Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The choice we don't have to make

Imagine if, in the upcoming election, socially-liberal, mostly-secular American Jews will be forced to choose between the following two candidates: One says he will keep church and state separate at home, that he will protect reproductive rights and fight for gay marriage, but also subscribes to the Zionism=racism ideology, demanding that Israel adopt a one-state solution, allowing all Palestinians a right of return. This candidate, to the applause of Walt, Mearsheimer, and their charming acolytes, delivers speeches to packed, keffiyeh-filled stadiums about how the 'Israel lobby'--and not the Bush administration-- ruined America over the last few years. The other candidate maybe mentions his religious faith (Christian) a bit too often in his speeches, is less enthusiastic about social liberalism, but is firmly committed to Israel's welfare.

In such an election, it would be understandable if otherwise arugula American Jews voted for the conservative. However, that's not the situation in the race between Obama and McCain. Which is why I find Caroline's article, "Your abortions or your lives!," a bit puzzling. Neither candidate is calling for Israel's destruction; the two just have different ideas of how to best protect the Jewish state. If some of the loonier Union Square protesters had gotten themselves nominated by the Democratic party, I'd be concerned. But that's not quite the case.

But onto the real problems here:

1) Abortion is not a lifestyle issue. It is not 'should we tax cheesburgers' or 'how important is music education.' It is an issue of life-and-death importance, since the goal of the pro-choice movement is not more abortions, but an end to what used to be a huge number of women dying from having abortions illegally. In this sense pro-choicers are indisputably pro-life.

Here, there will of course be disagreement. Some think abortion is murder, others think making it illegal amounts to murder. Which brings us to the second point, which should be easier to agree on.

2) Keeping America from turning into a Christian theocracy is not a lifestyle issue. It's not about wanting this or that particular liberty (again, some Jews don't want abortion to be legal, frown on contraception and gay marriage, that is, are socially conservative), but rather about wanting America to remain as neutral to any one faith as possible. Even observant Jews should want a religion-neutral society, rather than an officially Christian one, even if some tenets of Christianity happen to match up with some of Judaism.

And finally, the obvious:

3) American Jews for the most part live in America. This means that we are more upset when a neighbor dies from an unsafe abortion than when a woman the same age dies in a suicide bombing in Israel. American Jews who 'care about Israel' generally, I'd imagine, care how the U.S. government treats the issue because it is a reflection on how the state regards its own Jewish citizens. Ultimately the question is whether all domestic concerns on the part of American Jews can be interpreted as fluff. Indeed, we "care about keeping Christianity and God out of the public sphere." But who, if not American citizens, should have a say about how things go down in America? It's clear from a (certain, rather extreme) Zionist perspective that if things get too Christian in America, that's in fact good for Israel, because it means more Americans might feel uncomfortable and make aliyah. But from a moderate Zionist perspective, a secular America ought to be seen as a good thing.

Basically, the point of this now-too-long post is that presenting a zero-sum choice between fancy-schmancy reproductive rights at home and averting genocide abroad would be valid if such a zero-sum situation were before us. It's not. We can continue to defend birth control and legal abortion as things that make the West the West, as basic rights, as whatever we see fit, without being "ashamed."

28 comments:

Petey said...

"subscribes to the Zionism=racism ideology, demanding that Israel adopt a one-state solution, allowing all Palestinians a right of return. This candidate, to the applause of Walt, Mearsheimer, and their charming acolytes"

But, of course, Walt and Mearsheimer are not advocating for a one-state solution, or for the right of return.

They're merely saying that there is a very powerful alliance between right-wing American Jews and right-wing American Christian evangelicals that serves to distort both American and Israeli foreign policy.

This alliance, which we can call for want of a better term the "Disraeli Dobby", is the main obstacle standing in the way of a two-state solution. Those paying attention over the past year might have noticed the way the alliance successfully put pressure on Olmert and Kadima to back off of some very mild positions on the future of Jerusalem.

Or put another way, those paying attention might have noticed that the alliance is able to successfully put pressure Ariel Sharon's party from the right. And those paying attention might notice that this is part of a pattern that has been going on for years.

But Phoebe ain't paying attention, is she? In any case, it's folks like her and Sarah Palin who are trying to create a one-state solution, not Walt and Mearsheimer.

Phoebe said...

I like the quaint use of 'ain't.'

Phoebe said...

But, to the point, did you get to the end of the post? This is a pro-Obama post. Liberal, if you will. It's an odd one to pick as the basis for a left-wing rant, or as a reason to equate me with Sarah Palin.

Petey said...

"But, to the point, did you get to the end of the post? This is a pro-Obama post. Liberal, if you will. It's an odd one to pick as the basis for a left-wing rant, or as a reason to equate me with Sarah Palin."

Well...

It seems to be a post arguing that since neither of the parties is nominating Tony Judt, we can evaluate them on abortion instead of on Mideast policy. Fine. Whatever gets folks voting D is generally OK by me.

It was the smear on Walt and Mearsheimer's position that I was responding to. Start a post by arguing that up is down, and that'll get responses.

But, as long as we're talking about the post as a whole, I'd argue that while Palinism poses a threat of nativism and conservatism at home, it also poses a pretty serious threat to Israel. American administrations (like the current one) which encourage and/or mandate Israeli maximalism are not acting in Israel's strategic interests in any way, shape, or form. Believe it or not, but it would actually be beneficial for Israel to have defined borders.

More broadly, the irony that Judt and Sheldon Adelson are both rabidly opposed to a two-state solution is one that should not be ignored, if one wants to understand the implications of what Walt and Mearsheimer are talking about in a more realistic fashion.

Andrew Stevens said...

1) Legal abortion in America is not seriously threatened. At worst, a Republican President could see Roe v. Wade overturned which would return abortion to the state legislatures. In such a situation, some states (Utah, Louisiana) might outlaw abortion entirely. Some states (New York, Massachusetts) would continue to place no restrictions at all. Most states would adopt laws similar to Sweden's which allows abortion up to the end of the eighteenth week for any reason at all, and restricts abortions after the 18th until the 22nd week to require permission from authorities (who usually grant if the fetus or mother are unhealthy). The reason abortion is such a controversial topic in the U.S. is because Roe v. Wade gives the U.S. the most liberal abortion laws in the world, disallowing any restrictions on abortion. No country in Western Europe (or anywhere else) is that liberal and so abortion is a minor point of controversy there.

2) I'm not even sure that John McCain believes in God. Religion is quite clearly much less important to him than to Barack Obama. There is no chance that John McCain (or, for that matter, anyone else) could possibly turn the U.S. into a Christian theocracy.

Barack Obama is not a socialist and John McCain is not a theocrat. But Hotelling's model is alive and well.

Phoebe said...

"It was the smear on Walt and Mearsheimer's position that I was responding to."

Please. I've read the book, cover to cover, and am familiar enough with their arguments, one of which is that Israel is an inherently illegitimate state, in effect that it shouldn't have been founded. But it should be tolerated now that it exists, they add, to cover their bases. They don't say Israel should be dismantled, but their whole 'we're the *real* pro-Israel folk' argument comes across as half-hearted. They have to say they're pro-Israel, even if nothing in the book suggests they are. And I come at this from a perspective a bit to the left of your friend Adelson.

I happen to think the authors would welcome a candidate who thought Israel was an illegitimate state, that they'd see it as 'refreshing' that Americans were finally having this conversation, etc., etc.; until that day comes, my guess for what they'd do in that scenario is as good as yours.

Phoebe said...

"Legal abortion in America is not seriously threatened. At worst, a Republican President could see Roe v. Wade overturned which would return abortion to the state legislatures. In such a situation, some states (Utah, Louisiana) might outlaw abortion entirely."

So abortion being illegal in some states does not count as a serious threat to abortion rights? Not to me personally, fine, but what about women living in those states?

Petey said...

"(Walt and Mearsheimer) have to say they're pro-Israel"

Codswallop.

Why do they have to say that? They're already breaking taboos seventeen ways to Tuesday. If they weren't really pro-Israel, why wouldn't they just say that?

And a majority of the left of center, American Jew, Zionist, "pro-Israel" intelligentsia greeted their book with loud assent. Do you ever wonder what the reason for that might be?

"They don't say Israel should be dismantled, but their whole 'we're the *real* pro-Israel folk' argument comes across as half-hearted."

My point is not that Walt and Mearsheimer should be considered the kings of Zionism.

They're mostly assessing the thing from the American perspective, not the Israeli perspective.

But from the Israeli perspective, they're offering a fresh and mostly correct look at what feeds and sustains the major threat to Israel.

It doesn't matter whether or not they're 'the *real* pro-Israel folk', it just matters what they are saying.

Phoebe said...

"They're mostly assessing the thing from the American perspective, not the Israeli perspective."

There's not one American perspective, nor one Israeli perspective. A big flaw of their book is presenting things as though that were the case.

There's obviously a huge range of what could be considered 'pro-Israel,' between the article I link to in this post and the left-wing Zionists you're so fond of. (I am, as should be clear, somewhere between the two.) I see how a book critiquing the U.S.-Israel relationship could be pro-Israel. That particular book was not, by any reasonable definition.

Petey said...

"I see how a book critiquing the U.S.-Israel relationship could be pro-Israel. That particular book was not, by any reasonable definition."

Well, here's your reasonable definition:

- The major threat to Israel is lack of borders.

- The biggest impediment to establishing borders is the aforementioned Disraeli Dobby, (which is even more of an impediment in very real ways than the settlers' lobby.)

- That particular book exposes the mechanics of the impediment to sunlight.

Phoebe said...

I'm bored by this, and don't think Disraeli enters into it. Let's just say we have different readings of the W-M book. I did not find it at all enlightening.

Anonymous said...

What you are trying to decide is the age old question: what is "besser fur die yiden?"

Petey said...

"What you are trying to decide is the age old question: what is "besser fur die yiden?"

M-W could've written a book about the same topics in both 1948 and 2007. The interesting difference is that while it wouldn't have been good for the Jews in '48, it is in '07.

Phoebe said...

Anonymous:

I make no claims to originality.

Daniel said...

I like this set of lines best:
"In this sense pro-choicers are indisputably pro-life.
Here, there will of course be disagreement."

Ummm...

Phoebe said...

I'm assuming by "like" you mean "dislike," given the many-m "um," so I'll explain.

Pro-choicers are indisputably pro-life in that they are motivated by the lives saved by keeping abortion legal. There will always be disagreement because the anti-abortion side believes that abortion leads to a death no different from the one of a woman who has an abortion, and so, even if some women's lives are saved, the number of fetuses saved will be greater, plus the fetus is innocent, ergo, legal abortion equals more murder. We can all agree that a woman who dies from having an illegal abortion was a living person who is no longer. The disagreement is over whether the fetus is in the same category.

Clearer?

Daniel said...

No. I really did like it. I read your blog because I tend to like what you write (my last few comments notwithstanding). I knew what you meant (and basically agree with the sentiment). I was just laughing at the juxtaposition of "indisputably" and "disagreement." Nothing more. Nothing sinister or disliking.

I actually think that the whole post is a decent examination in why some 'Jews who are also liberals' qua liberals should support Obama and not worry about Israel so much (because Obama isn't so bad on that). Or on how it shouldn't be considered an either-or between reproductive rights and Israel (though, someone could probably make a similar case with McCain qua McCain not being so bad on reproductive rights).

Phoebe said...

Ah. It was the "Umm" that threw me off.

I'm curious about the McCain-not-so-bad-on-reproductive rights argument.

Daniel said...

And by "liberals" I don't mean it in the nasty way that a lot of conservatives say it... just wanted to be clear and non-snarky.

Daniel said...

The McCain-not-so-bad-on-reproductive-rights argument falls along similar lines as Obama-not-so-bad-on-Israel lines. (a) Nothing much is likely to change on Roe v. Wade (especially with Democrats still controlling the Senate - and at the very least having enough members to filibuster any terrible appointee to the court). Roe v. Wade will almost definitely not be overturned and will probably just continued to be slowly scaled back (as it has been since it was first decided). (b) McCain doesn't really talk about his views on abortion that much unless he is specifically asked. (c) Looking at his entire career he has made pretty mixed statements on the matter (though admittedly, his more recent ones are pro-life in nature). (d) His voting record could be much much worse - his rankings with NRLC aren't exactly high.

I'm not saying he's actively good when it comes to reproductive rights and if I were deciding my vote solely on those issues, then I would easily choose Sen. Obama. However, McCain isn't all that bad.

Phoebe said...

I see your point. But I think the analogy would have to be that Obama really wanted to see Israel destroyed, but for political reasons would not be able to institute this. It seems McCain (and certainly Palin) would like to see abortion illegal, but (perhaps) could not get that done. I see no evidence that Obama or Biden would prefer a world without Israel.

Withywindle said...

As I think I've said before ... it's not that Obama would want to destroy Israel, but that he wouldn't try very hard to keep it alive, and might even use American power to restrain Israeli self-defense. Sins of omission serious enough.

Andrew Stevens said...

So abortion being illegal in some states does not count as a serious threat to abortion rights? Not to me personally, fine, but what about women living in those states?

NARAL could spend all the money they are currently spending on lobbying to provide young women with bus rides and comfortable hotel rooms in neighboring states. Those who can't afford to take a trip out of state on their own, anyway.

As for women dying of illegal abortions, there were indeed a large number of such in 1941 (almost 1400 a year), the first year we have figures for in the U.S. That number dropped radically after the introduction of sulfa drugs and again when penicillin was introduced. It then stabilized at about 250 a year for a while and then began a steady decline. By 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, only 39 women died of illegal abortions. (This is lower than the number of women who die of legal induced abortions now.)

Roe v. Wade didn't save women from dying. Penicillin did.

Daniel said...

Wow, Andrew. That is such a cherry-picked set of facts as to border on ridiculous. There is no doubt that penicillin has saved lives for all sorts of medical procedures, but to imagine that abortion being safe/legal instead of very unsafe/illegal has done nothing is pretty ridiculous. I mean, couldn't I also say that color TV (first demonstrated in 1940)has saved women's lives?

Andrew Stevens said...

Daniel, none of this is terribly controversial, or at least it wouldn't be if people were more interested in facts than ideology. And there is certainly nothing cherry-picked about the data. I have ignored no data whatsoever, having looked at the numbers we have from the National Center of Health Statistics from 1941 until the present. (What I have ignored is manufactured data of uncertain provenance and created with ideological motivation on both sides of the debate.) I'd point you to the dataset, but you'd probably rather have it analyzed from a friendlier perspective. See this link, which takes on both Barbara Boxer's claim that "illegal abortion killed 5000 women a year" and Rick Santorum's claim that "suicide rates among young women rose after Roe."

The view that Roe v. Wade stopped most of the deaths from illegal abortions is flatly false. It simply doesn't fit the timeline which shows an enormous decline well before Roe and most of the decline happened to occur after World War II, at the exact same time that penicillin stopped people from dying of infections generally. The Journal of the American Medical Association (probably not a pro-life front group) found an 89% decrease in abortion-related deaths by 1966, before a single state had made abortion on demand legal. (By the way, I'm sure birth control pills had some effect along with penicillin, by reducing the number of illegal abortions performed, but penicillin's the big one.)

If you don't believe a fetus is a person (and I have no opinion on this matter), then this is sufficient reason to favor legal abortion. There's no need to manufacture reasons.

Phoebe said...

I'd imagine the Pill had some impact on abortion rates as well--no antibiotic renders unintentional pregnancy almost fully avoidable.

Leaving aside the life-or-death angle, how about we agree that forcing women to go out of state for an abortion could be a huge burden on those women.

Petey said...

Sarah Silverman tries to sell Jewbutrin...

Andrew Stevens said...

I did mention birth control pills in the last sentence of the second paragraph of my last post. If you remember back to my description of the data (massive decline in deaths from illegal abortions, stabilizing at about 250 per year and then a further decline leading up to Roe v. Wade), the introduction of the birth control pill in 1961 nicely fits that second decline. The huge decline, though, was due to penicillin. And after the 1-2 punch of penicillin and the birth control pill, there weren't many deaths from illegal abortions for Roe to mop up (and, of course, it mopped up all the rest since there's no longer any such thing as an illegal abortion).

Leaving aside the life-or-death angle, how about we agree that forcing women to go out of state for an abortion could be a huge burden on those women.

I might agree with that. I don't know, if a woman ended up having to get an abortion, how highly she would rate having to cross state lines as a burden. I remember reading that there were virtually no abortion providers in the state of Louisiana even though it's legal there, but I don't know how true that is and couldn't give you a source.