Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 28, 2011

Fort Hood Suspect Had Left-Wing Fan Base

The 21-year-old soldier arrested today for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Hood appears to be the same “conscientious objector” who was viewed as a peacemaker by anti-war activists last year, after he refused to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq because he claimed it violated his Muslim faith.

When Pfc. Naser Abdo applied for CO status last year, the utterly discredited Iraq Veterans Against the War organization posted a message in support of him on its website, and asked readers to donate to his legal defense fund. And Kimber Heinz, a writer for the far-left website Truthout, unluckily chose to profile Abdo in a 2010 article entitled, “One Year After Fort Hood: The Missing Story of Muslim Peacemaking.”

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The 21-year-old soldier arrested today for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Hood appears to be the same “conscientious objector” who was viewed as a peacemaker by anti-war activists last year, after he refused to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq because he claimed it violated his Muslim faith.

When Pfc. Naser Abdo applied for CO status last year, the utterly discredited Iraq Veterans Against the War organization posted a message in support of him on its website, and asked readers to donate to his legal defense fund. And Kimber Heinz, a writer for the far-left website Truthout, unluckily chose to profile Abdo in a 2010 article entitled, “One Year After Fort Hood: The Missing Story of Muslim Peacemaking.”

“We must lift up the stories and ongoing work of Muslim peacemakers like Naser Abdo,” Heinz wrote.

CNN and Al Jazeera also both featured glowing segments on Abdo’s quest to obtain CO status.

But there were others who immediately condemned Abdo’s attempt to dodge combat service. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization led by Dr. Zhudi Jasser, urged the military to reject Abdo’s request last year.

“[The AIFD] takes deep exception with claims from PFC Nasser Abdo regarding his application for Conscientious Objector (CO) status from the U.S. Army,” the organization wrote in a statement. “AIFD sees Abdo’s traitorous public assertions as a slap in the face to all American Muslims,especially those Muslims who fight in our armed forces for the liberty and freedom guaranteed by the American Constitution.”

The AIFD wrote that Abdo was only opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in order to qualify for CO status, a soldier typically has to oppose war in general. This raises questions about how and why he was given CO status in the first place. Did the military want to keep him in the country because it had reason to believe he could be a threat? Or were there concerns this might turn into a discrimination issue?

Either way, this story is a reminder that the U.S. must constantly remain vigilant against the threat of homegrown and lone wolf terrorism. The recent attack in Norway showed the extensive damage even one single, committed terrorist can cause.

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Twitter Duel Over West Bank Truth

Earlier this week, I wrote about the astonishing success of a new video promoting Israel’s side of the Middle East conflict produced by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Ayalon’s “The Truth About the West Bank” debunked Arab myths about Israel’s position and put forward a straightforward argument that whatever the ultimate disposition of the territories, the notion Jews have no right to be in the West Bank or their presence is “illegal” was false.

This video, which has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times, drove Palestinian advocates nuts, because it shows how wrong are the world’s assumptions about Israel. Apparently, it was also enough to drive some liberal Jews up the wall as well. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was driven to profanity to describe Ayalon’s efforts which contradicts, at least in part, the mainstream Jewish liberal conventional wisdom to which he subscribes. But in addition to snidely referring to the film as “cheesy” (it is anything but) and “sinister,” he claimed its production showed the Israeli Foreign Ministry had become settlement advocates and that in doing so it was telling the Palestinians to “f___ off.”

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Earlier this week, I wrote about the astonishing success of a new video promoting Israel’s side of the Middle East conflict produced by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Ayalon’s “The Truth About the West Bank” debunked Arab myths about Israel’s position and put forward a straightforward argument that whatever the ultimate disposition of the territories, the notion Jews have no right to be in the West Bank or their presence is “illegal” was false.

This video, which has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times, drove Palestinian advocates nuts, because it shows how wrong are the world’s assumptions about Israel. Apparently, it was also enough to drive some liberal Jews up the wall as well. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was driven to profanity to describe Ayalon’s efforts which contradicts, at least in part, the mainstream Jewish liberal conventional wisdom to which he subscribes. But in addition to snidely referring to the film as “cheesy” (it is anything but) and “sinister,” he claimed its production showed the Israeli Foreign Ministry had become settlement advocates and that in doing so it was telling the Palestinians to “f___ off.”

Ayalon replied on Twitter that while the video demonstrated Jews were not colonizing foreigners in the West Bank, it said nothing about the future of the territories. He demanded Goldberg produce any line in the script that justified his accusation that it asserted Israel must hold onto all of it forever. This set off a long exchange on Twitter between the two that told us a lot more about Goldberg’s mindset than it did about Ayalon’s.

For Goldberg, the mere mention of Jewish rights (whose validity he later acknowledged during the course of the Twitter debate) is wrong. The fact that the West Bank is the heart of the historic Jewish homeland, that there never was a Palestinian nation to which this land should be “returned,” that Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank was illegal and that Israel came into the possession of it during a war of self defense may be true, but to Goldberg, it is a truth that should never, ever be mentioned. To speak of the West Bank as disputed territory rather than “occupied Arab land” is beyond the pale, because it hurts the feelings of the Palestinians and puts the two claims on a level playing field. According to this point of view, anything said that could in any way buttress the arguments of Jews who believe large parts of the West Bank must be retained by Israel in a peace settlement is the sort of information that clearly must be suppressed.

Goldberg’s side of the argument consisted mainly of him saying he knew what Ayalon really meant, and extremists agreed with him. But he never answered Ayalon’s question, because he didn’t have one. The assertion of Jewish rights to the West Bank doesn’t mean those rights can or will be exercised in all or even part of the land. But it does mean any negotiation over the land ought not to be conducted as a trial in which Israel is put in the dock for being in possession of stolen property.

That is the beauty of Ayalon’s video. It corrects the lies about Israel that have for too long gone unanswered even by its supposed advocates in its Foreign Ministry. But for those who want Israel to merely shut up and hand over all the land to the Palestinian Authority with no questions asked, the truth about the West Bank shouldn’t be told.

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Will the GOP Make Jim Jordan’s District Disappear?

Yesterday, I wrote about two instances in which Republican opposition to John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill had perhaps taken things a step too far and ended up strengthening Boehner’s hand in the process.

Unfortunately, tempers got so high they have yet to come back to earth, and some of the pro-Boehner Republicans who were targeted by the Republican Study Committee are talking retribution. To recap, staffers with the RSC were caught targeting members of the House GOP for their support of Boehner’s plan, and when this came to light, RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and his staff were treated to a hostile dressing down at a caucus meeting.

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Yesterday, I wrote about two instances in which Republican opposition to John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill had perhaps taken things a step too far and ended up strengthening Boehner’s hand in the process.

Unfortunately, tempers got so high they have yet to come back to earth, and some of the pro-Boehner Republicans who were targeted by the Republican Study Committee are talking retribution. To recap, staffers with the RSC were caught targeting members of the House GOP for their support of Boehner’s plan, and when this came to light, RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and his staff were treated to a hostile dressing down at a caucus meeting.

Now the Columbus Dispatch reports House Republicans may make Jordan disappear–in congressional terms, that is:

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s open defiance of Speaker John Boehner’s efforts to solve the debt-ceiling crisis could cost the Urbana Republican his safe seat in next year’s election.

Two Republican sources deeply involved in configuring new Ohio congressional districts confirmed to The Dispatch today that Jordan’s disloyalty to Boehner has put him in jeopardy of being zeroed out of a district.

“Jim Jordan’s boneheadedness has kind of informed everybody’s thinking,” said one of the sources, both of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity. “The easiest option for everybody has presented itself.”

Jordan’s rural 11-county district, which has a 60 percent Republican voter index, “is easy to cannibalize because it stretches so far,” said the other source.

There are legitimate reasons why they would do this. The state must eliminate two seats from its congressional delegation, and this would solve an actual problem for Buckeye State Republicans. The idea is to redraw the map so Jordan is put in a “competitive district” that would give the GOP even odds of winning. Jordan’s current district is a safe district, and the pro-Boehner officials are chuckling about that fact having encouraged the hubris in Jordan that may be his undoing. “The downside of being in an uber-safe district is you often don’t develop the strategic skills you need to survive in the arena, and in this case that is going to be painfully evident to Jim Jordan,” one source told the Dispatch.

So this is, perhaps, an idea whose time has come. But talking about it–especially in this gleeful manner (you can almost hear the mwah-ha-ha playing on a loop in this guy’s head)–is the wrong approach. Boehner hasn’t won yet. His bill may pass the House, but it will likely be voted down in the Senate, leading to the need for another compromise. Will the GOP have his back next time? Maybe sending this message will encourage them to get in line. But maybe it will only pour fuel on the fire of resentment the conservative caucus feels toward their compromising leadership.

Boehner, for his part, is doing his best to put a stop to the discussion (though it remains to be seen whether that means he is also not considering the option): “Jim Jordan and I may not always agree on strategy, but we are friends and allies, and the word retribution is not in my vocabulary. I look forward to continuing to serve with him in the U.S. House after the redistricting process in Ohio is complete, and for many years to come.”

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Perry: On Second Thought, Gay Marriage isn’t “Fine”

Gov. Rick Perry’s support for New York’s same-sex marriage decision seemed like a sign the Republican Party might be changing its stance on the issue. But the potential presidential candidate walked back his statements today and reiterated his commitment to a federal marriage amendment.

“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” said Perry during an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”

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Gov. Rick Perry’s support for New York’s same-sex marriage decision seemed like a sign the Republican Party might be changing its stance on the issue. But the potential presidential candidate walked back his statements today and reiterated his commitment to a federal marriage amendment.

“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” said Perry during an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”

But oddly, Perry also used the states’ rights argument to explain his support for a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to one man and one woman.

“To not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas, and other states, not to have marriage forced upon them by these activist judges and these interest groups,” Perry said during the interview.

It’s true some judges have previously tried to impose these decisions. But a federal marriage amendment would also prevent state voters from having the option to allow same-sex marriage. It’s difficult to see how Perry could view this as a victory for states’ rights.

Even though Perry’s position on gay marriage may not have changed, there are indications the Republican Party as a whole is shifting on the issue. Pollsters Joel Benenson and Jan van Lohuizen found that support for gay marriage has accelerated among Republican voters in recent years, according to a study they released this week. And the ABC/Washington Post poll has found that Republican support for same-sex marriage has jumped 8 percent since 2006.

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Bachmann May Be Okay With Boehner Bill’s Passage, But Not With Her Vote

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech to the National Press Club might have been an opportunity for the Tea Party’s heroine to fire a shot across the bow of her longtime antagonists in the GOP leadership–coming only hours before the vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. Instead, the presidential candidate was careful to express her admiration for Boehner, even though she said she wouldn’t vote for any measure—including his—that raised the debt ceiling.

While almost all of her fire was directed at President Obama, Bachmann made it clear she wouldn’t vote for any compromise measure. If the cut, cap and balance plan passed by the House last week didn’t meet her approval, there was no way she was going to back Boehner’s second try at a debt ceiling solution. But her opposition to Boehner was not personal (she repeatedly praised Boehner’s efforts to solve the problem), nor did she treat the possibility of the House passing his bill as a calamity. In fact, she seemed to treat its passage as a fait accompli that would once again put the ball in the Democrats’ court. In other words, Bachmann gave the impression she would not be displeased were Boehner to succeed today but wanted no share of the responsibility for passing it.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech to the National Press Club might have been an opportunity for the Tea Party’s heroine to fire a shot across the bow of her longtime antagonists in the GOP leadership–coming only hours before the vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. Instead, the presidential candidate was careful to express her admiration for Boehner, even though she said she wouldn’t vote for any measure—including his—that raised the debt ceiling.

While almost all of her fire was directed at President Obama, Bachmann made it clear she wouldn’t vote for any compromise measure. If the cut, cap and balance plan passed by the House last week didn’t meet her approval, there was no way she was going to back Boehner’s second try at a debt ceiling solution. But her opposition to Boehner was not personal (she repeatedly praised Boehner’s efforts to solve the problem), nor did she treat the possibility of the House passing his bill as a calamity. In fact, she seemed to treat its passage as a fait accompli that would once again put the ball in the Democrats’ court. In other words, Bachmann gave the impression she would not be displeased were Boehner to succeed today but wanted no share of the responsibility for passing it.

Bachmann came into Congress as a purist on all sorts of issues, and her stand on the debt ceiling is no different than the rest of her positions. She can get away with that because unlike Boehner, she isn’t responsible for maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States. That allows her to say there will be no default while simultaneously asserting she will vote for no measure that would prevent one. There are those who will say that’s a ridiculous contradiction, but not to her.

Until she is elected president (an admitted long shot), she can afford to speak about the way she wants the world to work rather than how it does work. After all, Bachmann is right that Obamacare ought to be repealed, and a debt solution without eliminating that major new entitlement is absurd. She’s also right that the United States should spend less and the involvement of the federal government in so much of our lives needs to be ended. But if she were ever elected president, she’d have to accept the reality of divided government and deal with it. But until then, she’s free to run on her principles and to avoid getting her hands dirty, as Boehner must.

Yet, it must be noted her non-confrontational approach to the Speaker’s bill marks a distinct change in tone from her days as a bomb-throwing backbencher. It signals she is serious about being the GOP nominee and wants to be the person who will unite it next fall in the struggle against Obama. That may not happen, but it is clear despite her ideological purity on the issues, she is thinking about the big presidential picture–not settling scores with her critics in the GOP leadership.

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Obama Will Be Biggest Loser

Making predictions can be a perilous undertaking, but here are a few as the debt ceiling debate moves toward its denouement.

An agreement will be reached before the August 2 deadline. It won’t be ideal by any means — but all told it will be seen, and rightly so, as a substantive win for the GOP. Republicans will have outmaneuvered the president and his party, securing an agreement without tax increases, that includes some cuts, and creates a new precedent that spending restraint must accompany an increase in the debt ceiling.

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Making predictions can be a perilous undertaking, but here are a few as the debt ceiling debate moves toward its denouement.

An agreement will be reached before the August 2 deadline. It won’t be ideal by any means — but all told it will be seen, and rightly so, as a substantive win for the GOP. Republicans will have outmaneuvered the president and his party, securing an agreement without tax increases, that includes some cuts, and creates a new precedent that spending restraint must accompany an increase in the debt ceiling.

The president will have emerged from this episode significantly damaged. He will be viewed as far more impotent than he was at the outset of negotiations. His limitations as a negotiator will have been exposed. The distrust among Obama and congressional Democrats will have increased. And Obama’s effort to portray himself as a mature, unifying and bi-partisan figure — which was at the core of his appeal in 2008 — will have received a crushing blow.

Congressional Republicans will not emerge from the debt ceiling negotiations unscathed; no individual or institution that has been associated with it could. But when we look back on this drama six months from now, the biggest loser of all will be America’s 44th president. And very few people predicted that at the outset  of the negotiations.

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Religion and the Debt

In today’s online edition of the New York Times, University of Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting attempts a takedown of those who attempt to inject religion into secular political debates. His clear target is the religious right and the Tea Party who believe in limited government. Gutting writes that it is irritating to be confronted with “the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time,” such as those by the conservative Christian group The Family Leader’s Voting Guide.

Gutting has a point, but the problem with the piece–and much of the liberal disdain for conservative Christians and their Tea Party allies–is the same argument can be used to dismiss liberals who employ religious arguments on behalf of their own positions on the profoundly secular question of taxes, entitlements and the public debt. Coming as it did the day after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced congressional efforts to cut back on entitlement spending as part of a solution to the debt ceiling crisis, the omission was an extraordinary example of bias. The religious left is just as guilty as those on the right of trying to depict God as being on their side of the aisle.

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In today’s online edition of the New York Times, University of Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting attempts a takedown of those who attempt to inject religion into secular political debates. His clear target is the religious right and the Tea Party who believe in limited government. Gutting writes that it is irritating to be confronted with “the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time,” such as those by the conservative Christian group The Family Leader’s Voting Guide.

Gutting has a point, but the problem with the piece–and much of the liberal disdain for conservative Christians and their Tea Party allies–is the same argument can be used to dismiss liberals who employ religious arguments on behalf of their own positions on the profoundly secular question of taxes, entitlements and the public debt. Coming as it did the day after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced congressional efforts to cut back on entitlement spending as part of a solution to the debt ceiling crisis, the omission was an extraordinary example of bias. The religious left is just as guilty as those on the right of trying to depict God as being on their side of the aisle.

As even Gutting concedes, the last thing we should want is a “naked public square” in which persons of faith and faith perspectives are marginalized in our political life. The movements to end slavery and segregation in this country would be unimaginable without the religious fervor that was the greatest single motivating factor for those who protested those evils. So let’s stipulate that both the left and the right have the right to invoke moral arguments on behalf of their priorities.

The problem arises when religious advocates distort debates about the proper rate of taxation or government spending into questions of religious principle. The Family Leader has every right to speak up on behalf of limited government as a moral imperative, just as the Catholic Bishops or the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism have the right to argue that cuts to entitlement programs are immoral. But when such groups speak in the name of their faiths in such a way as to depict their opponents as somehow immoral or irreligious, then a line has been crossed. It is no more the duty of an evangelical Christian to choose one side in the debt ceiling debate than it is of a Catholic or a Jew to be on the other.

Gutting is correct to question Family Life’s crossing of this line, but one is left wondering why neither he nor anyone at the Times thinks the same behavior is noteworthy when it is committed by far more influential groups on the left.

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Bris Ban Off the Ballot

Circumcision opponents suffered a legal defeat yesterday when a California court ruled the proposed referendum on banning the practice in San Francisco was to be taken off the ballot. Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi decided the referendum ran afoul of state law that forbids municipalities from banning legitimate medical procedures and was therefore “expressly pre-empted.”

While those who have promoted the referendum will probably appeal, the ruling may mean the bris banners may not have the opportunity to prevent Jews from performing their covenantal obligations by circumcising baby boys. Had the law been passed, performing a circumcision would have been a punishable offense.

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Circumcision opponents suffered a legal defeat yesterday when a California court ruled the proposed referendum on banning the practice in San Francisco was to be taken off the ballot. Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi decided the referendum ran afoul of state law that forbids municipalities from banning legitimate medical procedures and was therefore “expressly pre-empted.”

While those who have promoted the referendum will probably appeal, the ruling may mean the bris banners may not have the opportunity to prevent Jews from performing their covenantal obligations by circumcising baby boys. Had the law been passed, performing a circumcision would have been a punishable offense.

Although most of the arguments on behalf of the proposal have revolved around bizarre notions about male sexuality, the anti-Semitic intent of the measure was made clear by a comic book published by one of the measure’s main proponents. As we wrote in June, the adventures of “Foreskin Man,” an on-line publication, depicted an Aryan-looking hero whose mission was to thwart the efforts of a sinister ritual circumciser named Monster Mohel. The comic book employed all the tropes of traditional anti-Semitism in a manner reminiscent of the literature of Nazi Germany.

The legal grounds for stopping the referendum appear solid, but it must be pointed out that had it been left on the ballot, the result would have been a law that was an unconstitutional act of religious bias. While we hope this ruling settles the question for the foreseeable future, given the motivation of its backers, we probably haven’t heard the last of this effort.

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Senate Democrats to Blame if They Block Boehner Plan

It’s getting harder for Democrats to blame Tea Partiers for blocking a debt ceiling deal, now that all 53 Senate Democrats (and independents) have signed a letter saying they will not support Boehner’s plan. But Sen. Harry Reid gave it a final try this morning:

“A small group of radical Republicans who don’t represent mainstream America… have refused to move one inch towards compromise,” said Reid.

“There has been a spate of these members of the House of Representatives that have said they would rather see the nation default on its financial obligations than cooperate,” he continued.

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It’s getting harder for Democrats to blame Tea Partiers for blocking a debt ceiling deal, now that all 53 Senate Democrats (and independents) have signed a letter saying they will not support Boehner’s plan. But Sen. Harry Reid gave it a final try this morning:

“A small group of radical Republicans who don’t represent mainstream America… have refused to move one inch towards compromise,” said Reid.

“There has been a spate of these members of the House of Representatives that have said they would rather see the nation default on its financial obligations than cooperate,” he continued.

This argument won’t be able to hold up for much longer. If Boehner’s plan passes the House and Democrats don’t accept some variation of it, then the responsibility for default will lie squarely on their shoulders. Marc Thiessen writes in the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the Boehner proposal “dead on arrival” in the Senate, but this more accurately describes his own plan. Reid does not have the votes to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate — and if Reid cannot pass his plan, then the Boehner plan is the only game in town. If the House passes the Boehner plan, and Reid’s plan is stalled, Senate Democrats will face a choice: Pass Boehner’s bill and send it to the president or take responsibility for causing a government default. Here’s my prediction: They will pass it. And Obama will sign it.

With default looming, I’ll even wager that his senior advisers will “recommend” he do so.

Senate Democrats have boxed themselves into a corner on this. By mounting such a strong opposition to Boehner’s plan, they’re actually helping to unify House Republicans. There may be an out if Sen. Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden – who are still in discussion – come up with a compromise deal by tomorrow.

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The Slow-Motion Meltdown of the President’s Press Secretary

Most commentators agree congressional Republicans would be blamed for the consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. This morning, Matt Lewis has a post reminding readers why the GOP is at such a disadvantage: the mainstream media will blame the GOP; the Republicans have a branding problem on these issues since they appear to strongly dislike government and the entitlement checks it writes; and the president is a Democrat, so his party has the bully pulpit.

He’s right, of course, though it seems at times the White House is trying to lose that last advantage. Press Secretary Jay Carney has been an even less amiable spokesman than his predecessor, Bob Gibbs. Fresh off telling MSNBC’s Chuck Todd he was parroting Republican talking points by asking what the president’s plan was, Carney has dusted off the old “Republicans are Nazis” insult in what I can only imagine was an attempt to alienate as many people as possible. Lewis’ colleague Neil Munro reports:

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Most commentators agree congressional Republicans would be blamed for the consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. This morning, Matt Lewis has a post reminding readers why the GOP is at such a disadvantage: the mainstream media will blame the GOP; the Republicans have a branding problem on these issues since they appear to strongly dislike government and the entitlement checks it writes; and the president is a Democrat, so his party has the bully pulpit.

He’s right, of course, though it seems at times the White House is trying to lose that last advantage. Press Secretary Jay Carney has been an even less amiable spokesman than his predecessor, Bob Gibbs. Fresh off telling MSNBC’s Chuck Todd he was parroting Republican talking points by asking what the president’s plan was, Carney has dusted off the old “Republicans are Nazis” insult in what I can only imagine was an attempt to alienate as many people as possible. Lewis’ colleague Neil Munro reports:

Without ready cash to pay for every government program, he said at the White House’s daily press conference, “It’s a Sophie’s Choice. Who do you save? Who do you pay?”

‘Sophie’s Choice’ refers to a 1982 movie that depicts a Jewish mother being forced to choose which one of her two children should be saved from one of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist death-camps.

And Carney repeated the comparison later in the briefing, which means it was his talking point of the day. Carney’s bizarrely angry daily performances probably make most of those reporters in the briefing room wish the Democrats had someone like Tony Snow, the affable press secretary in George W. Bush’s second term.

In 2006, Newsweek reported an exchange between Snow and Helen Thomas after Thomas accused the U.S. of bankrupting the Palestinians by refusing to give financial aid to Hamas. Snow responded that Hamas is a terrorist organization:

“They were democratically elected,” Thomas insisted.

“They were democratically elected, and they’re still a terrorist organization,” Snow replied.

“By your designation,” Thomas snapped.

“Yes, thank you very much, Helen,” Snow shot back.

That could have been a scene straight out of one of Scott McClellan’s combative press briefings, if it weren’t for what happened next. From the podium, Snow looked down at Thomas sitting in her front-row seat and noticed the veteran reporter was clutching a shiny red apple.

“By the way, that’s a nice apple,” Snow grinned.

“Here,” Thomas instantly replied, offering the new press secretary her apple.

As the press room erupted in laughter, Snow dramatically leapt from the podium and grabbed the apple, placing it front and center on the lectern. “Whoever thought that Helen Thomas would kiss up to me,” Snow said, laughing. “An apple for the teacher.”

“Hardly!” Thomas shouted from the front row. But she was smiling–and so was every other reporter in the room.

This was typical of Snow. Those who had the pleasure of interacting with Snow–as I did–were well aware of his almost preternatural ability to light up a room, even while he was suffering from cancer. Despite the way the press felt about his boss, when Snow stepped down from his post, the mostly liberal reporters behaved as if they were losing their best friend. “Thank you, Tony. I will really miss you,” said one reporter. “God bless you,” said another.

And now they have Jay Carney. The administration’s thin skin has come to define its interactions with the public, the opposition and the press. If the Nazi references keep flowing from the White House, owning the bully pulpit will not be much of an advantage for the Democrats.

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Whatever the Fate of al-Qaeda, the Islamist Terrorist Threat Remains

There is a clear and present danger of premature triumphalism when American counter-terrorism officials proclaim  al-Qaeda is “on the brink of collapse.” As Daveed Garstenstein-Ross notes  at National Review, we have been hearing such proclamations since 2003, and each time, al-Qaeda has managed to defy reports of its demise. In fact, the al-Qaeda network has shown an impressive ability to regenerate itself–hardly surprising since the resources needed to carry out a single terrorist attack, even one as high-profile as 9/11, are fairly small.

The only point I would add to Garstenstein-Ross’s excellent analysis is that we should remember ”Islamist terrorism” does not necessarily mean “al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda is the most famous such group, and with 9/11 it managed to pull off the most damaging terrorist attack ever. But numerous other radicals are setting off bombs with scant direction or assistance from al-Qaeda Central. These organizations range from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah and Hamas. None of these groups has pulled off an attack on the scale of 9/11, thank goodness, but several of them have undoubtedly killed far more people–and dominated far more territory–than al-Qaeda Central ever did.

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There is a clear and present danger of premature triumphalism when American counter-terrorism officials proclaim  al-Qaeda is “on the brink of collapse.” As Daveed Garstenstein-Ross notes  at National Review, we have been hearing such proclamations since 2003, and each time, al-Qaeda has managed to defy reports of its demise. In fact, the al-Qaeda network has shown an impressive ability to regenerate itself–hardly surprising since the resources needed to carry out a single terrorist attack, even one as high-profile as 9/11, are fairly small.

The only point I would add to Garstenstein-Ross’s excellent analysis is that we should remember ”Islamist terrorism” does not necessarily mean “al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda is the most famous such group, and with 9/11 it managed to pull off the most damaging terrorist attack ever. But numerous other radicals are setting off bombs with scant direction or assistance from al-Qaeda Central. These organizations range from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah and Hamas. None of these groups has pulled off an attack on the scale of 9/11, thank goodness, but several of them have undoubtedly killed far more people–and dominated far more territory–than al-Qaeda Central ever did.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq managed to take over a substantial portion of Sunni territory in Iraq before suffering devastating defeats in 2007-2008, but it continues to set off bombs. Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah is the most powerful force in Lebanon. The Pakistani Taliban are steadily undermining the government in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Taiba has almost sparked war between India and Pakistan with its terrorist attacks in India. The Afghan Taliban and  Haqqani Network are on a counteroffensive to reestablish control of Afghanistan–a task made easier for them by President Obama’s premature withdrawal of troops. Khataib Hezbollah, along with other Shiite terrorist groups, is reasserting its power in Iraq as the U.S. prepares to withdraw.

In short, whatever the fate of al-Qaeda, the Islamist terrorist threat–of both the Shia and Sunni variety–remains very much with us. The only mistake worse than writing off al-Qaeda prematurely is to conflate its possible demise with the demise of the violent ideology it represents.

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Debt-Ceiling Politics—Churchill or Animal House?

With 88 hours or so left to go until the White House’s declared deadline of August 2 for the debt ceiling to be raised, here’s the state of play:

Speaker of the House John Boehner is desperately trying to defuse the crisis with a split-the-baby piece of legislation that raises the debt ceiling for six months, matches its increase dollar-for-dollar in cuts (over 10 years), does not increase taxes, and takes it all up again at the end of the year—with an evenly divided partisan panel determining where things go now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared Boehner’s bill dead in the water, because he has a bill that features cuts too but raises the debt ceiling high enough to take the country through until after the 2012 election. He is vowing to undertake a parliamentary maneuver in which the Senate takes up the House bill, strips it of all its provisions, replaces them with Reid’s provisions, and sends it back to the House—at which point the House will either have to accept it or vote it down. I call this a maneuver because Reid could also bring his proposal up in the Senate as its own bill and then bring his bill and Boehner’s bill into a conference committee where the terms can be hashed out between them, voted on again by both chambers, and sent to the president for a signature.

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With 88 hours or so left to go until the White House’s declared deadline of August 2 for the debt ceiling to be raised, here’s the state of play:

Speaker of the House John Boehner is desperately trying to defuse the crisis with a split-the-baby piece of legislation that raises the debt ceiling for six months, matches its increase dollar-for-dollar in cuts (over 10 years), does not increase taxes, and takes it all up again at the end of the year—with an evenly divided partisan panel determining where things go now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared Boehner’s bill dead in the water, because he has a bill that features cuts too but raises the debt ceiling high enough to take the country through until after the 2012 election. He is vowing to undertake a parliamentary maneuver in which the Senate takes up the House bill, strips it of all its provisions, replaces them with Reid’s provisions, and sends it back to the House—at which point the House will either have to accept it or vote it down. I call this a maneuver because Reid could also bring his proposal up in the Senate as its own bill and then bring his bill and Boehner’s bill into a conference committee where the terms can be hashed out between them, voted on again by both chambers, and sent to the president for a signature.

Reid’s plan is risky. Republicans in the House will not vote for it but will have a credible case to make that they had a perfectly good plan of their own that Reid hijacked in an almost immoral way—solely to protect Obama’s reelection chances. And if they don’t vote for it, there literally isn’t time to manage a debt-ceiling increase before Sunday/Monday at midnight. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who proposed simply raising the debt ceiling without cuts or taxes two weeks ago and is therefore deserving of being considered an extremely moderate voice in this debate, said this morning that Reid’s strategy ensures the U.S. will go into default.

The White House has no plan and is getting into ridiculous and embarrassing fights with journalists lying bald-facedly about how it has one. It seems to be relying almost entirely on its own salvation in this mess on a compliant press telling an anti-Republican story from his perspective. That too is risky, because he’s been very public about all this and is certain to be tied in the public consciousness to whatever happens. Meaning, if it’s bad, he’s going to pay a heavy price.

Conservatives are terribly split. Some think Boehner has done his best to be responsible, to consider the concerns of his members, to find a path out of an unprecedented morass. Others think he is a sell-out, that he should be “holding the line” and insisting on a plan that actually eats into the burgeoning national debt and not merely the deficit (i.e, the interest owed on the debt). One of the leading voices of the “hold the line” side, Erick Erickson of Red State, suggested yesterday that those who feel differently—like Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell, among others—should be sent to “a mental ward.” He and other hardliners seem intent on staking out the position that a) a debt-ceiling collapse won’t be a disaster, or b) it will and it should because we need to get our house in order, or c) it’s somehow not fair that Republicans keep submitting plans and Democrats keep rejecting them without putting forward a plan of their own.

The long-term hardliner view of the crisis and the necessity to address systematically through the lowering of the actual debt are correct without question. No one on the Right disagrees. The problem is that Sunday night looms. And while the hardliners may feel like Churchill, saying “We will fight them on the beaches…” to my ears they are increasingly sounding like Otter, the devil-may-care Lothario of National Lampoon’s Animal House, who is stirred to revolt against his college dean: “We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!”

To which Bluto, the barely sentient Id of the dorm, says, “We’re just the guys to do it.”

Clock is ticking. 87 hours to go…

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Obama’s Disgruntled and Marginalized Base

As President Obama grumbles on the sidelines of the debt ceiling debate, the growing chorus of dissent from liberals who are disgruntled with the White House is starting to be heard. While Monday’s night’s speech proved the president is still playing to his base with class warfare rhetoric aimed at the Republicans, many on the left are unhappy with the cuts to entitlements that Obama has appeared to accept. But an even bigger problem is the president’s supporters have come to realize how ineffectual his efforts have been in this crisis.

Though the president has acted as if all the political stars were aligning to favor his positions on the issue and ultimately his re-election, the impact of recent events on the enthusiasm level of his base must be extremely troubling.

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As President Obama grumbles on the sidelines of the debt ceiling debate, the growing chorus of dissent from liberals who are disgruntled with the White House is starting to be heard. While Monday’s night’s speech proved the president is still playing to his base with class warfare rhetoric aimed at the Republicans, many on the left are unhappy with the cuts to entitlements that Obama has appeared to accept. But an even bigger problem is the president’s supporters have come to realize how ineffectual his efforts have been in this crisis.

Though the president has acted as if all the political stars were aligning to favor his positions on the issue and ultimately his re-election, the impact of recent events on the enthusiasm level of his base must be extremely troubling.

Just a couple of months ago, Democrats were convinced they would spend the next year and a half raking the GOP over the coals for Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposals as they cruised to victory in 2012. They believed Mediscare tactics would be their ticket to retaking the House of Representatives next year as well as dooming Republican presidential hopes.

But the last month of negotiations have not only made it clear to the general public that restoring a semblance of national solvency required cutbacks in entitlements, but many Democrats understand it, too. Though the president has been acting as if a default was in his political interest, it has not escaped the notice of liberals that even his desultory attempts at negotiations have countenanced such cuts.

This has demoralized the left wing of his party in Congress. It is also having an impact on the very same young and liberal voters who elected Barack Obama in 2008. While Obama’s fundraising doesn’t seem to be greatly affected, the president’s bad polling numbers reflect not only the unhappy independents who regret putting him into office but also disillusioned liberals.

While the story that has received the most attention during the course of the debt debate has been the influence of the Tea Party, the marginalization of the political left during the negotiations is far more important. It should be noted that for all of the efforts by Democrats and their allies in the media to demonize the right wing of the GOP as out-of-touch extremists, the left is clearly far more removed from mainstream American political thinking these days than even the most hard-core Tea Partiers. Many Americans may like Obama’s talk of a “balanced approach” to solving the problem, but increasingly fewer are willing to oppose the reforms of entitlements Republicans have proposed.

The president has infuriated his base while doing nothing to convince Americans he can run the country effectively.  Though Obama may still believe he can outmaneuver Republicans on the debt ceiling, all this bodes ill for the president’s hopes in 2012.

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“Next Year’s Presidential Election Could End Up Being a GOP Landslide”

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal provides a useful survey of swing state polls.

Kraushaar points out that while the national polls are useful in gauging the president’s popularity, the more instructive numbers are those from battleground states. “Those polls are even more ominous for the president,” according to Kraushaar, who cites data from Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

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Josh Kraushaar of National Journal provides a useful survey of swing state polls.

Kraushaar points out that while the national polls are useful in gauging the president’s popularity, the more instructive numbers are those from battleground states. “Those polls are even more ominous for the president,” according to Kraushaar, who cites data from Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

Kraushaar goes on to write:

In every reputable battleground state poll conducted over the past month, Obama’s support is weak. In most of them, he trails Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.  For all the talk of a closely fought 2012 election, if Obama can’t turn around his fortunes in states such as Michigan and New Hampshire, next year’s presidential election could end up being a GOP landslide.

Kraushaar adds this:

For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that 2012 will be a close presidential contest, with a best-case scenario for Republicans of winning the race with a map similar to George W. Bush’s 2004 victory over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

But if the president can’t turn things around, that logic could prove badly outdated. If Obama is struggling in the Democratic-friendly confines of Michigan and Pennsylvania (as recent polls have indicated), it’s hard to see him over-performing again in more-traditional battlegrounds such as Colorado, Nevada  and Virginia.

Unless the environment changes significantly, all the money in the president’s reelection coffers won’t be able to expand the map; it can only defend territory that’s being lost. And just as House Democrats played defense to protect the growing number of vulnerable members in last year’s midterms, Obama is looking like he’ll be scrambling to hold onto a lot of the states that he thought would be part of an emerging Democratic majority.

If the election were held today, there’s little question the president would be defeated by a comfortable margin if pitted against a reassuring and reasonable GOP nominee. For that outcome to be averted, the environment does need to change significantly for the better. And right now, there’s no empirical indication that it will.

 

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Sarkozy Breaks a European Taboo on Jewish State

Kudos to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government for finally breaking a European taboo. At a press conference in Madrid last week, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe publicly declared that “there will be no solution to the conflict in the Middle East without recognition of two nation-states for two peoples. The nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people, and the nation-state of Palestine for the Palestinian people.” Then, lest anyone overlook the statement’s significance or think it a mere slip of the tongue, his ministry yesterday circulated copies of it.

This is truly groundbreaking. Until now, no EU country has been willing to state publicly that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement must recognize Israel as the Jews’ nation-state, though the EU routinely details the concessions it expects Israel to make.

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Kudos to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government for finally breaking a European taboo. At a press conference in Madrid last week, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe publicly declared that “there will be no solution to the conflict in the Middle East without recognition of two nation-states for two peoples. The nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people, and the nation-state of Palestine for the Palestinian people.” Then, lest anyone overlook the statement’s significance or think it a mere slip of the tongue, his ministry yesterday circulated copies of it.

This is truly groundbreaking. Until now, no EU country has been willing to state publicly that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement must recognize Israel as the Jews’ nation-state, though the EU routinely details the concessions it expects Israel to make.

Partly, this stems from the EU’s desire to maintain a facade of European consensus. And on this issue, no consensus exists. According to Israeli officials, EU foreign policy czar Catherine Ashton adamantly opposes any mention of Israel as a Jewish state, as do Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg. In contrast, such language is favored by Germany, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Interestingly, the officials who gave the Jerusalem Post this assessment, just days before Juppe’s Madrid press conference, listed France as on the fence, but leaning toward the Ashton camp.

The second reason, as an Israeli diplomat serving at the UN told Haaretz this week, is that even countries sympathetic to Israel’s position in private are reluctant to say so publicly, because they perceive the Palestinian Authority as the weaker side in the conflict, and are therefore “uncomfortable” making demands of it: They feel demands should be directed at the stronger side. And since the PA adamantly opposes recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, supporting such recognition means demanding a Palestinian concession.

So what made Sarkozy get off the fence and approve Juppe’s public declaration of support for a Jewish state? It’s not that he suddenly joined the Zionist movement; neither have most of the countries favoring such language. Rather, they have finally grasped that no agreement is possible without satisfying Israel’s minimum requirements. No Israeli government will ever sign a deal that mandates full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, lacks adequate security provisions or doesn’t acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. The major Israeli parties differ on precisely where the border should run and precisely what security arrangements are required, but they all agree on these basics.

Sarkozy, however, has now gone one step further: He’s realized since Israel won’t sign a deal without such provisions, Europe does need to start publicly  demanding these concessions of the Palestinians. Otherwise, they will keep deluding themselves the world will eventually force a complete Israeli capitulation.

In so doing, he’s thrown down a gauntlet to his fellow European realists: Will they, too, finally support a Jewish state publicly? For if they cravenly sit on the sidelines, allowing the PA to dismiss him as an isolated voice it can safely ignore, his bold effort to advance the cause of peace will die aborning.

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Why Groups Like J Street Have Palestinians Pining for “Extreme Zionists”

In Gregory Levey’s How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, he tells of sitting on a panel about the Arab-Israeli conflict when a Palestinian man in the audience leans in toward the Palestinian sitting next to Levey and says: “It’s easier to deal with the extreme Zionists. Much harder to deal with the moderates.”

I wondered about the meaning of this quote until I read Adam Kredo’s story in this week’s Washington Jewish Week, about the latest project from J Street. The group brought in seven former Israeli officials to lobby Congress and the White House to accept the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–loudly and overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis and the Congress. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected those terms in his visit to the U.S., his popularity jumped, and formerly anti-Bibi Israelis were telling the Washington Post: “Now he’s our guy. He’s the voice of Israel.”

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In Gregory Levey’s How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, he tells of sitting on a panel about the Arab-Israeli conflict when a Palestinian man in the audience leans in toward the Palestinian sitting next to Levey and says: “It’s easier to deal with the extreme Zionists. Much harder to deal with the moderates.”

I wondered about the meaning of this quote until I read Adam Kredo’s story in this week’s Washington Jewish Week, about the latest project from J Street. The group brought in seven former Israeli officials to lobby Congress and the White House to accept the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–loudly and overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis and the Congress. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected those terms in his visit to the U.S., his popularity jumped, and formerly anti-Bibi Israelis were telling the Washington Post: “Now he’s our guy. He’s the voice of Israel.”

But this moment of Israeli unity and national pride was too much for J Street, which just had to find a way to bring them down. Reading Kredo’s story, I realized it’s not the moderates the Palestinian was talking about being unable to deal with; it’s the “moderates.”

Unlike actual moderates, who occupy the middle ground, these “moderates” are people who hold no principles, merely existing to tear at consensus and whose raison d’être is opposing whatever is being practiced at the moment by people they don’t trust. This has always been the case for J Street, an organization which announced its founding by simply attacking the existing infrastructure of pro-Israel support in crude, hyper-partisan political terms.

I’m not sure we ever got a satisfying answer as to what bothers J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami so much about Israel’s friendship with the United States. But Levey’s Palestinian acquaintance may have come closest: Ben-Ami, pretending to be a moderate, is a “moderate.” In some cases, Ben-Ami’s political positions are so fringe even the Israeli hard-left won’t associate themselves with him. But that’s what a “moderate” does. If Bibi Netanyahu says Israel has the right to defend itself, and the Israeli public mostly agrees, the consensus must be targeted. And J Street is just the group to do it.

J Street is leading a leftist chorus for generous land swaps in any two-state solution. But where was Ben-Ami during Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister, when Bibi proposed the idea of land swaps to Arafat? Ben-Ami’s boss, President Clinton, didn’t seem too keen on the idea, dismissing it out of hand. Now, of course, the idea is trendy on the Left. Does Ben-Ami praise Netanyahu for being the first to offer such an idea, a decade and a half ago? Does J Street laud Bibi as a visionary for coining a plan they have finally understood the wisdom of? Of course not.

Might we hear some praise from J Street for the fact that, as historian Yaacov Lozowick has pointed out, Netanyahu is to the left of Yitzhak Rabin on the issues of Palestinian statehood and borders? Again, of course not.

I feel for that Palestinian who sat near Levey at the panel. He wants to negotiate with people who believe in something and understand the history and the land. He has no use for “moderates,” who change their position based on who is in the prime minister’s office (and Israel changes leaders so often, it becomes impractical to even try to keep up with the evolving nonsense of groups like J Street).

Such partisanship in place of principles offers nothing to the Palestinians and Israelis who are truly in search of peace.

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