Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Master of my eminent domain

The disengagement from Gaza is drawing closer. On August 15 of my pocket calendar, I have written in "Y'hi ratzon mil'fanecha sheta'aleinu b'simcha l'artzeinu V'TITA'EINU BIGVULEINU!!!". (From the Shabbat musaf service, "May it be your will that you bring us up in joy to our land and plant us within our borders!!!". Ditching Gaza brings us closer to the day when Israel will have borders.)

The latest Jerusalem Report juxtaposes two interesting opeds about the phenomenon of Americans wearing orange and protesting the disengagement. On the left is Anne Roiphe, who supports the disengagement but affirms the right of Jews around the world to protest it ("I would join the orange shirts in a blink of an eye, if I didn't think they were all wrong"). On the right is Amiel Ungar, who opposes the disengagement, but believes "that decisions concerning Israel's future belongs to Israeli citizens. Massive aliyah remains the best contribution that Jewish supporters of Judea and Samaria could make to the struggle."

At first glance, both of these positions may seem unusual. But the only thing unusual about Roiphe and Ungar is that they, unlike most people who have weighed in on the matter, actually hold views that are consistent with their own views of a few years ago (before the countdown to disengagement began). Until recently, the Left argued that the State of Israel represents Jews around the world, and therefore we have the responsibility to protest the Israeli government's actions (lo eshtok ki artzi shintah et paneha - the oft-forgotten seifa of a song that is as blindly patriotic as "Born in the U.S.A."), while the Right argued that Israel is for the Israelis and those of us in America should make aliyah or shut up. Now, when the tables have turned, both Roiphe and Ungar have stuck to these principles, unlike those who wear orange and those who would silence the orange-wearers (other than by pointing out that they are very very wrong).

I hope that those who are wearing orange in New York take a moment to think about what it means to be an American Jew who is devoted to Israel (albeit, in their case, misguided) and therefore feels the need to protest the actions of the Israeli government.

[The orange water bottles and folders on the Hadar Shavuot Retreat were not a political statement, they were just unfortunate timing. They were inspired by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates. So really they're not orange, they're saffron. ]

Further evidence that we've stepped through the looking glass was in last week's Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, ruling that the power of eminent domain allows the government to condemn private property and hand it over to private developers for the purpose of economic development, rather than restricting eminent domain to expropriating land for government purposes (roads, schools, etc.). The most shocking part of this decision is that I found myself agreeing with the minority of O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas against the majority of Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer!

La kashya. I was looking at the decision from a public policy perspective: it appears to enrich corporations at the little guy's expense, since it allows the government to kick people out of their homes to build a Wal-Mart or a mall. The justices were looking at the case from a jurisprudence perspective: private property is sovereign vs. the government has the right to redistribute property. After reading an explanation of the decision by an actual judicial clerk (though I haven't read the decision itself yet), I am somewhat convinced that the way to achieve these public policy objectives might be politically (by preventing elected officials from condemning land to build a Wal-Mart) rather than judicially (since the history of eminent domain is more complicated than I understand). This is left to the dedicated student for further research. Still, it's hard to shake the irony that the justice who cast the deciding vote to elect George W. Bush is writing in her dissent "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

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