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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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Stunning Political News This Morning from Israel: How Israel’s History and Theological Landscape Explain Today’s Crisis

Absolutely stunning political news this morning out of Israel. Just seven weeks after an Israeli national election, the head of the Likud party, the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been unable to form a government. This is an historic first and a political crisis for Israel. Never in the nation's history has the leader of the party receiving the most votes and thus the most seats in the Knesset failed to form a government. In this case, Likud came just one seat short of a majority that would have situated Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister giving him the ability to form a government.

Over the course of recent Israeli history, Benjamin Netanyahu has been the most venerable and stable political force in Israel. Furthermore, in electoral politics, he has been recognized as the most successful politician on the world scene today. He appeared to be riding a crest of victory just seven weeks ago when his party again, came out of the national election with the largest number of seats in the Knesset, but not enough to form a majority and not enough to form a government. Last night, it became very clear that Netanyahu had failed to gain adequate coalition partners to establish a government. How far short did he fall? One seat. But that's all it takes, one seat.

So what's going on here? Well, in one sense is the volatility of Israeli politics that has marked that nation going all the way back to its founding in 1948. When you're talking about the volatility of American politics, you have to recognize that doesn't even compare to what you might call the day to day normal volatility of Israeli politics. But there's a bigger story here and that's what deserves our attention.

Israel in 1948, politically was established as a largely socialist secular state. That is to say, even though it was to be a state for the Jewish people, it was not to be a state that was organized according to Jewish law. Furthermore, most of the Patriarchs and matriarchs that established the modern state of Israel were themselves generally well identified as being rather secular agnostic. Some of them were atheists. They were also largely committed to the model of socialism. Thus, the famous kibbutz, which is the ultimate Israeli expression of socialism. But Israel's success on the world scene as the brave democracy there in the Middle East has not been due to its continued embrace of socialism, but rather its eventual break from socialism and no one has represented that more than Benjamin Netanyahu and his party, the Likud party. Even though there is no exact correspondence to American political parties, the Likud party has been long, basically identified with the Republican Party in the United States, but Israel is a parliamentary system of government.

The head of government is the prime minister. The head of the state is the president of Israel. That's a largely ceremonial position, but there's one exception. If the leader of the party that wins the election is unable to form a government, then the president can appoint someone else to try to form a government. That's why Benjamin Netanyahu's own party moved to dissolve the Knesset just after midnight this morning. The Likud party, which has been in power for so many years under Benjamin Netanyahu, could not risk the president of Israel declaring that Netanyahu had failed to form a government and then giving someone else the opportunity to try to form a different coalition at the expense of Netanyahu and Likud. The vote that took place shortly after midnight this morning in Israel was 74 votes in the Knesset in favor of calling the election and 45 against. This means that Israel will have the unprecedented development of two national elections separated by only roughly six months.

This is not a sign of national political health. But the reason we're giving it so much attention this morning is not just the big political news, but what this means in the underlying more foundational worldview. That important development is this, Israel is now a far less secular nation than it was in 1948. That's true in most of the political parties. Benjamin Netanyahu's rather conservative party is also increasingly identified with theism, increasingly identified with religious observance. That is true of Israel as a whole. That explains why Likud has been in power for so long. But there are also those who are trying to form a secular conservative, a secular nationalist alternative to Netanyahu, but there are other players on the landscape and that would include the parties identified with the ultra-Orthodox. How do they play into this? Well, it turns out that the party that Likud wanted to partner with in the coalition headed by Avigdor Lieberman, who has sometimes been Netanyahu's ally, sometimes his political enemy, that party had five seats.

That would have been plenty to give Netanyahu a coalition that would have been able to form a government, but the leader of that party, Lieberman, refused to join Netanyahu's coalition because Netanyahu would not confront the ultra-Orthodox on the issue of compulsory military service. What's going on there? Well, Israel has had compulsory military service for young people going all the way back again to its founding in 1948. That is included all young men in Israel who have to serve in the military. The military may give them various assignments, but the service is compulsory. Some kind of national service has also now been included for young women, but the ultra-Orthodox claiming that their main and solitary responsibility is the study of the Torah, they have claimed that they are and their sons and their daughters exempt from that compulsory military service. This has been a very sore spot in Israel for decades now and that became the decisive breaking point that led to Israel's political crisis this morning.

The vote that came this morning, and again it was supported by Netanyahu, the prime minister, and it was largely led by his party. The timing of it was to prevent the president of Israel from giving someone else the opportunity to form a government at Netanyahu's expense. But it was also because the Likud party hopes that in the national election now provisionally scheduled for September the 17th, it would win at least 65 seats, giving it a majority in the Knesset and the ability to form a government not being dependent upon Avigdor Lieberman and his secular conservative party identified as Ultra Nationalist. But just remember, even as we're told that theology does and should mean less and less everywhere, and that progress means that inevitably a society becomes more and more secular, we need to note that the political crisis in Israel is not because Israel has become more secular over time and has become less secular.

And the catalyst for the fall of this Israeli government came down to the ultra-Orthodox and whether they should be included in compulsory military service. The intellectual elites in the West have been telling us that anything that includes the word Orthodox that has any relationship to religion will mean less and less over time. Just tell that to Benjamin Netanyahu this morning. Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the party that refused to enter into the coalition with Netanyahu because of the ultra-Orthodox, he said, "We are natural partners for a right wing government, but not for a government based on Jewish law." What an amazing statement. It tells us a great deal that the founders of Israel wanted a Jewish state, but they didn't want Jewish law. Now you have the failure of the prime minister to form a government precisely because Jewish law became the issue.

On Tuesday of this week, Lieberman had written, "I am for the state of Israel. I am for a Jewish state, but I am against a state based on Jewish religious law." But here's my prediction. Due to this political crisis and the new elections to be held in September, I believe that Israel will emerge from this, not more secular, but actually less secular. No doubt it's a political crisis, but it's also a theological crisis. A crisis between two visions of Israel. One that defines Israel as a Jewish state, and the other that defines Israel as a Jewish state that should be under Jewish law. And the crisis is made worse when you understand that there are those who want a Jewish state but not if it means Jewish law, and there are others who will not even recognize Israel as a Jewish state unless it is also under Jewish law.

So the crisis in Israel as of this morning is multifaceted. It is a constitutional crisis. It is a political crisis, but it's also a theological crisis. It is a deeply religious crisis. It's not often on The Briefing we get to talk about a political crisis that comes on the same day that The Briefing is recorded, but that's the way it is because it took place just after midnight, Israeli time. But this much is for sure the shockwaves are going to continue for days and weeks and months to come.

Part

It’s Hollywood vs. Georgia: The Pressure Increases with Netflix Announcement

Next, coming back to the United States, in recent days the Wall Street Journal ran an article with the headline, "Georgia's burgeoning film industry faces threat." The articles by Cameron McWhirter and Erich Schwartzel. They wrote, "Georgia's swelling film and television industry known locally as Y'allywood, faces growing pressure from a boycott launched by some actors and producers over a new state law restricting abortion. The writers go on to say the standoff differs from Hollywood's past objections to Georgia policies while a growing list of actors and producers say they will avoid working in the state until the law is overturned. Most major studios, which received generous tax incentives in Georgia, haven't announced any change in plans."

We are really talking about big money here. There are estimates that the Y'allywood industry amounts to something like nine billion dollars of economic activity in Georgia. But you should also not miss the point that the studios are not there because of the largeness of their hearts are the fact that they want to film in Atlanta or in other locations in Georgia. It's because of the tax incentives, which sometimes can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Hollywood is there because they can save money by making their television programs and their movies in Georgia. But this isn't just an economic story. Of course, it's a story with deep worldview implications because the catalyst in this is Georgia's passage of a fetal heartbeat bill, and the fact that Hollywood overwhelmingly liberal in worldview is now having its own form of a crisis of conscience.

That's probably giving them too much an opportunity in politics to make a case against Georgia and to threaten to remove Hollywood's industry from the Peach State. That's the claim. That's the threat. That's why there is this story in the Wall Street Journal and this paper that gives predominant attention to the economic aspects of a major story. But the economic aspects become very clear and so also the politics. McWhirter and Schwartzel right, "Meanwhile, legislators in California see an opportunity to regain ground lost in recent years to more lucrative incentive programs like Georgia's. Last week, Democratic Assembly woman, Luz Rivas, introduced a measure to offer tax credits to productions that relocate from states where access to abortion is being restricted."

Now, it's hard to exaggerate just the kind of political signaling and posturing that comes from California's Democratic Left. But here you have the case where a democratic member of the California Assembly is suggesting a measure that offers tax credits to Hollywood, not for being Hollywood, not for moving business to California, but for moving business from a state that dares to restrict abortion. The Wall Street Journal report gets right to the bottom line with these words, "Hollywood has boycotted states for conservative legislation before, but Georgia's lucrative tax credits and success in luring productions have created an entrenched industry with an established workforce, sprawling production facilities and locations that can mimic cities or the rural south. But the point made by this Wall Street Journal article that was published last Friday is that even though actors and actresses, producers and directors had spoken out against Georgia, most of the major film studios were rather mum.

But all that changed in a headline in the Washington Post yesterday, the articles by Sonia Rao, the headline, "Netflix becomes the first major Hollywood studio to speak out against Georgia's abortion law." The Post tells us that ever since Georgia passed a heartbeat bill earlier this month, there's been a growing pressure in Hollywood to speak out, given that the state has become a major production hub for film and television due to generous tax incentives. As Rao says, some celebrities have vowed to boycott Georgia if the law is officially implemented in January, while others will instead donate earnings to organizations fighting against it. But then Raul gets to her point, "But it wasn't until Tuesday that a major Hollywood studio contributed to the conversation. Netflix, chief content officer, Ted Sarandos declared that while the streaming giant wouldn't yet refrain from working in Georgia, it would partner with organizations in the legal fight against the law, which is among the most restrictive in the nation."

Here's what to note, Netflix has now weighed in, but it has weighed in in a way that doesn't threaten its own bottom line. We're going to be looking here at how the moral revolution, the sexual revolution has been aided and abetted by liberal corporations. We're going to look at how major corporations bring about moral change one way or the other. We'll look at several of those ways, but the thing to notice here is that they rarely, if ever, take an action which well understood, hurts their own bottom line. That wouldn't be good for business. But while you have pervasive virtue signaling going on company by company, here you have Netflix doing it right out in public saying that they're not moving their productions from Georgia, but they are going to be donating to causes that are going to oppose the final implementation of this law.

It is interesting to see how some go to great lengths to try to indicate that their position is not self-serving, but is in the service of the public. They try to make it look very high minded. Two individuals connected with the Netflix program, ‘Ozark,’ the star is Jason Bateman, but the producers are Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Grazer and Howard in a statement said this, "We felt we could not abandon the hundreds of women and men whose means of support depend on this production, including those who directly contribute on the film and the business and the community." Sending their own moral and political statement clearly, Grazer and Howard also said in a statement to the Hollywood reporter, "We see Governor Kemp's bill as a direct attack on women's rights, and we will be making a donation to the ACLU to support their battle against this oppressive legislation."

Notice what's going on here. They're not going to move their production, even though they say they're outraged because they get a lot of money for keeping the production in Georgia. But they want to signal that even as they're in Georgia, they're not of Georgia, and so they're going to be making a donation. That's one of the ways companies try to send a moral signal and furthermore to try to get over a moral question, they're making a donation to the ACLU Why? Because the ACLU is opposing the bill. How large of a donation? That's not said.

Part

Big Business and the Brave New World of ‘Woke-Washing’: Coming Soon to a Brand Near You

But in order to understand what's going on here, we need to take a view from the left, The Guardian, a liberal newspaper in London, in an article by Owen Jones addresses the issue of woke-washing. This again is a criticism from the left, not from the right, although conservatives will want to pay very close attention.

From the left, Owen Jones makes the point that many corporations get away with basic complicity in what he sees as wrongful behavior because they woke-wash. In other words, they want to appear woke, fully committed to social justice, but they do so by making a donation here, by making a political statement there. Again, the statement comes from the left. Jones writes, "Brands are increasingly flirting with the realm of politics. This week, he said, Lacoste announced it would swap its trademark crocodile logo for 10 limited edition Polo shirts featuring a different endangered species. Instead, it was soon pointed out that the company was offering gloves made from deer leather and cow leather handbags online." What do you make of that? Well, here's a company that tried to appear high minded, completely committed to an ecological agenda and very much concerned about animal rights and so it's going to do something so morally significant as to change its logo on 10 limited edition Polo shirts.

It's going to remove its trademark crocodile and instead feature 10 different endangered species. But what Owen Jones is pointing out is that Lacoste is still in the business of trading in products that are made from animal skins. And to animal rights activists, that's a huge problem. It's a much larger problem than can be solved by a company coming out with 10 limited edition Polo shirts with endangered animals replacing a crocodile. And here's how it comes from the left, Owen Jones writes, "You don't have to have digested Karl Marx's Das Kapital, to recognize that companies are driven by the profit motive not changing the world. Now of course corporations are formed because of the profit motive. That's why you establish a company. That's why you start a new business. Even by the way, if it's called Lacoste or Facebook or Amazon, you can go down the list.

But what's really interesting here is that from the left that is presented as a moral corruption. The fact that it is corrupt to try to seek to make a profit. But of course it's only by making a profit that you can have the kind of advance in the economy, but here you have the left speaking and that's where we need to pay attention. The left is saying that the woke washing going on amongst major corporations is just that. It is trying to have at least in public, a clean or a cleaner brand conscience because you're donating to this. You're signaling your virtue there. You're making a political statement. You're trying to appear cool. Jones gets to the argument from the left, "This is actually woke washing or profit driven company cynically cashing in on people's idealism and using progressive oriented marketing campaigns to deflect questions about their own ethical records." Again, coming from the left, he writes, "But surely, no company's going to launch an advertising campaign if it thinks it will lose money. Therefore, by definition, any social justice oriented marketing is driven primarily by money not advancing the cause of human progress."

Now, what I'm going to ask you to do is to take that analysis coming from a liberal newspaper in London and transfer it to what Hollywood is doing in Georgia. When you look at the contributions to the ACLU in all the public pledges of outrage about the Georgia legislation and look at all the language being used, including the fact that Grazer and Howard spoke of the fact that they're taking their action, not removing their program because it would cost women jobs. Oh, wait just a minute, also men. But bringing this to a conclusion, we have to look at the fact that big business, major corporations do have an enormous amount of influence in society. Just like Hollywood, you have big business sending moral signals, and the thing we need to note is the piling on.

You have company after company deciding that it wants to be, you know this, on the right side of history. It wants to go after rather more liberal and cosmopolitan younger consumers. It has to please those who are its central stakeholders in Hollywood, you know exactly who that is. It's the producers, it's the directors and more than anything else, it's the talent. The talent that turns out to be extremely liberal. Increasingly, the same thing is true even in more mainstream American corporations, and you could expand that to understanding this is really an international issue with so many corporations, actually global corporations. You have shareholder action in which you have people leveraging stock holdings in order to try to bring about political change and then you have the contractual policies that these companies establish. We will do business with X or Y based upon these principles. We will not do business with A or B, we find to be on the wrong side morally.

You also have the personnel policies of those major corporations and those policies, especially in the name of diversity, they are increasingly making it difficult for many convictional Christians to even work for those corporations. But in one of those rare ironies, it turns out that coming from the left in this case, in this article in The Guardian, is the recognition of what's really going on here. The term is exactly right. What you're looking at here is corporate woke washing. It's obviously an effort to intimidate Georgia and to try to dissuade any other state from daring to restrict abortion in any way. But at this point it's coming down to rather symbolic actions of woke washing, making a contribution to the ACLU, making a public statement of outrage. But as in every other case, we'll find out what they actually believe by what they actually do.

It's not just what Hollywood says, it's what Hollywood does. Time will tell.

Part

High Politics, Low Ratings: Middle America Didn’t Like ‘Murphy Brown’

Finally, speaking of Hollywood, you have Hollywood trying to send a political message. Sometimes it turns out it's not very well received. That was the case with the attempted revival of the program, ‘Murphy Brown,’ starring Candice Bergen, the program had been a smash hit decades ago. They tried to bring it back timed for criticism of president Trump and the more conservative movement in the United States. But as John Copeland reports, "CBS pulled the plug on ‘Murphy Brown’ bringing an end to the revival of a beloved sitcom that proved to be a ratings flop this television season." The report goes on to say, "The revival of ‘Murphy Brown’ finished in 65th place among broadcast network shows among adults under the age of 50, the key demographic for advertisers. That,” according to the New York Times, “put it in the same company as CBS's ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and the NBC drama, ‘The Enemy Within.’"

There's also a very interesting insight embedded within the article, "The show was unabashedly anti-Trump, which could have been a hard sell for the audience of a network that plays well in middle America with primetime programs like ‘NCIS’ and ‘Blue Bloods.’" In its earlier run from 1988 to 1998, ‘Murphy Brown’ was already infamous for its liberal moral signaling and of course, it was Candice Bergen's ‘Murphy Brown’ who famously had a child as a single woman leading to one of those epic moments in America's moral history controversy over the program. But Hollywood thought this was the perfect moment to bring back ‘Murphy Brown.’

I said there was a key insight included within this article. It comes down to this. The mention here is made of Middle America, but Middle America, even according to the New York Times, is looking for shows about law and order, not even more virtue signaling from Hollywood. That ought to tell us something, it certainly ought to tell Hollywood something.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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