On the menu today: You know how members of the New Right like to boast that they “know what time it is,” and that old fuddy-duddies like me who still believe in free markets, strong defense, and traditional values don’t? Well, after flying back on a nonstop, 15-hour flight from Taipei, Taiwan, to JFK in New York this weekend, then spending a good six or seven hours of quality time in Terminal Five in the wee hours of the morning waiting for the first flight back to D.C., I will readily admit I have no idea what time it is. I’m pretty sure I’ve narrowed it down to Monday morning. I was so tired yesterday that I hallucinated that the New York Jets managed to come back and beat the Giants after trailing with 24 seconds left, in a game where the teams combined for more punts than points.
Today’s newsletter is chopped into home and abroad, and I figured that domestic political news would be front and center, but nope — a gang of unhinged antisemites stormed the tarmac of an airport in southern Russia, hunting for Jews. (Look a little deeper into that jet engine, you evolutionary missing link.) Elsewhere, another high-ranking Chinese figure who had a rivalry with Xi Jinping suddenly drops dead, Democratic congressman Dean Phillips (“Who?”) is here to save us, and Mike Pence calls it quits on his presidential bid. Oh, and did you know Indonesia is moving its national capital, because the ground underneath the current capital of Jakarta is sinking about four inches per year?
An Ancient Hatred in an Unsurprising Place
Russia, the country that launched the largest land war in Europe since World War II, invading a country with a democratically elected Jewish president in the name of “denazification,” is bringing back old-fashioned Jew-hunting pogroms.
I’ll bet few of us have ever heard of Makhachkala, Russia, and would have been perfectly happy to never hear about it. It’s the capital of Dagestan, on the southernmost tip of Russia, bordering Azerbaijan and the independent democratic country of Georgia we used to call “Soviet Georgia.” Dagestan is Russia’s most ethnically diverse state, but it’s heavily Muslim, and when you combine toxic Russian antisemitism with toxic Muslim antisemitism, well, besides feeling like you’re standing between two scorpions, you have a foaming and combustible mix of hatreds ready to manifest in violence at any moment. Because it’s not just the hateful nutjobs storming the airport over rumors that Israeli refugees had arrived; it’s the lack of any government action to prevent this, and the lethargic, foot-dragging efforts to stop the airport rage festival once it started:
Hundreds of people stormed into the main airport in Russia’s Dagestan region and rushed onto the landing field, chanting antisemitic slogans and seeking passengers arriving on a flight from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, Russian news agencies and social media reported.
Russian news reports said the crowd on Sunday surrounded the airliner, which belongs to Russian carrier Red Wings.
Authorities closed the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region, and police converged on the facility. Dagestan’s Ministry of Health said more than 20 people were injured, with two in critical condition. It said the injured included police officers and civilians.
Sixty people were detained in the unrest, the Interior Ministry for the federal district that includes Dagestan said Monday. It was not clear if charges had been filed against any of them.
The current AP headline on that story is the accurate, “Hundreds storm airport in Russia in antisemitic riot over arrival of plane from Israel.” The initial headline was “Crowd storms airport to protest flight from Israel.” Oh, it’s just a “protest,” huh? Do you notice how rarely we ever see headlines that overstate the degree of antisemitism from an angry mob? All the errors go in one direction, which leaves you doubting that they’re genuine errors.
Notice that the angry mob at the airport didn’t say it was just hunting for Israel citizens, or Israeli government officials, or the IDF, or Mossad. It said it was looking for Jews. Those of us with functioning brain cells know that not every Israeli is a Jew (18 percent of Israelis are Muslim, 2 percent are Christian, and 2 percent are Druze) and not every Jew is an Israeli. But to the antisemites, the terms are interchangeable, and all around the world, we notice that the people who claim to be furious about the actions of the Israeli government always seem to want to take out their anger on the nearest Jew. Your local synagogue or the Hasidic family down the street aren’t the Israeli consulate, but hateful punks don’t care.
You see, American critics of Israel, this is why a whole bunch of us just don’t believe you when you insist that you’re “not antisemitic, just anti-Zionist.” That worldview amounts to a belief that every single people on earth is entitled to a homeland, and entitled to defend that homeland with force, except for the Jewish people.
There’s also an excellent chance that we’re stuck in an argument with people who don’t know squat about squat, and who are adamantly insisting that two plus two equals five. There’s footage of a feminist professor at U.C. Berkeley insisting, “Hamas and Hezbollah are social movements that are progressive and are part of the Global Left.” Like hell they are. Lady, read a human-rights report once in while:
Hamas authorities have also executed 28 people in Gaza since seizing political control in June 2007, in a context in which due process violations, coercion, and torture are prevalent, and have summarily executed scores of other people without any judicial process, often on accusations of collaboration with Israel. Palestinian authorities should abide by the international human rights treaties they have acceded to and end grave abuses and endemic impunity by holding those responsible to account.
In the U.S., you can find a lot of banners and posters saying “trans rights FOR Palestine,” but you cannot find any transsexual or gay rights IN Palestine. It’s as if these people are choosing to believe in some imaginary better, nicer, and more progressive Hamas-run Gaza Strip for them to support.
One other terrific irony: You could make an argument that right now, one of the safest places for Jews in Europe is . . . Ukraine, the country currently being bombed by the Russians. In a 2018 survey, just five percent of Ukrainians said they do not accept Jews as fellow citizens; that number was 14 percent in Russia, 18 percent in Poland, 19 percent in the Czech Republic, 22 percent in Romania, and 23 percent in Lithuania. For a fuller discussion of antisemitism in Ukraine, see my conversation with Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman; the short version is that yes, antisemitic nutjobs exist in Ukraine, but they exist in every free country, and, by and large, Ukrainians — who elected the Jewish Zelensky as their president — welcome Jewish citizens, particularly now that all of Ukrainian society has a life-and-death threat at its doorstep.
Meanwhile, over in China . . .
Thanks to everyone who read and appreciated my coverage from Taiwan last week; I realize the tensions across the Taiwan Strait were likely not front and center in everyone’s minds when U.S. college campuses decided to start the American Intifada, driven by snot-nosed college students who have spent the past decade calling everybody to the right of Larry Hogan a Nazi.
On my last full day in Taiwan, the local press and my international journalist colleagues were buzzing about the sudden death of the recently retired Chinese premier Li Keqiang — a man who represented hope for reform in mainland China, but who never got to enact much of what he wanted, because of the opposition from Xi Jinping and his more authoritarian vision of the country. As noted last week, Li dropped dead amidst an ongoing purge of China’s government leadership. Back in October, at the Chinese Communist Party Congress, “two stewards escorted former Chinese president Hu Jintao off the stage of the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing”; Hu paused to pat Premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder on the way out, perhaps a final farewell from one of Xi’s rivals to another.
Unsurprisingly, the purge left people wondering if Li suffered a heart attack, or a “heart attack,” with a wink and a nudge. Alas, it’s not that rare for a 68-year-old man to have a heart attack. Then again, top Chinese government officials usually live a long time: “For China’s top leadership born from the 1880s to the 1930s, average longevity is in the mid-to-high 80s. . . . Nearly one in five Chinese leaders has lived beyond 90.”
Vladimir Putin is the kind of guy who will blow up your plane and claim that you were playing with hand grenades while using cocaine. Xi Jinping seems like the kind of ruler who would be a little more subtle when taking out a potential rival and retain some plausible deniability.
Relax, Everyone, Dean Phillips Is Here to Save Us!
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way that the relatively obscure Minnesota congressman Dean Philips is making the case for his long-shot bid in the Democratic primary. Appearing on Michael Smerconish’s show on CNN this weekend, Phillips explained why he’s running:
Look at the polls. Last week’s ABC News poll has President Biden down nine points nationally. The Bloomberg poll has been losing and five of the six key battleground states.
You just referenced the lowest — some of the lowest approval ratings in American presidential history. I don’t know how more loudly American voters could speak. Over 50 percent of Democratic voters simply want an alternative. I’m raising my hand, I’m entering this ring, because I think Americans deserve that very alternative. I’m going to run a spirited, joyful, optimistic campaign based on strength and fortitude, and give people a choice.
And if I don’t succeed, rest assured I will do everything I can. I will work just as hard for President Biden or whoever the nominee might be to ensure that Donald Trump does not return to the White House. And if that wasn’t enough, Michael, Matt Gaetz of all people, Matt Gaetz yesterday tweeted that it would be harder for Donald Trump to be Dean Phillips than to beat Joe Biden. That is the very case that I’m going to be making.
Yup, all of that is true, congressman . . . but none of that is a sign that anybody in the Democratic Party is clamoring for you, Dean Phillips, to be their new presidential nominee.
(Oh, and if you’re trying to persuade Democrats to vote for you, I would not lead with “Matt Gaetz thinks I would be difficult to beat.” For what it’s worth, what Gaetz really tweeted was, “if Biden debates Phillips, Dean will be the Democrat nominee and he will be considerably more difficult for Trump to defeat than Biden. But Biden won’t debate.” Phillips is going to get some of that RFK Jr.-style love from the right; certain voices on the right love any Democrat who’s criticizing the current leader of the Democratic Party.)
As our Ryan Mills laid out, Phillips has somehow managed to garner a reputation as a bipartisan moderate while having the voting record of a down-the-line party loyalist: “A FiveThirtyEight tracker from 2021-22 found that Phillips voted with Biden’s preferred position on issues 100 percent of the time, including on things like collective bargaining rights, expanded firearms regulations, out-of-state abortion service access, and funding for the war in Ukraine.” If you want to credit Phillips for being a moderate in his demeanor and rhetoric, fine, but that’s not the same as being an actual political moderate.
Then again, Phillips is offering the Democrats the same Biden policies and outlook in the body of a seemingly healthy 54-year-old man. Isn’t that what Democrats say they want?
Vaya Con Dios, Mike Pence
Back on January 6, that angry mob at the Capitol, stirred up by Donald Trump, chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but if my governing partner had a hand in a group of enraged nutjobs trying to kill me, I would carry a grudge over that sort of thing. And if I ran for president, I’d run on a clear platform that, “My old running mate is a deranged hateful psychopath and is too reckless and dangerous to entrust with your Netflix password, never mind the executive branch of the U.S. government.”
Instead, Pence ran a weird hybrid campaign that suggested he was as proud as a peacock over the accomplishments of what he insisted upon calling “the Trump–Pence administration,” but that out of the blue, shortly after Election Day 2020, his running mate suddenly and unpredictably turned into a bad man and a bad president — appeasing on the world stage, abandoning the cause of life, embracing a toxic form of populism, and making “utterly inexcusable” threats against figures like retired general Mark Milley.
Some days, Pence would declare Trump had no regard for the Constitution and shouldn’t be president, and then other days he would refuse to rule out voting for Trump for president in 2024. At this point, it’s cliché to say Pence was too Trumpy for the anti-Trump crowd, too anti-Trumpy for Trump supporters. But it was always clear that there was only a small percentage of Republican primary voters in the space in between, willing to seriously entertain the notion of nominating Pence. Pence was asked how he would square that circle many times, and he never had a good answer, other than a certain blind faith that voters would judge him for his own actions and statements, separate from those of Trump. Sometimes, it felt like Pence was running for president in 2012.
As vice president, Pence felt he had no choice but to avert his eyes from Trump’s more ridiculous statements, self-inflicted wounds, erratic decisions, and casual abandonment of conservative positions. Sometimes as a presidential candidate in this cycle, Pence demonstrated a similar ability to avert his eyes from things he didn’t want to see — like the fact that lots of Republicans who liked him had no particular desire to see him be the next president.
ADDENDUM: This is sort of news you hear and wonder how you missed it. This past summer, the government of Indonesia announced plans to move the national capital from Jakarta to Nusantara. One of the problems of Jakarta is that it is flood-prone, and apparently the ground is sinking roughly ten centimeters per year, because of wells that are pumping underground aquifers dry. (Some parts are sinking 25 centimeters per year.) A rising sea level and sinking ground level is an ominous formula for a region that is already flood-prone.
If you’ve never heard of Nusantara, it’s because it’s a new planned city, which the Indonesian government is pledging will be green and environmentally friendly. Of course, the growth of the city beyond the planned boundaries, which is almost inevitable, will lead to additional deforestation.