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What Happened Today: November 28, 2022
A hate-filled dinner at Mar-a-Lago; China in the streets; “All the lonely people”
The Big Story
In a move that has unsettled even supporters of Donald Trump and could have implications for his campaign to retake the White House, the former president hosted for dinner at Mar-a-Lago the world’s newly minted most famous antisemite: Kanye “Ye” West. And not just West. The megastar’s entourage included two members of his campaign staff for his now-declared 2024 presidential run: anti-gay gay provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, slated to be Ye’s campaign manager, and self-avowed “white majoritarian” and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, an alt-right internet celebrity who marched at Charlottesville, Virginia. Facing a backlash after news of the dinner broke over the weekend, Trump claimed he didn’t know that West would bring guests. On his platform Truth Social, where Trump has been flailing, he shrugged off the dinner as “quick and uneventful.” He defended inviting Kanye, saying that he appreciates praise from the rapper, whose primary public activity over the past month has been peddling anti-Jewish theories and threatening to go “death con 3 [sic] on JEWISH PEOPLE.” According to Trump, he only wanted to give a “seriously troubled man” some “very much needed ‘advice.’”
As of Monday morning, few prominent Republicans have openly condemned the dinner, with Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana an exception. Cassidy pulled no punches, tweeting, “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.” The rebuke could further galvanize the mass of voices within the Republican Party that’s pushing to label Trump old news ahead of 2024. “People believe we probably need to move forward,” Bob Vander Plaats, an Evangelical leader and influential voice in Iowa politics told Politico after Trump announced his run. Meanwhile, a super PAC that favors Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to take Trump’s mantle plans to begin airing TV ads in Iowa on Friday.
While many may see Trump’s sit-down with three disgraced hate-mongers as a nail in the coffin of his prospects, the most recent poll of Republican voters taken before the incident showed him 15 points ahead of DeSantis. It may be worth remembering that Trump has survived one scandal after another, like almost no other figure in the history of American politics. Given the many false announcements about “final nails in the Trump coffin” during the 2016 election season, we at The Scroll would caution against counting on his dinner guests to count him out.
In The Back Pages: A New Strategic Landscape in the Middle East
→ Video of the Day:
Chinese citizens were paraphrasing Patrick Henry in the streets this weekend, shouting “Give me freedom or give me death” as they protested the Chinese Communist Party’s strict zero-COVID policies. Protests began after a fire killed 10 people Thursday in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang; protestors blamed harsh COVID-19 restrictions for the deaths, assuming that the people were trapped inside. The Chinese government denies the allegations. Nonetheless, the flames sparked widespread unrest across the country, with protestors coming out in the hundreds in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu and by the thousands in Wuhan, among other cities. A major symbol of the protests so far is a piece of blank white paper, which protestors have been holding up to symbolize their opposition to the harsh lockdowns as well as to the CCP’s notorious censorship. Many of the protestors are young, and a group of students at Peking University has issued a declaration demanding the government lift regional blockades, end digital COVID-19 surveillance, make testing and quarantine for asymptomatic individuals voluntary, allow for public dissent, and provide full transparency on COVID-19 data. The situation has Wall Street spooked, with the potential of a harsh CCP response fueling further unrest on the one hand and an easing of COVID-19 measures leading to a wave of illness in the country on the other—either way negatively affecting the workforce, which supplies so many of the world’s goods.
→ Benjamin Netanyahu is inching closer to a restoration of his reign this week, after inking a coalition agreement with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party of firebrand Itamar Ben-Gvir. Part of the agreement is the appointment of Ben-Gvir as minister of national security, giving him control of Israel’s internal police as well as the border police who operate in the West Bank. Ha’aretz reports that in spite of a potential conflict of interest between their personal ideologies and governmental duties, Ben-Gvir will likely choose as his chief of staff 27-year-old Chanamel Dorfman, who has been investigated in the past by internal security service Shin Bet for his ties to the ultra-nationalist “hilltop youth” settlers in the West Bank. Ironically, Dorfman has tweeted that the Israeli police are the “most antisemitic in the world” and that they are a “racist” “mafia.” Dorfman is also the founder of an organization, Shlom Asiraich, which gives money to incarcerated Jewish terrorists like Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
For more on Ben-Gvir, read Armin Rosen’s recent profile in Tablet: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/rise-itamar-ben-gvir-armin-rosen
→ One American who is not standing with the protestors in China is The Washington Post’s infamous tech columnist Taylor Lorenz. On Friday, the Post published an article about the precarious situation China now finds itself in vis-à-vis COVID-19. While the country’s total prevention policy has meant that very few citizens have been exposed to the virus, that means very few Chinese have any immunity to COVID-19. So if the Chinese government were to relax its measures, a wave of mortality would likely follow, as has been seen in fellow extreme-lockdown nations like Australia and New Zealand. But Lorenz did not want to hear even a suggestion that “natural immunity” conferred any benefit when it came to COVID-19, tweeting, “There is no lasting ‘natural immunity’ to COVID-19. You can get covid over and over and over again bc there are so many endlessly evolving strains and antibodies wane.” Although Lorenz is not strictly incorrect about the complicated facts of COVID-19 immunity, she went on to suggest that the Chinese approach is superior to ours because it doesn’t “kill off millions of vulnerable people”—the trade-off of course being the countless Chinese who have committed suicide, starved to death, or died of other preventable causes while being locked down for months at a time.
→ Graph of the Day:
Elon Musk posted a slide on Saturday from a recent company meeting showing user sign-ups skyrocketing under his leadership. Plus, total active minutes are up 30% from the same week last year. While major advertisers like GM and Volkswagen have paused their Twitter business while considering how they should respond to Musk’s approach to free speech—which has included restoring the accounts of previously banned people like former president Donald Trump—and hundreds of employees have quit the company since his ascension, it seems ordinary users are flocking back to the platform. Earlier this month, President Joseph Biden told an audience that Twitter is “an outfit that spews lies all across the world.” Meanwhile, we hear rumours that longtime Fleetwood Mac listeners are flocking to Twitter in droves, as they absolutely love sweet little lies.
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→ So much for the Hippocratic oath. It’s now patients who are being forced to pledge that they won’t use offensive language under threat of being denied medical care. Boston’s major medical group, Mass General Brigham, has imposed a “Patient Code of Conduct” that outlines inappropriate actions that could result in patients potentially needing to “make other plans for their care.” While this includes clear-cut violations like assault or threatening assault, it also lists “offensive comments about others’ race, accent, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other personal traits” as well as “unwelcome words and actions.” The code does not clearly define what would constitute “offensive comments” and did not reply to Just the News’ inquiry as to whether accidentally misgendering an employee would constitute a violation. But this ultimatum approach to medical treatment is nothing new; it’s simply an accelerating trend. During the heart of the Omicron wave, Minnesota’s Department of Health created a points system for the administration of life-saving monoclonal antibody treatment that gave extra points based on race to “BIPOC” patients, and Mass General Brigham’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital denied a heart transplant in January due to the patient’s unvaccinated status. The Lysenko-ization of medicine gallops apace.
→ For the first time since 1984, Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, in Hawaii, began erupting Sunday night, with local officials predicting a quarter inch of ash could fall across the island. So far scientists at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory believe the eruption will remain in the caldera, and have not issued evacuation orders, adding that “if the eruptive vents migrate outside its walls, lava flows may move rapidly downslope.”
→ With the United States committing more than $18 billion in military aid to Ukraine so far, a new report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission told Congress this month that it’s taking a toll on our commitments to arm Taiwan. “The diversion of existing stocks of weapons and munitions to Ukraine and pandemic-related supply-chain issues have exacerbated a sizable backlog in the delivery of weapons already approved for sale to Taiwan, undermining the island’s readiness,” the commission wrote in its report. Government officials counter that the stocks of weaponry (including over a million Howitzer rounds, Humvees, tactical vehicles, mortar rounds, etc.) being sent to Ukraine are from our reserves, whereas the munitions ordered by Taiwan come from the pipeline of new production. Manufacturers like Lockheed Martin blame the COVID-19-pandemic’s supply chain delays for a slowdown in production even before the Russian invasion, and the Department of Defense is working overtime to “accelerate delivery of capabilities for all our partners, based on the urgency of the threat.” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said in some cases there was a three-year backlog of weapons to Taiwan that needed to be looked at, and that “as we have seen in Ukraine, it’s far better to get the weapons prior to an invasion than after.” Meanwhile, the long-expected Chinese invasion might be put on hold with a change in the political winds of Taiwan, as the more China-friendly Nationalist Party was showing good results against Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party on Saturday.
→ Thread of the Day:
We are all Eleanor Rigby, says a new survey from the Census Bureau. Until 2013, the average American spent 6.5 hours per week with friends. But that number has taken a haunting decline since. Now we’re only spending 2.5 hours a week with friends and only 10 hours with co-workers, neighbors, and clients. Even more brutal is that the survey shows the lost time isn’t being compensated by time with our romantic partners or children—we’re just hanging out, alone. While the trend was strong before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated it, with 35% of Americans saying in a recent Pew poll that going out and socializing in person is less important to them since the pandemic. The loneliness epidemic is nothing new; a 2020 Harvard study showed that 36% of Americans reported feeling “seriously lonely.” And the consequences are dire. According to research compiled by Cornell University, loneliness leads to increased risk of “dementia” and “heart attack and stroke” in older people and “sleep disturbances” and “compulsive internet use” among the young.
TODAY IN TABLET:
The Wide World of Cabbage by Paola Gavin
This humble vegetable is a staple of Jewish cooking around the globe.
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A New Strategic Landscape in the Middle East
Is Israel prepared for its role as a senior regional power?
Despite what most Western readers have long been conditioned to assume, the Middle East and Arab-Israeli relations are a source of good news these days. The region is still violent and unstable; the conflict between the Jewish state and its radical enemies, Palestinians and others, is far from over; the threat of the Iranian revolutionary regime may be greater than ever. However, a new strategic alignment that has lately been emerging promises a better chance than ever before in modern history for regional states to isolate and stand up to the radicals who continue to threaten the existing order. The old structure of the Arab-Israel conflict that defined the Middle East for generations—during and shortly after the Cold War—is now being replaced by a strengthening Arab-Israeli coalition against Iran and its radical Arab proxies.
Since the 1930s, Arab radicals—the likes of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, and Yasser Arafat—managed to intimidate other Arab regimes and mobilize them, often against their own national interests, in a fruitless and destructive struggle for the “liberation” of Palestine from the Jews. Cooperation with Israel was condemned as treachery, and evasion of confrontation with her was considered cowardice. This imposed pan-Arab solidarity stifled regional development and repeatedly drew the region into wide-scale wars which occasionally pushed the Soviet and American superpowers to the brink of nuclear confrontation.
For Israel, pan-Arab solidarity could have presented a clear existential threat. A small, vulnerable and isolated state could hardly survive in the long run against a radical and aggressive Arab leadership that can mobilize the enormous resources of the entire Middle East—oil, gas, money, markets, international clout, control of essential waterways and impact on Muslim communities the world over.
The erosion, restriction, and ultimately the abolition of aggressive regional solidarity targeting the Jewish state was the supreme objective of Israel’s regional strategy since its inception. While the goals of regional peace and cooperation sound much more noble and appealing, every clear-sighted realist knew that this romantic dream is unattainable in this historically violent and unstable region. Besides, breaking up attempts at regional solidarity was an indispensable precondition to any progress toward peace or its lesser cousins: Arab states would consider accepting Israel only following a painful recognition of the failure of the attempt to erase it at an acceptable cost.
Israel’s grand strategy of breaking up aggressive Arab solidarity scored a crucial success in its 1947-49 War of Independence. A preemptive alliance with King Abdallah I of Transjordan broke up the joint Arab invasion on the day the Jewish state was established, thereby partitioning Mandatory Palestine between Israel and the Hashemite kingdom. Without this alliance, Israel may not have survived the coordinated Arab assault in the early part of the war, it would not have withstood the pressure to internationalize its capital city in Jerusalem, and it could not have concentrated all its forces in the south to confront the Egyptian expeditionary army. The resounding Egyptian defeat that followed forced that pivotal Arab state to betray all other Arab invaders in February 1949, by signing a separate agreement with Israel, practically enabling her to dictate the terms of the armistice and the strategic outcome of that formative war.
Only five years after having successfully shattered Arab solidarity in the late 1940’s, Israel faced her most formidable challenge when a messianic Arab leader unprecedentedly captured the imagination of Arabs “From the [Atlantic] Ocean, to the [Arabian] Gulf.” Gamal Abdel Nasser’s movement was not essentially about the struggle against Israel. It was about uniting the Arabs under Egyptian leadership to restore their historic glory, to retrieve their trodden dignity and to catapult their international bargaining position.
Yet the mobilizing commitment to “liberate” Palestine could not have been left out of Nasser’s wish list, even though Nasser himself had consistently insisted since the early 1960s that the Arabs were ill prepared to deal Israel a decisive blow and repeatedly warned that a premature war could end up in disaster, as it had in 1948. Ironically, his own political instruments—the radical rhetoric and the political mechanisms of all-Arab solidarity—were turned against him and enabled his even more radical rivals in the Arab arena to manipulate him into initiating the 1967 war.
Traumatized by the all-Arab mobilization against it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Israel placed at the top of its regional security strategy the objective of undermining and finally shattering aggressive Arab solidarity against the Jewish state by forcefully removing its Egyptian keystone. Israel, as well as its Arab neighbors, were well aware that the eviction of Egypt from this pivotal position meant not only the collapse of the all-Arab struggle against Israel. It also inevitably meant terminating the Arab hopes for a major role in world affairs that fueled Nasser’s messianic movement. This was a zero-sum game: Israel could not be safe without it; Egypt and Arab radicals could not abide by it.
The ultimate expression of Israel’s strategic victory in this crucial round was Egypt’s 1979 separate peace agreement with Israel. The essence of Israel’s success was Egyptian acquiescence with whatever consequences Israel chose to inflict on other Arabs who continued to challenge it violently. Thus, Israel could get away, for instance, with the occupation of an Arab capital city (Beirut, 1982), the destruction of nuclear projects (Iraq, 1981; Syria 2007) and with wide-scale repression of Palestinian violence (2002-04, in response to the Second Intifada). The 1979 separate peace with Egypt was “the end of the beginning” of the “all-Arab-Israeli conflict.” When the Soviet Union collapsed a decade later, the chances of a major coordinated assault against Israel declined even further.
The next major step that changed the core of Arab-Israeli relations and the regional balance of power was not the failed “peace process” with the Palestinians or the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. It came more than three decades after the regional turning point in 1979, following the “Arab Spring” and Arab awareness of the far-reaching significance of its failure.
The exhilarating hopes for a speedy restoration of Arab greatness that Nasser inspired in the 1950s and 1960s were shattered with the 1967 defeat and obliterated by the turn of the century. The much more modest hope that prevailed in the region and among Middle Eastern scholars was that Arab societies might extract themselves from their lingering predicament by rising against their autocratic and corrupt leaders and replace their failing realities with more pluralistic modern political and social structures. The Arab upheaval in the second decade clearly proved that the failure to meet the challenges of the 21st century was deeply rooted in these Arab societies, far beyond the tyranny and deficiencies of their leadership. Never before in their modern history were Arab regimes and their politically aware elites more cognizant of their weakness and less hopeful about an effective response to their predicament in the foreseeable future.
The profound change in the strategic landscape of the Middle East in the recent decade started with this recognition, but it materialized only when it was accompanied by three more realizations among important regional players. A somewhat exaggerated and oversimplified definition may be helpful in order to characterize its four pillars: the magnitude of the Iranian regional threat, the inability of Arab states to stand up to that threat by themselves, the questionable steadfastness of American support, and the proven capacity and dependability of Israel.
Unlike most European and American political leaders, officials, and observers, Arabs fully realize the magnitude of the Iranian determination to hegemonize the Middle East at their expense and the effectiveness of Iranian brutality and sophistication in the pursuit of that objective. Watching the impact of the Iranian takeovers in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen and its subversion in their own countries, they know they are in desperate need of external assistance to survive.
In this time of supreme Arab anxiety and distress, the Obama administration demonstrated a frightening combination of surrealistic misreading of basic regional realities and sweeping strategic incompetence. Some of the most important regional allies of the United States perceived Obama’s policies as an attempt to replace their own historic alliance with the U.S. by an American strategic deal with the Iranian Revolution. These suspicions, which culminated with the JCPOA, were only partially alleviated during the one-term Trump administration; they resurfaced with renewed vigor when Biden was elected. This deep mutual mistrust was manifested when even a conciliatory presidential visit in July 2022 failed to convince Saudi Arabia to help Biden to bring down the price of oil.
With the need for external support against the Iranian threat at a desperate peak, and trust in the American guarantor at its lowest ebb, the most vulnerable Arab states turned to the only power that fully appreciates the magnitude of that threat and is capable and determined to provide a forceful response. Israel is not only cognizant of the catastrophic consequences of Iranian regional hegemony but has also been engaged for more than half a decade in a wide-scale preventive war in Syria and western Iraq to thwart the Iranian takeover where it threatens Israel most acutely.
Israel is, of course, infinitely less powerful than the U.S. But to the beleaguered Arabs it is, at this stage, also immeasurably more trustworthy as an ally against their worst and most immediate enemy, which poses an ongoing existential threat.
Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.
For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. In recent decades, Israel established its position as a formidable military, economic, and technological power, but it could not openly and freely maneuver politically or partake in regional strategic alliances. Its position is dramatically enhanced when Arab parties compete over its attention and cooperation.
On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World.” While a large part of Arab public opinion remains hostile to Israel, European and other states can pay lip service by criticizing Israel in international forums and through symbolic diplomatic protests while deepening bilateral cooperation, with no real cost vis-à-vis Arab regimes.
By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel. Washington no longer needs to choose between support of Israel on the one hand, and Arab oil, gas, money, markets, and alliance with the United States, on the other. Most of America’s allies in the region need a strong Israel for their strategic welfare or even survival, and they share with Israel a disappointment in the degree of trustworthy support that Washington offers to its regional allies. The U.S. is already engaged in coordinating an American-sponsored regional air defense system against Iran that reflects this new and revolutionary reality. Crucially important Arab states want more of that, not less.
In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.