Cohen: The unspeakable silence of the Canadian Jewish establishment

Of note:

In its 75 years of nationhood, Israel has lived under a regime of unrelenting threat. Challenges to its security, unity and prosperity are as old as the country itself. Whatever the danger – invasion, war, terrorism, intifadas, boycotts, sanctions – it has come from beyond Israel’s borders.

No longer. The forces convulsing Israel over the past 10 weeks are made in Israel. They come from citizens protesting a religious, revolutionary government that wants to make the judiciary less independent, weakening the checks and balances that have protected minority rights. If Israel is in upheaval today, blame not marauding infidels, foreign armies or fifth columnists. Blame Israelis.

Oh, the irony. The power of its military, diplomacy and economy ensures Israel dominates the neighbourhood. As political scientist Steven A. Cook has noted, Israel has broadened relations with regional partners while ensuring Israel’s armed forces, brandishing nuclear weapons, are matchless. There is a mortal threat from Iran, yes. But Israel is less vulnerable than it was during the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, or any other time. “Israel is in a better strategic position than ever,” Mr. Cook argues. “And its sovereignty is beyond question.”

At home, though, Israel is roiling with insurrection. Its soul is under siege. Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, calls for “civil disobedience” if the new government passes its agenda; he says Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition is using “the tools of democracy in order to destroy [Israel] from within.” From afar, the Jewish diaspora watches this unravelling with a mix of acquiescence, incredulity, resignation, helplessness, fear and anger.

Among Canada’s 400,000 or so Jews, the response is muted. Some have voiced their opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s plans through the campaigns of progressive Jewish organizations. From more centrist Jewish groups: silence.

It has come to this: In Israel’s hour of crisis, as thousands fill the streets, protesting the assault on democracy and human rights, mainstream Jews in Canada are unseen and unheard. They have been orphaned by timid, tepid leadership out of step with their views. This is the unspeakable silence of the Canadian Jewish establishment.

The emblem of that establishment is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). It calls itself the “advocacy agent” of the Jewish Federations of Canada, an umbrella of organizations providing social services and advancing Jewish interests.

CIJA initially called itself “the exclusive agent” of Canadian Jews. Now, more modestly, it “represents the diverse perspectives of more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated with their local Jewish Federation.” That claim is dubious. Is every one of these 150,000 individuals “affiliated” with a federation (presumably as donors or volunteers) duly represented by CIJA? How does CIJA know? And even if all were aligned with CIJA, this would still represent less than half of Canadian Jewry, suggesting that CIJA – for all its hopes and boasts – is far less relevant than it admits.

Then again, CIJA has overstated its stature since it was created in 2011, when it absorbed the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and the Canada-Israel Committee. Discarding its “legacy name” like day-old bagels, CIJA dropped “Canadian” and added “Israel.” It insisted its restructuring had “the overwhelmingly support of the community.” Not necessarily. Bernie Farber, who was at Congress (as it was called) for most of his long, distinguished career in Jewish advocacy, calls it a hostile takeover of what was known as “the parliament of Canadian Jewry.”

For many Canadian Jews, the end of Congress was an affront, reflecting the agenda of wealthy Jews sympathetic to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. For me, it was a loss. Congress was founded by my great uncle, Lyon Cohen, among others, in 1919. He was president until 1934, supported by my grandfather, Abraham Zebulon Cohen. Although at first the CJC did little beyond establishing the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, Congress eventually became a spirited democratic voice led by prominent Jews in business, law, the clergy and the academy. Among them were Samuel Bronfman, Gunther Plaut, Reuven Bulka, Irving Abella, Dorothy Reitman and Irwin Cotler.

Prof. Abella, the late eminent historian, called it “a unique organization” with “no parallel anywhere else in the Jewish world.” It was a forum “where all the problems of Canadian Jewry could be debated,” including human rights, equity, immigration, free speech, social justice and interfaith dialogue. “No one doubted that when the CJC spoke, it spoke on behalf of all Canadian Jewry,” he said.

Today no one believes CIJA speaks for Canadian Jewry. It is not a parliament. Its officers are unelected. Its annual budget is secret. It is evasive (after pleasantly acknowledging my queries, none were answered.) The organization does admirable things, such as fighting antisemitism. It also champions Israel, about which, let it be said, its chief executive officer, Shimon Fogel, cannot utter a discouraging word.

Scour CIJA’s Twitter account, its news releases and Mr. Fogel’s interviews, and it’s hard to find a single criticism of the Netanyahu government (except, recently discovering intestinal fortitude, it denounced Israel’s hateful Finance Minister for urging the eradication of a Palestinian village.) CIJA presumably believes its subtlety and caution serves the community, whose views on the unrest in Israel have been unclear.

Now, though, we know more. A comprehensive poll by EKOS Research Associates finds that Canadian Jews overwhelmingly oppose changes to Israel’s high court and other proposed measures, such as banning gay pride parades and imposing gender segregation in public spaces. That is just one poll, commissioned by JSpaceCanada and the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC). Still, it provides “a fair baseline representation of Jewish community perspectives in issues of vital importance,” says Robert Brym, a sociologist at the University of Toronto who oversaw the survey.

If this is a correct reading of Jewish attitudes, CIJA is ignoring them, even as Mr. Fogel insists otherwise. “While marginal groups may heckle from the sidelines,” he told the Canadian Jewish News, “in fact, CIJA not only has the access but has used its privileged position to meet with senior Israeli leadership” in and out of government. Those recent meetings were preceded by other private interventions, he reported.

Mr. Fogel, who lacks the influence of the luminaries who ran Congress, suggests his quiet diplomacy is more effective than public pressure. His scorn for other Jewish voices – heckling from the sidelines – reflects an erosion of civility within the community. Relations are so fraught that CIJA has threatened, in writing, to sue the NIFC and JSpaceCanada for attributing statements to Mr. Fogel that he denies are his.

Mr. Farber, who was CEO of the CJC, says this level of rancour is unprecedented in Canada. “There were always differences, sometimes prickly, but it was always ‘Macy’s versus Gimbels.’ It was always kept within the community. There was an unwritten rule that we ought not air our dirty laundry in public. We kept things unzera, in Yiddish, ‘among ourselves.’”

Then, again, it’s understandable that some Jews are reluctant to speak out, even though Jews are acutely sensitive to injustice and have historically protested it everywhere, notably as leading participants in the U.S. civil rights movement. They were raised to revere Israel and to remember the Holocaust. They don’t want to give ammunition to antisemites. The rabbi of my synagogue, who presides over a large, conservative congregation, says that were he an Israeli, he would join the protests. From his pulpit, though, he argues Israel is “a liberal democracy” that will get by without his advice.

There are other explanations for this reticence. It may be our character, which is less assertive than Americans, Australians and Britons. It may be that shutting up is the price of access, be it in Ottawa (which has been less critical of Israel than other governments) or Jerusalem. It may be the absence of a lively Jewish press as a forum for liberal Zionist voices.

And what good, skeptics might ask, is rushing to the ramparts anyway? Do we think Jerusalem really cares? Actually, Mr. Netanyahu might listen to the diaspora and foreign governments, if they made enough noise – and some threats, too. Meanwhile, he pushes his illiberal project forward because he can.

It isn’t that there are no critics among prominent Canadian Jews. Former Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella has warned of the dangers to the independence of Israel’s judiciary. So has Mr. Cotler among about 175 jurists who have signed a petition. The NIFC and JSpaceCanada are rallying opposition and raising public awareness, vigorously and effectively, as are Canadian Friends of Peace Now. To them, CIJA and its silent partners are marginal while they are mainstream, and this is no time for nuance.

But where are other Jews – entrepreneurs, doctors, artists, professors? Where are the philanthropists declaring their alarm, as Charles Bronfman, the Canadian co-founder of Birthright, and other Jewish billionaires and foundations have in the U.S.? Where are rabbis as passionate as Micah Streiffer of Toronto, who says it is our obligation to speak up when Israel abandons basic values, a response that is the real expression “of our love”?

In 1965, a young Elie Wiesel visited the Soviet Union to observe the life of its three million Jews. That produced his haunting cri de coeurThe Jews of Silence. Curiously, he confessed that he was less concerned about Soviet Jews than the detachment of his American co-religionists, a lament that has an eerie contemporary resonance amid Israel’s moral crisis.

“What torments me most is not the silence of the Jews I met in Russia,” he wrote, “but the silence of the Jews I live among today.”

Andrew Cohen is a journalist and professor of journalism at Carleton University. His most recent book is Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Source: Cohen: The unspeakable silence of the Canadian Jewish establishment

Cohen: Britain’s National Trust must finally confront its colonial past

Of note:

In this old, storied kingdom, the Ark of the Covenant of history is the National Trust. Since 1895, it has been the custodian, interpreter and advocate of the past — lord and lady of a vast realm of lands, buildings and treasures.

With some six million members, it is the largest such organization in the world. Under its care are Tudor houses, thatched cottages and Norman castles, as well as churches, abbeys, monuments, mills, moors, woods and wetlands. The National Trust manages some 500 historic sites and 780 miles of coastline.

The affection of its loyalists reflects another of those characteristics — eccentricity, curiosity, restraint, humility — that define a people. The British cherish their past and its natural and physical representation. A visit to a great house such as Ickworth in East Anglia captures the experience of these places: a sprawling, well-preserved interior staffed by informed volunteers offering discourses on a Chippendale table or a stern family portrait. They stand cheerfully for hours in dim, drafty rooms.

Beyond are the grounds: a welter of paths and a variety of gardens, walled and Italianate. Broad lawns and ancient trees. Picnic spots. A statutory café offering simple, tasty fare. A giftshop selling handicrafts by local artisans.

In a crowded country, a day out at a great house or a parkland is one of life’s simple pleasures. Walkers in wellies and Barbour jacket roam everywhere, families sprawl on the grass by heaping hampers. A lone visitor sips a flask of tea under an oak, reading a well-thumbed Penguin classic. It is genteel and civilized, far from the economic and political disorder.

Now, though, the magical dominion of the National Trust is caught up in its own little drama, divided into camps with different views of history. The cultural wars over history, national identity and social change raging in Canada and the United States have crossed the Atlantic.

The trouble began two years ago when the Trust commissioned a report examining the association between 93 of its properties and slavery and colonialism. It pointed fingers and proposed measures, such as unconscious-bias training for staff. In response, critics founded an organization called Restore Trust, challenging the charity to return to its founding aims, which, to them, is maintaining and restoring properties rather than embracing “wokeness.”

Political correctness has never seemed as prominent here as in urban Canada, where it is a high art, and coastal America, where it is a religion. In fact, the British upper class has long trafficked in casual prejudice.

Thirty years ago, an esteemed scholar could occasionally drop the “n” word in impolite conversation in the common room at a college in Cambridge. So could a senior British diplomat at dinner, offering salty observations about Jews even when talking to one.

What we see among traditionalists here is the reaction to a legitimate questioning of fortunes built on the spoils of the slave trade. Identifying and decrying these wrongs in historic properties is right. It’s the spirit behind the movement in the U.S. to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederates from streets and drop their names from military bases.

But it is a matter of balance. Lee’s statues should be taken down, offensive as they are, but they should go to a museum, where they can be explained.

Here, places cry out for a reckoning. Cliveden, for example, the sprawling estate of Lady Astor near London frequented by Edward VIII and George Bernard Shaw, became a notorious nest of appeasers and pro-Nazis in the 1930s. Shaw, like Edward, embraced a spirited anti-Semitism. If the National Trust has not addressed this — there is no mention in the booklet published by Cliveden House, the hotel on the property — it should.

Mature societies find a way to tell their whole story. Germany has done this admirably. The challenge is not to deny or ignore the truth, but to put it in context.

As chief steward of the nation’s past, this is the future of the National Trust.

Source: Cohen: Britain’s National Trust must finally confront its colonial past

Cohen: U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling throws away a half-century of law

Good column:

Well, why should we be surprised? Who on God’s green earth did not expect — given the ideology and origins of the majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court — that it would, at its first opportunity, vote to end a woman’s right to abortion? Do you think this just fell from the sky?

It didn’t. The decision — a draft of which was leaked Monday, confirmed Tuesday and will be issued in June, perhaps in different words with the same effect — has been a generation in the making. It is a triumph of the conservative movement that never supported Roe v. Wade, the judgement that established a woman’s right to abortion in 1973, and has denied it ever since.

One by one, judge by judge, social conservatives put in place the majority that will, this time, reverse the decision. First came Justice Clarence Thomas, appointed by George H. W. Bush; Samuel Alito, appointed by George W. Bush; then Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, appointed by Donald Trump.

Conservatives cheered their nominations, if not proposed them, knowing that one day they would get their wish. They were aided by Republicans in the Senate happy to deny a Democratic president (Barack Obama) his opportunity to fill a vacancy, and later to jam through another nomination (Barrett) days before a general election that ousted a Republican (Trump).

Of course, when asked about abortion, those nominees said they would not touch precedent. They persuaded moderate Republican senators who supported abortion that it was safe to put them on the bench.

The most gullible was Susan Collins of Maine, who was under pressure in 2018 to oppose Kavanaugh. She voted for him. She believed that Kavanaugh would not overturn the abortion ruling because, after all, he’d told her “many times” the decision was settled law. She said the same about Neil Gorsuch.

We don’t know with certainty whether Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will rescind the right, but we certainly assume they will vote with their conservative colleagues.

Poor Collins, as naïve as her critics said, who got up on her low horse Tuesday and said, gee, if the draft ruling stands, it would “be completely inconsistent” with what they told her personally in her office and in the hearings.

Well, yes, it would be, but it would reflect their judicial philosophy, which is the reason they were appointed by Trump, applauded lustily by the Federalist Society and opposed mightily by Democrats and pro-choice women’s groups. All knew what Collins did not.

Now we know the old rules no longer apply. A high court of the United States no longer seeks consensus, or honours precedent or a half-century of law. It ends a constitutional right with a leak — and a shrug.

A president rejects the results of a democratic election and foments an insurrection and walks away unpunished. He is twice impeached and twice acquitted. Senate Republicans eviscerate a black jurist of impeccable credentials, turning her nomination for the Supreme Court into a circus. Their unhinged cousins in the House of Representatives attack America’s support for Ukraine.

All this is tolerated. All is normal. Meanwhile, Republicans in the states put in place the people and rules to overturn the vote in 2024, beginning with the mid-term elections in 2022. Trump awaits, America’s strong man, vowing to make Joe Biden’s presidency an interregnum. (His man, author J.D. Vance, who wants to fire federal bureaucrats and replace them with Trump acolytes, won the GOP nomination Tuesday and is likely to be the new senator from Ohio.)

It may be that ending abortion will send angry women into the streets. It may be that this is the moment a somnolent people sees the threat from a reactionary court, which may now undo contraception and same-sex rights. When Americans understand minority rule is creating an autocracy. It can happen here.

Maybe. If so, and there really is a struggle of values between red and blue states, then the end of legal abortion this spring will be seen as the Fort Sumter of America’s new civil war.

Source: Cohen: U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling throws away a half-century of law

Cohen: Ukraine forces us to see the world’s problems more clearly


Over the last fortnight, the invasion of Ukraine has brought thousands of deaths, the decimation of the country’s industry and commerce, a plague of widespread homelessness and hunger, and the dislocation of some two million people.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to destroy Ukraine to save it, he’s succeeding. With every advance, he tarnishes his prize and strengthens the resistance. He may raze Ukraine but he won’t beat it.

Welcome to the insurgency, Mr. Putin. This is your Afghanistan. Your victory, whenever you dare declare it, will be pyrrhic.

For the world watching in horror, two weeks of war is a hard shot to the solar plexus. It has winded us. But let’s be grateful: the conflict has become a moral struggle around the world that has forced us to see ourselves with refreshing clarity.

Suddenly, freedom looks different. Ukraine throws into sharp relief, for example, the cries of those protesters on Parliament Hill last month. Had the war broken out earlier, their big complaint would have been ridiculed rather than tolerated for as long as it was.

As Ukrainians hide underground from relentless shelling, as the heater dies, the line goes dead and the grocery shelves empty, their plight puts our grievances in new light. These grievances look petty, small and narcissistic; the “freedom from vaccines” that has roiled Canada suggests the paranoia of a snowflake society.

Note to anti-vaxxers: no one forced you to take the vaccine. You are not being sterilized like millions in India in the mid-1970s. Yes, vaccination was a condition of crossing the border in a truck, a job you were free to leave, in a near full-employment economy, for another line of work.

Ukraine reshapes the narrative of our little melodrama. The “occupation” of Ottawa? “Journalism under Siege” was a recent lively public forum in Ottawa that ignored the mortal danger to journalists in Ukraine. Well, it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Ukrainians understand freedom well: freedom from war, privation, starvation and death. They fight for the freedom to survive as an autonomous people. Their defiance is heroic.

Here, our shallow, showy discourse mocks freedom. MP Leslyn Lewis, a woman of colour who is a social conservative, rants about “a socialist coup” in Canada. With faux outrage, she claims the media is trying to “lynch me into silence” as she’s forced “to sit in the back of the bus.”

Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks understood freedom when they led a year-long boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, to avoid sitting in the back of the bus. Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry, Robert Moses and other brave Mississippians challenged a regime of lynching that killed Blacks in their state. From the comfort of Canada in 2022, Lewis looks woolly-minded.

Ukraine, and the horror it represents, clarifies everything. It gives moral licence to cancel culture. In Russia, we can cancel a leader and a country doing horrible things, and we should.

Putin’s war is a corrective to obsessions that have assumed outsized influence. When people are dying, assertions of “cultural appropriation” seem less outrageous, “trigger warnings” less urgent, “safe spaces” less necessary.

Will sensible Americans tolerate their representatives debating lifting “racist” names off schools in San Francisco (Abraham Lincoln, Robert Louis Stevenson and George Washington among them) when Russians are lifting the roofs off Ukrainian schools?

Already, Ukraine is changing perceptions of leaders. The war will probably rescue Boris Johnson, re-elect Emmanuel Macron, revive Joe Biden and most of all, deify Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Hell, it might even make a statesman of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s purveyor of “non-lethal weapons,” who has shown little interest in the world.

Why? Quite simply, because things that mattered before don’t matter now.

Ukraine marks the end of “the end of history,” the conventional wisdom of the 1990s. Ukraine is the revenge of history: a return to the Cold War after the collapse of Communism and the spread of democracy.

Now, as the threat of nuclear war returns, so does a more serious culture, rinsed of superficiality, self-indulgence and hyperbole.

Source: Cohen: Ukraine forces us to see the world’s problems more clearly

Cohen: Truck convoy — An American-style protest, a limp Canadian response

Good commentary, money quote:
The prissy city that issues parking tickets on Christmas Eve and makes kids shut down lemonade stands is afraid to ticket truckers blocking downtown, because, you know, they might get angry.”
It is easy to talk of the Americanization of Canada, particularly in our political institutions. We now set fixed election dates, we ask appointees to the Supreme Court to appear before Parliament, we embrace attack advertising in elections.

More than anything, the tone of our politics has changed. Parliament does not have the congeniality or collegiality of a generation ago. Members clash in raw personal terms. Parliament sounds like Congress.

The Conservative Party is no longer the Progressive Conservative Party. Increasingly, it is what was once the now-defunct liberal wing of the Republican Party. It has acquired a hard-edged social conservatism, which makes winning hard in a moderate, centrist country.

Source: Cohen: Truck convoy — An American-style protest, a limp Canadian response

Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

Another piece on differences:

Comparing the character of nations is risky and imprecise. In the Age of Contagion, though, it offers a window into how the peoples of the world are coping.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have handled the crisis relatively well. We expect that of people we see as highly disciplined, motivated and organized. Italy is reeling from the contagion. Gregarious, unruly, passionate, creative, independent – this is how we see Italians. It suggests why they were slow to respond.

In Washington, Congress struggles to forge an economic response. The president is erratic and unempathetic. He is widely disbelieved, skeptical of expertise and reluctant to accept responsibility.The media send mixed messages. Fox News, with the highest audience, once denied the pandemic, calling it “a hoax.” One host – before she was fired – claimed the coronavirus was a plot by the Democrats to re-impeach Donald Trump.

The danger is that the medical system will be overwhelmed. On the tenth anniversary of Obamacare, universal health care remains contentious in the United States – undermined by the Republicans, who have tried repeatedly to abolish it, and repeatedly challenged in the courts.

In Canada, a country of 37 million, there were some 2,100 cases and 24 deaths as of early Tuesday. The system is holding, for now. Hospitals have enough masks and respirators, for now. The prime minister appears in public every day, alone, outside his residence. He speaks sensibly, with authority, without hyperbole. This has been his finest hour.Canadians trust him. They may not have voted for him – only about one-third did – but that doesn’t matter now. Nor do we question the competence of his ministers who are the other faces of the crisis – Chrystia Freeland, Marc Garneau, Patty Hajdu, Bill Blair. All are calm, competent and professional. This is what we want.

The provincial premiers, most of whom are not Liberals, have lost their congenital instinct to attack Ottawa. Doug Ford, no admirer of Justin Trudeau, now praises his leadership.All provinces have declared states of emergency, and will not object if the national government does, too. If it must, it will – and we won’t complain.

Opposition parties are not posturing. Andrew Scheer, who called Trudeau “a fraud” last autumn, says this is no time for politics. He is right. His fellow Conservatives, vying to succeed him, have put away their popguns. Some want the leadership vote scheduled for August delayed.

Unlike in America, there is consensus in Canada. No one is saying that the aid package is inadequate, that the government is slow, that money unduly favours corporations. Jason Kenney is not talking about western alienation and the Bloc Québécois is not talking sovereignty. Canadians want only freedom from fear.Mercifully, we have no Fox News. Whatever the CBC’s flaws as national broadcaster, its reporting has been thorough and honest, under trying circumstances. Same with CTV and Radio Canada, and the country’s newspapers and websites.

Why is our response different? It may be a case of identity. Americans celebrate independence, individualism, personal liberty. Many distrust government, resent politicians, court conspiracy and dismiss science. This wasn’t always so – the New Deal and the Great Society expanded the state – but it is now.

Canadians accept big government, which is how we built the social welfare state. Two-thirds of us voted for progressives last year. We defer to authority.Yes, we’ve made real mistakes in the crisis. We didn’t secure airports fast enough or test early and widely enough. Too many are treating physical distancing as a snow day. If we ultimately do better in all this – it’s too early to know or crow – it’s not because we are morally superior. It is because we are smaller, organized, well-led, more united, more measured, more of a community.

It’s a question of character.

Source: Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

ICYMI – Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020


Last Saturday, on a holiday weekend, the Parliament of Spain convened for a series of crucial votes. Its purpose was to choose a new national government, which the country has been without since elections in November.

In reality, the political paralysis here has lasted years. The most recent elections were the fourth since 2017. This old society but young democracy is becoming ungovernable. Riven with regional, ethnic and ideological divisions, the middle ground – which has sustained governments in Spain – has disappeared.

On Tuesday, the Socialists narrowly won the confidence vote and will form a left-of-centre coalition. This happened only because the Catalans (a regional independence party) abstained.

Some wondered why the legislators were meeting over the holidays. A former Spanish diplomat told me: “You have to get a deal while you can. In Spain, you never know what’s going to happen.”

There is nothing new about uncertainty in politics, but it is a byword for today. Anxiety is the zeitgeist.

The rise of authoritarianism, advance of global warming and growing nationalism and religious intolerance define our time. Despite rising incomes and improving medicine, science and technology, it’s hard to be hopeful.

So here’s a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020 – and beyond.

• In Germany, the engine of Europe, the economy narrowly avoided recession last year and Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to leave next year. Her “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats is faltering, and will collapse this year.

• In France, President Emmanuel Macron is personally unpopular and his reformist policies are widely opposed, bringing demonstrations and strikes, comme d’habitude, and a rising right.

• In Great Britain, there is more certainty. With a large majority and the Labour Party in disarray, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wide latitude. Britain will leave the EU and Scotland will clamour to leave the United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists are pushing Westminster for another referendum on independence.

• In Israel, the paralysis continues. The country holds its third election in a year, this one with Benjamin Netanyahu under criminal indictment. Israel’s economy is strong and the prospect of peace is distant. Worse, Israelis don’t seem to care anymore.

• In Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India and beyond, strongmen continue to rule. There is little likelihood of change.

• In China, the aspirations of Hong Kong are a challenge to central authority, one that Beijing will mishandle. It cannot tolerate dissent. The protests will end violently in 2020.

• In the United States, an impeached (but exonerated) president will run for re-election. Democrats struggle to oppose him. Because several of them are well-financed, their race will go into the spring.

The pessimist argument is that Trump will win in November. More likely, Democrats will choose Joe Biden, who will choose Kamala Harris as his running mate (and his successor after only one term.) The Democrats will reclaim the Midwest and carry the day.

If they don’t, America under a re-elected, untethered Trump will enter a new dark age, akin to the Red Scare in the 1920s and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

In Canada, the Liberals will govern with ease this year. Conservatives will have no traction until early summer, but new leadership will scramble the political calculus. If they choose Rona Ambrose or Jean Charest, they will push for an early election, in 2021 or so. Trudeau will not run again.

There is no reason for optimism in discussing climate change, which goes unanswered around the world and in the United States, in particular. The fires burn hotter and longer in California, the seas rise off Florida, the tundra melts in Alaska.

The fires burning today in Australia are the future of our feverish world. This will become the norm. They show not only the fierceness of nature but a failure of leadership; the ineptitude of the country’s prime minister staggers.

Of all the challenges we face today – war with Iran, growing authoritarianism, a belligerent North Korea, swelling anti-semitism – climate change is the greatest threat, the hardest to solve and most resistant to hope.

Source: Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020

Andrew Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Perspective and looking at the record:

A year ago, the United States Senate was divided over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct when Kavanaugh was in high school and college. The Republicans limited – and rushed – the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. It never even interviewed some of his critical old classmates. But the Republicans called the whole affair a smear campaign and confirmed him.

Now there are more allegations. Leading Democrats say he should be removed from the court. If they regain control of both houses of Congress in next year’s election, they could try.

Before that, they should consider the dangers of holding a public figure accountable today for the thoughts or actions of a youthful yesterday. Senate Democrats in Indiana, Missouri, Florida and North Dakota who opposed Kavanaugh lost their seats last year. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who supported Kavanaugh, won.

The suspicion: Democrats in red states (which Donald Trump won in 2016) were punished for their votes on Kavanaugh, suggesting there’s a penalty for this kind of politics. Rather than celebrating their courage, skeptics suggest that voters either didn’t think that Kavanaugh was guilty – or that if he was, it was long ago and didn’t emerge in his career as a jurist.

This is the question raised by Justin Trudeau and blackface, which has generated much sanctimonious comment in the United States. Trudeau has his defenders, though. Conservative writer and columnist Andrew Sullivan, for example, says pillorying someone for their former self is absurd.

In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

Judging public figures by their private behaviour is complicated. Can we really hold people to account for what they said or did before they were fully formed? And can we judge them by their views (or acts) in the face of their public record? In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

In its composition and its policies, Trudeau’s government is diverse and progressive. His cabinet comes from both sexes, many faiths and colours. His immigration and refugee policies are relatively generous. For those who dislike Trudeau, his fondness for shoe polish will only reinforce their antipathy. But there is nothing racist about his government. Nothing. And that’s why the reaction of the élites may be harsher than that of the people.

All prominent people have misjudgments in their past. A young Pierre Trudeau flirted intellectually with fascism and the anti-Semitism that shaped the conversation in Quebec in the 1940s. Did it matter? Trudeau as an adult was defined by his commitment to personal freedom. Patriating the British North America Act and entrenching the Charter of Rights was the single greatest act of statesmanship in our history.

Lyndon Johnson was a racist. He blithely used “n—–” in private conversations, even as president. It was earthy and offensive to blacks in his circle. The same Johnson drove the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No president since Abraham Lincoln was as important on race.

Harry Truman also used “n—–” privately but it didn’t stop him from integrating the military. Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite who saved the State of Israel when he sent it planeloads of arms during the Yom Kippur War.

For each, did racism, anti-Semitism or bigotry, matter? Not if you believe that their public deeds negated their private thoughts.

Kavanaugh is more complicated. He should remain accountable for what many conclude was sexual assault. One reason is that as a high court judge, he is one of America’s nine moral arbiters, appointed for life; many judges beyond suspicion could fill the job. Another is that he apologized for nothing and was intemperate in his hearing, unbecoming of a judge.

But had Kavanaugh simply disliked (not accosted) women, as those presidents disliked blacks or Jews, why should we care what’s in the human heart – and in the past – if that is where it stays?

Source: Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Good commentary by Andrew Cohen, including Rosalie Abella’s fears for the independence of Israel’s judiciary:

Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada lives on public platforms. She lectures often, at home and abroad, and collects laurels celebrating her shimmering career (including 38 honorary degrees) like loose change.

As a decorated jurist of 42 years, she contemplates law and society as a quotidian challenge. So there she was two weeks ago, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, addressing the country’s democracy.

It was an extraordinary speech – a cri de coeur, really – brimming with erudition and urgency. It was also brave. Abella laments the assault on the independence of Israel’s judiciary, whose stature she has long admired.

“As a Jew, it has made me particularly sad to see the judiciary’s noble mission and legacy under rhetorical siege here,” she said. “To me when an independent judiciary is under siege, democracy is under siege, and when democracy is under siege, a country’s soul is being held hostage.”

She is alarmed by the effort to “delegitimize the judiciary … in the name of patriotism.” She finds this “perverse.” After all, she asks, doesn’t patriotism mean reflecting national values, which, in Israel, means being Jewish and democratic?

For defending those values, she sees a judiciary “demonized by some for being independent from political expedience and immune to political will.” Judges are not there to comply with the will of politicians, she warns; those who think patriotism means doing only what politicians want “are the biggest threat to Israel’s values, because they misconceive democracy as majoritarian rule.”

Abella doesn’t name the right-wing politicians targeting the judiciary. What makes her warning timely – like a siren in the night – is that she is addressing the erosion of democracy, in fundamental and disturbing ways, across the world. As Foreign Affairs magazine asks in its current issue: “Can Democracy Survive?”

It’s not hyperbole. Democracy is under its greatest strain since the 1930s. Assaults on the press, free and fair elections, minority rights and civil liberties are common. Look around: the rise of authoritarianism is everywhere.

Having liberalized after the fall of Communism, Russia is an authoritarian state under Vladimir Putin, who fixes elections, jails opponents and kills journalists. In China, which showed signs of liberalization leading up to Tiananmen Square in 1989, the leadership may serve for life.

Poland, Turkey and Hungary have lurched into authoritarianism. That Stephen Harper could tweet congratulations to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his election was so brazen it was thought a joke; alas, it was not.

The man who once refused to shake Putin’s hand – “You need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper told him – now embraces Orban, who is silencing critics and attacking institutions in Hungary.

Freedom House tracks the state of democracy around the world. In 2017, it found that democracy declined in 71 countries and advanced in just 35. “Democracy in crisis,” it declares.

In old democracies such as France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, right-wing populists are gaining traction, appealing to anti-immigrant sentiments and shunning civil liberties or the rule of law. Surveys show that while support for democracy remains strong among those over 65, those under 35 care less about it. This is particularly disturbing.

Rwanda, Venezuela, Mexico, Kenya and Honduras are among the countries where democracy has eroded. The same in Nepal, Eritrea, South Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. In Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ethnic cleansing is horrifying.

In the United States, the president declares the media “the enemy of the people,” and attacks the judiciary and law-enforcement agencies. He refers to “my justice department” and its failure to “protect” him.

In Canada, the threat to democracy comes through bots and fake news filling social media, which will play out dangerously in the next federal election.

For Abella, in Jerusalem, the attack on the judiciary in Israel reflects something larger: an attack on our humanity: “Without democracy there are no rights, without rights there is no tolerance, without tolerance there is no justice, and without justice, there is no hope.”

via Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Rabbis ditch High Holy Days call with Trump – POLITICO

As Andrew Cohen recently argued, Trump’s Jewish advisers should stand up to him. Rabbis message should provoke reflection. As for the evangelical leaders still supporting Trump (the only council yet to have lost members or disbanded?), some signs of weakening support (Evangelicals Losing Faith in Trump After Racist Ranting):

A prominent coalition of American rabbis has decided not to hold its annual conference call with the president to mark Jewish holidays, citing Donald Trump’s remarks on the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as supporting “those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”

“We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year,” the groups — the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — said in a statement.

The coalition represents the leaders of much of the U.S. Jewish community, with the exception of Orthodox Jews, who have been much more supportive of Trump. His daughter Ivanka and her family are Orthodox Jews. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The call, which is organized by the Reform rabbis group CCAR, is a standard event for presidents each year. Rabbi Steve Fox, CCAR’s executive director, said former President Barack Obama participated in each year of his administration.

“These are religious issues, not political issues. It is important that the president steps forward as a moral leader on these issues,” Fox said in an interview. “As the leader of the U.S. and the leader of the free world, we believe it is his obligation to condemn these white supremacists.”

Fox said Trump’s response to the Charlottesville unrest — among other comments, the president said there were “very fine people” amid a crowd of white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting in defense of a Confederate statue — put the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days at risk.

“We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred,” the group said. “We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society.”

Trump has faced a barrage of criticism since the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that left one person dead. Trump has defended his response that “many sides” are to blame for the violence that ensued. At a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, the president accused the media of misrepresenting his response and read parts of his initial remarks, though he omitted the controversial language that seemingly placed blame on counter-protesters.

Most members on Trump’s evangelical council, meanwhile, have not distanced themselves from the president. A.R. Bernard, who once a member of the Evangelical Advisory Board, said on Friday that he resigned due to a “deepening conflict in values” between himself and the Trump administration.

Source: Rabbis ditch High Holy Days call with Trump – POLITICO