Commentary Magazine


Iran’s Diplomatic Quagmire

The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

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The Iranians have been loudly boasting about their role in arming Hamas for its latest war against the Jewish state. And now Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been using his lively Twitter account to call for the West Bank to be armed against Israel, much as Gaza is. Given that this is the man whose regime is responsible for the bulk of the weaponry that is currently being turned on Israelis, it would seem prudent to take such calls seriously. But if nothing else, this latest conflagration in Gaza has provided a wonderful distraction for the Iranians, ensuring that the world’s attention is elsewhere, while its own dubious agenda slips beneath the radar of public consciousness.

Indeed, last weekend, the date by which Iran and the P5+1 nations were supposed to have reached an agreement on ending Iran’s illegal nuclear enrichment program was extended by another four months, all without much comment or notice. In part the lack of reaction can be attributed to the fact that this turn of events was already widely anticipated. After all, the EU’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton was talking about an extension to the talks before the first six months of negotiations had even started. But of course, events in Israel-Gaza have provided the perfect diversion for both the Obama administration and the Iranians to keep these talks going.

Extending the negotiations through to November suits almost everyone–everyone apart from those who are most concerned about the nuclear threat from Iran, that is. For the Obama administration in particular, reaching the July deadline empty-handed would have been a disaster. Obama’s only strategy on Iran’s nuclear program is now to try and talk the Iranians out of going for the bomb. If forced to walk away from the talks now Obama has left himself with no plan B. It seems clear that for this administration, the military option was never really on the table. What’s more, the sanctions regime painstakingly put in place by the international community has already begun to unravel as part of the P5+1 interim arrangements. It is hard to imagine that it would be possible to put the sanctions strategy back together again now, and at this late stage, when Iran is already on the cusp of nuclear breakout, putting sanctions back in place is unlikely to effectively deter the Iranians nor significantly slow them down at all.

After six months of trying to reach an agreement on Iranian nuclear enrichment it seems unlikely that another four months of talks are really going to make any difference. The sides seem about as far apart on the issue of Iran’s centrifuges as they were when talks began. The Iranians were always eager to have the negotiation period extended–hardly surprising, since an extension means further relief from sanctions and all the while Iran can push ahead with expanding its nuclear infrastructure. Under the terms of the interim agreement Iran is obliged to keep its enrichment at a lower level than before and must allow a continuation of the inspections of its facilities. But with Iran having successfully hidden major nuclear sites from Western intelligence in the past, it’s perfectly conceivable that in such a large country, inspectors could miss some of the most crucial areas.

The major sticking point is the issue of the number of centrifuges that the international community will permit Iran to keep. Those in Iran’s immediate firing line—Israel and the Gulf states—would like to see an Iran that has no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. They’ve been told by the Obama administration that that’s “unrealistic.” Of course, it is unrealistic as long as Obama is unwilling to genuinely put all options on the table, but realistic or not, the fact is there are six United Nations Security Council resolutions in place that very clearly prohibit all nuclear enrichment by Iran.

What the powers seem to be haggling over now is how close to the nuclear precipice Iran should be allowed to step. Under such a strategy, whatever happens, the Iranian nuclear dagger is left hovering over the West and its allies; it’s just a question of how high. Watching all of this one can’t help but be reminded of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. Strict controls had been set on limiting any German military build-up and with the rise of Hitler those controls became all the more warranted. Unwilling to take a concrete stand against the German breaches of international law, the British argument at the time essentially went: better to reach an agreement with the Germans that allowed them some limited rearmament than to have no agreement and for the Germans to simply pursue unlimited rearmament. British officials dismissed French disquiet at all this as being “short sighted.”  Or in the parlance of  Obama administration; “unrealistic.”

When it comes to a nuclear Iran, the Obama administration doesn’t expect America’s allies, Congress, or the public to swallow this hog whole. But the prolonged negotiation period, discussing just how many centrifuges the mullahs can keep, is a process of softening us up. We’re being fed the hog bit by bit.

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Israeli Ambassadors and the Media War

Israel has long struggled with the PR challenge of fighting terrorist groups like Hamas whose strategy is based on putting their own citizens in harm’s way and counting on a sympathetic (or easily duped) media to play along. But it’s been clear that Israel has made some headway in recent conflicts. An indication of this improvement in the information war is one aspect of Gallup’s latest poll on American attitudes toward the current conflict in Gaza.

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Israel has long struggled with the PR challenge of fighting terrorist groups like Hamas whose strategy is based on putting their own citizens in harm’s way and counting on a sympathetic (or easily duped) media to play along. But it’s been clear that Israel has made some headway in recent conflicts. An indication of this improvement in the information war is one aspect of Gallup’s latest poll on American attitudes toward the current conflict in Gaza.

Of those who are following the news “very closely,” 71 percent say Israel’s actions are justified. Gallup notes: “A majority of Americans interviewed July 22-23 say they are following news of the conflict very (22%) or somewhat (37%) closely. The more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.”

Why might that be? Certainly the mainstream media has maintained its traditional bias against Israel, and alternative sources have in many cases been even worse. One explanation, then, for Israel’s support among those who are actually following the conflict could be that Hamas’s conduct is so inhumane and grotesque that even a broadcast slanted against Israel could not rehabilitate Hamas’s genocidal behavior and use of human shields.

Another is that trust in traditional media is falling. This might make consumers of news more careful readers. No one who knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would think they are getting the full story from these traditional news organs. That doesn’t mean they won’t read them, but they’ll supplement them with other sources or do their own limited fact checking.

Another explanation has to do with the current Israeli prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu speaks fluent English and has cultivated relationships with American politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades. When a conflict happens, Netanyahu happily goes on the Sunday shows to make Israel’s case. He understands not only English but American politics and society far better than most foreign heads of state or government.

But, crucially, it’s not just Netanyahu. His first ambassador to the U.S. was Michael Oren, a brilliant historian and U.S. citizen who had been teaching at Georgetown before his appointment as ambassador. Oren is also the author of the definitive history of America in the Middle East. He made for an erudite and universally respected advocate for Israel’s strategic and political actions.

Oren has been succeeded in that post by Ron Dermer, who was also born in America and even worked in American politics earlier in his career before becoming an advisor to Netanyahu. Dermer offered a great example of his effectiveness as a spokesman for Israel yesterday on CNN with host Erin Burnett. The Right Scoop has the video, which is well worth watching.

The pattern throughout the interview is of Dermer not only rebutting accusations against Israel but of filling in missing information from previous CNN broadcasts and interviews–all in the four-minute interview. When Burnett admits that information Dermer is providing is relevant for CNN’s viewers, Dermer says:

But Erin I’ve been listening for two hours of reports on CNN. I have seen split-screens, horrible pictures. Horrible pictures that any decent human being would be horrified by, [and] I have not heard a single person say what I just said to you now. And I think that that does a disservice to your viewers to not give them the context they need to make these judgments. Hamas is placing missile batteries in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, and there must be outrage by the world at Hamas to end it.

There’s nothing groundbreaking in the words themselves. But viewers tuning in at home will see an Israeli ambassador not back on his heels meekly explaining how Israel is doing its best or stumbling over his words. And they won’t have to decipher heavily accented English. During the Netanyahu years, when Americans see Israeli representatives they see not just people who could have been their schoolmate in Florida or their professor at Georgetown, but people who, in some cases, actually were their classmates and their teachers. So the familiarity probably adds a dimension to the Gallup results.

And there is also the fact that war is messy, complex, and rarely presents easy answers. It’s one thing to have an instinctive opposition to war and to be horrified, as Dermer concedes, by the images war produces. But when you then drill down and try to get a sense of what the conflict is about and how it all came to pass, you realize that Israel did not choose war over peace or death over life–but that Israel’s enemies did.

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‘Maximum Restraint’

Please listen and watch this. It’s by a folk-rock artist named Peter Himmelman, who writes uncommonly literate and sophisticated songs both for adults and children. This is the first work of popular music in America inspired by the Gaza war, and it will come as a deep (and I expect) extraordinarily heartening surprise to you. And here’s something he just published on the Huffington Post.

Please listen and watch this. It’s by a folk-rock artist named Peter Himmelman, who writes uncommonly literate and sophisticated songs both for adults and children. This is the first work of popular music in America inspired by the Gaza war, and it will come as a deep (and I expect) extraordinarily heartening surprise to you. And here’s something he just published on the Huffington Post.

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Abbas Now Paying the Price of Martyrdom Culture He Nourished

If it weren’t so much his own fault, I’d feel deeply sorry for Mahmoud Abbas right now. A few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority president was handily beating Hamas in the polls; now, his popularity is at a nadir. A whopping 85 percent of West Bank Palestinians approve of Hamas’s performance during the current fighting with Israel, while only 13 percent approve of Abbas’s performance. His own people have held stormy demonstrations denouncing him as a “traitor”; he was concerned enough to send his wife and grandchildren to Jordan for safety. And what heinous crime did he commit to merit this opprobrium? He urged Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire in Gaza in order to save Palestinian lives.

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If it weren’t so much his own fault, I’d feel deeply sorry for Mahmoud Abbas right now. A few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority president was handily beating Hamas in the polls; now, his popularity is at a nadir. A whopping 85 percent of West Bank Palestinians approve of Hamas’s performance during the current fighting with Israel, while only 13 percent approve of Abbas’s performance. His own people have held stormy demonstrations denouncing him as a “traitor”; he was concerned enough to send his wife and grandchildren to Jordan for safety. And what heinous crime did he commit to merit this opprobrium? He urged Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire in Gaza in order to save Palestinian lives.

In short, Abbas forgot the ironclad rule of Palestinian politics: Taking Israeli lives is always more popular that saving Palestinian lives. The martyrdom culture Palestinian political and religious leaders have nurtured for generations means that even if a war kills far more Palestinians than Israelis, waging it “restores their feeling of human dignity,” as one former PA official said last week. And while Abbas didn’t create this culture, he has not only made no effort to wean his people off it in almost 10 years as PA president; he has actively reinforced it. Day in and day out, he has told his people that those who murder Israelis are the Palestinians’ greatest heroes, the model every Palestinian should strive to emulate.

On May 31, 2012, for instance, he presided over an official state ceremony to honor 91 terrorists whose bodies had just been returned by Israel. Collectively, these terrorists killed over 100 Israeli civilians; many were suicide bombers. As Abbas laid wreaths on their coffins, the secretary-general of his office and the PA-appointed mufti both gave eulogies saying the souls of the deceased were urging other Palestinians to “follow in their path.”

That’s one example out of hundreds; here’s some more from the last few months: In June, Abbas awarded the order of merit to the planner of several deadly suicide bombings, “in appreciation of his role in ‎the struggle and his commitment to ‎defending the Palestinian people.” In May, at a ceremony honoring another man responsible for several deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, Abbas’s representative declared, “Our Martyrs and prisoners will remain the beacon of our magnificent glory … We must be loyal to these heroes in all aspects.” In February, Abbas awarded the Star of Honor to yet another terrorist responsible for numerous attacks on Israeli civilians.

Under his leadership, the PA has named city squares, summer camps, and sports tournaments after terrorists; its official television station has broadcast videos and programs glorifying terrorism; his Fatah party has handed out candy to celebrate terror attacks and exalted terrorists as role models on its Facebook page; and much more.

In every possible way, Abbas has told his people for 10 years that the true heroes, the ones to be emulated, are those who kill Israelis, whatever the cost. And it’s worked so well that now, when he tries to tell them shooting rockets at Israel isn’t worth the price in Palestinian lives, they denounce him as a traitor.

So yesterday, he gave up. After days of trying to prevent Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank, he let his Fatah party organize a violent demonstration in which some 10,000 Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli police guarding the main checkpoint into Jerusalem, thereby producing yet more martyrs for the Palestinian cause: one Palestinian killed and 200 injured, three of them critically. That, after all, is what the Palestinians wanted.

And that’s also why Abbas never has and never will sign a peace agreement with Israel. You can’t sign an agreement ending the conflict when your own people denounce you as a traitor even for trying to arrange a cease-fire. And you can’t persuade your people to accept such an agreement as long as they consider saving Palestinian lives lower priority than taking Israeli ones.

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Will the Russian Army March into Ukraine?

It scarcely seems possible, but the situation in Ukraine keeps getting worse.

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It scarcely seems possible, but the situation in Ukraine keeps getting worse.

First Vladimir Putin let loose his “little green men”–a collection of Russian intelligence agents and military personnel along with a sprinkling of locals–to stir up a separatist rebellion in Crimea. Then after a bogus referendum held under Russian guns, he brazenly annexed Crimea, as flagrant a violation of international law as it is possible to imagine. Next he instigated another faux rebellion in eastern Ukraine led by Russian citizens, many of them current or former Russian military and intelligence personnel.

The pro-Russian rebels managed to carve out a quasi-independent region in eastern Ukraine where there is a substantial Russian-speaking population even if previous public opinion polls had indicated little support for breaking away from Ukraine. When the elected government in Kiev began to fight back against the rebels with some success, Putin provided them with heavier weapons including the sophisticated Buk or SA-11 air-defense system which brought down Malaysian Airlines flight 17, killing some 300 people on board.

Instead of apologizing for this war crime committed by his stooges, Putin has spun elaborate fantasies about how the Malaysian aircraft was really brought down by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft battery or fighter aircraft, even though U.S. intelligence and every other reputable observer has provided ample evidence that the foul deed was committed by a missile fired from the territory controlled by Russian separatists. Then the Russian rebels had the gall to deny international investigators access to the crash site and to actually loot the belongings of the innocent victims.

Far from chastened in the aftermath of the Malaysian Airlines tragedy, Putin is actually escalating his aggression. On Wednesday two Ukrainian fighter aircraft were shot down over their own airspace, with Kiev alleging that the shots came from the Russian side of the border. The State Department reports that in recent days artillery in Russia has been pounding Ukrainian positions and that Russia is now supplying the rebels with heavier weapons including tanks and rocket launchers. Speculation is rife that Putin may order the Russian army into Ukraine or that, at the very least, his proxies will stage a major offensive.

It is simply incredible that this is happening in the Europe of 2014–the land of the euro and the Eurovision song contest, of espresso and Bordeaux, of long vacations and short work weeks. Wasn’t Europe supposedly entering an era beyond power politics and certainly beyond war?

Recent events sound like something out of the 1930s, the dark years when brazen predators picked off countries at will: Czechoslovakia, Austria, Abyssinia (Ethiopia), China all fell while the League of Nations and the “international community” stood by, helpless and hapless, paralyzed, not knowing what to do. Putin is no Hitler or Tojo or Mussolini, but there are echoes of these outrageous events in his reckless disregard for the norms of international conduct.

What is even more incredible is that the democracies of the West, which together are infinitely richer and stronger than Russia, cannot muster the will to do anything to stop Putin’s offensive. Germany doesn’t want to lose access to Russian natural gas. France doesn’t want to lose the revenues from selling Russia two amphibious assault ships. Britain doesn’t want to lose the ability to attract Russian money to the City of London. And the U.S.? Well, President Obama appears to be too busy attending fundraisers to formulate a coherent response to Putin’s villainy.

I am normally an optimist–a half-glass-full kind of guy. But faced with the evil let loose from the Kremlin–and the cowardice with which it has been met in the West–it is hard not to despair for the future of Ukraine, of Europe, of the United States, and indeed the world. Perhaps I am being melodramatic but I am simply being driven to despair by the events of recent months.

It is hard to watch the international system disintegrate into chaos–not only in Ukraine but also in Iraq and Syria–while ordinary Americans and Europeans heedlessly enjoy the dog days of summer. It is hard not to think of another summer 100 years ago when illusions were shattered by the roar of guns. Today, however, the guns are roaring and the illusions of the West remain firmly intact.

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Jon Stewart’s Moral Lunacy

In the past I’ve praised Jon Stewart, a liberal, for being an outstanding comedian and satirist. I watch his program and, despite being a conservative, I generally count myself a fan of it. But for Stewart’s political humor to work, it has to have some basis in reality. He has to have identify a real-world absurdity in order to mock it. Which is why Stewart’s recent segment on Israel and Hamas was unfunny, not the least bit clever, and even irresponsible (a point I’ll return to in a moment).

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In the past I’ve praised Jon Stewart, a liberal, for being an outstanding comedian and satirist. I watch his program and, despite being a conservative, I generally count myself a fan of it. But for Stewart’s political humor to work, it has to have some basis in reality. He has to have identify a real-world absurdity in order to mock it. Which is why Stewart’s recent segment on Israel and Hamas was unfunny, not the least bit clever, and even irresponsible (a point I’ll return to in a moment).

Mr. Stewart asserted that both sides–Israel and Hamas–are engaging in aerial bombardment. But because Israel is more effective at prosecuting the war, and because more Palestinians than Israelis are dying, Israel is the more guilty party. It’s framed as an example of moral equivalence, but with Israel more morally culpable because of the “asymmetric” nature of the conflict.

This is moral lunacy.

You would never know from watching Stewart that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state (and says so in its charter); that Hamas started the war; that Hamas wants to escalate the war; that Hamas has refused repeated ceasefires; and that Hamas is using innocent Palestinians as human shields by, for example, using hospitals and schools for military purposes. You would never know, in other words, that Hamas has a vested interest in more dead Palestinians, precisely in the hopes that people like Jon Stewart will make Israel out to be the more malicious of the two combatants. And when Stewart ridicules Israel for warning Palestinians to evacuate before the IDF strikes military targets in Gaza–”Evacuate to where!?”–he is displaying (at best) an embarrassing ignorance. Israel actually drops leaflets with maps indicating where residents of Gaza can go–specific sites–where they’ll be unharmed. So Israel is instructing Gazans to leave dangerous combat zones. And what about Hamas? It’s urging Gazans to stay. Why? In order for them to be killed.

Mr. Stewart, whenever he’s confronted with his errors and misleading segments, will invoke the excuse that he’s merely a comedian, so it’s absurd to judge him in the fashion we judge political commentators. Except that he’s not “merely” a comedian, and he knows it. Mr. Stewart actually has a fair amount of influence on our politics. Members of the political class have their thinking, and even their reporting, shaped by what he says. He is, for many of them, a moral conscience of sorts. Jon Stewart knows it, and he takes advantage of it. He uses his humor to advance his ideology, to give voice to his political and moral beliefs.

Now it’s true enough that Stewart is a comedian before he’s a political commentator. But to say he’s more one than the other isn’t to say he’s simply one or the other. He’s a comedian who often uses comedy to make political comment. And so Stewart should be held accountable, at least within reason, for what he says and what he does.

In this instance, Stewart committed two mistakes. He wasn’t funny, and in the process he showed himself to be a moral fool.

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The Putin Doctrine

Back in March, Columbia University’s Kimberly Marten had a fascinating guest post at the Washington Post’s political science blog, making a noteworthy claim. She wrote that Vladimir Putin had made a subtle, but crucial, adjustment in his speech patterns when discussing his country and his countrymen.

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Back in March, Columbia University’s Kimberly Marten had a fascinating guest post at the Washington Post’s political science blog, making a noteworthy claim. She wrote that Vladimir Putin had made a subtle, but crucial, adjustment in his speech patterns when discussing his country and his countrymen.

“There are two ways to talk about a Russian person or thing in the Russian language,” Marten explained. “One way, ‘Rossisskii,’ refers to Russian citizens and the Russian state. Someone who is ethnically Chechen, Tatar, or Ukrainian can be ‘Rossisskii’ if they carry a Russian passport and live on Russian territory.” That was how Putin had been referring to Russians. He was the leader of the Russian state, and his language reflected that. But then, Marten wrote, “Instead of sticking to the word ‘Rossisskii,’ he slipped into using ‘Russkii,’ the way to refer in the Russian language to someone who is ethnically Russian.”

This was significant especially because of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. According to Marten, Putin was signaling that he was driven by ethnic Russian nationalism–a figure to whom ethnicity, not borders, is the key determinant of his behavior toward others. The consequences could be severe, Marten wrote:

It is no longer far-fetched to think that Ukraine might go the way of the former Yugoslavia, as German journalist Jochen Bittner argued in Tuesday’s New York Times. The possibility of ethnically motivated violence there looms on the horizon.

It is useful to look back on Marten’s post in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine. The plane was, it appears, shot down by Ukrainian separatists loyal to Putin who had supplied them with the weapon that shot down the civilian airliner. It resulted in the deaths of about 300 innocent travelers whose plane might have been mistaken by the rebels for a Ukrainian military plane.

Putin, of course, blamed the West. But now it seems Putin the ethnic nationalist has taken yet another step toward war with Ukraine. While the downing of the plane involved Russian weapons and commanders crossing the border into Ukraine and then firing away, Reuters reports that the State Department has evidence the Russian military is shelling the Ukrainian military from Russian territory.

The erasure of borders, of course, started long ago–before Putin invaded and annexed Crimea. Russia did, after all, invade Georgia in 2008 in the culmination of a decade-long escalation of Russian hostilities and attacks against Georgia, which included installing Russian commanders in Georgian separatist communities. Putin’s playbook has been relatively stable, so perhaps Marten’s linguistic analysis shows that Putin is not changing tactics but aligning his rhetoric with action.

And even if ethnic nationalism provides an explanation for Putin’s actions, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a strategy. In a jarring cover story for Time, Simon Shuster lays out the Putin approach to managing world affairs:

The 21st century czar has mastered the dark art of stirring up problems that only he can solve, so that Western leaders find themselves scolding him one minute while pleading with him the next. The crisis in Syria last year is a perfect example. He supplied weapons and training for the armies of President Bashar Assad, propping up the tyrant while Western statesmen demanded Assad’s ouster. Yet when Assad crossed the “red line” drawn by Obama and used chemical weapons against his own people, Putin stepped in to broker the solution. At the urging of the Russian President, Assad gave up his stockpile of chemical weapons. In turn, the U.S. backed away from air strikes in Syria. And guess who still reigns in Damascus? Putin’s ally Assad.

Other world leaders try to avoid crises; Putin feasts on them. When a pro-Western government came to power in Ukraine, Putin dashed in to annex the region of Crimea–an act that redrew the borders of Europe and snatched away Ukraine’s territorial jewel. Within a month, Western diplomats began stuffing the issue into the past. Why? Because by then, Russia had stolen a march on eastern Ukraine, giving the West another crisis to deal with–and another problem that only Putin could reconcile. He made a show of pulling Russian troops back a short distance from the border with Ukraine, but Russian arms and trainers kept the separatists supplied for the fight. And when the fighting produced the macabre spectacle of the rotting corpses, once again the instigator was in the driver’s seat.

It’s a strategy that has so far worked. And this afternoon’s news fits right in. When Putin needs a distraction–and he certainly needs a distraction from MH17, which has caused ripples of outrage in his direction–he simply causes more mischief.

The West routinely gets caught off-guard by Putin’s provocations. And while he may not be totally predictable, there does seem to be a method to his madness. His strategy of causing trouble in one place to distract from the mayhem in another tells us what he might do, and his ethnic nationalism gives us at least a ballpark estimate of where. If Shuster and Marten are correct, Putin is far from finished.

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The “Israel Can Defend Itself in Theory but Not in Practice” Crowd

Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed an appalling motion against Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the ongoing Hamas terrorism. That the host of serial human-rights abusing nations that sit on the council endorsed this outrageous document is hardly surprising. What is more shocking is the failure of the European countries to take a stand against this terrible injustice. Given that these same countries have all issued statements purporting to uphold Israel’s right not to have to stand idly by while its civilians are at the mercy of murderous jihadists, the fact they have now failed to take a stand when the opportunity presented itself shows that these statements were utterly meaningless.

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Yesterday the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed an appalling motion against Israel’s efforts to defend itself from the ongoing Hamas terrorism. That the host of serial human-rights abusing nations that sit on the council endorsed this outrageous document is hardly surprising. What is more shocking is the failure of the European countries to take a stand against this terrible injustice. Given that these same countries have all issued statements purporting to uphold Israel’s right not to have to stand idly by while its civilians are at the mercy of murderous jihadists, the fact they have now failed to take a stand when the opportunity presented itself shows that these statements were utterly meaningless.

What the European countries demonstrated in Geneva yesterday is that they are part of the “Israel can defend itself in theory but not in practice” crowd. They maintain that of course the Jewish state should be entitled to the same right to self-defense that all other nations enjoy, provided that when the Jewish state defends itself, no one on the other side is harmed.

The motion that the European nations acquiesced to was a frightful distortion of basic notions of morality and justice. Which was more grotesque: the claim that Israel targets civilians? The claim that Israel is the occupying power in Gaza? The claim that the blockade of Gaza is collective punishment for which Israel is held solely responsible with no reference to the blockade on the Egyptian border? The claim that the majority of deaths in Gaza have been among civilians when it has not yet been possible for any independent verification of this? The condemning of Israel for its recent military activities in the West Bank with no mention of the three murdered Israeli teens that the Israeli security forces were searching for? The fact that the resolution includes a number of accusations about “extremist Israeli settlers” but not one mention of either Hamas specifically or terrorists generally? And then there was the ludicrous insistence that Gaza cannot be allowed to remain “geographically” isolated from the West Bank (an apparent assault on Israel’s own existing territorial contiguity).

Particularly breathtaking was the accusation that Israel has failed to adequately investigate accusations of past violations against Palestinians, a flagrant lie given that Israel has, where necessary, prosecuted members of its own security forces when they were found to have acted unlawfully. This indeed has been affirmed even by Richard Goldstone, the author of the UN’s previous infamous report on Israel’s 2009 military operation in Gaza.

Also not to be missed was the clause that welcomes as a positive step the recent formation of the Palestinian unity government, which of course includes Hamas! After everything that has happened in recent weeks, could the Europeans really not find it in their cautiously diplomatic hearts to outright reject a motion that celebrates a Palestinian Authority government that involves Hamas?

The Europeans have attempted to whitewash their own complicity in the passing of this motion by claiming that they were responsible for introducing amendments that made the resolution more evenhanded. Yet such activities give the impression that this document has some underlying legitimacy. Furthermore, the additional amendments that they point to with such self-congratulation simply allow for the possibility of Hamas also being investigated for its breaches of international law. At best, all that such amendments achieve is an obscene moral equivalence between the terror group Hamas and the democratic nation-state Israel. In reality, the amended resolution doesn’t even manage to put the two parties on an equal footing–which itself would be an unspeakable inversion—because the vast majority of the resolution is still focused on castigating Israel for a litany of humanitarian offenses.

Still, the question remains of how there could be such a gap between the words of the European governments and their actions, or shameful inaction, at the human rights council. For instance, the British government has not only been steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s right to self-defense, but the country’s newly appointed foreign minister vocally condemned the resolution. The answer to this conundrum would seem to be that Catharine Ashton’s Foreign Service division of the European Union dictated to the European members of the UNHRC that they would vote as a bloc. Finding a consensus between a fiercely anti-Israel country like Ireland and a country friendlier to the Jewish state like the Czech Republic was never going to be easy. The morally vacuous abstention votes would appear to have been the result.

The European countries have consistently singled out Israel’s settlement policy on the grounds that Israel must surrender still more territory as part of the creation of a Palestinian state. But by utterly failing to give any meaningful support to Israel’s efforts to defend its people from attacks emanating from territory it has already surrendered, the Europeans ensure that Israelis will take that much less notice of Europe’s assurances from now on.

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Israel and the Burden of Being Right

Generally when someone says they “hate to say I told you so,” it’s fair to doubt they really hate saying it. But in Israel’s case it’s believable. The current conflict with Gaza is proving Israel correct about its various claims with regard to Hamas, and the result is the treacherous urban warfare the world is currently witnessing.

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Generally when someone says they “hate to say I told you so,” it’s fair to doubt they really hate saying it. But in Israel’s case it’s believable. The current conflict with Gaza is proving Israel correct about its various claims with regard to Hamas, and the result is the treacherous urban warfare the world is currently witnessing.

As Evelyn Gordon wrote earlier, the vast tunnel networks prove Israel was right about letting in dual-use items that Hamas would only appropriate for its terror war against Israeli civilians. The West should, in fact, be embarrassed by its enabling of those tunnels: pressuring Israel to let in those materials was the international community’s way of using Israeli civilians as guinea pigs in a grand experiment. They didn’t believe Israeli predictions, and wanted the premises tested. Now they have been, and innocents are paying the price.

While we’re on the topic of dangerously boneheaded diplomatic fumbles by the Obama administration, the FAA ban on flights to Israel’s major international airport–conspicuously imposed not when the rockets started flying but when John Kerry needed leverage to box Israel into a cease-fire–proved another point. The grotesque body-counters among the press like to treat rockets from Gaza as barely more than fireworks which do not lead (because of Israeli and American technological genius) to a comparable number of fatalities.

But the FAA ban is the Obama administration’s way of inadvertently admitting otherwise: rockets from Gaza are such a threat, according to the Obama administration’s actions, that Tel Aviv should be treated as more dangerous for commercial flight than countless other locations that would give anything for a safety record even resembling that of Ben-Gurion. Thus, the possibility that rockets will escape Iron Dome is sufficient to treat them as the act of war they are intended to be. Israel was right about the need to stop and deter the rockets, not least because of America’s reaction to them.

The tunnels and the rockets are Hamas’s primary threat to those living inside Israel, and they also shine a light on another of Israel’s verified claims: Hamas’s practice of turning civilians and their property into instruments of war. As I wrote on Tuesday, journalists have witnessed Hamas fighters using a hospital as a command center and moving rockets into mosques. And Hamas is using UN schools to store weaponry as well.

But reporters have also opened a window into why there’s not as much coverage of the use of human shields as one would think. Yesterday, a Wall Street Journal photographer tweeted an image of a Hamas official at Shifa hospital and wrote: “You have to wonder w the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media.” He then deleted the tweet. At the Jerusalem Post, Lahav Harkov offers a window into the threats journalists are getting on social media for recording Hamas actions:

On Wednesday, Peter Stefanovic of Australia’s Channel Nine News tweeted: “Hamas rockets just launched over our hotel from a site about two hundred metres away. So a missile launch site is basically next door.”

An account called @ThisIsGaza said this was Stefanovic’s fourth time “passing and fabricating information to Israel… from GAZA” and threatened to sue him.

Another account, @longitude0 wrote: “You are a cretin. Are you working for the IDF” and “in WWII spies got shot.”

Financial Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief John Reed reported seeing “two rockets fired toward Israel from near al-Shifa hospital, even as more bombing victims were brought in.”

Shifa, in Gaza City, is the main medical facility in the Strip.

In response, @Saritah_91 tweeted: “We’ll hold you responsible if Israel uses your tweet to bomb the hospital & then justify it.”

The Hamas supporters are making use of the term “informant,” treating the media as their allies (I can’t imagine why) who then betray the cause when they report what they see. There has also been an interesting desire on the part of journalists to obfuscate the implications of their own reporting. For example, in an article detailing Hamas’s brazen use of human shields, New York Times reporters Anne Barnard and Jodi Rudoren write:

Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare. There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties.

Hamas is using civilians as human shields, but let’s not jump to any conclusions. Barnard and Rudoren don’t cite their source for international law, but here is the plain text of the Geneva Conventions:

The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

But even by the Barnard/Rudoren account, it’s pretty clear that Hamas, in turning civilian areas into military targets and then prohibiting civilians from using the reinforced bunkers under those areas to which Hamasniks then retreat when the counterattack arrives, is using civilians as human shields.

Again, Israel said all this–and has said it for some time. But there’s not much consolation in being right about these claims, because it means Hamas’s sacrificial use of Palestinian civilians and the group’s genocidal war against the Jewish state continues.

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How the West Helped Hamas Build Its War Machine

Yesterday, I wrote about one important way in which the West helps Hamas. Clearly, there are also many others, including media coverage that encourages Hamas’s use of human shields (as Alan Dershowitz explains here) or even parrots outright Hamas lies (as Noah Pollak explains here). But Monday’s Jerusalem Post editorial highlighted one important form of assistance to Hamas that has received far too little attention despite contributing greatly to Gaza’s current misery: the West’s relentless pressure on Israel to stop restricting imports of “dual-use” items into Gaza.

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Yesterday, I wrote about one important way in which the West helps Hamas. Clearly, there are also many others, including media coverage that encourages Hamas’s use of human shields (as Alan Dershowitz explains here) or even parrots outright Hamas lies (as Noah Pollak explains here). But Monday’s Jerusalem Post editorial highlighted one important form of assistance to Hamas that has received far too little attention despite contributing greatly to Gaza’s current misery: the West’s relentless pressure on Israel to stop restricting imports of “dual-use” items into Gaza.

For years, human-rights groups, diplomats, pundits, and other opinion leaders demanded an end to the “siege” of Gaza, and eventually, they succeeded. President Barack Obama deserves special mention here; it was he who, after Israel’s botched raid on a flotilla to Gaza in 2010, twisted Israel’s arm into drastically easing its import controls. The pressure increased again after Egypt tightened its own blockade of Gaza last year, leading Israel to remove all remaining restrictions on construction materials like cement and iron.

Most of those who pressed Israel on this issue sincerely wanted to improve Palestinian lives: Eliminating import restrictions, they argued, would let Gaza residents build homes and businesses, improve the economy, and generally contribute to Palestinian wellbeing. So they blithely dismissed Israel’s warnings that these materials would actually be used not to help ordinary Palestinians, but to build Hamas’s terror infrastructure.

We now know Israel’s warnings were 100 percent correct. As Jonathan Tobin has already noted, Hamas built a vast warren of underground bunkers to protect its rockets and its own personnel. It also built dozens of cross-border tunnels dedicated solely to launching attacks inside Israel; the IDF has so far located 28–each of which runs for miles, deep underground, requiring hundreds of tons of cement and millions of dollars to build–and doesn’t think it has found them all. Yet Hamas built no hospitals, schools, power plants, or even bomb shelters to serve the general population; where such institutions exist, they were built either by Israel (when it controlled Gaza) or the international community.

Hamas built much of its underground warren with materials smuggled in from Egypt. But Israel’s lifting of restrictions last year undoubtedly helped. And even before that, Israel allowed huge quantities of dual-use products to be imported for projects supervised by the UN, Western governments, or international aid agencies, who were supposed to ensure that Hamas didn’t use them for its terrorist infrastructure. Given the sheer size of the tunnel network, it now seems likely that Hamas siphoned off some of this material, too–just as it has repeatedly stored rockets in UNRWA schools despite that organization’s stated objections.

Had Hamas not been able to build these tunnels, Israeli ground troops wouldn’t be in Gaza trying to destroy them. And had Israeli troops not been in Gaza, the hundreds of Palestinians wounded or killed in the Hamas-Israel crossfire would be unharmed, while the hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting, or in the demolition of tunnels that run right under them, would still be standing.

In other words, in its well-meaning effort to improve Palestinian lives by demanding that Israel end its import restrictions, the international community helped Hamas build a massive terrorist infrastructure that has now brought death and destruction down on Gaza. I wonder whether all the Palestinians who have lost their loved ones or their homes think those extra tons of imported cement were worth the price.

I also wonder whether the West will learn the lessons for next time. Hamas is demanding that any cease-fire include a complete removal of all Israeli and Egyptian import restrictions and the end of Israel’s naval blockade. Pressuring Israel to comply with this demand would be a mistake. For not only would it show Hamas that launching rockets at Israel is an effective way of securing political gains, it would also facilitate its efforts to rebuild its war machine for the next round.

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Anti-Semitism and the “French Intifada”

Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

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Few quotes can do a better job of expressing the state of French Jewry than a Jewish Paris barber’s comment to JTA on France’s Jewish Defense League (known as LDJ): “I used to tell my grandsons to focus on the studies and stay out of trouble, but now I sent them to join the LDJ and defend our synagogues against the scum.”

The comment perfectly encapsulates the frustration and fear felt by the Jewish community in France. The barber’s advice to his grandchildren had been the old adage: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you. Well, trouble has arrived. The barber added: “The Arabs own the streets now. We need make them lose the appetite for messing with us if we’re to survive here. LDJ is our Iron Dome.”

The JTA story is a marvelous piece of reporting. It’s also a testament to the fact that French Jews, who tend to be quite patriotic about their country–the JTA story even opens with a scene at which LDJ members are guarding a synagogue and singing La Marseillaise–have given up relying on the French state to protect them.

As the story explains:

Unable to reach the Grand Synagogues of Sarcelles, some of the rioters smashed shop windows in this poor suburb where tens of thousands of Jews live amid many Muslims. They torched two cars and threw a firebomb at a nearby, smaller synagogue, which was only lightly damaged.

“We sang to thank them, but also to remind them and ourselves that we are equal French citizens entitled to safety,” said Eliyahu, a member of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, who agreed to be identified only by his first name.

It was the ninth synagogue attack in France since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two weeks ago. To Eliyahu and many other French Jews, the attacks have contributed to a growing realization that, despite the extraordinary efforts of French authorities to protect them, French Jews need to rely mostly on themselves for their defense.

“The cops are here now, but it’ll be just us and the Arabs tomorrow,” said Serge Najar, a local community leader.

Nine synagogue attacks in two weeks is a full-blown crisis, especially considering the nature of the attacks and the threat posed had the LDJ not been there to supplement the French police. It obviously shows an angry anti-Semitism not based in Israel or Gaza or recent events; those have just been the convenient pretexts to express the hate.

But aside from French societal anti-Semitism, there is another failing of the French state that enables this. In his new book The French Intifada, the historian Andrew Hussey describes going through his normal metro transfer in 2007 on the day riots broke out in Paris led primarily by largely Arab and African immigrants. He arrives–without knowing the riots had begun–at the Gare du Nord station and sees that a gleeful, and terrifying, total breakdown of law and order is underway:

There is no word in French or English which expresses the opposite of the verb ‘to civilize’: the concept does not exist. But this was anti-civilization in action – a transgression of every code of behaviour that holds a society together. Like a terrorist attack or a football riot, the act of anti-civilization is a total experience: it undermines everything all at once. This is not an intellectual concept; it is a feeling. These kids were taking on the whole world around them – the police, the train authorities, passers-by – wrecking the station, the shops and the offices. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

And what were they doing? They were rebelling, but they were also taking advantage of a key weakness of Parisian order. At flashpoints, or geographic joints connecting different communities in the city, there is a precarious balance:

The Gare du Nord, at the heart of this district, is frontier territory. It is the dividing line between the wretched conditions of the banlieues, the suburbs outside the city, and the relative affluence of central Paris. It is where young banlieusards come to hang out, meet the opposite sex, shop, smoke, show-off and flirt – all the stuff that young people like to do. Paris is both near and distant; it is a few short steps away, but in terms of jobs, housing, making a life, for these young people it is as inaccessible and far away as America. So they cherish this small part of the city that belongs to them.

This is why the Gare du Nord is a flashpoint. The area is generally tense but stable: everyone in the right place, from the police to the dealers. But when the police come in hard, it can feel like another display of colonial power. So the battle cry of ‘Na’al abouk la France!’ is also a cry of hurt and rage. It expresses ancestral emotions of loss, shame and terror. This is what makes it such a powerful curse.

The outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in France is the result of a perfect storm of conditions. But those conditions are not new, and they are not rare, and they are not being adequately addressed. That’s why many Jews are leaving, and others are turning to the LDJ.

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From Heidegger to Gaza

Is there a connection between academic quarrels over the legacy of Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential German philosophers of the twentieth century, and the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

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Is there a connection between academic quarrels over the legacy of Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential German philosophers of the twentieth century, and the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

However spurious or bizarre that question may seem at first glance, an article by Michael Marder in the New York Times suggests that such a link does indeed exist. The source of what Marder describes as the “menacing chill forming around the work of Heidegger” also stalks attempts by philosophers, who work in an atmosphere of “ideological censorship,” to expose the nefarious nature of Zionism.

What’s involved here is a complicated story. Nonetheless, it is one that needs to be understood, if only because it illustrates the growing dominance of anti-Zionist opinion in academic and media discourse. Centrally, what it shows is that, to an ever greater extent, anti-Zionism in the academy isn’t so much a stance that one adopts in relation to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as it is a philosophical system for interpreting the persistence of conflict in the world in general.

With that in mind, we can better grasp what Marder is driving at in the claims he makes about Heidegger and his legacy. If there is one detail of Heidegger’s biography that is widely known, it’s that he joined the Nazi Party in 1933, at the peak of his career, and remained a member until the defeat of the Nazi regime. As far as Marder is concerned, that bald fact is an irritant, since it’s clear to him that there “is a profound disconnect between Heidegger’s anti-Semitic prejudice and his philosophy.” In other words, if you want to properly appreciate Heidegger’s oeuvre, it’s imperative to regard his Nazi affiliations as, to borrow the infamous words of the French fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen about the Nazi gas chambers, a “minor detail” in the history of the Second World War.

In discussing Heidegger’s “detractors, who are determined to smear the entirety of his thought and work with the double charge of Nazism and anti-Semitism,” Marder mentions only one–the French scholar Emmanuel Faye–for his temerity in suggesting that Heidegger’s key philosophical concept of Dasein (“Being-in-the-World”) should be reexamined in light of the philosopher’s anti-Semitism. Significantly, Marder does not refer his readers to Berel Lang, the American philosopher who authored a highly regarded book on Heidegger and the Jews. In that book, Lang asserted that “Heidegger’s silence” on the Jewish question before and after the Holocaust was a telling illustration of the “limits” on the thought of a man who, “more than any other twentieth century philosopher, attempted to break through the very notion of the limits of thinking.”

However, following this route into Heidegger’s writings is something of an inconvenience for Marder. It gets in the way of his insistence that the “smear” of anti-Semitism is a deliberate attempt to mask the value of Heidegger’s output, motivated by the same parochical Jewish imperatives that get in the way of a proper appraisal of Zionism.

Here is where the Gaza conflict comes in. Readers of the Times may well have been puzzled by Marder’s claim that “opposition to Zionism and the thinking inspired by Heidegger” are united insofar as both incur the unscrupulous charge of anti-Semitism. In part at least, that’s the fault of the Times‘ editors, who didn’t think it necessary to advise their readers that Marder’s position on the Palestinian issue is what informs his approach to Heidegger.

Look a little more closely, and you will find that Marder is also the author of several opeds for Al Jazeera, with such titles as “Why settlements will lead to a one-state solution” and “Here is why deconstructing Zionism is important.” In the latter piece, he argues that “deconstructing Zionism is not just a critique; it is an exercise in unravelling its philosophical suppositions.” For Marder, the wider problem is that the false assumptions imposed by Zionist ideology–whether the subject is Heidegger or Israeli policy–block proper philosophical inquiry.

Where, though, is Marder leading us? He’d like us to think, as he says in his “deconstructing” piece, that he’s motivated by “intense concern for the Jewish Israelis, who are set on a path of self-destruction.” But before we take him at his word, let’s recall that he edited a book entitled Deconstructing Zionism with the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo. Yesterday, Vattimo told the Italian network Radio 24 that Israel is “a bit worse than the Nazis,” and that, for good measure, he’d like to “shoot those bastard Zionists.”

In the current climate, it would be unwise to assume that Vattimo’s “bastard Zionists” are located only in Israel. What about those thousands of Jews in Europe who vocally identify with Israel, and who have been targeted by mobs in Paris, London, and Berlin? What about those scholars who “smear” Heidegger as an anti-Semite much as they do those self-regardingly courageous academics who, in the name of the Palestinians, speak “truth to power?” Are they among the “bastards?”

I can’t say for sure how Michael Marder would answer those questions. But if he wants to be consistent, he will need to tell us that just as Heidegger’s Nazi Party membership was an irrelevance, so is Vattimo’s shrill exhortation to grab a gun in defense of Hamas. The New York Times, doubtless, will readily offer him the space to do just that.

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A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen

I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

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I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

The piece centers on Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces who was killed by terrorists in Gaza this week. Steinberg is from Los Angeles, and after attending a Birthright Israel trip, felt connected enough to make aliyah. He joined the IDF. Benedikt strings these basic facts together and comes up with a creative, and thoroughly repugnant, theory: Birthright shares the blame in Steinberg’s death.

Here’s the crux of Benedikt’s case. You’ll notice two problems:

Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it.

The first is that she leaps to quite a conclusion while admitting she has no data to back it up, as the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes:

Let me help. The answer is “exceedingly few.” Fewer than 3,000 Americans make aliyah each year across all age groups — from a community of six million Jews. Only a few hundred are young adults, and only a fraction of these (excluding religious women, health problems, anyone over 26, among others) join the IDF.

Then there are those who join the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens via a program known as Mahal, a program that predates Birthright by decades. Hundreds of Mahal soldiers fought in Israel’s Independence War in 1948. Max was a Mahal soldier, one of an estimated 400 young people from English-speaking countries who join the IDF each year through Mahal to serve a shorter service of 1.5 years instead of 3. While Mahal fighters number in the hundreds, only a fraction could have been Birthright participants. At least one-third are classified by the army (based on their own self-identification) as “religious,” meaning that they had been raised in religious educational frameworks, and thus are unlikely to have gone on Birthright. Most Jewish religious schools take their students to Israel during high school, making them ineligible for free college-age Birthright trips.

But the focus on the data misses the other problem with Benedikt’s essay. Benedikt doesn’t have the data on Birthright alumni joining the IDF because she doesn’t need or want it. She’s making a more philosophical argument. She’s saying Birthright connects Jews to Israel, and the “ultimate expression” of this connection must be, in Benedikt’s mind, to pick up a gun and put on a uniform.

The real clue to why Benedikt’s piece is so repulsive is her closing. She writes:

You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not about Birthright per se. It’s about connecting Jews to their ancient homeland–their historical identity, in other words. And that connection, if successful, leads–not always, but logically, in Benedikt’s mind–to Steinberg’s tragic end. “This is what you get,” she says. War, death–this is what happens when you help Jews connect to a crucial part of Jewish life, history, practice, and identity.

It’s not Birthright that killed Max Steinberg, in Benedikt’s telling. It’s Judaism. Compartmentalize your Judaism by separating yourself from the global Jewish community and from Eretz Yisrael–keep your people’s history hidden–and you should be OK. “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it,” Benedikt offers, trying to explain Steinberg’s Zionism by ascribing it to mental weakness, to emotional instability, or to a moral naïveté that his fellow Jews took advantage of.

To teach a Jew about his people and his history, according to Benedikt, is to play a dangerous game. And this, she says, pointing to the death of a 24-year-old soldier, is what happens; “This is what you get.”

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How the West Helps Hamas Thwart Future Israeli Pullouts

Several commentators have already noted that foreign airlines’ suspension of flights to Israel due to Hamas rocket fire may mean Israel will “never-ever hand land to Palestinians ever again,” as Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter; Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims. But blaming Hamas alone for such a development would be unfair, because the problem isn’t just that Israel evacuated every last inch of Gaza and got 13,000 rockets (and counting) fired at its territory in exchange. It’s that after evacuating Gaza and getting 13,000 rockets in exchange, Israel discovered it still had zero support from the West for any military steps sufficient to actually suppress this rocket fire.

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Several commentators have already noted that foreign airlines’ suspension of flights to Israel due to Hamas rocket fire may mean Israel will “never-ever hand land to Palestinians ever again,” as Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter; Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims. But blaming Hamas alone for such a development would be unfair, because the problem isn’t just that Israel evacuated every last inch of Gaza and got 13,000 rockets (and counting) fired at its territory in exchange. It’s that after evacuating Gaza and getting 13,000 rockets in exchange, Israel discovered it still had zero support from the West for any military steps sufficient to actually suppress this rocket fire.

Western leaders seem curiously oblivious to the fact that the promise of “international legitimacy” was the trump card played by every Israeli premier who executed territorial withdrawals to refute critics who worried (correctly) that the evacuated areas would become hotbeds of anti-Israel terror. Yitzhak Rabin, in withdrawing Israeli forces from parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the Oslo Accords; Ehud Barak, in the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon; and Ariel Sharon, in the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza all made the same simple argument: If Israel is subsequently attacked from these areas, it will then have full international legitimacy to do whatever is necessary to stop the attacks. And most Israelis believed them.

Today, no Israeli believes this anymore. Those prime ministerial promises were made in 1993, 2000, and 2005–i.e., before the Second Lebanon War of 2006, Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, or the current Gaza operation. And what Israel discovered in all those wars was that Western leaders, diplomats, journalists, intellectuals, and other opinion leaders indeed declared loudly that Israel has a right to defend itself–but only on condition that it not kill civilians. And since it’s impossible to avoid civilian casualties in any war, much less one against a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians as human shields, that effectively means Israel has no legitimacy for military action at all.

This lack of legitimacy is evident in countless ways. Virulently anti-Semitic demonstrations against the Israeli operation have swept the Western world, though no such demonstrations were ever held against the far greater slaughter in, say, Syria. The UN Human Rights Council is working on launching an inquiry into Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza–though not, needless to say, those of Hamas; a similar inquiry after the last Gaza war produced the infamous Goldstone Commission, whose report accusing Israel of “war crimes” was opposed by only eight Western countries in the UN General Assembly, despite being so libelous that even its lead author subsequently repudiated it.

Leading European intellectuals have declared on public radio that all “Zionists” should be shot and the West should arm Hamas. Ostensibly sober diplomats have made witless statements (to borrow Peter Wehner’s apt term) about how Israel is losing “moral authority” by “overdoing” its military operation, when in fact, the ground operation has been limited to a small stretch of Gaza near the Israeli border, leaving the rest of Hamas’s military infrastructure untouched. Both Washington and European capitals are demanding that Israel “do more” to prevent civilian casualties, without explaining what more it could do short of abandoning the military operation and simply letting Hamas launch its rockets undisturbed, while also demanding an “immediate” cease-fire that would leave Hamas with much of its military capability intact.

In short, Israel has learned that once it cedes territory, it’s at the mercy of any terrorist organization that chooses to attack it from that territory, because it will never have international legitimacy to conduct the kind of military operation necessary to suppress such attacks. And that’s not Hamas’s fault at all. It’s the fault of that same “enlightened West” that claims its top priority is an agreement that would get Israel out of the West Bank.

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Scholars of African Literature Have Eyes Only for Israel

The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

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The African Literature Association has thrown its insubstantial weight behind the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Opponents of the boycott movement should welcome this move. Unlike some of the other academic associations that have gotten behind BDS, the African Literature Association cannot even assert that it has, because of U.S. funding, a special interest in Israel. The ALA, though it is headquartered in the U.S. at present, is an emphatically international organization whose political interests, if a literary association must have such interests, are in Africa.

It is therefore striking that none of the ALA’s resolutions specifically concerns Africa. In South Africa, where the ALA met this year, Human Rights Watch has said that the government has refused to acknowledge “xenophobic attacks on refugees” from Somalia and elsewhere. But the ALA, though it explicitly complains of Israel’s treatment of African refugees, had nothing to say, as its members partied in Johannesburg, about South Africa’s record.

Here are some other things going on, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report, on the continent the African Literature Association purports to be concerned with. Human Rights Watch shares with the ALA an undue focus on Israel, but at least it has the consistency to notice human-rights violations elsewhere.

In Sudan, the government’s “indiscriminate bombing and ongoing clashes with rebels, and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas since the outbreak of conflict in June 2011, have displaced tens of thousands within those states and elsewhere in Sudan and forced more than 225,000 to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.” Millions have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In South Sudan, “the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, especially in Murle areas. Soldiers unlawfully targeted and killed Murle civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes out of fear of attack. Soldiers also looted or destroyed homes, schools, churches, and the compounds of aid agencies.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Ethiopia, “arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in detention continues to be a major problem. Students, members of opposition groups, journalists, peaceful protesters, and others seeking to express their rights to freedom of assembly, expression, or association are frequently detained arbitrarily.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In the Central African Republic, the Seleka, a largely Muslim rebel group that briefly controlled the government “killed scores of civilians who were trying to flee attacks. In some villages, every single structure was at least partially burned. The destruction was often accompanied by pillaging, leaving civilian populations utterly destitute.” Violence between the Seleka and armed Christian and animist groups continues and has displaced hundreds of thousands. The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In Somalia, in government controlled areas, “targeted killings of civilians, notably journalists, increased.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children.” In Nigeria, “security forces razed and burned homes and properties in communities thought to harbor Boko Haram fighters. In Baga, a town in Borno state, Nigerian troops destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and allegedly killed scores of people, apparently in retaliation for the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram.” In Eritrea, many “are denied fundamental human rights, including the right to express opinions, form associations and peacefully protest. Scores of people continue to be arbitrarily detained and imprisoned without trial at the whim of commanders and security forces; many are tortured.  Freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice is denied if the government disapproves of the choice.” The African Literature Association doesn’t care.

In fairness, the organization has not been wholly silent on human rights in Africa. For example, the ALA’s president, in 2011, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to act on unspecified human-rights violations in Africa. But that letter was much less pointed and detailed than the resolution against Israel which, among other things, singles out Israel alone for working with repressive African regimes. They had nothing to say about their host South Africa’s close allies, China and Russia, both of which are known for exporting arms to nations, including Sudan, with poor human-rights records. Nor did they speak to South Africa’s refusal to support sanctions against Syria. About such things, the righteous scholars of the African Literature Association do not care.

We can thank the African Literature Association for making things crystal clear. When an association that exists primarily “to facilitate the attempts of a world-wide audience to appreciate the efforts of African writers and artists” and secondarily to support “the African peoples in their struggle for liberation” interests itself solely in Israel and has not a word for human-rights abuses in Africa, we can be confident that we are dealing with scholars in the grip of an anti-Semitic movement.

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Putin, Europe, and Historical Amnesia

The day that pro-Russian separatists shot down a Malaysian airliner last week, I wrote a lengthy item outlining the steps that needed to be taken in response–everything from providing arms and training to the Ukrainian armed forces to slapping stiffer sanctions on Russian trade. Since then Russia’s proxies have further aggravated the situation by delaying access to the crash site to investigators and apparently looting many of the victims’ belongings.

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The day that pro-Russian separatists shot down a Malaysian airliner last week, I wrote a lengthy item outlining the steps that needed to be taken in response–everything from providing arms and training to the Ukrainian armed forces to slapping stiffer sanctions on Russian trade. Since then Russia’s proxies have further aggravated the situation by delaying access to the crash site to investigators and apparently looting many of the victims’ belongings.

It’s been less than a full week since the crash happened, so perhaps the appropriate Western response is still coming. I hope so. But it sure doesn’t look like it. Instead the West appears to be as pusillanimous as ever in the face of Russian aggression.

A meeting of European Union foreign ministers could not even agree to impose an arms embargo on Russia, because the French don’t want to refund 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) that Russia has paid for the first of two Mistral-class amphibious assault warships due to be delivered in October. “We should have had an arms embargo quite some time ago,” said Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister. “To deliver arms to Russia in this situation is somewhat difficult to defend, to put it mildly.”

Just as difficult to comprehend is Europe’s willingness to continue serving as a financial outlet for rich Russians and big Russian companies. British Prime Minister David Cameron talks tough (“Russia cannot expect to continue enjoying access to European markets, European capital, European knowledge and technical expertise while she fuels conflict in one of Europe’s neighbors”), but he’s not rushing to impose unilateral sanctions on Russia either–something that could bite given the level of Russian investment in the City of London as well as in British properties of various sorts ranging from football clubs to swank apartments.

Naturally Europeans offer lots of excuses for inaction–for example one hears that sanctions now would lead Putin’s minions to discontinue their cooperation with crash-site investigators. Note how something that should be done as a matter of course–giving investigators access to a crime scene–is now being held hostage to the whims of drunken Russian thugs.

The U.S. is little better. While President Obama has imposed slightly stiffer sanctions than the Europeans, even he has not ordered the kind of “sectoral” sanctions that he has threatened (another red line crossed with impunity!). Only such sanctions would really punish Russia by denying Russian companies and individuals access to U.S. financial markets and to dollar-denominated trades.

All of this is entirely predictable, of course, but dismaying nevertheless. In a sense, the worse that Russian misconduct is, the less likely it is to be punished because the more evil that Putin does–the more territory his minions seize, the more innocents they kill–the more that the Europeans are afraid to provoke him. He’s a bad man, they figure; why mess with him?

The result, of course, is only to encourage Putin to commit further crimes. We’ve seen this movie before–it played across the continent in the 1930s and it didn’t have a happy ending. It says something about our historical amnesia that we are so ready to watch a repeat performance.

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Madeleine Albright’s Witless Commentary on Israel and Hamas

On CNN today, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the following observations: (1) There should be a cease-fire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, but Hamas is the one that hasn’t accepted one; and (2) Israel has the right to defend itself when being attacked by rockets.

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On CNN today, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the following observations: (1) There should be a cease-fire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, but Hamas is the one that hasn’t accepted one; and (2) Israel has the right to defend itself when being attacked by rockets.

But the bottom line, she said, is this is a matter of Israel not exercising proper “proportionality.” What she didn’t say, but surely she must know, is that Israel has exercised extraordinary restraint in this operation, far beyond what America would do in a similar circumstance. Israel would rather not have gone to war–but provoked into the war, it now needs to shut down the terrorist catacombs that are allowing Hamas to infiltrate Israel and kill Israelis. How exactly does she propose Israel do this? By appealing to Hamas’s sense of decency and fair play?

Ms. Albright then brought up the need for a “two-state solution.” What she didn’t say, but surely she must know, is that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinians a two-state solution. Yet the Palestinian leadership has time and again refused it, in part because its goal is the elimination of the Jewish state. In addition, Gaza has been Palestinian territory for nearly a decade. There has been no Israeli presence in Gaza since 2005. Israel gave up land–and what it got in return was war.

Ms. Albright then added this:

I do think that it is very hard to watch the number of Palestinians that are being killed – innocents. It is hard to dispute the fact that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that, in fact, there are innocents being put in the way in order to act as shields.

But the bottom line is, I think that this is hurting Israel’s moral authority. I do think it looks as though they’re overdoing, which is why I think there has to be more emphasis on the fact that they have accepted the cease-fire. And then try to figure out who has any influence over Hamas in order to get them to accept a cease-fire.

Let’s continue to untangle what Ms. Albright said, shall we?

She concedes that Hamas is responsible for using innocent Palestinians as human shields–yet somehow it’s Israel’s moral authority that is being hurt.

How on earth can it be Israel’s fault when the Israeli military is doing everything in its power to protect innocent civilians while Hamas is doing everything in its power to have them killed? Among the reasons Hamas is following this malignant strategy is for propaganda purposes, so people like Madeleine Albright will offer up witless commentary on television, shamefully turning Hamas’s war crimes into Israel’s moral failure.

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Israel, the FAA, and International Isolation

For years, peace processors and pundits have threatened that to stop its “growing international isolation,” Israel must make “painful concessions” and withdraw from territory. The “growing isolation” was always a myth. Israel’s trade with Europe has grown constantly in recent years, even as it developed new markets and ties in Asia. Tourism has reached record levels almost every year, as has the number of Israelis traveling abroad. Except to those sensitive to the movements of postmodern dance troupes, the international isolation was a chimera.

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For years, peace processors and pundits have threatened that to stop its “growing international isolation,” Israel must make “painful concessions” and withdraw from territory. The “growing isolation” was always a myth. Israel’s trade with Europe has grown constantly in recent years, even as it developed new markets and ties in Asia. Tourism has reached record levels almost every year, as has the number of Israelis traveling abroad. Except to those sensitive to the movements of postmodern dance troupes, the international isolation was a chimera.

Now, however, international isolation has truly arrived–not from holding territory, but from leaving it. With the suspension of American and European flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, rockets from Gaza yielded what peace processors said settlement construction would. The flight suspension by all major airlines is a major–even if temporary–economic, diplomatic, and psychological setback for Israel. It finds itself, for the moment, in same position as Iraq, Libya, and Somalia.

The subtext here is that Israel has a sword at its neck: face a private-sector no-fly zone or agree to a cease-fire that lets Hamas keep its rockets, and thus close Ben Gurion Airport again at the time of its choosing. It is a lose-lose proposition.

Yes, Israel faces international isolation–as a consequence of its attempts to avoid international isolation. Of course, nuanced thinkers are already explaining why this should not prejudice further, massive territorial withdraws from the hills immediately overlooking Ben Gurion Airport and the coastal plain.

Everyone is jittery from the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over Ukraine, they will say. If so, Hamas has succeeded in turning Israel into Donetsk. Moreover, the timing of the FAA’s absurd and unjustified warning seems to have more to do with Kerry’s visit to the region to impose a cease-fire on Israel. Until his administration’s flight ban, that effort seemed entirely futile.

The West Bank is vastly larger and closer to central Israel than Gaza. What Hamas could do periodically and with great difficulty will be a daily occurrence. Israel would be able to survive, but with a sword at its neck, and on terms constantly dictated by the Palestinians, and whoever is ultimately in charge of the FAA.

Indeed, the decision-making behind the FAA ban demands investigation. Ben Gurion remains an extremely safe airport. The FAA had many various measures short of a flight ban, like warnings, that it could have imposed. The FAA only warns airlines about flying to Afghanistan; it does not ban them. And the FAA move comes the day after a general State Department warning about Israel–though far more people were killed in Chicago on Fourth of July weekend than in the Jewish state since the start of the Gaza campaign.

Whatever the intent, the administration has cornered Israel in a booby-trapped tunnel, with Hamas on one side, and economic perdition on the other.

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Britain’s Latest Rebuke to Putin Is Personal

When President Obama made a statement Friday on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, he took a rhetorical step forward in blaming Russia. More than once, he used the phrase “Russian-backed separatists.” Though he did not announce any new sanctions at the time, he could be given a pass; the shooting down of the plane was relatively recent still, and he’d presumably need to consult not only with his own National Security Council and Cabinet but with several European leaders before new action could be taken.

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When President Obama made a statement Friday on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, he took a rhetorical step forward in blaming Russia. More than once, he used the phrase “Russian-backed separatists.” Though he did not announce any new sanctions at the time, he could be given a pass; the shooting down of the plane was relatively recent still, and he’d presumably need to consult not only with his own National Security Council and Cabinet but with several European leaders before new action could be taken.

But then nothing happened, and for some reason Obama went back out Monday and gave another, quite similar statement, imploring Vladimir Putin to cooperate. It was unclear why the president saw fit to give a second statement at all if not to announce new punitive action toward Russia. We already knew he (correctly) blamed Putin; repeating it without action only calls attention to the lack of action.

Which is what makes today’s announcement by Britain’s government at first welcome, but also a bit puzzling. The Wall Street Journal reports that European countries have tightened sanctions on Russia, but Britain is going a step farther: the British government has ordered a full investigation into the 2006 poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London, presumably by Russian agents:

Litvinenko’s excruciating death and Russia’s refusal to extradite the chief suspect, a career Russian security officer, plunged relations between London and the Kremlin to a post-Cold War low from which they have yet to fully recover.

Last July the government refused to open an inquiry, which promises to go further than the initial inquest by looking into who was to blame, with Mrs. May saying international relations had been a factor in the decision. But in February the High Court ordered the Home Secretary to review her decision following a challenge by Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the former agent of Russia’s FSB agency.

The British government had thus far opposed the kind of formal inquiry that would include classified information. Prime Minister David Cameron says the timing of the decision is purely coincidental, of course.

Litvinenko was a critic of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. Putin ran the FSB before becoming Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister and then president. Litvinenko’s criticism of Putin was about more than just corruption, however. He alleged that Putin was behind the series of domestic apartment bombings in 1999 that were blamed on Chechen terrorists and used, in part, as a casus belli for the Second Chechen War. Putin’s direction of that war probably sealed his victory as president in 2000, so the accusation undercuts Putin’s legitimacy and suggests his entire public career was a lie–meaning Putin was never anything more than a fraud and a terrorist.

People who said such things about Putin tended to have reduced life expectancy. In November 2006, a month after investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated, Litvinenko was poisoned using the radioactive substance polonium-210 in London. The trail of evidence led to another former Russian KGB agent, who Putin refuses to extradite. In an effort to stay on Putin’s good side, Cameron has not pressed the issue, but now appears to have had a change of heart. Opening the files for a thorough investigation, however, was never without some risk, as the New York Times explains:

Plans to hold an inquest led by a senior judge, Sir Robert Owen, were dropped after the British Foreign Office invoked national security interests to prevent the inquest from even considering whether Moscow had played a part in the killing or whether British intelligence could have prevented it.

The judge said last year that the restrictions made it impossible to hold a “fair and fearless” inquest, and he urged the establishment of a public inquiry that would be empowered to hold closed-door sessions about possible involvement by the Kremlin or MI6, the British overseas intelligence agency. Ms. Litvinenko has said her husband was a paid agent of MI6 at the time he was killed. He and his family had been granted British citizenship weeks before his death.

It’s doubtful Cameron would be unaware of the sealed intel or that he would embarrass the UK just to take a jab at Putin. So it seems as though Cameron was, indeed, waiting for the right time to play this card.

Which raises the following question. If and when this inquest concludes that Moscow was behind this egregious violation of British sovereignty and security, what would Cameron do? Litvinenko was a British citizen, murdered on British soil, presumably at the direction of the Kremlin. If that’s confirmed, people will expect more than pointing fingers. Western leaders’ habit of honestly and openly blaming Putin for his misdeeds is halfway there. It’s the other half–the actions that follow the words–that people get tired of waiting for.

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Why Is Aeroflot Still Flying?

The cleanup and recovery of debris from Malaysian Airlines flight 17 is still ongoing in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-back militias, commanded by former Russian intelligence officers, using Russian-supplied equipment shot down the flight, killing almost 300, including 80 children. The White House is hemming and hawing about a tough reply, seemingly confusing talking about a response with actually responding.

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The cleanup and recovery of debris from Malaysian Airlines flight 17 is still ongoing in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-back militias, commanded by former Russian intelligence officers, using Russian-supplied equipment shot down the flight, killing almost 300, including 80 children. The White House is hemming and hawing about a tough reply, seemingly confusing talking about a response with actually responding.

While this is ongoing, Aeroflot—Russia’s national airline—is still flying over American and European airspace. Perhaps if President Obama and European leaders really wanted to make Vladimir Putin understand how unacceptable it was to down this aircraft, it is time for U.S. and European officials to deny Aeroflot overflight rights. When Russia comes clean and Putin makes amends for the Russian militia’s actions, perhaps there can be some discussion about allowing Russian airliners to again traverse European and American airspace.

Now certainly Putin will bluster and bloviate—he does that all the time—and he may also lash out at American and European carriers. But I suspect a lot more travelers want to leave Russia than enter it. The children of Russian elite often study in the West, and their families like to visit them. And, in August, Russians–like many in Europe–like to take vacations down to the Mediterranean or Algarve, if not to Disneyland. If they have to choose Sochi instead for the next year or two, so be it.

Putin plays hardball, while Obama waves his wiffle ball bat. While Obama sees international relations as a platform upon which to compromise, Putin sees it as a zero-sum game where he wins and the weak lose. Perhaps it’s time that the White House and State Department to stop treating leverage as a dirty word, and actually start to wield it.

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