November 21, 2023

Questions Answered

Editor's Note: Many thanks to the hundreds of readers who responded to our survey with thoughtful questions! We’re delightfully overwhelmed. For the next few days, we’ll be answering a select few that we think represent broader themes. Our focus today is foreign policy and immigration. Yesterday we covered Trump, Biden, and elections.

Please note that while we've put a lot of thought into these answers, we do not claim to speak for any political party / activist group / large swathe of people. When we’re answering as a 'conservative' or 'liberal,' it’s a tricky balance between trying to accurately summarize the prevailing viewpoints on our side of the political spectrum, being true to how we as individuals think and feel, and keeping our answers short enough so that readers won’t lose interest.

Ask a Conservative

Is there a way to criticize Israeli government policy without being accused of antisemitism? - Anonymous

There is nothing antisemitic about opposing Israeli government policy. Israel is a long-time US ally, but that does not mean it is perfect. However, context is important, and in particular the historical legacy of anti-Jewish violence. Chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” cannot be divorced from the fact that this is the slogan of a terrorist group with the explicit goal of destroying Israel and its people. Claims that the chant instead refers to a peaceful solution is a bit like using a swastika and insisting that it is just an Indian holy symbol.

Why does the US not have any penalties on Israel for human rights violations like the American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed by Israeli forces and other violations?  - Melva, MO

The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was a tragedy, but it was likely an accident. Both Israeli and US investigations “found no reason to believe” that the shooting was intentional; it occurred during a military operation responding to a terrorist attack.

The US birthrate has fallen below the replacement rate; as baby boomers age out of the workforce, don’t we need to increase immigration to make up for the lack of workers? - Anonymous

Immigration is not itself bad; many successful people, including many tech founders, are immigrants. The problem is illegal immigration. As a sovereign country, it’s important that we control our border and decide who we allow in. The current situation does not do that. For far too long politicians of both parties have been happy to ignore immigration law; migrants were seen as cheap (and often exploited) labor. The ongoing crisis is even worse; we’ve been releasing hundreds of thousands of migrants that we have no capacity to shelter and who are not permitted to work. If we then go on to offer legal status, that will incentivize even more to come.

Approximately 14 percent of the US population was born outside the country; this is the highest level since the early 1900s, and nearly triple the rate in 1970. Immigrants by and large make valuable contributions, but it’s important that they are able to assimilate to US cultural norms; if the population increases too rapidly, that will not happen. This does not mean we need to stop immigration entirely. One option would be to scale up guest-worker programs. Immigrants would be permitted to come to the US and work, but with the expectation that they would eventually return home rather than become citizens.

Even most Republicans oppose deporting “dreamers” - why not go ahead and give them legal status? - Anonymous

Few people want to deport the dreamers, who cannot be blamed for their parents’ decision to migrate illegally; even under the Trump administration, which was hostile to immigration, deporting dreamers was not a priority. Meanwhile, the border is in crisis; any immigration bill, including one that helps dreamers, should involve provisions for border security. Given that Democrats claim they oppose open borders, a deal to legalize dreamers in return for additional border patrol agents seems like it should be possible.

One of our contributors adds: It wouldn’t be fair to deport the dreamers, but granting them citizenship would encourage other parents to bring their children, in the hope that the same policy would be enacted again for more recent arrivals. A better solution would be to provide legal status, including work authorization, but without the chance of full citizenship. This would avoid deportations, but also make clear that there are consequences for violating immigration law.

Even if you aren’t concerned about climate change, green energy offers enormous economic benefits. Shouldn’t we do our best to capitalize on those? - Anonymous

This is a good point, and the answer is yes. There’s nothing inherently good about fossil fuels; if renewable energy is cheaper or more reliable, then we should absolutely embrace it. Texas produces more renewable energy than any other state; in 2021, it produced more than twice as much wind and solar energy as California. A 2020 poll showed that while both Democrats and Republicans support greater use of renewable energy, their reasoning differs. Democrats cited reducing global warming as the primary reason; Republicans, meanwhile, instead cited reducing energy costs and increasing America’s energy independence.

One of our contributors adds: I don’t think it’s realistic to suggest that we’ll entirely abandon fossil fuels in the near future. But as the price of renewable energy has fallen, it would be silly not to use more of it. We’re still going to need some fossil fuels to stabilize the grid and make up for shortfalls, but if making the rest renewables saves money, let’s do it.

Ask a Liberal

What solution do you suggest for Israel to be secure from Hamas? - Anonymous

How can the Israeli military reduce the threat of Hamas without killing non-Hamas Arabs? - Paul, TN

While Israel certainly has the right to defend itself, it must still abide by international law, including the Geneva Conventions. This requires that any response be proportionate and harm to civilians must not be “excessive.” Collective punishment is also against international law; thus some have argued that Israel’s decision to cut water, food, fuel, and electricity to Gaza and limit aid supplies is itself a war crime. It’s important to note that Hamas has indisputably committed serious war crimes, but this does not allow Israel to respond in kind.

Beyond the headlines, there is also ongoing violence targeting Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, which is not run by Hamas. Last month, a group of Israeli soldiers and settlers were accused of abusing two Palestinian activists in the West Bank. The Palestinians were allegedly “beaten, stripped to their underwear, bound and photographed. Two of them were urinated on, one had cigarettes put out on his body and another was sexually assaulted by an assailant who tried to sodomize him.” The Israeli military has placed the commander on leave pending an investigation, but this sort of violence continues to be widespread. Since the Hamas attack, in the West Bank (which, again, is not run by Hamas), Israeli settlers - often with the backing of the Israeli army - have killed nine Palestinians and forced over 900 of them from their homes. Yet only one settler has been arrested, and he was released five days later.

Beyond the legal ramifications is the question of what military objective Israel hopes to accomplish. More than 11,000 Gazans have been killed; the vast majority of these have been women and children. That’s already nearly ten times the number of Israelis Hamas killed, and the offensive shows no sign of abating. Israel claims that it intends to eradicate Hamas, but history shows that this is unlikely to happen. For every terrorist killed, the accompanying civilian casualties will end up creating several more. Peace will require more than a military response, but the Israeli government has shown no indication that it is seriously pursuing a peace deal. Covert operations specifically targeting Hamas, along with a renewed push towards a two-state solution, would be far more effective at strengthening Israel’s security over the long term.

Finally, it’s important to consider the full context of the situation. Hamas did not spontaneously appear from nowhere. In fact, the Israeli government has long tacitly supported Hamas in an effort to weaken other Palestinian groups and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Israeli government included Hamas in talks to increase work permits for Gazans (which keeps money flowing into the enclave), turned “a blind eye to the incendiary balloons and rocket fire from Gaza,” and even allowed suitcases full of cash to enter Gaza (to fund Hamas). “Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset. Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, now the finance minister in the hardline government and leader of the Religious Zionism party, said so himself in 2015.”

What are some examples of how Israel is an apartheid state? - Mark

Israel has been accused of apartheid by not only human rights groups but Israelis themselves. Last year former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair noted that the country was “now an apartheid regime.” Former Mossad head Tamir Pardo concurred that “there is an apartheid state here.” These claims are based on several Israeli policies, primarily involving the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank, now numbering 700,000, “have a completely different set of legal rights than Palestinians.” First, they are allowed to vote in Israeli elections; the Palestinians are not. Settlers are subject to a separate legal system; they are entitled to trial in civilian courts, while Palestinians accused of crimes instead face a military court with “limited due process rights.” Settlers can travel freely through the occupied territories and into Israel; Palestinians need special permits to travel (Gazans are often not allowed to leave at all), and are forced to use separate roads.

According to Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur focused on human rights in occupied Palestinian territories, “the poorest Israeli Jewish settlement in the West Bank enjoys more political, more economic, and more legal rights than the best and most well-off of Palestinian communities living right beside them.” The settlements themselves, which have expanded recently, are in direct violation of international law, which states that an “occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Arab citizens of Israel are allowed to vote, but “face limited opportunities to own land and build homes, along with evictions, differences in immigration policy, and implicit restrictions on social service access.” For example, Israel allows any Jewish person to move to the country and become a citizen; this does not apply to non-Jewish Arabs, even if their ancestors lived in Israel. The Israeli government has made clear that it views Arabs as second-class citizens. A 2018 law specified that “national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel was “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

Why should we allow open borders? - Bob, MA

How do I respond when someone suggests it is the Obama and Biden policies that have allowed drugs and terrorists into the U.S. at the southern border? - Joanie, SC

President Biden has made clear that the border is not open; however, the US does have responsibilities under both international and domestic law to allow asylum claims. The unprecedented influx of migrants is due to factors such as global instability and climate change that will require long-term solutions. Punitive measures, such as separating families or mass detention, would be both illegal and also morally wrong. That said, the administration recently enacted an extremely restrictive new asylum policy.

While some drugs do flow across the border, most fentanyl “enters the United States through vehicles traversing legal ports of entry, not carried by migrants seeking asylum.” It’s certainly concerning that increasing numbers of migrants on the terrorist watch list are being apprehended, but there are reasons to think this may not represent an increased threat. We’re seeing a significant number of migrants from Colombia; some of those apprehended may have been members of the FARC, a group which was listed as a terrorist group until two years ago following a peace deal. The watch list includes over a million names including not just suspected terrorists but also their families and others who may have ties to them. “No one has been killed or injured in a terrorist attack in the United States that involved someone who came across the border illegally since 1975.”

I assume climate change is real, but is it the apocalypse that so many claim? - Paul

This past year through August, the US has already set a record for weather disasters costing at least $1 billion. A recent report found harms ranging from “extreme heat and sea level rise in Florida to depleted fish stocks and increased food insecurity in Alaska.” The Colorado River, which provides water for 40 million Americans and many farmers, has seen its flow reduced by 20 percent in the past few decades. This is just with one degree (Celsius) of temperature increase; plausible scenarios envision a rise of two or three degrees, which would be far worse. One study estimates that there could be as many as 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050.

But even if you don’t trust the science, green technology is still worthwhile simply for the economic benefits. Last year, China invested half a trillion dollars in green technology, nearly four times as much as the US. The Inflation Reduction Act has already created 100,000 jobs; it is projected to create a total of 9 million over the next decade.

One of our contributors adds: As a liberal, it’s frustrating that so many climate change initiatives are launching in red states, largely because blue states have too many onerous regulations. We can’t stop climate change if we can’t build anything.

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