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Rose Report: A Memo to Mike Pence

Binyamin Rose

Pence’s upcoming Israel trip welcome signal to Christian evangelical voters

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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D riving by the US Consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street the day after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the atmosphere was festive.

The flags of Israel, the United States, and Jerusalem were hoisted high on alternating flagpoles, flapping in the late autumn breeze.

I noticed more security guards than usual, keeping vigil on the first of the three days of rage the Arabs had promised in response to Trump’s announcement. But I imagined the number of guards will be nothing compared to how tight security will be next week when Vice President Mike Pence visits.

Pence’s trip was announced almost two months ago, well before the Trump administration’s change of policy on Jerusalem. Pence’s Knesset address on Monday will center on consensus issues — strengthening US-Israeli relations and deterring Iranian aggression in the region.

Pence’s message will also be aimed at America’s evangelical Christians, coming a week before the Xmas holiday. The vice president will stress US efforts to stop the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.

Some 164,000 Christians make their home in Israel. When Israel’s enemies accuse her of being an apartheid state, or charge that the Jewish state persecutes religious minorities, Prime Minister Netanyahu is fond of noting that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which the Christian population is growing.

Contrast that with Bethlehem, on Jerusalem’s southern border, said to be the birthplace of Christianity’s founder.

In 1948, Bethlehem was 85% Christian. After 23 years of Palestinian Authority rule, the Christian percentage there is down to 12%, the vast majority fleeing in the face of religious discrimination. Persecution by the PA peaked in April 2002, when some 120 armed Arab terrorists took dozens of monks and priests hostage in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, to use as human shields when they were pursued by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield.

“It would have been very easy for Israeli troops to get in and solve the problem, but the church would have been severely damaged and the hostages would have been killed,” recalled Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, when he addressed a recent Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem.

Back then, Dichter was director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security apparatus. Dichter remembers the long-distance call he received at 2 a.m. from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Sharon told me, ‘Avi, finish this issue by tomorrow, because I have a meeting with President Bush. Whatever agreement you have to make with Yasser Arafat, do it and I’ll back you.’”

“I called Arafat. I knew he was awake. Don’t ask me how, but I knew,” Dichter said.

He offered Arafat a deal to end the siege. Thirteen terrorists holed up in the church would be expelled abroad. Twenty-six more would be sent to Gaza. Another eighty would be released without interrogation or trial.

Arafat asked for better terms. “He started to argue with me at two in the morning in Arabic. It woke my entire family,” said Dichter, who held his ground. “I told Arafat, ‘Either accept this, or you call President Bush yourself and explain it to him.’ ”

Arafat caved and the standoff ended peacefully.

As Mike Pence visits the region 15 years later, little has changed. Israel is a friend and an ally of the United States that the PA will never be. Only if the Trump administration continues to distance itself from the “honest broker” policies of prior administrations, and provide Israel the resolute support of a reliable ally, does it stand a chance of crafting the “ultimate deal” the president believes he can deliver.

Are Corporate Tax Cuts Compassionate?

Something about President Trump’s tax reform measure prompted me to review my notes of his acceptance speech last July at the Republican National Convention.

That night, Trump vowed, if elected: “We will be considerate and compassionate to everyone, but my biggest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens.”

Now that Trump has sealed his first major legislative accomplishment, passage of a tax reform bill whose chief goal is to cut corporate taxes from 35% to 20%, I wondered if corporations were the struggling citizens the president had in mind?

Critics of the tax bill contend that corporations are greedy, and will use their windfall to buy back shares of their own stock and raise dividends to shareholders. They claim that little of the newly created wealth will “trickle down” to the middle class and poor.

When I posed this criticism to John Cochrane, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who goes by the nickname “the grumpy economist,” he said while there is some wisdom to the notion, it also reflects some profound misunderstandings of the system.

“If companies buy back shares or raise dividends, they are paying out money to investors. What do investors do with the money? Well, first, pay taxes (!) and then, turn around and lend, or invest the money with some other company that has better things to do with the money!”

Cochrane contends the distinction between “paper investments,” in shares, and “real investment” is valid for an individual company, but is exactly wrong for the economy as a whole.

“A lower corporate tax rate makes investment more profitable, so companies invest more overall, expand their capital stock, hire more workers, and drive up wages,” Cochrane said.

Trump and Congressional Republicans also hope that lower corporate tax rates will induce US corporations to bring home the estimated $2.6 trillion they have stashed in overseas financial institutions.

But it’s not that simple, cautions Cochrane. “We should not expect every dollar repatriated to wind up in a new investment in the US. Already, if Apple stores money in an Irish bank, that Irish bank can lend in the US. And if Apple brings the money home to a US bank, that bank can lend abroad. In the end, investment goes where there are profitable returns.”

The bottom line of the Trump plan: money from tax savings will be reinvested and recirculated in unpredictable ways and places, and compassion is in the eye of the beholder.

Law and Order

Tolerance Is a Two-Way Street

One of the most important religious liberty cases the Supreme Court of the United States will hear in its current session is likely to be decided by one swing vote — that of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Last week the Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips, owner of the Denver-area bakery, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a Colorado Court of Appeals decision upholding a fine leveled against him in 2012 for violating state antidiscrimination laws. Phillips’s crime was refusing to create a custom cake for the wedding of a same-gender couple because it conflicted with his religious beliefs.

Colorado didn’t even recognize same-gender marriages until two years later, in 2014. According to BreakPoint, an online media outlet that provides a Christian perspective on news and trends to some 8 million US listeners, Phillips’s business plummeted 40% in the aftermath of the case due to adverse publicity.

In an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, Washington-based attorney Jeffrey Zuckerman argued that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment should prohibit Colorado from punishing a religious believer for adhering to his core religious beliefs.

Amy Howe, who covered the hearing for SCOTUSblog, said the Court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, objected to another state order requiring Phillips to provide “comprehensive training” to his employees. “Why wouldn’t the training be compelled speech,” Gorsuch asked, “when it would require Phillips to tell his staff that his Christian beliefs are discriminatory?”

And with the justices seemingly evenly divided at 4-4 along their normal conservative-liberal divide, Howe sensed the tide turned when Justice Kennedy, a centrist, posited that tolerance works in two directions and that Colorado hasn’t been very tolerant of Phillips’ religious beliefs in this case.

“Although making predictions based on oral argument is always dangerous,” Howe writes, “it seemed very possible that there are five votes for Phillips among the Court’s more conservative justices, even if it is less clear how broadly they will rule.”

A decision is expected this summer. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 689)

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