Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 9, 2011

The Challenge of Internal Moral Decay

Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the UK, published an essay in the current issue of Standpoint arguing that internal moral decay – not the Islamists or any other external enemy – is the true challenge to the West’s future, and offering his own ideas about how to arrest what he views as the current decline.

Identifying a lack of “social cohesion,” he writes that the “late capitalist West, with its urge to spend and its failure to save, its moral relativism and hyper-individualism, its political culture of rights without responsibilities, its aggressive secularism and resentment of any morality of self-restraint” is rotting from within. The Islamists are not monsters who can destroy us but mice who, in nibbling our toes, reveal how incapable we have become of meeting even minor challenges.

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Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the UK, published an essay in the current issue of Standpoint arguing that internal moral decay – not the Islamists or any other external enemy – is the true challenge to the West’s future, and offering his own ideas about how to arrest what he views as the current decline.

Identifying a lack of “social cohesion,” he writes that the “late capitalist West, with its urge to spend and its failure to save, its moral relativism and hyper-individualism, its political culture of rights without responsibilities, its aggressive secularism and resentment of any morality of self-restraint” is rotting from within. The Islamists are not monsters who can destroy us but mice who, in nibbling our toes, reveal how incapable we have become of meeting even minor challenges.

This is of a piece with another article he wrote recently for the Wall Street Journal, in which he argued that the same development was the cause of the London riots.

Together, they are a set of basic truths at least one writer identified well almost 25 years ago. Today, they probably are best expressed by the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, who, in his description of a Europe obsessed only with youth and sex and filled with ciphers incapable of moral commitment even to their lovers, sees no conclusion other than a descent to barbarism. (A profound scientific breakthrough that somehow fundamentally alters the human condition is held out as a faint hope, as in the genetically modified human clones able to live off photosynthesis in The Possibility of an Island, but even they are driven to despair over their inability to truly love.)

The solution for Sacks is a return to the Judeo-Christian tradition. How he thinks secular urban masses can be won back to a tradition they are generations removed from is unclear. (He has, it should be noted, laid out a serious view of how that can and should be done for the Jews, maybe the West’s most difficult target for this work.) The essence though is clear: The solution to our problems with the Islamists, our economic decay, and a sense of decline and malaise, is to pick up the tradition’s remnants that lay all around us.

Sacks is undoubtedly largely correct. His courage and persistence in laying out these views are a model of true religious leadership.

But his diagnoses, like those of Houellebecq, may not carry entirely well to the United States. For the urban areas that are most “European,” the analysis largely holds. But America remains culturally much more than just those places. A fundamental belief in God persists (more than 92 percent of the country, according to Pew) as does an outsized influence of religious life in many places. In America, the religiously inclined are also unafraid to fight for their views in the public sphere, and the traditional worldview just may be a very public guiding light for our next president.

Moreover, what Walter Russell Mead sees as an Anglo-Saxon restive desire to conquer new worlds remains a strong governing power on the worldviews even of the young Silicon Valley tycoons who also often sadly embrace the West’s relativism. The United States, it can’t be said enough, continues to be more disposed than any other country to lead the world.

None of that means Sacks’ concerns should not be taken seriously. It would be foolish to underestimate our own society’s moral decay. But we should take comfort that America remains an exceptional nation, where the morality that has both given us the strength to lead the world and built the freest society in history is more likely to triumph than not. It will just take some work to get there.

 

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Egypt’s Rulers Are Letting the Mob Rule

Last month, the men who scaled the building housing the Israeli embassy in Cairo become national heroes in Egypt for tearing down the blue and white flag that flew over the site. Today, another mob stormed the site, tearing down the security wall erected to protect the diplomatic enclave. These demonstrations are indications not only of the hatred for any symbol of Israel in Egypt but the way in which the military government is allowing them to grow in scale.

While this may be defended as the regime merely allowing the mobs to vent their spleens in a harmless manner, the escalation of the violence may not be so easy to control.

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Last month, the men who scaled the building housing the Israeli embassy in Cairo become national heroes in Egypt for tearing down the blue and white flag that flew over the site. Today, another mob stormed the site, tearing down the security wall erected to protect the diplomatic enclave. These demonstrations are indications not only of the hatred for any symbol of Israel in Egypt but the way in which the military government is allowing them to grow in scale.

While this may be defended as the regime merely allowing the mobs to vent their spleens in a harmless manner, the escalation of the violence may not be so easy to control.

For decades, the Mubarak regime kept the peace with Israel but allowed the Egyptian media to broadcast blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda in order to give Islamists and other critics of the government an outlet to vent their frustration. That created an unhealthy disconnect between policy and public opinion that took a cold peace and transformed it into one verging on open hostility after the fall of the dictator.

Egypt’s military knows very well the price of abandoning the peace with Israel would be disastrous. It would not only put their untested forces in harm’s way, but also take away the government’s pipeline of U.S. aid that the military prizes. They may believe allowing Islamist and nationalist agitators to besiege Israel’s embassy gives these haters a meaningless victory without doing any real damage to the country’s strategic needs. But as Mubarak learned to his cost, Cairo mobs sometimes take on a life of their own. Fueled by the hate that is part of the country’s popular culture, the impulse to demonize Israel and Jews can’t be quarantined. If left unchallenged, it will only grow and lead to worse things than a torn flag or a demolished security wall.

Egypt’s leaders need to counteract this trend before it gets even further out of control. And they need to be told bluntly by Washington that if they don’t, the flow of baksheesh into their coffers will soon end.

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Erdogan to Address Arab League

According to the Hurriyet Daily News, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will address the Arab League next week:

In his speech, Erdoğan will touch on the wave of popular unrest hitting the region in the “Arab Spring” and will also hit out against Israel, the Daily News has learned. His address to the Arab League will be part of Turkey’s ongoing campaign in the international arena against Israel, which has intensified since Tel Aviv refused to apologize for killing nine Turks last year aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship.

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According to the Hurriyet Daily News, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will address the Arab League next week:

In his speech, Erdoğan will touch on the wave of popular unrest hitting the region in the “Arab Spring” and will also hit out against Israel, the Daily News has learned. His address to the Arab League will be part of Turkey’s ongoing campaign in the international arena against Israel, which has intensified since Tel Aviv refused to apologize for killing nine Turks last year aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship.

Turkey was once a force for moderation in the Middle East. Today, it is becoming a malignant influence in the region, as enthusiastic to undercut peace as is Iran, all for the sake of populist politics at home and abroad.  If the White House and State Department are serious about peace, it’s time to shed the diplomatic nicety and call a spade a spade, and to stop referring to Turkey as a partner for peace.

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Oy, Such Tsuris for Obama and the Democrats

We’ve been writing here all week about the stunning possibility that a conservative Republican named Bob Turner will upset a liberal Democrat named David Weprin in the special election Tuesday to fill Anthony Weiner’s Brooklyn/Queens district, which has a 3-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. It’s the most Jewish district in the country, and a great many of its Jews are religious Jews. In choosing Weprin to run for the seat, Democrats thought the fact that he sports a kippah would carry the day with his fellow Orthodox Jews.

It’s not happening that way, and even the notion that it would testifies to the ignorance of pols, including Jewish pols, who think religious Jews are like other ethnic voters.Weprin may be an Orthodox Jewish Democrat, but as such he is now actually in the minority among Orthodox Jews. And the commonality of their religious practice apparently does not provide sufficient cover for his being a representative of the Democratic party in the age of Obama.

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We’ve been writing here all week about the stunning possibility that a conservative Republican named Bob Turner will upset a liberal Democrat named David Weprin in the special election Tuesday to fill Anthony Weiner’s Brooklyn/Queens district, which has a 3-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. It’s the most Jewish district in the country, and a great many of its Jews are religious Jews. In choosing Weprin to run for the seat, Democrats thought the fact that he sports a kippah would carry the day with his fellow Orthodox Jews.

It’s not happening that way, and even the notion that it would testifies to the ignorance of pols, including Jewish pols, who think religious Jews are like other ethnic voters.Weprin may be an Orthodox Jewish Democrat, but as such he is now actually in the minority among Orthodox Jews. And the commonality of their religious practice apparently does not provide sufficient cover for his being a representative of the Democratic party in the age of Obama.

The one thing we have been able to determine over the past 20 years is that the more “Jewish” you are—meaning the more you attend synagogue, the more you keep kosher, the more you send your kids to day school and Jewish camp, and the more you commit yourself to living a Jewish life with some fealty to the rules of the religion—the less politically liberal you are likely to be. Owing to Anthony Weiner’s foolhardiness, we are now getting a real-world test of this proposition in the one district in the country where it can actually be tested.

There has been a lot of talk about Israel in the race, with Weprin desperately attempting to make the case that he will be a stalwart spokesman for Israel and hold Barack Obama’s feet to the fire on the subject. Indeed, the Emergency Committee for Israel has just released a puckish commercial called “The Uniter” about the attacks on Obama emanating from all sides in the race.

Even if Weprin ekes out a win on Tuesday, the dynamic of the race conclusively proves that Obama does indeed have a Jewish-vote problem—among Jews whose Judaism is intertwined with their daily lives. And he also has a problem among elderly Jews, who also populate the district and are rather less religious—but who are unabashedly Zionist and evidently deeply troubled by Obama’s handling of Israel.

It’s not that the district has become hostile to Democratic politicians. The Siena poll released today that shows Turner with a 6 point lead (representing a staggering 12-point shift in his direction over the past two weeks) also shows wild enthusiasm for New York’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo (who has, with the exception of gay marriage, basically followed the Chris Christie model of governance).

Turner has cannily designed his campaign around the notion that a vote for him sends a message to Obama. If he wins, you’ll hear a lot of people saying he won because he was a good candidate and Weprin a bad one. Both statements are true as is the statement that the results of a special election created due to a sex scandal are not determinative.

But it sure doesn’t mean nothing. It means something not good for Obama. And it will indicate something very, very interesting about the Jewish vote and a trendline for the future.

Actually, it already has.

 

 

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The Clergy and the 9/11 Ceremonies

The controversy regarding the absence of religious leaders or public prayers at the annual commemoration of the 9/11 attacks at Ground Zero is being touted by some conservatives as a sign of a repellent secularism that is hostile to faith. They ask, not unreasonably, why can’t religion take its place at the ceremony? And they point to the absence of evangelicals from a planned interfaith prayer service as another sign of the willingness of some to expand the culture wars against religion even into something as sacred as the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

But anyone thinking of using the Ground Zero ceremony as fodder in a conservative counter-attack on behalf of faith is making a mistake. The existing format on every anniversary of the atrocity in New York is a reasonable compromise that not only reflects the need to avoid conflicts but also the wishes of the families of the victims. Those who have attempted to create a dispute on this point, especially those commenting from afar who are unaware or insensitive to the situation, need to lower their voices and listen to the families. They should also realize that if they get their wish it would reignite the simmering controversy regarding the plans for a Ground Zero mosque that convulsed New York last year.

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The controversy regarding the absence of religious leaders or public prayers at the annual commemoration of the 9/11 attacks at Ground Zero is being touted by some conservatives as a sign of a repellent secularism that is hostile to faith. They ask, not unreasonably, why can’t religion take its place at the ceremony? And they point to the absence of evangelicals from a planned interfaith prayer service as another sign of the willingness of some to expand the culture wars against religion even into something as sacred as the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

But anyone thinking of using the Ground Zero ceremony as fodder in a conservative counter-attack on behalf of faith is making a mistake. The existing format on every anniversary of the atrocity in New York is a reasonable compromise that not only reflects the need to avoid conflicts but also the wishes of the families of the victims. Those who have attempted to create a dispute on this point, especially those commenting from afar who are unaware or insensitive to the situation, need to lower their voices and listen to the families. They should also realize that if they get their wish it would reignite the simmering controversy regarding the plans for a Ground Zero mosque that convulsed New York last year.

The battle to keep the public square from being a place where religion is unwelcome is a worthy cause. But there is a difference between those fights and this manufactured controversy.

Just because religion should not be excluded from public life does not mean it must be included in every ceremony. The fashion in which 9/11 has been remembered at Ground Zero for the last nine years is both solemn and appropriate, as it centers on the reading of the names of the victims. While benedictions from religious leaders would not be out of place, they are also not necessary.

It should also be understood that if the commemoration were transformed into an interfaith extravaganza, this would only create the need for equal time for every religion and set off more bad feelings about the inclusions of Muslims. Any attempt to exclude an Islamic leader would be wrong, because Muslims numbered among the victims. But it would also serve –as the misguided effort to create an Islamic community center in the shadow of Ground Zero did last year–to afford radical Muslims and foolish liberals an opportunity to recast the narrative of the attacks. It is bad enough that the White House set forth guidelines on commemorations that sought to dilute the meaning of the attacks and turn them into a bland service unconnected to the need to remember the Islamist war on the West. Converting the 9/11 ceremonies into one more event devoted more to giving equal time to every group rather than focusing on the victims would be misguided.

As for the Washington ceremony, having already gone down the path of interfaith inclusion, there was no reason to exclude Southern Baptists or any other group for that matter. The argument over that event, which has been moved from the National Cathedral to the Washington Hebrew Congregation, can be swiftly defused by just taking all comers, even if that means creating a laundry list of faith leaders who must be allowed to speak.

But the New York ceremony should be left as it is. Mayor Bloomberg has been on the wrong side of many issues, including the Ground Zero mosque. But he is right this time. Those who wish to turn this into a culture war football are doing faith no favors.

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Barack Obama’s Wings of Wax

Presidencies can go through various stages in terms of their effect on the opposition – from eliciting respect and some amount of fear, to provoking anger, to becoming the object of ridicule.

Barack Obama has reached the third stage.

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Presidencies can go through various stages in terms of their effect on the opposition – from eliciting respect and some amount of fear, to provoking anger, to becoming the object of ridicule.

Barack Obama has reached the third stage.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has written a column  in which he cites passages from Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last night and then chronicles the reaction among congressional Republicans, which included chuckles, guffaws and giggles. Hostility to Obama has given way to indifference to what he says; witness the fact the GOP did not even feel the need to provide a televised response to Obama’s speech. And of course, it didn’t help that the president’s address was relegated to pre-primetime, in order not to compete with an NFL game.

Just as significantly, Milbank reports there were empty seats on the Democratic side last night. “Democrats lumbered to their feet to give the president several standing ovations, but they struggled at times to demonstrate enthusiasm,” according to Milbank. “When Obama proposed payroll tax cuts for small businesses, three Democrats stood to applaud. Summer jobs for disadvantaged youth brought six Democrats to their feet, and a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed produced 11 standees. Obama spoke quickly, urgently, even angrily. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) stared at the ceiling. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) scanned the gallery. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was seen reading a newspaper. And Republicans, when they weren’t giggling, were mostly silent.”

Milbank added, “Presidential addresses to Congress are often dramatic moments. This one felt like a sideshow. Usually, the press gallery is standing-room-only; this time, only 26 of 90 seats were claimed by the deadline. Usually, some members arrive in the chamber hours early to score a center-aisle seat; 90 minutes before Thursday’s speech, only one Democrat was so situated.”

As Jimmy Carter can tell you, for a president to become an object of disdain and apathy is a very dangerous place to find himself.

It has been a stunning fall from grace for Obama, a man who, upon taking office, was routinely compared to Kennedy, to FDR, and even to Lincoln. One is tempted to say those comparisons were unfair to Obama, except that he did so much to invite them.

By now, the cult-like effect Obama had on his supporters is a distant, fading memory. The Greek columns built for his convention speech now look simply silly, as does Obama’s promise to heal the earth and reverse the ocean tide. His core appeal was aesthetic, and hence fleeting. It turns out Obama really was best equipped to be a community organizer and a state senator and perhaps not very much more than that. But Obama, a man of extraordinary self-regard, decided he was the world-historical person we had been waiting for. (What can one say about a person who surrounded himself with aides who referred to him as “Black Jesus” during the campaign?)

In a coincidence that calls to mind William Blake’s “fearful symmetry” phrase, it was also Dana Milbank who in July 2008, months before Obama was elected, reported  that Obama attended an “adoration session” with Democratic lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, “as if for the State of the Union.”

Inside, according to a witness, Obama told the House members, “This is the moment…that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

Some of us warned at the time that any man who believes he is “the moment that the world is waiting for” and views himself as “the symbol of the possibility and best traditions of America” is an individual of staggering arrogance. To which I added this:

That is doubly so when, like Obama, you have achieved nothing so far in your life —in terms of scholarship or literature, legislation, acts of valor, self-sacrifice, or anything else – that qualifies you to view yourself in quasi-Messianic terms. One increasingly senses with Obama that he views himself not as a presidential candidate but as a world celebrity, with all the vanity and arrogance that accompanies such people. Obama, a literate man, might want to reacquaint himself with the Book of Proverbs, which warns that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” and the story of Icarus. Barack Obama is a very talented political figure, but he is not indestructible. And right now he is flying closer and closer to the sun. At some point – it’s hard to tell when – the wings of wax will begin to melt.

There is some poignancy in saying that for Barack Obama, a decent but imperious man, the wings of wax have finally melted away.

 

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Warning: This Could Make You Sick

The award for vilest politicization of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 goes to the AFL-CIO. The organization has chosen to hijack the moment and turn it into a plea for anti-austerity union activism.  Consider this message from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka posted on its website.

His big metaphor is doors. On 9/11, first responders ran through “doors to danger and became America’s everyday heroes.” True enough.

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The award for vilest politicization of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 goes to the AFL-CIO. The organization has chosen to hijack the moment and turn it into a plea for anti-austerity union activism.  Consider this message from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka posted on its website.

His big metaphor is doors. On 9/11, first responders ran through “doors to danger and became America’s everyday heroes.” True enough.

Then: “Doors opened within us to each other. We came together. We flew the flag. We comforted one another. In our grief, we found the best in ourselves.”

But, wouldn’t you just know it: “other doors opened, too—doors to hate, suspicion of ‘others’ and self-centered greed. Our fear was twisted into something much more dangerous.” Can you guess who opened those doors? “Wealthy CEOs, anti-government extremist front groups and frothing talk show hosts—from the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks to the Koch brothers, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the American Legislative Exchange Council—also pushed open the door to hate.”

Trumka left out the doors of tragedy exploitation. The ones that take him from 9/11 heroism to the Koch brothers, Rush Limbaugh, and Karl Rove in the span of a few paragraphs.  Here’s the sickening finale.

I remember that other door that opened on 9/11—the door to our better selves, to our understanding that we are one and our values require us to care for one another.

That’s what sent 347 firefighters to their death at the Twin Towers 10 years ago. It’s also what sent firefighters to stand with teachers in Wisconsin even though Gov. Scott Walker had exempted them from his attack on public employees. It’s what moves employed people now to demand good jobs for the 26 million Americans who are looking for work. It’s what gives us the courage to take on a crumbling economy and the politicians preaching austerity and ignoring our jobs crisis—to take them on and say, “We are America. We are better than this. And we are one.”

To respond substantively would be to join in the political exploitation of 9/11. Luckily, the above is self-shaming and self-discrediting, and requires no further comment.

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Obama Taking Plan to the People

But will the people care? When the president spent the month of August attacking Congress on his pivot-to-jobs tour, his approval ratings nosedived to the lowest level of his presidency. Now Greg Sargent reports on Obama’s trip to the University of Richmond this morning, where he exhorted Congress once again to “pass the bill!” (a bill, it should be noted, that doesn’t exist yet):

Now the White House is trying a new tack. It is instead insisting that Republicans pass Obama’s whole jobs bill — not just parts of it, as the GOP says it’s open to — and is vowing to take its case to the American people, whether Republicans like it or not.

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But will the people care? When the president spent the month of August attacking Congress on his pivot-to-jobs tour, his approval ratings nosedived to the lowest level of his presidency. Now Greg Sargent reports on Obama’s trip to the University of Richmond this morning, where he exhorted Congress once again to “pass the bill!” (a bill, it should be noted, that doesn’t exist yet):

Now the White House is trying a new tack. It is instead insisting that Republicans pass Obama’s whole jobs bill — not just parts of it, as the GOP says it’s open to — and is vowing to take its case to the American people, whether Republicans like it or not.

Jonathan Cohn has a smart post this morning adding another dimension to this idea. “The inside game is over. The outside game begins now,” Cohn writes. By “outside game,” Cohn means that Obama now seems prepared to mount a public campaign for his proposal. Even if it doesn’t get the bill passed, it will “offer voters stark choices about the country’s future” and will “make sure the voters understand those choices.”

Obama won’t settle for anything less than the whole bill? Well, that doesn’t sound like someone who’s interested in bipartisan compromise. Republicans played their cards well by releasing a subdued statement after Obama’s speech. Boehner said the president made some good suggestions they’re willing to consider, and asked the White House to think about the GOP proposals as well.

This may not have been what the White House wanted to hear. Making this an all-or-nothing issue would be a political win-win for Obama: either Republicans shoot themselves in the foot with their base by supporting the toxic elements of the plan, or they come off looking like unreasonable extremists, blocking the path to job creation.

After all, who would oppose a plan that’s bipartisan, sensible, makes all of our dreams come true, and – best of all – is fully paid for?

There is “nothing radical” in the bill, Obama told a crowd the White House estimated at 8,900.

“Everything in it will put people back to work and more money back in the pockets of those who are working. Everything in it will be paid for,”

It’s these false promises that will eventually backfire on Obama with the general public. As much as Americans dislike Congress, they know when they’re being led on.

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Turkey to Provide Naval Escort to Gaza

Several days ago, I posted an entry regarding the Turkish government’s suggestion that it might soon become much more aggressive with regard to its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Now, the possibility of a Turkey-Israel naval clash has increased exponentially: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Al Jazeera the Turkish Navy would begin to escort ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. If the always tempestuous Erdoğan goes through with the challenge, then Israel has two challenges: Allow unlimited Turkish (and Iranian and Syrian) aid to Hamas, or be willing to enforce the blockade (the legality of which the United Nation’s Palmer Commission affirmed) against the wishes of the Turkish navy.

It behooves the United States to diffuse tensions in the region. The best way to diffuse tension, however, is not to submit to the extortion of a fiercely anti-American prime minister, but rather to consider the status of a NATO member whose posture is not only questionable, but whose aggressive provocations ultimately could challenge the viability of NATO.

Several days ago, I posted an entry regarding the Turkish government’s suggestion that it might soon become much more aggressive with regard to its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Now, the possibility of a Turkey-Israel naval clash has increased exponentially: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Al Jazeera the Turkish Navy would begin to escort ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. If the always tempestuous Erdoğan goes through with the challenge, then Israel has two challenges: Allow unlimited Turkish (and Iranian and Syrian) aid to Hamas, or be willing to enforce the blockade (the legality of which the United Nation’s Palmer Commission affirmed) against the wishes of the Turkish navy.

It behooves the United States to diffuse tensions in the region. The best way to diffuse tension, however, is not to submit to the extortion of a fiercely anti-American prime minister, but rather to consider the status of a NATO member whose posture is not only questionable, but whose aggressive provocations ultimately could challenge the viability of NATO.

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Israel’s Dilemma: S&P Versus “Social Justice”

For the past two months, hundreds of thousands of Israeli “social justice” demonstrators have jammed the streets of the country’s cities to register largely inchoate demands for more government spending and an end to the free market economics that have over the course of the last two decades transformed an economic basket case into the “start-up nation” that is the envy of the world. While there are aspects of the protests that have merit, the argument for a return to the Jewish state’s socialist past took another hit today when Standard & Poor’s announced it was raising the State of Israel’s credit rating from A to A+.

The S&P boost was a tribute to the wise stewardship of Israel’s economy by the team of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. At a time when other countries in the developed world are experiencing instability and a worsening debt crisis, the Jewish state has managed to maintain both fiscal discipline and economic stability. But if the social justice protesters have their way, that could all change.

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For the past two months, hundreds of thousands of Israeli “social justice” demonstrators have jammed the streets of the country’s cities to register largely inchoate demands for more government spending and an end to the free market economics that have over the course of the last two decades transformed an economic basket case into the “start-up nation” that is the envy of the world. While there are aspects of the protests that have merit, the argument for a return to the Jewish state’s socialist past took another hit today when Standard & Poor’s announced it was raising the State of Israel’s credit rating from A to A+.

The S&P boost was a tribute to the wise stewardship of Israel’s economy by the team of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. At a time when other countries in the developed world are experiencing instability and a worsening debt crisis, the Jewish state has managed to maintain both fiscal discipline and economic stability. But if the social justice protesters have their way, that could all change.

The clamor for social justice reflects genuine disgruntlement on the part of many Israelis with the lingering effects of the country’s former East German economic model, particularly the crony capitalism that allowed industries that were formerly state-owned to pass into the hands of a few families and companies at bargain prices. Yet much of the rhetoric emanating from the protests reflects a faux nostalgia for a socialist past whose inequities and glaring failures have been either forgotten or ignored. The solution to the problems of high prices and the scarcity of affordable housing is less government involvement in the economy and more free market reforms. The last thing Israel needs is a return to the nightmare of socialist economics that made it routine for a family to have to wait years to have a phone line installed.

But the nightmare of instability and debt is exactly what awaits Israel if the government allows the protests to start dictating fiscal policy. More government spending and subsidies of products and services leads in only one direction: the sort of debt crisis that brought countries like Greece to its knees this year. Unlike the nations of the European Union, Israel cannot afford such a collapse. It must also maintain a large military due to the ongoing threats against its security.

Were Israel to sacrifice its credit rating in order to satisfy demands for “social justice,” it would soon find it had neither justice nor a healthy economy. The demonstrators should heed the message they have just received from S&P. Israel’s government should stay the course on the free market.

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Defining Recovery Down

In an interview with NPR, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – in making the most robust case he could for the President’s American Jobs Act –issued this promise: “if Congress were to act on this bill, it would have a substantial, powerful effect on strengthening the economy that slowed quite a bit. And that would translate into jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers at a time when we need that.”

That’s it.

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In an interview with NPR, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – in making the most robust case he could for the President’s American Jobs Act –issued this promise: “if Congress were to act on this bill, it would have a substantial, powerful effect on strengthening the economy that slowed quite a bit. And that would translate into jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers at a time when we need that.”

That’s it.

The president’s long-awaited, must-pass, half-trillion dollar plan – a plan so important it needed to be delivered before a joint session of Congress – will only create, according to Obama’s own Treasury Secretary, hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Now I suppose that if you’re coming off a month (August) in which the economy created zero jobs, hundreds of thousands seems like quite a lot. But in fact, this figure highlights just how bad things are for our country and for the Obama administration, when the best they can offer on behalf of their costly, historic, you-should-have-passed-this-yesterday jobs plan is (maybe) a few hundred thousand jobs.

Years ago, the late, great Daniel Patrick Moynihan used the phrase “defining deviancy down.”

With Barack Obama, Tim Geithner, and the rest of the best and the brightest, we are now “defining recovery down.”

I suspect come November 2012, voters won’t be terribly impressed.

 

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Where’s the Plan to Pay for it?

Supposedly, Obama’s been advocating his $450 million jobs plan “for months.” But based on last night’s speech, it sounds like the entire concept was copy-and-pasted together at the last minute from his 2009 stimulus and a couple of his August speeches.

Adding to this haphazard quality is the fact we have to “tune in next week” to see his big plan to pay for all of it. That seems like a sure sign he doesn’t have one yet. According to the AP, this so-called “debt-reduction plan” may actually just be a set of proposals he’ll pawn off on the super committee. After all, as the president suggested last night, what’s another $450 billion on top of the $1.4 trillion they’re already trying to cut out of the budget?

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Supposedly, Obama’s been advocating his $450 million jobs plan “for months.” But based on last night’s speech, it sounds like the entire concept was copy-and-pasted together at the last minute from his 2009 stimulus and a couple of his August speeches.

Adding to this haphazard quality is the fact we have to “tune in next week” to see his big plan to pay for all of it. That seems like a sure sign he doesn’t have one yet. According to the AP, this so-called “debt-reduction plan” may actually just be a set of proposals he’ll pawn off on the super committee. After all, as the president suggested last night, what’s another $450 billion on top of the $1.4 trillion they’re already trying to cut out of the budget?

The AP calls Obama out on his buck-passing:

Obama did not spell out exactly how he would pay for the measures contained in his nearly $450 billion American Jobs Act but said he would send his proposed specifics in a week to the new congressional supercommittee charged with finding budget savings. White House aides suggested that new deficit spending in the near-term to try to promote job creation would be paid for in the future — the “out years,” in legislative jargon — but they did not specify what would be cut or what revenues they would use.

If this is at the discretion of the super committee, how will these cuts be enforced? Right now, a trigger mechanism kicks in if the committee can’t come up with at least $1.2 trillion in reductions. Is that ceiling going to be raised to deal with the extra $450 billion? And if the committee can’t agree on enough reductions, will the $450 billion be added to the trigger, which will slash defense spending and Medicare?

Obama was sparse on details. And the AP is skeptical these cuts will ever actually happen:

Essentially, the jobs plan is an IOU from a president and lawmakers who may not even be in office down the road when the bills come due. Today’s Congress cannot bind a later one for future spending. A future Congress could simply reverse it.

As Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions said before the speech yesterday, Obama’s plan could be in “total jeopardy” if he can’t figure out a way to pay for it immediately. If the president is serious about moving his plan forward, he’ll need to come up with the money, and fast.

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City Grapples with the Normality of Vigilance

In 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave an emotional speech about American anti-terror efforts. When the topic turned to Mukasey’s prior experience as a federal judge in New York City overseeing terrorism cases and whether that prepared him for his new job, he was honest. There isn’t much that can prepare a person for confronting the sheer magnitude of threats against the United States.

“It is way beyond — way beyond anything that I knew or believed,” Mukasey said. “So, if I was picked for the level of my knowledge of what I actually see, that was a massive piece of false advertising. There’s a lot going on out there.” That comment gets to the heart of the dilemma evident in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press conference yesterday about what the FBI termed a “specific and credible, though not corroborated” threat to the city on Sunday, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Here is part of what the mayor said:

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In 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave an emotional speech about American anti-terror efforts. When the topic turned to Mukasey’s prior experience as a federal judge in New York City overseeing terrorism cases and whether that prepared him for his new job, he was honest. There isn’t much that can prepare a person for confronting the sheer magnitude of threats against the United States.

“It is way beyond — way beyond anything that I knew or believed,” Mukasey said. “So, if I was picked for the level of my knowledge of what I actually see, that was a massive piece of false advertising. There’s a lot going on out there.” That comment gets to the heart of the dilemma evident in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press conference yesterday about what the FBI termed a “specific and credible, though not corroborated” threat to the city on Sunday, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Here is part of what the mayor said:

Now the threat at this moment has not been corroborated — I want to stress that. It is credible, but it has not been corroborated. But we do live in a world where we must take these threats seriously, and we certainly will.

The NYPD is deploying additional resources around the city and taking other steps to keep our city safe — some of which you may notice, and some of which you will not notice. But there is no reason for any of the rest of us to change anything in our daily routines. We have the best police department in the world.  Over the past decade, they have helped thwart more than a dozen potential attacks. Here’s what you’ve got to do: If you see something, say something and that has always been true, and over the next few days, we should all keep our eyes wide open.

But the best thing that we can do to fight terror is to refuse to be intimidated by it. For ten years, we have not allowed terrorists to intimidate us. We have lived our lives without fear — and we will continue to do so. So go about your business as you normally would — but just be vigilant.

You can already see the response in the streets and subways of the city. The increased presence of the extraordinarily capable and professional New York Police Department is both unnerving and reassuring–as is a speech in which the mayor refers to a specific and credible threat against transportation infrastructure, but announces he will be confidently riding the subway anyway. That’s the paradox of post-9/11 New York City life, and what makes a press conference like Bloomberg’s so unexpectedly normal.

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Democratic Loss in NY-9 Will Send Tremors

As Alana noted earlier today, Republican Bob Turner holds a six-point lead in next week’s special election to replace former Representative Anthony Weiner, according to a new Siena College poll that the National Journal says  “shows voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic district are poised to deliver a stinging rebuke to President Obama and his party.”

Turner leads Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in the poll, 50 percent to 44 percent, with six percent of likely voters undecided – and Turner has all the momentum. (Four weeks ago, Weprin held a six-point lead). Democrats in the district, located in the Outer Boroughs, hold a three-to-one advantage on the voter rolls.

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As Alana noted earlier today, Republican Bob Turner holds a six-point lead in next week’s special election to replace former Representative Anthony Weiner, according to a new Siena College poll that the National Journal says  “shows voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic district are poised to deliver a stinging rebuke to President Obama and his party.”

Turner leads Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in the poll, 50 percent to 44 percent, with six percent of likely voters undecided – and Turner has all the momentum. (Four weeks ago, Weprin held a six-point lead). Democrats in the district, located in the Outer Boroughs, hold a three-to-one advantage on the voter rolls.

According to the story, “Discontent with Washington and the president is at the heart of Turner’s shocking upset bid. In a district he won by 11 points just three years ago, Obama’s favorability rating is now upside down in the Siena poll, with 54 percent having an unfavorable opinion of Obama and only 43 percent viewing him favorably. A remarkable 38 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents hold an unfavorable view of the president.”

We’ll see what next week brings – but if Democrats lose this seat, which is about as sure a lock as they can expect, it will send tremors through the entire party. It means a wave is building up that could eventually exceed the one from 2010, which was itself an epic, coast-to-coast rebuke to Democrats.

To be a Democratic politician in the Age of Obama is, increasingly, to belong to an endangered species.

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Obama’s Double Dip Stimulus

President Obama is getting kudos from the left this morning if for no other reason than the fact he showed some life during his jobs speech to Congress. They liked that his $447 billion dollar plan was bigger than expected and approved of the partisan manner with which he challenged Republicans to pass his proposals. But for all of the hype about this speech, it’s clear the main motivation behind it was primarily political and not to save a sinking economy from the prospect of a double dip recession.

Despite the evidence of a nation that never fully recovered from the 2008 recession, liberal economists have claimed the president’s near trillion-dollar 2009 stimulus was a good idea, but it just wasn’t big enough. So even if we were to accept the flawed Keynesian logic behind the first stimulus, it’s difficult to see how this smaller package would do much to help now. Instead, we are left with a hodge-podge of proposals — some with merit but linked to other ideas that make them untenable and others that are flat out wrong-headed — whose only purpose will be to serve as cudgels with which to beat the Republicans in Congress after they rightly refuse to pass them.

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President Obama is getting kudos from the left this morning if for no other reason than the fact he showed some life during his jobs speech to Congress. They liked that his $447 billion dollar plan was bigger than expected and approved of the partisan manner with which he challenged Republicans to pass his proposals. But for all of the hype about this speech, it’s clear the main motivation behind it was primarily political and not to save a sinking economy from the prospect of a double dip recession.

Despite the evidence of a nation that never fully recovered from the 2008 recession, liberal economists have claimed the president’s near trillion-dollar 2009 stimulus was a good idea, but it just wasn’t big enough. So even if we were to accept the flawed Keynesian logic behind the first stimulus, it’s difficult to see how this smaller package would do much to help now. Instead, we are left with a hodge-podge of proposals — some with merit but linked to other ideas that make them untenable and others that are flat out wrong-headed — whose only purpose will be to serve as cudgels with which to beat the Republicans in Congress after they rightly refuse to pass them.

The best of the ideas is the extension of the payroll tax cut. It should be continued, but in Obama’s plan, it will be paid for with tax increases later on. Which means it is no tax cut at all. Republicans will also pass the trade deals Obama wants. That is, they’ll pass them once he actually submits them to Congress, something he has neglected to do until now.

Some Republicans have backed Obama’s idea of creating new business hiring tax credits in the past. But aren’t such credits the sort of tax loophole the president supposedly loathes? The success of such credits is unclear, and they also add one more layer of complication to an already over-complicated tax code that desperately needs simplification.

Other parts of his plan are even worse.

Extending unemployment insurance is something few politicians have the courage to oppose, but such measures actually work against the goal of lowering unemployment, as Cheryl Einhorn wrote in the April issue of COMMENTARY.

As for funding more federal jobs training programs, the problem is they are generally ineffective and do little to help business or workers.

Obama’s jobs proposals are simply more of the same failed ideas that have helped dig us the hole the country is currently in. They won’t work, and it is far from clear they can be paid for without further burdening an already swollen deficit. Obama’s failure to detail how all this will be accounted for in the context of an already deadlocked budget process makes his plan all the more fantastic.

The impulse for politicians to do anything in order to pretend they are acting to help the economy is a powerful incentive for often useless and costly legislation. Rather than a mandate for the government to really get out of the way of business — something that would require a large across-the-board corporate tax cut — the plan the president demanded be passed last night is based on the fallacy that government can effectively manage the economy. For all of its pitfalls and flaws, the free market is a better venue for recovery than Washington’s pitiful attempts at economic micromanagement.

But Obama’s purpose last night was primarily political, not economic. Obama would like to spend the next year channeling Harry Truman as he campaigns for re-election–bashing a “do nothing” Congress that failed to pass his job proposals. But Obama’s transparent masquerade won’t wash with the voters even if they aren’t particularly happy with House Republicans. A double dip stimulus will not be any more popular than the president’s double dip recession.

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What Kind of State Would “Palestine” Be?

With the Palestinian Authority having formally launched its bid for UN recognition as a state yesterday, perhaps other countries ought to start thinking about what kind of state would come into being if they vote “yes.” Here’s a hint: It will be neither democratic nor peaceful.

With regard to democracy, consider just a few of the events of the last three months: The PA once again proved itself incapable of holding even local elections, canceling a scheduled vote for the fourth time in two years; on the national level, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 81st month of a 48-month term. It banned journalists from reporting the human rights abuses documented by an official PA body, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, which found that both the PA and Hamas (which govern the West Bank and Gaza, respectively) were guilty of torture and arbitrary detentions. It arrested a Palestinian professor who publicly criticized his university for failure to comply with a court order. It pulled a popular satirical television show from its state-owned TV channel because the show lampooned the PA’s security forces and civil service. (Don’t satirical TV shows usually lampoon their own governments?) Its official media blacklisted Palestinian union leaders who accused the PA of refusing to clamp down on corruption. It’s not exactly a shining picture of freedom of expression, regular elections and other pillars of the democratic order, is it?

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With the Palestinian Authority having formally launched its bid for UN recognition as a state yesterday, perhaps other countries ought to start thinking about what kind of state would come into being if they vote “yes.” Here’s a hint: It will be neither democratic nor peaceful.

With regard to democracy, consider just a few of the events of the last three months: The PA once again proved itself incapable of holding even local elections, canceling a scheduled vote for the fourth time in two years; on the national level, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 81st month of a 48-month term. It banned journalists from reporting the human rights abuses documented by an official PA body, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, which found that both the PA and Hamas (which govern the West Bank and Gaza, respectively) were guilty of torture and arbitrary detentions. It arrested a Palestinian professor who publicly criticized his university for failure to comply with a court order. It pulled a popular satirical television show from its state-owned TV channel because the show lampooned the PA’s security forces and civil service. (Don’t satirical TV shows usually lampoon their own governments?) Its official media blacklisted Palestinian union leaders who accused the PA of refusing to clamp down on corruption. It’s not exactly a shining picture of freedom of expression, regular elections and other pillars of the democratic order, is it?

As for the PA’s peacefulness, consider a few more events of the last three months: A Palestinian cabinet minister accused Israel of being the world’s “major harvesting and trading center” for organs, and specifically of harvesting organs from “the bodies of dead Palestinian martyrs”; the PA government neither denounced nor dissociated itself from this classic blood libel. A leading member of Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party, one of Abbas’s close associates, declared that Fatah never has and never will recognize Israel.

The state-run television channel repeatedly glorified suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians (here and  here, for instance). A PA community center run by a senior member of Abbas’s party taught schoolchildren that pre-1967 Israel is stolen Palestinian land, and their mission is to reclaim it someday; Abbas himself  declared pre-1967 Israel to be occupied Palestinian territory just this week.

State-run television vowed the Palestinians would bulldoze the Western Wall plaza – where thousands of Jews from all over the world pray daily – if and when they gain control of East Jerusalem. It’s not exactly a shining picture of readiness to live alongside Israel in peace and security, is it?

One wouldn’t expect the UN’s many undemocratic states to care about Palestinian democracy, or its many anti-Israel members to care about whether “Palestine” lives in peace with Israel. But numerous countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia are proud democracies that genuinely seek Middle East peace. Isn’t it about time for those countries to think about what kind of state “Palestine” would be before they raise their hands to vote it into existence?

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Dems Out with New Ads in NY-9 Race

To be fair to Democratic candidate David Weprin, some of the campaign blunders on his side have been out of his control. Take, for example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s poorly-timed $500,000 ad buy that showed a cartoon of a “corporate jet” careening low across the New York City skyline, just days before Sept. 11. The DCCC has already been forced to pull that one, but now another pro-Democratic group is out with a six-figure ad buy tying Republican candidate Bob Turner to the Tea Party.

“If Republicans are going to play footsies with the Tea Party, the House Majority PAC is going to stomp on their toes,” said Ali Lapp, executive director, House Majority PAC, in a press release. “House Majority PAC will be educating voters in NY-09 of Robert Turner’s embrace of the Tea Party and his commitment to reducing taxes for the wealthiest, while making seniors pay more for Medicare.”

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To be fair to Democratic candidate David Weprin, some of the campaign blunders on his side have been out of his control. Take, for example, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s poorly-timed $500,000 ad buy that showed a cartoon of a “corporate jet” careening low across the New York City skyline, just days before Sept. 11. The DCCC has already been forced to pull that one, but now another pro-Democratic group is out with a six-figure ad buy tying Republican candidate Bob Turner to the Tea Party.

“If Republicans are going to play footsies with the Tea Party, the House Majority PAC is going to stomp on their toes,” said Ali Lapp, executive director, House Majority PAC, in a press release. “House Majority PAC will be educating voters in NY-09 of Robert Turner’s embrace of the Tea Party and his commitment to reducing taxes for the wealthiest, while making seniors pay more for Medicare.”

But the Democrats are in a bad place if the best they can come up with is linking Turner to the Tea Party. They tried it earlier in the race, and it hasn’t stuck. Not only are Turner’s positions out of sync with the movement – he’s opposed Paul Ryan’s entitlement-reform plan for one – he’s also turned down support from Tea Party organizations. The fact that Turner is endorsed by Ed Koch, the the New York Daily News and Democrats on the local assembly also undermines the case. And while the ad does hit Turner on health care for senior citizens, a top issue in the district, the whole Tea Party, British-accent gimmick steps on it a little.

The latest Siena poll has Turner with a 6-point lead this morning, and there may be more bad news for Weprin to come. Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling will release a poll as well, and if these tweets are any indication, Weprin’s team is right to be nervous.

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Turkey Embraces Crudest Anti-Semitism

The new generation of Turks who so many commentators and American diplomats have characterized as enlightened democrats have begun to show their ugly, anti-Semitic faces. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union affairs, suggested the reason why the Bulgarian Foreign Minister did not endorse Turkey’s position was because he had Jewish blood in him.

Gurcan Balik, an influential aide to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and, according to fellow Turkish diplomats, also an acolyte of Islamist cult leader Fethullah Gulen, tweeted to his 2,500-plus followers an endorsement of “The Israel Lobby.”

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The new generation of Turks who so many commentators and American diplomats have characterized as enlightened democrats have begun to show their ugly, anti-Semitic faces. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union affairs, suggested the reason why the Bulgarian Foreign Minister did not endorse Turkey’s position was because he had Jewish blood in him.

Gurcan Balik, an influential aide to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and, according to fellow Turkish diplomats, also an acolyte of Islamist cult leader Fethullah Gulen, tweeted to his 2,500-plus followers an endorsement of “The Israel Lobby.”

Turkey’s Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım compared Israel’s actions to those of Somali pirates. This is par for the course in a regime run by a prime minister who endorses a film depicting Jews selling body parts.

This comes from the same regime whose prime minister accepted the Muammar Qaddafi prize for human rights, embraced genocidal Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, and embraces Hamas and even al-Qaeda financiers.

Turkey is showing its true colors; it is a country increasingly infected by hatred. It is also a country that is no longer safe for Jews and, frankly, will soon no longer be safe for Americans.

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