A Chanukah Message from Ken Stein
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A Chanukah Message from Ken Stein

Read community insights, advice and perspectives during Chanukah.

Ken Stein, an Emory professor of modern Israeli history, is the president of the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org) and leads Emory’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel.

Predictions, Politics, the Pandemic and Accountability

Similarly to the unprecedented changes that have enveloped us in 2020, most of which could not have been anticipated, and in keeping with the season, do you think any of the Maccabees would have guessed that the one jar of oil would have kept the menorah burning in Mod’in for eight days rather than one? If one had predicted yes or no, there probably would not have been either good or bad consequences in the years after 165 B.C.E.

Today, if a political prediction is made and found to be wrong, are there consequences to be paid? As a corollary, what if you had critical information and withheld it? Let us suppose a person knew that the pandemic was potentially lethal to many, you intentionally withheld that information from the public, and hundreds of thousands died needlessly. Should that person be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, with no pre-emptive pardon available?

What are the consequences of your personal predicative insights as compared to networks or governments that can and do promote fake news? Untruths about ethnic groups and minorities when imbibed long enough into the political fabric can easily evolve into encrusted beliefs. It happened in Germany before the Nazis took power. It happened to my German-born Jewish parents and grandparents.

Let’s look at predictions for this year. In the last 12 months, when you read about a Trump Plan for Middle East Peace in January, would you have predicted no-Trump in December? Not one academic or public analyst told you in January that by the end of 2020, five Arab countries, not just two from earlier years, would recognize Israel’s legitimacy.

What are some lessons I learned this year about information, predictions, politics and the pandemic? Pandemics do not change our prejudices, expectations or ideological preferences. If you disliked Israel before Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the Sudan recognized Israel, you probably still do. If you believe that other Arab/Muslim states are going to run rapidly to embrace Israel, then you possess wildly unrealistic expectations. There is no united Arab world, only Arab states with parochial interests. If you think a change from Trump to Biden will magically light up eight candles on a cake to celebrate the coming of a two-state solution at any Hanukkah celebration in the next four years, I want to drink what you have been drinking. According to Palestinian analysts, there is NO chance of political movement of any kind until the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority are reformed or rebuilt from the inside!

How should you hold me accountable for my predications? Let’s see, did I hurt anyone?  Did I make any money from private access to data that no one else possessed?

“A great miracle happened there,” and we should remember the lessons of sacrifice and commitment. Consider this prediction, looking back at this Hanukkah a year from now. We dedicated this Hanukkah to our health care and emergency call teams. A great miracle is happening here because of them, and can happen, if we too are persistently diligent in wearing masks, washing hands and socially distancing. We must hold ourselves collectively accountable.

Ken Stein is a professor at Emory and president of the Center for Israel Education.

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