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The (Unstated) Conventional Wisdom

Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House Press Corps, suggests that Jews should leave their homeland and go back to Poland and Germany.  As if often the case, she is simply following the Progressive position to its logical conclusion.
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Discussions - 21 Comments

What about Palestinian Jews? What about the Jews driven out of other nations in the ME who migrated to Israel and couldn't possibly go home? Even the Poles and the Germans, just go home to what? I hope she gets bombarded with questions like those and I hope I get to hear her answer.

My Captcha was "fumigate 1930's". Who makes those up?

Helen Thomas is just shy of 90. That may explain this.

She is not the only person who says this. The other people I have heard with this inexplicable viewpoint were all 40 or under.

First of all Helen Thomas is a crazy old lady. Out of respect for my elders and for those who have listened to and heckled more presidents than the law should allow, a more charitable interpretation is called for. I am not sure what a charitable interpretation would look like, but I supposed it would start by asking why anyone if given the chance would want to live in Israel, Gazza, palistine, syria or lebanon? That is what Jew in his right mind would get so caught up with nationalism that he would stick around to fight religious fanatics and historical hatreds. What palestinian wouldn't be better off living in the United States? What Muslim wouldn't be better off living in Germany or Great Britian or even Poland?

People joke that divorce is expensive because it is worth it, but why wouldn't folks flee the madness whatever the short term cost?

With the level of apocalyptic noise in the world today the place you least want to live in if it is the least bit credible is Israel or the middle east.

There is Islam and then there is Islam, and there are certainly muslims and christians and jews in all likelyhood that are gearing up for Armageddon, in fact there are sects within each major religion that are attracted to this area of the world and seek to hasten prophecy.

I know the oil slick is going to coat all of florida, and that California is broke, the Vix is up, the markets are down, and unemployment numbers came in bad, but if the US is no good there is always Canada(whose dollar is near an alltime high), and jews and palestinians are welcome in Brazil.

Helen Thomas was born in Kentucky but her parents were Lebanese. So her parents followed the advice she gave out. Germany unlike the rest of Europe has solid financials, it can't be a bad choice, Poland is a little backwards and under the weather, but all things considered isn't horrible.

The thing is at some point in time the United States needs to abandon this area of the world because brain drain will have cleansed the country of all but fanatics soaked in historical hatred.

What we need to do in foreign policy isn't necessarily all that different from what we do in zoning. We declare the middle east toxic, and put intelligent people on notice that they will have a period of time to amortize the investment. How long is long enough? Helen Thomas's parents left Lebanon in 1920.

This sounds crazy on some level, but if as many on the right contend, Islamic fundamentalism is a threat, Iran will soon have Nuclear weapons, and multiple sects go around believing they will hasten the return of Allah or God by creating havoc in this region, then it is perhaps only greed that would argue for a longer amortization period.

It was greed and a desire to amortize for a while longer that trapped jews in Germany, when many saw but ignored the warning signs of Hitler.

And really while zoning is an interesting topic, frought with racial tension and white flight, the question of flight, or "tipping point" or when to get out of dodge is a good one.

Seriously even if Israel launched first against Iran, do you want to be around for the fallout?

I think you have a problem in the middle east that the folks who chose to remain in the area are religious/historical fanatics.

Gazza needs to evacuate, Isreal needs to evacuate, those who chose to remain will certainly disagree and talk about the right to exist, but why this right to exist should matter prudentially needs to be considered.

Supposing I owned a bar in a college town, the college went broke, the liberal academics moved out, but the socialist and social conservatives stayed on turned the city dry and did a good job zonning me out except that I got a grandfather provision with an amortization period. Now I could stick around ignoring the demographics change, or I could take a loss and close down the bar. I could also argue that this zonning is an unprecedent property rights violation(and while a lot of folks on the right would agree in rhetoric, I would probably lose, even under GW Bush this behavior by HUD was sanctioned.) That is you can fight for your rights, you can fight the jews, or you can fight the palestinians, the Iranians, the Lebanese, or you could take a look at the region and say the fundamentals are not good.

Of course it isn't just the zonning of experts that in the case of the middle east makes living there a non-conforming use. The ammortization period has came and gone several times over, and increasingly the only ones who remain are pot commited to the anihilation of the ennemy and vindication of old claims.

This might be tracing a progressive position to its logical conclusion, but it seems to equaly be tracing a conservative position to its logical conclusion: 1) Radical Islamicism exists 2) Iran will get Nuclear weapons and be a threat to Israel 3)The difference between Hamas and Hizb ut Tahrir's calls for refraining from violence against Isreal hinges upon timming and having a unified caliphate. So while many groups disagree with violence towards israel it is mainly on prudential and tactical grounds.

Is it rational to look at the facts and conclude that Jews would not be better off in Poland or Germany, or Brazil, Canada, or the US(just about anywhere)?

Is it rational to look at the facts and conclude that palestinians would not be better off elsewhere?

How many people in Lebanon would have been better off if their parents had the foresight to immigrate to the United States. Helen Thomas is certainly one.

Obviously most of Israel's citizens were born in Israel itself, so "going home to Germany and Poland" is non-sensical. Furthermore, it's pitifully short-term thinking. Following that old idiot's thinking, anyone who can claim some sort of descent from King David can claim the right of "historic precedence" and demand that all Muslims abandon the Dome of the Rock and "go home to"...somewhere. So much for Jews leaving Palestine.

Applying the old fool's logic elsewhere the Welsh (once called "Britons") should demand that Prince Charles and his sons evacuate the Thames estuary...except that there were peoples in present-day England who predate the Welsh/Britons. What of their rights?
What of me? I'm of Swiss, German, Scots-Irish and (maybe) Delaware Indian ancestry. Where is my home? Do I have rights over the current residents? Then, taking title of my ancestral "home(s)" (all of them??) what of the offspring of those whom my ancestors kicked out of Central Europe a thousand years ago? How do I compensate them for their loss?

"All men are created equal" is the greatest value America has. Not only are the living equals amongst ourselves, we are equals with our ancestors and our offspring, and so being equal each is responsible for his own actions and not culpable for the actions of others. In America claims of racial inheritances are null and void.

I absorbed this great value while I living in Europe. In the Old Country, tribal and racial rivalries live dormant like a plague of locusts waiting for a catalyst, but in America a man is what he makes of himself. I know my old Flemish, Walloon, English, Dutch and Swiss, etc. colleagues secretly envied me for that.

". . . in fact there are sects within each major religion that are attracted to this area of the world and seek to hasten prophecy." John, who other than the Shia rulers of Iran are you speaking about? Retired Evangelical Christians on a vacation tour of the Holy Land with their church's senior citizen group? Jews don't have an Apocalypse. Other than the Iranians, who is seeking "to hasten the prophecy"?

" . . . and jews and palestinians are welcome in Brazil." Maybe, but how concerned are countries like Brazil in keeping a vigiliant look-out for Islamic terrorists targeting Jews (see: AMIA bombing)? Israel was created because, other than the US and a few other countries, Jews are targeted around the world simply for being Jews. With a sovereign nation of their own, they have at least one place they need not fear pogroms and whose government's purpose is to protect their lives and liberty at home and abroad.

"The thing is at some point in time the United States needs to abandon this area of the world because brain drain will have cleansed the country of all but fanatics soaked in historical hatred." That's a very obtuse comment. Are you basing that statement on anything? (See: Silicon Wadi).

It seems you, like many other people, are frustrated with the violece, fighting, and neverending unpleasantness and would prefer one of the combatants give up (in this case, the Israelites) rather than identifying the just side in the conflict and supporting them.

Dean of the White House Press Corps, indeed. The old fool is mad.

Come on, after all, she could have said Russia.

Helen Thomas is like Hugh Hefner in this way -- both are pathetically sad figures, trying to maintain a lifestyle well beyond the point when they should have retired to the shadows.

I contrast this with two who have passed recently -- Ernie Harwell and just today, John Wooden. Both maintained a presence well into their late years, but each had the good sense, dignity and humility to step away from the spot light.

The difference is one of class ... and grace.

Harwell and Wooden had it; Thomas and Hefner do not.

Well to be perfectly honest I was bored and couldn't see how her remarks followed from a progressive position.

So I decided to make the strongest case for why Jews should go to Germany or Poland. I am not really interested or invested enough to make the strongest argument for such a view. Nor is the strongest argument perhaps all that strong. Despite the radicalism of the religion(s) and politics in the area it is more than just arguable that Israel will not be destroyed in the next 100 years, its downright probable that nothing apocalyptic will happen.

"who other than the Shia rulers of Iran are you speaking about?"

Well I don't fear Iran that much but that is certainly one piece of evidence, that could be convincing to a lot of folks.

You have Christians United for Israel, which is Hagee's group. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee interprets the Bible to predict that Russia and the Islamic states will invade Israel and will be destroyed by God. (Craig S documents this sort of thing)

A lot of muslim groups cite a passage of the Koran that they interpret to mean that when the time comes rocks and trees will cry out the names of jews and infidels to the muslims that are doing God's work in killing them. But unfortunately many muslims aren't so pious as to wait for the rocks and trees to speak.

"Jews don't have an Apocalypse." Maybe so, but the apocalyptic style was jewish. The idea of a messiah was jewish. Christians, muslims and jews all have ideas about this apocalypse and its raison d'etre.

"Two specific historical markers are usually given for the span during which the Jewish apocalyptic works were written and edited. They are the persecution of the Jews by the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.) and the destruction of the Jewish nation by the Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 135).

Apocalyptic writings usually had certain characteristics in common. Writers generally claimed that a divine disclosure had been given through an angelic intermediary. God's secret purpose was said to have been revealed through a dream or vision in the heavenly realm. Almost all apocalypses are pseudonymous. Writers of apocalyptic works usually wrote in the name of heroes from Israel's history. There are books ascribed to Enoch, Abraham, the Twelve Patriarchs, Moses, Ezra, Enoch and Elijah, among others.

These apocalyptic writings claimed to reveal God's purpose in history. These writings tried to explain why the Jews, who thought of themselves as God's people, were part of a vassal nation suffering under ungodly political institutions. In the words of Robert H. Mounce:

A major role of the apocalypse was to explain why the righteous suffered and why the kingdom of God delayed. Prophecy had dealt primarily with the nation's ethical obligations at the time when the prophet wrote. Apocalyptic focused on a period of time yet future when God would intervene to judge the world and establish righteousness (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, "The Book of Revelation," p. 19)."

It is more or less accepted fact that you have radical islam, zionism and christianity strangely brewing in this area of the world. Thus it is an area of the world were people feel compelled go to fight for "Justice".

"It seems you, like many other people, are frustrated with the violece, fighting, and neverending unpleasantness and would prefer one of the combatants give up (in this case, the Israelites) rather than identifying the just side in the conflict and supporting them."

I think that is correct, because the conflict in this region really is about and between folks who indentify the just side and support them. So this is not going to end.

But again, I am not really frustrated, I lack a concrete stake. In general I think requireing that someone have a concrete stake is the best defense to ideological and abstract "justice". I am not trying to figure who is right. Rather I am asking: Is it prudent to live in Israel? Is it optimal to live in Palestine?

I certainly did oversell the idea that there was a brain drain in Israel or the middle east. Given oil revenue, defense contracting, excetera there is always greed. Silicon Wadi is great, so is Dubai. There are pockets of great wealth and expertise all over the middle east. If you currently live in Israel or elsewhere in the middle east the equation is naturally going to be different, than if you already live in the United States or Germany or Poland. The question is what is the threshold on leaving?

Really I don't have strong evidence of brain drain in the middle east, but I do know that most americans who are arabs or jews seem to be more intelligent than average folk. I don't think it is a stretch to say that religious political conditions in the middle east encourage leaving and discourage immigration.

Technically I would be interested to look closely at immigration figures in the middle east. I wonder at the meaning of the investment saying: "Buy the fear, sell the greed." Also I wonder when I read over the Heritage Wall Street journal scores on a lot of the middle eastern nations, these are places with incredibly low income taxes, very low corporate taxes and high GDP.

In terms of attracting certain Businesses you can't do better than the middle east. I mentioned before that the Heritage numbers seemed a bit low for Germany, and that I thought that while the rankings were close to freedom, that the low labor score of Germany would actually be appealing to the mass of people, In other words that Germany's score was lower than it should be. Because while the ease of hiring and firing filipino's in Bahrain would appeal more to business, most human beings would rather be German.

I also felt that most human beings would rather be american, and I think our immigration problem is generally a very good sign. That is the measure of a nation is the number of people who want to be or remain citizens of it.

What I am trying to think about in terms of people who live in Israel is somewhat impossible, but I am trying to think of what foreseeable world possibilities/events would make remaining worthwhile. Of course I am an idiot because you do have Silicon Wadi. You have jobs, great mediteranian climate, history, interesting politics, you have a lot of fixed costs, a lot of assets that would require a long period of time for ammortization. You aren't leaving unless you can sell off your assets. A rational human being is on the other side, buying that stake in Israel(Or California for those fleeing).

But I humbly propose that overtime a certain type of person ends up living in Israel, a person for whom the rewards are greater than the detriment. That overtime a certain type of person will live in California, someone dedicated to liberalism(but also someone drawn to gold, and perhaps because american, someone not afraid of immigrating.) Despite Hurricanes folks live in LA, and again such are ravaged by an oil spill. But all positives have negatives, all goods produce externalities. Ideally I would seek to quantify the dangers of such production by using the Hand formula of Carrol Towing. Cost/detriment ballanced against the the probability of the harm(1/10,000) * its potential cost ($500 billion?) On these fictional figures BP would have spent 50 million more preventing such a disaster...or should have.

No doubt you will find some who say the probability was higher, others will say that the potential cost was lower. Personally not only do I think folks in Israel should move to Germany(or the US) I think folks in LA should move to Colorado. I think this simply on the basis of the danger of huricanes, but apparently offshore drilling is also a potential liability. (strangely enough, offshore oil rigs take cold water from the bottom of the ocean and move it to the surface, which is great for marine life, it also prevents warm surface water which causes/permits hurricanes to develop.) Thus my call for Obama to implement a salters sink program in the gulf of mexico to end hurricanes, technically if we had drastically more oil rigs this would also work. Ironically when the next hurricane comes some snide political commentator will say that if we had more off shore oil rigs its force might have been lessened.

I digress, but folks should stay in Israel, LA or California if they think it best. And no doubt some folks who are horribly bearish on Germany, Poland and the EU in general might think these should all move to Dubai or Israel.

According to Heritage here is the top ten(all places Jews should move to)
1) Hong Kong
2) Singapore
3) Australia
4) New Zealand
5) Ireland
6) Switzerland
7) Canada
8) United States (predicatably since the election of Obama, Canada looks better to conservatives:)
9) Denmark
10) Chile

Israel is 44, Germany is 23

Poland is 71(I agree it is rather backwards, but these ratings aren't the gospel, if you really think nuclear war and increased troubles in the middle east lie ahead on the horizon, then 71 might be better than 44.)

So If like me you take the Heritage 2010 Index of Economic Freedom seriously, and if you know that 23 is better than 44 (if like me you think germany is a top 10, and best in Europe, it gets even better.)

But lets say you think Israel is a 44 and Germany is a 23 as a baseline.

Lets say you hate the EU, you think the Euro will collapse and that Germany and all europeans are doomed.(Heritage is likely to price some of this in already, but lets assume it is objective)

So you take Germany from 23 to 63.

But lets say you love Israel and think they have the right to exist and have justice on their still start with a 44 do you move them up? If you really think Islamic fundamentalists aren't blustering and can't be reasoned with you would be a fool to do so. If you think Iran will get nukes, if you think that various islamic groups are just bidding time to unleash Jihad on Israel, you can't move them up, you have to move them down. You have to really be down with Mardi Gras, the Saints and Bourbon street to ignore the probable Katrina's.

I think that even on conservative grounds you have to downgrade Israel at least as much as you downgrade Germany. From 44 to 104....then again who knows what exactly the Heritage Foundation has already priced in.

Lets grant Silicon Wadi and not get carried away. Israel is a 44, the more you believe in the threat from Islamic fundamentalism the more they dip into the 50's.

Personally I am slightly bullish Germany and slightly bearish Israel from the Heritage baseline.

Therefore in answer to Kate who says that the viewpoint is inexplicable. I present the Heritage study as an attempt to quantify the best places to live in the world.

With this as a baseline I admit the Poland remark was out of line(and really the spirit of the remark was out of line.)

Still I see no reason to back down from the view that Jews should move to Germany, albeit Australia is even better, and Chile is very good according to Heritage, and I put in Brazil as a Bric choice.

According to Gallup polls the nations the United States views most favorably are:

1) Canada 90 (7)
2) Great Britain 89 (11) (special relationship more or less alive)
3) Japan 81 (19)
4) Germany 79 (23)
5) India 64 (124)
6) France 64 (64)
7) Israel 63 (44)

Bottom of list:
19) Iran 12 (168)
18) North Korea 15 (179, dead last)
17) Palestinian Authority 15 (NR)

I added the Heritage rankings in parenthesis.

This shows some fairly solid corrolation between our favorite nations and those that are most free economically speaking.

While Iran is better than North Korea we dislike Muslim states and fear radical islam more than North Korea?

In the number 4 slot Germany doesn't suprise me, but it is funny that we have forgotten world war 2, and despite movies like Pacific we like 3 Japan and 4 Germany. At 81 and 79 with scores of 19 and 23 these would be good countries for people in Israel to consider.

That is if you sort nations according to both the gallop poll on america's favorites and the heritage index folks in Israel and maybe even especially those under the palestinian authority should move to Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States.

Australia which was not polled by Gallop but which stands at #3 according to Heritage would probably displace Germany and Japan, and might even pass up Great Britain.

Tim Seibel and Andrew do a great job answering you. I would only add this book:

"Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle"

"Hampered by an Arab nation boycott that makes regional trade impossible and endowed with precious little by way of natural resources, Israel has beaten the odds to become a major player in the global business world, especially in the technology sector. With the highest number of startups per capita of any nation in the world and massive venture capital investment, Israel is one of the world's entrepreneurship hubs. "

Helen is a combative old trout who sits in that front row for one reason only: because she has been sitting there since FDR. That is her lone claim to fame. She contributes nothing of value to the reporting of news or commentary about news. She should have been put out to pasture years ago.

John Lewis, you need a copy of Strunk and White -- omit needless words! In all honesty, I never finish your posts because they are usually so longwinded. Remember, this is commentary on a blog, not the blog entry itself.

As for Helen Thomas, even advanced age cannot excuse this comment. The Jews have as much right as anyone to be in "Palestine." And how did the Muslims end up there -- military conquest! So, the state of Israel is simply the latest in a VERY long string of conquests. Since having a non-Muslim, democratic country in the region is better than having yet another Muslim/Arab dictatorship, our alliance with Israel should be perfectly sensible to all but the most obtuse.

Besides, Helen (you ignorant slut), "home" for the Jews has often meant extermination or shake-down. They need their own nation as a last refuge.

Funny, Thomas is of Lebanese descent. The Lebanese people, much like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, kicked the Palestinians out of their country years ago. Why, because they were violent and uncivilized.

John I understand why it seems illogical to stay there with so many in the region and around the world who hate them/their sovereign nation. The problem is this: if you uproot the Jews, anti-Israel prejudice in Europe and the Middle East doesn't go away - it becomes anti-semitism. I think you fall victim to the classic libertarian blunder: the vast majority of men, when left to their own devices, are basically good and logical. Not true, mon ami. Some people, when prevent with the option, choose evil.

. . . when *presented* with the option . . .

Any comment that begins with..."I am not really interested or invested enough to make the strongest argument for such a view. " ... should end very soon after. Just a thought.

so i see she was retired today. don't mess with the sacred cow.

Brutus, are you saying that anti-Israeli sentiments are verboten? Hardly so. Moreover, take Helen's sentiment and apply it to any other diaspora and the results would be the same -- you can't publicly wish a people AWAY. Such sentiments are no longer condoned in American public life (the closest you can come is to express a desire for illegal immigrants to return home, but even that is extremely controversial).

In sort, Helen got what she deserved. She made a public comment, was chided for it, and voluntarily retired. No government oppression, and all done by civil society.

Helen Thomas did have a use in the front row of the White House press corps. She was the reliable face and voice of the Left there. If not reasonable or logical or sensible, at least she was consistent. She could ask the most outlandish questions and because of her age and longevity she got away with it. I used to think she asked the the wild things just to stay out front, you know, trying to keep ahead of the young ones. This off-the-record video recording proved she was outlandish, really and as a person.

Then, even after all the wild things she has asked and made part of the public discourse she says this. Don't you wonder if the old and terrible dear has been suppressing these sentiments publicly while saying them privately for her whole career?

Anyway, despite the fact that she is just a journalist, what a media circus this has been. Don't you wonder why? Can this be a public media warning to Obama & Co. that this might be the logical conclusion to the way foreign policy in the ME has been trending? If this doesn't say to them, "Don't even go there." It might seem rough for Helen, but it is a gentle warning for the Admin.

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