Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 5, 2008

What Does Obama Really Think About Abortion?

Karl Rove homes in on Barack Obama’s recent pronouncement on abortion and does a bit to remind voters of his rather extreme record on abortion. Rove is right on this point: Obama’s latest effort to put a moderate face on his record belies an entire career of drastic stances on abortion rights. On the partial birth abortion ruling, after praising Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s dissent, he declared:

I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.

In other words he wants to leave Roe v. Wade untouched, but now has discovered an objection to late term abortions justified by mental distress — a consideration immaterial to the Roe (and the companion case Doe v. Bolton) regime which has taken such nuanced policy considerations entirely out of the hands of elected officials and the voters themselves.

Moreover, when last we looked Obama said he supported the Freedom of Choice Act which would enshrine Roe as a matter of federal statute and presumably invalidate the previous federal partial birth abortion act. And there is no mental distress exception in that one either. And of course his favorite, ideal Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens) have voted again and again to uphold Roe’s prohibition on state regulation of abortion.

Now there is always a grand pundits’ debate each presidential election year over whether a pro-life or pro-choice candidate has the upper hand. Everyone has their favorite polling data. But what is clear is that Obama apparently senses his previous pronouncements and positions are a bit too extreme. Hence, he tries out a rather meaningless rhetorical flip-flop.

On the other hand, maybe he means it and is prepared to introduce a modified version of the Freedom of Choice Act and to promise to select Supreme Court justices who understand that abortion policy by absolute judicial fiat is a mistake. You think so? Me neither.

Karl Rove homes in on Barack Obama’s recent pronouncement on abortion and does a bit to remind voters of his rather extreme record on abortion. Rove is right on this point: Obama’s latest effort to put a moderate face on his record belies an entire career of drastic stances on abortion rights. On the partial birth abortion ruling, after praising Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s dissent, he declared:

I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.

In other words he wants to leave Roe v. Wade untouched, but now has discovered an objection to late term abortions justified by mental distress — a consideration immaterial to the Roe (and the companion case Doe v. Bolton) regime which has taken such nuanced policy considerations entirely out of the hands of elected officials and the voters themselves.

Moreover, when last we looked Obama said he supported the Freedom of Choice Act which would enshrine Roe as a matter of federal statute and presumably invalidate the previous federal partial birth abortion act. And there is no mental distress exception in that one either. And of course his favorite, ideal Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens) have voted again and again to uphold Roe’s prohibition on state regulation of abortion.

Now there is always a grand pundits’ debate each presidential election year over whether a pro-life or pro-choice candidate has the upper hand. Everyone has their favorite polling data. But what is clear is that Obama apparently senses his previous pronouncements and positions are a bit too extreme. Hence, he tries out a rather meaningless rhetorical flip-flop.

On the other hand, maybe he means it and is prepared to introduce a modified version of the Freedom of Choice Act and to promise to select Supreme Court justices who understand that abortion policy by absolute judicial fiat is a mistake. You think so? Me neither.

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Lessons Learned From Colombia Rescue Mission

The story of the remarkable rescue mission of 15 hostages by Colombia — with some help from America — is worth a read. There are some interesting details (including letting John McCain in on the plans the night before the raid and the Hollywood-style practice sessions), but the lesson to be learned is not limited to Colombia and FARC. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“I have to recognize that the strong hand has prevailed,” said human-rights activist Robert Menard, founder and secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “Our insistence on the need to negotiate with the FARC, hoping they would release their most valuable card, was foolish.”Governments from Havana to Caracas to Paris moved closer to backing Mr. Uribe’s campaign against the FARC. In Cuba, retired dictator Fidel Castro on Thursday praised the Colombian action and said the hostages should never have been held to begin with. Such a “cruel” detention was not justified by any “revolutionary purpose,” Mr. Castro said.Mr. Chávez, chastened by the revelations from the captured computers, also praised the rescue and called for the FARC to free all hostages and lay down their arms. A high-ranking Colombian Army officer said the successful rescue operation could be a “tipping point” for the FARC, which in recent months has lost three of its top leaders and experienced the defections of hundreds of rebels, who are giving the Colombian military valuable information about the group’s inner workings. “It’s a brutal psychological hit,” says the officer, who said he believes the rescue will lead to mutual recrimination among the rebels and sharpen rivalries between top FARC commanders, leading to further desertions.

Let’s see: negotiations are not the end-all and be-all of national security, success breeds success and undermines the nerve of the enemy (which in turn can make face-to-face talks productive) and, perhaps most importantly, other hostile powers take note of what you do. Or put differently, Colombia went and got some leverage.

Hmm. It would be nice if both political parties in this country learned these lessons and remembered to apply them when the next international challenge comes along. And when a candidate finds the need on a major national security issue to reassess or refine or whatever, it would be a good idea to look at what works and what doesn’t.

The story of the remarkable rescue mission of 15 hostages by Colombia — with some help from America — is worth a read. There are some interesting details (including letting John McCain in on the plans the night before the raid and the Hollywood-style practice sessions), but the lesson to be learned is not limited to Colombia and FARC. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“I have to recognize that the strong hand has prevailed,” said human-rights activist Robert Menard, founder and secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “Our insistence on the need to negotiate with the FARC, hoping they would release their most valuable card, was foolish.”Governments from Havana to Caracas to Paris moved closer to backing Mr. Uribe’s campaign against the FARC. In Cuba, retired dictator Fidel Castro on Thursday praised the Colombian action and said the hostages should never have been held to begin with. Such a “cruel” detention was not justified by any “revolutionary purpose,” Mr. Castro said.Mr. Chávez, chastened by the revelations from the captured computers, also praised the rescue and called for the FARC to free all hostages and lay down their arms. A high-ranking Colombian Army officer said the successful rescue operation could be a “tipping point” for the FARC, which in recent months has lost three of its top leaders and experienced the defections of hundreds of rebels, who are giving the Colombian military valuable information about the group’s inner workings. “It’s a brutal psychological hit,” says the officer, who said he believes the rescue will lead to mutual recrimination among the rebels and sharpen rivalries between top FARC commanders, leading to further desertions.

Let’s see: negotiations are not the end-all and be-all of national security, success breeds success and undermines the nerve of the enemy (which in turn can make face-to-face talks productive) and, perhaps most importantly, other hostile powers take note of what you do. Or put differently, Colombia went and got some leverage.

Hmm. It would be nice if both political parties in this country learned these lessons and remembered to apply them when the next international challenge comes along. And when a candidate finds the need on a major national security issue to reassess or refine or whatever, it would be a good idea to look at what works and what doesn’t.

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The Times’s Debilitating OCD

There’s a distracting occupational quirk among New York Times writers who file stories on Iraq. See if you can spot it in these examples pulled from the past year or so.

The parade was a response to one held last year in Ramadi by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say has foreign leadership. –October 24, 2007

. . . in search of 200 insurgents with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is foreign led and now represents the principal threat to stability in Iraq. –January 9, 2008

United States military officials have identified it as a haven for militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is foreign-led . . . –January 11, 2008

Iraqi and American security forces believe that Mosul is the last urban stronghold of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is foreign-led.May 17, 2008

General Thomas said of the negotiated surrenders of insurgent leaders sometimes described as members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American officials say is led by foreigners. –June 1, 2008

Rubbed raw by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners . . . – March 4, 2008

The latest display of this tic comes today with

. . .the phenomenon seems to have arisen at least in part because of successes in detaining and killing local members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

These quotes are attributable to various Times writers, so we know the recurring phrase is the result of a larger editorial decision: to label the claim of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) foreign leadership a lie. The question is: why is this important to the New York Times?

The answer: The Times wants to prove that the American invasion of Iraq–a New York Times’-supported effort that Times officials now claim was a mistake–created violent enemies among the native population of Iraq, and that American aggression, not regional Islamism, is to blame for the majority of the resultant carnage.

Some facts:

• The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, was Jordanian.

• Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al-Zarqawi’s successor is Egyptian.

• The late Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, spiritual advisor to AQI, was Saudi Arabian.

• The biggest, baddest, scariest Iraqi leader of AQI, the ubiquitous Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, turned out to be a PR fabrication.

This is not to say that there are no Iraqi members of AQI. But the founding leadership is, as “American intelligence officials claim” foreign. Yet the New York Times continues to waste ink trudging out this bizarre clause.

According to WebMD: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety disorder, is a potentially disabling illness that traps people in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts and behaviors.”

With the gains of the troop surge–a New York Times-derided strategy that Times officials now claim to be a success–serious people of varying viewpoints have come to ease up on the debilitating cycles of repetitive thought that characterized their positions on Iraq. Having missed most of the crucial phases of the turnaround in Iraq, the Times needs to abandon this petty and unfounded point of contention and return to covering events as they unfold on the ground.

There’s a distracting occupational quirk among New York Times writers who file stories on Iraq. See if you can spot it in these examples pulled from the past year or so.

The parade was a response to one held last year in Ramadi by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say has foreign leadership. –October 24, 2007

. . . in search of 200 insurgents with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is foreign led and now represents the principal threat to stability in Iraq. –January 9, 2008

United States military officials have identified it as a haven for militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is foreign-led . . . –January 11, 2008

Iraqi and American security forces believe that Mosul is the last urban stronghold of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is foreign-led.May 17, 2008

General Thomas said of the negotiated surrenders of insurgent leaders sometimes described as members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American officials say is led by foreigners. –June 1, 2008

Rubbed raw by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners . . . – March 4, 2008

The latest display of this tic comes today with

. . .the phenomenon seems to have arisen at least in part because of successes in detaining and killing local members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

These quotes are attributable to various Times writers, so we know the recurring phrase is the result of a larger editorial decision: to label the claim of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) foreign leadership a lie. The question is: why is this important to the New York Times?

The answer: The Times wants to prove that the American invasion of Iraq–a New York Times’-supported effort that Times officials now claim was a mistake–created violent enemies among the native population of Iraq, and that American aggression, not regional Islamism, is to blame for the majority of the resultant carnage.

Some facts:

• The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, was Jordanian.

• Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al-Zarqawi’s successor is Egyptian.

• The late Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, spiritual advisor to AQI, was Saudi Arabian.

• The biggest, baddest, scariest Iraqi leader of AQI, the ubiquitous Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, turned out to be a PR fabrication.

This is not to say that there are no Iraqi members of AQI. But the founding leadership is, as “American intelligence officials claim” foreign. Yet the New York Times continues to waste ink trudging out this bizarre clause.

According to WebMD: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety disorder, is a potentially disabling illness that traps people in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts and behaviors.”

With the gains of the troop surge–a New York Times-derided strategy that Times officials now claim to be a success–serious people of varying viewpoints have come to ease up on the debilitating cycles of repetitive thought that characterized their positions on Iraq. Having missed most of the crucial phases of the turnaround in Iraq, the Times needs to abandon this petty and unfounded point of contention and return to covering events as they unfold on the ground.

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Redo Is In Order

The Washington Post picks up on a point made by conservative court-watchers regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court case finding capital punishment for child rapists to be unconstitutional: the Supreme Court incorrectly stated that there was no federal statute providing for capital punishment for such a crime. In fact, two years ago Congress included in the Uniform Code of Military Justice child rape as a crime for which the death penalty may apply. As the Post noted:

The majority determined that capital punishment for child rape was unconstitutional, in part because a national consensus had formed against it. As evidence, the court noted that “37 jurisdictions — 36 States plus the Federal Government — have the death penalty. [But] only six of those jurisdictions authorize the death penalty for rape of a child.” for a re-hearing on the case.

The Post called for a rehearing for the case.

Why is this a big deal and the re-hearing a good idea? First, any opportunity which affords the chance to puncture the notion of judicial infallibility, especially with regard to the justices’ grand pronouncements about “evolving standards” of morality and justice is worth seizing. As I’ve argued before, the Court and Kennedy specifically often ignore –or in this case make up — facts to justify imposing the Court’s own views of morality and justice, cloaking them as society’s evolving views. A hearing to examine the fallacy of the Court’s pronouncement on the absence of a federal statute, not mention the method by which it dismissed other state statutes and evidence of societal consensus on the issue, would be an edifying experience.

Second, a perfectly awful decision bolstered by a perfectly frothy opinion should be the subject of more discussion on the broader issue of rule by the judiciary. It is healthy to re-examine and attempt to re-engage the public in the debate over the proper role of the judiciary, the extent to which democratic policy decisions are subverted by judges relying on their own personal whims, and the divergence between two schools of jurisprudence ( Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas vs. the rest). And yes, in a presidential election year, with numerous potential Supreme Court appointees in the offing for the winner, it is especially important to have this debate.

The Washington Post picks up on a point made by conservative court-watchers regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court case finding capital punishment for child rapists to be unconstitutional: the Supreme Court incorrectly stated that there was no federal statute providing for capital punishment for such a crime. In fact, two years ago Congress included in the Uniform Code of Military Justice child rape as a crime for which the death penalty may apply. As the Post noted:

The majority determined that capital punishment for child rape was unconstitutional, in part because a national consensus had formed against it. As evidence, the court noted that “37 jurisdictions — 36 States plus the Federal Government — have the death penalty. [But] only six of those jurisdictions authorize the death penalty for rape of a child.” for a re-hearing on the case.

The Post called for a rehearing for the case.

Why is this a big deal and the re-hearing a good idea? First, any opportunity which affords the chance to puncture the notion of judicial infallibility, especially with regard to the justices’ grand pronouncements about “evolving standards” of morality and justice is worth seizing. As I’ve argued before, the Court and Kennedy specifically often ignore –or in this case make up — facts to justify imposing the Court’s own views of morality and justice, cloaking them as society’s evolving views. A hearing to examine the fallacy of the Court’s pronouncement on the absence of a federal statute, not mention the method by which it dismissed other state statutes and evidence of societal consensus on the issue, would be an edifying experience.

Second, a perfectly awful decision bolstered by a perfectly frothy opinion should be the subject of more discussion on the broader issue of rule by the judiciary. It is healthy to re-examine and attempt to re-engage the public in the debate over the proper role of the judiciary, the extent to which democratic policy decisions are subverted by judges relying on their own personal whims, and the divergence between two schools of jurisprudence ( Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas vs. the rest). And yes, in a presidential election year, with numerous potential Supreme Court appointees in the offing for the winner, it is especially important to have this debate.

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Will Someone Tell Feminists to Get a Sense of Humor?

In a recent interview, John McCain was asked why he didn’t choose the Governor of Nevada as his campaign chairman for that state. The interviewer then asked McCain:

Maybe it’s the governor’s approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president?

To which McCain replied:

And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago….

Cue feminist outrage. Here’s the response of “Erica” at the popular feminist blog, “Feministing.”

Now, a few people have pointed out that John McCain was referencing what’s apparently a well-known euphemism for a loaded question or character assassination (for example, a journalist will ask out of the blue “when did you stop beating your wife?” implying that the domestic violence was taking place at all). But, I personally had never heard of the phrase in that context before this interview. And for a politician who’s already been under fire for his stance on women’s and reproductive rights (not to mention for verbally abusing his wife) don’t you think he should be a little more, oh I don’t know, choosey with his words?

I find the idea that a presidential candidate could flippantly throw around references to domestic violence disturbing. I mean, if he’s making jokes like this on the campaign trail, what in the world would he do on the policy front? And as my mother always said, sarcasm always has an element of truth…

It must be hard being a professional feminist and having to search every nook and cranny for something to be offended by. (Earth to Feministing, here’s a prominent liberal blogger friend of yours using the exact same verbiage). But this instance really takes the cake (I apologize in advance to anyone who sees that as a joke about postwar suburban domesticity and baking, which it’s not).

In a recent interview, John McCain was asked why he didn’t choose the Governor of Nevada as his campaign chairman for that state. The interviewer then asked McCain:

Maybe it’s the governor’s approval rating and you are running from him like you are from the president?

To which McCain replied:

And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago….

Cue feminist outrage. Here’s the response of “Erica” at the popular feminist blog, “Feministing.”

Now, a few people have pointed out that John McCain was referencing what’s apparently a well-known euphemism for a loaded question or character assassination (for example, a journalist will ask out of the blue “when did you stop beating your wife?” implying that the domestic violence was taking place at all). But, I personally had never heard of the phrase in that context before this interview. And for a politician who’s already been under fire for his stance on women’s and reproductive rights (not to mention for verbally abusing his wife) don’t you think he should be a little more, oh I don’t know, choosey with his words?

I find the idea that a presidential candidate could flippantly throw around references to domestic violence disturbing. I mean, if he’s making jokes like this on the campaign trail, what in the world would he do on the policy front? And as my mother always said, sarcasm always has an element of truth…

It must be hard being a professional feminist and having to search every nook and cranny for something to be offended by. (Earth to Feministing, here’s a prominent liberal blogger friend of yours using the exact same verbiage). But this instance really takes the cake (I apologize in advance to anyone who sees that as a joke about postwar suburban domesticity and baking, which it’s not).

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Still Not Enamored

Barack Obama fans can’t be pleased about this:

According to a new survey from CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation, the number of Clinton supporters who plan to defect to John McCain’s camp is down from one month ago, but in what could be an ominous sign for Obama as he seeks to unify the party, a growing number of them say they may not vote at all. In a CNN/ORC survey conducted in early June, entirely before the New York senator officially ended her White House bid, 22 percent of Clinton supporters said they would not vote at all if Obama was the party’s nominee. Now close to a third say they will stay home. In all, only 54 percent of Clinton backers say they plan on voting for Obama.

Why isn’t Obama making progress with Clinton voters? In part, it is because he’s had a rough month, the subject of well-earned attacks from the MSM for his flip-flops and from liberals for abandoning the Left-leaning positions he took in the primary. And, indeed, it must leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Clinton supporters to see him toss aside — or threaten to toss aside — the very positions he used to beat up on her during the primary (e.g. Kyl-Lieberman, Iraq, NAFTA). Moreover, the substantive concerns which troubled Clinton supporters about Obama in the first place — lack of national security bona fides and cultural elitism, to name two — certainly haven’t been put to rest over the last month.

So it is not surprising that those stubborn Clinton supporters haven’t declared themselves to now be devoted to Obama. Whether they will carry out their threat to stay home or to vote for McCain in November remains to be seen. But it does mean Obama will need to devote time and money to wooing voters who should already be in his corner.

Barack Obama fans can’t be pleased about this:

According to a new survey from CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation, the number of Clinton supporters who plan to defect to John McCain’s camp is down from one month ago, but in what could be an ominous sign for Obama as he seeks to unify the party, a growing number of them say they may not vote at all. In a CNN/ORC survey conducted in early June, entirely before the New York senator officially ended her White House bid, 22 percent of Clinton supporters said they would not vote at all if Obama was the party’s nominee. Now close to a third say they will stay home. In all, only 54 percent of Clinton backers say they plan on voting for Obama.

Why isn’t Obama making progress with Clinton voters? In part, it is because he’s had a rough month, the subject of well-earned attacks from the MSM for his flip-flops and from liberals for abandoning the Left-leaning positions he took in the primary. And, indeed, it must leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Clinton supporters to see him toss aside — or threaten to toss aside — the very positions he used to beat up on her during the primary (e.g. Kyl-Lieberman, Iraq, NAFTA). Moreover, the substantive concerns which troubled Clinton supporters about Obama in the first place — lack of national security bona fides and cultural elitism, to name two — certainly haven’t been put to rest over the last month.

So it is not surprising that those stubborn Clinton supporters haven’t declared themselves to now be devoted to Obama. Whether they will carry out their threat to stay home or to vote for McCain in November remains to be seen. But it does mean Obama will need to devote time and money to wooing voters who should already be in his corner.

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Bruno’s Mistaken Mockery

Former Mossad officer Yossi Alpher recalls an amusing encounter he recently had with Bruno–Sacha Baron Cohen’s faux Austrian-fashionista made famous by Da Ali G Show. And so the exchange goes, with Bruno beginning by conflating hummus with Hamas:

“Vait, vait. Vat’s zee connection between a political movement and food. Vy hummus?”

We exchanged astonished glances. “Hamas,” we explained, “is a Palestinian Islamist political movement. Hummus is a food.”

“Ya, but vy hummus? Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping hummus. Unt it’s too high in carbohydrates.”

The Hamas-hummus confusion went on for several minutes. Then, the interviewer declared: “Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse.”

We probed our limited memory of Hollywood scandals: Was he comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to some sort of tension between Brad Pitt’s former and current wives?

Sure, it’s funny, but to what end? Alpher concludes his piece in The Forward by posing a serious question:

Yes, dear reader, Sacha Baron Cohen is loose in the Middle East. The end product will undoubtedly be hilarious. We’ll try to be good sports about it.

But will Sacha Baron Cohen? He is exploiting our tragic and painful conflict in the most cynical and deceptive manner. I doubt he’ll give us anything in return.

That, I’m afraid, is the problem with this sort of humor. To mock terror can make it more understandable, and even more human, but it doesn’t mitigate the death, destruction, and calamity that results from such evil activity. Now, Joshua Muravchik’s interpretation of Borat, which appeared in the pages of COMMENTARY, gains even greater relevance. In particular, he wrote: “We live in a time when throwing Jews, or the Jewish state of Israel, ‘down the well’ has gained the status of official Islamist policy. Is it wise for a Jewish comic to be tiptoeing so close to mockery of Muslim characters?” The difference with Bruno is only that now Baron Cohen also brings the mockery of Austrians–a nation not known to be keen on advancing the needs of Jews–into the mix.

Former Mossad officer Yossi Alpher recalls an amusing encounter he recently had with Bruno–Sacha Baron Cohen’s faux Austrian-fashionista made famous by Da Ali G Show. And so the exchange goes, with Bruno beginning by conflating hummus with Hamas:

“Vait, vait. Vat’s zee connection between a political movement and food. Vy hummus?”

We exchanged astonished glances. “Hamas,” we explained, “is a Palestinian Islamist political movement. Hummus is a food.”

“Ya, but vy hummus? Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping hummus. Unt it’s too high in carbohydrates.”

The Hamas-hummus confusion went on for several minutes. Then, the interviewer declared: “Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse.”

We probed our limited memory of Hollywood scandals: Was he comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to some sort of tension between Brad Pitt’s former and current wives?

Sure, it’s funny, but to what end? Alpher concludes his piece in The Forward by posing a serious question:

Yes, dear reader, Sacha Baron Cohen is loose in the Middle East. The end product will undoubtedly be hilarious. We’ll try to be good sports about it.

But will Sacha Baron Cohen? He is exploiting our tragic and painful conflict in the most cynical and deceptive manner. I doubt he’ll give us anything in return.

That, I’m afraid, is the problem with this sort of humor. To mock terror can make it more understandable, and even more human, but it doesn’t mitigate the death, destruction, and calamity that results from such evil activity. Now, Joshua Muravchik’s interpretation of Borat, which appeared in the pages of COMMENTARY, gains even greater relevance. In particular, he wrote: “We live in a time when throwing Jews, or the Jewish state of Israel, ‘down the well’ has gained the status of official Islamist policy. Is it wise for a Jewish comic to be tiptoeing so close to mockery of Muslim characters?” The difference with Bruno is only that now Baron Cohen also brings the mockery of Austrians–a nation not known to be keen on advancing the needs of Jews–into the mix.

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