Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Executive Memoranda Highlights Constitutional Crisis

When conservatives protested President Obama’s attempt to go around the Constitution and rule by executive orders rather than with the consent of Congress, his defenders had a ready answer. While they insisted that Obama’s fiat granting amnesty to five million illegal immigrants did not exceed his authority, they also countered by saying that the president had actually issued far fewer such executive orders than that of President Bush. But, as USA Today noted last week, focusing only on executive orders while ignoring the far more numerous executive memoranda issued by this administration that have the same effect as law, the press and the public have vastly underestimated the extent of how far he has stretched the boundaries of executive power. If anything, this president’s effort to create a one-man government may have gone farther than we thought.

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When conservatives protested President Obama’s attempt to go around the Constitution and rule by executive orders rather than with the consent of Congress, his defenders had a ready answer. While they insisted that Obama’s fiat granting amnesty to five million illegal immigrants did not exceed his authority, they also countered by saying that the president had actually issued far fewer such executive orders than that of President Bush. But, as USA Today noted last week, focusing only on executive orders while ignoring the far more numerous executive memoranda issued by this administration that have the same effect as law, the press and the public have vastly underestimated the extent of how far he has stretched the boundaries of executive power. If anything, this president’s effort to create a one-man government may have gone farther than we thought.

As of last week, Obama had issued 198 executive memoranda alongside 195 executive orders. That’s 33 percent more than Bush issued in his full eight years in office and 45 percent more than Bill Clinton. That blows a huge hole in the defense of Obama’s use of executive orders. Seen in this light, rather, as he and his media cheering section have contended, Obama has far exceeded the resort to unilateral measures of not only his immediate predecessor, but every one before that as well.

As USA Today explains, like the orders, memorandums have the force of law and don’t require the consent of Congress. Obama’s memoranda have run the gamut from the creation of new kinds of retirement savings plans, having the Labor Department require federal contractors to supply specific information to the government, forcing borrowers to cap student loan payments, three post-Sandy Hook shooting gun control measures as well as two memos that complimented his immigration amnesty orders.

That last point is crucial because the implementation of amnesty is largely being carried out by executive memorandums rather than orders. They also have the advantage of not being numbered in the Federal Register, as are executive orders. That makes it harder for Congress, the press and the public to keep track of them.

But lest you think it is a mistake to treat the memorandums as being as potent as the far more publicized orders, don’t rely on the authority of USA Today or Commentary. Ask one of President Obama’s appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1999, Justice Elena Kagan, who served as Associate White House Counsel in the Clinton White House, wrote in the Harvard Law Review that legal scholars made a mistake in focusing too much on executive orders while ignoring the memoranda.

Kagan said Clinton considered memoranda “a central part of his governing strategy,” using them to spur agencies to write regulations restricting tobacco advertising to children, allowing unemployment insurance for paid family leave and requiring agencies to collect racial profiling data.

“The memoranda became, ever increasingly over the course of eight years, Clinton’s primary means, self-consciously undertaken, both of setting an administrative agenda that reflected and advanced his policy and political preferences and of ensuring the execution of this program,” Kagan wrote.

When you consider how many more memoranda Obama has issued than Clinton, it makes Justice Kagan’s insight into how they can be used as a governing strategy even more important.

In practice, the memos are clearly executive orders by another name with no real difference. Even before Barack Obama had become president, they constituted a legal loophole that helped make an already increasingly imperial presidency even more powerful. But under Obama that problem has grown far worse.

The immigration overreach rightly scandalized many Americans not only because of the scope of the orders that were issued but because they represented an end run around the checks and balances that were put into the Constitution by the founders specially to avoid one man rule. One didn’t need to disagree with the president’s actions to understand that the process he was using represented a dangerous departure from the rule of law. But what few seem to understand is that the orders are only the tip of the imperial iceberg when it comes to President Obama’s effort to govern without having to wait for Congress to adopt the laws he wants them to pass. The outrage over the immigration orders is no tempest in a teapot. The president’s increased use of executive memoranda as well as orders ought to highlight a problem that might properly be termed a constitutional crisis rather than a mere partisan spat.

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A Christian Defense Of Israel

I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

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I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

For Christians to become identified with the struggle against Zionism – and I’ve encountered individuals who have, to that point that it was the key factor in leaving a church I and my family were members of — is a profound moral error.

Set aside the fact that despite some obvious theological differences, Christians and Jews share a common history and affinity, from the Hebrew Bible to heroes of the faith like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua and Moses. And many Christians believe, for theological reasons (God’s covenantal relationship with Israel), that they cannot be indifferent to the fate of Israel. But as I mentioned, bracket all that. In judging Israel and its enemies, let’s use the standard of justice, which is the one liberal Christians who are highly critical of the Jewish state often invoke.

For one thing, even a cursory understanding of the history of the past 65-plus years makes it clear that the impediments to peace lie not with Israel but with its adversaries. And when it comes to the prolonged conflict with the Palestinians, it is they, not the Israelis, who are responsible for it.

(For those who blame the so-called “Israeli occupation” for Palestinian hostilities, I will point out, as I have before, that the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. In addition, the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the “occupied territories” and settlements ever became an issue. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation, including no Arab nation, has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and eventually drawn into a war with Hamas.)

The Palestinian people are suffering – but the reasons they suffer are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which from beginning to end has been characterized by staggering corruption, brutality, oppression and anti-Semitism. Since the creation of Israel in the first half of the last century, not a single Palestinian leader has been willing or able to alter a culture that stokes hatred of Jews and advocates the eradication of Israel. Until that changes, there is no possibility for peace or justice. Palestinians must do what they have, until now, refused to do: make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. That they have not done so, despite the terrible human costs to them, tells you quite a lot.

Beyond that, it is a delusion for Christians to believe that life in the Middle East would be better if the enemies of Israel were to prevail. The movement that is targeting Christians for death isn’t Zionism; it’s Islamism. The historian Philip Jenkins wrote in Christianity Today last month “For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.” That catastrophe hasn’t been caused by Israel, where Israel’s Christian citizens enjoy the full blessings of freedom and democracy.

Ask yourself a simple question: If you were a Christian, would you rather live in Jerusalem – or Tehran, Mosul, Damascus, or Riyadh? Would you rather live under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or the rule of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Would you rather be photographed with a typical Jewish storeowner in Israel – or with a typical British national who has joined ISIS? The idea that Christians would prosper in the Middle East if Israel was weak and the mortal threats to Israel were strong is quite absurd.

But beyond even that, Israel is worthy of the support, admiration and even the affection of Christians because of the type of nation Israel is: democratic, pluralistic, self-critical, respectful of human rights, minority rights and other faiths, a bulwark against militant Islam, bone weary of war and willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace, unmatched by any other nation on earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, said a famous Jew many years ago, for they shall be called the children of God.

Israel is imperfect, like all nations in this fallen world; but it ranks among the most impressive and venerable nations that this fallen world has ever produced. Christians who care about their co-religionists in the Middle East, who care about justice and who hate injustice, must keep faith with the Jewish state. To break with it would be a to break with their history and some of the key moral commitments of Christianity. And that is very much worth recalling as Christians the world over have, during the last several days, once again focused their attention on the Holy Land.

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Don’t Fall For Palestinian Christmas Lies

Just as they did last year and every previous one, opponents of Israel are seeking to exploit the Christmas holiday by claiming Jesus was a Palestinian. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has made this absurd claim a holiday staple in keeping with the effort to portray the Jews as foreign colonists in their historic homeland. But while they should dismiss this canard out of hand, American Christians should still be thinking about the Middle East this season. With unknown numbers of Middle East Christians having been routed out of their homes or subject to murder, rape and dispossession by ISIS terrorists and other Islamist forces, this December 25th people of faith need to remember that the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored. It should also remind them that Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.

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Just as they did last year and every previous one, opponents of Israel are seeking to exploit the Christmas holiday by claiming Jesus was a Palestinian. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has made this absurd claim a holiday staple in keeping with the effort to portray the Jews as foreign colonists in their historic homeland. But while they should dismiss this canard out of hand, American Christians should still be thinking about the Middle East this season. With unknown numbers of Middle East Christians having been routed out of their homes or subject to murder, rape and dispossession by ISIS terrorists and other Islamist forces, this December 25th people of faith need to remember that the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored. It should also remind them that Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.

For the last century, Middle East Christians have been largely portrayed as being caught in the middle of a bitter war between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the reality of the conflict. Though many Christians have been prominent Arab nationalists, their effort to identify with the struggle against Zionism has not led to greater acceptance for Christians within Palestinian society or the Arab and Muslim world in general. To the contrary, over the decades, the Palestinian national movement has taken an increasingly Islamist tone as even allegedly secular figures like Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas have adopted the language of Islamist triumphalism. This is due in part to their need to compete with Islamist rivals like Hamas but also because it reflects the cultural and religious roots of the struggle to destroy Israel. Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim supporters have never sought to create a state alongside Israel but to ensure that no part of the region should be under majority Jewish sovereignty.

Looking beyond the Palestinians, the fighting in Iraq and Syria as ISIS has swept to control of vast territories in both those countries has reflected a similarly level of intolerance toward non-Muslim minorities. Simply put, an Islamist tide that has swept through the region has made Christians an endangered minority. Though there is nothing new about this dilemma, the atrocities visited upon ISIS’s Christian victims make the stakes in this struggle all too clear.

Turning back to the Palestinians, the same dynamic has led to a massive exodus of Christians from the territories. Though anti-Israel polemicists falsely attribute this dispersion to Israeli actions, it is the increasingly militant efforts of Hamas as well as their supposedly secular rivals in Fatah that has made life in many traditionally Christian towns like Bethlehem increasingly untenable for non-Muslims. By contrast, Israel remains the one nation in the region that is not only a functional democracy but also where Christian rights and those of all religions are respected. By contrast, the Palestinians make no bones about their future state being a place where no Jew would be welcome. Do American Christians really think their co-religionists will fare any better in such a state, whose main purpose will be to pursue efforts to try and destroy what will be left of the Jewish state?

American Christians should not fall for the Palestinians Christmas lies or their attempts to falsely portray Israel as the obstacle to peace. This Christmas there will be plenty of lip service paid to the cause of peace. But until Palestinians stop trying to deny Jewish history and therefore the rights of Jews to live in peace and security in their ancient homeland, lip service is all the cause of coexistence will get.

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Can Christie Find His Foreign Policy Voice?

He may be openly considering a run for the presidency but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a gaping hole in his resume. Though he has been a leading public figure and a likely presidential candidate, Christie has yet to find his voice on the set of issues for which presidents have the most responsibility: foreign policy. But after years of keeping his voluble mouth shut, even when invited to speak in criticism of President Obama, the governor may be ready to start talking. Speaking in the aftermath of the president’s opening to Cuba, Christie had plenty to say about the president’s mistakes. This may be a case of him not being able to resist commenting when a local issue presented itself. But whatever his motivation, if he really wants to be president, he’s going to have to start speaking on foreign affairs with the same abandon and gusto that he employs on domestic issues.

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He may be openly considering a run for the presidency but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a gaping hole in his resume. Though he has been a leading public figure and a likely presidential candidate, Christie has yet to find his voice on the set of issues for which presidents have the most responsibility: foreign policy. But after years of keeping his voluble mouth shut, even when invited to speak in criticism of President Obama, the governor may be ready to start talking. Speaking in the aftermath of the president’s opening to Cuba, Christie had plenty to say about the president’s mistakes. This may be a case of him not being able to resist commenting when a local issue presented itself. But whatever his motivation, if he really wants to be president, he’s going to have to start speaking on foreign affairs with the same abandon and gusto that he employs on domestic issues.

The local angle on the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba was the failure of the administration to obtain the return of a fugitive from justice in New Jersey. Joanne Chesimard, a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, was involved in a campaign of robberies and attacks on law enforcement officials culminating in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that left a state trooper dead, the crime for which she was sentenced to life in prison. But her criminal colleagues helped her escape prison in 1979 after which she found her way to Cuba where she lives to this day under the name of Assata Shakur. Though some African-American politicians have opposed efforts to extradite her on the grounds that they believe she was the victim of racially motivated persecution, there’s little doubt about her guilt. In the past, there were reports that the Clinton administration had offered to lift the embargo on Cuba in exchange for the return of Chesimard and 90 other U.S. criminals given safe haven there. Thus, it was disappointing that the Obama administration made no apparent effort to tie her return to the major economic and political concessions the U.S. gave the Castro regime as part of a prisoner exchange. That is especially unfortunate since it was only last year that the FBI formally added her name to its list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.”

Thus, it was both appropriate and timely for the governor to speak up on the issue in a letter sent to the White House in which he rightly said Chesimard’s continued freedom is “an affront” to the citizens of New Jersey and that she must be returned to serve her sentence before any further consideration is given to resuming relations with Havana. But, to his credit, Christie did not stop with that justified yet parochial concern. He went on to say the following:

I do not share your view that restoring diplomatic relations without a clear commitment from the Cuban government of the steps they will take to reverse decades of human rights violations will result in a better and more just Cuba for its people.

In doing so, Christie clearly aligned himself with Senator Marco Rubio and other conservatives who have spoken up against the Cuban deal on the grounds that it will make it less rather than more likely that conditions in the communist island prison will improve as a result of Obama’s decision. It also places Christie in opposition to Senator Rand Paul, who has defended Obama’s opening.

It’s not the first time Christie has been on the other side of an issue from Paul. In the summer of 2013, the governor spoke up and criticized Paul’s effort to force an American retreat from the battle against Islamist terrorists. But that initiative was short lived and, given Christie’s unwillingness to follow up with more details that would demonstrate his command of the issues, seemed to indicate that he wasn’t ready for prime time on foreign policy. That impression was confirmed in the time since then as the governor has often refrained from commenting on foreign policy.

But if he wants to be president, Christie must be able to demonstrate a clear view about America’s place in the world. In the White House, his main antagonists won’t be union bosses or even members of the other party in Congress but rogue nations like Russia, Iran and North Korean. If he is preparing a run for the presidency, the governor must continue to speak out and do so in a consistent and forceful manner. That’s especially true if he aspires, as he seemed to for a while last year, to be the mainstream alternative to Paul’s isolationism. If not, despite his ability to raise money and gain some establishment support, it won’t be possible to take him all that seriously as a candidate or a prospective president.

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2014: Bashar al-Assad’s Comeback Year

The idea that there are no winners in war has long been a rallying cry for peace. But right now in the Middle East, what should concern American policymakers most is that the reverse is never true: whether or not there are winners, there’s always a loser. And in Syria at the moment, every side seems to be winning except ours.

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The idea that there are no winners in war has long been a rallying cry for peace. But right now in the Middle East, what should concern American policymakers most is that the reverse is never true: whether or not there are winners, there’s always a loser. And in Syria at the moment, every side seems to be winning except ours.

NPR tempers the holiday spirit today with an important reminder of just how much has changed, for the worse, in the Syrian civil war and the cross-border ISIS insurgency in Syria and Iraq. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, NPR notes, is ending the year in a far better place than he started it. Although that seems obvious, it’s disturbing to think back what a difference a year makes:

At the beginning of 2014, Syrian President Bashar Assad had agreed to send his ministers to take part in negotiations in Switzerland, and his future as Syria’s ruler was not looking very bright.

He was accused of killing tens of thousands of his own people in a civil war that was nearly three years old. The opposition was demanding Assad’s ouster. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Switzerland and called loudly for a political transition in Syria. He was clear about who would not be involved.

“Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way — no way possible in the imagination — that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern,” he said.

Fast-forward to the present. Those talks were abandoned. Assad is still in the presidential palace in Damascus. And although the United States is bombing Syria, it’s not targeting Assad’s army but the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

The key quote comes next from Joshua Landis. “I think Assad is in a stronger position today in many respects, certainly on the battlefield, and he has the United States as a strategic ally,” he told NPR.

Think about that. It was less than a year ago that the American secretary of state was asserting unequivocally that Assad was done and that certainly his days of being treated as a legitimate head of state were over. Now “he has the United States as a strategic ally.”

This isn’t some random simple twist of fate. Assad’s survival depended on his playing his cards just right. In the preceding years of the civil war that still rages in his country, Assad was facing a collection of rebels, a disorganized circus of armed opposition. Assad knew how to prioritize his defense.

In August, the New York Times’s Room for Debate feature asked the following question: “Should the U.S. Work With Assad to Fight ISIS?” One of the panel contributors, The National columnist Hassan Hassan, pointed out the absurdity of relying on Assad as a partner against ISIS:

The idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be a partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, ignores a basic fact: Assad has been key to its rise in Syria and beyond. When Islamic radicals took over Raqqa, the first province to fall under rebels’ control in its entirety, it was remarkable that the regime did not follow the same policy it had consistently employed elsewhere, which is to shower liberated territories with bombs, day and night.

Raqqa was saved the fate of Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, Homs and Deraa. ISIS soon controlled the province, painted government buildings in black and turned them into bases. The group’s bases were easy to spot, for about a year and a half. Elsewhere, too, Assad allowed ISIS to grow and fester. The regime has been buying oil from it and other extremist groups after it lost control of most of the country’s oilfields and gas plants.

Assad has gone from dead man walking to the once and future king in the space of a year because he made many enemies but then outmaneuvered them all. Earlier in the conflict, Assad was losing. He’s not anymore.

And neither is ISIS. After Assad allowed the terrorist group to fester and hold territory, it has been controlling areas of Syria and Iraq while using the resources of those territories to fund its terror state. Since the Obama administration’s plan has been to delay sending troops and then sending too few to defeat ISIS, disrupting the group’s revenue streams would be the next obvious step.

Unfortunately, the two can’t be so easily separated. As Foreign Policy reports, the anti-ISIS alliance has had some success in stemming oil revenue. But they haven’t stopped it. And disrupting other streams of terrorists’ revenue requires–you guessed it–boots on the ground: “But cutting off the group’s proceeds from other illegal activities like kidnapping and extortion is harder to do without first reconquering the territory where the militants operate what are effectively mafia-style criminal enterprises.”

So for now, ISIS isn’t losing either. We had two enemies in Syria, and they’re both doing OK for themselves at the moment. But someone has to be losing, and by process of elimination you can pretty much guess who it is. The “moderate” rebels–our previous strategic ally, before Assad supplanted them–have found themselves in a vicious cycle. They struggle because we aren’t helping them enough to succeed, which we then use as an excuse to help them less, which in turn leads to them struggling even more:

Reflecting that dissatisfaction, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps in recent weeks to distance the U.S. from the moderate rebels in the north, by cutting off their weapons flow and refusing to allow them to meet with U.S. military officials, right at the time they are struggling to survive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

And there’s one more loser in all this: America’s strategic interests. ISIS is undermining our attempts to leave behind a stable Iraq and splitting territory next door in Syria with Assad, Iran’s proxy. It’s true that Assad had a pretty good year considering where he was heading into 2014. But that’s another way of saying America’s enemies had a pretty good year.

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Take Rudoren’s ‘Miracle’ with a Cup of Salt

When inexperienced foreign correspondents arrive in Israel, one of the rites of passage tends to be their being suckered into writing a heartwarming Palestinian story intended to give Israel a black eye. However, the best indication of their mettle as a journalist is not so much whether Palestinians sources/fixers inveigle them into producing one of these atrocities as whether they learn from the experience and try not to get hooked into another obvious piece of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel puffery. Judged by this standard, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren must be considered a dismal failure. Though she has been in the country for two and a half years, Rudoren has just produced a stereotypical holiday piece about the conflict published today in the paper that should embarrass even the most raw rookie scribe.

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When inexperienced foreign correspondents arrive in Israel, one of the rites of passage tends to be their being suckered into writing a heartwarming Palestinian story intended to give Israel a black eye. However, the best indication of their mettle as a journalist is not so much whether Palestinians sources/fixers inveigle them into producing one of these atrocities as whether they learn from the experience and try not to get hooked into another obvious piece of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel puffery. Judged by this standard, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren must be considered a dismal failure. Though she has been in the country for two and a half years, Rudoren has just produced a stereotypical holiday piece about the conflict published today in the paper that should embarrass even the most raw rookie scribe.

The article, tabbed as “Letter From the Middle East,” is titled “An Open Door Beckons in the West Bank.” It concerns the experiences of Khadra Zreineh, a Palestinian woman who hosts foreigners and those living temporarily in Israel as part of what Rudoren describes as “off-the-beaten-track tourist experiences often focused on food.” Apparently Zreineh served up some nice stories along with her home made freekeh soup about life in the town of Beit Jala during the second intifada where she lives in what she dubs “the house of the open door,” where both Jews and Arabs have always been welcome.

One in particular entranced Rudoren who made it the centerpiece of her article. It concerned Zreineh’s experience during Easter of 2002 when the area was under curfew as Israeli troops sought to capture Palestinian terrorists who had taken refuge in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. The terrorists held out in the shrine for 39 days secure in the knowledge that Israeli troops would respect the site’s sanctity. In the end, they were allowed to leave unharmed for exile in Gaza or Europe. During the siege, which took place during a time of intense fighting in the West Bank as armed Palestinian cadres waged war against Israel, local residents were given brief periods to leave their homes to get supplies. But after 34 days, Zreineh and some friends decided to defy the curfew and go to church. Instead of stopping them, an Israeli tank crew let them do as they liked and then waited for them to escort them safely home after the service. Zreineh considered this action an “Easter miracle” but then found out that one of the soldiers knew her son from earlier more peaceful times and had been in her home before.

That’s very nice and would, at least on its face, seem to confirm the idea that the only thing that is needed to end the conflict between Jews and Arabs is more contact and understanding with some good food thrown in. But there are some problems with the narrative and the way that Rudoren retold it that tell us more about Rudoren’s poor skills as a journalist than about what’s wrong with the Middle East.

Let’s start with how Rudoren describes what happened to make it less likely that Jews and Arabs would gather in Zreineh’s kitchen:

“We had many Jewish customers,” she said of the days before Israel built a concrete barrier around most of the Bethlehem area and barred its citizens from entering.

That’s true but Rudoren doesn’t note that the separation fence was built after the events that Zreineh describes, not before them. Nor does she mention, even in passing, that the motivation for its construction was not to stop people from having soup in Beit Jala but to stop the wave of suicide bombers that took the lives of over a thousand Israelis during the second intifada.

Just as interestingly, Rudoren tells us nothing about what happened in Beit Jala during the intifada.

Throughout the year before and even after the “miracle” that Zreineh discusses, the town was taken over not by touring foodies like Rudoren but by Palestinian gunmen who forced some of the Christian residents out of their homes and then used them as platforms for shooting at the neighboring Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. During that period, Gilo was under siege as terrorists in Beit Jala fired indiscriminately into homes and apartments as well as passing Israeli cars or pedestrians. The real miracle was that more Jews weren’t slaughtered, though many were killed and wounded and an entire section of the capital (as well as the Christians of Beit Jala who were occupied by Muslim gunmen affiliated with the Fatah group) was terrorized until Israeli troops cleaned out the nests of shooters. In recounting Zreineh’s experiences, it says a lot about Rudoren’s poor command of the facts of the conflict and credulous nature that she included nothing about this in her story. Beit Jala’s role in the conflict is forgotten along with that detail about suicide bombings and the fence.

As for Zreineh’s “miracle,” the assumption underlying the story is that if any other Israeli soldiers had been stationed there and not a couple who knew the soup maker, the Palestinian women breaking curfew to attend mass would have been shot or at least roughed up or harassed. But can Rudoren produce credible stories of peaceful Palestinian women being harmed under similar circumstances? Though the international press has usually swallowed Palestinian propaganda about Israeli beastliness with few efforts to get at the facts (as Rudoren and her Times collaborators demonstrated this past summer during the war with Hamas in Gaza), the truth is that the Jewish state’s military always, as the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey put it, “goes to extraordinary lengths” to spare civilians when fighting Palestinian terrorists. The IDF isn’t perfect and there are instances when it fails to live up to its high standards, but the decision of a tank crew not to fire on six women heading to church is what we’d expect from any Israeli unit, not a “miracle.”

While I’m sure the soup was good, the story that went with it should have struck any journalist worth his or her salt as a crock or at least in need of some heavy seasoning with the facts about Palestinian actions during the intifada if it was going to be written up. But not Jodi Rudoren. She’s as green as the day she arrived in Israel in May 2012 to take up her post. That would be an embarrassment for any foreign correspondent, let alone a Times bureau chief. Readers should keep this in mind whenever they look at her non-food or holiday-related coverage in the paper.

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My Appearance on C-SPAN

This morning I was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, talking about the mood of America and its causes, economic trends, the Obama presidency and the Affordable Care Act, the 2016 presidential race, and the anti-police bias of Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, and President Obama. All in roughly 45 minutes. For those interested, the link can be found here.

This morning I was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, talking about the mood of America and its causes, economic trends, the Obama presidency and the Affordable Care Act, the 2016 presidential race, and the anti-police bias of Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, and President Obama. All in roughly 45 minutes. For those interested, the link can be found here.

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The Party of the American Dream

The American left intellectually froze solid about the time of the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in January 1969, almost 46 years ago. There has not been a single new policy idea since then although the world politically, economically, and technologically has changed profoundly.

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The American left intellectually froze solid about the time of the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in January 1969, almost 46 years ago. There has not been a single new policy idea since then although the world politically, economically, and technologically has changed profoundly.

Most policy nostrums of the left date to the 1930s, when FDR noted—correctly—in his great Second Inaugural, that “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” But the nation that FDR saw and which Walker Evans so hauntingly depicted in his photographs is as dead and gone as FDR and Walker Evans. We still have poor people, of course, but that’s because poverty is a relative term. The United States has the richest poor people in the world, poor people with smart phones, flat-screen TVs, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing (and a myriad of assistance programs). If today’s poor are ill-nourished, the problem is more one of caloric surplus than deficit.

And the left’s view of the political landscape is equally out-of-date. The Democrats’ self-image is as the party of the working stiff while the Republicans are the party of the country club. About the same time as Walker Evans was taking his photographs, Peter Arno published one of his most famous cartoons. It showed a group of people in evening dresses and dinner jackets saying to a friend, “Come on. We’re going down to the Trans Lux to hiss Roosevelt.” But that upper class is dead and gone too.

While Harry Reid spent endless time this year claiming (but only from the floor of the Senate, where he is immune to slander suits) that the Koch brothers are using their billions to buy the country, in fact the super rich are overwhelmingly Democratic. The Washington Examiner is reporting that the top ten individual donors to political organizations in 2014 gave a total of $128 million. Of that, $91 million (71 percent) went to Democratic organizations. Of those who gave more than $1 million, 60 percent went to Democrats. Of super PAC spending this year, $195.7 million was spent either for Democrats or against Republicans. Republican-leaning super PAC buys amounted to $137.9 million.

The fact of the matter is that the Democrats have become the party of the government-dependent, such as those receiving assistance, government workers, the academy, the media, and the very rich. Republicans are now the party of the hard-working, aspiring middle. The Democrats used to be the party of the American dream. Today it is the Republicans who are.

It’s a profound change, and both parties would do themselves (and the country) a favor by noticing the fact. The Republicans have done a fair job of doing so. The Democrats, living in a perpetual 1969, have not.

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Jeb’s Strategy: Make Everything Old News

With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

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With the year drawing to a close, Jeb Bush found himself accused of being insufficiently conservative and having to defend himself against a fired-up conservative activist base leveling the charge. It’s a familiar story, but this particular case took place fifteen years ago, in December 1999. The email exchange with a pro-life activist was a reaction to Bush’s appointment of a judge while governor of Florida, and it’s part of a massive public-records release of electronic communication by the former governor, reported on in some detail today by the Washington Post. It also sheds some more light on Bush’s 2016 strategy.

For starters, the email exchange with the pro-life activist offers a glimpse into why Bush has been less than intimidated by grassroots opposition to his candidacy: he’s been dealing with this his whole career. Times have arguably changed in the Republican Party since then, and the presidential nomination fight is a different stage altogether. But for Bush, it’s easy to understand why he’s not willing to be deterred by something that’s never been able to stop him before. Here, for the record, is that 1999 exchange, as relayed by the Post:

He regularly sought to calm conservative activists who wanted him to take the government further to the right. In December 1999, Bush tangled over e-mail with an anti­abortion activist who blasted him for appointing a lawyer to a judgeship, because the lawyer had represented the owner of an abortion clinic.

Bush responded that he had not been told about the attorney’s history and, in any case, the lawyer had “received recommendations from many people who I respect.”

Nevertheless, Bush followed up and asked an aide to send the activist a list of all nominees currently before him. “We have no litmus test for judges — we are open to hearing from all Floridians,” he wrote. But he added that the woman “appears concerned about the perceived lack of opportunity to provide input.”

Bush welcomes the debate. That might further antagonize the right, or it might breed a new respect for him for not running from his decisions. But if the latter, it would almost surely be a grudging respect.

Bush has dealt with conservative dissent from his policies since well before there was a Tea Party, and he may think that precedent works in his favor. And maybe it does. But the reverse is just as likely. Conservative grassroots dissent was a different animal before the Tea Party and before new media’s influence on campaigns. Bush faced the low-calorie version of the modern conservative insurgency.

He’ll also face a roster of challengers that offers conservatives the flexibility to take their business elsewhere. But as far as Bush is concerned, conservative anger at him has not slowed him down much, and he seems determined to try to keep the streak alive.

The other aspect to the email archive is how Bush plans to use this transparency to his benefit in the 2016 race. There are two ways this could help him. The first is obvious: these are public records, so if there’s a story in there that portrays him in a negative light, it’s going to come out. He might as well get ahead of the story, spin it to suggest he has nothing to hide to minimize the story as much as possible, and get it out in public early in the race (or even before he’s technically in the race) so it’s old news by the time he’s in the middle of the nomination battle or even the general election.

Bush does not seem to be trying to hide this information in plain sight. To that end, the Post reports, “Bush’s team plans to post the e-mails on a searchable Web site early next year.”

The other way this could help Bush is by building a reputation for transparency. To be sure, what he’s doing is far from revolutionary in terms of what he’s releasing. But by getting it out there and making it easily accessible, he can at least play it as an alternative to the paranoiac secrecy of both the Clintons and President Obama. The Clintons not only famously enforce tribal loyalty but members of their inner circle aren’t above stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives to cover for the Clintons.

The Obama administration promised to be the most transparent administration ever, a phrase that has turned into a punchline. The president, in keeping with the unfortunate pattern of presidential discretion in an age of proliferating media, is more secretive than his predecessors, who were each, while in office, arguably more secretive than their own predecessors, and so forth.

It’s not a surprise, in other words, that the presidential comparison Obama evokes is Nixon. It’s just that the other presidents didn’t make such a big show of lying about their intentions to be transparent. That’s why Obama’s divisiveness is also so noticeable: he promised healing, and spent six years and counting turning Americans on each other. (Related: the Democratic Party wants you to harangue your family members with pro-Obama talking points over the holidays. Merry Christmas and happy Chanukah from the creepy statists running your government.)

The result of Obama’s Music Man routine will undoubtedly be increased cynicism toward politicians. So anyone making similar promises as Obama made during his campaign should beware the poisoned well. But if anyone can realistically promise a true transparency, it might be Bush, who could try to claim that you don’t have to wait for him to take office to test his commitment since he displayed transparency during the campaign.

Transparency is not now, and not ever going to be, an issue that catapults someone to the presidency. (You could argue “trust” is, but that’s not the same thing.) So the benefit to Bush of releasing these emails is almost surely about trying to waste news cycles on any revelation to inoculate his campaign from them later. As for his fifteen-year battle with conservatives, that too may be old news, but it’s precisely the kind of old news that feeds grudges and gains steam over time. Bush would be foolish to believe he can run like it’s 1999.

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Even the NY Times Can’t Save de Blasio

It’s been an awful week for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The man who was elected in 2013 on a platform of cop bashing has faced the fury of the police and the public after the murder of two members of the force exposed the ugly face of the post-Ferguson/Eric Garner protests. Like most politicians backed into a corner, de Blasio has lashed out at the media while proving unable to either make peace with the cops or to control his leftist allies who continue to conduct anti-police demonstrations. But de Blasio is not completely without friends. He still has the New York Times, which weighed in today with an embarrassing piece of flummery intended to reassure New Yorkers that everything was OK because the mayor was “calm.” If that’s the best they can do, de Blasio may be in even more trouble than his critics thought.

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It’s been an awful week for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The man who was elected in 2013 on a platform of cop bashing has faced the fury of the police and the public after the murder of two members of the force exposed the ugly face of the post-Ferguson/Eric Garner protests. Like most politicians backed into a corner, de Blasio has lashed out at the media while proving unable to either make peace with the cops or to control his leftist allies who continue to conduct anti-police demonstrations. But de Blasio is not completely without friends. He still has the New York Times, which weighed in today with an embarrassing piece of flummery intended to reassure New Yorkers that everything was OK because the mayor was “calm.” If that’s the best they can do, de Blasio may be in even more trouble than his critics thought.

The conceit of the piece is that de Blasio’s personal approach to the crisis that has threatened to tear the city apart while the rank and file of the NYPD are openly displaying their contempt and anger at the mayor is so deft that he is overcoming all obstacles. But even a casual reader can tell that the only people saying such things are close de Blasio allies whose comments are then slavishly taken down and published by the Times.

It is only in such an article at a time in which de Blasio has seemed to be out of control and losing his ability to influence events that you can read some of the following things about the mayor:

He has acted like himself: a confident but mercurial leader whose singular political style has not wavered.

Mr. de Blasio, a political professional who promised a warmer, friendlier City Hall, is approaching the fallout from the shooting deaths of two police officers with an operative’s touch, and a healthy dose of the personal.

Or this piece of flummery:

“His response is measured; it’s being respectful of everyone,” said Bertha Lewis, a longtime friend and adviser to the mayor, who, like another ally interviewed for this article, volunteered the phrase “pitch perfect” to describe his approach.

Ms. Lewis said the call to suspend protests and tough talk would give all sides a chance to calm down. “Making that middle-of-the-road statement is a good idea as mayor,” she said.

Are they kidding? On Planet New York Times, the spectacle of an ultra-liberal mayor lashing out at the mainstream press for merely reporting the anti-cop death threats chanted at demonstrations he supports may be “pitch perfect,” but in the rest of the galaxy, that’s the sort of thing that is generally considered tone deaf.

To be fair to the paper, part of de Blasio’s problem is conveyed in the article. It notes that while a more able leader would be spending this week reaching out to allies as well as foes in order to try to unify the city, de Blasio isn’t bothering with such conventional tactics:

And where other politicians are quick to line up allies to reinforce their message, Mr. de Blasio has been relatively insular. The mayor who recently boasted “I never need rescuing” has conferred only with a small group of close advisers since the shooting.

Mr. de Blasio has not spoken with Senator Charles E. Schumer or Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, in whose district the shootings took place. Nor, apart from a brief exchange of texts, has he spoken with Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president.

Arrogance and insularity are not generally the sort of leadership traits that are associated with success. Even worse is the conviction that comes across from the mayor and his allies that the problem is merely a passing fancy that the public will soon forget about.

That’s the sort of foolish, self-deceiving optimism that failed leaders always latch onto while sinking into permanent dysfunction. To the contrary, as the first major crisis of his administration, this is the moment when the public’s impressions of his ability to lead inevitably become more a matter of evaluating performance than of promises or potential. And on that score, he is in big trouble. De Blasio didn’t create this mess by himself. President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and racial hucksters like Al Sharpton deserve a major share of the blame too for weaving the Ferguson and Garner cases into a false narrative about police violence and racism. But de Blasio, who won election by highlighting his criticisms of the successful efforts of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations to lower crime, was already in a difficult relationship with the police when he joined in the gang tackle of law enforcement personnel after the Ferguson and the Garner cases. His unwillingness to back down and his instinct to attack those who point out what his allies are saying has exacerbated the situation. The notion, as the Times claims, that all this can “catalyze an ultimately productive conversation about race and the police” is sheer fantasy.

That’s especially true when Sharpton, whose close White House ties (as our Pete Wehner reminded us earlier today) make him a more influential national player than the mayor, chose to defy the mayor’s call for a temporary end to police protests. Put simply, a New York mayor who is simultaneously being brutally attacked by the head of the police union while being snubbed by the city’s leading African-American race baiter is a man marooned on an island and I don’t mean the island of Manhattan.

The Times can be an important ally for any New York mayor. But articles that attempt to put forward an image of the mayor as someone embodying “practiced calm” at such a moment is more likely to generate scorn rather than support. De Blasio may yet recover from this disaster but the insular, foolish man portrayed in this article needs more help than even his media cheering section can provide.

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The President, Al Sharpton, and the Corruption of Modern Liberalism

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, with his city roiling in the aftermath of the assassination of two NYPD officers, is imploring protesters–who until now he’s supported–to wait until after the funerals of two policemen before resuming their anti-police rallies. Al Sharpton–excuse me, the Reverend Al Sharpton–has declined. Which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. After all, what would a day in Gotham be without protesters shouting, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now.”

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, with his city roiling in the aftermath of the assassination of two NYPD officers, is imploring protesters–who until now he’s supported–to wait until after the funerals of two policemen before resuming their anti-police rallies. Al Sharpton–excuse me, the Reverend Al Sharpton–has declined. Which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. After all, what would a day in Gotham be without protesters shouting, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now.”

It tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the president and his White House and their views toward law enforcement and race relations that Sharpton is, in the words of Politico, “Obama’s go-to man on race.” He has direct contact with White House adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett, we’re told. He’s visited the White House at least 61 times since 2009, including meeting one on one with the president, who has publicly praised Sharpton, including sending an aide to read a message at a recent event commending Sharpton’s “dedication to the righteous cause of perfecting our union.” Sharpton was among a small group at the White House when the president announced his nomination of Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to become the next attorney general.

“There’s a trust factor with The Rev from the Oval Office on down,” a White House official familiar with their dealings told reporter Glenn Thrush. “He gets it, and he’s got credibility in the community that nobody else has got. There’s really no one else out there who does what he does.”

That last statement is true; there isn’t anyone out there who does what Sharpton does quite the way he does it.

Al Sharpton is a person who lives for the purpose of stoking racial hatreds. He was convicted of defaming a New York prosecutor, Steven A. Pagones, in the notorious Tawana Brawley affair, in which Brawley falsely accused Pagones of raping her. During the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, Sharpton fueled black rage after a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally killed a seven-year-old black child with his car. (A young talmudic scholar, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed to death by a mob shouting “Kill the Jew.”) Sharpton has made numerous anti-Semitic comments. He’s characterized black people who disagreed with him as “yellow niggers” and called white people “crackers.” He constantly casts the police as racists when there’s no evidence to support the charge. And on top of that he’s a tax cheat, having been convicted of tax evasion and, according to the New York Times, with more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him and his for-profit businesses.

Sharpton, then, is a notorious and demagogic figure. He’s anti-cop. He’s anti-Semitic. And he’s an enemy of racial reconciliation, having done incalculable damage to race relations in America. That such a loathsome individual would be allowed into the White House is itself stunning; and the fact that he’s Barack Obama’s “go-to man on race” is shameful and discrediting. These are the depths to which modern liberalism has descended.

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Lydda, 1948: They Were There

Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit’s bestselling book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Readers of Ha’aretz, where he’s a columnist, may have seen it mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit’s stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of the book, and I’m guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That’s because there is no Hebrew edition.
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Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit’s bestselling book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Readers of Ha’aretz, where he’s a columnist, may have seen it mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit’s stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of the book, and I’m guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That’s because there is no Hebrew edition.

Shavit wrote it in English for an American Jewish audience, upon the suggestion of David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker. Ha’aretz at first reported that a Hebrew version would appear at the end of 2013, and later that it would be published in the spring of 2014 (by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir). But while the book has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Polish, there’s no sign of a Hebrew edition.

So Israelis have no clue that Shavit has added a massacre in the city of Lydda to the litany of Israel’s alleged crimes in 1948. That’s why I felt privileged to take part in a December 4 panel on the conquests of Lydda and Ramleh in 1948, sponsored by the Galili Center for Defense Studies. The chairman of the center, Uzi Arad, suggested that I explain and analyze the claims made by Shavit in his book, which I’d already done in English for the web magazine Mosaic. (The organizers also invited Shavit, but he was off collecting accolades in south Florida.)

I was the youngest participant on the panel, and nearly the youngest person in the lecture hall, which was full of veterans of Lydda and many other battles of 1948. These people aren’t historians, and they don’t necessarily know the big picture of how politics and military operations interacted. They weren’t commanders (the officers are all gone); they were young soldiers in 1948, at the bottom of the chain of command. They’ve also read a lot and shared recollections over the past sixty-plus years, so you can’t always tell whether what they say about some episode is first-hand or derives from something they read or heard. Finally, time erodes memory, as some are quite prepared to admit.

Still, there were some very sharp minds in the audience—people who know more about the history of the 1948 war than anyone but a handful of expert historians. They know the commanders, the military units, the weaponry, the battles, the geography, the chronology—and woe unto you if you make a mistake. They won’t wait for the Q&A to correct you. The war to establish the State of Israel was the great adventure of their youth, and they wear it as badge of honor.

I was the only one of the four panelists who dealt directly with Shavit’s Lydda chapter. I was preceded by two well-regarded military historians, who described the campaign from an operational vantage point, and one veteran of the conquest, Yeshayahu (Shaike) Gavish. Now 89 years old and still vital, he’s most famous to Israelis as the general who led the Southern Command in the Six-Day War, when Israeli forces overwhelmed the Egyptians and seized the Sinai. In Lydda in 1948, he was a lowly operations officer, and a wounded one at that, so he had a fairly limited view of the theater, confined as he was to a jeep.

His most interesting comments concerned the flight of Lydda’s inhabitants, whose mass departure made a deep impression on him (as it did on many other Israelis). While there’s no doubt that an expulsion order was issued (on whose authority is debated), Gavish echoed many other witnesses who’ve said that Lydda’s inhabitants were eager to get out, begged to leave, and packed up as soon as the roads to the east opened. He did say that in his opinion, the events in the Dahmash mosque (the “small mosque”) which Shavit insists on calling a “massacre” had a strong effect on the populace, reinforcing their desire to flee. But on the question of just what happened at the small mosque, he had nothing to say, as he wasn’t there.

In my presentation, I explained just how large an impact Shavit’s book has had on American Jewry, and the crucial role played by the New Yorker in running the Lydda chapter as a provocative teaser. I then reviewed the “massacre” narrative sentence by sentence, just as I had done in my initial article for Mosaic. I figured that a mostly elderly crowd of Hebrew-speakers would need the crutch of a visible text, so I projected the relevant passages from the Lydda chapter up on the screen and read them slowly and deliberately. Then I explained why I thought Shavit’s conclusions were implausible.

I could have dispensed with my own analysis. The reactions tumbled forth in immediate response to Shavit’s text. I heard gasps of disbelief and angry asides. I didn’t ask for a show of hands as to how many thought Shavit’s account had any credibility, and in retrospect I wish I had. But to judge from the audible responses, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this audience was surprised and offended.

Two passages produced especially strong reactions. Shavit made this claim about the conduct of Palmach soldiers after the counter-attack on the small mosque: in their “desire for revenge,” “because of the rage they felt,” they entered the mosque and “sprayed the surviving wounded with automatic fire.” Shavit also charged that soldiers who were ordered to bury the Arabs killed in the mosque “took eight other Arabs to do the digging of the burial site and afterward shot them, too, and buried the eight” with the rest. Simply projecting these passages on the screen provoked a few salty comments I won’t repeat.

That said, nothing I heard, either in the lecture hall or outside of it, added to the store of testimony about the “massacre” component of Shavit’s Lydda tale. The conquest of Lydda had many moving parts, and most of the veterans I met served the 89th Battalion under Moshe Dayan. That meant that they weren’t in the city when the “massacre” supposedly took place, but fought the day before, mostly on the road between Lydda and Ramleh. But I wasn’t looking for new testimony, because there are plenty of recorded recollections from people who witnessed the events, including the scene in and around the small mosque. I did want these veterans to know what much of the world (Israel excepted) has been reading about their battle for over a year now. And I wanted them to start to talk about it among themselves and with others.

I probably achieved that goal, but I’ve since wondered whether I should have left these people in peace, safe in their ignorance of Shavit’s accusation that Lydda is Israel’s “black box.” At this point, none of them is up to challenging a well-connected media celebrity of Shavit’s caliber, and the persons specifically accused by him are gone. An elderly gentleman came up after my presentation and asked if I intended to publish my article in Hebrew. We ourselves can’t set the record straight anymore, he pleaded. That’s a huge difference from fifteen years ago, when veterans (of the Alexandroni Brigade) sued a graduate student (Teddy Katz) for claiming, in his thesis, that they’d committed a massacre (at Tantura). I told him to wait patiently: if Shavit’s book ever appears in Hebrew, he might roll back some of his claims, just as the New Yorker did when it ran the Lydda chapter as a stand-alone.

During the proceedings, a camera crew bustled about, filming presentations and interviewing some of the veterans. The man running the crew was Dan Setton, an Emmy-winning Israeli documentary filmmaker who told people he’s preparing a film “inspired by [Shavit’s] book.” He says it’s a co-production of HBO and Israel’s Channel Two. I’ve no idea where Setton will go with this project, but getting it right must begin with a dissection of the chapter that made My Promised Land famous.

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Can Democrats Resist the Torture Trap?

Two weeks ago when the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority issued a report on the use of torture by the CIA during the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11, the Obama administration was put in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the president and the current director of the CIA wanted to avoid engaging in any activity that would undermine the intelligence community and said nothing to indicate that it would reverse the president’s decision about closing the books on any torture activity in the past. On the other, they were eager to distance themselves from the Bush team and to condemn the use of torture. But many on the left continue to treat this deeply partisan and often misleading attack on the Bush administration and its successful efforts to defend America as an excuse to re-fight the political battles of the last decade. That’s the conceit of a New York Times editorial published yesterday that calls for wholesale prosecutions including that of Vice President Cheney. As I wrote two weeks ago, if Obama and the Democrats are smart, they will ignore that advice.

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Two weeks ago when the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority issued a report on the use of torture by the CIA during the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11, the Obama administration was put in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the president and the current director of the CIA wanted to avoid engaging in any activity that would undermine the intelligence community and said nothing to indicate that it would reverse the president’s decision about closing the books on any torture activity in the past. On the other, they were eager to distance themselves from the Bush team and to condemn the use of torture. But many on the left continue to treat this deeply partisan and often misleading attack on the Bush administration and its successful efforts to defend America as an excuse to re-fight the political battles of the last decade. That’s the conceit of a New York Times editorial published yesterday that calls for wholesale prosecutions including that of Vice President Cheney. As I wrote two weeks ago, if Obama and the Democrats are smart, they will ignore that advice.

President Obama hasn’t always acted wisely when it comes to intelligence matters, but he was right to decide early on in his administration that any effort to prosecute CIA officials or anyone else in the government for their actions against al-Qaeda would be a mistake. Bush ended the controversial “enhanced interrogations,” so it was not a matter of a new administration needing to change policy. The only point of such an exercise would be to gratify left-wingers who despised President Bush and Vice President Cheney and were hoping that the new president would reverse all of their anti-terrorism policies, something that Obama had no intention of doing. Even the Obama foreign policy and defense team knew that doing so would undermine their efforts to continue the campaign against Islamist terrorists that they would have to fight.

But after years of angrily biding their time, these liberals were given another opportunity to indulge their Bush/Cheney derangement syndrome with the release of the Intelligence Committee report. Its conclusions were slanted by the bias of the committee Democrats who were nursing a grudge against the CIA and led to them claim their belief that torture didn’t aid the war against al-Qaeda as a fact rather than, as it truly is, merely an assertion that is sharply contested by many, if not most of those who were involved in the effort.

Moreover, it also took the events of the period following 9/11 out of the context of a conflict against a terrorist movement that had already killed 3,000 people on American soil. Nor did the report’s authors choose to take into account the need to prevent a recurrence of those atrocities or the fact that, as we now know, but didn’t in 2001, that the CIA’s work would be rewarded with success.

Whatever one may think of Cheney or the rough methods employed by the CIA, the bottom line is that they ensured that 9/11 was al-Qaeda’s last victory in North America. It is possible to argue that some of their actions were legally questionable but, contrary to the efforts to paint this dispute as one of black and white rather than grey, there is also a good case to be made in their defense. For the administration to try to prosecute anyone, let alone those specifically tasked with defending the American people at a moment when they were under deadly attack, would be an attempt to criminalize a political difference.

That’s just fine with the Times and its leftist cohorts who have always viewed all of the actions taken under the rubric of the war on terror as illegitimate. They remain stuck in a 9/10 mentality that sees that attack on America as a police problem rather than a war in which the U.S. had to use much of its existing defense resources to achieve victory. As Obama seems to realize, going down that road would mean trashing the CIA at a time when it is needed more than ever to deal with burgeoning foreign and homegrown terror threats.

But as bad as such a course would be for U.S. security, it would be just as bad for the Democratic Party.

While the likely Democratic presidential nominee is seen as possessing a sensible and moderate approach to security issues, Republicans are divided between internationalists like Marco Rubio and isolationists like Rand Paul. Prosecutions of Cheney and company would gratify the Democratic base. But it would drag the party back into the past at a moment when they need to demonstrate both resolve and a will to fight and win the battle against ISIS, the group that rose to dominance in Iraq and Syria while Obama was pretending that Islamist terror was finished the moment Osama bin Laden was shot.

While I don’t expect President Obama to be foolish enough to be sucked down into the rabbit hole of vendettas against Bush and Cheney, it appears much of the Democratic base isn’t so wise. If they spend much of the next two years chasing their tails endlessly inveighing against Cheney, it will distract them from current political battles and solidify their descent into minority party status in preparation for 2016. Now that the isolationist moment is over and Rand Paul’s Obama-like foreign policy is no longer the flavor of the month, the GOP shouldn’t mind a debate that positions the Democrats as the ones who are not willing to do whatever it takes to stop the terrorists that grew powerful on Obama’s watch.

Much as the left would like to turn back the clock to the moment before al-Qaeda struck, that isn’t possible. Nor, despite the diatribes published in the Times, is it smart politics. The more liberals waste their time fighting stale battles against their former adversaries, the less likely it will be that they will be able to retain the White House or regain control of Congress.

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Holiday Jew-Hatred on the Sidewalks of NY

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has swept through Europe making it dangerous for Jews to openly identify with their faith on the streets of great Western capitals. Shrouded behind a thin veil of criticism about the Middle East peace process, Jew hatred has become an open and increasingly accepted fact of life in Europe that makes it perilous to express support for the Jewish state even at times when it is being assailed by terrorist attacks. Though support for boycotts of Israel and other forms of incitement have popped up on college campuses, up until now this distressing trend had not yet shown its face on American shores. But, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in the New York Observer yesterday, the anti-Israel movement has now stepped up its incitement and has begun an effort to boycott a business owned by a supporter of Israel. By doing so, they have crossed a very clear line that divides wrongheaded yet acceptable political protest from open hatred against Jews.

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In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has swept through Europe making it dangerous for Jews to openly identify with their faith on the streets of great Western capitals. Shrouded behind a thin veil of criticism about the Middle East peace process, Jew hatred has become an open and increasingly accepted fact of life in Europe that makes it perilous to express support for the Jewish state even at times when it is being assailed by terrorist attacks. Though support for boycotts of Israel and other forms of incitement have popped up on college campuses, up until now this distressing trend had not yet shown its face on American shores. But, as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in the New York Observer yesterday, the anti-Israel movement has now stepped up its incitement and has begun an effort to boycott a business owned by a supporter of Israel. By doing so, they have crossed a very clear line that divides wrongheaded yet acceptable political protest from open hatred against Jews.

The incident concerns a demonstration outside a jewelry outlet owned by Israeli entrepreneur Lev Leviev. Singing faux Christmas carols with lyrics proclaiming their support for a Palestinian war on Israel, participants were urging passersby to stay away from the store because its owner “steals Palestinian land.” Boteach writes that when he and his family attempted to converse with the demonstrators and to urge them to support Israel—the only democracy in the Middle East—and to oppose Hamas terrorists, they were cursed at and shouted down.

What’s their problem with Leviev? The prominent philanthropist’s sin is that he does business in Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank where Jews live, including contracting for the building of homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the capital and Beitar Ilit, part of the Gush Etzion bloc where Jews were slaughtered and evicted by Arabs in 1948. The demonstrators Boteach described are wrong about these places being “stolen” Palestinian land. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, what they are doing is nothing less than an attempt to treat a Jew who does business in Israel as a pariah. The line that separates such actions from unabashed anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish businesses is paper-thin and is undermined by the brazen anti-Semitic comments that accompanied this protest and other protests organized at nearby Jewish events.

The point here is not to dispute the right of anti-Zionists to express their opposition to the existence of a Jewish state. Rather, it is to show that the purpose of the anti-Leviev demonstration is to intimidate and silence Jews associated with the Jewish state. If Leviev can be boycotted in this manner, then so can any Jew, rich or poor, who has ties to Israel.

The effort to separate opposition to a Jewish state from anti-Semitism has always rested on the notion that there is a distinction between the two points of view. But, increasingly, as it is expressed in European demonstrations as well as here in the United States, that is a distinction without a difference. Those who would deny the Jews the same rights of sovereignty and self-defense that they never think to oppose anywhere else are practicing an invidious form of discrimination. One may disagree with Israeli policies, but those who support efforts to end its existence are engaging in a form of hatred.

That hatred has increasingly taken the form of the BDS—boycott, divest, and sanction—movement that attempts to wage economic war on Israel and its supporters. As the street theater taking place in Manhattan that Boteach witnessed clearly shows, it is no longer possible to pretend that boycotts of Israel are not merely a new way to boycott and discriminate against Jews. In other words, the effort to pretend that this is not a form of anti-Semitism has officially failed.

While all too many good people, including some supporters of Israel, try to pretend that this hatred can be answered by forcing Israel to change its policies, the BDS crowd and their Palestinian allies have always made it clear that they generally agree with Hamas in claiming that all areas of Israel, including the part that made up pre-1967 Israel, are “settlements” that must be destroyed. The time is over for treating these practitioners of hate with kid gloves and understanding. What they are preaching, in principle and in practice, is a form of hatred.

They should not be allowed to do so without being called to account by decent Americans of all faiths and political affiliations.

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The Abandonment of Ukraine and the Realist Fantasy

Two important stories out of the former Soviet Union broke today, each with implications for trade, security, and perhaps even NATO expansion in Europe. The first is the completion, according to the AP, of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This is Vladimir Putin’s counter to the temptation of post-Soviet states to look West for economic integration. The other, and more important, story illustrates the realization of Putin’s fear.

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Two important stories out of the former Soviet Union broke today, each with implications for trade, security, and perhaps even NATO expansion in Europe. The first is the completion, according to the AP, of the Eurasian Economic Union, a customs union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This is Vladimir Putin’s counter to the temptation of post-Soviet states to look West for economic integration. The other, and more important, story illustrates the realization of Putin’s fear.

The Wall Street Journal reports out of Kiev that the Ukrainian parliament voted today to drop its “non-aligned” status, which serves as a symbolic rebuke to Putin but also could put Ukraine’s NATO bid back on the table. This is a significant move as far as symbolism goes, but made all the more so by the fact that the ruble spent last week in something of a freefall, causing consumer panic and raising concerns about Putin’s tendency toward aggression when his popularity at home falls. Seen in that light, Ukraine’s move is one of defiance; Russia, after all, still occupies Ukrainian territory and supplies Ukraine with gas as the winter rolls in. Moreover, the ruble will likely bounce back before the Ukrainian hryvnia.

On that note, the editors of the Washington Post sound the alarm:

Mr. Putin may calculate that if he simply stands back, the fragile democratic government in Kiev will be destroyed by an economic collapse during the winter.

Preventing that implosion will require $15 billion in fresh assistance to Ukraine in 2015, on top of the $17 billion International Monetary Fund bailout arranged this year, according to the European Union. President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk have been pleading for the funds with the European Union, the IMF and the Obama administration. The response has been less than encouraging.

Ukraine’s leaders must rue their timing. President Obama claims to want to end vestiges of Cold War antagonism, but this usually means–as with Cuba–turning his attention to America’s adversaries. For two decades after the Cold War ended there was a bipartisan consensus that the independent nations in the post-Soviet world were to be helped onto their feet. The Obama administration has constituted a pause in this consensus in order to bring dictators in from the cold. That policy has thus far failed, and failed miserably.

And Ukraine is emblematic of this failure. Obama styles himself something of a realist, but his is a version of great power politics on steroids. It’s ironic, because it’s a throwback to Cold War-era foreign policy. Only instead of using well-placed allies to fight proxy battles, Obama acts as if those countries don’t exist in any meaningful sense. Here is what the president told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday, in response to claims that he’s too easily “rolled” by autocrats abroad:

So, this was said about Mr. Putin, for example, three or four months ago. There was a spate of stories about how he was the chess master and outmaneuvering the West and outmaneuvering Mr. Obama and this and that and the other. And, right now, he’s presiding over the collapse of his currency, a major financial crisis, and a huge economic contraction.

That doesn’t sound like somebody who has rolled me or the United States of America.

What’s jarring about that passage (aside from the occasional lapse into third person) is the suggestion that Putin has been outplayed because the ruble is plummeting. The Obama administration has hewed to this line throughout the Russia-Ukraine conflict: that Putin would overplay his hand and come to regret his recklessness.

But that completely ignores the fact that Russia has, in the process, invaded Ukraine several times, annexed Ukrainian territory, and is maintaining a frozen conflict in the east. Of course America was able to wait out Putin; that was never the question. The problem was that the president of the United States seemed to believe that Russia gobbling up the territory of other countries and then collapsing should be considered a victory, a mark of a successful foreign policy.

A view that myopic and strange is genuinely troubling to America’s allies, as it should be.

Obama is not alone in this. Rand Paul, in his major foreign-policy address, quoted Henry Kissinger’s contention that “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.” Paul then added himself: “Ukraine is geographically and historically bound to both regions.”

This address was pitched as “The Case for Conservative Realism.” But, as I have written before, Paul’s foreign-policy views can more accurately be described as Utopian Realism: a realism that applies to a world that doesn’t currently exist but with which Paul prefers to deal.

And that’s understandable, because the world as it is does not lend itself to Obama and Paul’s utopian realist sensibilities. The proper response to Paul’s assertion that Ukraine should be a bridge between east and west because it’s geographically bound to both is: Who asked you? Ukraine is an independent country, and its democratically elected representative government is making decisions for itself. And it doesn’t want to be Paul’s bridge to Russia; it wants to lean West and even consider joining NATO.

If today’s news out of Ukraine tells us anything, it is that the realist view of the conflict is completely divorced from reality. It’s time to adjust our policy accordingly, and that means we need to stop treating Ukraine as collateral damage in our bid to facilitate the region’s economic collapse.

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The Progressive Movement’s Anti-Cop Narrative

I don’t believe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has “blood on his hands,” which is the accusation made by Patrick Lynch, president of the largest and most influential union of the New York City Police Department, in the aftermath of the horrific assassinations of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. The killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was a wicked and deeply disturbed person. It’s simply wrong to blame public figures for words or actions, even unwise ones, that might conceivably trigger deranged people to commit violence. That was true when Bill Clinton blamed conservatives for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and when liberals blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

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I don’t believe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has “blood on his hands,” which is the accusation made by Patrick Lynch, president of the largest and most influential union of the New York City Police Department, in the aftermath of the horrific assassinations of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. The killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was a wicked and deeply disturbed person. It’s simply wrong to blame public figures for words or actions, even unwise ones, that might conceivably trigger deranged people to commit violence. That was true when Bill Clinton blamed conservatives for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and when liberals blamed Sarah Palin for the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

But here’s what I do believe: Mayor de Blasio, along with Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, have spoken in ways that have created a false and pernicious narrative, one that would lead you to believe that race was a factor in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island–and, more broadly, that (a) racism is a prominent problem in many of America’s 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States; (b) African-Americans are frequently targeted by cops because of bigotry; and (c) the main problem facing inner-city blacks is white cops. None of that is true. That doesn’t mean that now and then there aren’t racists cops; nor does it mean that mistakes aren’t made. But the storyline itself is at its core a lie–and rather than challenge the lie, de Blasio, Holder, and Obama have given it oxygen.

There’s very little question that to varying degrees Messrs. de Blasio, Holder, and Obama have lent their voices and moral authority in ways that have created greater distrust toward the police, from President Obama wrongly accusing the Cambridge police of acting “stupidly” after a run-in with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to the attorney general sending in federal agents as a way of signaling his unhappiness with grand jury verdicts that sided with the police to Mayor de Blasio linking the death of Mr. Garner to systematic police racism. (I recommend this fine editorial by National Review on Mayor de Blasio, saying he has “repeatedly given voice to unfounded allegations of racial bias in the police department.”)

I will repeat what I’ve said before: Cops are not only by and large impressive and admirable individuals who do very difficult jobs with skill and professionalism; they are among the best friends that communities, most especially inner-city communities, have. It would be nice if our political leaders would say that more than they now do, without the constant caveats slyly inserted to erode support for law enforcement officials.

It isn’t a good thing when the president of the United States, the attorney general, and the mayor of New York City grant more esteem and deference to a divisive and dishonest charlatan like Al Sharpton than they do to the police. (This Politico story refers to Sharpton as the president’s “go-to man on race.”) But that is what the progressive movement in America has given to us. Our communities and race relations are worse because of it; and so is our nation.

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After Cops Die, de Blasio Can’t Blame Media for False Racist Narrative

Backed into a corner by the backlash against those who have fed a campaign of hate against police after the murders of two cops over the weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio resorted to the last ditch of all failing politicians: blame the media. But like all such attempts, this one won’t divert public attention away from the hateful atmosphere toward police created by his statements as well as those of other politicians, media figures, and racial hucksters who turned the Ferguson, Missouri incident and the death of Eric Garner into an excuse for cop-bashing.

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Backed into a corner by the backlash against those who have fed a campaign of hate against police after the murders of two cops over the weekend, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio resorted to the last ditch of all failing politicians: blame the media. But like all such attempts, this one won’t divert public attention away from the hateful atmosphere toward police created by his statements as well as those of other politicians, media figures, and racial hucksters who turned the Ferguson, Missouri incident and the death of Eric Garner into an excuse for cop-bashing.

During a press conference with Police Commissioner William Bratton, de Blasio was asked by reporter Tony Aiello of CBS New York about the torrent of abuse directed at police by protesters at rallies he and other liberal politicians supported. His response was not only to minimize the problem but to blame journalists for highlighting the chants and threats aimed at cops. Here’s what the mayor said when asked about the hateful chants and whether he would be comfortable with members of his household—whom he had featured in comments highly critical of the police—using such language:

Of course not. We’ve talked about this so many times and I’m not going to talk about it again. And now the question now is, what are you guys going to do? What are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep dividing us? I am telling you over again again, that’s how you want to portray the world but we know a different reality. There are people who do that. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. They shouldn’t do that. It’s immoral, it’s wrong, it’s nasty, it’s negative. They should not do that but they, my friend, are not the majority. Stop portraying them as the majority.

It’s possible to argue that the people in the streets calling for the deaths of policemen are not the majority of those who have protested the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But for de Blasio to claim that it is the media who have divided Americans is worse than a joke. It’s a big lie intended to divert attention away from what the mayor, the president, the attorney general, and media figures like Al Sharpton who have been dividing us, have done.

Having spent the last four months doing their best to establish a narrative that seemed to claim that all white police personnel were a threat to the safety of African-Americans, these left-wingers are in no position to be complaining about divisive statements. Nor can they credibly gripe about taking incidents out of context and call for us to focus on the big picture of the protests they helped spark.

Though the mayor deserves credit for calling for an end to demonstrations in the wake of the anti-police violence, an honest assessment of his own role in fomenting resentment of New York’s Finest should take into account that he was elected to his office in no small measure because of his attacks on the cops. Since taking office he has clashed repeatedly with the police and then joined in the gang tackle on them after Ferguson and the Garner death.

The whole point of his critique was to create division and anger in which the police were not only the objects of angry protest but also blamed for perpetuating a Jim Crow-style racism of the past that died long before most of today’s policemen were born.

Even more to the point, the mayor’s complaints about taking things out of context could better be applied to his attempts, along with those of others on the left, to take two very different and unusual incidents with tragic outcomes and then weave them together into a narrative in which police were seen as racists bent on shooting and strangling innocent blacks.

Though the mayor may think anti-police threats are bad, by stoking those unreasonable fears with incendiary comments about teaching his son to fear the police, he bears a degree of responsibility for an atmosphere in which it seems possible to say just about anything about cops.

It’s true that some elements of the media do deserve blame. But it’s not those who rightly covered the “pigs in a blanket” and “dead cops” chants and brought them to public attention. Rather, it’s the racial hucksters who speak from their bully pulpits on MSNBC, CNN, and the broadcast networks who have incited hatred against the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect minority populations and neighborhoods as well as everyone else.

For decades, liberals have mocked conservatives who complain about media bias in favor of the left. So perhaps it’s understandable that de Blasio is angry with some in the press corps who think they shouldn’t be the bodyguards of the left. If de Blasio thinks he can get away with such a transparent ploy, he’s not quite as ready for prime time as he thinks. Those in law enforcement deserved de Blasio’s support when the mob was baying for the blood. Instead, de Blasio, Obama, and Holder were egging on the protesters. It’s too late for the mayor to evade responsibility for that failure by blaming those journalists who are doing their jobs.

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The CBO and Republicans’ Right to Govern

When ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber recently found himself in hot water over his videotaped comments admitting to misleading Americans in order to pass the ACA, part of his argument was that getting the Congressional Budget Office’s blessing for the legislation required dishonesty and a lack of transparency. In doing so, Gruber found himself in the hot seat in congressional hearings, but he may have also done tremendous, and possibly irreversible, damage to the CBO. If that turns out to be the case, hindsight will eventually see current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf as the first casualty of that institutional damage.

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When ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber recently found himself in hot water over his videotaped comments admitting to misleading Americans in order to pass the ACA, part of his argument was that getting the Congressional Budget Office’s blessing for the legislation required dishonesty and a lack of transparency. In doing so, Gruber found himself in the hot seat in congressional hearings, but he may have also done tremendous, and possibly irreversible, damage to the CBO. If that turns out to be the case, hindsight will eventually see current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf as the first casualty of that institutional damage.

The CBO is the ostensibly nonpartisan budget office that scores legislation based on its projected economic impact. With Republicans winning the Senate and thus controlling both houses of Congress in January, they will get to pick the next CBO director. And they have already decided it won’t be Doug Elmendorf. Republicans were divided on the merits of keeping Elmendorf, but one argument in favor of keeping him was actually an argument against it, if critics of the conservative wing of the party think through the implications of it.

Part of what bothers conservatives about the current CBO director is not only that he presided over the scoring of ObamaCare but that, as Jeffrey H. Anderson pointed out last month, the CBO apparently “effectively used Jonathan Gruber’s model” to do so. Gruber was being paid a healthy sum by the Obama administration to sell the ACA to all quarters. Anderson sums it up this way: “In other words, an overwhelming number of the ostensibly independent statements or scores that were made or published in support of Obamacare —from Krugman, Klein, Brownstein, the DNC, Reid, Pelosi, Sebelius, and even, to a significant degree, the CBO itself — were traceable to the support of one man and his model. And that man was Jonathan Gruber, who was secretly under contract with the Obama administration.”

Were Elmendorf to stay on, conservatives fear that their own future health-care legislation would be scored the same way, using Gruber’s model or its replica. If so, it would hamstring future reforms by requiring certain features, like the hated individual mandate.

But there’s another convincing reason for Republicans to appoint a new CBO head, and it’s actually the subtext of one of the reasons supposedly in favor of keeping Elmendorf. Conservative wonks tend to like Elmendorf. Here is Keith Hennessey’s argument for keeping him (made, obviously, before the GOP decided not to reappoint Elmendorf for another term), which others have echoed:

Dr. Elmendorf is not a conservative. He was originally chosen to head CBO by Congressional Democrats. He came from the left-of-center Brookings Institution. I think he is registered as an independent. I don’t know how he votes but I’d bet he’s a moderate/centrist Democrat.

I want to move economic policy to the right, not to the center-left. I think Dr. Elmendorf is the best pick for CBO because (a) he is unbiased and intellectually honest; (b) his background insulates his rulings and the Congressional Republicans who choose to reappoint him from accusations of bias; and, most importantly, (c) this combination greatly disadvantages the progressive Left who both dominate current economic debate within the Democratic party and who cannot refrain from intellectual overreach.

This is not a meritless argument, but it is one that unfortunately accepts too much of an already damaging narrative about conservatives. Hennessey notes, correctly, that Elmendorf rejected some of the Obama administration’s wackier claims, such as those underpinning the left’s deluded case for raising the minimum wage. He also points out that when this happened, conservatives “won those debates in part thanks to an assist from a CBO that was and was described as unbiased and nonpartisan.” (Emphasis in the original.)

But to get a sense of how such a debate harms conservatives, it helps to flip it. What happens if and when a GOP-appointed CBO head comes to a conclusion that damages liberal conventional wisdom? Hennessey imagines the scene: “The press coverage and public debate would have instead been about how “Congressional Republicans and their hand-picked conservative CBO Director said ______________.” … That is unfair. It is also an unavoidable consequence of a biased press corps that free market and small government conservatives would be foolish to ignore.”

I’m not so sure. It’s easy for those who are part of the policy debate to see these things as important. But it’s hard to ignore the idea that this overstates the role of the CBO in the public debate.

What it really boils down to is this: Republicans should be allowed to govern. Sometimes media bias can and should be heeded and even accepted. This is not one of those times, because to accept this narrative is to chip away at the idea that conservative governance is legitimate governance.

We see this in other areas as well, of course. Democrats populate the Justice Department with leftist legal bureaucrats, and the moment a Republican tries to add a few conservatives to the mix the media loses its mind, screeching “politicization!” The subtext of these fights is that conservatism is an ideology, while liberalism is nonpartisan good government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Republicans ought to be allowed to govern too. When the GOP wins elections, those elections should have consequences as well. And they should not accept the idea that when conservatives run the government they are merely renting space from the left. If the media wants to run with biased stories about it, let them. The alternative is preemptive surrender before the GOP’s new majority is even seated.

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Good News on the GDP

The country got an early Christmas present today from the Commerce Department, when it revised its estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter upwards to a robust 5 percent, the best quarterly performance since the third quarter of 2003. Second quarter growth this year was 4.6 percent. It dropped 2.9 percent in the first quarter, thanks to a brutal winter in most of the country. The Federal Reserve is predicting 2.3-2.4 percent growth for the whole of 2014.

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The country got an early Christmas present today from the Commerce Department, when it revised its estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter upwards to a robust 5 percent, the best quarterly performance since the third quarter of 2003. Second quarter growth this year was 4.6 percent. It dropped 2.9 percent in the first quarter, thanks to a brutal winter in most of the country. The Federal Reserve is predicting 2.3-2.4 percent growth for the whole of 2014.

The stock market reacted by crossing the 18,000 mark for the first time, at least intraday. It took only 119 days for the market to go from 17,000 to 18,000. (That’s not a record: in the great bull market of the late 1990s, it went from 10,000 to 11,000 in only 24 days). The Commerce Department also said that corporate profits are up 5.1 percent from a year earlier, always a bullish sign for Wall Street. Since hitting bottom in February 2009, at 7,062.93, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average is up more than 150 percent.

American economic growth this year is in marked contrast to much of the rest of the world where economies are slowing or even going into recession, such as Japan. Some of the explanation is undoubtedly the falling price of gasoline, which puts more disposable income into people’s pockets, making them feel richer.

We are not yet in a boom economy, but the Great Recession seems, finally, to be receding.

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Don’t Like Anti-Semitism? Then Don’t Encourage It.

In Britain, prominent Jewish figures are expressing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in that country. Most recently the director of the BBC Danny Cohen has stated that he has never felt so uncomfortable being Jewish in Britain. He even went so far as to cast doubt on the long-term future of Anglo-Jewry. Similarly, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband—also Jewish—has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. The great irony here, however, is that both men are Jews heading organizations which, through their portrayal and policy on Israel, are laying the groundwork for yet more Jew-hatred.

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In Britain, prominent Jewish figures are expressing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in that country. Most recently the director of the BBC Danny Cohen has stated that he has never felt so uncomfortable being Jewish in Britain. He even went so far as to cast doubt on the long-term future of Anglo-Jewry. Similarly, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband—also Jewish—has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. The great irony here, however, is that both men are Jews heading organizations which, through their portrayal and policy on Israel, are laying the groundwork for yet more Jew-hatred.

The correlation between the demonization of Israel and attacks on Jews worldwide is hardly in doubt. The dramatic spike in anti-Semitic attacks throughout the diaspora that coincided with this summer’s Gaza war speaks for itself. That is not to suggest that Israeli policy is the underlying cause of anti-Semitism, but rather just as Church doctrine or Social Darwinism were ideologies used as a conduit for anti-Semitism, today anti-Zionism, with its depiction of events in Israel, takes the position as the primary outlet for anti-Semitism. And while both Danny Cohen and Ed Miliband are quite right to be concerned by the rising tide of Jew-hatred in Britain today, there is no escaping the fact that both the BBC and the Labor Party have played a role in stoking the kind of contempt for the Jewish state that leads directly to the increasingly common verbal and physical attacks on British Jews.

Danny Cohen only took over as head of BBC television in May 2013, and so can hardly be held responsible for the BBC’s long legacy of slanted reporting on Israel. And in fairness, Cohen has pledged to give prominence to programming about the Holocaust to mark the upcoming memorial day. Still, during the recent Gaza conflict there were several troubling moments at the BBC. One particularly memorable incident was news anchor Emily Maitlis’s grilling of Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. Maitlis—who is herself Jewish—hounded Regev on the point of a UN shelter that had been hit, possibly by Israel, possibly by Hamas. The implicit suggestion in Maitlis’s questioning was that Israel had the exact coordinates of the shelter, that Israel knew that it was full of women and children, that Israel had refused to permit an evacuation of those in the shelter, and that Israel had intentionally gone ahead and hit it anyway. Her accusatory questions became fiercest when she asserted: “But you said you were going to hit it, you hit it, you killed them! You knew there were children in that building!”

Meanwhile, under Ed Miliband Labor has veered toward being far more overtly hostile to the Jewish state. While it is true that this process has been taking place on the left of that party for some time, under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labor policy remained resolutely supportive of the Jewish state. Yet under Miliband, the son of Holocaust refugees, this has begun to change. Not only did Miliband condemn Israel’s war against Hamas this summer, but he publicly attacked Prime Minister Cameron’s refusal to join in with the chorus of condemnation, calling Cameron’s stance “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” Miliband further outraged Israel supporters when he recently attended the gala dinner for Labor Friends of Palestine—a group which reportedly backs anti-Israel boycotts.

More than anything else, what stood out was Miliband’s decision to whip the vote on Palestinian statehood, obliging all Labor parliamentarians to support unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood regardless of the security implications for Israel. During the debate for that vote, some of the most aggressively anti-Israel speeches came from the Labor benches. The Jewish Labor MP Gerald Kaufman, who has previously compared Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, denounced Israel for provoking the anti-Semitism that he claimed he wished to see an end of. Indeed, Kaufman quite preposterously claimed that Israel is damaging the image of Judaism. It seems not to occur to Mr. Kaufman that it might be his own very public misrepresentation of the Jewish state that could be contributing to anti-Semitism.

So many of the accusations thrown at Israel today echo far older incarnations of Jew-hatred. Once it was accusations of Jews murdering and kidnapping Christian children, and now the accusation is of Israelis imprisoning minors and bombing Palestinian children. Once it was said that the Jews poisoned wells and caused the crops to fail, now that waste water from settlements pollutes Palestinian fields and drinking water. Similarly, the prominent depiction of blood and Palestinian children in contemporary political cartoons about Israel mirrors so precisely the imagery found in medieval anti-Semitism. What was particularly remarkable about medieval anti-Semitism was that whether it was the show trials of the Talmud, the Spanish Inquisition, or the numerous blood libel cases, time and again the names of Jewish converts who had risen high in the Church establishment are found littering the history books on account of the unique role they played in putting anti-Jewish ideas into non-Jewish heads. Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun.

To be clear: when Miliband and Cohen decry the rise of anti-Semitism it is not in doubt that they are being sincere. But they are also being woefully naive if they fail to see the role the organizations they head have in stoking that same anti-Semitism.

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