Is Israel Finally Normalized in the Middle East?

In his speech at the economic conference in Bahrain, Jared Kushner presented a vision of an economically prosperous Palestine to the gathered leaders and businessmen. Some observers noted that the Bahrain conference itself is a foretaste of the political and economic reality it promises: an era in which Israel is normalized in the Arab world. More at Vox.

Given the Palestinian boycott of the Peace to Prosperity workshop, the White House invited no Israeli officials. But Israeli members of the press, the business community and civil society who have made their way to this tiny island nation are being treated like VIPs. If formal normalization remains elusive, Israeli-Bahraini ties, on a personal level, have almost looked… well, normal.

To signal their dissatisfaction with the agenda, most countries have sent no rank higher than deputy minister. But they are there, at an international conference on the Palestinians, without the Palestinians’ participation. And it is being hosted by and in an Arab country. In public… no, it won’t bring peace. But just by taking place, the economic workshop has moved the needle in a major way against the Palestinians and in the direction of Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision for the region.

The choice of Bahrain is convenient for Israel, too. In recent years, Bahrain’s rulers have been publicly displaying openness toward Israel, contrary to the Saudis whose contacts with Israel are conducted largely behind closed doors… However, Bahrain’s rulers have not had a change of heart on the Palestinian issue. In all their declarations, they invariably make clear that progress on the Palestinian issue is a prerequisite for any normalization with Israel.

Could Israel’s Next Election Be Cancelled?

Rumors are swirling that Bibi is going to cancel the next election. Does this mean he has the ability to form a coalition after all? Without partnering with Benny Gantz and Lapid, this seems unlikely. Others say that even with a unity government, such a move would be legally impossible. More at Israel Hayom.

Overall, it’s just spin. Netanyahu understands that he has exhausted the floor on which he is maneuvering. He’s run out of road. It’s a bit reminiscent of his efforts to persuade Ehud Barak to go to a unity government on the eve of his downfall in 1999. Back then it was too late. Even today it seems too late. Too bad he never understands in time. (Translated by Jewish Journal)

The announcement of new elections soon after the conclusion of a clearly decided election campaign is far less democratic than the cancellation of that announcement. (Translated by Jewish Journal)

Canceling the election is a long shot, but there is solid political logic behind it. Likud might want cancellation because there’s no guarantee the party would be in a better position to form a government after an election. Blue and White might consider it, as their power is likely to decline in the next election. So what’s stopping them? Ego (climbing off the tree of never-Bibi) and suspicion (no one believes Netanyahu’s vow of goodwill). Such obstacles are not easy to overcome.

Did the New York Times Mishandle the E. Jean Carroll Story?

The New York Times has issued an apology (below) for its “overly cautious” handling of advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s accusations of sexual assault against President Trump. Some say that the NYT did nothing wrong. Others think their apology wasn’t sincere enough.

In retrospect, [Executive Editor Dean] Baquet said, a key consideration was that this was not a case where we were surfacing our own investigation — the allegations were already being discussed by the public. The fact that a well-known person was making a very public allegation against a sitting president “should’ve compelled us to play it bigger.”

Carroll’s claims are still being independently investigated. They’re serious, and if they are substantiated it would more than merit saturation coverage in the political press. But treating quarter-century-old allegations themselves as evidence does a disservice to accused and accuser alike… In this case, the Times‘ editorial decisions were entirely defensible. It’s unfortunate that its editors have declined to defend them.

The problem with looking for “sources outside those mentioned by the accusers” is that such a guideline all but ensures that the Times will underreport rape allegations. To meet this standard, Carroll could have had to tell four people of her alleged rape, then withhold two of those people from everyone but The New York Times. That’s a ridiculous burden for the Times to place on someone who discloses a past trauma… Apologize for that, Dean Baquet.

Is Beto’s “War Tax” a Good Idea?

Beto O’Rourke has a plan to change the way Americans think about war and perhaps encourage the country to pursue more pacifist avenues in its foreign policy. He would do this by instituting a “war tax.” If wars are financed with a tax hike, will Americans be more prudent about foreign conflict? More at Fox News.

I would listen to any serious policy proposal that promises to authorize fewer wars, damage fewer service members and overseas civilians, and drive fewer wedges between Americans who have served and Americans who have not. O’Rourke’s war-tax plan will do none of these things; it’s likely to worsen our culture’s gaping rift in civil-military relations. It is, after all, a mandatory literal tribute to “the troops.”

…it is in fact a potentially transformative foreign policy proposal. Currently, wars are financed through debt and borrowing. Most people therefore don’t feel the effects of these conflicts in any direct concrete way. A war tax would change that, as Sarah Kreps, author of “Taxing Wars: The American Way of War Finance and the Decline of Democracy,” explained to me. “If people were forced to pay the cost of war, they would make some sort of calculation in their minds about whether the war being fought is worth the fiscal sacrifice they’re making,” Kreps says.

O’Rourke’s plan seems designed to please both conservative Democrats and anti-war liberals, though it is likely it will do neither. It’s just sinister jingoism, remarkably reminiscent of the politics of Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 movie “Starship Troopers…” Perhaps most disturbing, is that the tax is not universal, but selective. “Non-military households” do not pay it. That alone suggests that joining the military, or being part of a military family, grants you a higher form of citizenship, an exemption from this war tax.

Is “Religious Liberty” Good for the Jews?

Perhaps the most famous legal case concerning religious liberty in the United States was the case of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, which refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Jews are also in danger of such discrimination. A new study reveals that one in five Americans supports refusing service to Jews on religious grounds. Is such discrimination worth the so-called “religious liberty” it implies? More at The Algemeiner.

Though liberals often like to imagine our history as an unceasing if often slow forward march toward more understanding, more openness and more inclusion, the truth is somewhat more complicated. It’s also possible to see a cycle of steps forward and back in which every advance is followed by an often furious reaction… support for discrimination against all the groups they tested has increased: discrimination against gay people, transgender people, Jews, Muslims and atheists… What could have caused this change? I’m going to argue that it was the Supreme Court and the Republican Party.

The federal government has no role to play in mediating theological disagreements between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Reform Jews and Orthodox Jews, or Jews and Christians. No matter how much we may disagree with one another internally, the best way to protect our own religious freedom is to protect everyone’s religious freedom.

Should a caterer be allowed to refuse to serve a b’rit milah because of ideological opposition to circumcision? It is tempting to oppose such refusals as discriminatory, and insist governments compel participation. But governments powerful enough to compel participation in such religious events also are powerful enough to forbid them. Judaism has long survived — even thrived — in environments where vendors refused to serve Jews. Surviving where the state bans and punishes basic religious practices may well prove more difficult.

Is the Knitting Community Unraveling in the Age of Trump?

The online knitting community Ravelry is taking a stand against conservative and Trump-centric content on its website and in its forum. The decision comes after a controversy in which a user was publishing “build the wall” and “Make America Great Again” knitting projects. The rationale behind the ban is to make the community more inclusive. Is banning conservative politics a logical way to do so?

On Sunday, Ravelry said it was banning all content (projects, patterns and comments) that supported President Trump and his administration. The statement included this remarkable bit of pretzel logic: “We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”

What is surprising is that a platform of this size is taking such a strong stand in service of marginalized people, given that the recent history of knitting craftivism in America has been mostly centered on white cishet women. There are, of course, conservative white women who consistently center the conversation around whiteness. But even the liberal-leaning white women who use knitting as a transgressive form of political resistance—protesting the legislation of reproductive rights by knitting vaginas to send to Capitol Hill, or crafting the Women’s March Pussy Hat project (which Ravelry itself started)— don’t always make their projects inclusive.

…the change on Ravelry is just the latest development in an ongoing conversation about diversity in the knitting community, which came to a head this year with the hashtag #WeKnitToo. Following a culturally insensitive post by one knitting devotee, some people of color created a campaign to showcase their work and increase visibility.

Today’s Hot Issues

Is Israel Finally Normalized in the Middle East? Could Israel’s Next Election Be Cancelled? Did the New York Times Mishandle the E. Jean Carroll Story? Is Beto’s “War Tax” a Good Idea? Is “Religious Liberty” Good for the Jews? Is the Knitting Community Unraveling in the Age of Trump?