The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, August 23, 2003
Methodist militants

A small nationalist party in Fiji plans to march next month to prohibit the practice of non-Christian religions:

The New Nationalist Party is planning a march next month in Suva to traditionally request President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to stop non-Christians, particularly, the Hindus and Muslims from practising their religion publicly among other things.

Party president, Saula Telawa said among other things, they would request for the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution, to pardon the coup-makers serving jail-terms on Nukulau Island and declare Fiji a Christian State.


He said people of Fiji should live according to the teachings of the Bible.

"They should not be allowed to practice their religion publicly. If they want to hold a session of Ramayan or other religious activities, they do it inside their homes or if they are living on Freehold land, they can do it there but not on our native land. And no public holidays to mark Hindu and Muslim religious festivals, all this must stop. For all this to happen, the Constitution needs to go," he said.

This is not the first time that the extreme right in Fiji has called for the country to be declared a Christian state. Since the coup of 1987, militant Christianity has often functioned as a means of asserting the supremacy of indigenous Fijians - who are almost all Christian - over the large Indian minority. Recently, however, the call was echoed by the head of Fiji's powerful Methodist Church. As such, it is causing more than the usual amount of worry among Indo-Fijians, who fear that the movement to establish Christianity as the religion of Fiji might be gaining momentum.

It is doubtful that any such measure will be taken by the current government. Although Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase came to power on a Fijian nationalist platform, his commitment to national reconciliation and constitutional rule seems genuine, and he has refrained from precipitous measures against the Indo-Fijian population. If the more radical elements of the Taukei movement improve their position at the next election, however, establishment of Christianity may become an actual possibility.

Wall of silence

Swaziland has equaled Botswana as the country with the highest HIV infection rate. The Botswana infection rate has stabilized as public health and education programs have begun to take effect, but Swaziland's rate has risen to 38.6 percent and is continuing its upward trend. Unlike Botswana, where education has begun to break through the wall of silence surrounding AIDS, HIV-positive people in Swaziland still suffer from stigmatization and denial:

As if to exemplify how unusual public disclosure remains, on Friday both the nation's daily newspapers carried front page stories about a woman who admitted she was HIV-positive status before the government's constitutional drafting committee.

"So long as we do not want to learn about HIV/AIDS, it will wipe us all out - and you are getting this from someone who has tested several times, and was proved HIV-positive," Buyile Mkhatshwa, a farmer's wife in rural Siphofaneni in the eastern Lubombo region, told the committee.

The committee was touring the region, collecting views from residents about the draft constitution proposed by King Mswati. Mkhatshwa pleaded for a constitution that would provide for children left orphaned when their parents died of AIDS. She was nearly shouted down by angry neighbours, who reportedly cried "Shame! Shame!" and demanded that she be removed from the gathering.

One public health worker commented that Swazis have become conditioned to view AIDS "as a moral failure" rather than a medical condition.

More common currencies

African central bank chiefs aren't the only ones discussing the possibility of a common currency. An Australian Senate report has recently suggested a single currency for the Pacific, prompting opposition from Fiji:

Fiji would resist any attempt to introduce a single currency for Pacific Island countries, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said during the 34th Pacific Forum meeting in Auckland.

"It is totally out of tune for Fiji. It is far-fetched and will not work at least as far as we are concerned and we will oppose any move in the direction," he said.

"The Fiji dollar has done well and will continue to remain in favour of exporters, importers and investors. I do not think the creation of a single currency will help our economy.

"The euro is still struggling and many countries appear to be having second thoughts on its effectiveness and we will not make such a mistake."

As in Africa, it is unlikely that a Pacific currency will be implemented anytime soon; the Australian prime minister has termed the idea "premature" notwithstanding the Senate report. In some ways, a Pacific currency centered on Australia would make more sense than a common African currency; many Pacific economies are oriented toward trade with Australia, and Pacific countries (with the exception of Fiji) tend to be too small for effective economies of scale in banking and currency exchange. Any move toward a single currency, however, is likely to be viewed as a power grab by Canberra, and as such will spark intense political opposition.

Friday, August 22, 2003
Jewish lawmen of London

I recently wrote about Jews who were elected constable in colonial New York. It seems that New York was not the only place in which Jews were eligible for that office during the eighteenth century; the records of the Old Bailey reveal that Jews also enforced the law in contemporary London.

The advent of Jewish constables in London appears to have occurred somewhat later than in New York. The first Jew to hold that office in New York was elected in 1718, while Jewish names start cropping up in the London constables' rolls about 1760, with all but one serving in 1780 or later. The constabulary in London at that time was a minor civil office that was open to native-born homeowners; naturalized foreigners were excluded, but Jews born in Britain were apparently eligible. At least eight appear to have served between 1760 and 1800: Moses Benjamin, David Levy, Moses Barnet, Wolfe Solomon, Isaac Backrow, Jacob Lyon, Solomon Davis and Jacob Spinoza.

Benjamin and Spinoza, in particular, appear to have been substantial men in the Jewish community. Benjamin, who was a hatter by trade, held a number of other minor law enforcement posts, including headborough of Aldgate lower precinct and street-keeper of Rosemary Lane. His term as headborough coincided with the Gordon Riots of 1780, and he briefly confronted the rioting mob:

I live next door to Mr. Lebarty, in St. Catherine's-lane. I was at home on Wednesday night when the mob came; they came with a bell, a great many together; it was between ten and eleven o'clock; I would not go to bed left my house should be set on fire. I went down and took my long staff, I thought there would be other peace officers as well as myself; there were four; they went away, and then I went and put my staff in doors; I went to the house opposite Mr. Lebarty's; I saw the prisoner there, he is a neighbour. I have known him some little time; I saw him and his wife pulling the things about; he pulled down the window shutters on the outside of the house; then the mob went in and threw different things out at the window, beds and furniture; there was among the rest a shirt or shift, which the prisoner took up and put into his pocket. I said to a neighbour it was very hard to see these things taken away from a good neighbour as Lebarty was. I saw Turner take a grate out of the house; when I took him he acknowledged he had taken the grate, and his wife took me to the house where they had sold it.

During the time you saw the prisoner what were the mob doing? - There were twenty or thirty destroying every thing in the house, and throwing them out at the window. I apprehended the prisoner about four days after; there was no place to put people in, and we were afraid to take them sooner.

Spinoza, who served a decade later, also appears to have been socially prominent. He seems to have held office at a relatively early age; he was described as a "young fellow" during a 1789 episode in which he assisted in the capture of a robber after a street chase:

I live in Dunning's-alley, Bishopsgate-street. Last Saturday night, between six seven, I heard the cry of stop thief, and I ran out of the door, and faced the prisoner; he was running past my door; I stopped him, and I took the tippet from him; and I was not master enough for him: he chucked the muff into my arms, and I catched it; I kept close to him, running after him till he came into the broad way of Bishopsgate-street, and a young man faced him and caught him in his arms, and we delivered him to the patroles. I was not above half a yard off when he was caught.

His prominence is most apparent, however, from the fact that he was selected for jury service in 1794. This was an honor that was, at the time, reserved for key men in the community, and Spinoza was one of a very few Jews to be chosen during the eighteenth century.

David Levy's name appears frequently in the annals of the court, where he was well-known enough to be sworn as interpreter. His year as constable occurred in 1784, and included some hair-raising episodes:

... on the 31st of October, I being a constable, the watchmen, Thomas Bond, and Thomas Taylor, brought in the prisoner Goldsmith, into St. James's watch-house, Duke's Place, between three and four in the morning, he had a bundle under his arm, this is the bundle, I asked him what he had, he said he did not know, he said I came from Deptford, and my shipmates desired me to carry it along, I opened the bundle and saw it contained women's apparel, I bid him stand up, and in his coat pocket there were some half-pence, I put them into my hat, and asked him what half-pence he had, he said he did not know, out of his waistcoat there fell this linen waistcoat, then fell out some handkerchiefs from his bosom, then I found a silver purse in his pocket, half a guinea and three half crowns and seven shillings in silver, I opened his breeches, and there I found three pair of cotton stockings, and a pair of gloves, I opened the knees of his breeches, and behind there, in the bend of his knee, I found a watch, this watch fell out; I bid him open his mouth, and I took three guineas out of his mouth; I said then you had better tell me where your comrades are, and I will shew you some mercy, no, says he, damn my bloody eyes, I am done, and they are far enough off from me now, and you will never get them, I carried him to prison, and between six and seven, when the watchmen went off, I patrolled the parish myself, and I went round Leadenhall-street, and went into Houndsditch, and in Houndsditch I met the other three prisoners, and Aaron Levy who is another of the witnesses, and my watchman says to me, them are the three men, I followed the prisoners, and took them in the Minories, I took Jones, and I followed and knocked down Hall, I brought them all three to the watch-house, I first searched Jones, I opened his breeches and found two silk handkerchiefs, and a china snuff-box in his breeches pocket, and a crown's worth of halfpence he threw out of his pocket, they were picked up; on Hall I found four silver spoons, and two papers of half-pence; upon Smart I found a green purse, and seven shillings in silver, and six brass counters; when I took Jones to the counter, I bid him open his mouth, he would not, till he received a blow on the head, and then he did, I told him not to my fingers, when he opened his mouth I got two guineas out of his mouth, he swallowed something which had like to have checked him, I put my fingers down his throat, and pulled out the two guineas, and I gave him half a crown for not biting my fingers, here is all the property.

Levy was also something of a test case; in 1784, a non-Jewish prisoner he had arrested objected to his qualification as constable on religious grounds. The objection was unsuccessful, and the right of Jews to serve as constables was recognized by the court.

The names of the other three Jewish constables appear less frequently, although Solomon Davis held office at least three times: in 1784, 1786 and 1791. Isaac Backrow is noteworthy in that he was himself accused of theft in 1796 - apparently with respect to allegedly stolen goods that he had confiscated - and that his term in office ended when he became bankrupt. Jacob Lyon's name likewise comes up only once, but it does so in reference to a colorful encounter:

I am Constable: on the 20th of September [1791] there was a fire in Houndsditch; I met the prisoner with the bundle under his right arm, about half past ten o'clock, it was not concealed; this great coat was across the bundle when I took them, I asked him what he had there, he said I had no business with him; I collared him and took the bundles, I missed my hold of him, and took hold of his collar, he twisted round and hurt my finger, it has been lame ever since; he got away from me, I pursued him, and called stop thief, he was stopped by a young man; when he came to the watch-house he said damn your eyes you Jew b - r, I sha'nt weigh forty yet; he after that offered to give me a strike, not to swear against him; he told me a strike was a guinea.

The term "weigh forty" is apparently a reference to the forty pound reward for bringing in a robber.

It is likely that there were more Jewish constables. During the trial of Porter Ridout, which I discussed in my first Old Bailey article, one of the witnesses testified that he "went to look for some Jew constables, knowing their people could disperse them better than ours." It may have been common during the late 1700s for Jews to serve as constables in heavily Jewish neighborhoods such as Aldgate, where five of London's six synagogues were located. The great majority of the Jewish constables whose names appear in the record served in Aldgate, although Spinoza lived in the adjacent Bishopsgate ward. Indeed, the first question John Hurd was asked when he identified himself as an officer of Aldgate in 1794 was "are you a Jew?"

The experience of London's Jewish constables bespeaks a society where Jews could move fairly high up the social ladder. It was difficult for foreign-born Jews to be naturalized in eighteenth-century Britain, but those who were native-born or managed to acquire citizenship faced relatively few restrictions compared to their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. The legal profession, Parliament and the universities at Oxford and Cambridge were closed to them, and they faced considerable social prejudice, but those of middle-class status could achieve civil office and the respect of their neighbors.

Making comparisons, part 4

Zachary Latif links to an International Business Center chart comparing the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions for 56 countries. The Hofstede dimensions are an attempt to statistically measure certain social indicators including inequality, individualism, gender roles and risk-averseness.

The Hofstede rankings, like most attempts to reduce cultural traits to statistics, are of doubtful utility. They were created primarily as rules of thumb for managers, and as such were based on workplace surveys, which may not represent accurate cross-sections of the population. Hofstede's original data were also collected during the 1970s, and may not account for social change during the past thirty years; there have been subsequent confirmatory studies, but these have been based on surveys of even narrower population sectors.

The data for Israel do appear somewhat dated. For instance, the Power Distance index, which purportedly measures social inequality, is at a very low level - a result more consistent with the early days of socialism and national solidarity than with present-day neo-Thatcherism and rising income disparities. Nevertheless, even an inaccurate study can be meaningful if it is inaccurate in the same way with respect to all countries - even if it is not valid as to individual countries, it provides a basis for comparison at a particular point in time.

Such a comparison indicates that Israel is essentially a Western society. The country with the Hofstede profile closest to Israel is Austria, and the Israeli indices are closest to the mean for "Christian" (i.e., non-Catholic) countries. If Israel's artificially high "uncertainty avoidance" index - which is likely a product of its ongoing state of siege - is taken into account, then it is even closer to the "Christian" norm.

The "Christian" countries studied by Hofstede are mainly in northern Europe, although they also include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and South Africa. Of these, the European countries have profiles closest to Israel, with the non-European countries having higher levels of individualism and inequality. A similar survey taken in present-day Israel, however, would likely result in higher scores in these two areas, creating a profile closer to that of the United States.

It may be, then, that Israel is becoming more Americanized socially even as it increases its economic and institutional ties to Europe. Certainly, the Israeli indicators - even extrapolated for their probable present-day value - are closer to the West in general than to other Middle Eastern countries. It probably isn't wise to read too much into these statistics, but they seem to reflect the common wisdom.

It's that time again

The Al-Ahram Chronicle discusses the legacy of two great Egyptian poets who died within weeks of each other in 1933.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
Chipping away?

In the Cairo Times, Charles Levinson summarizes the reform measures undertaken by several Arab countries since the invasion of Iraq, and discusses whether they are purely cosmetic or the beginning of an actual democratizing trend.

From the "crime doesn't pay" department

Punishment is supposed to be a deterrent to crime - but what is a court supposed to do when the penalty is an attraction, as it was for Joseph Woolley in 1786? Woolley, a soldier in the Coldstream regiment, was caught stealing from a servant at the inn where he lived, and told his victim that he had done it deliberately in order to be transported:

I charged a constable with the prisoner, and the next day at Litchfield-street he confessed breaking open the box, and selling the things to a Jew in Westminster; no promise was made to him of any sort; there was a shirt which he owned taking the Thursday before, which I did not miss; and he told the constable where it was pawned; nothing else was recovered; he said, he did it to go to Botany Bay; for he was tired of the military law, and was determined to go there.

Woolley's boast could, of course, have been the liquor talking, because he was "much in liquor" at the time of his arrest. On the other hand, it isn't hard to imagine that someone stuck at the bottom of the eighteenth-century British class system might dream of transportation as a means of starting fresh in a new society. Nor is it impossible to imagine a soldier of the time chafing at military discipline and deciding to do something drastic in order to terminate his enlistment.

Whatever Woolley's intentions were, however, they left the sentencing court unamused:

... there is this peculiar circumstance in your case, that you have avowed the commission of this crime, with an intention of being transported to Botany Bay, prefering the ignominious punishment of being transported from your own country, to an honest life in it; the Court will indulge you in your desire of being transported, but you will be disappointed in the place, you shall not chuse your place of destination; and therefore the sentence of the Court is, that you be transported for seven years to Africa: and the Court wish it to be understood, that if there are any persons so infatuated and lost to all regard to the laws of their country, as to prefer transportation in an ignominious manner to a distant place, from whence they have no hope of returning, the Court will disappoint their expectations, by changing the place of their transportation.

The court was somewhat more accommodating in the case of Joseph Herbert the following year, who also reacted to being caught by stating that "now he was sure of going to Botany-bay." The judge did not disappoint him:

You are very well remembered here; the expressions you have used, prove you to be an old offender; you seem to have known the distinctions; you told the man who took you up, that you expected to go to Botany-bay; that expectation will certainly be fulfilled.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that it's all right to expect to go to Botany Bay for theft, but it's a bad idea to want it too much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Emergency call

The Nigerian government is considering military action in response to the continued ethnic warfare between Ijaw and Itsekiri militias in the Warri district. The current violence, which has claimed hundreds of lives during the past week, is a continuation of the clashes that occurred in March.

Affirmative action goes Israeli

A ministerial committee led by Ariel Sharon has approved an economic development plan that includes affirmative action for Israeli Arabs in civil service positions. As in the United States, affirmative action can only be a partial solution; an affirmative action plan would help reduce the high unemployment rate among Arab university graduates and expand minorities' route into the middle class, but it will not eliminate inequalities caused by social prejudice or differential access to education. Still, if this plan is implemented, it will be evidence of Israel's fitful but real good faith in addressing the concerns of its Arab citizens.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
A premature union

African central bank chiefs debated the possibility of a single African currency at a Uganda conference yesterday. Among the advantages cited was that a single currency "removes costs of converting money from one currency to another among African countries" - costs which, in a continent that has too many small countries, may add significantly to the price of intra-continental trade. The experience of the CFA franc, however, which is shared by 14 countries in West and Central Africa, indicates that a common currency may not help a great deal without political stability, debt relief, reduced corruption and relaxation of tariff barriers.

Moreover, a single currency would unite the monetary policies of countries which have different business cycles and are at varying levels of economic development. An African currency governing board would most likely be dominated by South African and Nigerian interests, which are not necessarily good for the rest of the continent. If the African monetary unit is pegged to the euro like the CFA franc, control over monetary policy will move even further away, leading to the possibility of forced devaluations such as occurred in West Africa in 1993. A common currency would also require a degree of fiscal discipline that few African governments exercise at present. It might be a desirable long-term project, but its viability now is highly questionable, and other economic reforms are more urgent.

Not again

At least 20 people have been blown up in Jerusalem, apparently by Islamic Jihad. This is already one of the largest suicide bombings ever, and the final tally may be even higher.

Abu Mazen, who was "meeting with Islamic Jihad representatives at the time of the blast," has of course issued a condemnation of the attack. That doesn't matter. What matters is what he said to those Islamic Jihad representatives, and what he plans to say and do to them tomorrow. If the Palestinian Authority takes a "who, us?" attitude toward this attack, then the Quartet might as well hang a big "detour" sign on the road map. The only way to save this now is for the PA to start acting like a sovereign state in waiting.

Damn, I'm depressed. May the victims rest in peace.

Another milestone

Congratulations to Zachary Latif for posting the 3000th comment.

All you need is a shilling and a dream

When eighteenth-century British criminals got up to no good, they often committed surprisingly modern crimes. Consider, for instance, the trial of Thomas Day for lottery fraud on April 27, 1720.

Government-sponsored gambling is nothing new under the sun. Lotteries with cash prizes go back at least to the sixteenth century, and their history in England begins during the Elizabethan era. Beginning in 1694, the national lottery was a regular event in Britain with tickets sold through registered agents; then, as now, lotteries were considered a more palatable alternative to taxation.

With rich prizes to be won, the temptation to fraud was too much for some criminally minded Englishmen. Day, who was the first lottery forger to be immortalized in the archives of the Old Bailey, was accused of "feloniously altering the Numbers of two Lottery Tickets that were drawn Blanks, to the Numbers of two that were drawn Prize s. viz. No. 64590, to 61960, a Prize of 500l. and 64592 to 68073. a Prize of 100l. on the 30th of December last, with an Intention to defraud our Sovereign Lord the King." At a time when working-class wages sometimes amounted to less than ten pounds a year, the prospect of winning 600 pounds was more than enough for some people to risk the penalties of the Bloody Code.

Day was luckier than many; he was unsuccessful in redeeming the tickets, but was acquitted of the criminal charges. The jury found it "very plain" that "the Numbers of the Tickets were alter'd," but apparently believed Day's protestations that he did not alter them himself.

The risk of fraud was countered by elaborate security measures, as this 1746 trial reveals:

Gentlemen, the Method in which I propose to lay this Evidence before you, will be in the first Place to shew you, that the Ticket is in Fact an alter'd, counterfeit, not a true Ticket. In order to shew that, it may be necessary to observe to you the Manner of making out these Lottery Tickets. 'Tis directed, that there shall be a Book made, and that in that Book there shall be three Columns. I shall first mention to you the Columns, then the Reason. The Act of Parliament directs, that the Book shall be divided into three Columns, the middle Column is to be the Ticket, which is to be sold and dispos'd off to the Proprietor of the Lottery. The outside is to be given to the Adventurer. The Ticket next to that goes into the Wheel, but between them there are Flourishes, and those Flourishes must exactly agree. Further, at the End of the other Ticket there is another Flourish, which, when the Party comes to the Government to receive the Prize, supposing it to be a Prize, 'tis check'd with a Flourish remaining upon the Back; and if it does not agree with it, 'tis clear 'tis a Forgery. I don't think the Wisdom of Man could have invented a greater Method of certain Security, than having these particular Flourishes, so divided by a Pair of Scissars.

The 17-year-old defendant in that trial, John Peter Mayaffree, attempted to defraud the lottery by changing ticket 19165 to 19105, which carried a prize of 20 pounds. This choice of numbers, according to the King's counsel, was deliberate:

This Ticket he bought at Wilson's Lottery-Office ; when he came there he enquir'd for some Lottery Tickets to buy, and enquir'd for Numbers where there were either 6 or 9 in these Numbers: The People with regard to Chances might be superstitious; a plausible Reason he gives why he desir'd Numbers of 6 and 9, was that they were fortunate and lucky Numbers: Gentlemen, I am afraid it will be the Reverse to himself. Gentlemen, if you consider it, it is an easy Thing to take off 6 and make it an 0.

Unfortunately for Mayaffree, the King could not so easily be defrauded, and he was convicted upon proof that "the Flourish on this Ticket and the Flourish in the Lottery-Office Book do exactly tally with Number 19165." He received the death sentence, although "the Jury on Account of his excellent Character and tender Years, recommended him to his Majesty's Mercy."

The trial records reveal many variations on the theme of lottery fraud, including altering the date rather than the ticket number and even selling tickets for nonexistent lotteries. Others sought to avoid government security measures by selling tickets to third parties and demanding a partial deposit in a manner prefiguring the modern-day lottery scam. Indeed, the lottery scam in its 1777 incarnation was almost the same as it is today - the perpetrator claimed to be a foreigner who had drawn a prize-winning ticket and needed to dispose of it to an eligible winner. Some things, it seems, never change.

Monday, August 18, 2003
Rebuilding municipal government

Ilene Prusher discusses the possibility of Palestinian local elections later this year. If held, they would be the first since 1976; sporadic municipal elections were held during the early years of the occupation, but were subsequently discontinued by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Two-State Solution 2a: Ethnic federalism and its discontents

Swarthmore College has a fascinating online exhibit about the Jewish "autonomous region" created by Stalin in Birobidzhan, Siberia. Stalin's vision for the Jews was, naturally, highly anti-religious; although he spoke the language of national self-determination, his goal was to fit Jews into the scheme of Soviet territorial minorities rather than to promote or protect Jewish culture.

Birobidzhan was actually Stalin's second choice; the initial plan to resettle Soviet Jews in agricultural colonies began in Ukraine, the Crimea and Belarus, where more than 200,000 Jews established collective farms during the 1920s. Resistance from local populations, however, forced Stalin to redirect the Jewish settlement project to a more isolated area. Birobidzhan was chosen for its sparse population, its location near the Chinese border and the availability of exploitable natural resources.

Of course, the very isolation and inhospitability of Birobidzhan - combined with Stalin's failure to provide adequate support - ensured that relatively few settlers would come. Nonetheless, about 30,000 did so, including more than 1000 foreign Jews. These received the standard Soviet national minority package, which offered little in the way of real self-determination but did permit education and cultural activities in Yiddish. Stalin's tolerance of Jewish culture did not extend to religious rights; there was no synagogue in Birobidzhan until 1947. The Yiddish language was favored over Hebrew in order to promote national over religious identity - ironically, the same reason that Hebrew was favored by many Zionists.

Nor did the isolation of Birobidzhan protect its Jews from Stalin's depredations. During the great purges of the late 1930s, many of the leaders of the Birobidzhan project were imprisoned or executed, and Jewish cultural institutions were closed down. Although there was some revival of cultural rights after the war and even a minor influx of Jewish settlement, this ended in 1948 with Stalin's renewed assault on Soviet Jews, which featured book-burnings reminiscent of the Middle Ages. By that time, Israel had also taken on the role of the Jewish national home. The Jewish Autonomous Region still exists - the only specifically Jewish political entity other than Israel to be established in modern times - but Jews are a small fraction of the remaining population.

The Birobidzhan project, however, may still have relevance today as an example of how "ethnic federalism" can succumb to excessive centralism and authoritarian rule. As such, it is a cautionary warning against the increasingly common suggestion that Israel and Palestine form a binational federal state. The argument commonly made in favor of such a solution is that the separation of powers and local autonomy inherent in a federal system will prevent the Jewish character of Israel from being overwhelmed by a Palestinian demographic majority. I've previously argued, however, that a federal system - like any other constitutional system existing within the borders of a single nation-state - is only viable as long as the central government retains the commitment to enforce it.

Birobidzhan, I believe, is a case in point. The 1918 constitution of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, of which Birobidzhan was part, was on its face a progressive document that guaranteed national self-determination to its constituent regions. Regional and local councils were, in theory, provided with broad power to "decide all questions of purely local importance." Under Stalin, however, this constitution was worth exactly as much as the paper on which it was written. Jews are zero for one with respect to the capacity of ethnic federalism to protect their self-determination.

Would an Israeli-Palestinian federation be like the Soviet Union? Very likely not, if only for lack of a Stalin-like figure with absolute political authority. Nevertheless, the experience of ethnic federalism even under less totalitarian central rule is not encouraging. The Forum of Federations lists 25 countries with federal political systems. Of these, seven - Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain and the United Kingdom - have federal structures that are, at least in part, based explicitly on ethnic boundaries. Pakistan, with its federally administered tribal areas, might qualify as an eighth.

Spain can be counted out as an example for an Israeli-Palestinian federation, because the self-determination granted to the Basque and Catalan autonomies exists within the confines of a specifically Castilian national hegemony. The record of the other seven is hardly inspiring. In Ethiopia, ethnic federalism has been widely criticized as a figleaf for one-party rule, enabling the ruling party to co-opt restive minorities by expanding its patronage base. The Pakistani tribes owe their autonomy more to the ruggedness of their homeland and the number of AK-47s per capita than any commitment to constitutionalism on the part of the Pakistani government. Nobody can be sure how long the tripartite Bosnian federation will last after the peacekeepers leave, and the record of Serbia in protecting its minority populations is, to say the least, not a model that Israelis or Palestinians would want to follow.

Modern Russia is possibly the most intriguing analogy, because ethnic federalism there has been at least a partial success. During the post-Soviet era, there has been some real devolution of power to the regions, and this has been accompanied by an increase in cultural rights for certain national minorities. In other cases, however, Soviet-era Russian irredentism has prevented minorities from realizing their right to self-determination even within their own republics. The legacy of Russification has been most controversial in Latvia, where more than a third of the population was ethnically Russian at the time of independence, but its effects have been even more profound in many of the Russian Federation's autonomous republics. In some of them, ethnic Russians are now a majority or a plurality, and - particularly where the Russian and indigenous populations are near parity - this has led to active repression of local cultures. In the Republic of Mari, for instance, the Mari - a Finnic ethnic group - make up 43 percent of the population, while ethnic Russians are 47 percent. The Russians, who make up a majority of the urban population and dominate the republic's economy, have solidified their political control during the post-Soviet era, defunded many Mari educational and cultural institutions and systematically purged ethnic Mari from the provincial government.

It may not be too alarmist to envision similar developments taking place in an Israeli-Palestinian federation. Most initial proposals for such a federation call for one of the constituent units to be almost entirely Jewish and the other to be almost entirely Arab. However, these proposals also call for an unlimited right of return to the Palestinian areas of the federation. Given the comparative population density of Israel and the Palestinian territories, combined with the guarantee of internal freedom of residence, it is inevitable that the Arab population will spill over into the Jewish canton. Unless freedom of movement within the federation is restricted - a measure that would make federalism essentially pointless - this irredentism will ultimately affect the balance of power in the Israeli canton and consequently in the federal state as a whole.

But what about Belgium and the United Kingdom? Irredentism doesn't seem to be much of a concern there, and ethnic federalism has proven more viable than in Russia. Both countries, however, have important characteristics that distinguish them from others in which ethnic federalism has been attempted. The UK and Belgium both have strong and well-established traditions of democracy and rule of law, ethnic tensions have been subdued to the point where separatist violence is no longer common and the constituent nationalities have had well over a century to get used to being part of one country. Moreover, federalism in these countries was the result of a devolution of power, and was thus viewed as a partial concession to national self-determination rather than a forced marriage. And even with these favorable conditions, many remain discontented with a federal solution, as shown by the continuing Flemish separatism in Belgium.

An Israeli-Palestinian federation is, I think, more likely to go the way of Russia than of Belgium or the UK. Several aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship practically guarantee instability - the recent history of violent conflict, the inherent tension between Jewish economic dominance and Arab demographic dominance, weak rule of law among Palestinians, authoritarian political traditions on the Palestinian side (and arguably, to some extent, on the Israeli side) and irredentism among Palestinians and the Israeli right. It is difficult to imagine a constitutional structure that would reliably preserve the self-determination of both peoples within the context of a single nation-state, even with a strong federal system.

To be sure, this outcome is not certain. However, before taking any step as drastic as unifying two warring nations, a thorough risk assessment is necessary. Specifically, it is necessary to ask (1) what's the worst that could happen, (2) how likely is it that the worst will happen, and (3) how easy will it be to undo the damage if the worst does happen. In the Israeli-Palestinian context, the worst that could result from a federation is large-scale repression or civil warfare, and - if the above examples are any guide - the likelihood is at least moderate. Moreover, an Israeli-Palestinian federation will create such an entanglement of territory and institutions that it will be practically impossible to undo - which means that even moderate risks must be undertaken with extreme care.

In the end, the risks of binationalism aren't worth the rewards, particularly since many of the same rewards can be obtained through an EU-style arrangement where Israel and Palestine share institutions but have the protection of Westphalian sovereignty. As long as the nation-state remains the basic geopolitical unit, the two-state solution is the only arrangement that can be relied upon to protect both parties' national interests, both through internationally guaranteed sovereignty and by providing a state to which Palestinian refugees could repatriate without raising irredentist fears. If Israeli and Palestinian self-determination are worth preserving - and I believe that they are - then the only viable solution, at least in the short to medium term, involves separate states. A two-state solution will be messy and in some ways unjust, but any other plan will be more so.

Sunday, August 17, 2003
Countdown to Arrival Day: Week 4

This post continues the countdown to Arrival Day 2003. Arrival Day is a non-religious celebration of the founding of the American Jewish community, which occurred with the landing of the first Jewish immigrants in New Amsterdam on September 7, 1654. Every Sunday until September 7, I will post an essay on American Judaism from a historical, contemporary or personal perspective. Both Jews and non-Jews are invited to participate in the Arrival Day Blogburst on September 7; if you're interested, let me know via e-mail or in the comments. Those of you who are impatient can also read Randy McDonald's excellent early entry, to which I will also link in September.

A number of places other than Israel have been proposed as Jewish homelands - Uganda, Birobidzhan, Madagascar and Northern Rhodesia are only four. The majority of these proposals involved the African continent or isolated parts of Asia, but to two nineteenth-century Jewish utopians, the promised land was the United States.

The first of these was an eccentric New York editor, playwright and Tammany Hall politician named Mordecai Manuel Noah. Despite his name, Noah's ancestry was primarily Ashkenazic; he was born in Philadelphia in 1785 to a German Jewish father who had fought in the Revolutionary War. As a young man, he moved to New York and held a number of political offices, serving as sheriff, city judge and surveyor of the port. He also served briefly as consul to Tunis - an episode that may have galvanized his plan to establish a Jewish colony in upstate New York.

In 1825, Noah persuaded a wealthy acquaintance to Grand Island, located north of Buffalo, as a Jewish refuge. Amid high ceremony, he put out a call for settlers:

As an American and as a Jew, Noah was constantly looking for points where American and Jewish interests might intersect. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, America's greatest need was for immigrants. In his travels in Europe and Africa, Noah learned that Jews in the Old World desperately needed a haven for themselves and their children. To bring such Jews to a welcoming America would be a signal service to both.

The drama Noah staged in Buffalo on September 15, 1825, in dedicating Ararat as "A City of Refuge for the Jews," with men marching, band playing, and "Judge" Noah in regal vestments orating, was for both America and world Jewry. The pageant, the proclamation, and Noah's speech were intended to grab the attention of newspaper editors to whom description and text were sent. Accounts of the Ararat drama appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and in England, France, and Germany as well. The drama presented the Jews as the most desirable citizens a nation could want-able, ambitious, productive, and loyal; to the Jews of the Old World, it portrayed what kind of country America was for the Jews. Political dignitaries, leaders of society, and the general populace joined to celebrate the establishment of a city for Jews, while America's most prominent Jew proclaimed a Jewish state on American soil and welcomed his brethren to settle it.

His efforts, however, met with failure due to lack of interest, poor planning and inadequate financing. Within a few years, Noah abandoned his American colonization plan and became an early advocate of Jewish settlement in Palestine.

It is one of history's unexplored coincidences that the revelation of Joseph Smith, which led to the founding of the Mormon church, occurred in virtually the same place less than two years later. It is unlikely that the two men ever met, but some of Noah's articles were published in the newspaper of Smith's hometown of Palmyra, and the Noah plan was the subject of much discussion in upstate New York at the time. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Smith knew of Noah's proposals, and it is fascinating to imagine the effect Noah's messianism might have had on Smith's. At least one historian has characterized the Ararat plan as a "blueprint for the Mormon Zion."

It's also interesting to compare Noah's career to that of Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the other sponsor of Jewish agricultural settlement in the New World. Baron de Hirsch was born in Germany in 1831, a few years after the failure of Noah's colony. He came from one of the first Jewish noble families in Germany, but made his fortune in a time- honored way - by marrying his boss's daughter. By the time he was forty, he was a railroad tycoon, a major commodities trader and a noted philanthropist.

Unlike Noah, Baron de Hirsch never embraced Zionism; on one occasion, he refused a request for aid from Theodor Herzl on the ground that the concept of a Jewish state was a dangerous fantasy. He did, however, share Noah and Herzl's belief that life for Jews in Europe - at least Eastern Europe - was a dead end. He proposed, instead, that colonies of Jewish yeomen be established in the United States, Canada and Argentina:

Hirsch envisioned the transformation of Eastern European Jewry into a class of independent farmers and handicraftsmen in the New World. He established the New York based Baron de Hirsch Fund in 1891 facilitate this goal. Hirsch recruited Mayer Sulzberger, William B. Hackenburg, Jacob H. Schiff, Myer S. Isaacs, Oscar S. Straus and other American Jewish leaders to serve as officers and trustees. Later that same year, Hirsch created the Jewish Colonization Association to facilitate mass emigration of Jews from Russia to agricultural colonies particularly in Argentina and Brazil.

The desire of Hirsch and his Fund's leadership to recast Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the image of "biblical farmers" was shaped by a mix of attitudes. The trustees wanted to reverse the historic discrimination that banned their Eastern European brethren from farming. At the same time, they shared a negative Western European stereotype of Eastern European Jews as unskilled workers, beggars and peddlers. Therefore the goal of the Fund's leadership was to improve the lot of Eastern European Jews and transform them into a socio-economic class acceptable to the tastes of the 19th century Jewish elite.

Baron de Hirsch's colonies were far better financed and coordinated than Noah's, and a number of settlements such as Woodbine, New Jersey actually got off the ground. In the end, however, these colonies also failed. Most of the settlers drifted to cities with established Jewish communities, and the Hirsch fund ironically ended up financing colonies in Israel. Some of the charities established by Baron de Hirsch still exist, but his farming colonies and trade schools closed up shop by the 1930s.

By that time, however, there was no need for utopians to sponsor Jewish settlement in America. Between 1880 and 1920, more than 1.8 million Jews entered the United States in one of the greatest mass migrations in Jewish history. The failure of sponsored Jewish colonization in the New World no longer mattered, because the modern American Jewish community had created itself. The United States may not have been the promised land, but for millions of Jews it was the goldeneh medina.