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User ID: 882

Have you tried the "save comment/post" functionality? That seems like the logical place to hang a notification flag, if one isn't already there.

This is the key to one of the two arguments I see made as to how America separating from England was legitimate, but no attempt to separate from America, past or future, can ever be legitimate. That is that when the Founding Fathers fought the War of Independence, they replaced the British system of government with a better one, but no attempt to break from America can ever produce a better government, because the system the Founders bequeathed us is the most perfect system of government that has ever existed or will ever exist.

My preferred argument on that point works out a bit differently. In my opinion, a more perfect system of government is unlikely to be achieved, but not axiomatically impossible. Further, "more perfect" would be measured in terms of both objectively produced effects and optimized fit for the given population--the best scheme of government for population A may not be the best scheme of government in every detail for population B, and the government best fit for population A may produce better or worse effects than the government best fit for population B. That said, trends would likely be observable.

Also, I think Jefferson's analysis applies outside the American context as well. Broadly speaking, I'd apply the same rubric to a secessionist movement in Quebec, or Scotland, or Spain. My inclination based on my current knowledge is that those movements do not have an adequate justification for secession, but that judgment is contingent on my understanding of current facts. A change in conditions or more information could conceivably change that view.

I guess I'll make the obligatory cynical post pointing out the fact that the Declaration of Independence wasn't really a legal document, but essentially just a very eloquently worded piece of Patriot propaganda, primarily meant to rally stateside on-the-fence loyalists and potential overseas allies over to the cause.

Certainly, I agree.

It was not, as many now seem to want to interpret it, an actual good-faith attempt to justify their cause to the British government. (Basically an "open letter" to the crown. Most of the grievances were incredibly exaggerated, bordering on fabricated, which the actual British government would have realized; the drafters didn't care, because again, it wasn't actually intended for that audience.)

I agree that the Declaration was not an attempt to persuade the British--either the Crown, Parliament, or the British people--but it did not claim to be that. As Jefferson himself explicitly notes in the Declaration itself, those appeals had already happened, and the colonists did not find the prior responses to be tolerable. The entire point of the Declaration is a statement that the colonists were past the point of making their case by petition, and intended to resort to force of arms instead.

However, as much as Jefferson's dramatic flair is clearly in play, I think an in-depth review of the period shows that the British abuses were real, pervasive, and relatively severe compared to the expectations of the average British citizen. It's trendy to be cynical about the motivations of the Founders; this cynicism is badly misplaced.

Just as the South did; it's not prominent nowadays for obvious reasons, buts there's plenty of equally eloquently written justification for secession by the moral and philosophical heavyweights of the Southern Cause.

Some of those writers dodge the issue (others embrace it), but the central issue under dispute was slavery, full stop. Yes, there were absolutely other political disputes between the South, broadly, and the North or the West, but none of them held a candle to the central dispute over slavery. Take away slavery, and there would not have been a secessionary movement. It was both a necessary and sufficient cause of the Civil War.

Yes, the American colonists succeeded at seceeding, and the Confederacy did not; that's a fact of history. However, when we're evaluating other secessionary movements in different times and contexts, I think it's much more useful to realize that the American colonists were fighting for free expression, the right to self-defense, the sanctity of the home against intrusion, the rights of the accused and convicted, etc., while the Confederacy was fighting for the right to own slaves. If your modern movement bears more similarities to the first, then I will probably agree that it's justified; more like the second, and no.

...the only real moral justification to the American Revolution, or secession, or whatever you want to call it, is the fact that they won the military conflict.

I completely disagree. 'Justification' is an appeal to morality, and I reject the idea that successful efforts are justified, and failures are not. One who robs a bank and gets away unpunished is not morally justified in his theft.

Yet it is pretty common in online arguing to see people say some version of "they were traitors who tried to break up the Union and they got what was coming to them".

Well, yes, that's the argument that secession is never justified, which Jefferson rejects. What I'm claiming here is that the question isn't solvable at the meta level--you must engage with the object-level dispute concerning why this group wants to secede from the larger polity.

Jefferson's bill of particulars (the section that I skipped past, but is available in the link to the original) bears a remarkable and not-at-all-accidental similarity to the provisions of the Bill of Rights. When the early Americans were debating whether to ratify the Constitution, which would create a more centralized authority than that created by the Articles of Confederation, a common concern was avoiding the abuses of the previous system under the British Crown. Each of the first eight Amendments instructs the new federal government that it is not allowed to abuse the people in the following ways, which were all things that the Founders had suffered in living memory. The Bill of Rights isn't a random collection of priorities generated by philosophical musing, but a set of very practical, real-world concerns during that period.

At the object level, the American Revolution was about whether comprehensive and systemic violations of what later became the Bill of Rights was sufficient to justify secession.

Also at the object level, the American Civil War was about whether actual or potential violations of Southerners' right to own slaves was sufficient to justify secession.

If the argument above is correct, and justified secession is contingent on the object-level dispute, then I see no inconsistency in describing the secessionary movement that gave rise to the American Revolution as justified, and the secessionary movement that gave rise to the American Civil War as not justified. In my view, this is an easy call, though different people may form their own opinions as they wish.

I agree that reform/secession/revolution describe something of a continuum of severity in approach, but I think there are practical breakpoints between them that create distinct concepts. In particular, successful secession usually results in at least two distinct polities where only one existed previously. In theory, the line between reform and revolution might be more fuzzy, though in practice I think most cases are readily classifiable. (One oddball case is the creation of the American Constitution, which I'd call a full revolution, not just reform, since the entire federal tier of government was rewritten in a way not authorized by the Articles of Confederation.) So I would not say that secession and revolution are basically the same--in the former but not the latter, the original form of government still exists, if over less land area.

Legitimacy is a central example of a concept that is socially constructed, which is certainly path-dependent and contingent, but not arbitrary. There are many arguments of one form or another that can shore up the legitimacy of an institution, but they are only effective to the extent that they are persuasive--people are perfectly free to disagree with and dismiss claims that they find insufficient.

You probably saw my comment in the AAQC thread a couple of days ago, where I mentioned this situation and linked to my original post. This is the only time I've reposted the analysis above.

A couple of months ago, @zeke5123 started a discussion about secession and the right to self-determination, and suggested that such a right was likely contingent, rather than absolute. In response, I wrote an analysis of the most famous writing on the topic of secession...and then posted it just after the following week's CW thread went live, which was very poor planning on my part. I hope the following is sufficiently interesting to justify a repost.

I've remarked before that I think the American Revolution should be more properly understood as an example of secession, not revolution. After all, the most famous document promulgating and defending the American position is the Declaration of Independence, and the choice of title is appropriate.

The part that comes before the famous "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." is the following:

"The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

This is a document about secession and self-determination. Next is the really famous bit (I'm adding numbers in brackets to highlight an internal list):

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, [1] that all men are created equal, [2] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [3] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

A clear statement of fundamental principles, but one key point later on is that Jefferson isn't claiming that these principles are a departure from English tradition, but that the Crown has been egregiously violating English tradition. The list doesn't end at three items:

"[4]--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, [5] --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

"Alter or abolish" covers many potential approaches, from reform to secession to complete revolution. Which approach is justified in which cases?

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

This, I think, is the start of the answer to your question--the right of self-determination in terms of fully reforming/seceding/revolting must reach a threshold of severity in terms of provocation. The reasons matter, and the weight of tradition matters. "Light and transient causes" are not enough, and so:

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

When there is a longstanding pattern of abuse aimed at fundamental liberties, some variation of reform/secession/revolution is justified, and even morally compulsory. Note that Jefferson is not merely concerned with rejecting the old, abusive system, but also the necessity of replacing the old system with a new government that will properly "secure these rights." He is justifying a transition from a very bad system to a better system--tearing down the old and stopping at anarchy is not acceptable.

"--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world...."

What follows is a bill of particulars, listing the offenses of the British Crown according to Jefferson, which amount to "a long train of abuses and usurpations...evinc[ing] a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism...." The details of this list are instructive, but outside the scope of this comment. After the list, Jefferson argues that the leadership of the American States has done its due diligence, and tried to fix the situation by attempts at reform, before proceeding to secession:

"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

"Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends."

We have appealed to both the Crown and the British People for redress; neither provided it. As a result, we're walking away from this toxic relationship, but we're not going to kill your cat out of spite--we just want to go our own way. Note that Jefferson doesn't merely say that the behavior of the British Crown has been grievously bad, but that the American representatives have been particularly patient and prudent--there's an implied standard of conduct for the secessionists that continues in the final paragraph:

"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Jefferson wraps up with the final requirement for secessionists who are doing things correctly--you need to make your case. Not just that the suffered abuses have been so terrible, but also that you've tried lesser means and are only escalating when those means have failed, and that your judgment and restraint are being offered for consideration to both "the Supreme Judge of the world" and "the opinions of mankind." Are your reasons sufficient, or just "light and transient causes"? Do you have a plan for self-government, such that you can responsibly join the community of "Independent States"? Have you "Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms" and are you confident in the "rectitude of [y]our intentions"?

Any secessionist or revolutionary worth their salt will answer yes to those questions with confidence--such is human nature. But Jefferson clearly isn't claiming that 'we've investigated our own motives, and found them acceptable,' he's appealing to God and man to be his judges.

In my view, Jefferson adequately makes his case as to the justice of the American secession from Britain. I think other secessionary movements are a mixed bag--some meet the various thresholds of behavior and others do not. In this framework, there isn't an unfettered "right to self determination" by a given identifiable subgroup of a larger political unit, but extreme cases may present a duty to reform an abusive government, or seceed from it, or overthrow it.

I agree that it was almost certainly both. My guess is that the anti-Semitism got the ball rolling, and prompted the additional publicity of her plagiarism, which is what finished her off. In particular, the drip-drip-drip of "hey, we found these two papers were plagiarized in part," "oh, and these three papers," and "also this other paper," kept the story fresh in a way that dumping the full list at once would not have.

Edit: typo

This may result in minor damage to Obama's influence within the Democratic Party, since he was very supportive of Gay throughout this process. (Alternatively, it may be evidence of his influence weakening.) I'd be curious as to whether the plagiarism or the anti-Semitism was the decisive factor, as there are significant examples of each that the Party does not consider to be disqualifying.

My guess--for what it's worth--is that a faction within the Party found Gay's defense of anti-Semitism to be seriously objectionable, and tried to get her ousted on that basis before she could do more damage to Harvard's institutional reputation with elite employers. When this failed, the considerable evidence of her plagiarism was leveraged instead. Plagiarism is considered the highest of high crimes within academia, in theory (and even occasionally, in practice!), so Harvard decided it could not weather the purely academic hit to its reputation as well.

My expectation is that Jackson's jurisprudence will be most similar to Sotomayor's on the current Court, though with the usual caveat that this is a condensed model, and even justices that are close to each other will still come down on opposite sides of some cases. This sort of left-to-right mapping tends to be most predictive in high-profile cases where the issue is graspable by non-lawyers, but more obscure areas can produce lineups that appear to be almost random.

It's also important to note that the most common lineup has not changed--it is still 9-0.

Thank you for the nomination, and congratulations to all of our quality contributors!

If you will forgive a bit of self-advertising, a couple of months ago I wrote another comment about the Declaration of Independence in the context of justifying secession. I'd hoped that people might find it interesting, but then I managed to post it in the old CW thread after the new one had just gone up.

Edit to add: I have reposted the comment here.

I've generally heard it described as "imperial units are superior for human-scale measurement; metric is superior for much larger or much smaller scales."

I think Hanania's characterization there (the +1 in caring) is definitely pointing at a thing that exists, but I'd phrase it more like "argues about ideas." There has been a longstanding trend in Jewish communities to engage in an especially lively debate about abstractions, and this has been handed down through the generations by (IMO) mutually-reinforcing genetics and culture. Politics is all about picking which ideas get resources, so this is one context where a tendency to ideological combativeness is a natural fit. (This argument extends to the scientific method and Anglo-American jurisprudence, both of which are formed around the core concept of ideas and advocacy in conflict. Jews have also tended to do particularly well in those areas.)

"Shenanigans" was your phrasing, not mine, though as I said, it's a fair description. I originally referred to "a cascade of political maneuvers," and at no point implied that the political maneuvering in Massachusetts connected to filling Senate vacancies began after Kennedy's death or was a one-time event. Yes, stuff happened in 2004--stripping the Republican Governor of his appointment powers--but the reauthorization of those powers for the now-Democrat Governor in 2009 was also obvious political maneuvering, as was the threatened (though not enacted) constraint on those powers for the following Republican Governor in 2020.

Says me, on the basis of a vast amount of American political history, and the knowledge of what happened in Massachusetts in the 2000s. The usual process for filling a Senate vacancy is the appointment of a replacement by the Governor, and that appointment lasts until the next even-year November election. This is the well-known procedure in most states, both now and for the past several decades at a minimum. There are exceptions; they are unusual.

In 2004, Massachusetts had a Republican Governor (Mitt Romney, as it happens) and a Democrat supermajority in the state legislature (an odd combination, but not unheard of in Massachusetts). Anticipating the vacancy of John Kerry's Senate seat if he won election to the Presidency that year, the legislature amended the procedures for filling a Senate vacancy over Romney's veto, stripping him of his appointment power, and calling for a special election to fill the vacancy temporarily. As far as I'm aware, the legislature definitely had the power to do exactly that, but it was also an obvious political power play, and calling such "(legal) shenanigans" is defensible.

This power play did not pan out as expected. First, Kerry lost the Presidential election in 2004, so no Senate vacancy was had. Second, Romney was succeeded by a Democrat, Deval Patrick, in the 2006 gubernatorial election. Third, Ted Kennedy provided the next vacancy by dying in office in 2009. Shortly before his death, Kennedy persuaded the Massachusetts legislature to re-empower the Governor to appoint a temporary replacement pending the results of the special election. While Patrick could (and did) appoint a Democrat to replace Kennedy, the people of Massachusetts picked a Republican, Scott Brown, in the special election. Brown's election dropped the Democrats' Senate majority from 60 to 59, triggering the next round of drama in DC.

Had Massachusetts followed the "usual process" in filling the Kennedy vacancy, Patrick's nominee would have continued in office for several more months until the next general election in 2010, maintaining the Democrats' 60-vote Senate majority for that period. That this did not occur was the ironic result of political gamesmanship on the part of the Massachusetts state legislature.

The Democrats got to 60 in 2008; it was part of the drama surrounding Obamacare. The first draft got 60 votes in the Senate on a vote of cloture, with Ted Kennedy supplying the 60th vote on his deathbed. A special election was held to fill Kennedy's seat after he died--not the usual process for filling a Senate vacancy, but the result of a cascade of political maneuvers and especially large amounts of irony--and Massachusetts elected Scott Brown, a Republican (!), who explicitly ran on a platform of blocking Obamacare. This caused great consternation in DC, and quite a lot of emergency brainstorming as to how to get the final package passed. The details are fascinating, if you like political/procedural trainwrecks.

Note, though, that the Democrats only got to 60 following two successive wave elections in their favor (2006 and 2008; GWB was extremely unpopular towards the end of his presidency). In the modern day, it's hard to get to 60. The Republican party should have a marginal advantage in the Senate, based on state-by-state political tilt, but they have routinely underperformed across the last several cycles.

Assuming every Senate seat is filled, present, and voting, conviction and expulsion requires 67 votes, not 60. I don't think either party can get to 67 without either a reasonable fraction of bipartisan support or a truly enormous political upheaval (60 is difficult, but possible). In Biden's case specifically, the only way he gets expelled is if a big chunk of Democratic leadership decides to remove him; even in that case, I strongly believe they would engineer his resignation instead.

So, the members of the Court vote at conference, and the senior member of the majority side gets to assign the opinion (Roberts, as Chief, automatically has seniority, which is relevant if he's in the majority). The justice so assigned then writes an opinion, and so does any other justice that wishes to. Those opinions are circulated, and each other justice signs on to whichever opinion they choose, in whole or in part. Often, these opinions--especially the assigned-majority opinion--go through multiple drafts, which generally affect how much the other justices are willing to endorse. Once the process works its way out, you get final drafts of the various opinions, each with a holding (A wins/B wins) on the outcome of the case, and with the full or partial endorsements of the other justices.

After all of this is done, you can evaluate which side won, and which opinion holds the authority of the Court. If a majority of the participating members of the Court vote that side A wins, then that side wins. If there's a tie (possible with recusals or other absent votes), then the lower court decision stands. In terms of reasoning that holds precedential effect, look for any section in any opinion that is endorsed by a majority of the Court voting in the case. In particularly split cases, there may not be a reasoning that commands a majority at all, in which case the precedent is "side A wins, no specific reasoning controls."

Hypothetical: a case is heard, and at conference the vote is 6-3, with the three liberal women in the minority. Roberts assigns the opinion to himself. Following the drafting process, the Chief's opinion (A wins) is joined by Kavanaugh; Sotomayor writes for herself, Kagan, and Jackson that B should win; and Gorsuch writes for himself, Thomas, Alito, and Barrett that A wins, but on a different rationale than Roberts. In this case, A wins; there is no controlling rationale; but lower courts would give the most weight to Gorsuch's opinion as it has the most support, even if it isn't binding precedent on them.

The justices usually try to make sure that the hypothetical above doesn't happen, because it's not very useful guidance to the lower courts. It can happen, though, if the split between Roberts/Kavanaugh and Gorsuch et al. is sharp enough. In most cases, you'd at least get (for instance) Kavanaugh endorsing Section IIIA of Gorsuch's opinion, in which case you'd read "GORSUCH delivers the opinion of the Court as to Section IIIA, joined by THOMAS, ALITO, KAVANAUGH, and BARRETT, and an opinion as to sections I, II, IIIB, IIIC, and IV, joined by THOMAS, ALITO, and BARRETT...etc." The key phrasing is "the opinion of the Court" vs. "an opinion."

It's true that all of the detail above is the product of centuries of tradition, but the core is rock solid--the Court is a body made of equal-voting members. A simple majority speaks for the whole. If the Chief cannot get four supporters, he's just another guy with an opinion, but if any member of the Court gets four others to agree, they speak for the Court itself.

(Roberts is rather famous for his Obamacare decision in which zero members of the Court joined his opinion in full. Four members joined part of it, and the other four joined the rest, so his full opinion had five votes in each part, but they weren't the same five votes.)

The most specifically challenging point of "The Star Spangled Banner" is that there actually is one weird trick that makes it easier to sing--at least for a soloist--that most people don't know. The third note of the song (on "say") is the lowest note you'll sing, so you want to start the song near the bottom of your vocal range.

It's pretty common for people to assume that the first note of a song is generally near the middle-ish of the necessary range, and choose their starting pitch accordingly, but this is a big trap here, leading to "free" being unreachable for most, when they are trying to fit the entire range of the song in the upper half of their own vocal range. "Free" gets most of the attention, but "say" is the first domino in the cascade--the "big range" of the song is mostly an illusion.

A central tension within the concept of communication is between efficiency and precision. Larger lexicons and more complex signifier structures are less efficient to parse, but are better able to capture fine distinctions of meaning.

Even within a given language, this trade-off may be handled differently in different contexts. Jargon--properly used--is an example of domain-specific terms that are mostly not used outside that domain (something like an optional DLC for the base language), but have high precision within the native context. (It's the mark of a corrupted field of knowledge when the 'jargon' is used to obfuscate meaning, rather than identify a relevant concept precisely.)

The other end of the spectrum would be practically undefined interjections like "dude" for a Californian surfer. Tone, volume, affect, etc. carry all of the communicative weight, but this is acceptable because the intended expression is an emotive reaction to the given context--most people find it easy to distinguish between a cheerful greeting, a surprised reaction, dismayed disbelief, or judging censure--and the finer details are either not important or may be further clarified with additional words.

Catwoman is a particularly interesting example of race-swapping, because her actresses were white, white, black, white, black, white, white, and mixed black/white. The first black Catwoman was Eartha Kitt, in the final season of the Adam West Batman TV show, taking over from Julie Newmar (TV) and Lee Meriwether (movie). Catwoman was white again when Michelle Pfeiffer played her in Batman Returns; then back in black when Halle Berry played her in Catwoman; white with Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises; still white with Camren Bicondova in Gotham; and most recently split the difference* with the mixed black/white Zoe Kravitz in The Batman.

In the live-action versions, Catwoman has firmly established a pattern of inconsistency on the question of her race. Eartha Kitt's portrayal was still part of the original live-action Batman franchise, and was long enough ago that if it was influenced by politics, it wasn't modern politics. (Plus, Kitt could chew the scenery with the best of them, and the Adam West era was extremely camp.) Berry and Kravitz can be fairly described as continuing the legacy of Kitt, rather than an appeal to Modern Audiences (/echo effect); there hasn't been a one-way racial ratchet, as Catwoman has switched back and forth multiple times; and given that Gotham is a major metropolis (no pun intended), any ethnicity is reasonably plausible.

*Technically, for the second time. Halle Berry is usually described as a black actress, but she's the daughter of an interracial black/white couple, like Zoe Kravitz.

The "pound of flesh" was from Merchant of Venice, not Othello.

I don't think there is a plausible strategy that Israel could pursue that would result in a friendly response from the Palestinians.

However, given a sufficiently militarized incentive structure, one might be able to proceed from "negative response" to "no response." If the Palestinians are moral agents, this incentive structure could be described as the just deserts of their previous actions.

I agree that Israel is stuck with an unfortunate hand; I do not agree that they are left without effective strategies.

The tornados that I'm familiar with do not have moral agency, and that is one of the many differences between them and humans. Is there a particular reason to suggest that Palestinians do not have moral agency?

A number of Evangelicals consider Genesis 12:3 to be significant guidance on the issue. Option A = blessed by God. Option B = cursed by God. Make your own choices as you see fit, but do consider the remarkable lack of subtlety in the options presented.

Reality may certainly be described by a variety of interpretations, but I think most would agree that many Palestinians do not like Israel very much, and frequently act on that opinion. Also, Gaza seems like a poor place to live, given most alternatives. Genesis 12:3 is one way of connecting those observations.

Yeah, that's a fair point. If someone's seriously taking the side of the homeless guy in your example, I don't know what I'd do with that information other than backing away slowly.