Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 19, 2009

Don’t Worry About Israel’s “Health”

Being in Rome, presumably on holiday, and probably having a deadline for a blog entry, Bradley Burston translated the understandable inspiration anyone could feel looking at Michelangelo’s Moses into a trite piece about the West Bank occupation and why it is bad for Israel. The piece is trite because it says nothing new, except that Burston is in Rome. Still, it is worth a mention because of its conclusion: “If the last 40 years are any indication, the Palestinians will be able [to] survive the occupation. A healthy state of Israel will not. ”

Hm… let’s see. Whether the occupation is good, bad, a necessary evil, or something else, I shall leave to others — including Contentions‘s feisty readership. Still, I fail to see, judging by the record of 40-something years of occupation, how Burston can conclusively state the above.

The Palestinians have never been so far from a state as today — all rhetoric and renewed American engagement notwithstanding. They have lost their charismatic leader and failed to replace him with someone who could unify the tribal, clannish, and fragmented patchwork of Palestinian constituencies. They lost any pretense of unity between the West Bank and Gaza — now split between two competing governments. They also lost their centrality in Arab politics, and most importantly they lost the ability — which the late Yasser Arafat had — to blackmail Arab leaders. Their society is torn between a Palestinian nationalist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel and an Islamist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel (and with a uniquely Palestinian nationalist agenda). Their struggle has been overtaken by Iran and has turned off erstwhile friends and allies. Their economy is one of subsistence — their people have been turned into paupers and parasites, while their leaders either get rich or divert funds to weapons smuggling. They may not be terminally ill as a people, true, but the picture of the Palestinian polity is not exactly one of health, for sure.

What about Israel?

Compare Israel, 2009 with Israel, 1967:

• A much freer and feistier press.

• A much more diverse society.

• Thousands of NGO’s have sprung out to lobby the political elites, to pressure them, and to expose their flaws and shortcomings.

• Israel’s judiciary is as pugnacious as anyone concerned about democracy, human rights, and rule of law could dream — even more so, sometimes.

• Israel’s military remains subordinate to civilian authority — no authoritarian temptation despite the occupation and ongoing conflict.

Israel can survive another forty years of occupation — and do so in a healthy fashion. Israelis — even when in Rome — by and large understand this: that withdrawing from the territories for the sake of some insupportable moral posture, or to make a journalist feel better about himself while on holiday, is not going to guarantee the country’s survival. And there is no point in being “healthy” when the prescribed medicine could end up killing the patient.

Being in Rome, presumably on holiday, and probably having a deadline for a blog entry, Bradley Burston translated the understandable inspiration anyone could feel looking at Michelangelo’s Moses into a trite piece about the West Bank occupation and why it is bad for Israel. The piece is trite because it says nothing new, except that Burston is in Rome. Still, it is worth a mention because of its conclusion: “If the last 40 years are any indication, the Palestinians will be able [to] survive the occupation. A healthy state of Israel will not. ”

Hm… let’s see. Whether the occupation is good, bad, a necessary evil, or something else, I shall leave to others — including Contentions‘s feisty readership. Still, I fail to see, judging by the record of 40-something years of occupation, how Burston can conclusively state the above.

The Palestinians have never been so far from a state as today — all rhetoric and renewed American engagement notwithstanding. They have lost their charismatic leader and failed to replace him with someone who could unify the tribal, clannish, and fragmented patchwork of Palestinian constituencies. They lost any pretense of unity between the West Bank and Gaza — now split between two competing governments. They also lost their centrality in Arab politics, and most importantly they lost the ability — which the late Yasser Arafat had — to blackmail Arab leaders. Their society is torn between a Palestinian nationalist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel and an Islamist agenda that cannot reconcile itself with the reality of Israel (and with a uniquely Palestinian nationalist agenda). Their struggle has been overtaken by Iran and has turned off erstwhile friends and allies. Their economy is one of subsistence — their people have been turned into paupers and parasites, while their leaders either get rich or divert funds to weapons smuggling. They may not be terminally ill as a people, true, but the picture of the Palestinian polity is not exactly one of health, for sure.

What about Israel?

Compare Israel, 2009 with Israel, 1967:

• A much freer and feistier press.

• A much more diverse society.

• Thousands of NGO’s have sprung out to lobby the political elites, to pressure them, and to expose their flaws and shortcomings.

• Israel’s judiciary is as pugnacious as anyone concerned about democracy, human rights, and rule of law could dream — even more so, sometimes.

• Israel’s military remains subordinate to civilian authority — no authoritarian temptation despite the occupation and ongoing conflict.

Israel can survive another forty years of occupation — and do so in a healthy fashion. Israelis — even when in Rome — by and large understand this: that withdrawing from the territories for the sake of some insupportable moral posture, or to make a journalist feel better about himself while on holiday, is not going to guarantee the country’s survival. And there is no point in being “healthy” when the prescribed medicine could end up killing the patient.

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Re: Deeply Disappointing

Perhaps sensing that the phrase “deeply disappointing” conveyed a naivete and disinclination to do anything about the convicted American journalist, the president has now said that he is “gravely concerned” about the conviction of Roxana Saberi. FOX News reports:

“She is an American citizen and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage,” Obama said. “She is an Iranian American who was interested in the country which her family came from. And it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and to be released.”

“Appropriate” for her to be released? (Hmm. Not “necessary” or “imperative,” but appropriate.)  Does that convey a sense of urgency to the mullahs, any hint that their actions have consequences? Perhaps with steely-eyed determination we are conveying in private that this action is intolerable and will impact any productive relationship Iran might expect with the Obama administration. Maybe behind closed doors we are telling the Iranians that we will take measured but swift action if they do not release an America citizen from the dungeons of Evin. But even if we are, I would think that message is undercut by the polite public language.

Contrast the president’s language with that of the two senators from Saberi’s home state (where she previously won the title of Miss North Dakota) as related by The Hill:

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) also released a statement Saturday calling the prison sentence “preposterous.”

“She is a well respected journalist and the charges against her are baseless,” Conrad said. “She was tried in a secret trial without her attorney even being present. That is a travesty of justice.”

Conrad’s remarks also highlighted the wedge that the verdict could drive into rapprochement attempts.

“Iran is doing enormous damage to their creditability on the world stage with behavior like this,” he said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) called the incident a “shocking miscarriage of justice” in a Saturday.

Unfortunately, the forcefulness of the their language remains unmatched by the White House, which is the only voice that matters in these things.

One final thought: I can’t help but look at the photo of the lovely Ms. Saberi and wonder about her appearance after  two and a half months in Evin prison, or think of how she will look if her full eight year sentence is carried out. For a primer on how prisoners are treated there, go here.

One hopes the full force of the United States government is being applied to rescue one of our own citizens from a hellish captivity. And if we cannot find the words to properly express outrage or the will to force her release, we can expect that the Iranians and many other dictatorial regimes will conclude they have free rein to take pot shots at America and nab our citizens.

Perhaps sensing that the phrase “deeply disappointing” conveyed a naivete and disinclination to do anything about the convicted American journalist, the president has now said that he is “gravely concerned” about the conviction of Roxana Saberi. FOX News reports:

“She is an American citizen and I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage,” Obama said. “She is an Iranian American who was interested in the country which her family came from. And it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and to be released.”

“Appropriate” for her to be released? (Hmm. Not “necessary” or “imperative,” but appropriate.)  Does that convey a sense of urgency to the mullahs, any hint that their actions have consequences? Perhaps with steely-eyed determination we are conveying in private that this action is intolerable and will impact any productive relationship Iran might expect with the Obama administration. Maybe behind closed doors we are telling the Iranians that we will take measured but swift action if they do not release an America citizen from the dungeons of Evin. But even if we are, I would think that message is undercut by the polite public language.

Contrast the president’s language with that of the two senators from Saberi’s home state (where she previously won the title of Miss North Dakota) as related by The Hill:

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) also released a statement Saturday calling the prison sentence “preposterous.”

“She is a well respected journalist and the charges against her are baseless,” Conrad said. “She was tried in a secret trial without her attorney even being present. That is a travesty of justice.”

Conrad’s remarks also highlighted the wedge that the verdict could drive into rapprochement attempts.

“Iran is doing enormous damage to their creditability on the world stage with behavior like this,” he said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) called the incident a “shocking miscarriage of justice” in a Saturday.

Unfortunately, the forcefulness of the their language remains unmatched by the White House, which is the only voice that matters in these things.

One final thought: I can’t help but look at the photo of the lovely Ms. Saberi and wonder about her appearance after  two and a half months in Evin prison, or think of how she will look if her full eight year sentence is carried out. For a primer on how prisoners are treated there, go here.

One hopes the full force of the United States government is being applied to rescue one of our own citizens from a hellish captivity. And if we cannot find the words to properly express outrage or the will to force her release, we can expect that the Iranians and many other dictatorial regimes will conclude they have free rein to take pot shots at America and nab our citizens.

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Countering J Street’s Lies

Last week, I wrote an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post in which I criticized J Street’s endorsing the production of Seven Jewish Children, by the British playwright Caryl Churchill, in Washington, DC. For those of you not familiar with the 10-minute play (the full text of which is available here), it is enough to say that it draws a direct parallel between Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews and Israel’s contemporary treatment of the Palestinians. In the words of the prominent British Jewish writer Howard Jacobson, it is “wantonly inflammatory” and unquestionably anti-Semitic. In my op-ed, I questioned the propriety of a purportedly “pro-Israel” organization going out of its way to endorse the production of such material.

In a letter to the Post defending his organization’s stance, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami writes:

J Street didn’t, as Kirchick noted, endorse all the words or sentiments in the play’s script. So it must be that Kirchick objects to providing a stage to a work that might provoke a conversation about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality.

I do not “object to providing a stage” to any theatrical work, and never did I give the impression that I do. Indeed, I wrote that “complaints over the propriety of [Seven Jewish Children’s] production…should not be confused with a call to ban it.” And if Jeremy Ben-Ami thinks that a lurid, anti-Semitic screed “might provoke a conversation about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality,” then perhaps he should find work in a field unrelated to Jewish causes.

Not content to merely imply that I oppose freedom of speech, Ben-Ami comes right out and falsely accuses me of it directly:

Would Kirchick really ask theaters not to run plays which disagree with his political viewpoints? What country does he think he lives in?

Nowhere do I say that productions of Seven Jewish Children should be shut down because of what I believe to be the play’s utterly contemptible content. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and a million leftist, self-hating Jewish theater companies put on performances of anti-Semitic propaganda. It’ll only hurt their fund-raising appeals when they try to hit up Jews for money. Ben-Ami invents his charge out of whole cloth, painting me to be a censorious, close-minded, proto-fascist who would go around shutting down drum circles and readings of Palestinian love poetry.

What I questioned was the motivation of those who lead an ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization endorsing the dissemination of anti-Semitic material, and, moreover, justifying it as something beneficial to the “Jewish soul and Jewish morality.” There is a vast difference between an argument over the right of theaters to stage whatever plays they wish (where I consider myself a free speech absolutist) and the cultural value of the play’s content (an entirely subjective matter). So the debate here about J Street is not analogous to the one about the legality of neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, Illinois. The controversy over J Street and Seven Jewish Children, rather, is analogous to Jewish organizations at the time celebrating such an ugly spectacle because it “might provoke a conversation about the impact of the [Nazi-Jewish] conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality.”

“Are we so vulnerable and weak as a community that we can’t endure a debate sparked by a 10-minute play at the JCC with some controversial dialogue?” Ben-Ami asks. The Jews are a resilient people, and they’ll certainly “endure” whatever phony “debate” is “sparked” by a bigoted play (notice how even the most lurid anti-Semitism never rises above the level of “controversial dialogue” to Ben-Ami and Jews of his ilk). What most Jews won’t endure, I predict, is the self-loathing masked as communal angst exemplified by J Street.

Last week, I wrote an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post in which I criticized J Street’s endorsing the production of Seven Jewish Children, by the British playwright Caryl Churchill, in Washington, DC. For those of you not familiar with the 10-minute play (the full text of which is available here), it is enough to say that it draws a direct parallel between Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews and Israel’s contemporary treatment of the Palestinians. In the words of the prominent British Jewish writer Howard Jacobson, it is “wantonly inflammatory” and unquestionably anti-Semitic. In my op-ed, I questioned the propriety of a purportedly “pro-Israel” organization going out of its way to endorse the production of such material.

In a letter to the Post defending his organization’s stance, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami writes:

J Street didn’t, as Kirchick noted, endorse all the words or sentiments in the play’s script. So it must be that Kirchick objects to providing a stage to a work that might provoke a conversation about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality.

I do not “object to providing a stage” to any theatrical work, and never did I give the impression that I do. Indeed, I wrote that “complaints over the propriety of [Seven Jewish Children’s] production…should not be confused with a call to ban it.” And if Jeremy Ben-Ami thinks that a lurid, anti-Semitic screed “might provoke a conversation about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality,” then perhaps he should find work in a field unrelated to Jewish causes.

Not content to merely imply that I oppose freedom of speech, Ben-Ami comes right out and falsely accuses me of it directly:

Would Kirchick really ask theaters not to run plays which disagree with his political viewpoints? What country does he think he lives in?

Nowhere do I say that productions of Seven Jewish Children should be shut down because of what I believe to be the play’s utterly contemptible content. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and a million leftist, self-hating Jewish theater companies put on performances of anti-Semitic propaganda. It’ll only hurt their fund-raising appeals when they try to hit up Jews for money. Ben-Ami invents his charge out of whole cloth, painting me to be a censorious, close-minded, proto-fascist who would go around shutting down drum circles and readings of Palestinian love poetry.

What I questioned was the motivation of those who lead an ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization endorsing the dissemination of anti-Semitic material, and, moreover, justifying it as something beneficial to the “Jewish soul and Jewish morality.” There is a vast difference between an argument over the right of theaters to stage whatever plays they wish (where I consider myself a free speech absolutist) and the cultural value of the play’s content (an entirely subjective matter). So the debate here about J Street is not analogous to the one about the legality of neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, Illinois. The controversy over J Street and Seven Jewish Children, rather, is analogous to Jewish organizations at the time celebrating such an ugly spectacle because it “might provoke a conversation about the impact of the [Nazi-Jewish] conflict on the Jewish soul and Jewish morality.”

“Are we so vulnerable and weak as a community that we can’t endure a debate sparked by a 10-minute play at the JCC with some controversial dialogue?” Ben-Ami asks. The Jews are a resilient people, and they’ll certainly “endure” whatever phony “debate” is “sparked” by a bigoted play (notice how even the most lurid anti-Semitism never rises above the level of “controversial dialogue” to Ben-Ami and Jews of his ilk). What most Jews won’t endure, I predict, is the self-loathing masked as communal angst exemplified by J Street.

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Quote of the Week

“If I had my way, I’d destroy all the mosques and spread the whores around a little more,” the detective said. “At least they’re not sectarian.”

That’s from a New York Times article about how the sin industry — prostitution, gambling, booze — is flourishing again now that Baghdad is relatively safe.

“If I had my way, I’d destroy all the mosques and spread the whores around a little more,” the detective said. “At least they’re not sectarian.”

That’s from a New York Times article about how the sin industry — prostitution, gambling, booze — is flourishing again now that Baghdad is relatively safe.

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Not. For. Torture.

If you’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog over the past 48 hours you’re forgiven for thinking I am the pro-torture spokesperson for American conservatism. Andrew has referred to me directly and indirectly as a defender of torture in no less than four blog posts since Friday.

I have nothing to prove to a journalist who uses the same vocabulary of moral cataclysm to cover Abu Ghraib and Sarah Palin’s baby bump. However, his readership being as large as it is, I am compelled to declare myself for the public record:

I am an unequivocal opponent of American torture. I do not think torture should be used in special circumstances; I do not think torture should be employed unofficially; I do not think the United States should torture by proxy in foreign lands.

I oppose torture for all the lofty reasons and all the practical reasons that we hear about endlessly. It would reduce us as a people and yield little, if any, benefit.

What’s torture? There’s no sense in ignoring the slippery borders between tough interrogations and practices that should not carry the imprimatur of the United States of America. But if weighing the legal, moral, and historical implications makes torture harder, not easier, to identify, there is, I believe, a clear way through the morass. How’s this? Anything to which Christopher Hitchens is willing to submit himself in pursuit of a Vanity Fair article is not torture. This covers, among other things, back-waxing, exercise class, and waterboarding.

An unapologetic waterboarding policy would mean the U.S. could dispense with its wink-and-nod renditions, its interminable legal parsing, and its ever-conflicted public attitude. Waterboarding is quick, bloodless, painless, and uniquely effective; if explicitly overseen by competent appointees, it would doubtless become more of each.

Yet, the effectiveness of interrogations has now itself become a negative, according to anti-Bush cultists. This is from an Andrew Sullivan reader whom Andrew saw fit to publish in rebuttal to my defense of CIA interrogations:

What bothers me about this viewpoint is that if these techniques are so harmless, then how do they even work?

If a face slap is not big deal, then how does it result in information? If putting an insect in a cage with a prisoner is something to laugh about, why are they insisting that it works? Do they really imagine that enemy prisoners with incredible, ticking time-bomb information fold so easily?

So, you see, anything that works is now torture. That is, of course, where all the unserious criticism was always leading. The “sad and dark” nature of the Bush chapter in American history is constituted by the very fact that the U.S. sought to fight back in earnest against a committed and deadly enemy. For it is in our success that we are to find our deepest shame.

If you’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog over the past 48 hours you’re forgiven for thinking I am the pro-torture spokesperson for American conservatism. Andrew has referred to me directly and indirectly as a defender of torture in no less than four blog posts since Friday.

I have nothing to prove to a journalist who uses the same vocabulary of moral cataclysm to cover Abu Ghraib and Sarah Palin’s baby bump. However, his readership being as large as it is, I am compelled to declare myself for the public record:

I am an unequivocal opponent of American torture. I do not think torture should be used in special circumstances; I do not think torture should be employed unofficially; I do not think the United States should torture by proxy in foreign lands.

I oppose torture for all the lofty reasons and all the practical reasons that we hear about endlessly. It would reduce us as a people and yield little, if any, benefit.

What’s torture? There’s no sense in ignoring the slippery borders between tough interrogations and practices that should not carry the imprimatur of the United States of America. But if weighing the legal, moral, and historical implications makes torture harder, not easier, to identify, there is, I believe, a clear way through the morass. How’s this? Anything to which Christopher Hitchens is willing to submit himself in pursuit of a Vanity Fair article is not torture. This covers, among other things, back-waxing, exercise class, and waterboarding.

An unapologetic waterboarding policy would mean the U.S. could dispense with its wink-and-nod renditions, its interminable legal parsing, and its ever-conflicted public attitude. Waterboarding is quick, bloodless, painless, and uniquely effective; if explicitly overseen by competent appointees, it would doubtless become more of each.

Yet, the effectiveness of interrogations has now itself become a negative, according to anti-Bush cultists. This is from an Andrew Sullivan reader whom Andrew saw fit to publish in rebuttal to my defense of CIA interrogations:

What bothers me about this viewpoint is that if these techniques are so harmless, then how do they even work?

If a face slap is not big deal, then how does it result in information? If putting an insect in a cage with a prisoner is something to laugh about, why are they insisting that it works? Do they really imagine that enemy prisoners with incredible, ticking time-bomb information fold so easily?

So, you see, anything that works is now torture. That is, of course, where all the unserious criticism was always leading. The “sad and dark” nature of the Bush chapter in American history is constituted by the very fact that the U.S. sought to fight back in earnest against a committed and deadly enemy. For it is in our success that we are to find our deepest shame.

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What’s Barak Up To?

Two avenues are open to those skeptical about any positive results coming from another round of Israeli-Arab peace processing.

The first one can be called the Shamir-path, after former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and its essence is for Israel to sit tight and drag its feet so as not to allow international players to drag it into dangerous adventures. The second can be named after Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert – and it is one of initiation. If Israel doesn’t want to be dragged into said adventures, it has to come up with its own ideas to keep the area buzzing with activity, and leave little time or room for the ideas of others

One of the main arguments for the Gaza pullout came out of the latter path: If Israel did not choose to do “something” it would have been forced to do something much worse. Of course, the problem with this argument now is that little in regard to Gaza has been successful, leaving voters without much appetite for future experimentation.

Enter Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and the man who just weeks ago forced his Labor Party into the new Netanyahu coalition:

Barak called on Netanyahu to offer the Palestinians an Israeli peace initiative based on the Arab Peace Initiative and pushing for a process eventuating in a Palestinian state. According to the defense minister’s proposal, Israel’s demands on all matters pertaining to security and the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of it as the Jewish homeland would have to be met.

And what’s Barak’s rationale

Barak said that in light of American support for the Arab peace initiative, Israel must also formulate its own initiative to present to the U.S. and the Arab world. He said Israel must offer an outline for progress in talks with the Palestinians, Syria and the other Arab states.

Of course, this rationale can be the reason or the excuse for Barak’s move – first telling the PM what he thinks should be done and later making sure that all reporters write a story about it. Or he might be playing the old good politics of the Labor Party. Under heavy fire from the more leftist members of his party, Barak felt an urgent need to put some distance between his agenda and the don’t-mention-a-two-state-solution agenda of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.

Alas, Barak is playing with no cards: he can try to convince, cajole, pressure Netanyahu, but he has no way of making him do something he doesn’t want to do. Yes, if Barak abandons the government, as some of his friends keep calling upon him to do, the coalition will probably crumble. However, Barak himself has no political future if this coalition falls. Thus, if this is a politically calculated leak its true utility is in preserving the team, not toppling it. Barak needs to show some independence in order to keep those Labor members who joined the government comfortable with his leadership. He has to show them that he has a “voice” in the cabinet. And he just did.

Two avenues are open to those skeptical about any positive results coming from another round of Israeli-Arab peace processing.

The first one can be called the Shamir-path, after former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and its essence is for Israel to sit tight and drag its feet so as not to allow international players to drag it into dangerous adventures. The second can be named after Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert – and it is one of initiation. If Israel doesn’t want to be dragged into said adventures, it has to come up with its own ideas to keep the area buzzing with activity, and leave little time or room for the ideas of others

One of the main arguments for the Gaza pullout came out of the latter path: If Israel did not choose to do “something” it would have been forced to do something much worse. Of course, the problem with this argument now is that little in regard to Gaza has been successful, leaving voters without much appetite for future experimentation.

Enter Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and the man who just weeks ago forced his Labor Party into the new Netanyahu coalition:

Barak called on Netanyahu to offer the Palestinians an Israeli peace initiative based on the Arab Peace Initiative and pushing for a process eventuating in a Palestinian state. According to the defense minister’s proposal, Israel’s demands on all matters pertaining to security and the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of it as the Jewish homeland would have to be met.

And what’s Barak’s rationale

Barak said that in light of American support for the Arab peace initiative, Israel must also formulate its own initiative to present to the U.S. and the Arab world. He said Israel must offer an outline for progress in talks with the Palestinians, Syria and the other Arab states.

Of course, this rationale can be the reason or the excuse for Barak’s move – first telling the PM what he thinks should be done and later making sure that all reporters write a story about it. Or he might be playing the old good politics of the Labor Party. Under heavy fire from the more leftist members of his party, Barak felt an urgent need to put some distance between his agenda and the don’t-mention-a-two-state-solution agenda of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.

Alas, Barak is playing with no cards: he can try to convince, cajole, pressure Netanyahu, but he has no way of making him do something he doesn’t want to do. Yes, if Barak abandons the government, as some of his friends keep calling upon him to do, the coalition will probably crumble. However, Barak himself has no political future if this coalition falls. Thus, if this is a politically calculated leak its true utility is in preserving the team, not toppling it. Barak needs to show some independence in order to keep those Labor members who joined the government comfortable with his leadership. He has to show them that he has a “voice” in the cabinet. And he just did.

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Save a Job, Kill Some Bills

The Obama administration seems blissfully unaware of its policies’ impact on the economy — or perhaps doesn’t care so long as its liberal wish list is fulfilled. A prime example is the EPA finding finding that carbon dioxide threatens the planet.  What does this mean?

The finding could touch every corner of Americans’ lives, from the types of cars they drive to the homes they build. Along with carbon dioxide, the EPA named methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride as deleterious to the environment. Even if the agency doesn’t use its powers under the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gases, Friday’s action improves the chances that Congress will move to create a more flexible mechanism to do so.

Good thing we’re not in a horrid recession with rising unemployment, or this could really be a problem for American employers. Oh, wait.

Let’s recall we have 8.5% unemployment and double-digit unemployment in a number of states. So we are now, either by regulation or legislation, going to be embarking on a regulatory scheme that is going to touch every industry. Add to that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for many small businesses and healthcare “reform,” which will likely involve some sort of employer mandate, and you have the makings of a stunningly hostile employment environment — in the midst of a recession.

One wonders where the administration and Congress think jobs come from and what burdens can be placed on employers already struggling. They seem to operate in a fantasyworld in which burden after burden can be loaded onto the backs of businesses, no international competition exists, and no loss of U.S. jobs results. If the Obama team would really like to “save” some jobs they’d call for a time out in the rush to enact job-killing legislation.

The Obama administration seems blissfully unaware of its policies’ impact on the economy — or perhaps doesn’t care so long as its liberal wish list is fulfilled. A prime example is the EPA finding finding that carbon dioxide threatens the planet.  What does this mean?

The finding could touch every corner of Americans’ lives, from the types of cars they drive to the homes they build. Along with carbon dioxide, the EPA named methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride as deleterious to the environment. Even if the agency doesn’t use its powers under the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gases, Friday’s action improves the chances that Congress will move to create a more flexible mechanism to do so.

Good thing we’re not in a horrid recession with rising unemployment, or this could really be a problem for American employers. Oh, wait.

Let’s recall we have 8.5% unemployment and double-digit unemployment in a number of states. So we are now, either by regulation or legislation, going to be embarking on a regulatory scheme that is going to touch every industry. Add to that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for many small businesses and healthcare “reform,” which will likely involve some sort of employer mandate, and you have the makings of a stunningly hostile employment environment — in the midst of a recession.

One wonders where the administration and Congress think jobs come from and what burdens can be placed on employers already struggling. They seem to operate in a fantasyworld in which burden after burden can be loaded onto the backs of businesses, no international competition exists, and no loss of U.S. jobs results. If the Obama team would really like to “save” some jobs they’d call for a time out in the rush to enact job-killing legislation.

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Abbas’s Trap

The State Department has rejected Israel’s demand that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a precondition for further negotiations with the Palestinians. It is easy to dismiss both Israel’s and the Americans’ position here as pre-negotiation posturing, with each side trying to maximize its interests — Israel’s interest that negotiations be stalled as long as possible, and the Americans’ that it move forward. Yet there is a more serious issue at stake here — one that may force the Palestinians to confront the impossibility of their own demands sooner rather than later.

Israel’s greatest interest is that any deal should bring a real and final end to the Palestinian obsession with “resistance” — that is, that an unequivocal, full peace be achieved, without giving the Palestinians’ any pretext for further violence. The biggest mistake of Oslo and other agreements was in putting off the most difficult issues, such as Jerusalem and the problem of Palestinian refugees, until later. The result was that Israel made concrete concessions, mainly land and allowing the arming of the PLO, while the Palestinians continued to insist that they had a right to struggle against Israel. To this day, they have continued to instill hatred in their children through their schools, continued to idolize terrorist “martyrs,” and therefore continued to make peace little more than a dream. Masters at asymmetric warfare, the Palestinians also mastered asymmetric peace: The Israelis continue to beg for it, the Palestinians continue to hold it at arm’s length, insisting on their “right” to fight.

Netanyahu appears to be looking for ways to break this. His insistence on the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to define itself is merely a mirror to the Palestinians’ own insistence of a right to self-rule. In all its negotiations with more and less peaceful Arab countries, Israel has never demanded that Egypt or Jordan allow Jews to live and move about freely in their countries — basic human rights that every country should grant. But despite this, Israel has nonetheless made peace with them, respecting their right to self-definition perhaps more than they deserved. By forcing the issue of Israel as a Jewish state, Israel is merely asserting its own right to self-definition; Israel is asking no more than that its peace partners give it the same respect. This is a reasonable ground for starting to talk — there will be much harder issues for give-and-take later on.

What do the Palestinians’ gain by rejecting it? Nothing, if their aims of peace are sincere. The only reason they should object is if they want to reserve a pretext for future violence after a peace agreement has been implemented: It is not too hard to imagine that the Palestinian state would see itself as the champion of the rights of Israeli Arabs, who would now be depicted as oppressed under Israel’s “apartheid” rule, giving all those anti-Israel forces around the world that have been summoned to oppose Israel’s “occupation” despite its repeated withdrawals something new to hate Israel for. But all this depends on the PA’s refusing to accept the very idea of a Jewish state — the very idea, that is, of Israel itself.

Desperate to jump-start negotiations and probably miffed at Bibi’s latest intransigence, the State Department has fallen into the Palestinians’ trap.

UPDATE: According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu now denies that recognizing a Jewish state is a precondition for holding talks, but still insists that it be part of any agreement. Not too reassuring for him to backtrack on this point. The Palestinians, for their part, have already jumped on the issue, laying the groundwork for future attacks on Israel on this basis alone.

The State Department has rejected Israel’s demand that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a precondition for further negotiations with the Palestinians. It is easy to dismiss both Israel’s and the Americans’ position here as pre-negotiation posturing, with each side trying to maximize its interests — Israel’s interest that negotiations be stalled as long as possible, and the Americans’ that it move forward. Yet there is a more serious issue at stake here — one that may force the Palestinians to confront the impossibility of their own demands sooner rather than later.

Israel’s greatest interest is that any deal should bring a real and final end to the Palestinian obsession with “resistance” — that is, that an unequivocal, full peace be achieved, without giving the Palestinians’ any pretext for further violence. The biggest mistake of Oslo and other agreements was in putting off the most difficult issues, such as Jerusalem and the problem of Palestinian refugees, until later. The result was that Israel made concrete concessions, mainly land and allowing the arming of the PLO, while the Palestinians continued to insist that they had a right to struggle against Israel. To this day, they have continued to instill hatred in their children through their schools, continued to idolize terrorist “martyrs,” and therefore continued to make peace little more than a dream. Masters at asymmetric warfare, the Palestinians also mastered asymmetric peace: The Israelis continue to beg for it, the Palestinians continue to hold it at arm’s length, insisting on their “right” to fight.

Netanyahu appears to be looking for ways to break this. His insistence on the Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to define itself is merely a mirror to the Palestinians’ own insistence of a right to self-rule. In all its negotiations with more and less peaceful Arab countries, Israel has never demanded that Egypt or Jordan allow Jews to live and move about freely in their countries — basic human rights that every country should grant. But despite this, Israel has nonetheless made peace with them, respecting their right to self-definition perhaps more than they deserved. By forcing the issue of Israel as a Jewish state, Israel is merely asserting its own right to self-definition; Israel is asking no more than that its peace partners give it the same respect. This is a reasonable ground for starting to talk — there will be much harder issues for give-and-take later on.

What do the Palestinians’ gain by rejecting it? Nothing, if their aims of peace are sincere. The only reason they should object is if they want to reserve a pretext for future violence after a peace agreement has been implemented: It is not too hard to imagine that the Palestinian state would see itself as the champion of the rights of Israeli Arabs, who would now be depicted as oppressed under Israel’s “apartheid” rule, giving all those anti-Israel forces around the world that have been summoned to oppose Israel’s “occupation” despite its repeated withdrawals something new to hate Israel for. But all this depends on the PA’s refusing to accept the very idea of a Jewish state — the very idea, that is, of Israel itself.

Desperate to jump-start negotiations and probably miffed at Bibi’s latest intransigence, the State Department has fallen into the Palestinians’ trap.

UPDATE: According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu now denies that recognizing a Jewish state is a precondition for holding talks, but still insists that it be part of any agreement. Not too reassuring for him to backtrack on this point. The Palestinians, for their part, have already jumped on the issue, laying the groundwork for future attacks on Israel on this basis alone.

Read Less

Deeply Disappointing

The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying by an Iranian court and sentenced to eight years in prison. She has already been detained in the notorious Evin prison since the end of January. What is the reaction of the U.S. government? We are “disappointed” — “deeply disappointed,” actually. We are not outraged. We do not condemn. We are disappointed.

And how did that Al Arabiya TV spot work out? And all those friendly signals about letting the Iranians go forward with their nuclear program while we chat? None of our efforts at “outreach” got us, and more importantly, Ms. Saberi, anything, as the Washington Post makes clear:

The verdict was announced after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for Saberi’s release and President Obama made diplomatic overtures to Iran after three decades of severed ties. The United States has said the accusations against Saberi are baseless.

This is what we have come to. The U.S. president either out of conviction or misguided strategy has chosen to prostrate himself before the world. We apologize to friend and foe alike. We tip our hat to the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” giving the impression we believe the “Republic” part. We avert our eyes from human rights abuses in China, North Korea, and Iran. And now when a woman journalist is thrown into the hell hole of Evin, our Secretary of State – the great defender of gender equality and the gal who made nineteen million cracks in the glass ceiling – can only muster “disappointment.” We think such servile behavior will engender respect from our foes – or is disdain the more likely result?

And more importantly, one wonders what the oppressed and incarcerated human rights victims in Iran and elsewhere think of the U.S. government now. Do they see a beacon of hope and stalwart defender of human rights or a groveler before dictators?

Perhaps we expect to spring Ms. Saberi by genuflecting before the mullahs or by averting our eyes when they help deliver enriched uranium to North Korea. I suppose there is a first for everything. But the spectacle of an American administration so intent on currying good will from the world’s dictators that it will accept virtually every act of despotism and aggression with only the mildest rebuke is, well, certainly more than disappointing.

The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying by an Iranian court and sentenced to eight years in prison. She has already been detained in the notorious Evin prison since the end of January. What is the reaction of the U.S. government? We are “disappointed” — “deeply disappointed,” actually. We are not outraged. We do not condemn. We are disappointed.

And how did that Al Arabiya TV spot work out? And all those friendly signals about letting the Iranians go forward with their nuclear program while we chat? None of our efforts at “outreach” got us, and more importantly, Ms. Saberi, anything, as the Washington Post makes clear:

The verdict was announced after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for Saberi’s release and President Obama made diplomatic overtures to Iran after three decades of severed ties. The United States has said the accusations against Saberi are baseless.

This is what we have come to. The U.S. president either out of conviction or misguided strategy has chosen to prostrate himself before the world. We apologize to friend and foe alike. We tip our hat to the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” giving the impression we believe the “Republic” part. We avert our eyes from human rights abuses in China, North Korea, and Iran. And now when a woman journalist is thrown into the hell hole of Evin, our Secretary of State – the great defender of gender equality and the gal who made nineteen million cracks in the glass ceiling – can only muster “disappointment.” We think such servile behavior will engender respect from our foes – or is disdain the more likely result?

And more importantly, one wonders what the oppressed and incarcerated human rights victims in Iran and elsewhere think of the U.S. government now. Do they see a beacon of hope and stalwart defender of human rights or a groveler before dictators?

Perhaps we expect to spring Ms. Saberi by genuflecting before the mullahs or by averting our eyes when they help deliver enriched uranium to North Korea. I suppose there is a first for everything. But the spectacle of an American administration so intent on currying good will from the world’s dictators that it will accept virtually every act of despotism and aggression with only the mildest rebuke is, well, certainly more than disappointing.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

More push-back from former Bush advisors on release of the enhanced interrogation memos. And attorney David Rifkin of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the memos show “use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage,” and, therefore, we were not “torturing” terrorists.

Mark Steyn: “Asked about the tea parties, President Obama responded that he was not aware of them. As Marie Antoinette said, ‘Let them drink Lapsang Souchong.’ His Imperial Majesty at Barackingham Palace having declined to acknowledge the tea parties, his courtiers at the Globe and elsewhere fell into line. Talk-show host Michael Graham spoke to one attendee at the 2009 Boston Tea Party who remarked of the press embargo: ‘If Obama had been the King of England, the Globe wouldn’t have covered the American revolution.’” Funny how a  former community organizer takes so little interest in Americans rousing themselves in big and small towns in every corner of the country.

The president of the United States sits through a 50 minute anti-American diatribe from Daniel Ortega and can’t bring himself to criticize it. Instead he makes small talk. Shameful. We are now the punching bag of the world and every tinpot dictator can flail away with no fear of reprisal or even criticism.

Even when the administration does the right thing — boycotting Durban II– it can’t resist the grovel. We “regret” not attending (why?) and we’re “deeply grateful” for the cosmetic language changes.

Newt Gingrich says the grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez is par for the course. The real danger, he says, is the propaganda victory for Chavez and the signal to other dictators.

The administration seems a bit embarrassed by the Chavez photo op now. Well, if it wasn’t a “bow” maybe they can say it wasn’t handshake. Or a broad grin. Or a friendly arm on the shoulder.

Victor Davis Hanson writes: “So far all the Obama apologies for the sins of his own country (note always before he came on the scene), the serial “Bush did it” invective, the promises of a brave new Obama transnational world, the evocation of his middle name, and non-traditional lineage, and shared demagoguery against “them” (Wall Street, the greedy, the unpatriotic who make over the mythical trip wire $250,000), have not, and will not, change much abroad. Has Cuba promised to release prisoners, or apologized for all those killed? Has Chavez vowed to restore constitutional governance and quit subversion of his neighbors?”

Timing is everything: “The flagging economy could put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s (D) bid for a second term as the former Wall Street executive’s net worth plummeted amid an ailing stock market.Corzine, who has spent liberally in bids for senator in 2000 and governor in 2005, reported a gross income of negative $2.75 million in 2008 thanks to losses he suffered in the stock market. Corzine owes no taxes this year because of his losses.” Probably a good time to leave “Wall Street wizard” out of the TV ad.

Even the New York Times is miffed: “The House investigation of Representative Charles Rangel’s ethical gaffes and misdeeds was supposed to be completed in January, by the initial estimate of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the inquiry blithely rolls forward in secrecy — except for the recent disclosure that the ever feckless ethics committee has been without a chief counsel for the last eight months.” And the Times doesn’t even mention the PMA Group scandal or Chris Dodd.

And because life is filled with unexpected joy, watch this. And then find out what it’s about.

More push-back from former Bush advisors on release of the enhanced interrogation memos. And attorney David Rifkin of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the memos show “use of these techniques does not inflict either physical or psychological damage,” and, therefore, we were not “torturing” terrorists.

Mark Steyn: “Asked about the tea parties, President Obama responded that he was not aware of them. As Marie Antoinette said, ‘Let them drink Lapsang Souchong.’ His Imperial Majesty at Barackingham Palace having declined to acknowledge the tea parties, his courtiers at the Globe and elsewhere fell into line. Talk-show host Michael Graham spoke to one attendee at the 2009 Boston Tea Party who remarked of the press embargo: ‘If Obama had been the King of England, the Globe wouldn’t have covered the American revolution.’” Funny how a  former community organizer takes so little interest in Americans rousing themselves in big and small towns in every corner of the country.

The president of the United States sits through a 50 minute anti-American diatribe from Daniel Ortega and can’t bring himself to criticize it. Instead he makes small talk. Shameful. We are now the punching bag of the world and every tinpot dictator can flail away with no fear of reprisal or even criticism.

Even when the administration does the right thing — boycotting Durban II– it can’t resist the grovel. We “regret” not attending (why?) and we’re “deeply grateful” for the cosmetic language changes.

Newt Gingrich says the grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez is par for the course. The real danger, he says, is the propaganda victory for Chavez and the signal to other dictators.

The administration seems a bit embarrassed by the Chavez photo op now. Well, if it wasn’t a “bow” maybe they can say it wasn’t handshake. Or a broad grin. Or a friendly arm on the shoulder.

Victor Davis Hanson writes: “So far all the Obama apologies for the sins of his own country (note always before he came on the scene), the serial “Bush did it” invective, the promises of a brave new Obama transnational world, the evocation of his middle name, and non-traditional lineage, and shared demagoguery against “them” (Wall Street, the greedy, the unpatriotic who make over the mythical trip wire $250,000), have not, and will not, change much abroad. Has Cuba promised to release prisoners, or apologized for all those killed? Has Chavez vowed to restore constitutional governance and quit subversion of his neighbors?”

Timing is everything: “The flagging economy could put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s (D) bid for a second term as the former Wall Street executive’s net worth plummeted amid an ailing stock market.Corzine, who has spent liberally in bids for senator in 2000 and governor in 2005, reported a gross income of negative $2.75 million in 2008 thanks to losses he suffered in the stock market. Corzine owes no taxes this year because of his losses.” Probably a good time to leave “Wall Street wizard” out of the TV ad.

Even the New York Times is miffed: “The House investigation of Representative Charles Rangel’s ethical gaffes and misdeeds was supposed to be completed in January, by the initial estimate of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the inquiry blithely rolls forward in secrecy — except for the recent disclosure that the ever feckless ethics committee has been without a chief counsel for the last eight months.” And the Times doesn’t even mention the PMA Group scandal or Chris Dodd.

And because life is filled with unexpected joy, watch this. And then find out what it’s about.

Read Less




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