Contra Corbynomics: Why we should be incredulous towards Labour’s economic statism

 

By Richard Mather

People are themselves. They are not objects to be pushed around by the State, which is what Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, proposes. This is why the British public shouldn’t be seduced by Corbyn’s vision of economic statism in which individualism, hard work and enterprise are demonised by expensive and controlling government.

Corbynomics, which is characterised by social ownership of the means of production and of the economy, is inefficient, unrealistic and reactionary. Corbynomics will not transfer power from the top of society to the bottom. It will merely hand power to (and enrich) apparatchiks, trade unions, politicians and state bureaucrats. In other words, a Corbyn government means power will be centralised and controlled by an overstaffed elite.

Corbyn’s economic statism reduces everything to the banality of the One: a one-size-fits-all economic narrative that ignores regional, local and competitive differences. The notion of the State as a single essence was a twentieth century experiment that failed. Look at the continental catastrophes of communism or fascism, or the public sector battles in the UK during the 1970s. It was only with the formation of a new British consensus in the 1980s and 1990s –  first under Thatcher and then Blair – that taxes were lowered and the monopoly of public sector power was broken, thanks in part to the privatisation of some industries/services.

Social mobility in the twenty-first century will not be helped by a return to an outdated economic public sector model. Contrary to popular opinion, the free market is not a reductive enterprise; rather, it is the guarantor of aspiration and progress. There is nothing immoral about people buying goods and services produced for profit. We need entrepreneurs, businesses and companies to invest in our local and regional economies, and to create new jobs. And of course, profits can be reinvested, fuelling economic growth and reducing prices for consumers.

Corbyn’s vision of the State comprises an unworkable trinity of nationalisation, people’s quantitative easing and higher taxes. But this trinity will not result in some kind of utopia. In the land of Corbyn, our democratic rights over state services will be endlessly deferred in a chain of bureaucracy and political obfuscation. Our frustrations with the railways will not diminish if the State steps in. On the contrary, our concerns will grow because of less choice, higher costs, below-par service and unionised public sector strikes.

Higher tax rates, for example, do not necessarily yield more revenues because they reduce incentives to work. What Corbyn fails to understand is that the UK is actually becoming more equal. The top one per cent of earners in the UK now shoulder a greater share of the income tax burden than at any time in the country’s history. Corbynomics is regressive and will generate less income for the country.

Corbynomics is a fantasy. It is an illiterate and ideologically-driven economic metanarrative that elevates and enshrines the grand role of the State and punishes the virtues of localism, eclecticism, enterprise, healthy competition and personal aspiration. These virtues help make Britain a modern and exciting country. Corbynomics, by contrast, is a return to the old and defeated arguments of the 1970s when high inflation, government inefficiency, bad services, trade union militancy and low growth turned the UK into the sick man of Europe.

Labour needs to get real and reach out to the British people with sensible and moderate policies. The electorate is neither stupid nor naïve. Given that the country rejected Ed Miliband in May 2015 and voted for a Conservative majority government for the first time since the 1990s, they are unlikely to vote for Labour’s dangerous economic statism on June 8.  But stranger things have happened and the Conservatives cannot afford to be complacent or indecisive on economic matters as the country prepares for this snap General Election.

 

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Antisemitism in modern Britain is nothing new

By Richard Mather  

It has emerged that almost 5,850 people have been reported to the UK Labour Party’s executive, more than 3,000 of them for allegations of abuse, with the rest accused of antisemitism and of supporting other political parties, according to The Daily Telegraph.

This is hardly a surprise. Antisemitism has been rampant on the British Left for decades, although it has accelerated in the past year due to Jeremy Corbyn’s dismal leadership of the Labour Party. But Labour’s woes should not be seen in isolation. They are the inevitable outgrowth of hundreds of years of English and British Jew-hatred, augmented by the recent importation of Islamic anti-Semitism.

Antizionists in the UK would like you to believe there’s a qualitative difference between pre-Holocaust antisemitism and post-Shoah antizionism, but there isn’t. The assertion that antisemitism and antizionism are somehow different is a cynical ruse designed to both legitimise Jew-hatred in Britain and to delegitimise the State of Israel.

English antisemitism goes back to the first half of the twelfth century when King Stephen burned down the house of an Oxford Jewish man because he refused to pay a contribution to the king’s expenses. It was also around this time that the first-ever recorded blood libel/ritual murder charge against Jews was brought (in the case of William of Norwich).

Antizionism is, of course, a more recent phenomenon, but even this actually precedes the creation of Israel by several decades. An example: British journalists began a campaign accusing “Zionists” of fomenting the Turkish Revolution. This was in 1911/1912. Clearly, antizionism in 1912 wasn’t about Israel but was a paranoid reaction to a rumours of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

It is worth recalling that Britain’s blockade of Palestine during WW2 prevented the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews. And Labour’s postwar hostility towards Jews almost scuppered the creation of the State of Israel. (UK foreign secretary Ernest Bevin not only made plans with Jordan for the annexation of Palestine into the Hashemite kingdom, but he embargoed arms shipments at a time when the new Jewish state was fighting for its life.)

Throughout the ages, Jew-hatred in Britain has taken on different forms at different times. At times it has been religious in nature; other times it has been motivated by race or economics. All of these variants have one thing in common: demonisation, which in colloquial usage refers to propaganda or moral panic directed against any individual or group; more literally it is the imputing of diabolical influences.

Most sane people in the UK no longer believe Jews are agents of the devil who conspired to kill Christ, although a British-Pakistani Muslim in Manchester did once accuse me of killing Jesus(!). Once upon a time a great many people subscribed to this view. Indeed, Catholics were still being taught this up until the 1960s.

Now, instead of deicide (killing God), Jews are charged with a new and outrageous libel – the genocide of Arab Palestinians. In twenty-first century Britain, many people cling to this absurd but deeply-held belief. The long tradition in the West of Adversus Judaeos (“Against the Jews/Judeans”) apparently continues in the guise of irrational antizionism.

It’s true that Jews in England are no longer forbidden from entering certain professions (I’m thinking of Edward I’s Statutum de Judaismo, 1275, for example);  but it is the case that a large number of Brits boycott Israeli products and call for Israel to be expelled from the family of nations. And if most people in Britain have rejected Christian anti-Semitism, they have instead embraced Islamic antisemitism, which is equally nasty and virulent.

Antizionism is the superstition par excellence of modern Britain. As with the antisemites of old, the contemporary antizionist is immune to reason. Facts and statistics mean nothing to your typical antizionist bigot.

As the English novelist and social commentator George Orwell once said, “If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.”

 

‘3412 Kafka’: Out-of-this-world Jewish writing

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Kafka: Penguin Modern Classics book covers

By Richard Mather…

Earlier this month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the manuscripts of Czech-Jewish novelist Franz Kafka are the property of the National Library of Israel. The manuscripts have been in the possession of the family of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of Kafka’s friend Max Brod. The family had argued that it rightfully owned the manuscripts after her death, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court has asked Israel’s National Library to make the manuscripts accessible to the general public.

Franz Kafka was born July 3 1883 into a German-speaking, middle-class, minimally-observant Jewish family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now the Czech Republic). His Jewish upbringing was limited mostly to his bar mitzvah and going to the synagogue four times a year. Although professing to be an atheist in his teenage years, his interest in Judaism grew as he got older. While fascinated by the piety of the Hasidic Jews in eastern Europe, he felt alienated from his own Jewish tradition, once declaring that he had nothing in common with his fellow Jews.

One of the difficulties was Kafka’s relationship with his domineering father. Kafka felt that his father – and his family more generally – clung to their Jewish heritage in a superficial way. Kafka was in fact dismissive of western Jews who tried to integrate and assimilate into gentile society. Indeed, the sporadic outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence exposed the failure of assimilation and helps to explain why so many of Kafka’s friends were interested in Zionism.

Kafka himself was ambivalent about the Zionist project, which was still in its infancy. Although Kafka considered moving to British Palestine (he even studied Hebrew while living in Berlin), he never did visit the land of Israel.

However, we know from his diaries and letters that from the age of twenty-eight, Kafka was becoming increasingly interested in Jewish (especially Yiddish) history, folklore,  literature and theatre. He was so impressed by a travelling Yiddish theatre company from Poland, that he delved into the history of Yiddish literature and wrote extensively in his diary about Yiddish theatre productions.

Kafka does not make overt references to Judaism in his fiction, but some critics detect Jewish themes in his work. According to Lothar Kahn, “the presence of Jewishness in Kafka’s oeuvre is no longer subject to doubt.” And in the words of Harold Bloom, “despite all his denials and beautiful evasions, Kafka’s writing quite simply is Jewish writing.”

Some scholars speculate that some of Kafka’s works are allegories for larger Jewish issues. Karl Erich Grözinger believes there is a connection between Kafka’s writing and the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Whenever Kafka speaks in them of judgment, sin, atonement and justification,” says Grözinger, “he is working from the direct context of a Jewish theology.”

Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis may be a bitterly ironic midrash on the Akedah, also known as the “binding of Isaac.” Whereas in the Genesis story Isaac is substituted by a ram caught in the thicket, the anti-hero of Metamorphosis is turned into a ungeheueren Ungeziefer or “monstrous vermin” – an unclean animal that is not suited for sacrifice. And if Isaac is disqualified for sacrifice because he is more precious in G-d’s eyes than the ram, Kafka’s ant-hero (called Gregor) is wholly unfit for sacrifice because he is vermin, an insect.

Darwinism, which in its fascist guise was to have catastrophic consequences for Europe’s Jews, plays a part in the thematic thread running through Metamorphosis. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, human differences were often described in racial or biological terms. Jews in particular were depicted as inferior, as other. And what could be more inferior or other than vermin or an insect?

Gregor’s transformation into “monstrous vermin” mirrors the anti-Semitic tendency to reduce Jews to some kind of specimen that can be killed off. Gregor is the embodiment of this perceived racial inferiority, and his death is a pointless and meaningless event, not at all sacrificial.

Similarly, there was nothing sacrificial about the imminent genocide of European Jewry. The word “holocaust” is inappropriate because the word comes from the Greek word holókauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole (olos) animal is completely burnt (kaustos). This is why Jews tend to use the term Shoah, which means “Catastrophe.”

Kafka didn’t live long enough to see the murderous destruction wrought by the Nazis. He died in 1924, aged forty, of starvation brought on by laryngeal tuberculosis, which affected his ability to swallow. His remains are buried alongside his parent’s under an obelisk in Prague’s New Jewish Cemetery.

His fellow Jews in Prague were even more unlucky. They died in their thousands in the gas chambers and concentration camps of Europe, thereby bringing an end to ten centuries of Jewish life in Prague. The historical sources are confused, but it seems that Kafka’s three sisters were also killed by the Nazis – in the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in 1944 or the Nazi concentration camps, possibly Auschwitz.

Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime. The story collection Meditation was published in 1912 and A Country Doctor in 1917. A few individual stories (most notably Metamorphosis) were published in literary magazines. Kafka finished none of his full-length novels. In fact, his unfinished works, including his novels The Trail, The Castle and Amerika, were ordered by Kafka to be destroyed by his friend Max Brod. Fortunately, Brod ignored his friend’s request and published them after Kafka’s death.

In 1999, a committee of 99 authors, scholars, and literary critics ranked Kafka’s unfinished The Trial and The Castle the second and ninth most significant German-language novels of the 20th century. Harry Steinhauer, a professor of German and Jewish literature, says that Kafka “has made a more powerful impact on literate society than any other writer of the twentieth century.”

Curiously, an asteroid/minor planet from the inner regions of the asteroid belt (discovered by astronomers in January 1983) is named after Kafka. It is called ‘3412 Kafka.’

 

 

 

Planet Palestine: Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

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Red vs Blue/Fire and Ice. Image courtesy of Pininterest

Planet earth appears to turn on a Palestinian axis. The amount of time and money lavished on the creation of a State of Palestine has produced zero results, except the spilling of a great deal of Jewish blood.

By Richard Mather…

Planet earth appears to turn on a Palestinian axis. It is remarkable that the Palestinian Arabs, who have no historical, cultural or legal rights to Eretz Israel, are endowed with so much international and economic patronage by the EU, the UK, the USA and the UN, as well as charitable organisations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid. How did the Palestinian Arabs and their international backers achieve such a feat? Why does the world revolve around the Palestinians?

There are two answers to this. One is the Palestinian Arabs’ calculus of terror. They have learnt that violence is rewarded by the West. Acts of terror against Jews only strengthen the West’s belief that a Palestinian Arab state built on Jewish territory is the answer. Hence the two-state solution based on the so-called pre-1967 borders. But the West is being fooled. Palestinian Arabs do not want a political solution – not when terrorism and bloodshed reap dividends. This is why Yasser Arafat instigated the second intifada. He did it to mask his rejection of the Camp David deal in the year 2000. And what happened? The world blamed Israel for the “occupation,” which garnered further sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs.

Hamas and PA president Mahmoud Abbas know that terrorism focuses worldwide attention on Israel. Should the Palestinian Arabs ever have their own state, Western leaders and newspapers would lose interest and turn to other matters, such as Kurdish autonomy and Saudi human rights abuses. This is not what the Palestinian Arabs want. They want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to continue because it exerts unbearable pressure on the Jewish state.

The second reason why the Palestinian Arabs enjoy so much international privilege and patronage is because they appeal to Western sympathy for the underdog (although this sympathy rarely extended to Jews during the 1930s and 1940s). They have achieved this by doing something rather remarkable. And that is to appropriate another people’s history and suffering.

First of all they stole the name. The word “Palestinian” was a designation given to Jews in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, who lived in the latter half of the eighteenth century, referred to European Jews as “Palestinians.” It acquired its modern connotation in the 1960s when Arafat began talking of “the Palestinian people.”

Arafat and his Soviet backers then appropriated and inverted the Holocaust so that the Arabs of Palestine could project themselves as the “new Jews” and the Israelis as the “new Nazis.” Then they appropriated places of importance to Jews. The biblical name of Judea-Samaria became “The West Bank” or “Occupied Territory.” And Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem, is called Al-Quds. To add insult to Jewish injury, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are now considered integral to a future State of Palestine. And there are attempts by the Palestinian Authority and Unesco to appropriate the Kotel as an Islamic holy site.

Appropriation on its own would not be enough, however. The Palestinian Arabs had to invent an entire backstory in order to fool the world. Claims that the Palestinians are descendants of the Jebusites, Philistines or Canaanites are risible. In truth, most of the people who now call themselves Palestinians descend from migrants who left Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Balkans (among other places) in the eighteenth century onwards. Even the UN has acknowledged that many of these so-called Palestinians had only lived in Palestine for two years prior to Jewish independence in 1948. By contrast, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for thousands of years.

So the Palestinians have managed to convince the world that they are an indigenous people who are now in exile because of Zionism. Some of the credit for this elaborate hoax should go to the Kremlin. In the 1960s, Soviet authorities and their Arab allies dreamt up the fiction of a Palestinian human rights struggle in order to destabilise Israel and its American ally. According to Major General Ion Mihai Pacepa (the highest ranking Soviet bloc defector), the Kremlin’s vision was to create an international anti-Zionist movement that would “instil a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews.” In other words, the Palestinian cause was a Cold War strategy to win the Middle East for Moscow.

This “Nazi-style hatred for the Jews” has a name. It is called Palestinianism. The ideology draws strength from a number of anti-Semitic canards, archetypes and sources, including the religious (“Jews are forsaken by God”), the conspiratorial (“the Israeli government is infecting Palestinians with Aids”), and the economic (“Zionists control international finance,” “Boycott Israeli products”). The interchangeability of “Zionist” and “Jew” in Palestinianist political discourse is, of course, indicative of its anti-Semitic nature.

The ideological similarity to other Jew-hating phenomena such as Lutheranism, medieval Catholicism and Nazism should not surprise us. Palestinianism is just the latest manifestation of an age-hold hatred. Christians and the Nazis were just as convinced as the Palestinianists of the righteousness of their causes. Indeed, each generation believes it has the answer to the so-called Jewish problem. Palestinianism is just the Final Solution by another name.

Because that’s what Palestinianism is about: genocide. When Palestinian Arabs and their supporters chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” they are calling for the genocide and/or mass expulsion of millions of Israelis. This is what Western leaders fail to realise. Or they overlook it in the hope that boycotting Israeli goods will bring the Jewish state to the negotiating table. But this is not how Abbas and his acolytes view the boycotts. Abbas et al see the boycotts as economic warfare against the Jews, with the ultimate aim of bringing down Israel.

But there is another reason why Western leaders need to wise up. The Palestinian issue has resulted in decades of terrorism and a new wave of anti-Jewish prejudice.

Westerners suffer from cognitive dissonance. Most are horrified by images of the Holocaust but are unable to support a country that is run by Jews for Jews. If Israel was any other country – that is to say if it wasn’t a Jewish state – most people would gladly support a young, innovative, multicultural and thriving democracy. The only explanation as to why liberals, Christians and leftists are apologists for far-right Islamist terror groups like Hamas is that they harbour (perhaps unconsciously) unsavoury attitudes about Jews.

The rise in anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe has received little attention or sympathy because much of the abuse is carried out by Muslims and left-wing fanatics, who do not conform to the image of the anti-Semite as National Front skinhead. But the new anti-Semitism is more dangerous and more nuanced than the neo-Nazi thuggery of the 1970s. In addition to the hijackings, suicide bombings, shootings and knife attacks, Jews face a barrage of anti-Semitic propaganda emanating from pressure groups, universities, political institutions, charities, churches and media outlets.

The rise in anti-Semitism has started to attract some (belated) attention. David Cameron, when he was British prime minister, condemned Islamist Jew-hatred. But the issue of Jew-hatred is not a priority for most policy-makers, party leaders, international bodies or newspapers. In fact, some politicians and opinion-makers are complicit in the murder of Jews because they tell lies about Israel and/or turn a blind eye to Palestinian incitement and/or whitewash the issue.

The situation cannot continue. Not when Jews living in Jerusalem and Paris are being abused, attacked and butchered. So much for “never again.” Even before the Gaza conflict of July/August 2014 when anti-Semitism was at its highest since World War Two, around half of all Jews living in France, Belgium and Hungary were considering emigrating because they no longer felt safe.

So perhaps influential people in the West should be asking themselves one simple question: Is Palestinianism really worth so much Jewish suffering?

Let’s look at the facts: There have been over half a dozen opportunities since 1937 for the Palestinian Arabs to create their own state. Since the start of the 21st century, the Palestinian leadership has had three major opportunities to establish an independent state. In 2008, for example, the Israelis put forward a proposal in which the Palestinian Arabs would receive Gaza, the majority of the so-called West Bank, parts of east Jerusalem, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantling of settlements in the Jordan Valley and eastern Samaria. Abbas did not give a final response on the matter and negotiations ended.

Another fact: Palestinian Arab figureheads and organisations – from the Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini to Hamas – have been murdering Jews under the banner of Islam since the 1920s. So is the creation of a predominantly Sunni Muslim state between Israel and Jordan really a good idea, especially in our age of ultra-violent Islamic extremism?

And how likely is it that a State of Palestine will make peace with Israel?

And will homosexuals and lesbians in a Palestinian state be given equal rights or thrown off tall buildings? Will women have equal rights? Will there be a free press or will journalists be imprisoned and silenced?

In short, will a State of Palestine be a blessing or a curse?

Since it is clear that Jewish blood is flowing; since it is clear that the Palestinian Arabs are not interested in peaceful co-existence; since it is clear that the decay of Arab nations in the Middle East looks set to continue; and since it is highly likely that a Palestinian state will be a human rights basketcase, wouldn’t it be better for the international community to put aside childish notions of a Palestinian Arab state and lavish their time and resources on more important matters?

The liberation of the Kurds in Iraq from Islamist imperialism may be a good place to start. Or what about putting an end to the Syrian crisis? An end to sex slavery or bonded labour? There are so many pressing issues that require our immediate and full attention, that it seems absurd to pursue the creation of a State of Palestine when it is obvious that the Palestinian Arabs themselves don’t want a state.

It is time to tell the Palestinian Arabs and their fellow travellers that enough is enough. The world should not revolve around them any longer.

 

Europe’s anti-Zionists must share some of the blame for terror in France, Belgium and Germany

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Terrorism word cloud vector (image by Boris15)

Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have the sown the wind of Islamic extremism by aiding and abetting the worst elements in Arab Palestinian society, and now Europe is reaping the whirlwind.

By Richard Mather

For decades, Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have castigated and demonised the State of Israel, urging the Jewish state to relinquish territory to Arab enemies whose refusal to negotiate with Israelis can be attributed to the fact that Islam – and not land – is at the core of their rejectionism.

Anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East has always been religiously-motivated. Documents, news reports and speeches from the 1920s and 1930s clearly show that Arab invective was couched in extreme religious terms. The anti-Jewish rhetoric of Amin al-Husseini is a case in point. A democratic Jewish state, where Jews run their own affairs, is anathema to the supremacist instincts of those Arabs want either a pan-Arab nation or an Islamic caliphate where Jews and other minorities are stripped off their rights and/or murdered.

The West, which has become increasingly secular in recent decades, is blind to the religious warfare being waged against Jews and other so-called infidels. Europe’s left-wing idealists are inept in their understanding of religious conflict. They attribute acts of terror not to religion but to poverty, alienation, mental illness – anything but Islam. They are simply incapable of recognising the Islamist character of terrorism when it occurs in Nice, Paris, London and Madrid.

This is where the Islamists have the advantage. They understand only too well that the war against Jews and the West is an imperial-religious, even apocalyptic, war of conquest. Europe, by contrast, is ignorant of this reality because it is embarrassed by its own colonialist past and has rejected religion as a way of life. The near-total destruction of Jewish life in the 1930s and 1940s, combined with the post-1945 deChristianisation of Europe, has left the continent without a religious counter-ideology on which to base a comprehensive response to Islamist supremacism.

The situation would not be so bad if Europeans had embraced a robust and confident humanism, which emphasises critical thinking, freedom and progress. Sadly, many Europeans, again mainly on the Left, have become politically-correct automatons who tolerate the intolerable by creating “safe spaces” on campuses and institutions for anti-Semites and Islamists. And anyone who dares to criticise this sordid set-up is branded “Islamophobic,” “racist,” “a neo-con,” “a Blairite war-monger,” “a Zio-Nazi” or “Tory scum.”

But there is one thing that Europeans could do, while it is still possible. And that is to stop cosying up to the Jew-hating, misogynistic and homophobic elements within Arab Palestinian society, and instead stand alongside the democratic, secular and pluralistic Israelis who have enshrined so many things leftists are supposed to care about – workers’ rights, animal welfare, religious freedom, gender equality and equal rights for the LGBT community.

If Europe’s leftists really believe in tolerance, progress and equality, then they should support the Jewish state, not pander to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which regularly incite violence against Jews, murder gay people and lock up dissidents. But it seems the leftists’ obsessive anti-Zionism prevents them from seeing things clearly.

The Left’s betrayal of Israel is possibly one of the worst ethical missteps since the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1939. By demonising and delegitimising the State of Israel, Europe has not only emboldened Muslim fascists in the region, it has also stiffened the resolve of Islamists around the world who smell the decay of Western moral failure and go on to attack civilians in European schools, cafes, promenades, bars, workplaces, supermarkets, nightclubs, trains and buses.

In other words, by picking the wrong side in what is shaping up to be a global conflict between liberal democracy and Islamism, Europe’s anti-Zionist leftists have helped unleash a very bitter whirlwind, which the rest of Europe is paying for. In other words, they are morally complicit in the Islamist attacks on the people (Jew and gentile alike) of France, Belgium and Germany.

 

All things are possible: The life of Lev Shestov

 

Eighty years ago, a Jewish-Russian philosopher called Lev Shestov was invited by the Histadrut to give a series of lectures in Eretz Israel. He was warmly received by audiences in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. But Shestov and his writings are now largely forgotten. Here is his story.

By Richard Mather

“Nearly every life can be summed up in a few words: man was shown heaven – and thrown into the mud” – Lev Shestov

Lev Shestov (born Yehuda Leyb Schwarzmann) was a Jewish-Russian polemicist, philosopher, theologian, literary critic and existentialist thinker. He was born on January 31, 1866, in Kiev, which was then part of the Russian empire. In his childhood and teenage years he immersed himself in Jewish and Russian literature. After attending Moscow University and working in his father’s textile business, he temporarily left the Russian Empire and made his way to Rome.

The following year (1896) he married Anna Eleazarovna Berezovsky, a Russian medical student. It was around this time that he discovered the philosophy of Nietzsche, which had a transformative effect on Shestov’s thinking. Very soon he had completed two book-length manuscripts: Shakespeare and His Critic Brandes and Good in the Teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche.

Shestov’s interest in Nietzsche prompted a third book, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy, which was published in St Petersburg in 1903. His next work, The Apotheosis of Groundlessness (published 1905), was a sardonic critique of academic philosophy and scientific positivism, and it was written in an aphoristic style reminiscent of his hero Nietzsche.

The Apotheosis of Groundlessness was translated into English and published in 1920 under the title All Things Are Possible. In the foreword to this edition, D. H. Lawrence said of Shestov: “’Everything is possible’ – this is his really central cry. It is not nihilism. It is only a shaking free of the human psyche from old bonds. The positive central idea is that the human psyche, or soul, really believes in itself, and in nothing else.”

The book contains the assertion that because no grand theory can solve the mysteries of life, everything is questionable. “We know nothing of the ultimate realities of our existence, nor shall we ever know anything,” he writes. In other words, the world does not make sense and philosophers should not hope to find reason in it.

In the years leading up to the First World War Shestov and his family moved between Russia, Switzerland and Germany. In 1915, his illegitimate son, Sergei Listopadov, was killed in action in the service of the Russian military.

In the wake of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, Shestov and his family moved to Paris where he was to live for the next decade. Although virtually unknown in French literary circles, his 1921 article commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth enthused the local literary scene.

During the 1920s he continued his literary endeavours, including a complete edition of his works in French. He taught and he lectured, and he was invited to speak in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Netherlands. In 1929, Shestov acquainted himself with the work of Kierkegaard, whom Shestov immediately recognised as a kindred spirit.

Shestov struck up a friendship with Martin Buber in the late 1920s, which continued through the next decade. In a conversation with Buber (dated 1934), Shestov proclaimed that sin came into the world when man ceased to be nourished by the tree of life and instead took sustenance from the tree of knowledge.

“The very moment man ate from the forbidden fruit, he gained knowledge and lost his freedom,” he told Buber. “Man does need to know. To ask, to beg questions, to require proofs, answers, means that one is not free. To know means to know necessity. Knowledge means that man is not free.”

To stave off despair and to achieve victory over nature’s law of irreversible necessity (which dictates that certain things are unchangeable and impossible), we must believe that “all things are possible.” But this requires faith – faith that things can be radically different.

As Bernard Martin, a professor of Jewish studies, explains, “Faith, for Shestov, is audacity, the daring refusal to accept necessary laws […] it is the demand for the absolute, original freedom which man is supposed to have had before the fall, when he still found the distinction between truth and falsehood, as well as between good and evil, unnecessary and irrelevant.”

This notion of moving beyond and good evil is intimately tied to God’s groundlessness. According to Shestov, God is not limited by moral sanctions or reasons; God is someone in whom everything is possible. God does not need a reason, a support, or firm ground. He is groundless. He is the personal God of the Bible in whom there is no subordination, no limit; and therefore, once again, all things are possible. (This groundlessness is what Shestov describes as “the basic, most enviable, and to us most incomprehensible privilege of the Divine.”)

Consequently, our moral struggle will bring us to emancipation not only from moral valuations, but also from logic, reason and limited knowledge. “I know that this ideal of freedom in relation to truth and the good cannot be realised on earth – in all probability does not even need to be realised. But it is granted to man to have prescience of ultimate freedom.”

“Before the face of eternal God, all our foundations break together, and all ground crumbles under us, even as objects – this we know – lose their weight in endless space, and – this we shall probably learn one day – will lose their impermeability in endless time,” writes Shestov.

II

In 1936, Shestov was invited by the Histadrut (the Jewish trade union organisation) to deliver a series of lectures in Israel. His appearances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa were met with an enthusiastic response and Shestov was lauded as a great Jewish thinker. This was the fulfilment of a life-long dream for Shestov, whose grandfather was buried on the Mount of Olives.

The following year, Shestov finished the manuscript of his final masterpiece Athens and Jerusalem, in which he rejects the impersonal metaphysics of the European philosophical academic tradition (Plato, Hegel, Kant) in favour of the personal God of the Bible. As Shestov states in Athens and Jerusalem, “to find God one must tear oneself away from the seductions of reason, with all its physical and moral constraints, and go to another source of truth. In Scripture this source bears the enigmatic name ‘faith,’ which is that dimension of thought where truth abandons itself fearlessly and joyously to the entire disposition of the Creator.”

On November 14, 1938, he was taken to the Boileau Clinic in Paris where he died six days later. He was buried in Boulogne-Billancourt, where his mother and brother are also buried.

That Shestov is relatively unknown today is partly because he had no real disciples to continue his work. The exception was Benjamin Fondane, a young Jewish poet who was killed by the Nazis in 1944. Fondane had kept notes of his conversations with Shestov and they were found among his papers after his death.

However, Shestov’s work was influential in his lifetime. The writings of George Bataille, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus bear the marks of Shestov’s influence. And Hillel Zeitlin wrote that “if someone asked me who was the true successor of Friedrich Nietzsche, I would answer without hesitation, L. Shestov.”

Given Shestov’s enthusiasm for Nietzsche’s work, he would have considered this very high praise indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Operation Protective Edge: A Report

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It is two years since the launch of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

By Richard Mather  

On July 7 2014 the IDF initiated Operation Protective Edge (Hebrew: Miv’tza Tzuk Eitan, literally “Operation Strong Cliff”). Since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Hamas had increased the size and strength of its rocket arsenal. By July 2014, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip possessed around 10,000 rockets including long-range missiles such as the M-302.

The situation was intolerable, especially for Israeli communities near the Gaza border, most notably Ashdod and Ashkelon. In fact, almost 70 per cent of Israelis were within range of Hamas’ rockets, including the people of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The rockets used by Gazan militias varied in range and size. They included the Syrian-made (Chinese-designed) M-302 and the locally-made M-75, which had the range to target Tel-Aviv. Other rockets included the Katyushas and Qassams.

The stated aim of Operation Protective Edge was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, which had increased after an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in Judea and Samaria following the June 12 kidnapping (and subsequent murder) of three Israeli teenagers by two Hamas members.

As the IDF bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip with artillery and airstrikes, Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortar shells, using populated areas of Gaza to launch their attacks. The terrorist group fired rockets from mosques, school, hospitals and other civilian areas. Hamas did this despite knowing that rocket launching sites would be the targets of Israeli counterstrikes.

Under different circumstances, the IDF would have limited attacks to military targets. Unfortunately, Hamas never ceased to fire from populated civilian areas. In order to target these terror sites and limit civilian casualties, the IDF used precision attacks and provided warnings of strikes in advance.

For example, the IDF made phone calls and sent text messages to civilians residing in buildings designated for attack. The Israel Air Force dropped leaflets over Gaza urging civilians to move away from Hamas targets. The IDF even sent voicemails to civilians in Gaza.

The IDF also engaged in what is called “roof knocking.” Roof knocking is when the airforce targets a building with a loud but non-lethal bomb that warns civilians that they are in the vicinity of a weapons cache or other target. This gives residents the opportunity to leave the area before the army destroys the target.

On several occasions, the IDF aborted aerial strikes seconds due to civilians being present at the site of the target.

Despite the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas continued to operate from within civilian areas. In fact, Hamas encouraged Gazans to ignore IDF warnings in a deliberate attempt to create civilian casualties and to whip up international sympathy.

Ten days into the operation (July 17), the IDF saw thirteen armed Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border (near Kibbutz Sufa). It quickly became apparent that Hamas had invested millions of dollars building a sophisticated tunnel network, which was being used to hide rockets and munition stocks, to conceal militants, to enable the launch of rockets by remote control, and to facilitate hostage-taking and mass-casualty attacks.

The Israeli government ordered a limited ground operation into the Gaza Strip, where the openings to each cross-border tunnel were embedded within the urban civilian environment. A large IDF force of infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and field intelligence (with the support of the navy and airforce) entered the Gaza Strip on July 17.

Their mission was to target Hamas’ tunnels that crossed under the Israel-Gaza border. Such a goal required intensive operations inside the Hamas-run enclave. In the ensuing weeks, the IDF destroyed dozens of cross-border terror tunnels, some of which had penetrated Israeli residential areas. On at least four occasions during the conflict, Arab militants emerged from tunnel exits located between 1.1 and 4.7 kilometres from civilian homes in Israel.

On August 5, Israeli ground troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip. They did so despite continued rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians and the absence of a ceasefire. Israel continued targeted airstrikes, while simultaneously attempting to reach a ceasefire.

Hamas, along with other Gaza-based terrorist organisations, were keen to prolong the hostilities by either rejecting ceasefires or violating them. However, an open-ended ceasefire came into place on August 26, seven weeks after the start of the war. Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on July 15 (which featured the same terms as the ceasefire offer to which Hamas ultimately adhered), then approximately 90 per cent of the casualties incurred during the conflict could have been avoided.

During the course of the conflict, the Israeli military attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza, including 1,814 rocket and mortar launch sites, 191 weapon factories and warehouses, and 1,914 command and control centres. It is estimated that two-thirds of Hamas’s 10,000-strong rocket arsenal was used up or destroyed during the fighting.

Artillery used by the IDF included Soltam M71 guns and US-manufactured Paladin M109s (155-mm howitzers). The aerial weaponry included drones and F-16 fighter jets. The IDF fired 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 other artillery shells during the conflict.

By the end of the conflict, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired 4,564 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, with over 735 intercepted in flight and shot down by Iron Dome. More than 280 Hamas rockets fell short of their target and landed within Gaza. Many of these rockets landed in civilian areas of Gaza.

On the Israeli side, sixty-seven IDF soldiers and six civilians were killed during the conflict. A further 469 soldiers and eight-seven civilians were wounded. In the Gaza Strip, approximately 2,125 Gazans were killed, half of whom were either Hamas fighters or militants from other Gaza-based terrorist organisations.

A final note: Two years after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas continues to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels towards (and under) the Israeli border. In May this year, there was a flare-up of violence on the Israel-Gaza border when Hamas targeted Israeli soldiers in several mortar attacks. And in June, Hamas test fired more than thirty short-range rockets as part of its efforts to advance its domestic rocket arsenal.

It has also been reported that Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah are carrying out joint research and development of rockets, which some Israeli experts believe is the prelude to a massive and multifaceted air assault on Israel.

“We need to prepare our units. I really don’t know when next war will occur,” says Israel’s air defence chief Brigadier General Zvika Haimovich. “It’s a kind of race between us and the other side. Our challenge is to always be in front, and to be one step ahead of our enemies and neighbours.”