Commentary Magazine


Censorship vs. Accountability in Journalism

Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

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Last week, there was a bit of an uproar when NBC foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who was covering Gaza for the network, was replaced with a more experienced anchor. There were concerns that Mohyeldin was being rotated out of Gaza due to his apparent sympathy for the Palestinian side. After an outcry, he was sent back to Gaza. But it’s now becoming clear that NBC had good reason to have second thoughts about putting its coverage in Mohyeldin’s hands.

CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter looked into the controversy and did a segment on it over the weekend. In an accompanying article, he explains that NBC had Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrive in Israel midweek and that the network was prepared for the possibility it would only have time for one broadcast, and decided to make it Engel’s. That proved to be wise call.

The day Engel arrived, Mohyeldin witnessed the attack on a Gaza beach area that killed four Palestinian children. That earned him a chance to do the segment. But NBC higher-ups were disappointed in the quality of Mohyeldin’s proposed script, and crunched for time, gave the nod to the more experienced Engel. It was a very sensitive story, and Mohyeldin had dropped the ball.

That didn’t stop complaints that Mohyeldin was being punished (or “censored,” a patently ridiculous claim) for his perceived pro-Palestinian bias. But there’s a difference between sympathy for the Palestinians and whitewashing Hamas at the expense of getting an accurate story. And now back in the region, Mohyeldin is showing why NBC was uncomfortable with his work. On a segment on Gaza with MSNBC host Chris Hayes last night, Mohyeldin was asked about the tendency of Hamas to use Palestinians in Gaza as human shields. Here was his response to Hayes:

MOHYELDIN: Well, we just put that statement, exact statement to Hamas spokesperson who’s categorically denied that Hamas or its fighters are
using the civilian population as human shields. We have not — I have not in my specific time here in Gaza, and I’ve covered three separate wars – have ever seen Hamas fighters using civilians as human shields.

But more importantly, what they say about that allegation, they categorically reject it, they deny. They say the entire world’s media is present here on the ground in Gaza. If there are any evidence, or if there are any reporters, that should be sufficient, but none of those have emerged, according to Hamas. Officials, they say there simply isn’t any documentation to suggest that Hamas uses hospitals or uses mosques or schools to store weapons.

Now, the U.N. has countered that. The U.N. has said that last week, it found 20 rockets in one U.N. facility, although that was not substantiated. That is a claim the United Nations, which oversees schools near Gaza, claims to have found.

For its part, though, Hamas denies that allegation entirely.

To put it simply: if Mohyeldin has reported from Gaza for three wars and never witnessed the use of human shields, he is failing comprehensively to do his job. This is likely what NBC saw: a reporter missing the key stories his competitors were covering to instead offer Hamas’s official explanation. Some NBC executives were very likely uncomfortable not with Mohyeldin’s supposed sympathy for Palestinian children but that he was taking a wrecking ball to NBC’s credibility.

Perhaps he was in over his head; Gaza is a tough beat. Whatever the reason, NBC had to do something. Now that they’ve returned him to Gaza, he continues chipping away at their efforts to get some accurate sense of the conflict.

It’s not as though Hamas has all the media fooled (as Mohyeldin hints). The Washington Post has been quite busy getting the story. The Algemeiner has a roundup of Post stories on the topic. They note that the Post covered the fact that Hamas was using a hospital as “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” and that the Post ran stories detailing the use of mosques to store rockets. In one story, the Post reporter witnessed Hamas fighters moving rockets into a mosque during a temporary cease-fire. It’s also a bit baffling that Mohyeldin played down the rockets discovered in a UN school, when other press followed the progress of those rockets being returned to (Hamas-linked) Palestinian officials.

To be fair, Mohyeldin isn’t alone. The New York Times’s Anne Barnard complained on Twitter this morning that criticism of her one-sided coverage isn’t fair because it’s too dangerous to cover Hamas accurately. I sympathize, and admire reporters for putting themselves in harm’s way for their job. But it’s all the more reason to salute the reporters who are doing so while actually getting the story.

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Open Primaries

It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

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It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

But Senator Schumer has come out in today’s New York Times in favor of open primaries. That is a very good idea. He points out that the center of American politics is nearly empty these days as the parties have become much more ideologically and much less geographically based. Combine that with gerrymandering, and it is more and more the primary elections that determine who eventually wins the seat up for grabs.

But most states have party primaries, where only registered party members can vote. With parties more ideological than ever, it is the true believers, usually at the left or right extreme of each party, who turn out for these primary elections. That forces politicians to move to the left or right in order to win the primary, or avoid having to run in one at all. “Primary” has long been a noun and an adjective; it has now become a verb as well, as in “We will primary him if he doesn’t support … .”

Party primaries, of course, also disenfranchise those registered as independents, now about one-third of the American electorate.

Schumer advocates a system where there are no party primaries, only a single primary, open to all who qualify regardless of party. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote, he’s elected. If no one gets a majority, then the top two vote getters run in the general election.

Open primaries enfranchise independents (centrists almost be definition) as well as greatly reducing the influence of the political extremes. They would help to restore the power of the center in American politics, where successful public policy almost always originates. (Just consider the ObamaCare disaster, wholly a product of the left.)

This system began in Louisiana (to be sure, not a state exactly famous for its enlightened or squeaky-clean politics) in the 1970s. In 2010 it was adopted by referendum in California and, according to Senator Schumer, “The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern.” Washington State has had open primaries since 2008 and Colorado and Oregon will consider them this year.

It would seem that the idea is spreading, as good ideas always do. For the sake of American politics I hope it spreads far and fast.

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Israeli Restraint Also Comes at a Price

Ever since Israel began its latest Gaza operation in an effort to stop the rocket fire directed against its civilians, calls for Israel to “show restraint” have become a mantra for both the Obama administration and the international community at large. Quite what would constitute both a “restrained” and an effective response goes completely unspecified by those making these calls. Failing any useful suggestions from the outside, Israel’s current strategy has actually shown a great deal of restraint in its effort to balance meeting military objectives with attempting to avoid civilians. So restrained, in fact, that it has inevitably placed limits on Israel’s ability to definitively prevent either rockets or the infiltration of terrorists by sea and tunnel. And this restraint comes with another still greater price for Israelis, a price that is being paid by the young men of Israel’s armed forces.

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Ever since Israel began its latest Gaza operation in an effort to stop the rocket fire directed against its civilians, calls for Israel to “show restraint” have become a mantra for both the Obama administration and the international community at large. Quite what would constitute both a “restrained” and an effective response goes completely unspecified by those making these calls. Failing any useful suggestions from the outside, Israel’s current strategy has actually shown a great deal of restraint in its effort to balance meeting military objectives with attempting to avoid civilians. So restrained, in fact, that it has inevitably placed limits on Israel’s ability to definitively prevent either rockets or the infiltration of terrorists by sea and tunnel. And this restraint comes with another still greater price for Israelis, a price that is being paid by the young men of Israel’s armed forces.

“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation! It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation!” an exasperated John Kerry was caught saying over an open mic this weekend. But the Secretary of State knows full well from America’s own military operations just how difficult it is to target guerrilla fighters operating in urban areas without also endangering civilians. What more is it that Kerry thinks Israel should be doing? Should Israel be dropping more warning leaflets and making more phone calls encouraging Gazans to flee the conflict zone? Should Israel be making more last-minute cancellations of strikes when it becomes apparent that civilians might be in the line of fire? Should Israel simply rule out altogether any target that Hamas has embedded in an urban area no matter how crucial hitting it is for stopping Hamas’s terror activities? It is meaningless for outsiders to talk of Israel’s right to defend its people in theory, only to then lambaste Israel’s every effort to do so in practice.

During Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead similar measures were taken to avoid civilian casualties and yet the use of airstrikes was evidently much heavier. This had two results. The first was that casualty figures among Gazans were significantly higher than has so far been the case this time around. And the second was that when the IDF undertook its ground operation in Gaza the number of Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian militants was limited to six. This time, just a few days into the ground operation, the IDF casualty figure stands at twenty-eight. This is in part because Hamas is now armed with far more advanced (Iranian supplied) weaponry than ever before, as seen with its use of anti-tank mortars. Yet when it comes to fighting in such densely built-up areas as Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, the Israelis have an impossibly difficult calculus to make between risking a greater loss of civilian life by using heavier airpower, or carrying out fewer airstrikes and putting Israeli troops in considerably greater danger.

This was the same moral conundrum that Israel faced in Jenin in 2002 during the Second Intifada. Israel could have spared losses on its own side by using heavy shelling of the areas militants were operating within. Yet the Israeli army prioritized sparing civilian lives and obliged its men to undergo the nightmare of house-to-house combat against the jihadists. They faced ambushes and booby-trapped buildings. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers lost their lives and seventy were wounded. Despite this concerted effort to show full regard for the highest humanitarian principles, Israel was defamed and accused of carrying out a massacre that under later investigation turned out to be a total fiction.

During the course of the current ground operation in Gaza, Israel has brought injured Islamist militants to Israel for medical treatment and has now established a field hospital for Palestinians in Gaza itself. In recent weeks Israel has agreed to every humanitarian cease-fire requested, always in the knowledge that it won’t be upheld by the other side. To suggest that Israel has some malicious disregard for civilian life, to suggest that it is perhaps “accidentally-on-purpose” choosing to kill a few extra Gazans here and there, is simply obscene. If Israel had some means of sparing every civilian and only striking combatants, do the John Kerrys of this world seriously imagine that they would withhold it? Yet some of Israel’s critics seem to operate under the impression that Israelis have almost magical powers in warfare and that, if only the mood took them, they could defeat Hamas without causing any significant harm to the surrounding population.

Under the circumstances Israel shows incredible restraint. The result is that it cannot stop the rockets or the terror tunnels by airstrikes alone. Instead it has to send in its young men. And because the Israelis insist on showing a concern for Gazan civilians—the like of which is an utter anathema to Hamas—they also withhold the kind of shelling that would make the work of their ground troops much easier. That comes at a most terrible price for the Israeli soldiers and their families.

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The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

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After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

The contrast between the support for the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to attack Hamas’s rocket launchers and terrorist tunnel network in Gaza that is exhibited by most Israelis and the outrage that these efforts at self-defense have generated elsewhere is hard to ignore. Israelis understand the current conflict has nothing to do with arguments about settlements or borders. You don’t have to be a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or those of pro-settlement critics on the right here to understand that Hamas and its sympathizers don’t care where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Nor is there any real debate about the impact of a Palestinian political culture in which even the supposed moderates applaud terrorism and treat those who slaughter Jews as heroes. The point of the terrorist fortress in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces is trying to disarm if not dismantle is to serve as the base for an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish state. The choice of Hamas’s leaders to deliberately sacrifice as many of their own people as possible in order to protect their terrorist infrastructure has not been lost on Israelis. Nor has it escaped their notice that the whole point of the massive investment in rockets and infiltration tunnels by the government of a district mired in poverty is to produce as many Jewish casualties as possible regardless of the impact such actions may have on the safety or the quality of life of Palestinians.

Just as important is the ugly anti-Semitic tone of much of the protests that have been mounted against Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Simply put, much of the world seems to think that Hamas has a “right” to shoot thousands of rockets at Israeli cities or to launch cross-border terror raids aimed at kidnapping or killing as many Jews as possible and that the Jewish state has no right to defend itself against these actions–even if they go to great lengths (as the Israel Defense Forces do as a matter of course) to avoid hurting the civilians that the Islamists use as human shields. The general invective against Zionism being heard on the streets of Europe’s cities and even in the U.S. protests against Israel is of a piece with the tone of Hamas’s talking points. The solidarity these demonstrators are expressing for the “resistance” against the “occupation”–a term by which they mean all of Israel and not just the West Bank or the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza–also makes plain the nature of the struggle. Even those who support a two-state solution that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank must now comprehend that their dislike of the settlements or the desire to satisfy the Palestinian ambition for sovereignty can’t ignore the fact that the debate about these ideas is entirely moot while the rockets are flying and terrorists are tunneling beneath the border in hope of emerging inside Israel to slaughter innocents. In this context of hate and violence, the only real points of contention are whether you support the survival of the Jewish state or not.

That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.

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A Stubborn Status Quo in Gaza

It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

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It’s been a rough few days for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Some 25 Israeli soldiers and more than 500 Palestinians have been killed in fighting. The loss of life on both sides is deplorable. But the fact that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died–that the death toll has been, to use the buzz phrase, “disproportionate”–does not mean that the Israelis are the aggressors and the Palestinians the victims.

In a sense both sides are the victims of Hamas’s leaders who refuse to recognize Israel’s existence or to give up their armed struggle against it. If only the Hamas leaders had done what normal democratic politicians would have done when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005: which is to say, if only they had focused on economic development, then none of this would have happened. Israel would have happily cooperated in boosting living conditions in Gaza; it only instituted a blockade on Gaza, with exceptions for humanitarian supplies, when it became clear that it was becoming an armed base for an attack on Israel. In fact wealthy Jewish donors even gave the Palestinians 3,000 greenhouses left behind by settlers. But instead of growing flowers, Hamas prefers to harvest hatred. The greenhouses were looted and covert rocket factories were constructed.

So for the third time since 2005 a war is raging in Gaza–one brought about directly by Hamas’s insistence on attacking Israel. No nation in the world would tolerate hundreds of rockets raining down on its territory. Because Israel was not able to stop the barrage through the use of precision airpower alone, it has now sent its soldiers into harm’s way.

Predictably, Israeli casualties have been going up as their troops have been battling through the dense urban warrens of Gaza City–restrictive terrain that to some extent obviates the firepower advantage of the IDF and allows Hamas ambushers to inflict real damage on Israeli troops. On Sunday, for example, a Hamas anti-tank missile apparently took out an antiquated armored personnel carrier, killing seven soldiers from the elite Golani Brigade. But Israeli forces still have the initiative and are working on destroy tunnels built by Hamas not only to infiltrate military supplies into Gaza but also to infiltrate its fighters into Israel.

Naturally the “international community” is eager to stop the war as soon as possible and is putting pressure on both sides to reach a cease-fire agreement. (If only there were as much pressure being applied to Bashar Assad whose war has killed upwards of 170,000 Muslims.) Few seem to remember Israel had already offered a cease-fire before the ground war started. Hamas refused, no doubt because it has been losing popularity and sees a war against the “Zionist entity” as a good way to enhance its prestige among Palestinians and the Arab world more generally. But sooner or later, as in the past, Hamas is certain to agree to a cease-fire.

What then? Essentially we will see a return to the prewar status quo. That is to say, an uneasy peace, with Hamas trying to smuggle in more weapons and Israel watching warily, both sides preparing for a resumption of hostilities. There is no victory likely for either side. The best that Israel can hope for is to manage the problem because, as I have pointed out before, the only way to eradicate Hamas is through an occupation, which Israel does not want to undertake.

The second-best solution might be to have the Palestinian Authority, which is more moderate than Hamas and after all is supposed to be nominally in charge of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, assert its actual authority in Gaza. Yet, surprisingly, there does not seem to be much discussion of this option. That may well be a tribute to Hamas’s success–little discussed but hugely significant–in knee-capping Fatah’s infrastructure in Gaza, sometimes literally. Hamas has waged a ruthless behind-the-scenes battle to consolidate authority in Gaza at the expense of Fatah.

That seems to leave Hamas as the only game in town for the time being, barring even more radical Salafists. So the odds are heavy that Hamas will remain in charge after Israel’s operation ends–and Palestinians will continue to pay the price for its extremism time and again.

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An Academic’s Admirable Intellectual Independence

I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

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I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

I want to focus on Professor Turley’s testimony for two reasons. The first has to do with the merits of his argument, which he believes reflects the vision of the founders. The push-and-pull between Congress and the presidency goes back to the very beginning of the republic, but according to Turley we have reached a “tipping point.” Even if one doesn’t fully agree with him, Turley’s case is worth considering, particularly given how well-stated it is.

The second reason I wanted to highlight what Professor Turley said is because he demonstrates impressive intellectual independence. In the course of his testimony, Professor Turley says quite forthrightly that he voted for Barack Obama in the past and he’s sympathetic to what the president is trying to achieve with the Affordable Care Act. Which is to say, Turley is a political liberal.

No matter. The George Washington University law professor is able to separate his political leanings from his analysis of the situation. He is able to argue “against interest.” His principles have deeper roots than his political/partisan views.

Professor Turley is obviously a serious-minded scholar; he’s also a civilized, irenic one. We all struggle with “confirmation bias” and “motivated reasoning”; with keeping our political biases from clouding our intellectual judgments. These days that’s truer of academics, I imagine, than most others. Which is why Jonathan Turley’s example is an estimable one. Watch his testimony and see if you agree.

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Israel, Hamas, and Moral Idiocy

In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

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In our politics today we often turn our disagreement into Manichean struggles, as if one side has all the arguments in its favor while the other has none. In fact, it’s not unusual for both sides to have at least a kernel of truth. That doesn’t mean, of course, that both sides hold equally valid positions; but it does mean that there are usually legitimate, competing claims to arbitrate.

Abraham Lincoln got at this better than anyone when he said, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”

But note the qualifier: “Almost everything.” From time to time there are situations in which the political and moral arguments are completely with one side and not the other. Such is the case with the war between Israel and Hamas.

Start with the two protagonists: on the one side, a nation of incredible intellectual, political, and moral achievements that has made more sacrifices for peace than any country on earth. On the other, an Islamic terrorist organization that ranks among the most vicious in the world and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere. (The Hamas propaganda slogan declares, “We love death more than the Jews love life.”)

As for the particulars of this current conflict, we face a situation in which Israel wants peace and Hamas wants war (and indeed started this war); in which Israel has accepted several cease-fires and Hamas none; in which Israel is bending over
 backwards to prevent civilian Palestinian deaths while Hamas bends over backwards to increase civilian Palestinian deaths.

These facts are not in dispute. Neither is this: Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, granting the Palestinians what they said they wanted: self-rule. In the process, Israel destroyed thousands of homes and public buildings owned by Jewish settlers who had lived in Gaza since Israel won the land in the 1967 war. Israeli troops even stormed the synagogue in Kfar Darom in order to remove Israeli settlers who did not want to leave. And what did Israel get in return for its unilateral withdrawal? Not an independent Palestinian state but a terrorist one that, among other things, has launched rocket attacks at the three largest cities in Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa).

Yet despite all this, much of the world, including many Europeans, blame not Hamas but Israel. In dozens of European cities, including Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam, “thousands of demonstrators thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters have depicted Israel as the aggressor and sought to isolate it internationally.” This is a grotesque distortion of reality.

In America, thank goodness, things aren’t nearly so bad. Still, it comes as a surprise to exactly no one that the Obama administration, while saying Israel has the right to self-defense, is continually applying pressure against the Jewish state for exercising that right. Team Obama’s frustration with Israel is palpable (see this clip from Secretary Kerry mocking Israel when he thought his conversation was private). We’re told the president, for example, has “serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza.” So do many of us. It is heartbreaking to witness. But the pressure should be applied not to Israel but Hamas, which started this war, which is attempting to escalate it, and which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields. Yet we get from this administration a kind of rough moral symmetry in which Israel is lectured to exercise restraint beyond anything we would ask of ourselves and in which both Israel and Hamas are said to be complicit in a non-stop “cycle of violence.”

This is moral idiocy. The proper response to this conflict is to stand four-square with Israel in its effort to decimate Hamas. That would be the right thing to do in every respect, including for the welfare of Palestinian children, who are merely pawns in the lethal game being played by Hamas.

To portray Hamas sympathetically and Israel as villainous is not simply irrational. It requires one to step through the looking glass, to hate the good and embrace the malevolent, and in doing so to enter a world characterized by at best moral confusion and at worst moral corruption.

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Smash the Regulatory State from Within

The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

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The rise of the regulatory state is not something conservatives need to make peace with, nor should they accept the role that unaccountable bureaucrats are increasingly playing in American governance. But they should also understand that working within that system while working to dismantle aspects of it are not mutually exclusive activities.

With all the talk of reform conservatism, this is a more limited variant of the ambitious reform efforts gaining momentum. There are two categories of such reform, and the abuse-of-power scandals proliferating throughout the Obama administration’s bureaucratic power agencies make it all the more necessary to realize the opportunity they present to conservatives seeking to protect the public from big government.

The first has to do with regulations, and Texas presents a good example. Because so much of the Obama-era Democratic regulations are poorly thought-out and destructive, it’s easy to get the impression that when the government regulates something, it will do so in a deeply stupid way. But it doesn’t have to.

In April 2010, the Washington Post ran an interesting article investigating the following question: Why did Texas escape the real-estate bust? As the Post explained:

Texas’s 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Fewer than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent. …

Texan subprime borrowers do especially well compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The foreclosure rate among subprime borrowers in Texas, at less than 19 percent, is the lowest of any state except Alaska.

Part of the answer seemed to be restrictions on refinancing and home-equity lending:

A cash-out refinance is a mortgage taken out for a higher balance than the one on an existing loan, net of fees. Across the nation, cash-outs became ubiquitous during the mortgage boom, as skyrocketing house prices made it possible for homeowners, even those with bad credit, to use their home equity like an ATM. But not in Texas. There, cash-outs and home-equity loans cannot total more than 80 percent of a home’s appraised value. There’s a 12-day cooling-off period after an application, during which the borrower can pull out. And when a borrower refinances a mortgage, it’s illegal to get even a dollar back. Texas really means it: All these protections, and more, are in the state constitution. The Texas restrictions on mortgage borrowing date from the first days of statehood in 1845, when the constitution banned home loans.

It turns out such restrictions went a long way toward preventing homeowners from taking out the kind of loans and refinancing that increased the chances of default when the bubble burst, protecting many in Texas from suffering the same fate. It’s the kind of “smart” regulation that not only benefits the private sector but also can prevent future “dumb” regulations: the less prone to such crises states (and especially the federal government) are, the less demand there will be for the kind of “do-something” regulatory pile-ons and bailouts that follow those crises.

Texas is also, of course, a testament to the benefits of limited regulations in other areas of ownership and private property. Another part of the state’s insulation from the real-estate bubble was, as Wendell Cox explained, “the state’s liberal, market oriented land use policies. This served to help keep the price of land low while profligate lending increased demand.” Overregulated housing markets inflated prices and restricted supply. Texas got the balance just right.

So there’s “smart” regulations vs. “dumb” regulations. But the other category of this kind of reform has to do with the bureaucracy. Especially in the Obama era, policy is being made more and more by unelected bureaucrats. As the IRS scandal (and others) showed, the power and insulation from the public eye is a dangerous combination.

Conservatives have generally approached this by concentrating on the need to eliminate either bureaucratic agencies or the powers of those agencies. They should also, however, keep in mind that as long as those agencies exist, personnel is policy. Perhaps no one on the right has internalized this message more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a piece for National Review last year (still paywalled, alas), Daniel Foster wrote about McConnell’s attitude toward staffing decisions made by each party. When bureaucratic commission openings must be filled, it generally falls to the leadership. That means President Obama for the Democrats and McConnell for the Republicans. The Democrats still tend to view such job appointments as patronage positions. But McConnell has rejected the cronyism in favor of competence:

To translate his instincts into names, he brought in GOP veteran Dan Schneider. To look at Schneider’s government rap sheet — stints at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Labor Department — you’d think he was a die-cast liberal. But when I spoke with him for this story, he said he likes to think of himself as a loyal conservative sent behind enemy lines “to monitor the radicals.”

Schneider came onto McConnell’s radar via the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao. When George W. Bush appointed Chao to head his Department of Labor, Schneider became her first White House liaison, and she gave him free rein to find conservatives to fill more than 200 slots inside the department. He impressed, and, after the Obama transition, migrated into McConnell’s office, where he oversees a sort of national conservative talent search with the title “Policy Advisor and Counsel for Nominations.”

Schneider operates according to a set of five criteria for screening potential nominees first developed by E. Pendleton “Pen” James, Ronald Reagan’s director of personnel management. First, were the nominees competent in the subject matter? Second, were they philosophically compatible with Senator McConnell? Third, did they possess high character and integrity? Fourth, were they tough? Fifth, were they team players?

The result, two or three hundred appointees later, is measurable.

Of course the ultimate aim for such bureaucracies should be to get rid of them or limit their power–something McConnell also engages in, as when he spearheaded the challenge to Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments, which resulted recently in a unanimous Supreme Court rejection of Obama’s power grab.

But conservatives can fight those fights while engaging in limited reform from within the regulatory state. They don’t have to cede ground just because they wish that ground didn’t exist.

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Lessons from the Failed Peace Process

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

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There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

The second conclusion is that the way the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, blew up the talks bodes ill for any future peace process:

Over the next three weeks, with April 29 approaching, Indyk would meet nine times with Livni, Molho, Erekat, and Faraj in a bid to salvage the peace talks. He was determined to get everything in writing this time. No more misunderstandings. And by April 23, the sides seemed close to an extension agreement. Indyk drove to Ben Gurion Airport that day to pick up his wife, and while at the baggage claim, he got a call from Livni. She’d heard that the Palestinians had just done something to ruin all the progress they had made. Indyk immediately phoned Erekat, who said he wasn’t aware of the development, but would investigate. Back at the U.S. consulate, the Kerry team was combing over the details of the emerging deal, with the secretary calling periodically to check in. Soon, the news penetrated their office, too. Weeks earlier, they had been surprised by the timing of Abu Mazen’s U.N. ceremony, but not by the act. The Palestinians had put them on notice. But as the American officials huddled around a desktop computer, hungry for actual details about this rumor they were hearing, they couldn’t believe the headline that now flashed across the screen: FATAH, HAMAS END YEARS OF DIVISON, AGREE TO UNITY GOVERNMENT. The next day, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to suspend the talks. John Kerry’s peace process was over.

It’s one thing to threaten action, set a deadline, and then carry it out. That is essentially what the Palestinians did with their UN gambit. But the idea that the process could just end on a Palestinian whim can poison the well (or whatever’s left of it).

That’s because for the Palestinians, once the process begins it’s in the hands of Abbas, Erekat, and some high-level members of Abbas’s cabinet. That is not the case for Israel. As the report details, the day the Palestinians signed their applications to the UN agencies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding meetings throughout the day in his office seeking to reassure skeptics in his coalition without alienating Livni and the peace processors to their left. Additionally, he had to deal with the constant threat of rebellion from Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party that held the third-most seats in the governing coalition.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah was an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. It was more than just a setback: it raised the possibility that any Israeli leader who risked his government for a peace process would get a more terroristic Palestinian government than he or she started with and would have imminent war looming. The Palestinians are willing to pull the plug without warning. That’s a lesson their Israeli and American counterparts will learn.

And it is related to the third conclusion to be drawn from the essay. The authors relate a conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu in which Netanyahu raises the issue of Palestinian incitement. Eventually, the following exchange occurs:

Kerry pressed on: “When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.”

“This isn’t Vietnam!” Netanyahu shouted. “No one understands Israel but Israel.”

That comment may paint Netanyahu as defensive, but in fact he’s right–and the essay demonstrates that convincingly. Kerry and his negotiating team, as well as the Palestinian leadership, consistently misread the Israeli political scene and Netanyahu’s reaction to it. Autocrats don’t seem to understand democratic politics, and Kerry’s team exhibited no real grasp of what it takes to form a consensus and keep a government intact in Israel.

The reporters themselves even got tripped up by Israeli politics and leaned heavily on trite and completely inaccurate narratives. At one point in the article, they refer to Netanyahu as “a right-wing ideologue”–an absurdly reductionist and patently false claim. If Netanyahu, the famous dealmaker and pragmatist who elicits much Israeli wariness precisely because he is not an ideologue, can be classified as such, then everybody and nobody is an “ideologue.”

Elsewhere in the piece we are told, indefensibly, that “Tea Party types were continuing their slow-motion takeover of the Likud.” This is a common, but no less justifiable, trope. It is a sign either that the writer can only understand politics through shallow American analogies or that the writer assumes that to be true of the reader. Or both, I suppose. Whatever the reason, the “Tea Party” contention is obviously untrue, and those who offer it with regard to Israeli politics are doing their readers a considerable disservice.

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From Lydda to Gaza

“Disproportion speaks massacre, not ‘battle.’” Who wrote that just last week about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians?

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“Disproportion speaks massacre, not ‘battle.’” Who wrote that just last week about Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians?

I won’t keep you in suspense. It was Israeli historian Benny Morris, replying to my critique (at Mosaic Magazine) of Ari Shavit’s treatment of the Lydda “massacre” of July 12, 1948, in Shavit’s book My Promised Land. Shavit declined to respond to me, but Morris took up the gauntlet last week. He wishes a pox on Shavit’s house and mine, for different reasons. He accuses Shavit of turning Lydda into more than it was, and he accuses me of “effectively denying” that there was “a massacre, albeit a provoked one.” Perhaps I do, although (unlike Shavit and Morris) I don’t claim to know exactly what happened.

I hadn’t set out to contest both Shavit and Morris, but since Shavit relies on Morris, their narratives are intertwined, and it’s just as well. Mosaic Magazine today runs my reply to Morris’s response. Not only do I question the credibility of his historical account, I also make this more general observation:

On Morris’s principle, every occasion on which Israel exacts a numerically “disproportionate” cost in the lives of others—as it often must do, if it is to deter and defeat its enemies—constitutes evidence of massacre; to sustain its very existence, Israel must massacre again and again, decade after decade…. Israel thus can never be legitimate; it is a perpetual war crime, on an ever-larger scale. So saith the “disproportion.”

Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s timely, on the morrow of a day when Israel lost thirteen soldiers in battle, and Palestinians are again claiming that Israel has committed a “massacre.” Read my response to Morris here.

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Europe Confronts its Anti-Israel Extremists

For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

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For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

Some of the most shocking scenes happened in Paris, where two synagogues came under attack, resulting in street fighting between anti-Israel activists and Jewish youths. In an effort to prevent a repeat of this mayhem the authorities took the unprecedented decision of prohibiting any pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the following weekend. While such a move is certainly a measure of just how serious the French government is about combating this malady, it is equally a sign of how insurmountable a problem has become when a government is reduced to simply reaching for the “outlaw” option. It is indeed a concerning state of affairs for any democracy to be forced into taking such drastic action as the last resort for ensuring public safety.

Of course, in reality such moves are by their nature bound to backfire. They inevitably add to the existing sense of outrage and convince others that there is a conspiracy seeking to silence dissenters. As a result the events in Paris this weekend were still more violent than those seen the week before. Rioters set fire to cars, looted Jewish-owned stores, and hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue, while violent clashes left a dozen police injured. Many of those involved in these disturbances came from France’s sizable Muslim minority, and so some might consider it understandable that these demonstrators should feel a deep sense of solidarity with Muslims suffering in Gaza. Yet their fellow Sunni Muslim brothers have been cut down in vastly greater numbers, and in far more brutal ways, by Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and by rival Shia insurgents in Iraq, both of course backed by Iran. It simply cannot be ignored that these events did not draw anything like the same reaction.

That observation holds true for those marching the streets of London. On Sunday, during a rally held in support of Israel, it was reported that a man had to receive treatment from paramedics after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists. Indeed, in recent weeks anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are said to have doubled. This is the inevitable fallout from the kind of incitement prevalent at the rallies being held for Gaza. At Saturday’s the crowed was thick with placards that bore the Star of David alongside the swastika, that referred to the “Holocaust” in Gaza, and that carried such messages as: “well done Israel, Hitler would be proud.” The crowd enthusiastically chanted what has now become the movement’s favorite rallying cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the total extinction of the State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

With an estimated 15,000 attendees, the numbers were significantly reduced from the turnouts seen in London during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead. As several commentators have now observed, the demographic at these marches has shifted to being predominantly Muslim, many conservatively dressed, with a sprinkling of the far-left and the high minded thrown in. And the atmosphere seemed uglier than ever before. There were scuffles with the police, the Israeli embassy had to be barricaded, and organizers and guest speakers whipped the crowed into a frenzy by bellowing down the microphone about Israel being an illegal/racist/apartheid/terror state. Still, none of this was quite as distasteful as the stunt pulled at another rally held in London earlier in the week, when protesters brought along children smeared with red paint–a modern-day blood libel if ever there was one.

All of this was just a few notches down from events in Paris and could quickly escalate to comparable levels of anarchy. But the truth is that both the British and French governments have fostered the attitudes that breed such extreme outbursts. The French government has been at the forefront of European efforts to single out Israel’s settlement policy as a uniquely unspeakable crime, and likewise the British government has upheld the narrative that it is Israel’s settlement policy that has sabotaged peace efforts. And when the Commons came to debate the situation in Gaza earlier this week, most parliamentarians began by condemning Hamas rockets before swiftly justifying them as a kind of forgivable response to wicked Israel’s settlement building, a curious position given that the rockets are coming out of Gaza, from which all of Israel’s settlements were removed in 2005. But then this is the prevailing wisdom and indeed the line pushed by the BBC and Agence France-Presse, both state owned, of course.

European governments rightly pour scorn on the rising flames of anti-Semitism that are erupting out of the continent’s anti-Israel fringe, but at what point do these same politicians face up to their own role in fanning these flames and legitimizing the extreme views that give rise to them?

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Why Should Denial of Access to MH17 Matter?

In the days since the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines 17 over eastern Ukraine, the press and many diplomats have been consumed with questioning whether Russians or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down the civilian jetliner. With all due respect, any answer is a distinction without a difference. To ascribe any degree of independent thought to the pro-Russian separatists is to be played for fools by Russia itself. Indeed, it is a common practice among rogue regimes to sponsor proxies to enable plausible deniability.

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In the days since the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines 17 over eastern Ukraine, the press and many diplomats have been consumed with questioning whether Russians or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down the civilian jetliner. With all due respect, any answer is a distinction without a difference. To ascribe any degree of independent thought to the pro-Russian separatists is to be played for fools by Russia itself. Indeed, it is a common practice among rogue regimes to sponsor proxies to enable plausible deniability.

The fighters in Donetsk are to Russia what Hezbollah is to Iran. Rather than give the Kremlin an out for the actions of anyone under separatist leader Igor Girkin who, according to press reports, was a member of the KGB-successor agency the FSB until last year, the proper response would be to acknowledge that the buck stops with Vladimir Putin. If Putin did not want to risk such accountability, then he shouldn’t tolerate, channel, or use men such as Girkin to advance Russian policy.

Nor should there be such handwringing over the denial of access to investigators seeking to investigate the wreckage. Would it be better if such investigations occurred unimpeded? Sure. But rather than allow Russia and its proxies to avoid accountability by undercutting the investigation into the murder of all those onboard MH17, the United States, Europe, and Malaysia should simply declare that Girkin and Putin will be considered guilty unless there is immediate access to the crash scene. To worry about access highlights one more reason why terrorism—and, make no mistake, this was an act of terror—should be considered a military matter and not a judicial issue to be subject to judicial standards of evidence. Even for those who favor process over justice and who are prone to see the shoot-down through the lens of criminality, then perhaps a better analogy would be to consider the case of a suspected drunk driver who refuses a Breathalyzer test. No policeman or court would agree that refusal to take the breath test would mandate a not-guilty verdict to drunk driving.

It’s understandable that air disaster investigators want as clean a process as possible to their investigation. But if that is not possible for geopolitical reasons, then rather than allow Russia to avoid accountability, it is time to respond—economically against Russia and perhaps with unilateral action against the Donestk commanders without any further delay. After all, only the guilty would impede the investigation, so such impediment should be taken for what it is—an admission of guilt.

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Former PA Official: Firing Rockets at Israel ‘Restores Our Human Dignity’

To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

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To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

This, in a nutshell, is why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unsolvable, and why it produces spasms of violence with monotonous regularity: For too many Palestinians, including “moderates” like Zakout, “human dignity” derives from hurting Israelis–even knowing full well that the resultant Israeli counterstrikes will cause far greater harm to Palestinians.

This is something you would simply never hear an Israeli say, because Israelis see human dignity as stemming from saving life, not taking it. This doesn’t mean they oppose using military force in self-defense. Indeed, they overwhelmingly support the current operation: After absorbing 13,000 rockets from Gaza over the last nine years, they want the rockets stopped; they want children in the south to be able to grow up normally, instead having 45 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to constant rocket fire, and they want people all over Israel to be able to lead their lives without disruption. But they would never say that dropping bombs on Gaza enhances their “human dignity”; they view war as an unpleasant necessity which they would much rather not have to engage in.

This difference in Palestinian and Israeli attitudes is epitomized by two technological developments that have become the darlings of their respective peoples: the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the M-75 rocket.

The M-75 is a technological marvel–a homemade medium-range rocket capable of striking Tel Aviv, developed despite stringent Israeli import restrictions aimed at preventing Hamas from doing just that. It’s a purely offensive weapon with no defensive purpose, and Palestinians love it. An enterprising Gaza merchant even named a perfume after it two years ago, when it was first deployed, and Reuters reported that sales promptly soared.

Iron Dome is also a homegrown technological marvel. But it’s the M-75’s mirror image: a purely defensive weapon with no offensive purpose. And that’s precisely why Israelis love it: Its purpose is to save lives rather than take them.

It’s not that Israel lacks homegrown, technologically marvelous offensive weapons. But while killing people who seek to kill you is sometimes necessary for self-defense, and most Israelis have no qualms about employing offensive weapons for that purpose, they would never love them. They view taking life as an unpleasant necessity that they would much rather be spared.

Palestinians, to be fair, have no defensive weaponry to love; they don’t even have basic civil-defense measures such as shelters. But that, as Jonathan Tobin wrote last week, is because Hamas deliberately opted to invest all its efforts in offensive capabilities rather than measures to protect its own people. It prefers taking Israeli lives to saving Palestinian ones. And this preference has only bolstered Hamas’s popularity.

This seeming anomaly is explained by Zakout’s insight: To many Palestinians, human dignity comes not from bettering their own lives, but from worsening Israelis’ lives. Or as a Hamas parliamentarian succinctly put it, “We desire Death, as you desire Life.”

And as long as Palestinians derive their sense of human dignity from killing Israelis, peace will never be possible.

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Islamic State’s Reality Check on Dhimmitude

Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

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Dhimmi are non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who are allowed to remain in exchange for paying the jizyah, a tax imposed on non-Muslims. As the Prophet Muhammad conquered a new empire, large numbers of Christians, Jews, and others found themselves living under the Islamic Empire’s rule, subject to the jizyah and the limitations of dhimmi status.

Fast forward almost 1,400 years: Academics today who cover Islamic civilizations and history almost uniformly teach that early Islamic rule was enlightened. If they cover the jizyah and “dhimmitude” at all, they are soft-pedaled. Rather than conquer by the sword, most residents of those areas brought into the Islamic Empire joined voluntarily, it is said.

Certainly, a few authors have taken on the notion of dhimmitude and the whitewashed narrative peddled in Islamic studies courses and texts. Egyptian-born British writer Gisèle Littman, for example, writing under the pseudonym Bat Ye’or, penned Islam and Dhimmitude back in 2001, providing a precise and critically acclaimed study of the subjugation of Jews and Christians in Islamic lands. Likewise, Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad provides crucial context and fills out the historical record by including non-Arabic sources which describe subjugation from the point of view of those suffering under Islamic domination. Nevertheless, Bat Ye’or and Bostom remain rare on university syllabuses in courses taught by professors who prefer not to challenge the dominant narrative. Others prefer to seize upon controversial or careless remarks by those focused on the treatment of religious minorities in Islamic history to disqualify the author’s entire body of work. Critics do this deliberately when they cannot counter effectively the historical facts cited or sources revealed.

Perhaps if there’s any silver lining to events in Mosul, where the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, Abubakr al-Baghdadi, has demanded Christians pay the jizyah, convert, or die, it will be to force scholars to rethink the benevolent narrative which they often embrace of early Islamic conversions and successive caliphates and Islamic empires’ treatment of minorities. There is nothing benevolent, enlightened, or non-violent about denial of religious freedom or liberty, nor is forcing religious minorities into second-class status on the basis of their faith ever anything other than oppression, plain and simple.

It would be wrong to castigate the Islamic empire and reign of Muhammad, his successor rashidun caliphs, or the Umayyad and early Abbasid dynasties completely. But it is as wrong to whitewash them. Perhaps it is time for a little less hagiography toward Islamic history in American and European institutions, and a little more common sense.

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Will Kerry Hand Hamas a Victory?

Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

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Four days into Israel’s ground operations in Gaza casualties are rising on both sides, but the only ones who seems to be cracking under the pressure are President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. While Hamas remains confident that it can bank on international support and Israel’s government seems determined not to kick the can down the road any further with respect to the ongoing threat from the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, the administration may be panicking and about to make yet another mistake that will sow the seeds for more suffering in the future.

Secretary Kerry’s hot-mic moment when he sarcastically mocked Israeli efforts to destroy part of Hamas’s underground tunnel complex in Shejaiya was a telling moment in the conflict. Once back live on the air, Kerry reiterated support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But the comments, along with President Obama’s statement of “serious concern” about the casualties from the operation against the Hamas fortress, was the backdrop for the decision to send the secretary of state back to Cairo today to work on a cease-fire. While in principle that seems like the right thing to do at a moment when the conflict is heating up, it is difficult to escape the impression that Kerry’s mission is more an opportunity for an unforced error by Washington–one that will allow Hamas to emerge from the fray with a victory–than a mission of mercy.

Hamas was correct in its estimation that provoking a ground invasion would produce Palestinian casualties that fueled the fire of anti-Israel sentiment across the globe. Armed with the backing of Qatar, Turkey, and radical Islamists across the region as well as bolstered by the sympathy of international opinion that can always be counted on to damn any Israeli measure of self-defense even when the Jewish state is being assailed by rockets and tunnel infiltrations, Hamas believes it can simply stand its ground. The longer the bloody battle to disarm the Islamist terror movement that rules Gaza goes on, the more Palestinian human shields will die. That, in turn, will raise the pressure on Egypt to open up its border with Gaza and end the political and economic isolation that has hampered the terror group since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo last year.

However, Hamas may have, for once, underestimated the resolve of both Israel’s government and its people. Prime Minister Netanyahu was slow to order the ground operation despite being given ample reason to send in troops once Hamas started launching hundreds of rockets at Israeli cities. He also gave Hamas ample opportunities to stand down and accept cease-fires that the Islamists consistently rejected. But once the die was cast, the prime minister seems to be serious about not repeating the mistakes his country made in the recent past whereby it gave Hamas the impression that there was nothing it could do that would be enough to prompt a decision to take out the group’s terror infrastructure. The methodical offensive appears to be doing serious damage to Hamas’s capacity to inflict terror on Israel. If it is allowed to continue, there is a chance that Israel will finally land a lethal blow against the group that is the real obstacle to peace in the region.

Just as important as Netanyahu’s resolve is the reaction of Israel’s people to the crisis. It is likely that Hamas believed Israelis too fearful of paying the high price in blood–both in terms of its own soldiers and Palestinians–to significantly impact the strategic equation along the Gaza border. But so far, despite the frayed nerves of people tired of having to run for bomb shelters and horrified by the loss of life in the fighting, support for the government appears to be strong. A visit to Israel’s southern region showed me that despite the best efforts of Hamas, life is going on even in the areas that have been most affected. Moreover, the faces of the busloads of Israeli reservists who are being shipped into the area of the border showed that the country’s citizen soldiers remain committed to doing what must be done to ensure their country’s safety. If Hamas thought Netanyahu was too politically weak to make hard decisions or that Israelis would turn on him and succumb to foreign pressure, it may have made a crucial mistake.

But that resolve is not shared by Israel’s American ally. Though nothing would do more to pave the way for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians that both Obama and Kerry have ceaselessly advocated than the weakening or the elimination of Hamas, neither man appears to have the intestinal fortitude to unwaveringly back an operation that would do just that. For months Washington has been sending mixed messages to the region that have encouraged the Islamists to believe the U.S.-Israel alliance was weakening as blame for the collapse of Kerry’s negotiations was placed solely on Israel despite the fact that it was the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas that finally ended that fool’s errand. Moreover, by constantly carping about Israel’s counter-attacks after Hamas launched the current war, the administration has encouraged the terrorists to believe that the U.S. won’t let them be defeated.

Thus Kerry’s decision to fly to Cairo to work on a cease-fire is exactly the news that Hamas wanted to hear. They have already made it clear they don’t care how many Palestinians die in the conflict they provoked so long as the end result grants them the political concessions from Egypt that will further their cause. They know that if the U.S. was not prepared to pressure the Egyptian government to throw Hamas a bone or to force Israel to stop operations aimed at eliminating their rocket arsenal and blowing up their underground fortresses, there was no reason for Kerry to come to the region. A cease-fire that would grant Hamas no political victories didn’t require the personal presence of the secretary in Cairo. But by bending to the usual hypocritical international outcry against any Israeli attempt to take out the terror nest on their border, the administration is signalling that it won’t let Netanyahu take out Hamas or allow Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to stand his ground about sealing his country’s border against infiltration from an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood he deposed.

Were Obama and Kerry prepared to show the kind of resolve that Netanyahu and Sisi have exhibited it would be very bad news indeed for Hamas and its foreign cheerleaders that continue to nurture delusions about Israel’s destruction. Instead, the U.S. appears to be as clueless as ever about the stakes involved in this fight and cracking under the pressure generated by the Palestinians sacrificed by Hamas on the altar of their jihadist mission. If so, the price paid by both Israelis and Palestinians in the future will be considerable.

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UNRWA Gives Rockets to Hamas; Why is U.S. Still Funding It?

Last week, the UN refugee agency dedicated exclusively to Palestinians admitted that 20 rockets had mysteriously turned up in one of its schools in Gaza, thereby confirming a claim Israel has made for years: that UNRWA facilities are frequently utilized by terrorists. This week, the organization announced that it has turned the rockets over to “the local authorities” in Gaza, aka Hamas. In other words, a UN agency funded almost entirely by American and European taxpayers handed rockets over to a terrorist organization that is shooting them at Israel. And that isn’t even the most outrageous part of the story.

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Last week, the UN refugee agency dedicated exclusively to Palestinians admitted that 20 rockets had mysteriously turned up in one of its schools in Gaza, thereby confirming a claim Israel has made for years: that UNRWA facilities are frequently utilized by terrorists. This week, the organization announced that it has turned the rockets over to “the local authorities” in Gaza, aka Hamas. In other words, a UN agency funded almost entirely by American and European taxpayers handed rockets over to a terrorist organization that is shooting them at Israel. And that isn’t even the most outrageous part of the story.

The truly outrageous part was a Western diplomat’s response, as reported by the Times of Israel:

A Western diplomat familiar with the incident said there is “absolutely no evidence” that UNRWA handed the rockets to Hamas. Rather, the diplomat suggested, the authorities who collected the rockets are under the direct authority of the Palestinian unity government, “which Hamas has left and which many in Hamas are openly hostile to. The key point is that the weapons were handed over to people who are not answerable to Hamas,” the diplomat said, referring to the fact that the unity government, not Hamas, is officially the ruling power in Gaza.

​The idea that the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas, is the ruling power in Gaza is risible. True, that’s the ostensible implication of the unity government it recently formed with Hamas, but in reality, the PA doesn’t have a single soldier or policeman in Gaza. When PA Health Minister Jawad Awwad tried to exercise his nominal authority by inspecting Gaza’s hospitals last week, his vehicle was stoned. PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t even dared set foot in Gaza. Egypt has repeatedly said it will reopen its border crossing with Gaza only if Hamas allows the PA to resume control of the crossing–surely a superfluous demand if the PA were already in control of Gaza. And we haven’t even mentioned the glaring internal contradiction in the diplomat’s own words: If Hamas has “left” the unity government, how can the unity government even exist, much less be in control of Gaza?

​Of course, the unnamed diplomat knows all this quite well; nobody who’s been conscious for the past seven years could be ignorant of who really rules Gaza. The diplomat was simply contorting the facts to avoid admitting that UNRWA gave lethal weapons to Hamas–which both America and Europe deem a terrorist organization–because financing an agency that gives arms to terrorists would violate both American and European law. In other words, admitting the truth would require them to stop funding UNRWA, which neither America nor Europe wants to do.

In reality, UNRWA should have been defunded long ago, given both its role in perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the fact that its enormous budget comes at the expense of other refugees, like the Syrians, whose need is far greater. But by turning rockets over to Hamas, UNRWA has lost its last shred of pretense to being a “humanitarian” agency. It’s high time for Congress to pull the financial plug.

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Does Obama Realize the Stakes in Gaza?

After two weeks of fighting along the border with Gaza, there is a growing sense that the Israeli government is starting to realize that its assumptions about how to obtain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet” may have been all wrong. But if the Israelis are being forced reluctantly to reassess their beliefs about how Hamas could be forced to stop shooting, the question remains whether the Obama administration is up to speed about the changing rules in the conflict.

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After two weeks of fighting along the border with Gaza, there is a growing sense that the Israeli government is starting to realize that its assumptions about how to obtain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet” may have been all wrong. But if the Israelis are being forced reluctantly to reassess their beliefs about how Hamas could be forced to stop shooting, the question remains whether the Obama administration is up to speed about the changing rules in the conflict.

Up until now both Israel and the U.S. have thought Hamas would eventually stop firing rockets at cities or sending terrorists across the borders if Israel struck back hard enough. That is not to say that the two allies saw eye-to-eye about every aspect of the conflict, since the Obama administration clearly believed that Israel should respond to rocket attacks or other forms of terrorism with limited counter-attacks that would do nothing to significantly impair Hamas’s arsenal or its ability to re-ignite the border if it wished. But both governments were prepared to leave Hamas in place in Gaza since the cost of removing it was considered prohibitively high and there didn’t appear to be a viable alternative. Israel’s standing offer of “quiet for quiet” was usually enough for the Islamists once they had fired enough rockets to show Palestinians that they were still the address for “resistance” to the Israelis.

But now it appears that Hamas is prepared to bank on the assumption that nothing they do–no matter how bloody or unreasonable, such as a continuous shooting of rockets at Israeli cities and cross-border infiltration attempts–would be enough to convince the Israelis that they were not better off allowing the Islamist terror group to remain in power. Though Hamas’s long-range goals remain the overthrow of their erstwhile Fatah partners in the Palestinian Authority and to gain control of the West Bank and to destroy Israel, their immediate objectives in the current outbreak are different. They want to force Egypt to open its borders and the smuggling tunnels to Gaza as well as to get the Israelis to release more terrorist prisoners.

As Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, though the Israelis are winning in a tactical sense because its Iron Dome missile defense has frustrated the rocket attacks and their army is making progress in eliminating some of Hamas terrorist infrastructure, Hamas thinks it is winning the war. Their confidence rests in a belief that sooner or later the Israelis will be forced to stop by international pressure that will build as a result of the deaths of Palestinian civilians that are being deliberately jeopardized by Hamas tactics. At the same time, they think the pressure from the Arab world will also eventually force Egypt to give them what they want. As Isacharoff notes, the real battle lines are not so much between the Israel Defense Forces and the terrorists but between Hamas and its foreign allies Qatar and Turkey and the loose coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas thinks Egypt will fold and end their isolation if the pile of the compatriots is piled high enough:

In a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Wednesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, dismissed Abbas’s pleas regarding a ceasefire, explaining that “what are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege [on the Gaza Strip?]” Abu Marzouk later tweeted that there will be no truce that does not acknowledge the demands of the “resistance,” and that it is “better that Israel occupy the Gaza Strip than for the siege to continue.” Abu Marzouk, needless to say, resides in Cairo, far from the threat of Israeli air strikes.

Seen from that perspective, there is virtually nothing Israel can do to quiet the border. So long as Hamas thinks it can count on Israeli caution and pressure from the U.S. and the international community to ensure that it remains in control of the strip, the fighting will continue until the terrorists get what they want. After weeks of waiting patiently for the rockets to stop before ordering troops into Gaza in what is still a limited campaign, Netanyahu may be waking up to the fact that the stakes have been altered in the conflict. There are signs, albeit tentative ones, that his government is realizing that nothing short of ending the Hamas’s control of Gaza will end the current nightmare in which much of the Israeli population is being forced to take shelter from rocket fire.

Israel would be forced to pay a terrible price if it chose to re-occupy the strip, oust Hamas, capture its rocket arsenal, and destroy the vast network of tunnels and bunkers that have turned it into a terrorist Gibraltar. That price would be paid in the blood of Israeli soldiers and the Palestinians that are being used as human shields. Hamas’s assumption is that the Israeli people would not be willing to endure such casualties and the world wouldn’t tolerate such a military operation.

Writing from Jerusalem, it’s difficult to judge whether their assumptions about Israeli opinion still hold. There is no doubt that if the death toll rises, the number of left-wing demonstrators against Netanyahu will increase as will public unease about the conflict. But Hamas’s great “victory”–the fact that so many Israelis have been forced into shelters–also works against their belief that they have impunity. If air strikes and a limited ground operation don’t end the threat to their security, Netanyahu would probably not be wrong in thinking that he will have sufficient support to sustain a counter-attack that will finish Hamas once and for all.

Thus rather than continuing to carp from the sidelines at Israeli efforts or wasting more time in pointless diplomacy that does nothing to shake Hamas’s assumptions about the strength of its position, it is time for the United States to wake up and realize that its interests are also at stake in this battle. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must understand that what is truly an “unsustainable status quo” is not the Israeli control of the West Bank but Hamas’s hold on Gaza. If there is ever to be any hope for a two-state solution–and admittedly, that hope is so faint these days as to be barely alive–it must begin with Hamas’s complete defeat and its replacement in Gaza by more moderate forces. Nothing short of that will end the bloodshed or begin the process whereby Israelis might be convinced that a withdrawal from the West Bank would not create another, even more lethal Hamasistan on their borders.

The best thing the U.S. could do to both stop the fighting and help the Palestinians trapped in Hamas’s deadly game would be to signal to the Islamists and their foreign allies that it is prepared to support an Israeli campaign that will oust them from Gaza and replace them with Fatah. Perhaps if they understood that their survival is at stake, the euphoria among the Hamas leadership about their “victories” will abate and quiet will follow. But unless that happens, it will soon be time for Israel and the U.S. to realize that they must adjust their strategies to account for their new, higher stakes in Gaza.

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Russia’s Provocation Demands Tougher Action

President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

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President Obama appeared in the White House briefing room on Friday to deliver remarks on the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17. His statement included some strong and appropriate words of condemnation, calling this an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” But of course being Barack Obama–the dispassionate academic par excellence–he delivered even this expression of displeasure with all the emotion he might have put into reading a grocery list.

The potential impact of his statement was further dissipated by the fact that he said repeatedly that “our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.” As if this were the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 which vanished without a trace. Actually we know with a high degree of certainty what happened with flight 17: As even Obama conceded, it was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with the help of the Russian state. As he noted, “we have confidence in saying that that shot was taken within a territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.” Moreover, he said, “a group of separatists can’t shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training. And that is coming from Russia.”

But still he refused to draw the obvious conclusion: that Russia is ultimately responsible for a war crime–the shooting down of flight 17 as well as broader aggression against Ukraine. Instead, he tried to make it appear as if there is blame all around: “Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting.” That’s like blaming both Hamas and Israel equally for the fighting now going on in Gaza–an act of moral myopia that fails to recognize the culpability of an aggressor (Russia, Hamas) and the responsibility of a nation under attack (Ukraine, Israel) to respond with all due force to defend itself.

Failing to pin the responsibility on Russia as squarely as he should have done, Obama naturally failed to lay out a clear response to Russia’s aggression. He ruled out the possibility of providing any military help to Ukraine to defend itself: “We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic States, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations.” In short, no military equipment and no advisers for Ukraine. Let them eat MREs!

He didn’t even call for “sectoral” sanctions (for example, freezing all Russian financial institutions out of the U.S. and imposing secondary sanctions on foreign firms that do business with Russia, as we’ve done with Iran)–steps that could really hurt the Russian economy. Instead he expressed satisfaction with the very limited and ineffectual sanctions announced so far: “We feel confident that at this point the sanctions that we’ve put in place are imposing a cost on Russia … I think Treasury, in consultation with our European partners, have done a good job so far on that issue.”

Really? Obama thinks the sanctions have been good so far? Admittedly a new round of measures was just announced this week so it’s too early to judge their impact, but there is no sign of Russia backing off its illegal and brazen aggression. Indeed just today Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, released a video appearing to show a Russian Grad rocket launcher shelling Ukrainian territory.

It is wishful thinking to imagine that the shooting down of flight 17 will, by itself, cause Russia to end its attacks on Ukrainian territory. To force Russia to back off will require a massive effort on the part of the West. Admittedly Obama’s statement on Friday was only an initial stab at a response; tougher measures may be coming. But his words give little confidence that the type of massive response needed to force Russia into retreating will ever occur.

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Norman Podhoretz on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews

Readers of COMMENTARY will no doubt be interested in a newly released interview with the magazine’s long serving former editor Norman Podhoretz. The interview, which includes fascinating insights into the evolution of the magazine, as well as some lively reflections from one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals on his own life and work, was recorded at a recent event organized by the Tikvah Fund as part of an advanced institute on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews. You can watch a full recording here, at the Tikvah Fund’s newly launched Live @ Tikvah blog, which features highlights from all of Tikvah’s academic programming.

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Readers of COMMENTARY will no doubt be interested in a newly released interview with the magazine’s long serving former editor Norman Podhoretz. The interview, which includes fascinating insights into the evolution of the magazine, as well as some lively reflections from one of America’s preeminent public intellectuals on his own life and work, was recorded at a recent event organized by the Tikvah Fund as part of an advanced institute on Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews. You can watch a full recording here, at the Tikvah Fund’s newly launched Live @ Tikvah blog, which features highlights from all of Tikvah’s academic programming.

During the wide-ranging discussion with the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen, Podhoretz offers a colorful first-hand account of both the emergence of the New Left and the origins of neoconservatism. Describing vividly the political atmosphere he witnessed during the height of the Cold War, Podhoretz recounts the turns of his own ideological transition: from anti-Communist liberal to fellow traveler of the counter-cultural left, before he then began the move toward what would come to be called neoconservatism, a move primarily driven by the pernicious anti-Americanism that was becoming ever more prevalent on the radical left at the time.

Some of the most illuminating parts of the discussion concerned COMMENTARY’s evolution and Norman Podhoretz’s role in these developments. Podhoretz reminded listeners of COMMENTARY’s founding ethos, established in the wake of the Second World War as a fiercely anti-Communist liberal and Jewish magazine. Taking over as editor in 1960 at the age of just thirty, Podhoretz steered the publication from being a predominantly Jewish magazine that took an interest in wider affairs to a general interest magazine with a special concern for Jewish affairs. And having initially given prominence to writers coming from the left, Podhoretz would soon reorient the magazine’s stance once again, leading it to play a crucial role in countering the most subversive elements responsible for waging the culture war, and perhaps more significantly still, positioning COMMENTARY to play a leading part in shaping American thinking on combating the expansionism and ideology of the Soviet Union.

Toward the end of the conversation, Podhoretz gives his thoughts on such contemporary concerns as radical Islam’s war on the West, Israel, religious faith, and the current state of American Jews. He reflects on why so many American Jews still adhere to a certain left-leaning liberalism, and in turn on why this political outlook has been bad for society in general, and why it remains “bad for the Jews” in particular.

If nothing else, listening to this interview, one is reminded of just what a powerful and compelling voice Norman Podhoretz has been over the years, and just how much American conservatives today owe to the work that he and his generation undertook.

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Washington’s Mixed Messages and Israeli Realities

The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

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The Obama administration helped create the situation that led to the current fighting in Gaza by sending mixed messages to the Palestinian Authority about mainstreaming Hamas. That was bad enough, but now the State Department is compounding its recent errors with its equivocal stance about Israeli efforts to suppress both Hamas’s incessant rocket fire and its attempts to send terrorists across the border via tunnel attacks. While U.S. concerns about civilian casualties that result from these counter-attacks are, at least in theory, reasonable, the notion that Israel isn’t doing enough to protect innocents in Gaza reflects the same disconnect from reality that helped create the current mess.

Writing from Jerusalem in the hours before Shabbat descends on the city, I can report that while the country’s collective nerves are frayed by the constant rocket attacks, life is going on pretty much as normal. Crowds are out in the evenings in the cities (an outdoor showing of The Wizard of Oz at the capital’s old train station went on without incident) and there was the normal bustle at the Mahane Yehuda market prior to the Sabbath. There’s also little doubt that in spite of their endemic political divisions, most Israelis are behind their government’s decision to hit Hamas hard in pursuit of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goal of “sustainable quiet.” The launch of ground operations against Gaza was rendered inevitable after Hamas’s repeated rejections of cease-fire offers and its raising the ante with an infiltration attack. But this sequence of events validates the widespread recognition that so long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, the violence will resume sooner or later even if the Islamists eventually agree to stop shooting.

It is in that context that the administration’s attempt to both back Israel’s right of self-defense while also maintaining a critical stance about the loss of civilian lives in Gaza must be regarded.

While Israelis deeply regret the loss of lives in Gaza, the notion that their army isn’t doing enough to prevent non-combatants from being killed doesn’t resonate here. No army is perfect, but few here doubt that the Israel Defense Forces’ highly restrictive rules of engagement are both limiting the army’s ability to strike at will against Hamas positions as well as keeping casualties to a minimum. Americans who are inclined to be judgmental about the IDF’s actions should think about the similar dilemmas often faced by U.S. forces in Afghanistan when fighting the Taliban and its allies or when drone attacks are launched at terrorist targets and ask themselves how they would feel about their troops being second-guessed by foreign leaders the way State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki is speaking about Israeli efforts.

But leaving aside the administration’s hypocrisy, the bigger problem is Washington’s attempt to limit Israeli actions to, in Secretary of State Kerry’s words, “precise actions” against tunnel infiltrations that leave in place a terrorist infrastructure that will ensure that more attempts to inflict large-scale atrocities on Israelis–the goal of Thursday’s cross-border raid–will continue.

Back in April when the administration declined to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s decision to strike an agreement with Hamas rather than Israel, it pretended that the Islamist terror movement could be rendered irrelevant by the peace process. But now we see that so long as Hamas retains the power to plunge the country into a new war every time it wants to better its position, stability, let alone peace, is impossible. Nothing short of actions that will force Hamas’s disarmament will enable Kerry to realize his dream of brokering peace. Yet the U.S. continues to act as if limiting Israeli actions to superficial pinpricks against the terrorists’ strongholds and arsenal will enhance the cause of peace. Perhaps Kerry and President Obama believe their clinging to an equivocal stance about Gaza will enable the U.S. to be an “even-handed” broker in the future. But if there is anything that we have learned in the last month, it is that so long as Hamas’s power remains intact, America’s pretensions about peace are exposed as pipe dreams.

It’s not clear if the current operations will realize Netanyahu’s goal of quiet. But the contrast between Washington’s mixed messages about self-defense and the reality of Israel’s security dilemma illustrates how clueless the administration is about the situation. As much as Netanyahu has tried to avoid open fights with the U.S., there are no illusions here about the country’s need to ignore the State Department’s criticism if there’s a chance that the IDF can substantially reduce Hamas’s ability to terrorize Israelis.

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