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Posts For: January 30, 2011

Israel Supporters Barred from Anti-Zionist Event at Rutgers

Hundreds of Jewish students and supporters were barred from attending an event comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at Rutgers University on Saturday, according to witnesses and news reports:

The campus police were asked to limit attendance to supporters of the program after it became clear the audience would be outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Jewish students, according to the report.

The Jewish students turned away from the event reportedly gathered in the lobby of the building where the program was being held and sang Hebrew songs.

The event, called “Never Again for Anyone,” is part of a nationwide tour “to honor those who perished in the Holocaust by upholding the human rights inherent to all people — and particularly for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.” It engages in that increasingly popular form of Holocaust revisionism that equates Israel’s legitimate acts of self-preservation with the genocide carried out by the Nazi regime.

Organized by a student group called BAKA, the event was held in a public campus building and advertised as open to the public. Attendees were originally let inside the event for free, but once hundreds of members of the Jewish community began showing up, BAKA began trying to charge an attendance fee.

“They had a sign that had a $5- $20 donation suggestion, and they ripped the sign in half and said you have to pay to get inside,” Aaron Marcus, a Rutgers student who helped organize a counter-protest to the event, told me.

Of course, paying an entrance fee would also mean giving a donation to an organization whose specific purpose is to demonize Israel. In addition to hosting “Never Again for Anyone,” the Rutgers chapter of BAKA has hosted campus lectures by Norman Finklestein and gained national attention after it attempted to sponsor a flotilla to Gaza last fall.

And while anti-Zionist students were given wristbands and let into the event for free, almost none of the 400 Israel supporters were able to get inside, said Marcus. And those who did manage to find a way inside were prevented from using recording devices.

“As a skeptic, it’s just really, really disturbing that they don’t want anybody to videotape them, they don’t want anybody to audio-record them, they don’t want anybody who disagrees with them at their events,” said Marcus. “So what are they hiding, and why is it that students are paying for it?”

The Rutgers administration has not yet commented on the incident, but Marcus told me that the Anti-Defamation League has been in touch with some of the people who were refused admission to the event.

Hundreds of Jewish students and supporters were barred from attending an event comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at Rutgers University on Saturday, according to witnesses and news reports:

The campus police were asked to limit attendance to supporters of the program after it became clear the audience would be outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Jewish students, according to the report.

The Jewish students turned away from the event reportedly gathered in the lobby of the building where the program was being held and sang Hebrew songs.

The event, called “Never Again for Anyone,” is part of a nationwide tour “to honor those who perished in the Holocaust by upholding the human rights inherent to all people — and particularly for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.” It engages in that increasingly popular form of Holocaust revisionism that equates Israel’s legitimate acts of self-preservation with the genocide carried out by the Nazi regime.

Organized by a student group called BAKA, the event was held in a public campus building and advertised as open to the public. Attendees were originally let inside the event for free, but once hundreds of members of the Jewish community began showing up, BAKA began trying to charge an attendance fee.

“They had a sign that had a $5- $20 donation suggestion, and they ripped the sign in half and said you have to pay to get inside,” Aaron Marcus, a Rutgers student who helped organize a counter-protest to the event, told me.

Of course, paying an entrance fee would also mean giving a donation to an organization whose specific purpose is to demonize Israel. In addition to hosting “Never Again for Anyone,” the Rutgers chapter of BAKA has hosted campus lectures by Norman Finklestein and gained national attention after it attempted to sponsor a flotilla to Gaza last fall.

And while anti-Zionist students were given wristbands and let into the event for free, almost none of the 400 Israel supporters were able to get inside, said Marcus. And those who did manage to find a way inside were prevented from using recording devices.

“As a skeptic, it’s just really, really disturbing that they don’t want anybody to videotape them, they don’t want anybody to audio-record them, they don’t want anybody who disagrees with them at their events,” said Marcus. “So what are they hiding, and why is it that students are paying for it?”

The Rutgers administration has not yet commented on the incident, but Marcus told me that the Anti-Defamation League has been in touch with some of the people who were refused admission to the event.

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Obama’s Egypt Position Is Becoming Ridiculous

The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”

The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.

The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.

But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”

She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.

From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.

As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.

The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”

The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.

The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.

But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”

She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.

From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.

As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.

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The Good Old Days? No Thanks.

Two weeks ago, I posted about a chart that plotted fertility against life expectancy over the past 50 years. It showed how the former dropped sharply in most countries as the latter increased, one reason why the “population explosion” that was supposed to turn the world into Bangladesh isn’t going to happen.

Here’s another animated chart. This one plots life expectancy against per capita income over the past 200 years for 200 countries around the world. In 1810, the whole world was poor and died young. Life, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Even Britain, the richest country in the world at the time, was, by modern standards, very poor.

But over the past 200 years, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which greatly accelerated the rate of economic growth, the world has gotten much richer, and that wealth has spread across the socioeconomic spectrum. Thanks to vastly improved public health and medical technology — funded by the new wealth — life expectancy has greatly increased. At first, these trends were confined to the West. But especially in the past 50 years, they have spread to more and more countries, and the percentage of people still living Hobbesian lives has greatly declined.

The phrase “the good old days” was coined in the 1840s, just as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear, and the remembered past, at least for the elderly, began to differ markedly from the present for the first time in human history. The great New York diarist Philip Hone, then in his 60s, wrote in 1844 that “this world is going too fast. Improvements, politics, reform, religion — all fly. Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time and beat it hollow. Flying is dangerous. By and by we shall have balloons and pass over to Europe between sun and sun. Oh, for the good old days of heavy post-coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!”

As the chart shows, the change that Hone felt threatened by has been overwhelmingly for the good for nearly everyone. The good old days he nostalgically looked back on were not so good.

Two weeks ago, I posted about a chart that plotted fertility against life expectancy over the past 50 years. It showed how the former dropped sharply in most countries as the latter increased, one reason why the “population explosion” that was supposed to turn the world into Bangladesh isn’t going to happen.

Here’s another animated chart. This one plots life expectancy against per capita income over the past 200 years for 200 countries around the world. In 1810, the whole world was poor and died young. Life, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Even Britain, the richest country in the world at the time, was, by modern standards, very poor.

But over the past 200 years, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which greatly accelerated the rate of economic growth, the world has gotten much richer, and that wealth has spread across the socioeconomic spectrum. Thanks to vastly improved public health and medical technology — funded by the new wealth — life expectancy has greatly increased. At first, these trends were confined to the West. But especially in the past 50 years, they have spread to more and more countries, and the percentage of people still living Hobbesian lives has greatly declined.

The phrase “the good old days” was coined in the 1840s, just as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear, and the remembered past, at least for the elderly, began to differ markedly from the present for the first time in human history. The great New York diarist Philip Hone, then in his 60s, wrote in 1844 that “this world is going too fast. Improvements, politics, reform, religion — all fly. Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time and beat it hollow. Flying is dangerous. By and by we shall have balloons and pass over to Europe between sun and sun. Oh, for the good old days of heavy post-coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!”

As the chart shows, the change that Hone felt threatened by has been overwhelmingly for the good for nearly everyone. The good old days he nostalgically looked back on were not so good.

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Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

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Mubarak Moves to Shut Down Al Jazeera

Not content with restricting Internet and cell-phone use, this morning the Mubarak regime attempted to shut down the Al Jazeera Cairo bureau, which has been doing some of the most comprehensive reporting on the Egyptian mass protests:

Outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has “ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the Arab republic of Egypt and the annulment of its licences,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The press cards of all Al Jazeera staff in Egypt were also being withdrawn, it added.

Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat meanwhile halted its relays of Al Jazeera programming, although the Qatar-based television channel could still be viewed in Cairo via Arabsat.

But silencing dissent isn’t as simple as it used to be. Shortly after the shutdown, Al Jazeera began giving viewers instructions on Twitter, explaining how to access its broadcasts online or through other TV frequencies.

“If you’ve lost @AJArabic signal on NileSat, watch it on Hotbird 12111/V/27500,” the news organization Tweeted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Egyptian government has dealt with these types of mass protests before, but its traditional tactics for clamping down on communication are useless today. At some point soon, probably, totalitarian regimes will figure out how to successfully suppress opposition in the age of social media. But for now, the eyes of the world are still glued to Egypt, and there isn’t a thing the government can do to stop it.

Not content with restricting Internet and cell-phone use, this morning the Mubarak regime attempted to shut down the Al Jazeera Cairo bureau, which has been doing some of the most comprehensive reporting on the Egyptian mass protests:

Outgoing information minister Anas al-Fikki has “ordered the closure of all activities by Al Jazeera in the Arab republic of Egypt and the annulment of its licences,” Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The press cards of all Al Jazeera staff in Egypt were also being withdrawn, it added.

Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat meanwhile halted its relays of Al Jazeera programming, although the Qatar-based television channel could still be viewed in Cairo via Arabsat.

But silencing dissent isn’t as simple as it used to be. Shortly after the shutdown, Al Jazeera began giving viewers instructions on Twitter, explaining how to access its broadcasts online or through other TV frequencies.

“If you’ve lost @AJArabic signal on NileSat, watch it on Hotbird 12111/V/27500,” the news organization Tweeted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Egyptian government has dealt with these types of mass protests before, but its traditional tactics for clamping down on communication are useless today. At some point soon, probably, totalitarian regimes will figure out how to successfully suppress opposition in the age of social media. But for now, the eyes of the world are still glued to Egypt, and there isn’t a thing the government can do to stop it.

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State Dept: Turkey’s Report on Flotilla ‘Independent and Credible’

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has —

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission. Read More

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has —

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission.

What we do know is that the Israeli investigation was headed by a former Supreme Court justice and supervised by foreign observers, while Ankara’s commission was an internal government investigation closed to observers. So not so much with the independence either.

Of course, the U.S. government has an obligation to maintain ties with NATO member Turkey. We’ve got nukes there, among other interests. But Turkey’s report is going to be cited to formally condemn Israel in international forums, just like the Goldstone Report is still being cited in ostensibly binding resolutions. Turkey is already trying to mainstream its lies from the other direction, in the form of a vicious anti-Jewish film of the kind not seen on the Continent since the 1940s. The cross-pollination between anti-Semitic venom and international “findings” is a real one — Durban I and II have proved as much — and the Turkish claim is not a “contradictory point of view” or a “valid perspective.” It’s a blood libel.

Eventually, the U.S. will have to decide whether it wants to stop anti-Semitic invective of the kind found in the Turkish report from becoming an international resolution. If it does, U.S. diplomats will need to state the truth, as demonstrated by everything from videos to Turkish journalists on the Mavi Marmara: terrorist supporters backed by the Turkish government attempted to break a legal blockade imposed on a terrorist group seeking a UN member’s annihilation, and those terrorists’ supporters ambushed troops who attempted to nonviolently intercept them. U.S. diplomats will also have to insist that implying otherwise is simply untenable.

Saying the opposite now, even in an attempt to kick the can down the road, will make that task awkward.

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