Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 8, 2011

Chait Crime, Part 2

Jonathan Chait responds to my blast at him for analogizing Donald Rumsfeld to Lee Harvey Oswald by saying, astonishingly, that “an analogy between A and B does not imply moral parity between A and B.” I can’t decide which is worse. Is it a) the cowardice demonstrated by an unwillingness to own up to his own rhetorical offense; b) the moral idiocy of claiming that an analogy does not imply moral parity when implying parity is precisely what an analogy is designed to do; or c) the dense sensibility that could actually imagine he could write that sentence and get away with it when he is being read by people who have at least four brain cells and at least some limited experience in reading sentences, even ones as useless as Chait’s? He calls his line about Rumsfeld a “joke,” which is, again, not only cowardly, given his refusal to own up, but sadly reflective of Chait’s general way with a witticism, which is, alas, no way at all.

He then chooses to prove his point about moral parity and analogies (and jokes, I suppose) by analogizing me to Kim Jong-il in a tediously witless jab on the subject of nepotism. Well, I don’t know what Chait’s father does for a living, but if he were, say, a shoemaker, I would wager he is probably relieved that his son didn’t join the family business, given that the shoddiness with which he practices his present craft would, in an analogous profession, be enough to drive that business into bankruptcy.

Jonathan Chait responds to my blast at him for analogizing Donald Rumsfeld to Lee Harvey Oswald by saying, astonishingly, that “an analogy between A and B does not imply moral parity between A and B.” I can’t decide which is worse. Is it a) the cowardice demonstrated by an unwillingness to own up to his own rhetorical offense; b) the moral idiocy of claiming that an analogy does not imply moral parity when implying parity is precisely what an analogy is designed to do; or c) the dense sensibility that could actually imagine he could write that sentence and get away with it when he is being read by people who have at least four brain cells and at least some limited experience in reading sentences, even ones as useless as Chait’s? He calls his line about Rumsfeld a “joke,” which is, again, not only cowardly, given his refusal to own up, but sadly reflective of Chait’s general way with a witticism, which is, alas, no way at all.

He then chooses to prove his point about moral parity and analogies (and jokes, I suppose) by analogizing me to Kim Jong-il in a tediously witless jab on the subject of nepotism. Well, I don’t know what Chait’s father does for a living, but if he were, say, a shoemaker, I would wager he is probably relieved that his son didn’t join the family business, given that the shoddiness with which he practices his present craft would, in an analogous profession, be enough to drive that business into bankruptcy.

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The 40th Anniversary of Ali vs. Frazier

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier fight for the heavyweight championship. It was the greatest sporting event — not the greatest fight, but the greatest sporting event — of my lifetime.

Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated. Both were genuinely great boxers. Ali, arguably the greatest athlete of the 20th century, was also probably its most controversial. When he fought Frazier, he had only recently returned to the ring after having been stripped of his title and banned from boxing for three years for refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali when he converted to Islam in 1964. No athlete in American history combined Ali’s charisma and talent or provoked such strong feelings of love and hatred. And no athlete equaled Ali’s ability to generate attention and excitement in a sporting event.

The fight was a cultural moment. No single athletic competition that I’m aware of has ever drawn quite as many famous people, with the likes of Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Frank Sinatra, and Burt Lancaster in attendance.

I was a young boy at the time of the fight, and I recall listening to the radio (KONA in Richland, Washington) with my older brother as announcers summarized the fight every three rounds. Frazier won a unanimous decision, and rightly so. But of all the moments of the fight, the one that stands out most to me was Ali being hit by a ferocious left hook by Frazier early in the 15th round. Rather than stay down, as almost any other fighter would have done, Ali rose at the count of three or four and ended up rallying in that round, though to no avail. That moment demonstrated one of the most underrated talents of Ali, which was his ability to absorb punishment and take a punch.

The buildup to the Ali-Frazier fight was extraordinary — and the fight exceeded the anticipation. It was an epic event, dominating the attention of the nation in a way that no sporting event ever had, and might never do again.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier fight for the heavyweight championship. It was the greatest sporting event — not the greatest fight, but the greatest sporting event — of my lifetime.

Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated. Both were genuinely great boxers. Ali, arguably the greatest athlete of the 20th century, was also probably its most controversial. When he fought Frazier, he had only recently returned to the ring after having been stripped of his title and banned from boxing for three years for refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali when he converted to Islam in 1964. No athlete in American history combined Ali’s charisma and talent or provoked such strong feelings of love and hatred. And no athlete equaled Ali’s ability to generate attention and excitement in a sporting event.

The fight was a cultural moment. No single athletic competition that I’m aware of has ever drawn quite as many famous people, with the likes of Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Frank Sinatra, and Burt Lancaster in attendance.

I was a young boy at the time of the fight, and I recall listening to the radio (KONA in Richland, Washington) with my older brother as announcers summarized the fight every three rounds. Frazier won a unanimous decision, and rightly so. But of all the moments of the fight, the one that stands out most to me was Ali being hit by a ferocious left hook by Frazier early in the 15th round. Rather than stay down, as almost any other fighter would have done, Ali rose at the count of three or four and ended up rallying in that round, though to no avail. That moment demonstrated one of the most underrated talents of Ali, which was his ability to absorb punishment and take a punch.

The buildup to the Ali-Frazier fight was extraordinary — and the fight exceeded the anticipation. It was an epic event, dominating the attention of the nation in a way that no sporting event ever had, and might never do again.

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Republican Congressman Responds to NPR Sting Video

The Washington Examiner’s Byron York spoke to Rep. Doug Lamborn, who is spearheading the GOP battle to defund NPR, about his thoughts on the NPR sting video released earlier today.

“I am amazed at the condescension and arrogance that we saw in the sting video,” Lamborn told York. “They seem to be viewing themselves as elites living in an ivory tower, and they are obviously out of touch with ordinary Americans.”

Lamborn is amazed by this? Has he never tuned into NPR before? He didn’t need a sting video to tell him what he could have figured out by listening to All Things Considered for 15 minutes.

There’s no doubt that former NPR fundraising official Ron Schiller’s statements about politics were offensive and his comments about Zionists and the media were troubling. But other than highlighting that his actions as an NPR executive were unprofessional and inappropriate, these remarks don’t tell us much of substance.

The real issue from the video that the GOP needs to focus on is Schiller’s statements about how NPR can live without government funding (that is, if Republicans want to give attention to the sting tape at all — which may not be the best move). Lamborn noted in his comments to York: “The real crux of the video was when the guy … admitted that they could survive and would even be better off without federal funding,” said Lamborn. “That’s what I’m hoping happens.”

If Republicans decide to use the contents of the video in their fight against NPR, they will do best to avoid exploiting Schiller’s inflammatory statements for political purposes and concentrate solely on the funding issue.

The Washington Examiner’s Byron York spoke to Rep. Doug Lamborn, who is spearheading the GOP battle to defund NPR, about his thoughts on the NPR sting video released earlier today.

“I am amazed at the condescension and arrogance that we saw in the sting video,” Lamborn told York. “They seem to be viewing themselves as elites living in an ivory tower, and they are obviously out of touch with ordinary Americans.”

Lamborn is amazed by this? Has he never tuned into NPR before? He didn’t need a sting video to tell him what he could have figured out by listening to All Things Considered for 15 minutes.

There’s no doubt that former NPR fundraising official Ron Schiller’s statements about politics were offensive and his comments about Zionists and the media were troubling. But other than highlighting that his actions as an NPR executive were unprofessional and inappropriate, these remarks don’t tell us much of substance.

The real issue from the video that the GOP needs to focus on is Schiller’s statements about how NPR can live without government funding (that is, if Republicans want to give attention to the sting tape at all — which may not be the best move). Lamborn noted in his comments to York: “The real crux of the video was when the guy … admitted that they could survive and would even be better off without federal funding,” said Lamborn. “That’s what I’m hoping happens.”

If Republicans decide to use the contents of the video in their fight against NPR, they will do best to avoid exploiting Schiller’s inflammatory statements for political purposes and concentrate solely on the funding issue.

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Re: Re: Gingrich’s Hypocrisy and Churchill’s Fidelity

Lest anyone think that after reading Peter’s post responding to my thoughts about the question of Newt Gingrich’s moral standing that I think that hypocrisy is worse than infidelity, let me state that I don’t. But I was not comparing garden-variety hypocrisy with every day infidelity. I was discussing Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s serial infidelity is a serious problem, and I imagine that it troubles many husbands as well as their wives that Peter thinks are the main audience for these critiques. But my point here is that this aspect of the former speaker’s biography fatally undermines his candidacy because he conducted himself in this manner while not merely prating about moral values, as do most hypocrites, but while also setting in motion an impeachment process that was rooted in charges of someone else’s infidelity. Gingrich’s shenanigans meant that the impeachment hearings were not a case of Republicans standing up for high standards but merely a cynical and partisan effort to sink a flawed sitting president.

That President Clinton deserved the opprobrium that those investigations rained down on him is beside the point. While there were reasons to question the wisdom of the entire impeachment process while it was ongoing, the revelation of Gingrich’s hypocrisy ended the discussion about moral values and shamed the congressional majority that he led as much as it undermined faith in his own character.

Peter is, of course, right to say that we are all hypocrites in some manner. As La Rochefoucauld famously wrote, it is “the homage that vice pays to virtue.” But when hypocrisy becomes not merely a foible but a policy, it must be considered to have ascended to a higher realm of misconduct.

Lest anyone think that after reading Peter’s post responding to my thoughts about the question of Newt Gingrich’s moral standing that I think that hypocrisy is worse than infidelity, let me state that I don’t. But I was not comparing garden-variety hypocrisy with every day infidelity. I was discussing Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s serial infidelity is a serious problem, and I imagine that it troubles many husbands as well as their wives that Peter thinks are the main audience for these critiques. But my point here is that this aspect of the former speaker’s biography fatally undermines his candidacy because he conducted himself in this manner while not merely prating about moral values, as do most hypocrites, but while also setting in motion an impeachment process that was rooted in charges of someone else’s infidelity. Gingrich’s shenanigans meant that the impeachment hearings were not a case of Republicans standing up for high standards but merely a cynical and partisan effort to sink a flawed sitting president.

That President Clinton deserved the opprobrium that those investigations rained down on him is beside the point. While there were reasons to question the wisdom of the entire impeachment process while it was ongoing, the revelation of Gingrich’s hypocrisy ended the discussion about moral values and shamed the congressional majority that he led as much as it undermined faith in his own character.

Peter is, of course, right to say that we are all hypocrites in some manner. As La Rochefoucauld famously wrote, it is “the homage that vice pays to virtue.” But when hypocrisy becomes not merely a foible but a policy, it must be considered to have ascended to a higher realm of misconduct.

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Why Has Bloomberg Been So Quiet About the King Hearings?

If you remember, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was one of the loudest defenders of the mosque near Ground Zero last summer. So it’s noteworthy that he’s been so slow to weigh in on Rep. Peter King’s hearings. And now that he has, Ben Smith points out that he’s taking a much milder position on this issue than he took on the one last summer:

Pete King’s been very helpful in getting homeland security monies for New York City. I respect him. I don’t happen to agree with him on this. And we’ve had this agreement to disagree for a long time,” Bloomberg said yesterday, signaling the central reason he won’t criticize King: The Long Island congressman is a rare Republican who favors pouring security funds into high-risk urban areas typically represented by Democrats.

Why such a change in tone? Smith points out that City Hall has an interest in — and is even providing a bit of support for — the radicalization hearings. “A senior New York Police Department official and veteran of its anti-terror efforts, Inspector Joseph Herbert, is serving on King’s committee staff, helping King prepare for the hearings, and also making the case for federal funding for the NYPD,” writes Smith.

Another reason may be that there was a fundamental legal argument for supporting the construction of the mosque last summer, but there’s no comparable argument against the King hearings now.

If you remember, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was one of the loudest defenders of the mosque near Ground Zero last summer. So it’s noteworthy that he’s been so slow to weigh in on Rep. Peter King’s hearings. And now that he has, Ben Smith points out that he’s taking a much milder position on this issue than he took on the one last summer:

Pete King’s been very helpful in getting homeland security monies for New York City. I respect him. I don’t happen to agree with him on this. And we’ve had this agreement to disagree for a long time,” Bloomberg said yesterday, signaling the central reason he won’t criticize King: The Long Island congressman is a rare Republican who favors pouring security funds into high-risk urban areas typically represented by Democrats.

Why such a change in tone? Smith points out that City Hall has an interest in — and is even providing a bit of support for — the radicalization hearings. “A senior New York Police Department official and veteran of its anti-terror efforts, Inspector Joseph Herbert, is serving on King’s committee staff, helping King prepare for the hearings, and also making the case for federal funding for the NYPD,” writes Smith.

Another reason may be that there was a fundamental legal argument for supporting the construction of the mosque last summer, but there’s no comparable argument against the King hearings now.

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Peter King Faces the Same Media Buzz Saw That Tore into Ground Zero Mosque Critics

The pounding Rep. Peter King is taking from the mainstream media over his hearings about Islamic extremism hasn’t altered his determination to pursue the subject. But according to Politico, it is making House Speaker John Boehner slightly uncomfortable. The website reports today that Boehner responded to queries about the hearings by simply saying “Chairman King is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” which it interprets as “not exactly a ringing endorsement.”

Politico may be reaching with this story alleging that Republicans are divided on the issue since, as its own story notes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is an enthusiastic backer of King’s initiative. But Boehner’s noncommittal response may well indicate that some GOP leaders are aware of the potential for disaster that the hearings represent. While King is certainly right to view the growing danger of Muslim extremism as an appropriate topic for the Homeland Security Committee, the outcome of this battle may hinge more on who controls the narrative about the investigation rather than its findings about support for terrorism among Islamists.

Stories about these hearings have generally been told from the perspective of Muslim groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other King critics. Rather than taking a hard look at the way foreign-funded extremists have turned some mosques into hotbeds for Islamism and the way that CAIR and similar groups have run interference for these radicals, the frame of reference about King has been the charge that he is engaging in a McCarthy-like congressional fishing expedition. While it will be possible for King to recover from these charges with well-run informative hearings that avoid the histrionics that might turn off the public, the ability of his opponents to spin the event as a witch hunt no matter what anyone actually says or does should not be underestimated. Read More

The pounding Rep. Peter King is taking from the mainstream media over his hearings about Islamic extremism hasn’t altered his determination to pursue the subject. But according to Politico, it is making House Speaker John Boehner slightly uncomfortable. The website reports today that Boehner responded to queries about the hearings by simply saying “Chairman King is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” which it interprets as “not exactly a ringing endorsement.”

Politico may be reaching with this story alleging that Republicans are divided on the issue since, as its own story notes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is an enthusiastic backer of King’s initiative. But Boehner’s noncommittal response may well indicate that some GOP leaders are aware of the potential for disaster that the hearings represent. While King is certainly right to view the growing danger of Muslim extremism as an appropriate topic for the Homeland Security Committee, the outcome of this battle may hinge more on who controls the narrative about the investigation rather than its findings about support for terrorism among Islamists.

Stories about these hearings have generally been told from the perspective of Muslim groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other King critics. Rather than taking a hard look at the way foreign-funded extremists have turned some mosques into hotbeds for Islamism and the way that CAIR and similar groups have run interference for these radicals, the frame of reference about King has been the charge that he is engaging in a McCarthy-like congressional fishing expedition. While it will be possible for King to recover from these charges with well-run informative hearings that avoid the histrionics that might turn off the public, the ability of his opponents to spin the event as a witch hunt no matter what anyone actually says or does should not be underestimated.

What King is running into is the same media buzz saw that faced critics of the plans to create an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero in New York last summer. In that controversy, as I wrote in COMMENTARY last October, the ability of supporters of the project to smear anyone who questioned the propriety of the plan as bigots was the key to understanding the way the debate played out. The successful efforts of groups like CAIR to convince the mainstream media that American Muslims were facing an unprecedented wave of prejudice reduced the discussion to one of whether Americans were in favor of discrimination against adherents of Islam. The fact that this premise was utterly false made no difference to the way the media covered the story, since they had already swallowed the false assertion that Muslims were under siege.

The same dynamic is playing out with King. Rather than examine the facts about Islamist extremism, the links to terror, and the troubling growth of such extremism, the discussion of the King hearings has centered on whether the congressman or those who share his concerns are prejudiced against Muslims, not whether there is a dangerous minority within the Muslim population who support Islamist beliefs and groups. While King has done nothing to deserve the comparison with Joseph McCarthy, whose false charges discredited the honorable cause of anti-Communism in this country for a generation, the media assault on the congressman has been predicated on the fallacious notion that any hearings about Muslim-inspired terror is inherently prejudicial and therefore wrong.

The goal for CAIR on other groups is to render the entire discussion of Islamist extremism out of bounds for public comment, and it must be admitted that the stories about King’s hearings so far indicate that they are having some success. Thus, it would not be surprising that some in the House leadership are worried that they, too, will be the targets of false charges of bigotry as this debate develops.

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Re: Gingrich’s Hypocrisy and Churchill’s Fidelity

Here are a few reactions to Jonathan’s response to my post:

1. Hypocrisy is certainly one element of what’s problematic regarding Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelity. But I’d be careful about making it the sole, or even the main, concern. Hypocrisy is a problem, but of course the way to avoid hypocrisy is to fail to speak up for high standards. If one does that — as some liberals are inclined to do — does that mean that the transgressions are any less serious? I dislike hypocrisy as much as the next person — but the unintended consequence of focusing simply on hypocrisy rather than the underlying offense can be to weaken moral standards.

2. Jonathan argues that the “stench of [Gingrich’s] hypocrisy still is stronger than the opprobrium that he may have earned for his infidelity.” I’m not sure most wives would agree with that, and I’m not even sure most Americans would. Hypocrisy can compound infidelity, but is hypocrisy itself worse than serial infidelity? Does it cause more damage to a spouse and to children, to friendships and acquaintances, and to the broader society? Nor is it clear to me that hypocrisy is more problematic than infidelity when it comes to the character of a leader. Neither is a particularly good quality — but hypocrisy is certainly much more prevalent. Most of us are hypocritical in some areas of our lives; but thankfully, most of us don’t cheat on our spouses.

3. Jonathan is quite right about Churchill and his beloved Clementine. That’s why I wrote “if the choice” had been between an unfaithful Churchill and a faithful Chamberlain rather than “Given the choice.” I was using a hypothetical in order to illustrate a point. I suspect Jonathan will run across few people who admire Churchill for as many different reasons as I do. I’m thrilled that Churchill was not only a great leader; he was (pace Eleanor Clift’s comments) also a faithful husband.

Here are a few reactions to Jonathan’s response to my post:

1. Hypocrisy is certainly one element of what’s problematic regarding Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelity. But I’d be careful about making it the sole, or even the main, concern. Hypocrisy is a problem, but of course the way to avoid hypocrisy is to fail to speak up for high standards. If one does that — as some liberals are inclined to do — does that mean that the transgressions are any less serious? I dislike hypocrisy as much as the next person — but the unintended consequence of focusing simply on hypocrisy rather than the underlying offense can be to weaken moral standards.

2. Jonathan argues that the “stench of [Gingrich’s] hypocrisy still is stronger than the opprobrium that he may have earned for his infidelity.” I’m not sure most wives would agree with that, and I’m not even sure most Americans would. Hypocrisy can compound infidelity, but is hypocrisy itself worse than serial infidelity? Does it cause more damage to a spouse and to children, to friendships and acquaintances, and to the broader society? Nor is it clear to me that hypocrisy is more problematic than infidelity when it comes to the character of a leader. Neither is a particularly good quality — but hypocrisy is certainly much more prevalent. Most of us are hypocritical in some areas of our lives; but thankfully, most of us don’t cheat on our spouses.

3. Jonathan is quite right about Churchill and his beloved Clementine. That’s why I wrote “if the choice” had been between an unfaithful Churchill and a faithful Chamberlain rather than “Given the choice.” I was using a hypothetical in order to illustrate a point. I suspect Jonathan will run across few people who admire Churchill for as many different reasons as I do. I’m thrilled that Churchill was not only a great leader; he was (pace Eleanor Clift’s comments) also a faithful husband.

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What Would Begin Do?

To help evaluate Evelyn Gordon’s impassioned post regarding Israel’s possible $20 billion defense request, let me recount two incidents from the negotiations Menachem Begin conducted with the Carter administration in 1977-78 that are worth remembering today.

The first incident occurred in July 1977, when Zbigniew Brzezinski presented Begin with a draft statement regarding the just-concluded U.S.-Israel meeting. Begin told Brzezinski that the draft was acceptable — “except for two sentences.” Brzezinski asked what they were:

“Please delete ‘The United States affirms Israel’s inherent right to exist.'”

“Why so?”

“Because the United States’ affirmation of Israel’s right to exist is not a favor, nor is it a negotiable concession. I shall not negotiate my existence with anybody, and I need nobody’s affirmation of it.”

Brzezinski’s expression was one of surprise. “But to the best of my knowledge every Israeli prime minister has asked for such a pledge.”

“I sincerely appreciate the president’s sentiment,” said Begin, “but our Hebrew Bible made that pledge and established our right over our land millennia ago. Never, throughout the centuries, did we ever abandon or forfeit that right. Therefore, it would be incompatible with my responsibilities as prime minister of Israel were I not to ask you to erase this sentence.” And then, without pause, “Please delete, too, the language regarding the commitment to Israel’s survival.”

“And in what sense do you find that objectionable?”

“In the sense that we, the Jewish people alone, are responsible for our country’s survival, no one else.”

The second incident came a year later, in perhaps the tensest moment of the Camp David negotiations. In his diary entry for September 12, 1978, published last year in White House Diary, Carter wrote that Begin called him during dinner and said he “wanted to see me as soon as possible for the most serious talk we had ever had.” Carter tried to postpone the meeting until the next morning, but Begin insisted. Read More

To help evaluate Evelyn Gordon’s impassioned post regarding Israel’s possible $20 billion defense request, let me recount two incidents from the negotiations Menachem Begin conducted with the Carter administration in 1977-78 that are worth remembering today.

The first incident occurred in July 1977, when Zbigniew Brzezinski presented Begin with a draft statement regarding the just-concluded U.S.-Israel meeting. Begin told Brzezinski that the draft was acceptable — “except for two sentences.” Brzezinski asked what they were:

“Please delete ‘The United States affirms Israel’s inherent right to exist.'”

“Why so?”

“Because the United States’ affirmation of Israel’s right to exist is not a favor, nor is it a negotiable concession. I shall not negotiate my existence with anybody, and I need nobody’s affirmation of it.”

Brzezinski’s expression was one of surprise. “But to the best of my knowledge every Israeli prime minister has asked for such a pledge.”

“I sincerely appreciate the president’s sentiment,” said Begin, “but our Hebrew Bible made that pledge and established our right over our land millennia ago. Never, throughout the centuries, did we ever abandon or forfeit that right. Therefore, it would be incompatible with my responsibilities as prime minister of Israel were I not to ask you to erase this sentence.” And then, without pause, “Please delete, too, the language regarding the commitment to Israel’s survival.”

“And in what sense do you find that objectionable?”

“In the sense that we, the Jewish people alone, are responsible for our country’s survival, no one else.”

The second incident came a year later, in perhaps the tensest moment of the Camp David negotiations. In his diary entry for September 12, 1978, published last year in White House Diary, Carter wrote that Begin called him during dinner and said he “wanted to see me as soon as possible for the most serious talk we had ever had.” Carter tried to postpone the meeting until the next morning, but Begin insisted.

When they met, Begin opened by saying it was “the most serious talk in his life except for one with his idol, Jabotinsky.” Begin wanted the words “inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war,” which appear in the nonbinding preamble to UN Resolution 242 but not in its operative text, removed from the draft Camp David accord. He told Carter he would not sign any text that included them.

Carter’s diary makes it clear that he disdained Begin’s “impassioned speech,” but the diary does not record any of the points Begin made to him. But because of a valuable new book containing the complete correspondence between Begin and Anwar Sadat — Peace in the Making, edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad — we can discover them.

The book contains a transcript of a recording, found after Begin’s death, of a speech he gave to Jewish leaders in New York on September 20, 1978, a week after the evening meeting with Carter. Begin told the audience that he endorsed the principle of the “inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war” but not if applied to a war forced on Israel because of indefensible borders:

[I]f it is a war of legitimate national self-defense … then territorial changes are not only permissible, but necessary. [Applause]. Otherwise, every aggressor will not only commit, but also repeat, these aggressions. What is he going to lose? If he wins his aggressive war, he gets his spoils. If he loses, he gets back what he lost. …

[T]he Six-Day War … was thrust upon us – as three Presidents of the United States of America wrote to us since the days of June 1967. We were then threatened with extinction. There were slogans in Cairo and in Damascus and in Rabat Ammon and in Baghdad to the effect: “Throw them into the sea! Cut them down! Kill them! Destroy them!” Military orders included a passage calling for the physical destruction of the civilian population of any town which the invading armies may conquer.

We faced another Holocaust … Surrounded on all sides by overwhelming forces. By thousands of Soviet-supplied tanks, hundreds of first-line combat planes, hundreds of thousands of soldiers. With God’s help, we repelled all of them. They did not win their night; we won the day. [Applause].

And now you ask us to sign a document with those false and falsifying words: “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory,” as a result of such a war, of legitimate self-defense, of saving a nation surrounded and attacked and threatened with annihilation?

Begin said he had refused for eight days to sign such a document and had finally asked to meet with Carter. “And this is what I told him” — that Israel was in Judea and Samaria as a matter of right, with a claim to sovereignty over the entire area; that it was “the land of our forefathers, which we have never forgotten during exile” but that “we leave the question of sovereignty open, because we want peace …. we know there are other claims.” They would be resolved later but not by a retreat to indefensible borders:

[T]hey wanted us to give them a commitment a priori … that we shall relinquish, completely, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district, and not only give up our paternal heritage, our inherent right, the Land of our prophets and of our kings, the Land of our fathers and of our children, but also the most vital demands of our national security. … Then there wouldn’t be peace. There would be permanent bloodshed and ultimately a general war under the harshest conditions ever imagined … May I say to you a simple word: Never. [Sustained applause.]

The words to which Begin objected were removed, and three days later the Camp David Accords were signed.

Ehud Barak’s current $20 billion gambit is likely a trial balloon, an attempt to build support for a “peace agreement” in which Israel gives up defensible borders in exchange for money to help defend indefensible ones. It is not a trade Menachem Begin would have made.

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Will Obama Repeat George H.W. Bush’s Mistake?

In December, I had meetings with three of Najaf’s grand ayatollahs. Each had his own style and focused the conversation on different subjects. There was one commonality, however: each weaved the “betrayal of 1991” into their discourse, hinting at suspicion and perhaps even rage that they and their Shiite followers now feel toward the United States.

While many in the United States caricature the Shiites as Iranian puppets, they should be a natural ally to the United States. Ordinarily, Shiism promotes moderation. Shiite jurisprudence tends to embrace individual rights and the bedrocks of democracy more than does Sunnism. Alas, in February 1991, shortly after expelling Saddam’s troops from Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush called upon the people of Iraq to rise up and throw off the dictator Saddam Hussein. The Shiites (and the Kurds) listened. But even as the population in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces rose up to overthrow Saddam, the realists advising Bush recommended that he do nothing. Saddam regrouped, and while the United States extended protections to the Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Shiites are still excavating the victims of the resulting massacres from mass graves. The ayatollahs and rank-and-file Shiites do have cause for their anger.

The price was not worth it. When Saddam Hussein reconsolidated his power, he became even more of a force for instability in the region.

It seems that Obama is impervious to the lessons of history. The refusal to support the Libyan people against Qaddafi’s air strike is little different from the elder Bush’s inaction in the face of Saddam’s massacres. While realists might argue that protecting the Libyan people is no more of an American interest than protecting Iraq’s people was in 1991, sometimes the national-security consequences of decisions are unavoidable. In hindsight, it is hard to see the elder Bush’s inaction as anything more than disastrous. Let’s hope that this White House does not make the same mistake.

In December, I had meetings with three of Najaf’s grand ayatollahs. Each had his own style and focused the conversation on different subjects. There was one commonality, however: each weaved the “betrayal of 1991” into their discourse, hinting at suspicion and perhaps even rage that they and their Shiite followers now feel toward the United States.

While many in the United States caricature the Shiites as Iranian puppets, they should be a natural ally to the United States. Ordinarily, Shiism promotes moderation. Shiite jurisprudence tends to embrace individual rights and the bedrocks of democracy more than does Sunnism. Alas, in February 1991, shortly after expelling Saddam’s troops from Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush called upon the people of Iraq to rise up and throw off the dictator Saddam Hussein. The Shiites (and the Kurds) listened. But even as the population in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces rose up to overthrow Saddam, the realists advising Bush recommended that he do nothing. Saddam regrouped, and while the United States extended protections to the Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Shiites are still excavating the victims of the resulting massacres from mass graves. The ayatollahs and rank-and-file Shiites do have cause for their anger.

The price was not worth it. When Saddam Hussein reconsolidated his power, he became even more of a force for instability in the region.

It seems that Obama is impervious to the lessons of history. The refusal to support the Libyan people against Qaddafi’s air strike is little different from the elder Bush’s inaction in the face of Saddam’s massacres. While realists might argue that protecting the Libyan people is no more of an American interest than protecting Iraq’s people was in 1991, sometimes the national-security consequences of decisions are unavoidable. In hindsight, it is hard to see the elder Bush’s inaction as anything more than disastrous. Let’s hope that this White House does not make the same mistake.

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Palestinians Cancel Satire ‘Out of Fear of Insulting’ Qaddafi, Global Outrage Strangely Muted

Israeli trepidation over the Egyptian uprisings raised a din that still hasn’t settled. Newly minted leftist neocons shrieked that the Israelis were “on the wrong side of history,” while the White House decided to use the uproar to launch a public-relations broadside against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It didn’t matter that the Israeli concerns have been more or less justified: the Egyptians still haven’t revived gas shipments, there’s talk of easing the Gaza closure and renegotiating Camp David out of existence, Hamas is bragging that the revolution “brought them back to life,” the new Egyptian foreign minister is a committed anti-Israel partisan, etc. What mattered was that there was a chance to hurl some righteous indignation in the general direction of the Jewish state.

One wonders if the same enthusiasm will be brought to bear on the coldness with which the Palestinian Authority is greeting the Libyan revolution:

A show that lampooned Col. Moammar Gadhafi was pulled from the Palestinian Authority’s official television channel last week out of fear of insulting the embattled Libyan leader. The popular Palestinian satire show “Wattan ala Wattar,” Arabic for “country on a string” had devoted all of its 20-minute episode to Libya, poking fun at Col. Gadhafi’s public addresses as well as his attire. Instead, Ramallah-based Palestine TV aired a rerun during the show’s weekly Thursday time slot. Officials from the US-backed Palestinian Authority were not available to comment on the show, but a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization said that the PA has been reluctant to come out against Col. Gadhafi because it might endanger some 20,000 Palestinian nationals who reside in Libya.

Another difference between the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings is that Libyan instability promises to make the region better for certain, and in the short term. It is interesting which Arab leaders the Palestinians avoid insulting.

Israeli trepidation over the Egyptian uprisings raised a din that still hasn’t settled. Newly minted leftist neocons shrieked that the Israelis were “on the wrong side of history,” while the White House decided to use the uproar to launch a public-relations broadside against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It didn’t matter that the Israeli concerns have been more or less justified: the Egyptians still haven’t revived gas shipments, there’s talk of easing the Gaza closure and renegotiating Camp David out of existence, Hamas is bragging that the revolution “brought them back to life,” the new Egyptian foreign minister is a committed anti-Israel partisan, etc. What mattered was that there was a chance to hurl some righteous indignation in the general direction of the Jewish state.

One wonders if the same enthusiasm will be brought to bear on the coldness with which the Palestinian Authority is greeting the Libyan revolution:

A show that lampooned Col. Moammar Gadhafi was pulled from the Palestinian Authority’s official television channel last week out of fear of insulting the embattled Libyan leader. The popular Palestinian satire show “Wattan ala Wattar,” Arabic for “country on a string” had devoted all of its 20-minute episode to Libya, poking fun at Col. Gadhafi’s public addresses as well as his attire. Instead, Ramallah-based Palestine TV aired a rerun during the show’s weekly Thursday time slot. Officials from the US-backed Palestinian Authority were not available to comment on the show, but a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization said that the PA has been reluctant to come out against Col. Gadhafi because it might endanger some 20,000 Palestinian nationals who reside in Libya.

Another difference between the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings is that Libyan instability promises to make the region better for certain, and in the short term. It is interesting which Arab leaders the Palestinians avoid insulting.

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More Phony Claims of Islamophobia at UC Irvine

The University of California students charged with shouting down a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren last year will face an arraignment on Friday. But the criminal prosecution against them has only cemented their status on campus as alleged “victims” of state-sponsored Islamophobia.

The plight of these students — who have been predictably dubbed the “Irvine 11” by the campus PC cognoscenti — has sparked letters of sympathy from dozens of professors, support from a university Jewish group, and protests on their behalf. Last weekend, Islamic leaders led a rally calling for the district attorney to drop all charges:

Orange County Islamic leaders gathered in Anaheim over the weekend to show support for a group of college students facing criminal charges for interrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

The so-called Irvine 11, who protested a Feb. 10, 2010, appearance by Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, are set to be arraigned Friday in Santa Ana on misdemeanor charges that they conspired to disrupt Oren’s speech and then did so. Eight of the students attend UCI, and three attend UC Riverside.

According to the OC Register, several of the supporters “questioned whether the students would have been prosecuted if they weren’t Muslim, but said the case raises questions regardless of religion.”

The lack of self-awareness among the protesters is remarkable. While there’s absolutely no evidence that the DA is prosecuting the “Irvine 11” based on religion, it’s apparent that the students shouted down Ambassador Oren because of the fact that he’s an Israeli.

The supporters of the students facing charges will reportedly be protesting at the arraignment Friday, and at the moment, there’s no news of any counter-rallies being held.

The University of California students charged with shouting down a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren last year will face an arraignment on Friday. But the criminal prosecution against them has only cemented their status on campus as alleged “victims” of state-sponsored Islamophobia.

The plight of these students — who have been predictably dubbed the “Irvine 11” by the campus PC cognoscenti — has sparked letters of sympathy from dozens of professors, support from a university Jewish group, and protests on their behalf. Last weekend, Islamic leaders led a rally calling for the district attorney to drop all charges:

Orange County Islamic leaders gathered in Anaheim over the weekend to show support for a group of college students facing criminal charges for interrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

The so-called Irvine 11, who protested a Feb. 10, 2010, appearance by Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, are set to be arraigned Friday in Santa Ana on misdemeanor charges that they conspired to disrupt Oren’s speech and then did so. Eight of the students attend UCI, and three attend UC Riverside.

According to the OC Register, several of the supporters “questioned whether the students would have been prosecuted if they weren’t Muslim, but said the case raises questions regardless of religion.”

The lack of self-awareness among the protesters is remarkable. While there’s absolutely no evidence that the DA is prosecuting the “Irvine 11” based on religion, it’s apparent that the students shouted down Ambassador Oren because of the fact that he’s an Israeli.

The supporters of the students facing charges will reportedly be protesting at the arraignment Friday, and at the moment, there’s no news of any counter-rallies being held.

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New York Times Calls King Hearings a ‘Show Trial’

Clearly Rep. Peter King’s hearings are touching a nerve at the New York Times. The paper’s editorial this morning is a long rant about King’s “obsession” with Muslims and even goes so far as to call his hearings a “show trial.”

The House Homeland Security Committee investigation, which starts Thursday, is “designed to stoke fear against American Muslims,” according to the Times. “Notice that the hearing is solely about Muslims,” wrote the editorial board. “It might be perfectly legitimate for the Homeland Security Committee to investigate violent radicalism in America among a wide variety of groups, but that doesn’t seem to be Mr. King’s real interest.”

The reason behind this — which has evidently escaped the New York Times — is that non-Muslims are unlikely to be convinced to join the global Islamic jihad. Al-Qaeda and other radical terror groups are targeting Muslim youth for recruitment, not Christians, Jews, or atheists.

Obviously the Times understands the concept of Islamic terrorism. The paper has written about it quite often in the past. And in order to investigate Islamic terrorism, it’s necessary to focus on the Muslim community — that’s just a fact.

The editorial also takes a shot at Zuhdi Jasser, the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a witness at the hearing. According to the Times, Jasser’s claim to have any insight into the Muslim American community is undermined by the fact that he’s “a Republican who has echoed Mr. King’s suspicions.”

And despite its long denunciation of King’s hearings, the Times notes that there will be witnesses called who are unlikely to agree with King’s opinions on homegrown terrorism. “Democrats on the committee plan to call Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, who has often said that American Muslims have been crucial in helping terrorism investigations,” wrote the Times. “But that involves empirical facts and expert observation. Nothing could be further from the real purpose of Mr. King’s show trial.”

So if the paper admits that there are going to be a witnesses who give “empirical facts and expert observation,” how exactly can this be considered a “show trial”?

Clearly Rep. Peter King’s hearings are touching a nerve at the New York Times. The paper’s editorial this morning is a long rant about King’s “obsession” with Muslims and even goes so far as to call his hearings a “show trial.”

The House Homeland Security Committee investigation, which starts Thursday, is “designed to stoke fear against American Muslims,” according to the Times. “Notice that the hearing is solely about Muslims,” wrote the editorial board. “It might be perfectly legitimate for the Homeland Security Committee to investigate violent radicalism in America among a wide variety of groups, but that doesn’t seem to be Mr. King’s real interest.”

The reason behind this — which has evidently escaped the New York Times — is that non-Muslims are unlikely to be convinced to join the global Islamic jihad. Al-Qaeda and other radical terror groups are targeting Muslim youth for recruitment, not Christians, Jews, or atheists.

Obviously the Times understands the concept of Islamic terrorism. The paper has written about it quite often in the past. And in order to investigate Islamic terrorism, it’s necessary to focus on the Muslim community — that’s just a fact.

The editorial also takes a shot at Zuhdi Jasser, the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a witness at the hearing. According to the Times, Jasser’s claim to have any insight into the Muslim American community is undermined by the fact that he’s “a Republican who has echoed Mr. King’s suspicions.”

And despite its long denunciation of King’s hearings, the Times notes that there will be witnesses called who are unlikely to agree with King’s opinions on homegrown terrorism. “Democrats on the committee plan to call Leroy Baca, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, who has often said that American Muslims have been crucial in helping terrorism investigations,” wrote the Times. “But that involves empirical facts and expert observation. Nothing could be further from the real purpose of Mr. King’s show trial.”

So if the paper admits that there are going to be a witnesses who give “empirical facts and expert observation,” how exactly can this be considered a “show trial”?

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Gingrich’s Hypocrisy and Churchill’s Fidelity

Peter Wehner makes some interesting points about the question of how seriously we should treat the question of infidelity in a presidential candidate. But I would contend that the problem for Newt Gingrich is not whether the former speaker has truly found the light on his personal road to Damascus or if his reformed persona is an illustration of  “cheap grace” that we should dismiss as fake. It is, instead, the question of hypocrisy.

While Gingrich’s example of very public cheating on his first two wives would be a matter of comment for any candidate, the issue here is the fact that he was apparently cheating on wife number two while at the same time presiding over a House of Representatives that impeached President Clinton. It’s true that Clinton’s legal peril was the result of his lying under oath, not infidelity. But we all know that the whole point of that drama was the president’s willingness to lie about having sex with a White House intern and his own pattern of infidelity. As shocking and ill-considered as Clinton’s cavorting in the Oval Office was, the fact that Gingrich was prepared to engage in similar behavior while hauling the president over the coals for his indiscretions and putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment trial must be considered hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. It’s not that Gingrich’s bad behavior excused Clinton’s. It does not. But Gingrich’s obvious belief that the rules that he sought to apply to others did not apply to him bespeaks a sense of entitlement that illustrates all that is bad about Washington politicians.

Gingrich would have us believe that his apparently happy third marriage and his conversion to Catholicism have cleaned up his personal act. Good for him if that is so, but I don’t think most Americans care about that one way or another. What they do care about is his character as a leader. Whatever his other shortcomings might be as a potential president, and the list of those is not inconsiderable, the stench of his hypocrisy still is stronger than the opprobrium that he may have earned for his infidelity.

One more point: in his post, Peter poses the following question:

If the choice during World War II had been between an unfaithful Winston Churchill and a faithful Neville Chamberlain, who would you rather have had as prime minister?

The obvious answer is Churchill, but it is worth noting that though Churchill made many mistakes in his lengthy career, reputable historians have generally held that cheating on his beloved Clementine was not one of them. Indeed, he seems to have used the drive that some men expend on sex on politics and incessant writing. Thus, the choice in 1940 was not between a faithful appeaser and a faithless opponent of Hitler but between two politicians who were both faithful to their spouses.

Peter Wehner makes some interesting points about the question of how seriously we should treat the question of infidelity in a presidential candidate. But I would contend that the problem for Newt Gingrich is not whether the former speaker has truly found the light on his personal road to Damascus or if his reformed persona is an illustration of  “cheap grace” that we should dismiss as fake. It is, instead, the question of hypocrisy.

While Gingrich’s example of very public cheating on his first two wives would be a matter of comment for any candidate, the issue here is the fact that he was apparently cheating on wife number two while at the same time presiding over a House of Representatives that impeached President Clinton. It’s true that Clinton’s legal peril was the result of his lying under oath, not infidelity. But we all know that the whole point of that drama was the president’s willingness to lie about having sex with a White House intern and his own pattern of infidelity. As shocking and ill-considered as Clinton’s cavorting in the Oval Office was, the fact that Gingrich was prepared to engage in similar behavior while hauling the president over the coals for his indiscretions and putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment trial must be considered hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. It’s not that Gingrich’s bad behavior excused Clinton’s. It does not. But Gingrich’s obvious belief that the rules that he sought to apply to others did not apply to him bespeaks a sense of entitlement that illustrates all that is bad about Washington politicians.

Gingrich would have us believe that his apparently happy third marriage and his conversion to Catholicism have cleaned up his personal act. Good for him if that is so, but I don’t think most Americans care about that one way or another. What they do care about is his character as a leader. Whatever his other shortcomings might be as a potential president, and the list of those is not inconsiderable, the stench of his hypocrisy still is stronger than the opprobrium that he may have earned for his infidelity.

One more point: in his post, Peter poses the following question:

If the choice during World War II had been between an unfaithful Winston Churchill and a faithful Neville Chamberlain, who would you rather have had as prime minister?

The obvious answer is Churchill, but it is worth noting that though Churchill made many mistakes in his lengthy career, reputable historians have generally held that cheating on his beloved Clementine was not one of them. Indeed, he seems to have used the drive that some men expend on sex on politics and incessant writing. Thus, the choice in 1940 was not between a faithful appeaser and a faithless opponent of Hitler but between two politicians who were both faithful to their spouses.

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Chait Crime

Victor Davis Hanson catches the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait making an analogy so disgusting that I almost have to believe Chait is simply too stupid to understand the implications of what he wrote — because the only other conclusion is that he has absolutely no sense of where the boundaries of even minimally civil public discourse are. Hanson wrote a review of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir in which he included the following sentence: “‘Take away the insurgency in Iraq,’ an acquaintance once told me, ‘and Donald Rumsfeld would have been a sort of icon of postwar America.’”

Chait’s appalling response:

Right, if you imagine that the most important thing he did was a huge success rather than a huge failure, then he’s be remember [sic] as a huge success. Not as a huge failure. Likewise, if Lee Harvey Oswald had killed someone who was about to assassinate President Kennedy, rather than assassinating President Kennedy himself, he’d go down in history as a hero.

You can be sour about Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Defense Department all you like, and plenty of people are. But offering a cutesy analogy between Rumsfeld and Lee Harvey Oswald has lowered Chait to a base level of rhetorical crassness to which even his questionable standing as an exceptionally graceless writer and amazingly crude thinker had not yet fallen. Now it has. Congratulations.

Victor Davis Hanson catches the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait making an analogy so disgusting that I almost have to believe Chait is simply too stupid to understand the implications of what he wrote — because the only other conclusion is that he has absolutely no sense of where the boundaries of even minimally civil public discourse are. Hanson wrote a review of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir in which he included the following sentence: “‘Take away the insurgency in Iraq,’ an acquaintance once told me, ‘and Donald Rumsfeld would have been a sort of icon of postwar America.’”

Chait’s appalling response:

Right, if you imagine that the most important thing he did was a huge success rather than a huge failure, then he’s be remember [sic] as a huge success. Not as a huge failure. Likewise, if Lee Harvey Oswald had killed someone who was about to assassinate President Kennedy, rather than assassinating President Kennedy himself, he’d go down in history as a hero.

You can be sour about Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Defense Department all you like, and plenty of people are. But offering a cutesy analogy between Rumsfeld and Lee Harvey Oswald has lowered Chait to a base level of rhetorical crassness to which even his questionable standing as an exceptionally graceless writer and amazingly crude thinker had not yet fallen. Now it has. Congratulations.

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On Infidelity and Presidents

As this interview with Greta Van Susteren shows, as Newt Gingrich gets closer to announcing a bid for the presidency, an old issue is being given new life — namely, how relevant is marital infidelity when it comes to choosing a president?

On one end of the spectrum are those who believe the issue is dispositive; infidelity is a show-stopper. The argument is that a person who betrays his spouse cannot be counted on not to betray any principle or any vow, including one to defend the Constitution. No one would deny that unfaithfulness and sexual indiscipline bear on character, and character matters. “Betrayal is a garment without seams,” in the words of Professor Robert King. Serial infidelity in particular is a sign of a deeper disorder, having to do with narcissism, compulsiveness, and feelings of invulnerability. And whether we like it or not, presidents are role models. How they conduct themselves matters.

For others, infidelity by a politician is a matter of indifference. We elect a president, not a preacher, and while infidelity may be a troubling personal characteristic, it has little bearing on a person’s public duties. Many able public officials have also been philanderers. “Libido and leadership” are linked, Eleanor Clift argued during the Clinton years. There are plenty of sins that are considered problematic in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; why focus on infidelity instead of, say, self-righteousness? And of course a person who cheats on his spouse might also embody virtues in other arenas (for example, battlefield valor). If the choice during World War II had been between an unfaithful Winston Churchill and a faithful Neville Chamberlain, who would you rather have had as prime minister?

Many of the rest of us are on a continuum when it comes to deciding how much infidelity should matter in the selection of a president. Facts and circumstances are crucial. Was the infidelity an isolated instance or a chronic pattern? Were the transgressions long ago or recent? What levels of deception and cover-up were involved? What was the position of authority the person held when the infidelity occurred? Was there an alarming degree of recklessness on display? What evidence is there that this person has changed his ways? Has this person shown other worrisome signs when it comes to character and trustworthiness?

These are not easy matters to sort through. Lives have moral trajectories. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, in the words of Oscar Wilde. But not every sinner has the same past. Forgiveness shouldn’t be confused with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” And when the situation allows for it, it probably makes sense to invest our trust in public officials whose lives have been characterized by integrity rather than by self-indulgence.

As this interview with Greta Van Susteren shows, as Newt Gingrich gets closer to announcing a bid for the presidency, an old issue is being given new life — namely, how relevant is marital infidelity when it comes to choosing a president?

On one end of the spectrum are those who believe the issue is dispositive; infidelity is a show-stopper. The argument is that a person who betrays his spouse cannot be counted on not to betray any principle or any vow, including one to defend the Constitution. No one would deny that unfaithfulness and sexual indiscipline bear on character, and character matters. “Betrayal is a garment without seams,” in the words of Professor Robert King. Serial infidelity in particular is a sign of a deeper disorder, having to do with narcissism, compulsiveness, and feelings of invulnerability. And whether we like it or not, presidents are role models. How they conduct themselves matters.

For others, infidelity by a politician is a matter of indifference. We elect a president, not a preacher, and while infidelity may be a troubling personal characteristic, it has little bearing on a person’s public duties. Many able public officials have also been philanderers. “Libido and leadership” are linked, Eleanor Clift argued during the Clinton years. There are plenty of sins that are considered problematic in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; why focus on infidelity instead of, say, self-righteousness? And of course a person who cheats on his spouse might also embody virtues in other arenas (for example, battlefield valor). If the choice during World War II had been between an unfaithful Winston Churchill and a faithful Neville Chamberlain, who would you rather have had as prime minister?

Many of the rest of us are on a continuum when it comes to deciding how much infidelity should matter in the selection of a president. Facts and circumstances are crucial. Was the infidelity an isolated instance or a chronic pattern? Were the transgressions long ago or recent? What levels of deception and cover-up were involved? What was the position of authority the person held when the infidelity occurred? Was there an alarming degree of recklessness on display? What evidence is there that this person has changed his ways? Has this person shown other worrisome signs when it comes to character and trustworthiness?

These are not easy matters to sort through. Lives have moral trajectories. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, in the words of Oscar Wilde. But not every sinner has the same past. Forgiveness shouldn’t be confused with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” And when the situation allows for it, it probably makes sense to invest our trust in public officials whose lives have been characterized by integrity rather than by self-indulgence.

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NPR Senior VP: Zionists Don’t Control NPR Like They Control the Newspapers

As if NPR needed any more problems: the news organization’s senior VP for development, Ron Schiller, was allegedly caught on film making some very unflattering remarks about Tea Partiers, Republicans, and Zionists, the Daily Caller reported this morning:

A man who appears to be a National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller, has been captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement. …

In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”

The whole video can be watched here. Schiller spoke at length about the Tea Party’s ignorance, intolerance, whiteness, gun-totingness, and so on. His comments about Republicans and the firing of Juan Williams are sure to offend as well.

But, as Dave Weigel notes, “Schilling is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist.” So whether it was ethical for him to express such partisan political views during a lunch with potential NPR donors is certainly up for debate.

That line blurs, however, when he begins talking about Zionist and Jewish influence in the media: Read More

As if NPR needed any more problems: the news organization’s senior VP for development, Ron Schiller, was allegedly caught on film making some very unflattering remarks about Tea Partiers, Republicans, and Zionists, the Daily Caller reported this morning:

A man who appears to be a National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller, has been captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement. …

In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”

The whole video can be watched here. Schiller spoke at length about the Tea Party’s ignorance, intolerance, whiteness, gun-totingness, and so on. His comments about Republicans and the firing of Juan Williams are sure to offend as well.

But, as Dave Weigel notes, “Schilling is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist.” So whether it was ethical for him to express such partisan political views during a lunch with potential NPR donors is certainly up for debate.

That line blurs, however, when he begins talking about Zionist and Jewish influence in the media:

When the ersatz Islamists declare they’re “not too upset about maybe a little bit less Jew influence of money into NPR,” Schiller responds by saying he doesn’t find “Zionist or pro-Israel” ideas at NPR, “even among funders. I mean it’s there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one owns NPR.”

Liley chimes in at this point to add that, “even one of our biggest funders who you’ll hear on air, The American Jewish World Service, may not agree with us. I visited with them recently and they may not agree with what we put on the air but they find us important to them and, sometimes it’s not that easy to hear what we say and what our reporters say, but they still think NPR is important to support.”

Schiller added that “they [the American Jewish World Service] are really looking for a fair point of view and many Jewish organizations are not.”

When the potential donors mention Zionist funding of the media, Schiller responds that “it’s there in people who own newspapers, obviously. But nobody ‘owns’ NPR.”  It’s not clear whether Schiller actually agrees with what the fake potential donors are saying or whether he was simply pandering to them.

The news organization is in a battle to save its federal funding, and obviously this video won’t help matters. It also looks like NPR may have known this video was coming. Current.org announced yesterday that Schiller has taken a new job at the Aspen Institute:

NPR Foundation President Ron Schiller has taken a new job as director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program. Schiller, who joined NPR in September 2009, worked to build fundraising collaborations between NPR and member stations through projects such as Impact of Government. Schiller starts his new position on April 1, and will work out of the Institute’s offices in Aspen, Colo., where he has lived on at least a part-time basis since 2006.

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Peace Process Penalties

The report that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to have Hamas removed from the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist organizations is a reminder of one of the striking aspects of the “peace process” — there is never a penalty for any Palestinian failure to abide by it.

Phase I of the Roadmap required the Palestinians to dismantle their terrorist organizations; the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group to control their parliament, and the group now rules Gaza. Phase II contemplated a state with provisional borders; the Palestinians have consistently refused even to consider it. Phase III requires final status negotiations based on UN resolutions calling for secure and recognized borders and a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of the territories. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate anything more than a de minimis change to the indefensible 1967 lines and will not recognize a Jewish state even in a final agreement.

When you cannot implement Phase I, will not implement Phase II, and refuse to engage in Phase III, the Roadmap has effectively been discarded without penalty.

For its part, Israel has taken multiple steps without reciprocal Palestinian ones: (1) a freeze on settlement activity (as Israel understood that obligation); (2) dismantlement of 21 longstanding settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank; (3) transfer of Gaza to the PA; (4) dismantlement of numerous roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank; (5) forcible destruction of various settlement outposts; and (6) a 10-month moratorium on construction even within settlements that will remain part of Israel in any conceivable peace agreement.

Israel holds a letter signed by the president of the United States, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal, in which the U.S. promised it would prevent “any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). The letter was intended as a U.S. commitment to enforce the penalty implicit in the full name of the Roadmap (“A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution”): absent compliance with Phases I and II, the Palestinians would not obtain a state.

But there was no penalty for failure to abide by the commitment.

The report that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to have Hamas removed from the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist organizations is a reminder of one of the striking aspects of the “peace process” — there is never a penalty for any Palestinian failure to abide by it.

Phase I of the Roadmap required the Palestinians to dismantle their terrorist organizations; the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group to control their parliament, and the group now rules Gaza. Phase II contemplated a state with provisional borders; the Palestinians have consistently refused even to consider it. Phase III requires final status negotiations based on UN resolutions calling for secure and recognized borders and a withdrawal from an unspecified portion of the territories. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate anything more than a de minimis change to the indefensible 1967 lines and will not recognize a Jewish state even in a final agreement.

When you cannot implement Phase I, will not implement Phase II, and refuse to engage in Phase III, the Roadmap has effectively been discarded without penalty.

For its part, Israel has taken multiple steps without reciprocal Palestinian ones: (1) a freeze on settlement activity (as Israel understood that obligation); (2) dismantlement of 21 longstanding settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank; (3) transfer of Gaza to the PA; (4) dismantlement of numerous roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank; (5) forcible destruction of various settlement outposts; and (6) a 10-month moratorium on construction even within settlements that will remain part of Israel in any conceivable peace agreement.

Israel holds a letter signed by the president of the United States, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal, in which the U.S. promised it would prevent “any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). The letter was intended as a U.S. commitment to enforce the penalty implicit in the full name of the Roadmap (“A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution”): absent compliance with Phases I and II, the Palestinians would not obtain a state.

But there was no penalty for failure to abide by the commitment.

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If Obama Was Going to Let Iran Go Nuclear, He Should Have Just Said So

Before you panic about Iran’s Manhattan Project, you should know that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doesn’t think that the Islamic regime’s nuclear activity is dangerous enough to warrant a reprimand. To listen to U.S. intelligence experts tell it, Iran’s leaders aren’t even sure that they want a nuclear weapon. And as far as conventional power goes, Secretary Gates insists that the upheavals in the Middle East are actually a setback for Iran, while Reuters’s headline writers emphasize that “Israeli fears” over Iran’s power play in the Mediterranean were “dismissed.”

Back in reality, yes, of course, the Iranians are going nuclear, and yes, of course, they’re expanding their influence:

Tehran probably does not see the contagion of uprisings in countries like Bahrain, Oman, or Saudi Arabia as something that undermines their position. They have already inoculated themselves against the effects of the Internet and rapid dissemination of dissent. And the higher price for oil may help them economically. The prospect for a nuclear capable Iran amidst a collection of states that are suddenly focused inwardly on internal threats may be a dominant feature of the new reality over the next year or two.

The IAEA inspectors report that Iran continues to expand its activities and, in particular, its uranium enrichment seems to be continuing with plans for expansion … the output of the declared facilities continues—despite the affects of the Stuxnet cyber attack. The evidence is that despite increased sanctions, the effects of cyber attacks (and reportedly the sabotaging of imported equipment) and the assassinations in Iran of top scientists, the program marches on … it is beginning to look inevitable rather than unacceptable as previous White House statements have declared. [emphasis added]

It’s worth remembering, per that last sentence, that U.S. hegemony is going to suffer beyond just having a hostile nuclear adversary sitting on top of the world’s oil. The Obama administration staked what little credibility America has left on Iranian nuclear weapons being “unacceptable.” That increasingly seems to have been ill-advised.

Now, there are plenty of people who think that Obama isn’t at fault for Iranian nuclearization, because the Iranians were past the point of no return when he took office. That ignores the military options he might have explored and also spares him disapprobation for foregrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue instead of the Iranian portfolio, but fair enough.

If the apologists are correct, that would have been a very good reason not to go all-in on the “unacceptable” rhetoric. Now Iran’s going to go nuclear, and the U.S. will seem impotent on top of everything else. At least signaling accommodation — which is de facto what this president has embraced, the blustering rhetoric aside — would have seemed less naive. Still impotent and disastrous. But less naive! Read More

Before you panic about Iran’s Manhattan Project, you should know that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doesn’t think that the Islamic regime’s nuclear activity is dangerous enough to warrant a reprimand. To listen to U.S. intelligence experts tell it, Iran’s leaders aren’t even sure that they want a nuclear weapon. And as far as conventional power goes, Secretary Gates insists that the upheavals in the Middle East are actually a setback for Iran, while Reuters’s headline writers emphasize that “Israeli fears” over Iran’s power play in the Mediterranean were “dismissed.”

Back in reality, yes, of course, the Iranians are going nuclear, and yes, of course, they’re expanding their influence:

Tehran probably does not see the contagion of uprisings in countries like Bahrain, Oman, or Saudi Arabia as something that undermines their position. They have already inoculated themselves against the effects of the Internet and rapid dissemination of dissent. And the higher price for oil may help them economically. The prospect for a nuclear capable Iran amidst a collection of states that are suddenly focused inwardly on internal threats may be a dominant feature of the new reality over the next year or two.

The IAEA inspectors report that Iran continues to expand its activities and, in particular, its uranium enrichment seems to be continuing with plans for expansion … the output of the declared facilities continues—despite the affects of the Stuxnet cyber attack. The evidence is that despite increased sanctions, the effects of cyber attacks (and reportedly the sabotaging of imported equipment) and the assassinations in Iran of top scientists, the program marches on … it is beginning to look inevitable rather than unacceptable as previous White House statements have declared. [emphasis added]

It’s worth remembering, per that last sentence, that U.S. hegemony is going to suffer beyond just having a hostile nuclear adversary sitting on top of the world’s oil. The Obama administration staked what little credibility America has left on Iranian nuclear weapons being “unacceptable.” That increasingly seems to have been ill-advised.

Now, there are plenty of people who think that Obama isn’t at fault for Iranian nuclearization, because the Iranians were past the point of no return when he took office. That ignores the military options he might have explored and also spares him disapprobation for foregrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue instead of the Iranian portfolio, but fair enough.

If the apologists are correct, that would have been a very good reason not to go all-in on the “unacceptable” rhetoric. Now Iran’s going to go nuclear, and the U.S. will seem impotent on top of everything else. At least signaling accommodation — which is de facto what this president has embraced, the blustering rhetoric aside — would have seemed less naive. Still impotent and disastrous. But less naive!

Only this administration could operate rhetorically from within the framework of diminished American power, sitting back and watching world events unfold as if it can’t do anything, except during those times when it really can’t do anything. Who made the decision to go in that direction?

It wasn’t actually listening to the kinds of blithe reports intelligence was producing from the beginning, was it? Because our intelligence community is atrocious at evaluating Iranian intentions and capabilities, so that would be worrisome.

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What Is Obama Thinking?

The House Republicans want $61 billion in cuts between now and the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The Obama administration says it wants to meet them “half way” by offering cuts amounting to $10.5 billion. That’s a good example of just how bizarre Washington mathematics can be.

Meanwhile, the budget deficit for just the month of February was $223 billion, according to the Washington Times. Monthly deficit figures, to be sure, are not a reliable indicator of the annual deficit, as some months, such as those that have quarterly tax filings, always do much better than others, and some much worse, including February. Last year’s February deficit was $220.9 billion, and February 2009’s was $193.9 billion. But the February trend is discouraging.

The number is horrendous. The first year that the country had an annual deficit as high as $223 billion was 1991. As recently as 2007, the annual deficit was a mere $162 billion, 1.2 percent of the GDP. The CBO predicts that the total budget deficit for 2011 will be north of $1.5 trillion, or more than 10 percent of GDP.

The House seems adamant on big cuts, and there are indications that many Democratic senators up for re-election in 2012 are nervous, to put it mildly, about not appearing serious in confronting the government’s fiscal situation. So Harry Reid is having trouble mustering 51 votes to resist Republican spending cuts. Business economists regard the budget deficit as the country’s leading economic problem, worse than high unemployment.

But President Obama barely mentioned the deficit in his State of the Union speech, while his recently submitted 2012 budget makes no more than a cursory pass at spending restraint and is full of proposed “investments,” such as high-speed rail projects, that almost no one thinks make economic sense. Certainly not George Will.

The late William Safire used to do a New York Times column now and then in which he would put himself inside someone else’s head and “listen” to his thinking on why he was doing what he was doing. I sure wish we still had Bill Safire around to do that now. I, for one, have no idea what Obama is up to here or what his political grand strategy is.

The House Republicans want $61 billion in cuts between now and the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The Obama administration says it wants to meet them “half way” by offering cuts amounting to $10.5 billion. That’s a good example of just how bizarre Washington mathematics can be.

Meanwhile, the budget deficit for just the month of February was $223 billion, according to the Washington Times. Monthly deficit figures, to be sure, are not a reliable indicator of the annual deficit, as some months, such as those that have quarterly tax filings, always do much better than others, and some much worse, including February. Last year’s February deficit was $220.9 billion, and February 2009’s was $193.9 billion. But the February trend is discouraging.

The number is horrendous. The first year that the country had an annual deficit as high as $223 billion was 1991. As recently as 2007, the annual deficit was a mere $162 billion, 1.2 percent of the GDP. The CBO predicts that the total budget deficit for 2011 will be north of $1.5 trillion, or more than 10 percent of GDP.

The House seems adamant on big cuts, and there are indications that many Democratic senators up for re-election in 2012 are nervous, to put it mildly, about not appearing serious in confronting the government’s fiscal situation. So Harry Reid is having trouble mustering 51 votes to resist Republican spending cuts. Business economists regard the budget deficit as the country’s leading economic problem, worse than high unemployment.

But President Obama barely mentioned the deficit in his State of the Union speech, while his recently submitted 2012 budget makes no more than a cursory pass at spending restraint and is full of proposed “investments,” such as high-speed rail projects, that almost no one thinks make economic sense. Certainly not George Will.

The late William Safire used to do a New York Times column now and then in which he would put himself inside someone else’s head and “listen” to his thinking on why he was doing what he was doing. I sure wish we still had Bill Safire around to do that now. I, for one, have no idea what Obama is up to here or what his political grand strategy is.

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Israel’s Defense Minister Must Go. Now.

Yesterday Alana wrote that Israel’s government urgently needs to improve its public relations. That’s just become a lot more urgent, and the first step is obvious: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should fire his defense minister immediately.

In an interview in today’s Wall Street Journal, Ehud Barak announced that Israel might ask Washington for another $20 billion in aid due to the unrest now sweeping the region. As an Israeli, I’m cringing in shame.

The U.S. currently faces a massive deficit that threatens the country’s very future, and Congress is slashing ruthlessly in an effort to curb it. Almost nothing has been spared the ax — with one glaring exception: a sweeping majority of Congress still opposes any cut to the annual $3 billion in American aid to Israel, because at a time when Israel is facing an unprecedented international delegitimization campaign, Congress doesn’t want to do anything that might imply faltering support for America’s longtime ally.

It’s an extraordinarily generous gesture, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the only proper response would be for Netanyahu to do what he did during his first term as prime minister 15 years ago: announce a phased, multi-year cutback in aid at a joint session of Congress. Precisely because it is such a tangible expression of American support, American aid sends an important message to Israel’s enemies; thus, eliminating it altogether might be unwise. But Israel’s economy is certainly strong enough to cope with a cutback, and if it were an Israeli initiative, it wouldn’t imply faltering American support. On the contrary, it would strengthen the relationship by showing that it’s not a one-way street, that Israel is also sensitive to America’s needs.

Instead, as if he were blind, deaf, and dumb to everything that’s happened in America over the past few years, Barak declared that he wants to seek an increase in aid. As if America were nothing but a cash cow, with no urgent monetary needs of its own. This is a public-relations disaster, one guaranteed to alienate even Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress unless Netanyahu makes it immediately and unequivocally clear that his defense minister’s proposal is unacceptable.

But it’s also a strategic disaster. Israel does not have so many allies that it can afford to alienate its best and most reliable friend. And someone so utterly lacking in strategic sense as to be incapable of grasping that the goodwill of Congress and the American public is worth far more than $20 billion in aid has no business being defense minister of any country, much less one as genuinely threatened as Israel.

If the American Jewish community yells loudly enough, Netanyahu will listen. So now it’s time to start yelling. Israel’s friends must push him to engage in damage control before it’s too late.

Yesterday Alana wrote that Israel’s government urgently needs to improve its public relations. That’s just become a lot more urgent, and the first step is obvious: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should fire his defense minister immediately.

In an interview in today’s Wall Street Journal, Ehud Barak announced that Israel might ask Washington for another $20 billion in aid due to the unrest now sweeping the region. As an Israeli, I’m cringing in shame.

The U.S. currently faces a massive deficit that threatens the country’s very future, and Congress is slashing ruthlessly in an effort to curb it. Almost nothing has been spared the ax — with one glaring exception: a sweeping majority of Congress still opposes any cut to the annual $3 billion in American aid to Israel, because at a time when Israel is facing an unprecedented international delegitimization campaign, Congress doesn’t want to do anything that might imply faltering support for America’s longtime ally.

It’s an extraordinarily generous gesture, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the only proper response would be for Netanyahu to do what he did during his first term as prime minister 15 years ago: announce a phased, multi-year cutback in aid at a joint session of Congress. Precisely because it is such a tangible expression of American support, American aid sends an important message to Israel’s enemies; thus, eliminating it altogether might be unwise. But Israel’s economy is certainly strong enough to cope with a cutback, and if it were an Israeli initiative, it wouldn’t imply faltering American support. On the contrary, it would strengthen the relationship by showing that it’s not a one-way street, that Israel is also sensitive to America’s needs.

Instead, as if he were blind, deaf, and dumb to everything that’s happened in America over the past few years, Barak declared that he wants to seek an increase in aid. As if America were nothing but a cash cow, with no urgent monetary needs of its own. This is a public-relations disaster, one guaranteed to alienate even Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress unless Netanyahu makes it immediately and unequivocally clear that his defense minister’s proposal is unacceptable.

But it’s also a strategic disaster. Israel does not have so many allies that it can afford to alienate its best and most reliable friend. And someone so utterly lacking in strategic sense as to be incapable of grasping that the goodwill of Congress and the American public is worth far more than $20 billion in aid has no business being defense minister of any country, much less one as genuinely threatened as Israel.

If the American Jewish community yells loudly enough, Netanyahu will listen. So now it’s time to start yelling. Israel’s friends must push him to engage in damage control before it’s too late.

Read Less




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