Larry the Cable Guy ridiculed the disabled. In this one, which has had almost 700,000 views since it was uploaded in 2008, he calls the public toilet for the handicapped the “cripple stool.”

This style of entertainment is not a fringe phenomenon in American culture; Larry the Cable Guy has had seven albums that went to No. 1 on the Billboard comedy album chart. And he’s not the only Trump-mean “redneck comedian” who’s done it; the No. 1 comedy album on the Billboard chart today is “Redneck Shit” by Wheeler Walker Jr. (stage name of Ben Hoffman). Vulgar and stupid beyond words (Larry, by contrast, is very clever), mainly about sex, the album’s title song includes this lyric:

Takin’ pictures of my mama when she’s trying’ to take a shit, / Then I’m throwin’ rocks at cripples and I laugh when they get hit.

Another song on the album is titled “Which One of You Queers Is Gonna Suck My Dick?” The No. 1 comedy album in America. And people are shocked at Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.

Then there’s country singer/comedian Rodney Carrington, who’s had a No. 1 comedy album and twice hit No. 2. He’s got a song called “Rap Star,” in which he slags off black hip-hop performers for singing about “pimpin’ ho’s” and for bragging about their “bling,” which is fine by me; black hip-hop lyrics tend toward the disgusting. But then, in explaining rap terms to his audience, he says the word “ax” means “to pose a question,” which simply demeans black people. Naturally the crowd, which is at least 99.9% white, loves it.

This is Trump’s base on their own, enjoying themselves. In Carrington’s skit “Radical Islam,” in which he refers to Allah as “Allah Jackson,” he adds:

I’m not talking about all Muslims, for all you Muslims who are in here tonight, because God knows I’ve got a big following of them. I’m huge in Egypt.

Then he does a bit about going to “some Japanese, Chinese, fuck they all look the same restaurant,” and the rest of the sketch is based on making fun of Asian people talking English.

For ladies of all races, he does “Goin’ Home With a Fat Girl.” And for the disabled, he performs “The Wheelchair Song,” set to a heart-swelling arrangement:

I knew your legs were missing, by the knot in your pants. / But that didn’t stop me, I asked you to dance. / I danced while you sat there. / Danced while you sat there …

BASED ON THE limited Googling I’ve done, I’m happy to say that not all country comedians are sadistic assholes onstage. Three very popular ones who’ve toured with Larry the Cable Guy on the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Ron White, don’t make fun of vulnerable people; White, in fact, does a bit in which he takes down homophobes.

Obviously this penchant for laughing at people over their disabilities, their looks, their race, religion or sexuality isn’t shared by all of Middle America’s cowboys and cowgirls – and maybe not by most, either. But it is certainly shared by many. (Recall the scene in “Borat” when the patrons at a country music bar in Tucson, Arizona sing along merrily as Borat performs “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”) It is more than acceptable among the people of Trump’s base; it is greatly rewarded, in pop culture as in politics.

Larry the Cable Guy, Rodney Carrington, Wheeler Walker Jr. and who knows which other country comedians think that dissing people in wheelchairs is defying PC, like ragging Obama. Last October Larry told one of his fans, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, that he didn’t listen to people who tell him “you shouldn’t have said that,” or that he was “dumbing down America and all this kind of stuff,” and that he agreed with Hannity that Americans had “lost their sense of humor.”

In that same interview, when Hannity asked him, “Do you like Trump?” Larry didn’t go so far as to endorse him – this was back in October – but he did say:

Yes I do like Trump. … Here’s why I like Trump: He’s shoving a knife right into political correctness. People will finally realize that’s why he’s popular.  People are sick and tired of that garbage.

Finally, I suppose inevitably, a couple of months ago, Rodney Carrington released a song called “Vote For Trump”:

He understands the working man, / Tells the truth that we can understand. / If you don’t like it you can all just kiss our ass.

 

Stories people tell themselves about Palestinian terror

In the wave of “lone wolf” attacks than began last September, Palestinians have been assaulting Israeli soldiers and police officers more often than they have civilians.

MOSHE ARENS IS the ultimate enlightened Israeli right-winger. Though he’s a territorial maximalist and military hawk, there isn’t a whiff of anti-Arab racism about him. In fact, he’s fought consistently not only against Israeli Jewish racism, but in his Haaretz columns he’s decried the systematic discrimination against Palestinians in East Jerusalem – not the sort of thing you usually hear from lifelong Likudniks.

In his latest column last Tuesday (“You don’t have to be a Zionist to be a proud Israeli”) he went so far as to chide Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union over their loud rebuke of the party’s lone Arab MK, Zouheir Bahloul, for saying that Palestinian violence against Israeli soldiers was no more terroristic or immoral than the violence committed against British soldiers by the pre-state Zionist militias Irgun, Lehi and Haganah. (Actually, the Haganah, which represented Ben-Gurion’s mainstream Zionism, didn’t attack the British.)

So it was disappointing, but more importantly instructive, to read in that same column Arens’ understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of Palestinian terrorism. Explaining what he saw as Bahloul’s error (while defending Bahloul as a courageous symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence), he wrote:

“[T]he Jewish underground in those days did not target British civilians, whereas Palestinian terrorist movements concentrate on targeting Jewish civilians. … When the terrorists come up against Israeli soldiers or policemen there to protect civilians, they attack them for lack of a civilian target.”

WHAT? IN THE wave of “lone wolf” attacks than began last September, Palestinians have been knifing and otherwise assaulting soldiers and police officers somewhat more often than they have civilians. The “Wave of terror 2015/16” page on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website lists all the Palestinian knifings, car-rammings, shootings and bombings from September 13, 2015 through March 27, 2016, and according to my tabulation, there were 98 attacks on soldiers and police, 82 on civilians, eight on both soldiers and civilians, six on private security guards, and eight in which the description of the victims was unclear.

Over history, Palestinian terrorists may have claimed more civilians than soldiers as victims because crowds that are vulnerable to attack, such as on a bus, are usually crowds of civilians, but when it comes to individual assaults, Palestinian terrorists seem to go after soldiers and civilians more or less equally. The main factor determining whether the victim is a soldier or civilian appears to be which one presents the first “good” opportunity.

I have never before heard that Palestinian terrorists prefer attacking civilians over soldiers. In fact, I’ve heard pretty much the opposite: that a “quality” target for terrorists is a key military one, unless the number of civilians being targeted is large. But victim for victim, terrorists would prefer to go after a soldier than a civilian.

And why not? Who does more harm to the terrorist’s cause, the soldier or the random shopper? Whose “scalp” demonstrates more prowess on the terrorist’s part, which one accords him more “points”? Wouldn’t any fighter for any cause rather kill an enemy soldier – the higher ranking, the “better” – than an enemy cab driver?

Palestinian terrorists clearly have no compunction about killing Israeli civilians, and civilians are of course easier targets than soldiers, but to say, as Arens does, that these terrorists prefer killing civilians to killing soldiers, and only go after the latter if the former are unavailable – this makes no sense whatsoever.

Arens doesn’t explain his assertion, he just asserts. Why would he, an extremely intelligent, well-informed, decent person, someone who has dealt with Palestinian terror as an Israeli defense minister, foreign minister, ambassador to the U.S. and Knesset member, say such an absurd thing about so crucial an issue?

THE ONLY ANSWER I can come up is that he needs to believe that Palestinian terror is utterly satanic, an act without any political purpose, one that’s motivated only by sadism, by evil. He needs to believe this because he is a right-wing Israeli ideologue, and he also needs to believe that pre-1948 Zionist terror against the British, the glory of the Israeli right, is in an entirely different moral league than Palestinian terror simply because it did not target British civilians.

Regarding pre-1948 Zionist terror, Arens leaves out that the great majority of the 91 victims in the Irgun’s 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, the greatest single terror attack in the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, were civilians. He also leaves out that the old Zionist militias deliberately killed Arab civilians by the score in their tit-for-tat bombings of Arab markets, buses, train stations and other Arab gathering places.

As for Palestinian motiveless malignity, it’s just sad that a man of Arens’ level has to distort the character of Palestinian terrorism so badly to keep his ideology intact. But the important thing is what this says about the ideology, not the man: Israeli right-wing ideology, which apparently is now the property of Zionist Union as well as Likud, needs bullshit to survive. It cannot admit that Palestinian terror is carried out in the name of thwarted Palestinian nationalism, it cannot admit that Palestinian terror is basically no different than the terror of the Irgun, Lehi and Haganah (which did not kill the British, but most definitely killed Arab civilians).

And if the ultimate enlightened Israeli right-winger has to tell himself such stories about the Palestinians, imagine the quantity of bullshit that the rest of the Israeli right, beginning with Netanyahu, lives on.

Originally posted on my Facebook page, May 1, 2016.

Who are in the mobs behind Israeli army Sgt. Elor Azaria?

The prevalence of fascist attitudes among undereducated Mizrahim means there is something very sick in that Israeli subculture.

A PRETTY BLATANT yet unmentioned facet of the public support for Sgt. Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who shot to death a badly wounded, prone Palestinian stabber in Hebron a month ago, is that the hardcore of the movement is made up overwhelmingly of undereducated Mizrahim.

This large demographic is absolutely vital to the right-wing’s reign, and to the reservoir of Jewish racism and fascist sentiment in the country. From their midst comes the key source of hatred of Arabs and leftists in Israel’s cities and outlying “development towns.” (College-educated and otherwise knowledgeable Mizrahim, wherever they live, tend not to be a part of it.) The other main branch of the right-wing “street” – the ideological settlers – is largely Ashkenazi because the settler movement came from the national religious camp, which has historically been dominated by Ashkenazim; it’s no coincidence that Jewish settler terrorists are consistently Ashkenazi.

But when it comes to numbers (though often not to leaders), volume and visibility in “Israel proper,” then Jewish racism, ultra-nationalism, intolerance for dissent, contempt for the rights of minorities, disdain for the restraints of law, enthusiasm for repression, violence and war – in short, fascism – is mainly the preserve of badly educated Mizrahim. (Many of them are poor, many others are working class, still others are in the merchant class and do not want for money.)

The left doesn’t like to talk about this because it sounds racist to them, and the right won’t talk about it because undereducated Mizrahim are the ruling Likud party’s base. But it’s a fundamental fact of Israeli politics. In February, the country’s No. 1 journalist, Nahum Barnea of Yediot Ahronot, wrote that Netanyahu – who knows Israeli voters pretty well – told Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a well-educated Mizrahi of moderate political views: “You will never get the votes of the Mizrahim – only I know how to get them. I know who they hate: They hate the Arabs.”

I DON’T KNOW if Elor Azaria himself is badly educated, but he comes from a Mizrahi family and lives in a town, Ramle, that is heavily populated by undereducated Mizrahim. He serves in the army’s Kfir Brigade, which is known for having a large proportion of soldiers from that background in its ranks, and, like another, demographically similar unit, the Border Police, is known for brutality against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Polls have shown that a majority of Israelis think the 19-year-old medic did nothing wrong in Hebron; by no means is it only poorly educated Mizrahim who justify the killing of the Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. But the shock troops of this movement are not people who think Azaria was merely justified, but rather those who see him as a national hero and his killing of Sharif as a great mitzvah.

I haven’t been to the rallies for Azaria in Ramle, or Beit Shemesh, a city with similar Jewish demographics, or outside the Jaffa military court where the soldier’s case has been heard, or to Tuesday’s rally for him in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. There were Ashkenazim at these events, too. Some of the key politicians and political activists in the movement – Avigdor Lieberman, Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein and Kahanist leader Baruch Marzel – are Ashkenazim.

BUT FROM THE news reports and videos of the rallies, it’s plain enough that this is basically an educationally lower-class Mizrahi show – they dominate the ranks of these events and they set the tone. And the tone is purely that of racist Israeli soccer fandom, which is also dominated by academically poor Mizrahim – another blatant feature of Israeli popular fascism that goes unmentioned.

At the Rabin Square rally they were jumping up and down in rhythm, ecstatic, hoarsely shouting out their soccer chants in unison: “Mohammed is dead,” “May your village burn down,” “An Arab is an SOB, a Jew is the best,” “Death to the Arabs” and others. La Familia, the violently racist, overwhelmingly Mizrahi fan club of Betar Jerusalem, was prominent at this and the previous rallies. So was the violently racist “anti-assimilation” group Lehava, which draws heavily from the same population.

The entertainment was provided by Mizrahi stars, including the right-wing rapper Subliminal (Kobi Shimoni), whose old partner, The Shadow (Yoav Eliasi), is the leading social media voice of the Mizrahi far right and, naturally, a powerful force in the glorification of Sgt. Ezaria. The rally only drew a few thousand people, but would have attracted many, many times more if Mizrahi crossover superstar Eyal Golan had performed as scheduled. (Golan dropped out when he was informed that much of mainstream Israel viewed the rally as an attack on the army, which is prosecuting Azaria.)

WHY ARE UNDEREDUCATED Mizrahim especially prone to far-right, racist views? A lot of rightists will say it’s because “they know the Arabs” from living among them in their countries of origin. This is belied, however, by all the testimony from Mizrahim who remember, or were told by their parents, of the good neighborly relations they had with Arabs in the old country.

Leftists will say it’s because the country’s early Ashkenazi establishment made Mizrahi immigrants ashamed of their culture as “Arab Jews,” so they went out of their way to hate Arabs to prove themselves good Israelis. I don’t buy that at all. The oceans of anti-Arab enmity I’ve encountered in poor Mizrahi urban neighborhoods and development towns has always seemed absolutely authentic and heartfelt, not at all like an attempt to get someone’s approval.

The reason I go along with is the one I described in +972 Magazine after last year’s election, when the development towns voted so overwhelmingly for Likud and the rest of the right-wing bloc. I would just substitute the word “undereducated” for the word “poor,” because “undereducated” is more precise:

“So why are poor Mizrahim right wing and often racist? For the same reason poor whites all over the world are right wing and very often racist [see Trump campaign – L.D.], why poor Muslims are right wing in Muslim countries, supporting the most militant nationalist or religious/nationalist candidates. In every society I know of, the poorer classes of the dominant group – in Israel, Jews; in the West, whites; in Muslim countries, Muslims – are drawn to demagogues who promise them power – because they have none. And they tend to hate the people who are on the rung below them – in Israel, Arabs; in the West, blacks and other people of color; in Muslim countries, blacks; in black South Africa, black migrant workers from Zimbabwe.”

I DON’T KNOW that recognizing the conspicuousness of poorly educated Mizrahim in the ranks of Israeli fascism, as seen in the movement surrounding Elor Azaria, will change anything for the better. My answer to the problem is to give more attention and money to education in these neighborhoods and towns, but that’s not exactly an original idea, and it’s not like it hasn’t been done for a long time already. The connection between the Mizrahi educational (and often economic) underclass and fascist politics is a long-standing problem in Israel.

No, the reason I point out this connection is because it’s an elephant in the living room of Israeli politics and society, and I don’t like the hypocrisy of pretending it’s not there. Also, I don’t like the way Mizrahim on the right and Ashkenazim on the left blame the Ashkenazi elites for anything the Mizrahi underclass does wrong. I have no use for PC, and this is a key feature of the Israeli version of that ideology.

The prevalence of fascist attitudes among undereducated Mizrahim, who are the majority in many poor and lower-middle-class urban neighborhoods and development towns, means there is something very sick in that Israeli subculture. By now, with Mizrahim so completely integrated in the Israeli political establishment – especially in the ruling Likud – the blame for that sickness lies with the subculture itself.

Originally posted on my Facebook page, April 23, 2016.

Bernie-love and Hillary-hatred

There has been a terribly vitriolic, shrilly self-righteous spirit on college campuses in recent years; maybe it has migrated to Sanders’ movement.

WHEN I SEE so many Sanders supporters vilifying Hillary Clinton as a symbol of everything that’s ever been wrong with America, likening her to Trump and Cruz, and saying they can’t stomach the idea of voting for her if she’s the Democratic nominee for president, I’m reminded of a scene in Berkeley from 1971.

The “April Coalition,” a gathering of local leftists and left-liberals, was holding a convention to choose its candidates for the City Council election, and there was a split between the “radicals” and those they derided as the “liberals.” Both sides were against the Vietnam War, of course, both were for black power, for feminism, for the poor, but as the day went on, the radicals kept getting louder and rowdier on behalf of their candidates and against those of the liberals. I was writing a story about the convention for some Berkeley “alternative paper,” and I couldn’t figure out what the big difference between the two sides was, except that the radicals used words like “radical,” “revolution” and “socialism,” while the liberals didn’t. In practical terms, in regard to the actual issues that the Berkeley City Council was likely to face, I couldn’t see any conceivable disagreement between them. I asked a woman in the radical camp to explain what that difference was. Referring to the head of the liberals’ slate, she exclaimed, “He’s a liberal. He won’t even call himself a radical.”

A few days ago, a young Clinton-hater for Sanders with whom I was having a bitter online dispute – somebody with whom I’d never had anything but the friendliest of relations until he got hooked on Sanders and I went for Clinton, which he considered nothing less than immoral – made this comment (to someone else, not to me, he’d given up on me): “Only one progressive in this race. If you vote Clinton you immediately lose the title of being a progressive.”

For him, it seems, the combination of Bernie-love and Hillary-hatred is a matter of identity, of being the progressive – as opposed to being the establishmentarian, the moderate, the centrist, the status-quo supporter, the dreary, despicable middle-class sell-out, which is the identity you get when you support Clinton, and which strengthens, by its opposition, the grooviness of being the progressive who feels the Bern.

There are, of course, countless other examples of this beyond the online friend I mentioned. In an essay titled “On Becoming Anti-Bernie” published onmedium.com, Robin Alperstein wrote, “I cannot believe my eyes when I read some of the comments on the public sites. It’s like they were written by the Tea Party – just a frothing cauldron of hatred of Hillary and mindless repetition of debunked rightwing lies and new false Sanders memes about her supposed corruption or her murderous tendencies.”

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published on March 9 found 33% of Bernie supporters saying they couldn’t see themselves voting for Clinton in the November election – and the antipathy to Hillary has escalated dramatically since then.

I WANT TO lay down a few caveats right here. First, I am not talking about the majority of people who support Sanders – but I am talking about the hard core. Second, I don’t blame Sanders himself for this; I’ve seen a video where he calls on his supporters to vote Democratic in November, no matter who the party’s nominee is. The only remark I know of his that crossed the line was when, at a rally in Harlem’s Apollo Theater, he as much as accused Hillary of racism for using the word “super-predator” to describe gang members in the 1990s. Otherwise, as far as I know, he’s run a clean campaign – it’s the many wild-eyed ones among his supporters who’ve decided that his candidacy for the Democratic nomination is a holy war.

Third, if Sanders were running against Clinton for the presidency, I might very well vote for him, mainly because he’s saying the right things about Israel and Hillary is saying the wrong things. Also because she’s just too hawkish for my blood (though I think the American public’s disdain for new wars would rein her in.) I’m supporting Hillary because the only thing that matters is keeping the Republicans, especially ones like Trump or Cruz, out of the White House, and regardless of what current polls show, I believe Hillary the centrist has a much, much better chance of beating the Republicans than would Sanders the leftist.

So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with supporting Bernie Sanders, or even supporting him fervently, really believing in him. Some of my best friends believe in him. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong, either, with disliking Hillary Clinton. Personally, I don’t dislike her (except on Israel), but I can’t say I really like her, either, taking everything together. And I don’t even think there’s anything suspicious about hating Hillary, along with her husband – if you are a radical leftist, say a Marxist, somebody who thinks capitalism is inherently evil and America never has been anything more than a greedy tyrant, and who thus thinks the Clintons, as Americans ambitious for power and money, are no different than Trump, Cruz, Sheldon Adelson, Nixon, the robber barons, the slave-owners, the Indian-exterminators or anybody else who ever climbed America’s ladder to the top. If you believe that the American system is inherently evil, it stands to reason you will believe the Clintons are evil, too.

BUT WHAT I am suspicious of is the belief that Hillary (like Bill) is evil – when it coincides with the belief that a highly successful American politician, a member of the United States Senate, is the fucking Messiah. A senator who is not the perfect leftist, either, one who voted for Bill Clinton’s supposedly demonic 1994 anti-crime bill, who supported Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge (the one he now, to his credit, calls “disproportionate”), and who has voted at times against gun control in gun-friendly Vermont. (It should be noted that the NRA gives him a D- grade.) (It should also be noted that the NRA gives Hillary an F.)

If you are not a far-leftist but a Democrat, or at least enough of a believer in the American system to imagine that a Democratic President Sanders could make America a great country like he promises, how can you despise Hillary Clinton?

Is she an example of the worst of the American system, in any way?

Is her relationship with big money so extreme, in comparison with that of other American politicians? If that’s so, why is she supported so overwhelmingly by labor unions?

Are she and her husband white racists, are they “the architects of mass incarceration” like those screaming meemies outside George and Amal Clooney’s mega-fundraiser for her in San Francisco were chanting? If that’s so, why does Hillary have such massive support from blacks and Latinos? (Not to mention from women.)

You look at what she’s done in her career on behalf of women, children, minorities, workers, healthcare – is this somebody for progressives to hate?

It doesn’t make sense. The Obama campaign in 2008 was every bit as messianic as Bernie’s, but it didn’t generate any of the loathing for Hillary that we’re seeing now.

SO I PUT this phenomenon, this combination of Bernie-love and Hillary-hatred, down to the need for identity, the need to fashion a positive self-image, to define oneself as being this and not that – which is of course especially strong in the young, and which figures heavily in all political campaigns. There’s nothing damaging about the Bernie-love side of this new identity politics for progressives. But the Hillary-hatred component of it is hysterical, and getting worse fast.

Why has this infected so many Bernie supporters if, as I suggest, it’s not Bernie himself who’s inciting it? I’m not in America, so this is a long-distance impression, but I think it may be linked to the PC craziness going on in American colleges. Left-leaning college students and young people not long out of college seem to be the shock troops of Sanders’ campaign, and there has been a terribly vitriolic, shrilly self-righteous spirit on college campuses in recent years; maybe it has migrated to Bernie’s movement. The spirit of Hillary-hatred and that of campus PC seem awfully similar. Both are irrational displays of left-wing overkill.

Originally posted on my Facebook page, April 19, 2016.