Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 2010

More Ethics Troubles for J Street President

It looks like the left-wing “pro-Israel” group J Street can now add “self-dealing” to its growing list of scandals. Documents obtained by the Washington Times reveal that the group paid at least $56,000 to Ben-Or Consulting, an Israeli firm co-owned by J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. This discovery isn’t as juicy as some of the previous ones — it’s hard to top lying about taking money from George Soros and aiding congressional visits for Judge Richard Goldstone. But it certainly confirms the group’s aversion to ethics and truth-telling:

“Even if it’s technically legal, it gets very messy when you have these sorts of deals going on because, if you’re going to benefit on the other end of it, be it 100 percent or 5 percent, it raises questions about objectivity and the arms’ length in the transaction,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator.

“If you want your organization to use a particular company, ideally there would be a clean break one way or the other. So you would either sell off your interest in that company or step down from the board during the period of time when this is going so that there would be no question as to what’s going on in the boardroom.”

Ben-Ami co-founded the firm more than a decade ago but left in 2000. He still owns 15 percent of the company, which is clearly not a trifling portion. And while there’s no indication that his actions were illegal, there’s also no denying that Ben-Ami had a financial interest in the decision to use Ben-Or Consulting. Even if he doesn’t currently collect dividends (which the Times was unable to confirm), he still has a financial stake if and when the company gets sold.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be a J Street scandal without some amusingly evasive double-talk from Ben-Ami, who told the Times that “as a token of my role as a co-founder, we left 15 percent of the shares of the firm in my name — an agreement that has no financial implications for me personally, for J Street or for the firm.”

Seriously? No financial implications? Maybe he should have coordinated that response with Ben-Or Consulting, which pretty much contradicted Ben-Ami’s claim. “[Ben-Ami] would receive 15 percent of the proceeds if the firm is ever sold,” a spokesperson from the firm told the Times.

It also looks like Ben-Or Consulting has some notorious Israel-bashers as clients. The company’s website boasts that it represents former president Jimmy Carter, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Yesh Din — all of which accuse Israel of promoting “apartheid” policies. But these are also just the clients that Ben-Or lists publicly. J Street is conspicuously absent from the list, so it wouldn’t be shocking if we learned that the names of some other clients were withheld as well.

It looks like the left-wing “pro-Israel” group J Street can now add “self-dealing” to its growing list of scandals. Documents obtained by the Washington Times reveal that the group paid at least $56,000 to Ben-Or Consulting, an Israeli firm co-owned by J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. This discovery isn’t as juicy as some of the previous ones — it’s hard to top lying about taking money from George Soros and aiding congressional visits for Judge Richard Goldstone. But it certainly confirms the group’s aversion to ethics and truth-telling:

“Even if it’s technically legal, it gets very messy when you have these sorts of deals going on because, if you’re going to benefit on the other end of it, be it 100 percent or 5 percent, it raises questions about objectivity and the arms’ length in the transaction,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator.

“If you want your organization to use a particular company, ideally there would be a clean break one way or the other. So you would either sell off your interest in that company or step down from the board during the period of time when this is going so that there would be no question as to what’s going on in the boardroom.”

Ben-Ami co-founded the firm more than a decade ago but left in 2000. He still owns 15 percent of the company, which is clearly not a trifling portion. And while there’s no indication that his actions were illegal, there’s also no denying that Ben-Ami had a financial interest in the decision to use Ben-Or Consulting. Even if he doesn’t currently collect dividends (which the Times was unable to confirm), he still has a financial stake if and when the company gets sold.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be a J Street scandal without some amusingly evasive double-talk from Ben-Ami, who told the Times that “as a token of my role as a co-founder, we left 15 percent of the shares of the firm in my name — an agreement that has no financial implications for me personally, for J Street or for the firm.”

Seriously? No financial implications? Maybe he should have coordinated that response with Ben-Or Consulting, which pretty much contradicted Ben-Ami’s claim. “[Ben-Ami] would receive 15 percent of the proceeds if the firm is ever sold,” a spokesperson from the firm told the Times.

It also looks like Ben-Or Consulting has some notorious Israel-bashers as clients. The company’s website boasts that it represents former president Jimmy Carter, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Yesh Din — all of which accuse Israel of promoting “apartheid” policies. But these are also just the clients that Ben-Or lists publicly. J Street is conspicuously absent from the list, so it wouldn’t be shocking if we learned that the names of some other clients were withheld as well.

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More Islamophobia Debunking

As we’ve heard all year long, America is a dangerously Islamophobic country. Who can guess when we will have paid our national penance for the horrific wave of anti-Muslim prejudice that now threatens to tear apart the fabric of American society. Just take a look at these shocking year-end hate-crime statistics from New York state: “Crimes motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment rose from eight to 11,” while “Anti-Semitic incidents, which made up 37 percent of the reported hate crimes, were up 15 percent in one year, from 219 in 2008 to 251 in 2009.”

Little problem in the popular narrative, no? The point here is not to demand a rightful share of the grievance pie for Jews. It’s to bring desperately needed perspective to an irresponsible, runaway discussion on this fiction we call American Islamophobia. Even with 251 anti-Jewish hate crimes committed in New York this year, no one would declare a state of institutional or pervasive cultural anti-Semitism in the U.S. That a much smaller number of anti-Muslim hate crimes is the basis for national soul-searching and overwrought apologies constitutes a revealing prejudice on the part of those apologizing. In refusing to treat American Muslims as they do all other Americans, who can bear repulsive but isolated incidents of prejudice, they reveal an Islamophobia that is frankly shocking in scope. So bizarrely frightened of Muslims are these American apologizers, they’d sooner invent an imaginary America to scapegoat than simply treat all citizens equally and get on with their lives.

As we’ve heard all year long, America is a dangerously Islamophobic country. Who can guess when we will have paid our national penance for the horrific wave of anti-Muslim prejudice that now threatens to tear apart the fabric of American society. Just take a look at these shocking year-end hate-crime statistics from New York state: “Crimes motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment rose from eight to 11,” while “Anti-Semitic incidents, which made up 37 percent of the reported hate crimes, were up 15 percent in one year, from 219 in 2008 to 251 in 2009.”

Little problem in the popular narrative, no? The point here is not to demand a rightful share of the grievance pie for Jews. It’s to bring desperately needed perspective to an irresponsible, runaway discussion on this fiction we call American Islamophobia. Even with 251 anti-Jewish hate crimes committed in New York this year, no one would declare a state of institutional or pervasive cultural anti-Semitism in the U.S. That a much smaller number of anti-Muslim hate crimes is the basis for national soul-searching and overwrought apologies constitutes a revealing prejudice on the part of those apologizing. In refusing to treat American Muslims as they do all other Americans, who can bear repulsive but isolated incidents of prejudice, they reveal an Islamophobia that is frankly shocking in scope. So bizarrely frightened of Muslims are these American apologizers, they’d sooner invent an imaginary America to scapegoat than simply treat all citizens equally and get on with their lives.

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An Ethics Code for Economists

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

The Times is reporting this morning that academic economists are considering an ethics code for the profession, something most other disciplines already have.

Naturally, there is opposition. Robert E. Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics is quoted as saying, “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.” That, of course, is true up to a point. But economics is hardly the equivalent of, say, physics. Physics is a “hard science”; economics is squishy soft at best. Physics has only one basic theory; economics has many, often flatly at odds with each other. (I remember a doctor telling me once that “when there are a dozen treatments for a particular condition, you know that none of them are any damn good.”) And Lucas’s comment only applies to the academic literature, most of which is unintelligible to the man in the street (and not a few students taking Economics 101).

The real problem is that economics and politics are inextricably bound together. And politicians lie as often and as easily as they breathe. Indeed, the discipline was known as “political economy” in the 19th century. Economists often move between the academic and political realms, a professor one year, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors the next, and then back to academia. The council’s current chairman, Austan Goolsbee, is on leave from the University of Chicago. His predecessor, Christina Romer, was a professor at Berkeley before coming to the White House and is back there again. And they often have remunerative moonlighting gigs as well. Laura D’Andrea Tyson was chairman of the council in the Clinton years. She’s now a professor at Berkeley. She also sits on the board of Morgan Stanley, one of Wall Street’s biggest banks.

When an economist is writing a op-ed or being quoted in the popular media, as opposed to an academic paper, that’s at least as much politics as science. The various hats they wear should all be disclosed. That seems so simple that even an economist should be able to grasp it.

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Morning Commentary

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

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As 2010 Closes, Americans in Pessimistic Mood

In assessing the frame of mind of the public at the close of the year, the Pew Research Center found that

Consistent with the mood of the nation all year, 2010 is closing on a down note. Fully 72% are dissatisfied with national conditions, 89% rate national economic conditions as only fair or poor, and majorities or pluralities think the country is losing ground on nine of 12 major issues.

Those figures aren’t surprising — but for President Obama and his political team, they must be quite worrisome. Right now the American people, by large margins, believe we’re heading in the wrong direction. And to borrow a favorite Obama metaphor, the president is the person with the keys to the car and his hand on the wheel.

Unless Mr. Obama is able to shift this trajectory by this time next year, his chances for re-election will be long.

In assessing the frame of mind of the public at the close of the year, the Pew Research Center found that

Consistent with the mood of the nation all year, 2010 is closing on a down note. Fully 72% are dissatisfied with national conditions, 89% rate national economic conditions as only fair or poor, and majorities or pluralities think the country is losing ground on nine of 12 major issues.

Those figures aren’t surprising — but for President Obama and his political team, they must be quite worrisome. Right now the American people, by large margins, believe we’re heading in the wrong direction. And to borrow a favorite Obama metaphor, the president is the person with the keys to the car and his hand on the wheel.

Unless Mr. Obama is able to shift this trajectory by this time next year, his chances for re-election will be long.

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The EU’s Black-and-White World

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

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Losing Our Religion

The most recent Gallup poll finds that a near-record percentage of Americans see religion losing influence in America.

According to Gallup:

* Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade. (The last time the figure was higher was in 1970, during the height of the sexual revolution, when the figure was 75 percent.)

* Fifty-four percent of Americans in 2010 say religion is “very important” in their lives. This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75 percent who said religion was very important in 1952.

* Self-reported church or synagogue membership has drifted slowly downward over the past 70 years. The current 61 percent of Americans who report church or synagogue membership is tied with 2007 and 2008 as the lowest in Gallup’s history and down significantly from a high of 76 percent in 1947.

One would need to explore the data with great care before drawing conclusions that were definitive or sweeping. It’s certainly not clear to me what all, or even most of, the factors are that are driving these numbers. But whatever they are, there is no question that the last half-decade has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who see religion losing influence in America and a sharp drop (to 25 percent) of those who believe religion is increasing its influence in America. Presumably these findings will delight Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Many of the rest of us are a good deal less encouraged by them.

The most recent Gallup poll finds that a near-record percentage of Americans see religion losing influence in America.

According to Gallup:

* Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade. (The last time the figure was higher was in 1970, during the height of the sexual revolution, when the figure was 75 percent.)

* Fifty-four percent of Americans in 2010 say religion is “very important” in their lives. This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75 percent who said religion was very important in 1952.

* Self-reported church or synagogue membership has drifted slowly downward over the past 70 years. The current 61 percent of Americans who report church or synagogue membership is tied with 2007 and 2008 as the lowest in Gallup’s history and down significantly from a high of 76 percent in 1947.

One would need to explore the data with great care before drawing conclusions that were definitive or sweeping. It’s certainly not clear to me what all, or even most of, the factors are that are driving these numbers. But whatever they are, there is no question that the last half-decade has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who see religion losing influence in America and a sharp drop (to 25 percent) of those who believe religion is increasing its influence in America. Presumably these findings will delight Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Many of the rest of us are a good deal less encouraged by them.

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In Dialogue: Religion, Politics, Wealth, Justice

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

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Should We Feel Encouraged About an Iranian Nuke in Three Years?

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

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Most Odious Column of the Month—or Is That Year?

The prize for the most odious column of the month, if not the year, goes (drum roll, please) to Colman McCarthy of the Washington Post. In the midst of a screed against letting ROTC on campus, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, he writes this:

To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home.

Whether America’s or the Taliban’s? As if there is no distinction to be made between the army of a democratic republic that spreads freedom in its wake and adheres to the laws of war, and a vile totalitarian movement that peddles drugs, deliberately kills civilians, tortures homosexuals to death, and throws acid in the faces of unveiled women.

It is hard to believe that the kind of hysterical, purblind anti-military prejudice exhibited by Colman McCarthy can still be found anywhere today, much less in the pages of a reputable newspaper, especially one like the Washington Post, which is run by Don Graham, an exemplar of honorable military service — he volunteered for service in Vietnam after graduating from Harvard.

Apparently, McCarthy has no idea how offensive what he just said is. But then what do you expect from a columnist who thinks this is a serious, well-reasoned position: “ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace.” Heaven forbid that the “intellectual purity” of American higher education be tainted by an idea whose truth has been repeatedly validated, from the American Civil War to World War II — only two of many instances of nations killing and destroying their way to establish a just peace.

The prize for the most odious column of the month, if not the year, goes (drum roll, please) to Colman McCarthy of the Washington Post. In the midst of a screed against letting ROTC on campus, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, he writes this:

To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home.

Whether America’s or the Taliban’s? As if there is no distinction to be made between the army of a democratic republic that spreads freedom in its wake and adheres to the laws of war, and a vile totalitarian movement that peddles drugs, deliberately kills civilians, tortures homosexuals to death, and throws acid in the faces of unveiled women.

It is hard to believe that the kind of hysterical, purblind anti-military prejudice exhibited by Colman McCarthy can still be found anywhere today, much less in the pages of a reputable newspaper, especially one like the Washington Post, which is run by Don Graham, an exemplar of honorable military service — he volunteered for service in Vietnam after graduating from Harvard.

Apparently, McCarthy has no idea how offensive what he just said is. But then what do you expect from a columnist who thinks this is a serious, well-reasoned position: “ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace.” Heaven forbid that the “intellectual purity” of American higher education be tainted by an idea whose truth has been repeatedly validated, from the American Civil War to World War II — only two of many instances of nations killing and destroying their way to establish a just peace.

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Good News from Iraq

Although multiple headlines about bombings have created the illusion of a “ramp up” in Iraq violence, Iraqi civilian deaths have dropped this year for the third year in a row. According to the organization Iraq Body Count, the number of violence-related civilian deaths fell by 15 percent in 2010, to 3,976.

Most remarkably, this decrease came while Iraqis were handling their own national security to an extent not seen since the beginning of the war. In June 2009, American combat troops pulled out of Iraqi cities and transferred security duties to Iraqis there. Speculation about sectarian violence was nearly the default analytical position. By August of this year, when President Obama announced the official end of combat operations in Iraq, it had become clear that in the unlikely event Iraq does unravel, it would (and still could) happen courtesy of Iraqi politics.

The decrease in civilian deaths is a tribute to American fighting and training, and also to the great many Iraqis who have managed to hold their fragile country together with diminishing American oversight. It also means that the Zarqawi-authored terrorist tactic of jump-starting a civil war by targeting civilians of particular religious sects is dead. For all the bombings we read about over here, Iraqis are far more interested in security and progress than in retaliation.

Although multiple headlines about bombings have created the illusion of a “ramp up” in Iraq violence, Iraqi civilian deaths have dropped this year for the third year in a row. According to the organization Iraq Body Count, the number of violence-related civilian deaths fell by 15 percent in 2010, to 3,976.

Most remarkably, this decrease came while Iraqis were handling their own national security to an extent not seen since the beginning of the war. In June 2009, American combat troops pulled out of Iraqi cities and transferred security duties to Iraqis there. Speculation about sectarian violence was nearly the default analytical position. By August of this year, when President Obama announced the official end of combat operations in Iraq, it had become clear that in the unlikely event Iraq does unravel, it would (and still could) happen courtesy of Iraqi politics.

The decrease in civilian deaths is a tribute to American fighting and training, and also to the great many Iraqis who have managed to hold their fragile country together with diminishing American oversight. It also means that the Zarqawi-authored terrorist tactic of jump-starting a civil war by targeting civilians of particular religious sects is dead. For all the bombings we read about over here, Iraqis are far more interested in security and progress than in retaliation.

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Another NPR Hit Piece on Israel

Never mind Juan Williams: What really gets me about National Public Radio is the way it manages to cover Israel in a manner more reminiscent of Tishreen‘s or Al Jazeera’s style than that of an American news outlet. The latest egregious example is a piece from NPR’s Morning Edition that runs on the NPR website — and this morning was the lead story on the NPR home page —  under the headline “In Israel, No Welcome Mat for African Migrants.” The article accuses Israel of being inhospitable to refugees. There’s no mention whatsoever of Israel’s welcoming 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union or tens of thousands of Jews and others from Ethiopia, which, last I checked, was in Africa. Nor is there any mention of whether any other countries are laying out welcome mats for refugees. It’s hard to think of a country other than America that has been more welcoming to refugees than Israel has, so it seems likely that the NPR piece is afflicted by a certain confusion between a “refugee” and an “illegal immigrant.”

One could argue that holding Israel to a higher standard of behavior represents a certain sort of philo-Semitism, but from National Public Radio — or National Palestinian Radio, as I call it (“Please turn down the National Palestinian Radio, dear”) — I’d settle for mere accuracy.

The NPR quotes one illegal African immigrant it states has been in Israel for 16 years as saying that Israel “ends up not a place for people who are different. It’s a place where people should be, look, all the same.” Again, there’s no reminder or reality check from the NPR correspondent to the effect that Israelis, who may be Ethiopian immigrants, black-hat Orthodox, secular supermodels, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, you name it, hardly “look all the same.”

NPR has responded to complaints about its Israel coverage by commissioning an independent review every three months of its coverage of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But this isn’t even coverage of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”; it’s just a hit piece on Israel.

Never mind Juan Williams: What really gets me about National Public Radio is the way it manages to cover Israel in a manner more reminiscent of Tishreen‘s or Al Jazeera’s style than that of an American news outlet. The latest egregious example is a piece from NPR’s Morning Edition that runs on the NPR website — and this morning was the lead story on the NPR home page —  under the headline “In Israel, No Welcome Mat for African Migrants.” The article accuses Israel of being inhospitable to refugees. There’s no mention whatsoever of Israel’s welcoming 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union or tens of thousands of Jews and others from Ethiopia, which, last I checked, was in Africa. Nor is there any mention of whether any other countries are laying out welcome mats for refugees. It’s hard to think of a country other than America that has been more welcoming to refugees than Israel has, so it seems likely that the NPR piece is afflicted by a certain confusion between a “refugee” and an “illegal immigrant.”

One could argue that holding Israel to a higher standard of behavior represents a certain sort of philo-Semitism, but from National Public Radio — or National Palestinian Radio, as I call it (“Please turn down the National Palestinian Radio, dear”) — I’d settle for mere accuracy.

The NPR quotes one illegal African immigrant it states has been in Israel for 16 years as saying that Israel “ends up not a place for people who are different. It’s a place where people should be, look, all the same.” Again, there’s no reminder or reality check from the NPR correspondent to the effect that Israelis, who may be Ethiopian immigrants, black-hat Orthodox, secular supermodels, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, you name it, hardly “look all the same.”

NPR has responded to complaints about its Israel coverage by commissioning an independent review every three months of its coverage of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But this isn’t even coverage of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”; it’s just a hit piece on Israel.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

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The Limitations of Holocaust Education

In the Forward last week, Donald Snyder puzzled over an apparent contradiction in German society: despite the country’s mandatory Holocaust-education programs and laws against Holocaust denial, recent studies have found that some anti-Semitic theories are actually on the rise.

The findings show that 57 percent of Germans agree that Israel is waging “a war of annihilation” against the Palestinians, while 38 percent agree that “considering the politics of Israel it is easy to see why one would have something against Jews.” Perhaps most disquieting was that over 40 percent of Germans agree that “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is basically no different from what the Nazis did with the Jews during the Third Reich.”

Snyder chalked up this phenomenon to a new “strain” of anti-Semitism caused by a changing population and the growing popularity of the anti-Zionist movement:

Muslim and classic right-wing anti-Semitism are combining with left-wing demonization of Israel to produce a toxic mix, despite Germany’s postwar efforts to ensure that future generations continue to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. This new strain renders old ways of combating anti-Semitism less effective. According to some observers, in Germany the Holocaust narrative is no longer the powerful antidote it once was.

But while Holocaust education is important for many reasons, it’s a lousy way to combat anti-Semitism. For one thing, it assumes that ignorance of the Holocaust is the cause of anti-Semitism — when, in fact, the exact opposite is often the case. Sam Schulman made this point well in a Weekly Standard essay this week: Read More

In the Forward last week, Donald Snyder puzzled over an apparent contradiction in German society: despite the country’s mandatory Holocaust-education programs and laws against Holocaust denial, recent studies have found that some anti-Semitic theories are actually on the rise.

The findings show that 57 percent of Germans agree that Israel is waging “a war of annihilation” against the Palestinians, while 38 percent agree that “considering the politics of Israel it is easy to see why one would have something against Jews.” Perhaps most disquieting was that over 40 percent of Germans agree that “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is basically no different from what the Nazis did with the Jews during the Third Reich.”

Snyder chalked up this phenomenon to a new “strain” of anti-Semitism caused by a changing population and the growing popularity of the anti-Zionist movement:

Muslim and classic right-wing anti-Semitism are combining with left-wing demonization of Israel to produce a toxic mix, despite Germany’s postwar efforts to ensure that future generations continue to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. This new strain renders old ways of combating anti-Semitism less effective. According to some observers, in Germany the Holocaust narrative is no longer the powerful antidote it once was.

But while Holocaust education is important for many reasons, it’s a lousy way to combat anti-Semitism. For one thing, it assumes that ignorance of the Holocaust is the cause of anti-Semitism — when, in fact, the exact opposite is often the case. Sam Schulman made this point well in a Weekly Standard essay this week:

Most anti-Semites are perfectly well-informed about the actuality of the Holocaust; so are most people who believe that the time has come for the state of Israel to be eliminated. … Holocaust education, however well its teachers are trained, will never pry such people loose from their defects of character and judgment​—​or from their underlying feelings about Jews as individuals and fellow-citizens.

Holocaust denial tends to be a symptom of anti-Semitism, not the cause. Most of the revisionist theories about the Holocaust are aimed at rebutting the notion that Jews were innocent victims — i.e., “The Jews were in cahoots with the Nazis” or “The Holocaust was exaggerated.”

Germany has banned these types of statements, and so anti-Semites have latched on to a more socially acceptable argument: the Holocaust was really terrible, they typically concede, but now the Jews in Israel are doing the same thing to the Palestinians.

“The Israelis tried to dehumanise the Palestinians, just like the Nazis tried to dehumanise me. Nobody should dehumanise any other and those who try to dehumanise another are not human,” said Dr. Hajo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor and anti-Zionist, last January.

Unlike typical Holocaust revisionism, which relies on misstatements about the Jewish genocide, this argument relies on gross mischaracterizations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But its purpose is similar: it implies that Jews are unworthy of tolerance because they are morally equivalent to the Nazi regime.

This brings us to another problem with Germany’s use of Holocaust-education programs to combat anti-Semitism. The memory of the Holocaust isn’t an “antidote” to anti-Semitism but rather an example of what can occur when this sort of bigotry remains unchecked. It’s apparently not enough to say that Jews should be “tolerated” simply because they are human beings; they should instead be tolerated because of their suffering under the Nazis.

Not only is this notion offensive; it’s also deeply problematic. It holds that it’s only necessary to “tolerate” Jews as long as they are viewed as victims of persecution. But if Israel is falsely seen as engaging in “Nazi tactics” — as 40 percent of Germans surveyed believe — then the Jewish state must forfeit its grievances and victim status. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that nearly as many Germans agree that Israel’s “politics” justify animosity toward the Jewish people in general.

And it’s also noteworthy that these poll numbers come from a country that is still ultra-cautious when it comes to voicing anti-Semitic opinions. It would be interesting to see how other European states, with less of a historical connection to Nazism, would respond to the same survey.

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Israel Brings Senior Gov’t Officials to Justice

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

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SPECIAL JANUARY PREVIEW: The WikiLeaks War on America

The indefinable international organization known as WikiLeaks was relatively unknown between its setting up in 2006 and the April 2010 premiere it staged at the National Press Club in Washington of the “Collateral Murder” video—a selection of stolen and decrypted gun-camera footage that purportedly shows the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists by the crew of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter. Skillfully edited and promoted, and widely accepted by the mainstream media as proof of a U.S. war crime, the video won WikiLeaks fame and praise around the world and made its founder, a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, an international celebrity.

To finish reading this SPECIAL PREVIEW from the JANUARY 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

To ensure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

The indefinable international organization known as WikiLeaks was relatively unknown between its setting up in 2006 and the April 2010 premiere it staged at the National Press Club in Washington of the “Collateral Murder” video—a selection of stolen and decrypted gun-camera footage that purportedly shows the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists by the crew of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter. Skillfully edited and promoted, and widely accepted by the mainstream media as proof of a U.S. war crime, the video won WikiLeaks fame and praise around the world and made its founder, a 39-year-old Australian named Julian Assange, an international celebrity.

To finish reading this SPECIAL PREVIEW from the JANUARY 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

To ensure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Goldstone Book Author: Critics Refuse to ‘Discuss the Contents of the Report’

Here is Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the upcoming book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, in next week’s Forward (sneering italics in the original, bold in mine):

Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout. … From the moment the Goldstone Report was released in September 2009, its lead author has been subjected to fierce, well-orchestrated attacks by Israeli and American Jews who purport to be defending the legitimacy of the Jewish state and the safety of the Jewish people. Rather than discuss the contents of the report. … Israel’s defenders launched an all-points campaign to bury it. But their strategy was complicated from the start by an inconvenient truth: Goldstone was one of them — a Jew, and not just any Jew, an exemplary one.

And here is a screenshot of “Understanding the Goldstone Report,” a project spearheaded by Richard Landes of Pallywood fame, where more than a dozen journalists and bloggers (myself included) picked apart the report paragraph by paragraph and often sentence by sentence. I’ve unscrolled the “Case Study” category on the menu bar to show where some of the distinct accusations — “the contents of the report” — were dealt with specifically. Read More

Here is Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the upcoming book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, in next week’s Forward (sneering italics in the original, bold in mine):

Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout. … From the moment the Goldstone Report was released in September 2009, its lead author has been subjected to fierce, well-orchestrated attacks by Israeli and American Jews who purport to be defending the legitimacy of the Jewish state and the safety of the Jewish people. Rather than discuss the contents of the report. … Israel’s defenders launched an all-points campaign to bury it. But their strategy was complicated from the start by an inconvenient truth: Goldstone was one of them — a Jew, and not just any Jew, an exemplary one.

And here is a screenshot of “Understanding the Goldstone Report,” a project spearheaded by Richard Landes of Pallywood fame, where more than a dozen journalists and bloggers (myself included) picked apart the report paragraph by paragraph and often sentence by sentence. I’ve unscrolled the “Case Study” category on the menu bar to show where some of the distinct accusations — “the contents of the report” — were dealt with specifically.

goldstonereportorg_500

There are also pages documenting the broad procedural flaws of the investigation, the caliber of individual witnesses, the importance of concealed evidence, the role of anti-Israel mediators, the dynamics of human-shield accusations, plus about 30 other issues. Yet another section, maintained by Daled Amos, served as a clearinghouse for criticisms posted on related blogs, like Elder of Ziyon, which alone had more than 25 Goldstone-related posts digging through the text of the report.

In size and scope, the site rivals the IDF’s comprehensive Goldstone rebuttal — another document that, by the by, directly rebutted “the contents of the report.” It has so much material and is so on-point, in fact, that it’s the top result on Google for “goldstone report.” It ranks higher than the .pdf of the actual Goldstone Report, which continues to be the focus of an international anti-Israel feeding frenzy. SEO tricks might give a site a slight advantage on Google, but nothing can push irrelevant content to the very top of a very crowded field.

So one theory suggests that Pogrebin, in preparing for her book, never went so far as to type “goldstone report” into Google. Could be, and it’s something to bear in mind when her book inevitable gets cited as a definitive anti-Israel treatise.

Another theory holds that she found “Understanding the Goldstone Report” but has an idiosyncratic yet fortuitously self-serving interpretation of what counts as discussing “the contents of the report.” Maybe, though that wouldn’t bode well for her book’s relevance.

And then there’s the theory that Goldstone, Pogrebin, and their ilk willfully overlook substantive criticisms of the UN-sponsored blood libel lest they have to answer them. That, too, has the ring of plausibility and may warrant consideration.

All those theories aside, you do have to appreciate the formulation of the article’s opening sentence: “Two years after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault against Hamas in Gaza, we are still grappling with the fallout.” Coming from the Goldstone crowd and from someone publishing a Goldstone-related book, this is the equivalent of setting a house on fire and then demurely mentioning that people are struggling to deal with the flames. How observant!

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RE: Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

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Support for Terrorism Falls…but More Slowly Than During the Bush Years

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

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Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

Read Less




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