Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 15, 2011

Bowdoin’s Idea of Diversity

Commitment to “diversity” on college campuses is nothing new, but the debate over what true diversity might look like on an elite college campus took a lively turn this week with the publication of an essay on the subject by Tom Klingenstein in the Claremont Review of Books.

The occasion for Klingenstein’s piece was a convocation speech by Bowdoin College president Barry Mills last fall, which included a reference to a conversation the two men had while playing golf. In Mills’s retelling, Klingenstein plays stand-in for all benighted conservatives who distrust liberal elite colleges.

“I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons. . . . And I would never support Bowdoin or Williams (his alma mater) because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”

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Commitment to “diversity” on college campuses is nothing new, but the debate over what true diversity might look like on an elite college campus took a lively turn this week with the publication of an essay on the subject by Tom Klingenstein in the Claremont Review of Books.

The occasion for Klingenstein’s piece was a convocation speech by Bowdoin College president Barry Mills last fall, which included a reference to a conversation the two men had while playing golf. In Mills’s retelling, Klingenstein plays stand-in for all benighted conservatives who distrust liberal elite colleges.

“I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons. . . . And I would never support Bowdoin or Williams (his alma mater) because of all your misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.”

Of course, Klingenstein (whom Mills does not identify by name) never said anything of the kind. Instead, he made the point that what is called diversity on most college campuses is

too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference (particularly as it applies to blacks), and not enough celebration of our common American identity. I told him that I wholeheartedly support reaching out to those who have traditionally been excluded but that I prefer to call such outreach “inclusion” (not “diversity”).

But the real dishonesty in Mills’s speech is the notion that Bowdoin—

or, indeed, virtually any elite college in the nation—is committed to intellectual diversity at all. As Klingenstein points out in his essay, only 4 percent of Bowdoin faculty are self-defined conservatives, according to a study Mills cited in his speech (though he inflated the actual number to 30 percent).

And the course offerings at the college—which U.S. News and World Reports ranks sixth among national liberal arts colleges—confirm that liberal bias. The history department, for example, offers not a single course on the American founding, the Constitution, or on American political, military or intellectual history; and the one course offered on the Civil War is essentially an African American history course offered jointly with the school’s Africana Studies program.

Mills has refused to comment directly on the controversy. If he were halfway serious about intellectual diversity, he might begin by inviting a conservative to give Bowdoin’s next commencement address. I’d put Tom Klingenstein at the top of the list.

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School Choice Advances in Wake of Budget Deal

Conservative Republicans had good reason to be wary of the budget deal that passed this week. It’s true that many of the cuts were more smoke and mirrors than genuine restraints upon government spending. Nevertheless, for all of the justified concerns about the deal, Congressional Republicans in general and House Speaker John Boehner in particular did well to avoid the trap set for them by the Democrats. Had they decided to shut down the government rather than accept this compromise, the political damage to them would probably have done more to set back their longterm strategic plan for budget reform than anything else.

Nevertheless, there was at least one bright spot in the deal that principled conservatives, as well as those who care about education, could embrace. As part of the last minute deal, President Obama and the Democrats caved on their opposition to the GOP plan to revive the school choice program in the District of Columbia. This voucher program had benefited disadvantaged D.C. children until Obama and the Congressional Democrats axed it in the previous Congress. Although pressed by their teacher union allies to squelch this effort to help poor children trapped in failed public schools, the president gave in to save other initiatives favored by Democrats.

This is good news for the children of the District of Columbia who once again will have the chance to attend a pricey private school like the tony Sidwell Friends attended by the president’s own two daughters. Although he will have to answer to his angry union friends, the president will be spared at least from having to go on playing the hypocrite on this issue.

But the victory is also a boost to the school choice movement around the country. Efforts to break the government education monopoly and give all parents the right to pick their children’s schools, and not just the wealthy, is advancing in several states. As the New York Times reported yesterday, campaigns in Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin to expand voucher programs have gained new momentum this week in the wake of what happened in the capital. Although some in the GOP may decry the willingness of the Republican House majority to get what was probably the best deal they could make this week, Speaker Boehner’s successful resuscitation of school choice in Washington may ultimately prove to be a far more significant victory for conservatives than any stand on the budget.

Conservative Republicans had good reason to be wary of the budget deal that passed this week. It’s true that many of the cuts were more smoke and mirrors than genuine restraints upon government spending. Nevertheless, for all of the justified concerns about the deal, Congressional Republicans in general and House Speaker John Boehner in particular did well to avoid the trap set for them by the Democrats. Had they decided to shut down the government rather than accept this compromise, the political damage to them would probably have done more to set back their longterm strategic plan for budget reform than anything else.

Nevertheless, there was at least one bright spot in the deal that principled conservatives, as well as those who care about education, could embrace. As part of the last minute deal, President Obama and the Democrats caved on their opposition to the GOP plan to revive the school choice program in the District of Columbia. This voucher program had benefited disadvantaged D.C. children until Obama and the Congressional Democrats axed it in the previous Congress. Although pressed by their teacher union allies to squelch this effort to help poor children trapped in failed public schools, the president gave in to save other initiatives favored by Democrats.

This is good news for the children of the District of Columbia who once again will have the chance to attend a pricey private school like the tony Sidwell Friends attended by the president’s own two daughters. Although he will have to answer to his angry union friends, the president will be spared at least from having to go on playing the hypocrite on this issue.

But the victory is also a boost to the school choice movement around the country. Efforts to break the government education monopoly and give all parents the right to pick their children’s schools, and not just the wealthy, is advancing in several states. As the New York Times reported yesterday, campaigns in Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin to expand voucher programs have gained new momentum this week in the wake of what happened in the capital. Although some in the GOP may decry the willingness of the Republican House majority to get what was probably the best deal they could make this week, Speaker Boehner’s successful resuscitation of school choice in Washington may ultimately prove to be a far more significant victory for conservatives than any stand on the budget.

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Murder in Gaza: Irony and Slanders

The murder of Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza is noteworthy for two things: the ironic nature of his slaying and the anti-Semitic slanders that the killing has engendered.

Arrigoni’s body was found in a house in Gaza by Hamas operatives looking for the Italian after he was kidnapped by an even more extremist Palestinian group named Tawhid and Jihad. This previously little known organization had snatched the activist in an attempt to force the Hamas rulers of Gaza to release their leader, who was arrested in March.

The killing of Arrigoni by a Palestinian group is a bitter irony. While Arrigoni is being hailed today as a “human rights” worker, his activities and those of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to which he belonged have nothing whatever to do with aiding the people of Gaza.

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The murder of Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza is noteworthy for two things: the ironic nature of his slaying and the anti-Semitic slanders that the killing has engendered.

Arrigoni’s body was found in a house in Gaza by Hamas operatives looking for the Italian after he was kidnapped by an even more extremist Palestinian group named Tawhid and Jihad. This previously little known organization had snatched the activist in an attempt to force the Hamas rulers of Gaza to release their leader, who was arrested in March.

The killing of Arrigoni by a Palestinian group is a bitter irony. While Arrigoni is being hailed today as a “human rights” worker, his activities and those of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to which he belonged have nothing whatever to do with aiding the people of Gaza.

The ISM is a dedicated anti-Zionist group whose sole purpose in Gaza is to act as human shields for Hamas and other terrorist groups, enabling them to carry on their war on Israel. The focus of their much publicized exploits is to create anti-Israel propaganda, such as promoting the fairy tale that Gazans are starving or suffering from lack of medicine even though there is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza.

Until Arrigoni’s death, the most famous member of the ISM was American-born Rachel Corrie who was killed in 2003 when she stretched herself out in the path of an Israeli bulldozer that was knocking down a house that served as an entry point for an arms-smuggling tunnel.

What Arrigoni and Corrie had in common was their utter disregard for the rights of ordinary Gazans who live under the tyranny of the Hamas Islamists. If possible, the plight of Israeli civilians who live under the constant threat of death at the hands of their Palestinian friends moved them even less.

But unlike Corrie, who deliberately threw her life away in order to aid Hamas terrorism, Arrigoni was killed by the people that he was there to assist. If nothing else, Arrigoni’s murder illustrates the dysfunctional nature of Palestinian culture in which the shedding of blood, even that of a Westerner who had dedicated his life to helping their war on Israel, is an unexceptional event.

Rather than acknowledge the truth about life in Gaza, the Palestinians have predictably resorted to the anti-Semitic dogmas that are integral to their faith. Instead of chalking this murder up to the intricacies of infighting between the competing terror movements, Hamas blamed Arrigoni’s death on a plot by Israel. A Hamas spokesman said Friday that the Israelis killed Arrigoni to scare away foreign activists who were planning another flotilla to break the isolation of the terror enclave. Playing along with this lie was Tawhid and Jihad, who had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping a day earlier but now denies it.

Yet as bad as those lies are, the response from the International Solidarity Movement is even more despicable. When interviewed this morning on the BBC World Service’s World Update show, a representative of the group refused to admit that Palestinians had killed Arrigoni. He implied instead that Israel was behind the death. When pressed by the BBC’s Dan Damon, the spokesman insisted that the murder was more likely to be the work of Israel than the Palestinians whom the ISM supported.

It speaks volumes about the hatred of the Jewish state exhibited by this group that even after one of their own is murdered, they prefer smearing Israel to owning up to the vicious truth about the Palestinians.

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Should He Stay or Should He Go?

As Max observes, NATO faced another embarrassment yesterday, when a triumphant, fist-pumping Qaddafi languidly rode his open-top SUV past cheering crowds in Tripoli. It’s clearly not a coincidence that he chose to take this highly-publicized joyride while NATO officials were holed up at a summit trying to breath life back into their ineffective intervention.

Qaddafi’s actions yesterday are the latest sign that he’s not interested in striking any sort of deal to concede power. So while there’s been a lot of talk about removing him through diplomatic channels, it appears that removing him by force may be the only option.

But there are internal conficts within NATO about whether regime change would be beyond the scope of the UN mandate. France has been leading the charge to remove Qaddafi, but French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said regime change is not covered by the current UN resolution and a new resolution would have to be voted on.

If a new resolution is proposed, it’s questionable whether the U.S. would even support it. For awhile now President Obama has said that Qaddafi must go, but he’s also been eager to distance the U.S. from the intervention. It is doubtful that he’d be anxious to escalate the military operation, especially in the current political climate with presidential elections on the horizon.

As Max observes, NATO faced another embarrassment yesterday, when a triumphant, fist-pumping Qaddafi languidly rode his open-top SUV past cheering crowds in Tripoli. It’s clearly not a coincidence that he chose to take this highly-publicized joyride while NATO officials were holed up at a summit trying to breath life back into their ineffective intervention.

Qaddafi’s actions yesterday are the latest sign that he’s not interested in striking any sort of deal to concede power. So while there’s been a lot of talk about removing him through diplomatic channels, it appears that removing him by force may be the only option.

But there are internal conficts within NATO about whether regime change would be beyond the scope of the UN mandate. France has been leading the charge to remove Qaddafi, but French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said regime change is not covered by the current UN resolution and a new resolution would have to be voted on.

If a new resolution is proposed, it’s questionable whether the U.S. would even support it. For awhile now President Obama has said that Qaddafi must go, but he’s also been eager to distance the U.S. from the intervention. It is doubtful that he’d be anxious to escalate the military operation, especially in the current political climate with presidential elections on the horizon.

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And If China Were the Sole Superpower?

Alana Goodman and Ted Bromund both make great points about the Chinese “I’m rubber and you’re glue” human rights report and the leftist embrace of China. But just to enunciate the point in the context of President Obama’s willingness to cut the U.S. military. The international system as we know it is the result of generations of investment in the military. The United Nations is a side-show: Countries do not always embrace the UN’s lofty principles when they walk into the building on Turtle Bay, nor do they abandon their cynical interests and repressive philosophies just because they have signed a document. Strong militaries do more than ensure international stability; they also shape it. Simply put, might makes right.

If the United States abandons the credibility that having the strongest military in the world guarantees then we effectively enable Chinese diplomacy and the Chinese vision to become the predominant influence on international events. And what is that Chinese vision? A strong dose of racialism, a prioritization of stability over liberty, outright animosity toward a free press. In the human rights context, group rights would triumph over individual rights.

Many in the Western NGO and human rights community nurse a personal animosity toward American servicemen and servicewomen. The alienation has grown more severe since the end of the draft enabled many Ivory Tower elite to pass through life without having any meaningful contact with the military. Add to this deficiency a noxious moral equivalency that imagines all countries and all cultures as equal—the plague of multiculturalism—and the self-deception becomes malignant.

Forget the Chinese human rights report. The key issue is whether President Obama believes it is better for the United States to shape the world in its image, or to defer responsibility to another state or entity who will make values judgments quite different from what we and our Founding Fathers held dear.

Alana Goodman and Ted Bromund both make great points about the Chinese “I’m rubber and you’re glue” human rights report and the leftist embrace of China. But just to enunciate the point in the context of President Obama’s willingness to cut the U.S. military. The international system as we know it is the result of generations of investment in the military. The United Nations is a side-show: Countries do not always embrace the UN’s lofty principles when they walk into the building on Turtle Bay, nor do they abandon their cynical interests and repressive philosophies just because they have signed a document. Strong militaries do more than ensure international stability; they also shape it. Simply put, might makes right.

If the United States abandons the credibility that having the strongest military in the world guarantees then we effectively enable Chinese diplomacy and the Chinese vision to become the predominant influence on international events. And what is that Chinese vision? A strong dose of racialism, a prioritization of stability over liberty, outright animosity toward a free press. In the human rights context, group rights would triumph over individual rights.

Many in the Western NGO and human rights community nurse a personal animosity toward American servicemen and servicewomen. The alienation has grown more severe since the end of the draft enabled many Ivory Tower elite to pass through life without having any meaningful contact with the military. Add to this deficiency a noxious moral equivalency that imagines all countries and all cultures as equal—the plague of multiculturalism—and the self-deception becomes malignant.

Forget the Chinese human rights report. The key issue is whether President Obama believes it is better for the United States to shape the world in its image, or to defer responsibility to another state or entity who will make values judgments quite different from what we and our Founding Fathers held dear.

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It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Kosovo

Does the Libyan affair remind anyone of Kosovo? It’s taking place on Europe’s borders, yet—as always when Europe’s hour strikes—no one from the EU is home. NATO has taken over, but most of its members are unenthusiastic. British leadership is a constant, while France has replaced Germany—even more riven by pacifism today than it was in the 1990s—as Britain’s comrade in arms. The U.S., militarily essential as always, gives the appearance of indecision when compared to Britain, although the sentiments of the British people are less clear.

The UN has been summoned to action, but thanks to its inevitable divisions, it is incapable of taking a clear line. In both cases, the ability of those in the region to defend themselves had already been blighted by a UN arms embargo that the U.S. backed and then almost immediately repented: we now pronounce “lift and strike” as “Qatar.” Unfortunately, aid from the Middle East—as it was in Kosovo—is frequently accompanied by support for radical Islamism.

In Kosovo, the result of the UN’s divisions was a war fought without its approval; in Libya, it’s a war that dare not speak the name of regime change.

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Does the Libyan affair remind anyone of Kosovo? It’s taking place on Europe’s borders, yet—as always when Europe’s hour strikes—no one from the EU is home. NATO has taken over, but most of its members are unenthusiastic. British leadership is a constant, while France has replaced Germany—even more riven by pacifism today than it was in the 1990s—as Britain’s comrade in arms. The U.S., militarily essential as always, gives the appearance of indecision when compared to Britain, although the sentiments of the British people are less clear.

The UN has been summoned to action, but thanks to its inevitable divisions, it is incapable of taking a clear line. In both cases, the ability of those in the region to defend themselves had already been blighted by a UN arms embargo that the U.S. backed and then almost immediately repented: we now pronounce “lift and strike” as “Qatar.” Unfortunately, aid from the Middle East—as it was in Kosovo—is frequently accompanied by support for radical Islamism.

In Kosovo, the result of the UN’s divisions was a war fought without its approval; in Libya, it’s a war that dare not speak the name of regime change.

Both the Europeans and the U.S. had years—if not generations—of evidence that Milosevic and Qaddafi were profoundly untrustworthy and extremely bad actors. Yet that evidence did not prevent them from regarding the dictators as open to negotiation and reform, a stance that helped to foster the dictators’ belief that the West was all talk. If he follows Milosevic’s playbook, Qaddafi will now step up his ambiguous, time-wasting offers to negotiate. And if NATO decides the war has bogged down, it will become much more interested, as the West did in Bosnia, in the idea of a political settlement.

If it had not been for Tony Blair’s leadership, a change of heart in Moscow, and the tenacity of the hardly-pure Kosovo Liberation Army, NATO might well have been fought to a standstill in Kosovo. As it was, NATO stumbled to a victory that it deserved morally, but had done little to earn.

This time around, unless the Libyan rebels suddenly become competent, there is no Kosovo Liberation Army. Neither the U.S. nor Britain appears eager to deploy ground troops. Any proposal to deploy them would split NATO and end the tenuous support for the war in Britain, the U.S., and the UN. And as long as ground troops remain out of the question, David Cameron is going to find it very hard to play the role of Tony Blair. Qaddafi has no Moscow on whom he relies for support. The war in Kosovo was won as much by Western forces’ decade-long occupation as by NATO’s bombing campaign. There is no chance at all that the NATO countries will agree to occupy Libya, even if the UN’s resolutions did not prohibit it.

Perhaps NATO will stumble to victory in Libya. Like Milosevic’s regime, Qaddafi’s is capable of beating up on the unarmed, but not accustomed to serious Western opposition. Even if it wins the war, however, NATO is ill-placed to achieve the still-fragile post-war success it enjoyed in Kosovo. With all of the political constraints that hobbled NATO in Kosovo still in place, and none of the conditions for success obviously present, President Obama is going to have to hope he gets very lucky. If you’re not willing to lead, hope is all you have.

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Advanced Training in Repression

In 1989, Chinese troops attacked protesters at Tienanmen Square. Just over a decade later, Iranian government vigilantes attacked students at a Tehran University dormitory, setting off what were, at the time, the worst riots in Iran since the Islamic Revolution itself. The rioting spread so quickly through Iran for two reasons: First, the security goons’ brutality—they cracked heads and even threw one student out a window—outraged Iranians in other cities and provinces; and second, cell phones allowed these Iranians to communicate as never before. Eventually, the Iranian government shut down the cell phone system, but by then it was already too late. For a few days, it was touch-and-go whether the students or the security forces would end up on top, but the Iranian security forces eventually triumphed.

After re-consolidating control, the Iranian regime clearly considered what lessons might be learned from their near miss. They did not do so alone, however, but brought in Chinese security consultants. Because Iran was a tinderbox, creating sparks was dangerous. Using the latest facial recognition software, the Chinese helped the Iranians set up a system of repression in which security forces would photograph rallies and demonstrations, and then round up people in the middle of the night over subsequent weeks. They would break down doors in the middle of the night, rather than drag people out of mobs of already agitated students. It has been effective.

Many of the Arab revolts—and the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan—exploded after security forces fired into crowds or sent policemen to crack heads. As Iran lends help to regimes like Syria, it remains an open question whether Iran will pass along the same tactics they learned from the Chinese to repressive Arab governments. What we are witnessing is not only a proliferation of arms from China, but also a proliferation of repressive technologies. Whether the Obama administration and forces of liberalism are prepared to counter this seeping facilitation of repression, however, is anyone’s guess.

In 1989, Chinese troops attacked protesters at Tienanmen Square. Just over a decade later, Iranian government vigilantes attacked students at a Tehran University dormitory, setting off what were, at the time, the worst riots in Iran since the Islamic Revolution itself. The rioting spread so quickly through Iran for two reasons: First, the security goons’ brutality—they cracked heads and even threw one student out a window—outraged Iranians in other cities and provinces; and second, cell phones allowed these Iranians to communicate as never before. Eventually, the Iranian government shut down the cell phone system, but by then it was already too late. For a few days, it was touch-and-go whether the students or the security forces would end up on top, but the Iranian security forces eventually triumphed.

After re-consolidating control, the Iranian regime clearly considered what lessons might be learned from their near miss. They did not do so alone, however, but brought in Chinese security consultants. Because Iran was a tinderbox, creating sparks was dangerous. Using the latest facial recognition software, the Chinese helped the Iranians set up a system of repression in which security forces would photograph rallies and demonstrations, and then round up people in the middle of the night over subsequent weeks. They would break down doors in the middle of the night, rather than drag people out of mobs of already agitated students. It has been effective.

Many of the Arab revolts—and the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan—exploded after security forces fired into crowds or sent policemen to crack heads. As Iran lends help to regimes like Syria, it remains an open question whether Iran will pass along the same tactics they learned from the Chinese to repressive Arab governments. What we are witnessing is not only a proliferation of arms from China, but also a proliferation of repressive technologies. Whether the Obama administration and forces of liberalism are prepared to counter this seeping facilitation of repression, however, is anyone’s guess.

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Obama’s Character Defect

In his remarks last night, President Obama had this to say: “When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure he’s just being America’s accountant . . . this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill—but wasn’t paid for. So it’s not on the level.”

What a nice ending to an ugly week.

Put out of your mind the fact that Bush’s tax cuts, especially the ones in 2003, led to economic growth that in 2007 helped to trim the deficit to barely more than one percent of GDP. Set aside the fact that the prescription drug plan Ryan supported was less than half the cost of what Democrats were proposing. Forget too that the free-market reforms helped the new plan beat its cost projections by around 40 percent. The point is that Obama has decided to get down and dirty this week rather than to engage the fiscal debate in a serious and honest fashion. Even Mark Halperin of Time magazine, a fine, fair, but not terribly unsympathetic-to-Obama reporter, agreed that Obama crossed a line in his speech this week by saying, in Halperin’s words, “They’re not American in their proposal.”

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In his remarks last night, President Obama had this to say: “When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure he’s just being America’s accountant . . . this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill—but wasn’t paid for. So it’s not on the level.”

What a nice ending to an ugly week.

Put out of your mind the fact that Bush’s tax cuts, especially the ones in 2003, led to economic growth that in 2007 helped to trim the deficit to barely more than one percent of GDP. Set aside the fact that the prescription drug plan Ryan supported was less than half the cost of what Democrats were proposing. Forget too that the free-market reforms helped the new plan beat its cost projections by around 40 percent. The point is that Obama has decided to get down and dirty this week rather than to engage the fiscal debate in a serious and honest fashion. Even Mark Halperin of Time magazine, a fine, fair, but not terribly unsympathetic-to-Obama reporter, agreed that Obama crossed a line in his speech this week by saying, in Halperin’s words, “They’re not American in their proposal.”

It isn’t enough to say Obama is doing what others in the past have done, although Obama seems to do it more often and with more relish. He predicated his 2008 campaign on putting an end to what he called “the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” It is Obama who, upon accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party, declared that “one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.” And it was Obama who promised, on the night of his election, “I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

It was also President Obama who cautioned earlier this year, in his remarks after the aftermath of the Tucson massacre, “[A]t a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do—it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” And it was Obama who told Republicans at a retreat in January 2010, “[W]e’re not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterize whatever proposals are put out there as, ‘Well, you know, that’s—the other party’s being irresponsible. The other party is trying to hurt our senior citizens. That the other party is doing X, Y, Z.’ ”

But now that he finds himself intellectually outmatched by Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and in a precarious situation when it comes to his reelection, Obama is dropping his past civility sermons down the memory hole. Decency and respect for others has suddenly become passé. Talking about our disagreements without being disagreeable has been overtaken by events. Not impugning the character of the opposition is fine as long as it’s convenient, but it’s to be ignored whenever necessary. Challenging people’s character, their motivations, and their patriotism is back in fashion. And so, in Barack Obama’s world, the Republican vision for America consists of crumbling roads, collapsing bridges, young people unable to go to college, grandparents unable to afford nursing home care, and—this one is particularly classy—autistic and Down’s Syndrome children will have to fend for themselves.

Incompetence in a president is not a character defect, but acting so crudely and cynically is.

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Will Obama Lose His Union Attack Dogs?

Labor leaders are fed up with the Obama administration’s economic positions, but they’re finding themselves in a tough spot. Unions can’t exactly support the Republicans in the 2012 election, so they have practically no leverage against the administration.

While labor leaders aren’t speaking out about their concerns publicly, they’ve been slamming the White House behind closed doors, Politico reports:

Top labor leaders excoriated President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a closed session of the AFL-CIO’s executive board meeting in Washington Wednesday, three labor sources said. …

“Now, not only are we getting screwed by the Republicans but the Democrats are doing it too,” said one union official, characterizing the mood at a summit of labor leaders who are worried that Democrats seem unlikely to go to the mat for them as an election year approaches.

This is a clear warning shot at the administration. While labor leaders won’t speak out publicly about their dissatisfaction yet, they’re threatening to get to that point.

And while Obama won’t have to worry about unions supporting his GOP opponent, he will have to worry about the unions being willing to go on the offense against the Republicans. A lack of enthusiasm from labor could not only translate into fundraising problems, but it could also impact the president’s strategy to portray himself as a centrist.

The key to Obama’s strategy is to stay above the partisan fray to win over independents, while letting other leaders on the left – liberal Democrats, union officials – act as attack dogs against the GOP. But that, of course, depends largely on how energized these progressive leaders are about Obama. If they’re nearly as discontented with the current administration as they are with the Republicans, they may not be as willing to take up the fight.

Labor leaders are fed up with the Obama administration’s economic positions, but they’re finding themselves in a tough spot. Unions can’t exactly support the Republicans in the 2012 election, so they have practically no leverage against the administration.

While labor leaders aren’t speaking out about their concerns publicly, they’ve been slamming the White House behind closed doors, Politico reports:

Top labor leaders excoriated President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a closed session of the AFL-CIO’s executive board meeting in Washington Wednesday, three labor sources said. …

“Now, not only are we getting screwed by the Republicans but the Democrats are doing it too,” said one union official, characterizing the mood at a summit of labor leaders who are worried that Democrats seem unlikely to go to the mat for them as an election year approaches.

This is a clear warning shot at the administration. While labor leaders won’t speak out publicly about their dissatisfaction yet, they’re threatening to get to that point.

And while Obama won’t have to worry about unions supporting his GOP opponent, he will have to worry about the unions being willing to go on the offense against the Republicans. A lack of enthusiasm from labor could not only translate into fundraising problems, but it could also impact the president’s strategy to portray himself as a centrist.

The key to Obama’s strategy is to stay above the partisan fray to win over independents, while letting other leaders on the left – liberal Democrats, union officials – act as attack dogs against the GOP. But that, of course, depends largely on how energized these progressive leaders are about Obama. If they’re nearly as discontented with the current administration as they are with the Republicans, they may not be as willing to take up the fight.

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Senate Unanimously Calls on UN to Rescind Goldstone Report

The U.S. Senate passed a unanimous consent resolution last night, calling on the UN to rescind the Goldstone report and work to repair any damage it’s caused to Israel’s reputation.

While the resolution itself can’t compel the UN to act, it’s a positive development for numerous reasons. Not only does it reaffirm America’s rejection of the report, but it also bolsters Israel’s case to get it rescinded. It’s also a way to keep Justice Richard Goldstone’s renunciation of the report in the news cycle. While the document’s release in 2009 was met with a deluge of press coverage, Goldstone’s repudiation of the findings unfortunately hasn’t received as much attention.

Here’s the crux of the Senate resolution:

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The U.S. Senate passed a unanimous consent resolution last night, calling on the UN to rescind the Goldstone report and work to repair any damage it’s caused to Israel’s reputation.

While the resolution itself can’t compel the UN to act, it’s a positive development for numerous reasons. Not only does it reaffirm America’s rejection of the report, but it also bolsters Israel’s case to get it rescinded. It’s also a way to keep Justice Richard Goldstone’s renunciation of the report in the news cycle. While the document’s release in 2009 was met with a deluge of press coverage, Goldstone’s repudiation of the findings unfortunately hasn’t received as much attention.

Here’s the crux of the Senate resolution:

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council members to reflect the author’s repudiation of the Goldstone report’s central findings, rescind the report, and reconsider further Council actions with respect to the report’s findings;

(2) urges United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to work with United Nations member states to reform the United Nations Human Rights Council so that it no longer unfairly, disproportionately, and falsely criticizes Israel on a regular basis;

(3) requests Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to do all in his power to redress the damage to Israel’s reputation caused by the Goldstone report;

(4) asks the Secretary-General to do all he can to urge member states to prevent any further United Nations action on the report’s findings; and

(5) urges the United States to take a leadership role in getting the United Nations and its bodies to prevent any further action on the report’s findings and limit the damage that this libelous report has caused to our close ally Israel and to the reputation of the United Nations.

The key to getting the report rescinded lies with its author Justice Goldstone, since the UN has said it won’t reconsider the issue unless he calls for an official retraction. While the Senate resolution might help persuade Goldstone to do so, there will still be a tough road ahead. The other three members of the committee that compiled the report came out strongly against a retraction in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section yesterday. “We consider that calls to reconsider or even retract the report, as well as attempts at misrepresenting its nature and purpose, disregard the right of victims, Palestinian and Israeli, to truth and justice,” wrote the committee members.

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Qaddafi Makes Merry, NATO Falters

President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Nicolas Sarkozy have published an op-ed today that only highlights the incoherence of their approach to Libya. They write:

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.

So we’re not going to remove Qaddafi by force but we are going to insist that he leave? So far he has refused to budge. What, if anything, are we prepared to do to force him out?

Our failure to do more is especially telling when we read that even as NATO leaders were meeting to discuss Libya, “Gaddafi chose the same day and, according to some reports, the very hour NATO ministers were meeting to ride around Tripoli in an open-top sport-utility vehicle, pumping his fist defiantly, in an act broadcast on Libyan state TV.” Why can’t a NATO F-16 drop a JDAM on Qaddafi’s head and hasten “the genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process” that Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy call for? Because that’s outside the parameters of the UN resolution? In fact the UN resolution gives the allies broad powers to end Qaddafi’s reign of terror, and while it does not specifically call for Qaddafi’s elimination, it does not preclude such action either.

It’s time for the leaders of NATO to get serious. They have gone to war against Qaddafi. Let’s finish the job as quickly as possible, thereby sparing the people of Libya further bloodshed, and get on with the task of building a better state—something that will demand, by the way, a large commitment from the international community.

President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Nicolas Sarkozy have published an op-ed today that only highlights the incoherence of their approach to Libya. They write:

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.

So we’re not going to remove Qaddafi by force but we are going to insist that he leave? So far he has refused to budge. What, if anything, are we prepared to do to force him out?

Our failure to do more is especially telling when we read that even as NATO leaders were meeting to discuss Libya, “Gaddafi chose the same day and, according to some reports, the very hour NATO ministers were meeting to ride around Tripoli in an open-top sport-utility vehicle, pumping his fist defiantly, in an act broadcast on Libyan state TV.” Why can’t a NATO F-16 drop a JDAM on Qaddafi’s head and hasten “the genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process” that Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy call for? Because that’s outside the parameters of the UN resolution? In fact the UN resolution gives the allies broad powers to end Qaddafi’s reign of terror, and while it does not specifically call for Qaddafi’s elimination, it does not preclude such action either.

It’s time for the leaders of NATO to get serious. They have gone to war against Qaddafi. Let’s finish the job as quickly as possible, thereby sparing the people of Libya further bloodshed, and get on with the task of building a better state—something that will demand, by the way, a large commitment from the international community.

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The Tea Party and the GOP Passed Their First Major Test for 2012

The more I think about it, the more it seems clear that something vitally important happened over the past week to and within the GOP. The efforts to turn the government-shutdown battle into a confrontation over Planned Parenthood and the subsequent revelation that the budget savings in 2011 were minuscule (1 percent of what was originally trumpeted) were test cases for the new Republican Party and its understanding of how to handle the Tea Party. And for the Tea Party. And both passed.

What does the Tea Party want? Clearly, what it doesn’t want is what it got from 2009 onward: A vast expansion of the federal government with more to come. But with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in control of the Senate, the ability of the GOP to reverse the trend line immediately is extraordinarily limited. That’s what the outcome of the budget negotiations between the House and the Senate over the weekend demonstrated.

All through the budget negotiation, some self-appointed leaders of the Tea Party were excited by the prospect of a shutdown. They hate government, they hate Democrats, they hate Obama, and this would have been an expression of those hatreds. They also knew that the last GOP government shutdown in 1995 was a political catastrophe. So why did they want it so much? I think that, without necessarily knowing it consciously, they wanted it as a demonstration of their power over the GOP. What could prove that power more clearly than the GOP following them rather than pursuing a more pragmatic and mainstream strategy?

In the end, though, the actual grass roots as opposed to these supposed gardeners of the grass roots did not rise up and force the GOP to make this Hobson’s choice. The millions who fueled the Tea Party’s triumph didn’t lose it as the negotiation was nearing its conclusion last Friday, and didn’t this week when the fact that the actual deficit reduction would be $352 million rather than $38.5 billion became widely known. Even more telling, the GOP leadership had enough votes for the deal that it could afford not to complain when 59 House members angered by the deal decided to say No to it.

Why didn’t the Tea Party rise up? Perhaps because it remains convinced of the stark choice before the United States—Obamaism or its alternative. The only thing that schisms, splits, ideological purity contests and the like will do is confuse matters and weaken the possibility of an end to Obamaism. Keeping an eye on the main event is the most important task for the opposition, and it’s made even more important by how tempted some in the opposition camp are by the prospect of an internal ideological cleansing.

The more I think about it, the more it seems clear that something vitally important happened over the past week to and within the GOP. The efforts to turn the government-shutdown battle into a confrontation over Planned Parenthood and the subsequent revelation that the budget savings in 2011 were minuscule (1 percent of what was originally trumpeted) were test cases for the new Republican Party and its understanding of how to handle the Tea Party. And for the Tea Party. And both passed.

What does the Tea Party want? Clearly, what it doesn’t want is what it got from 2009 onward: A vast expansion of the federal government with more to come. But with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in control of the Senate, the ability of the GOP to reverse the trend line immediately is extraordinarily limited. That’s what the outcome of the budget negotiations between the House and the Senate over the weekend demonstrated.

All through the budget negotiation, some self-appointed leaders of the Tea Party were excited by the prospect of a shutdown. They hate government, they hate Democrats, they hate Obama, and this would have been an expression of those hatreds. They also knew that the last GOP government shutdown in 1995 was a political catastrophe. So why did they want it so much? I think that, without necessarily knowing it consciously, they wanted it as a demonstration of their power over the GOP. What could prove that power more clearly than the GOP following them rather than pursuing a more pragmatic and mainstream strategy?

In the end, though, the actual grass roots as opposed to these supposed gardeners of the grass roots did not rise up and force the GOP to make this Hobson’s choice. The millions who fueled the Tea Party’s triumph didn’t lose it as the negotiation was nearing its conclusion last Friday, and didn’t this week when the fact that the actual deficit reduction would be $352 million rather than $38.5 billion became widely known. Even more telling, the GOP leadership had enough votes for the deal that it could afford not to complain when 59 House members angered by the deal decided to say No to it.

Why didn’t the Tea Party rise up? Perhaps because it remains convinced of the stark choice before the United States—Obamaism or its alternative. The only thing that schisms, splits, ideological purity contests and the like will do is confuse matters and weaken the possibility of an end to Obamaism. Keeping an eye on the main event is the most important task for the opposition, and it’s made even more important by how tempted some in the opposition camp are by the prospect of an internal ideological cleansing.

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“The Challenge of Our Day”

Earlier this week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels fielded questions about the idea of running for president during a meeting with the Indianapolis Star’s Editorial Board. The story says this:

The pundits and others who have pushed Daniels to run are doing so primarily because he is willing to have adult conversations on issues such as Social Security, Medicare and defense spending. Tuesday, he talked idealistically about the idea that voters would welcome such conversations, even though they would lead to tough decisions.

It would take the right message, he said.

“I hope you would call the American people to the challenge of our day,” he said, adding: “We have arrived at a testing point, and some people are already writing our obituary.”

It sounds good. But, I asked, is the nation, and the political world, truly capable of a reasonable debate over such hot-button issues? Recent history casts doubt on that premise.

“I can’t prove it to you,” he said. “But we’d better find out.”

This is very similar to the way in which Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is framing things: time is short, the fiscal challenges are enormous, entitlement programs need to be restructured, the public is ready for a mature, honest discussion about what needs to be done—and it may even reward those who lead it. The argument is that we’re in a new moment, which will allow lawmakers to do unprecedented things.

Is this the case? No one knows. Based on his speech Wednesday afternoon, Barack Obama is placing his reelection hopes on an immature, dishonest discussion of what needs to be done. I hope the Daniels/Ryan view prevails—but it’s not a sure thing by any means it will. The next year-and-a-half should tell us.

Earlier this week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels fielded questions about the idea of running for president during a meeting with the Indianapolis Star’s Editorial Board. The story says this:

The pundits and others who have pushed Daniels to run are doing so primarily because he is willing to have adult conversations on issues such as Social Security, Medicare and defense spending. Tuesday, he talked idealistically about the idea that voters would welcome such conversations, even though they would lead to tough decisions.

It would take the right message, he said.

“I hope you would call the American people to the challenge of our day,” he said, adding: “We have arrived at a testing point, and some people are already writing our obituary.”

It sounds good. But, I asked, is the nation, and the political world, truly capable of a reasonable debate over such hot-button issues? Recent history casts doubt on that premise.

“I can’t prove it to you,” he said. “But we’d better find out.”

This is very similar to the way in which Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is framing things: time is short, the fiscal challenges are enormous, entitlement programs need to be restructured, the public is ready for a mature, honest discussion about what needs to be done—and it may even reward those who lead it. The argument is that we’re in a new moment, which will allow lawmakers to do unprecedented things.

Is this the case? No one knows. Based on his speech Wednesday afternoon, Barack Obama is placing his reelection hopes on an immature, dishonest discussion of what needs to be done. I hope the Daniels/Ryan view prevails—but it’s not a sure thing by any means it will. The next year-and-a-half should tell us.

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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone

William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, now says that “It would be useful to have a larger number of aircraft capable of striking ground targets.”  He is right. What Britain needs is an aircraft capable of taking off from an aircraft carrier conveniently parked off the coast of Libya, capable of landing on rough or improved airstrips, capable of engaging both air and ground targets. Such an aircraft would allow Britain to respond more quickly to targets as they are identified, to maintain a continual presence in the air and thus keep the heads of Qaddafi’s thugs down, and to spend less time and aviation fuel flying its small force of Tornado GR4s back and forth across the Mediterranean.

But Britain already has such an aircraft. It’s called the Harrier.

Of course, Britain grounded its Harrier force as a result of its last defense review, conducted by Hague’s own government. Hague either has a lot of nerve or a limited sense of the absurd to issue demands on this subject. The last operational Harrier flight was in December 2010, and the fleet of 44 planes will be fully retired this very month. The Harrier is no longer state of the art, but it is still effective in the roles it would see in Libya, as shown by the fact that U.S. Marine Harriers struck Libyan defenses during the first wave of U.S. and allied attacks last month.

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William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, now says that “It would be useful to have a larger number of aircraft capable of striking ground targets.”  He is right. What Britain needs is an aircraft capable of taking off from an aircraft carrier conveniently parked off the coast of Libya, capable of landing on rough or improved airstrips, capable of engaging both air and ground targets. Such an aircraft would allow Britain to respond more quickly to targets as they are identified, to maintain a continual presence in the air and thus keep the heads of Qaddafi’s thugs down, and to spend less time and aviation fuel flying its small force of Tornado GR4s back and forth across the Mediterranean.

But Britain already has such an aircraft. It’s called the Harrier.

Of course, Britain grounded its Harrier force as a result of its last defense review, conducted by Hague’s own government. Hague either has a lot of nerve or a limited sense of the absurd to issue demands on this subject. The last operational Harrier flight was in December 2010, and the fleet of 44 planes will be fully retired this very month. The Harrier is no longer state of the art, but it is still effective in the roles it would see in Libya, as shown by the fact that U.S. Marine Harriers struck Libyan defenses during the first wave of U.S. and allied attacks last month.

The British Harrier retirement continues a trend that is as unfortunate as it is eerie: a British defense review is usually followed by a war in which the British find that the capability they have just dropped is the one they need the most. The 1981 Nott Review, which prioritized the Royal Navy’s anti-submarine role in the North Sea, was followed by the 1982 Falklands War, fought thousands of miles away from the North Sea against surface vessels and aircraft. The 2003 mini-review, “Delivering Security in a Changing World,” declared that Britain no longer needed to “generate large-scale capabilities,” i.e. heavy armor was no longer required. Britain then immediately lost control of Basra because, as the commander of Britain’s 4th Mechanised Brigade admitted, it “didn’t have enough capability on the ground.” The 2010 review was fundamentally about nothing more than saving money, but it was predicated on the near-universally accepted British belief that all future wars would look like Afghanistan. Within months, Britain was involved in a war in Libya that is as unlike Afghanistan as any combat could be.

In one sense, this British pattern is very useful: after the next British defense review—long may it be postponed—we will know exactly what kind of war to expect next. It will be the war that Britain is least prepared to fight. In the here and now, it is one thing to make a mistake. It is quite another to demand that the U.S., or other NATO members, be held responsible for filling the defense gap that this British government deliberately created by its refusal to fund its forces adequately.

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Obama Gets Payback

Normally I leave arm-chair psychiatric evaluations to Charles Krauthammer, who once practiced psychiatry. In this case, though, I’ll make an exception.

Why was President Obama’s budget speech at George Washington University on Wednesday so splenetic, so hyper-partisan? I have a hunch. Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, has (rightly) criticized the president for “punting” when it comes to entitlement reform and dealing with the deficit and debt. My guess is that the notoriously thin-skinned Obama was enraged by this. To be accused of being timid, passive, a mere bystander cuts very deep; for Ryan to get credit for political courage and intellectual seriousness (even from his critics) made things even worse. Obama viewed the speech as payback.

The problem for Obama is that he revealed himself to be an unusually petty and partisan figure, particularly in comparison to Ryan. And the narrative of Obama’s being a weak leader is taking hold. What the president doesn’t seem to comprehend is that petulance is not the same thing as leadership. I can’t imagine that many people were impressed by Obama’s churlish attacks.

Normally I leave arm-chair psychiatric evaluations to Charles Krauthammer, who once practiced psychiatry. In this case, though, I’ll make an exception.

Why was President Obama’s budget speech at George Washington University on Wednesday so splenetic, so hyper-partisan? I have a hunch. Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee, has (rightly) criticized the president for “punting” when it comes to entitlement reform and dealing with the deficit and debt. My guess is that the notoriously thin-skinned Obama was enraged by this. To be accused of being timid, passive, a mere bystander cuts very deep; for Ryan to get credit for political courage and intellectual seriousness (even from his critics) made things even worse. Obama viewed the speech as payback.

The problem for Obama is that he revealed himself to be an unusually petty and partisan figure, particularly in comparison to Ryan. And the narrative of Obama’s being a weak leader is taking hold. What the president doesn’t seem to comprehend is that petulance is not the same thing as leadership. I can’t imagine that many people were impressed by Obama’s churlish attacks.

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Solidarity Movement Activist Taken Hostage in Gaza

An activist with the International Solidarity Movement—the anti-Israel group that regularly holds protests against the Israel “occupation”—has been taken hostage by the Islamist terrorist organization A-Tawheed wal Jihad. The group is reportedly threatening to execute the activist unless Hamas releases several prisoners:

The kidnappers belong to A-Tawheed wal Jihad, a terror group of the Salafist Muslim stream. They have released a video showing Arrigoni bruised, tied and blindfolded, and text scrolling across the screen “threatens that he will die unless Hamas releases Salafist prisoners by 5 p.m. Friday.

As you can imagine, the video is quite disturbing. The kidnapped activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, is apparently a blogger for Guerilla Radio as well as the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto. His writing about Israel is all over the web (although most of it is in Italian).

The political views of the International Solidarity Movement are wildly misguided, and its goals are to damage, if not to destroy, the Jewish state. Obviously, that does absolutely nothing to diminish the hideousness of Arrigoni’s kidnapping. Over the past year, 14 foreigners have been taken hostage in Gaza. All of them have been released quickly, and let’s pray that happens again in this case.

An activist with the International Solidarity Movement—the anti-Israel group that regularly holds protests against the Israel “occupation”—has been taken hostage by the Islamist terrorist organization A-Tawheed wal Jihad. The group is reportedly threatening to execute the activist unless Hamas releases several prisoners:

The kidnappers belong to A-Tawheed wal Jihad, a terror group of the Salafist Muslim stream. They have released a video showing Arrigoni bruised, tied and blindfolded, and text scrolling across the screen “threatens that he will die unless Hamas releases Salafist prisoners by 5 p.m. Friday.

As you can imagine, the video is quite disturbing. The kidnapped activist, Vittorio Arrigoni, is apparently a blogger for Guerilla Radio as well as the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto. His writing about Israel is all over the web (although most of it is in Italian).

The political views of the International Solidarity Movement are wildly misguided, and its goals are to damage, if not to destroy, the Jewish state. Obviously, that does absolutely nothing to diminish the hideousness of Arrigoni’s kidnapping. Over the past year, 14 foreigners have been taken hostage in Gaza. All of them have been released quickly, and let’s pray that happens again in this case.

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