Commentary Magazine


When It Comes to Israel, Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

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Here is an excerpt from an interview with Charlie Rose and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that’s noteworthy:

ROSE: I think I just heard you say — and this — we will close on this — you believe in the coexistence of peoples, and, therefore, you believe in the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East?

MESHAAL (through translator): I can’t coexist with occupation.

ROSE: Without occupation, you can coexist?

MESHAAL (through translator): I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and with the Arabs and non-Arabs and with those who agree with my ideas and those who disagree with them. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers, and those who…

ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to represent — do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MESHAAL (through translator): No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers. I do coexist with other…

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point, do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist, as they would recognize your right to exist?

MESHAAL (through translator): When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policy vis-a-vis others.

So there you have it. The leader of Hamas says, point blank, it does not want a two-state solution. Yet scores of liberal commentators continue to make arguments like this: “We have to get a solution. And it has to be a two-state solution. And it has to be basically encouraged, if not imposed, I think, from without.”

This is an example of what social scientists call “motivated reasoning.” It refers to when people hold to a false belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this instance, the Hamas charter and the Hamas leader don’t accept Israel’s right to exist. And yet liberals don’t seem to care. They appear to be content to live in world made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust. A world of make believe. And so in the context of Israel’s war with Hamas, they continue to revert to arguments that simply don’t apply–for example, arguing that Israel needs to “end the occupation” despite the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza nearly a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has to live and survive in reality. Israelis know the nature of the enemy they face–implacable, committed, ruthless, malevolent. Given all this, and given that Israel itself is a nation of extraordinary moral and political achievements, you might think that the United States government would be fully supportive of the Jewish state in its war against Hamas. But you would be wrong.

The Obama administration is racheting up pressure on Israel. Hamas’s war on Israel, combined with its eagerness to have innocent Palestinians die as human shields in order to advance its propaganda campaign, is pushing America (under Obama) not toward Israel but away from her. Mr. Obama and the left perceive themselves as reality based and their critics as fantasy based. It’s a conceit without merit. And in no case is it more evident than in the left’s stance toward Hamas and Israel.

This is a case where reality and all the arguments, including all the moral arguments, align on one side; and yet Obama and the left are on the other.

They live in a fantasy world. In this instance, doing so has diabolic consequences.

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New Dem Strategy: Say the Word “Impeachment” Over and Over

A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

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A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.

The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.

Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)

That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.

“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:

Q    And who is that?  Sarah Palin is one.

MR. EARNEST:  She mentioned it.  Somebody mentioned earlier that –

Q    She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political –

Q    Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader –

Q    Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.

Q    Sorry.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it.  This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing.  You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President.  That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.

I think what’s really important –

Q    Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this?  Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?

MR. EARNEST:  Here’s the thing that I think is important about this.  And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week.  Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day.  There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.

The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.

That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.

And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.

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Pictures Don’t Justify Anti-Israel Media Bias

Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

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Most talking heads and foreign-policy pundits as well as the Obama administration are united on one proposition. They say that while Israel’s efforts to defend its people against Hamas rockets and terrorist attacks are justified, it cannot continue to do so if their counter-attacks continue to result in terrible pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza. But letting such pictures dictate policy or to excuse media bias against Israel does nothing to promote peace or alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians.

National Journal’s influential Ron Fournier spoke for many today when he wrote that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s arguments in favor of his country’s positions were both “accurate and archaic.” He believes they are accurate in the sense that any country has the right to stop people from shooting rockets at their cities or digging tunnels whose purpose is to allow terrorists to commit atrocities against their citizens. But Fournier believes the prime minister’s position—one that is backed by the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people—is untenable. That’s because he believes the pro-Israel consensus in the West that once would have sanctioned a campaign against Gaza is rapidly disappearing because a new generation of leaders and journalists has arisen that has no patience with Israel and sympathizes with the Palestinians. Since this generation thinks Israel is oppressing the Palestinians regardless of recent events in Gaza and denying them independence, they are no longer willing to support the Jewish state’s efforts.

The pictures of suffering Palestinians and the lopsided casualty figures dovetail with Fournier’s analysis. His point, shared by many others speaking out on the issue, is that the terrible images of Palestinian casualties are feeding a narrative in which Israel is increasingly viewed as the bad guy in the conflict regardless of the justifications put forward by Israelis and their supporters.

Fournier’s conclusion that the solution is for Israel to be more accommodating to the Palestinians shows a disregard for logic that isn’t normally to be found in his cogent analyses of domestic political issues. His attempt to use the distorted coverage of the conflict—of which his facile conclusions about peace are a part—as evidence of a festering problem that Israelis are not addressing fails to take into account the fact that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of media figures and an administration that doesn’t grasp the realities of the situation. Just as important, his claim that a new hostility to Israel in the American media is something new and therefore a herald of a decline in general U.S. support for the Jewish state is simply unfounded.

Let’s address the basic assumption of Fournier’s analysis, which also seems to be the foundation of the administration’s policy: the Middle East conflict is complicated but the real reason for the failure to attain peace is the decision of Israel’s government to not fully embrace a two-state solution or to make it possible for the Palestinians to achieve independence. This is simply not true. Israel’s offers of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 may be ancient history in our 24/7 news cycle. But their rejection by the Palestinians and the continued refusal of even the “moderate” Palestinian Authority to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn gives the lie to this off-repeated fallacy about Israel’s guilt.

Fournier’s belief that the outrageous anti-Israel bias on the part of U.S. journalists covering the current conflict for MSNBC and CNN is a new development also demonstrates that he hasn’t been paying much attention to the coverage of Israel over the last 40 years. The assumption that most Western journalists were inherently sympathetic to the efforts of the small Jewish state to resist efforts by the Arab and Muslim world to destroy it went out the window in the 1980s during the First Lebanon War and was buried during the first two intifadas. That journalists are now willing to publicly label Israelis as “scum” is a function of the way social media has changed the way the news business works. But these sentiments have been on display in much of the mainstream media—especially important outlets like NBC News or the New York Times—for decades. Nevertheless polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans still sympathize with Israel and rightly view groups like Hamas as terrorists that must be defeated. This illustrates the disconnect between much of the liberal mainstream media and the American people, not the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.

The problem is the willingness of much of the international media to buy into Palestinian propaganda while ignoring the plain facts about the culpability of Hamas for the fomenting of the current conflict and the casualties that have resulted from its launching of the latest round of fighting. A media that isn’t willing to place the video of Palestinian suffering in a context of Hamas decisions to build shelters in the form of a vast tunnel network for their fighters and rocket arsenal while staking out civilians as human shields to be killed when Israel responds to rocket and tunnel attacks is one that can’t then turn around and advise Netanyahu that his country’s public-relations problems are its own fault. To the contrary, the willingness of much of the international media to whitewash Hamas and vilify Israel has only convinced Israelis that this is not the moment to hazard their lives on promises from the Palestinians or the Obama administration.

Asymmetrical warfare between a nation state and a terror movement that operates for all intents and purposes as an independent state in Gaza does generate problems for Israel. But if the goal is peace, then the only answer for Israel and the United States is to crush Hamas, not allow the pictures of the suffering that the terror group has orchestrated to force–as Kerry’s proposals have indicated–the West to grant them concessions. If both the administration and journalists like Fournier don’t understand this, the fault lies with them, not Netanyahu.

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The Fabled Non-Anti-Semitic Gaza Protests

Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

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Last week, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy released an unusual joint statement. They banded together, they explained, to denounce their own countries. Specifically, they wanted to denounce the rank anti-Semitism that has exploded throughout Europe, where the public used the Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a pretext to rally in support of the destruction of the Jewish state and in some cases the extermination of the Jewish people on the whole. The main source of disagreement among Europe’s pro-Hamas demonstrators is the desirable extent of the anti-Jewish genocide.

It’s a difference in degree, not in kind. And while at first glance the foreign ministers’ joint statement might appear to be laudable, such goodwill evaporates when you realize that they are talking instead of doing. Anti-Semitism is often a lagging indicator of state rot, and it is no different here. The foreign ministers are essentially pleading with the world to withhold judgment for their states’ respective failures. In France, the state has given up on protecting its Jews; “France’s Jews are staying indoors for fear of their lives,” a resident of Paris told the Algemeiner recently. In Germany–in Germany–protesters called for the Jews to be gassed. And the best the German state can come up with is to sign a joint letter denouncing such hateful barbarism.

The joint statement is a white flag. European governments have no idea what to do. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, took to the pages of the New York Times on July 10 to declare: “France Is Not an Anti-Semitic Nation.” Three days later, an attempted pogrom broke out in Paris. The France of Laurent Fabius’s imagination is clearly a wonderful place. The one that actually exists is descending into madness.

All this is drawing attention to another aspect of the world’s discomfort with Jewish self-defense. We are constantly told that you can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic; this is undoubtedly true. Israeli officials are criticized in Israel as much as anywhere else. But the demonstrations claim to be in protest of Israeli policy or in the name of peace. That sounds awfully nice in theory. In practice, the demonstrators aren’t keen on making such distinctions.

It’s not just in France, Germany, and Italy, of course. A pro-Gaza protest in London called for the elimination of Israel. Here’s the Daily Beast on how protests in the Netherlands have become outright rallies in support of ISIS, the too-violent-for-al-Qaeda terrorist offshoot carving up Iraq:

Many of the demonstrators covered their faces with Palestinian scarves or balaclavas. “Anyone who doesn’t jump is a Jew,” someone shouted as the whole group started jumping in a scene that might have been ludicrous if it weren’t for the hateful message. “Death to the Jews!” the crowd shouted in Arabic.

This scene last Thursday came in the wake of an earlier demonstration supposed to defend the Palestinians suffering in Gaza, which turned quickly into a hatefest targeting Israel, with people carrying placards that screamed “Zionism is Nazism.” But while the comingling of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment has become all too common in European protests in recent weeks, that the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands on July 24 is something new and particularly dangerous.

Read that last sentence again: “the battle flag of the Islamic State waved in the streets of The Netherlands.” I’m sure behind that black flag is just genuine concern for the humanitarian needs of Gaza City. America has not been immune to this phenomenon, in which protesters insist they care about Palestinian statelessness so they can push thoroughly disgusting anti-Jewish blood libels. Here is a picture our own Abe Greenwald took at a rally in Manhattan. Above scenes of blood-soaked children are the words “This is Bloody Israel! These are Bloody Jews!” And then, if you still didn’t get the point, in parentheses: “Blood Suckers.”

It’s not subtle, and it’s not about humanitarianism. The anti-Israel rallies around the world have been marked by consistency. We are told of the existence, or of the possibility at least, of pro-Palestinian rallies or protests against Israeli policy that are not about pushing a medieval hatred of Jews. We should not have to take it on faith, or make do with Laurent Fabius’s deepest apologies.

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No, Israel Isn’t Losing a War It’s Winning

One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

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One of the oddest tropes of the past week has been too-clever-by-half theorizing that Israel is losing its war against Hamas even if, from all accounts, it is winning the war against Hamas—by knocking out Hamas’s missiles from the air, destroying its tunnels on land, killing its terrorists, and going after its weapons depots. The only way it can be deemed to be losing is if you think the war is primarily a public-relations battle for the hearts and minds of people who already have a fixed opinion of who the good guys and bad guys are in this struggle. It’s not.

If reports are true, over the past week Israel managed to uncover and disrupt a plot for the mass killing of Jews inside Israel on Rosh Hashanah. Forget the missiles; for that reason alone, the war has already been won.

So how is Israel losing? Oh, it seems Israel is getting bad press.

What else is new? What else is new about any of it?

Is Israel isolated in Europe? That isolation has been deepening for a decade. Has Barack Obama turned unfriendly? Well, his unfriendliness is far from new, as this piece of mine from July 2009 would suggest. Has the incursion led to an increase in overt anti-Semitism? Well, if so, any effort to excuse away such monstrousness by citing this war is nothing less than an act of blaming-the-victim. If Israel were to restrain itself from countering a mortal threat because it feared the promulgation of documents like this, it would be betraying its own reason for existence: a homeland for the Jewish people that needed and needs to exist precisely because of sentiments that help create documents like these—sentiments that are then turned into action, and into Kristallnacht, and into gas chambers.

The one deeply troubling fact that has emerged over the past week, in a Gallup poll, is that Americans under the age of 30 believe Israel’s action in Gaza is unjustified by a margin of 51-25 (24 percent have no opinion). Every friend of the Jewish state should be troubled; every enemy should rejoice. But then, why should it be otherwise, exactly? There is a man in the Oval Office who has spent five and a half years effectively preaching that extrication from conflict is a noble act. Is it any wonder that the age cohort most supportive of Obama—the cohort, by the way, that knows and cares the least about the world outside the borders of the United States—would be discomfited by a country that makes unapologetic use of its military in its own defense?

UPDATE: A new Pew poll suggests the views of Americans 18-30 are more favorably disposed toward Israel than Gallup–38 percent say Israel’s response has either been appropriate or hasn’t gone far enough, compared to 29 percent who say it’s gone too far.

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Ukrainians Get the Gaza Connection; Why Doesn’t the West?

Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

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Much of the world appears to view the current fighting in eastern Ukraine as totally unconnected to the fighting in Gaza. And since the Ukrainian government is desperately seeking support from both Europe and the Obama administration, neither of which is enamored of Israel’s Gaza operation, one could have forgiven Ukrainian officials for seeking to nurture this illusion. Instead, they have repeatedly gone out of their way to dispel it.

Three weeks ago, Andriy Parubiy, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, compared eastern Ukraine’s situation to what Israel faces and warned that terrorists would likely adopt similar tactics in other countries if the West didn’t take a firm stance against them.

“We, of course, studied the experience of both Croatia and Israel, but here a lot of new features are added,” Parubiy said. “And, if Russia sees that this experience is successful, this experience can very easily be used in any Baltic countries, and even in Belarus and Kazakhstan.”

Yesterday, Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Henadii Nadolenko made both the comparison and the warning even more explicit in an op-ed in Haaretz. Unambiguously titled “Ukraine and Israel: Together in fighting terrorism,” it declared, “We, the representatives of Ukraine, have, together with the people of the State of Israel, personally felt the totality of the threat posed to civilians by the criminal activities of the terrorists.”

After enumerating the losses both countries have suffered, Nadolenko continued, “I am convinced that the huge loss of civilian and military life might have been avoided had the activities of terrorist organizations had been condemned by the international community.” Then, citing the recent downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine, he drove the point home:

I would like to emphasize once again that the crime, which killed 298 innocent civilians from around the world, is another confirmation of the fact that today’s terrorism is not constrained by borders…

In this regard, once again I would like to appeal to the thinking and caring people of the world to demonstrate their support for these peoples, who came upon a fight with an evil that threatens the security of everyone, regardless of nationality or place of residence.

I believe that the countries that are faced with terrorism and who try to fight this evil should support each other, and should join their efforts in order to draw the world’s attention to our cause. We must begin to receive real help and support from international organizations in order to combat this threat.

Clearly, Nadolenko understands what too many European and American officials seem to have missed: The West’s fine shades of distinction–under which some terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, are utterly shunned; others, like Hamas, are denounced but deemed to have “legitimate grievances that must be addressed”; while still others are positively feted, like Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, whose Gaza branch boasts of its contribution to the rocket fire at Israel–are meaningless. All terrorists are equally enemies of the civilized world, and all of them learn from each other’s tactics. Thus if the West rewards a given tactic in one location, terrorists in other countries will soon replicate it.

For Hamas, launching rockets at Israel has so far paid handsome dividends: No less a personage than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged that if it ceases its fire, he will personally see to it that all its economic demands are met–including opening the border crossings, paying Hamas employees’ salaries, “ensuring the social and economic livelihood” of Gaza residents and providing “major humanitarian assistance”–while not insisting that it forfeit any of its military capabilities (all Kerry offered Israel was a vague promise to “address all security issues”).

Kerry clearly hasn’t grasped that if targeting Israeli civilians with rockets pays economic and diplomatic dividends for Hamas, this will encourage other terrorists worldwide to adopt similar tactics. Nadolenko and his fellow Ukrainians, in contrast, understand this very well. The question is whether anyone in the West is listening to them.

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Obama: Intervening to Save Hamas?

So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

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So the president called the Israeli prime minister today and, in that phone call, called for an “immediate ceasefire” with Hamas—and he said he wanted that ceasefire to work toward “ strengthening the Palestinian Authority.” It’s very possible everything the president said was disingenuous; he knows Israel isn’t going to accept an immediate ceasefire, in part because Hamas won’t either and in part because the latest Channel 10 poll says an astounding 89 percent of Israelis want the war to continue. So he gets to be for something nice without having to deal with the consequences of its actually happening.

For if it did happen, it would be a disaster for the United States—America would be pulling Hamas’s chestnuts out of the fire and implicitly accepting the legitimacy of the use of terror against civilian populations as a bargaining tool in international negotiations.

But it’s also very possible the president isn’t being disingenuous. In which case he has really crossed a—do I dare—red line here no other American leader ever has. Obama doesn’t like the pictures he’s seeing, he doesn’t like Bibi, he doesn’t like the fact that even Israel’s liberals are in a belligerent frame of mind after weeks of missile attacks against population centers, he isn’t running for reelection, he doesn’t care about donors or Jewish voters, he believes in his heart of hearts that the root cause of regional instability is Israel’s gains in the 1967 war, and in service of all these feelings and beliefs, he’s decided Israel is in the wrong and that Hamas needs to be saved from Israel’s might. In which case, he is personally intervening against an American ally with a legitimately elected and deeply fractious coalition government on behalf of a terrorist organization.

I report. You decide.

 

 

 

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‘The Biggest Political Mistake of the War So Far’

On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 
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On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 

While Congress’s motive in supporting Iron Dome was mainly to save Israeli lives, the Obama administration always had an additional motive: countering Israeli fears that ceding the West Bank would lead to “rockets from Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin onto Ben-Gurion Airport,as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon put it, just as leaving Gaza resulted in massive rocket fire on Israel’s south. If Iron Dome could protect Israel from rocket fire, the argument went, then Israel needn’t fear a West Bank withdrawal.

Until last week, that argument might have had a chance: True, Hamas was sending rocket barrages all over Israel and forcing Israelis into shelters several times a day, but the combination of Iron Dome and civil defense measures kept Israeli casualties negligible.

Last week, however, Israelis learned that even Iron Dome can’t keep their main airport open when their neighbors are launching rockets at it. No anti-missile system is foolproof, and one intentionally missed rocket proved enough for most of the world to suspend flights to Israel. 

As Mead correctly noted, the discovery that Hamas’s rockets can threaten its main transportation link to the outside world makes it much harder for Israel to end the fighting without eliminating Hamas’s rocket capabilities. But it also makes it much harder for Israel to quit the West Bank as long as there’s any chance of it turning into a rocket launching pad like Gaza has.

The vast majority of Israel’s foreign investment and trade comes from the West, and Israel’s geographic distance from the West means this commerce depends on aerial traffic. With its airport shuttered, investors can’t come in and time-sensitive exports can’t go out. Thus Israel simply cannot afford to have its air links with the West at the mercy of a terrorist organization. Its economy wouldn’t survive.

Whether the FAA’s decision was actually political I don’t know. Perhaps the agency was merely spooked by the previous week’s downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine. Yet the fact that the ban was reversed two days later even though the security situation hadn’t changed, combined with the fact that major airlines like British Airways never suspended flights to begin with, support the contention that the decision, as Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel put it,had no substantive professional basis,” and was intended primarily to browbeat Israel into accepting Secretary of State John Kerry’s completely unacceptable cease-fire proposal. 

If so, to quote Harel again, it reflected “a fundamental lack of understanding of the Israeli mindset”–and not just about the cease-fire. That single FAA decision did more than any political argument ever could to ensure that Israel won’t be leaving the West Bank anytime soon. 

Having long argued that such a withdrawal would be untenably dangerous, I’m certainly not sorry. But for the Obama administration, it was definitely an own goal.

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A Revolution Betrayed

Talk about humiliations.

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Talk about humiliations.

In 2011 U.S. forces, acting with NATO allies, helped Libyans to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Moammar Gaddafi.

On Saturday, the situation in Libya had gotten so bad that the State Department felt compelled to evacuate all of the U.S. Embassy staff from Tripoli. The decision was probably a prudent one, given that rival militias have in recent days wrecked much of Tripoli’s airport with their internecine fighting. But the fact that Tripoli is becoming Mogadishu-on-the-Mediterranean is a pretty damning indictment of the Obama administration’s approach to the country.

Obama was willing, largely for humanitarian not strategic reasons, to have the U.S. take part as one ally of many in an anti-Gaddafi coalition. This was called by one of his own aides “leading from behind.” But Obama was not willing to lead from behind or from anywhere else when it came to providing aid to the new government of Libya to gain control of its own territory. No peacekeepers, no trainers, no nothing. So intent was he on avoiding “another Iraq” that, ironically, he actually repeated the mistake of Iraq, which was overthrowing a dictator in the Middle East without having a plan to replace him.

The result of this neglect was already paid by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Steven and three other Americans killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi in 2012. Now the cost is being paid by Libyans in general who are seeing their revolution betrayed. Instead of freedom, they have anarchy. And the Obama administration has yet another object lesson in what happens when America retreats from the Middle East in particular and the world in general.

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Kerry’s Unacceptable Ceasefire Seeks to Appease Hamas

Reports have emerged that Israel’s security cabinet is unanimously opposed to Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest ceasefire proposals. Much has changed since Israel unilaterally accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last week, before the discovery of the extent of Hamas’s underground terror tunnels and the massive terrorist attack planned for September. The Egyptian proposals—which had the backing of the Arab League—offered an immediate cessation of the violence without handing Hamas either a public-relations victory or any practical rewards for its latest terror outburst. Kerry’s half-baked plan, as reported, has none of those virtues.

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Reports have emerged that Israel’s security cabinet is unanimously opposed to Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest ceasefire proposals. Much has changed since Israel unilaterally accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire last week, before the discovery of the extent of Hamas’s underground terror tunnels and the massive terrorist attack planned for September. The Egyptian proposals—which had the backing of the Arab League—offered an immediate cessation of the violence without handing Hamas either a public-relations victory or any practical rewards for its latest terror outburst. Kerry’s half-baked plan, as reported, has none of those virtues.

Kerry’s proposals have two glaring flaws. The first is that while they would seek to halt the missiles being fired into Israeli population centers, and likewise Israel would hold its fire, it’s not clear that the plan would allow for Israel to continue to destroy the warren of cross-border terror tunnels that Gazan militants have dug into Israel, some stretching directly beneath Israeli homes. These tunnels represent an immediate and critical threat to the lives and safety of Israelis and it’s inconceivable that Israel be expected to agree to anything that impairs its ability to counteract this breach of its security borders.

The other problematic element of Kerry’s plan is that it seeks to establish a week within which all of Hamas’s demands would be put on the table for negotiation. This just takes us back to where the parties were in the 2012 negotiations when there was also an effort to grant Hamas concessions. There cannot be a situation whereby whenever Hamas wishes to issue fresh demands it does so by instigating successive rounds of rocket warfare against Israel. And besides, several of Hamas’s complaints are against the Egyptians and the closure of the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border.

Hamas is now demanding a total lift of the so-called blockade on the Gaza Strip. But back in 2012 the restrictions on imports—and indeed exports—for Gaza were dramatically eased so as to only prevent materials that could be used by Islamists in their terror activities. For instance, any concrete brought into the strip was supposed to be done under the auspices of United Nations-approved projects. But just as UN facilities have been used for the storing of rockets, we’ve seen how that concrete, supposedly brought in for approved civilian purposes, has in fact been used to create a sprawling network of terror tunnels.

It is vital that Hamas is not rewarded for causing this latest round of violence; the Egyptians no doubt had this at the forefront of their minds when they drew up their proposals. But this seems to be beyond Kerry. President Obama has of course joined the chorus of voices calling for the “underlying issues” in Gaza to be addressed, thus buying into the notion that Hamas’s terrorism is fundamentally driven by a legitimate set of objectives which put the needs of the people of Gaza first. Nothing could be further from the truth and the very notion that Hamas has a set of negotiable demands is delusional. They want to kill Jews and end Israel, and no amount of pandering to “underlying issues” is going to change that.

If nothing else, the fact that the Egyptians came up with a ceasefire that Israel could accept, whereas Kerry has come up with something that Israel appears poised to reject, certainly says something about just how far down the rabbit-hole the Obama administration has gone with its foreign policy.

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Seeking the Welfare of the City

Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

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Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

The deficit-neutral plan would consolidate nearly a dozen federal anti-poverty programs into a single funding stream for states (called the “Opportunity Grant”); expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers; streamline federal grant, loan, and work-study programs and give more educational programs access to accreditation (thereby increasing more access to technical careers); revise the mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programing; and roll back “regressive regulations” that are particularly injurious to low-income people while easing licensing requirements to enter the workforce. Thoughtful analyses of Ryan’s plan can be found here, here, and here.

There are several features of Ryan’s “Expanding Opportunity in America” plan that are worth highlighting. The first is that his core reform requires and rewards work for those states that would opt in. It would do so by expanding one the best features of the 1996 welfare reform bill, in this case implementing work requirements for people receiving non-cash welfare assistance. States would have flexibility in terms of how they spend federal dollars, so long as it’s spent on programs that require work. This is a way for government to promote not simply work over idleness, but the dignity and self-sufficiency that often result from work.

Representative Ryan is also showing Republicans the importance of structural reforms, which are more important even than only cutting spending. (This applied to his Medicare reform proposals as well.) Mr. Ryan is demonstrating through his proposal that he wants to strengthen the social safety net, not undo it. And by supporting EITC, an effective federal program that promotes work and reduces poverty, Ryan is showing an empirical-minded rather than ideological approach to governing. He’s interested in championing what works.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that Ryan proposes reducing corporate welfare (such as subsidies for agriculture and energy). I’ve argued before that Republicans should be visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare–the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations–since such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it” is a pretty good mantra for Republicans.

In the wider context of things, Ryan has shown that he is–along with Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and others (including governors and former governors like Jeb Bush)–helping the GOP to be both conservative and constructive. They are able to present not just a governing vision but also a governing agenda–one that is designed to meet the challenges of this moment, this era, this century. This contrasts rather well, I think, with modern liberalism, which is increasingly reactionary and exhausted.

One other thing: Paul Ryan’s effort to combat poverty and increase social mobility is important and impressive because great parties and political movements will care about those in the shadows of society. “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you,” Jeremiah writes, “and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper.”

Politics involves many things, including rather mundane and even distasteful ones. But it also involves, at its best and at its highest, seeking the welfare of the city. That is something worthy of our attention and energies, as Paul Ryan and other prominent figures in the conservative movement understand.

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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 as you might say 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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