Monday, April 29, 2024

An Open Letter to Students Protesting the Gaza War


Dear Students,


      I am a middle-aged college professor now, but I was an undergraduate like you once, and passionately involved in student activism. In my day there were two issues that moved us most to action: the campaigns to divest from South Africa and to oppose the US government’s sponsorship of the Nicaraguan “Contras.” I participated in both, and in one protest during my freshman year was arrested for sitting in at the office of the Governor of Rhode Island (who had ordered a contingent of the Rhode Island Air National Guard to Honduras, to participate in military exercises widely perceived as an act of intimidation against the Nicaraguan government).

       I respect your passion, and I sympathize with your cause. Like you I feel that there should be a cease fire in Gaza. I understand and admire your efforts to put pressure on those in power to achieve that goal.

       Much of what I see in your movement, however, distresses me. The rhetoric being used by some of the leaders of your movement is offensive (for example, “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground,” a chant that I saw on video being intoned by a crowd of students outside of the gate to Columbia University). But if the problem were purely rhetorical, I would not be so concerned.

       There are substantive complexities of the situation for which your movement as a whole is not, to the extent that I can see, accounting. The fight for divestment in South Africa and against “Contra Aid,” respectively, put my generation of activists at least tacitly on the side of the African National Congress and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. This was a moral choice that we made with open eyes. Both the ANC and the Sandinistas had engaged in political violence, but neither group, from the perspective of their international supporters, had forfeited the authority to advocate for the people of South Africa and Nicaragua against those who oppressed them.

        The same cannot be said about Hamas. The atrocities of 10/7 involved a level of nihilistic cruelty and gratuitously obscene violence that cannot be justified by any appeal to the rights or interests of “the people.”  Hamas are among the worst kinds of criminals: those who justify their obscenities in the name of God. The people of Gaza themselves know this. In surveys only 38% of Gazans express support for the continued leadership of Hamas when this war finally ends. It is truly remarkable, given all the Gazans have suffered, that Hamas enjoys less support in Gaza than either major political party does here in the US.

                These facts are crucial for you to consider, because your movement has no hopes of making a positive impact if you are in any way “pro-Hamas.” This does not operate as a matter of perception…I am not asking you to consider what politicians or university administrators or even the general public “thinks” of you. Hamas is at the root of the problem that you are confronting. The people of Gaza need to be free of Hamas as much or more than the citizens of Israel do. Unless your movement is as much “anti-Hamas” as it is “pro-cease fire” or “anti-Netanyahu government (a conviction that I share with you most ardently),” your chances of aiding the people of Gaza are very slim.

                Another problem I perceive in your movement is the use of the word “Zionist.” It is very common to hear those speaking on behalf of the movement characterize their opponents as “Zionists.” This is a mistake. For example, I am a Zionist, and I am not your opponent. But the problem runs deeper than that.

                Much attention is paid to the question of what will happen to the people of Palestine in the wake of this war. That concern is absolutely legitimate, and advocates of a cease fire are right to point out that the lack of any plan for the future of the Palestinian people has delegitimized the campaign being conducted by Israel in Gaza. But such questions apply equally to everyone concerned with this problem. What will happen to the Jews of Israel-Palestine in the wake of this war?

                Such a question might seem odd, but it arises naturally from any contention that the opponents of your movement include all “Zionists.” Do you see a future in which the more than seven million Jews who live in Israel-Palestine continue to live there? If so, you are effectively a “Zionist.”  There is as much diversity of political opinion among Zionists as one may find among “Democrats” or “Republicans.” Some Zionists have insisted that Jews must have a sovereign state in which they are the majority. But other Zionists (such as Albert Einstein or Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah) have advocated only for a Jewish “homeland” in Israel-Palestine, where Jews would gather in large numbers but in which they would share power equally with the non-Jewish Arabs who would be their co-citizens. Though such Zionists are in the minority in Israel today, they continue to participate in Israeli politics. Thus, any scenario in which Jews remain in their current homes is effectively a “Zionist” future…the only question being “Zionism of which kind?”

                 This is important because anyone who says that they oppose all Zionists risks being interpreted as advocating for the expulsion of all Jews from Israel-Palestine, which of course would be a form of obscene antisemitism. A movement built on such shaky foundations stands little chance of political success. For your efforts to really bear fruit for the people of Gaza, it is imperative to clarify that you do not support Hamas, and you do not view all Zionists as your opponents.

                I am left in an ambivalent position. I have seen counter-protestors waving Israeli flags in opposition to your movement. I cannot join them, because like you I believe that the Netanyahu government has forfeited all legitimacy in their conduct of this war. At the same time, however, I cannot in good conscience come stand with you. Until it is made clear that you stand against Hamas, and do not view all Zionists as your opponents, I cannot add my voice to yours. Instead I offer this letter as my contribution to your cause. I hope, if you read it, that you perceive in it my earnest hope to be of help to your work.




                                            Andrew Meyer

                                            Professor of History

                                       Brooklyn College

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

MAGA Extremists Will Become MUCH More Violent if Trump Wins


A new movie, Civil War, purports to explore a potential future in which the United States dissolves into fratricidal violence. All indications are that the film (which I have not seen) is critically sophisticated and thought-provoking. Michelle Goldberg, writing in the New York Times, notes that “it’s not a stretch to interpret the film as a premonition of how a seething, entropic country could collapse...”


As Goldberg is right to point out, the specter of political violence hangs heavily over the US. It is no longer an abstraction or hypothetical. Assaults such as those on Stephen Scalise and Paul Pelosi, to say nothing of the terrorist attacks of January 6, 2021, have engendered a climate of tension and fear.


But for all the very real tragedy that has already transpired and the genuine cause for apprehension as we face the future, it is important that we remain clearly analytical about what is likely to happen moving forward. There is a real danger that political violence will escalate, but the general sense of how and why that would occur is misguided. Most people worry about the potential for violence by MAGA extremists if Donald Trump loses the election this coming November. But a sharp escalation of political violence in the event of Trump’s defeat is highly unlikely. Rather, a surge of political violence by MAGA extremists is almost certain in the event of Trump’s victory.


Predicting what violence is likely to occur if Trump loses does not require occult powers or mysterious calculations. We only have to consult the record of what happened the last time that Trump lost an election. For all of Trump’s warnings of a “bloodbath” in the event of his defeat in 2024, the aftermath of the 2020 election all but proves that such dire prognostications are not likely to pay out.


There was violence after November 2020, but it peaked on January 6, 2021. The terrorist mobs that stormed the Capitol wounded police officers and suffered fatalities, and in the immediate wake of that awful day a frenzy of expectation developed among the fascist militias who had been most instrumental in the atrocities of January 6. Posters appeared everywhere calling for Trump’s supporters to “refuse to be silenced” and to join an “armed march on the Capitol and on all state capitals” scheduled for January 17, 2021.


Initially there seemed to be real reason to fear that January 17 would be another terrible day. But in the wake of the ratification of Joe Biden as President Elect it became clear that all of our sovereign institutions, from the Congress to the military to governors' mansions in all fifty states, would stand firm in support of the legitimate transfer of power. Knowing that any armed provocation would be met with a lethal response, fascist terrorists took the better part of valor on January 17, 2021. The day was not “silent,” but the loudest sounds of protest came from crickets.


What is most important to note in using January 17, 2021 as a gauge to predict what will happen after the election of 2024 is the fact that at that time Donald Trump was still president of the United States. Despite the fact that their Dear Leader was still Commander-in-Chief and possessed of the full powers of the presidency, fascist extremists remained in their hidey-holes on the single day when their violent assaults might have made the biggest impact on the nation’s psyche. If they did not go on the rampage then, how likely is it that they will do so while Joe Biden is not only the sitting President, but has been given another four years in office?


Any fears that violence will attend Trump’s defeat are rooted in an exaggerated estimation of his supporters' political convictions. Even the most extreme fascists in Trump’s coalition know that he is an utterly corrupt and incompetent clown. Dying to keep that man in office while he was still there was not worthwhile. Dying for the slim chance that you could somehow force him back into office over the will of the voters will be even less motivating.


If Trump wins the 2024 election, however, the entire motivational structure of Trump’s most extreme supporters changes. With Trump coming into office the impetus for fascist extremists to engage in acts of terror will be irresistible. Again, this is predictable because the fascists themselves are not fools. They know exactly what kind of venal grifter they are dealing with in Trump.


Committing acts of terror (say, assaulting a Planned Parenthood Clinic or a meeting of Campus Democrats) as Joe Biden is leaving office (or shortly after Trump has been sworn in) will force Trump to choose. Will he uphold the “rule of law” and risk alienating his base supporters, or will he remain true to the “war of us versus them” rhetoric that has propelled his political rise since 2015, and use his power to help effect “retribution” on “those animals” as he consistently promises on the campaign trail? Trump himself has little interest in any questions of governance, so the only way that fascists can guarantee that government power will be used against the “wrong people” will be to begin assaulting those people in the early stages of Trump’s second term, and force him to show the world where he stands.


That is the juncture at which we here in the US have arrived as a nation. If Joe Biden is elected, the specter of political violence may not go away immediately, but it will begin to recede. If Trump is elected, the political violence we have seen until now will barely qualify as a beginning. In that event, everyone should watch closely and take heed. If the full power of the US government falls into the hands of the fascist terrorists who engineered January 6, this country will not be a safe place for anyone possessed of an independent mind or a decent civic conscience.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

"Liberal" Is Not the Opposite of MAGA. "Normal" Is.

Listening to the puerile heckling and jeering of the MAGA caucus during the State of the Union Address, I was frustrated yet again about the reflexive discussion of our politics here in the US. The idea that President Biden represents "liberal" America while the cretins shouting at him in MAGA hats represent "conservative" America is so stupid as to cause anyone of moderate intelligence actual physical pain. There is nothing conservative about a movement that peddles conspiracy theories, denies the validity of free and fair elections, idolizes and abets a murderous Russian dictator, and passes laws premised on the idea that a frozen embryo has the same rights as the woman whose body produced it. 

This very partial list of extreme implications of the MAGA agenda demonstrate that it does not conform to any bilateral model of American politics. A truly American politics is one in which both sides, while opposed, agree to coexist and share power. As President Biden said in the SOTU, "You can't love America only when you win." 

MAGA, by contrast, pictures the world in starkly Manichean terms. Anyone who opposes MAGA is an enemy with whom no reconciliation or coexistence is possible, and who must not only be defeated but humiliated and subordinated (perhaps destroyed). That is why MAGA partisans feel entitled to shout at the President during the State of the Union Address, or to assault Congress while it was certifying the results of an election that the MAGA candidate had lost fair and square.

MAGA is thus not pursuing any set of goals that fall within a value system that can be called "American." It is seeking the dissolution of the American system as a whole. Their continuous evocation of 1776 is ironically apt, since the success of MAGA will effectively end the American experiment and start something new.

Why do MAGA voters want to end America? For all the hand-wringing and pontificating that pundits do about the need to "try to understand" MAGA partisans, their motives are not very complicated. They fall into three camps. 

The first are religiously motivated voters who would like to make America a more "godly" nation (by, for example, outlawing reproductive freedom, ending marriage equality, mandating prayer in schools). For them, a nation that was less democratic yet more "godly" would be a worthwhile trade. Such voters have been present in the American political scene since colonial times.

Religiously motivated voters make up about half of the MAGA coalition. Another important constituency consists of economically disenfranchised citizens. These are people who, because their livelihood fell prey to the rapid and profound changes of the last 50 years (for example, the industry that supported the region in which they live collapsed due to technology or globalization), have seen their own fortunes fall even as the rest of the country (especially the wealthiest 1% of the rest of the country) has become richer. They are understandably angry, and in their anger are ready to tear down the system that they blame for their troubles.

Those two camps would not be enough to have won a national election, however. What put MAGA over the top was the third leg of the MAGA stool: racially motivated voters. These voters range from hard core racists such as Nick Fuentes, who has dined at Mar-a-Lago, to those who are horrified by overt bigotry but who were troubled by the election of Barack Obama for reasons they can't quite pin down. 

This coalition can't be called "conservative." There is nothing conservative about the quest to destroy American democracy. Once democracy is gone, there will be precious little left to conserve, and precious little power left to MAGA voters for conserving anything (even the things that they purport to care about more than democracy itself). 

What, then, is the opposite of MAGA? The answer is obvious. One does not have to be a Democrat or a liberal to understand the sheer folly of the MAGA agenda. Republicans as conservative as Liz Cheney can articulate it very clearly, and have done so in great detail. Anyone whose perspective and values falls within the normal range of American politics will stand in opposition to MAGA's goals. The opposite of a MAGA voter is thus a normal voter. 

This can be underscored by applying the injunction to "try and understand MAGA voters" in reverse. If MAGA voters had any normal set of values, what onus would fall on them from a reasonable attempt to understand their opponents' perspective? If they looked at their leader and listened to his constant stream of vicious invective, sloppy gaffes, and sheer bizarre nonsense from the perspective of someone who did not agree with their politics, what would they naturally conclude? At the very least, it would be incumbent upon them to find a more effective spokesperson for their cause.

The fact that they would NEVER think that way, and in fact praise their Dear Leader even more lavishly as his performance becomes progressively more obscene, tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs. MAGA partisans can do nothing but troll their opponents because their world view admits no possibility of reasoned debate. In their eyes, we are irredeemably the enemy. We are evil. They do not have to deal with us in good faith, because as far as they are concerned we do not deserve such courtesy.

 For MAGA voters to feel the way they do falls within their rights as Americans. We should not vilify or demonize them in the same way they do the rest of us, because to do so is to aid them in tearing America apart. But though we should not demonize them, neither should we treat their politics as normal. 

Fortunately, the three wings of the MAGA coalition do not amount to even 40% of the American electorate. Even given the advantage they enjoy in the Electoral College, the MAGA camp will need to win millions of supporters from among undecided and independent voters. In that light, we should not allow the fiction that MAGA represents the "conservative" wing of American politics. The MAGA crowd are doomsday cultists, the rest of us, whether Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, are simply normal voters. Voting "normal" might sound boring, but the outcome is guaranteed to be better than what the doomsday cultists have on offer.


Sunday, January 28, 2024

An Open Letter to the Jewish Citizens of Israel


Shalom Chaverim שלום חברים,


      Like most Jews here in the United States, my heart was broken by the horrific crimes of October 7, and my thoughts have been with you ever since.

      I have been a proud Zionist all my life. I know that in the wake of the Holocaust all Jews, whether in Israel or Diaspora, gain security from the existence of a Jewish-majority state. I am mindful of the sacrifice that those of you who live and serve in Israel make on behalf of Jews throughout the world.

      It is in that spirit of respect and gratitude that I tell you what many of you already know: the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is hurting all of us. The scope of “all of us” could be as broad as you like. It includes the people of Israel, the hostages being held by Hamas, and the people of Gaza, to be sure, but given the international implications of his government’s cynical malice, it extends to the entire world. Yet, given the rhetoric that Bibi routinely employs, it is particularly ironic that among the people his government is hurting most are Jews. Jews everywhere.

     I am not a soldier, but I am a historian, and the lessons of history are very clear. The war in Gaza is a typical asymmetrical war. In China, Algeria, Kenya, Cuba, Vietnam, and a hundred other killing grounds, the world learned, in fire and blood, that in an asymmetrical war, political factors are vastly more important than military firepower. Benjamin Netanyahu has the lesson backward. He is acting as if the war in Gaza can be won with bullets and bombs alone, and as if Gaza and the Palestinian people have no political life or identity at all. He is terribly, tragically wrong, and his willful error is leading Israel and the world to disaster.  

        Hamas must be defeated, but it cannot be defeated tactically. As Bibi kills members of Hamas, more rise up to take their place. This is especially true because Hamas, in their cynical malice, make sure that for every Hamas terrorist the IDF kills, it must kill or injure many innocent men, women and children, thus stoking hatred and rage. This is a cycle without end. The only hope of victory is to enlist allies from within the Palestinian community itself.

         Israel’s natural ally in this fight is the Palestinian Authority. It retains the allegiance of large parts of the Palestinian community and has proven its willingness to cooperate with Israel. A fight to simply “destroy Hamas” will go on forever, will kill thousands more innocent people, and will eventually lead to the complete moral and political bankruptcy of Israel in the court of world opinion. By contrast, a fight to restore the control of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza stands a chance of success. It is the best and only strategy that can redress the crimes of 10/7 and make Israel secure.

        Will this lead to the creation of a Palestinian state? Yes, it almost certainly will. But that is a necessity long overdue. The absurd statelessness of Gaza (and the other Occupied Territories) created the obscenity of Hamas in the first place, and ending that injustice is the only way that Hamas can be permanently defeated. This war can only really end with citizenship for the people of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem in a fully sovereign state. That state can be the existing nation of Israel, or a new nation of Palestine. But a return to the stateless limbo post-1967 will only keep the wheel of horror and destruction spinning full tilt, or faster.

         I write you out of a heartfelt concern for my fellow Jews, but for selfish reasons as well. Here in the United States, the Gaza War is having a tragic effect on our domestic politics. Young people are abandoning our President, Joe Biden, because of his staunch support of Israel. I do not blame Joe Biden for this. His support of Israel is correct, it is what any responsible American president would do. But I blame Benjamin Netanyahu. His cynical refusal to partner with the Palestinian Authority and his insistence on using purely military means in the prosecution of the Gaza War has made him a monster in the eyes of America’s youth, and thus made Joe Biden a monster-by-proxy as well. 

        The problem has become so severe that if it is not redressed soon, it may result in the re-election of Donald Trump this fall. Make no mistake, the election of Trump will be a disaster for Israel and for Jews everywhere. Trump is the leader of a fascist movement that depends on Christian nationalists, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis for support. His second term will bring American democracy to an end. His fascist regime might, in the best-case scenario, be no more ideological than that of Vladimir Putin’s cleptocracy in Russia. But given the toxic forces that form his coalition, his new America could easily come to resemble Hitler’s Germany. If Trump is re-elected my family and I do not plan to stick around to find out which scenario pans out. We will flee.

        Whatever the case may be, Trump’s America will leave Israel more isolated and endangered. He is utterly faithless and will give his friendship to the highest bidder. Moreover, he will destroy the alliances in Europe and across the globe upon which presidents like Joe Biden have depended in supporting Israel.

         Benjamin Netanyahu has surpassed virtually any other Israeli public figure in doing damage to the Zionist cause.  His political malpractice was difficult to overestimate even before 10/7, but the criminally malignant policies he has pursued since then are utterly irredeemable. Every hour that he remains Prime Minister he is doing material damage to Israel and to Jews everywhere. As a citizen of the nation who once elected Donald Trump, I have little standing to scold you about your choice of leadership. But as a Jew and a citizen of the world I beg you, please send Benjamin Netanyahu packing.

         I know this letter was an exercise in presumption. If you have read this far, I hope this message finds you well, despite all the pain and horror that has transpired since 10/7. I thank you for your attention, I thank you for your sacrifice, and hope that you will allow me to wish you again




                        Andy Meyer