Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 30, 2011

Why Won’t Obama Follow in Britain’s Footsteps on Iran Bank Sanctions?

There has been some speculation that the sack of Britain’s embassy in Tehran by a mob almost certainly acting at the behest of the regime will lead to greater support in Europe for tougher sanctions on Iran. But given the steadfast opposition to any strengthening of the restrictions on dealing with Iran by Germany as well as by Russia, the odds that the international community will act in concert on this issue still seem slim. The real issue is not whether Europeans who do business with Iran will finally wake up to the danger posed by that country’s nuclear program. Rather, it has to do with the one nation that has been most vocal about sanctioning Iran and whose president has repeatedly vowed to stop the ayatollahs from gaining a nuclear weapon: the United States and President Barack Obama.

The attack on the embassy did not come out of the blue. It was a specific response to the United Kingdom’s decision last week to ban all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank. The Iranians know that if the West — especially the United States — deems such activity illegal, it will make it impossible for them to go on selling oil — which remains the lifeblood of their economy and the source of funds for their nuclear ambitions. Yet enacting such a ban is a step that the Obama administration has yet to take. Though the bank measure by itself will not bring Iran to its knees, it is fair to ask why the United States has failed to follow Britain’s example?

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There has been some speculation that the sack of Britain’s embassy in Tehran by a mob almost certainly acting at the behest of the regime will lead to greater support in Europe for tougher sanctions on Iran. But given the steadfast opposition to any strengthening of the restrictions on dealing with Iran by Germany as well as by Russia, the odds that the international community will act in concert on this issue still seem slim. The real issue is not whether Europeans who do business with Iran will finally wake up to the danger posed by that country’s nuclear program. Rather, it has to do with the one nation that has been most vocal about sanctioning Iran and whose president has repeatedly vowed to stop the ayatollahs from gaining a nuclear weapon: the United States and President Barack Obama.

The attack on the embassy did not come out of the blue. It was a specific response to the United Kingdom’s decision last week to ban all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank. The Iranians know that if the West — especially the United States — deems such activity illegal, it will make it impossible for them to go on selling oil — which remains the lifeblood of their economy and the source of funds for their nuclear ambitions. Yet enacting such a ban is a step that the Obama administration has yet to take. Though the bank measure by itself will not bring Iran to its knees, it is fair to ask why the United States has failed to follow Britain’s example?

President Obama’s apologists claim he is a steadfast opponent of Iran and will keep his promise to prevent them from obtaining nukes. But his foolish attempts at “engagement” with Iran and feckless diplomatic initiatives have merely bought the Iranian scientists more time to achieve their goal. It’s bad enough that the administration has signaled it won’t use force and will seek to prevent Israel from doing so as well. But though America does a lot of talking about the need, as Secretary of State Clinton has said, for “crippling sanctions” on Iran, the U.S. hasn’t even enforced existing measures enacted to pressure Tehran to drop their nuclear program.

The frenzied Iranian reaction to Britain’s decision to halt transactions with their Central Bank is telling. It ought to convince Obama that worries about the reactions of other allies who still want to buy Iranian oil need to be ignored. The time is long past due for the United States to take this essential step. Until it does, the Iranians will be justified in thinking Obama isn’t serious about stopping them.

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Profiles in Liberal “Courage”

Just when this inane story about a Kansas high school student tweeting “mean” things at Gov. Sam Brownback finally started to die down, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus ended up breathing new life into it today. Marcus is critical of the student, Emma Sullivan, but her column actually ended up prompting a huge backlash of support for the girl:

Emma Sullivan, you’re lucky you’re not my daughter. (Dangerous sentence, I know: My daughters might agree.)

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Just when this inane story about a Kansas high school student tweeting “mean” things at Gov. Sam Brownback finally started to die down, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus ended up breathing new life into it today. Marcus is critical of the student, Emma Sullivan, but her column actually ended up prompting a huge backlash of support for the girl:

Emma Sullivan, you’re lucky you’re not my daughter. (Dangerous sentence, I know: My daughters might agree.)

If you were my daughter, you’d be writing that letter apologizing to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the smart­alecky, potty-mouthed tweet you wrote after meeting with him on a school field trip. …

I may sound alarmingly crotchety here, but something is upside down in the modern world, which has transformed Sullivan into an unlikely Internet celebrity and heroine of the liberal blogosphere.

The left-wing blogosphere immediately erupted into cries of “oppression!” over Marcus’s mild, admittedly didactic criticism of the high school student. “Behold the mind of the American journalist,” wrote Glenn Greenwald. “[Marcus] wants everyone to learn and be guided by extreme deference to political officials and to humbly apologize when they offend those officials with harsh criticism.”

Harsh criticism? Here’s the student’s tweet about Brownback that set off the controversy: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person. #heblowsalot.” Not exactly George Orwell.

But that’s beside the point for left-wing writers, who are just happy to see Brownback get attacked. Esquire’s Charles Pierce thinks Marcus’s WaPo column has cemented Sullivan’s position as “a late-charging entrant for Person of the Year.”

“Anybody who can, at such a young age, prompt such an immediate outpouring of finely honed Beltway stupidity is a young lady on whom we all ought to keep an eye,” writes Pierce.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer analyzes the Sullivan story and reaches the only logical conclusion that one can: “Government officials nationwide engage in cyber-stalking; we are all under surveillance now,” she writes. According to Kaminer, this “trend” of government cyber-surveillance is the product of anti-bullying laws, overly-harsh sentences for child pornography, and the pro-snitching movement.

Throughout many of the liberal columns, Sullivan emerges as a heroic young person who stood up to Brownback, gave him a piece of her mind, and refused to be bullied into an apology. But it ignores the reality: Sullivan never even confronted the governor. She admitted later that she lied about it to impress her friends on Twitter. In fact, if Brownback’s staff hadn’t been searching for mentions of his name and idiotically complained to the girl’s high school, nobody in the political world would have been the wiser. Sullivan had only 60 followers at the time – now, because of this story, she has tens of thousands.

Forget what language she used on Twitter, or her refusal to apologize. It’s hard to get worked up over either of those things. It’s much more fascinating – and sad – that the left has apparently become so hard up for heroes that writing the equivalent of “Brownback iz stupid, lol” to a few friends – and then refusing to say you’re sorry – deserves accolades for courage. What exactly was Sullivan supposed to apologize for? She didn’t do anything in the first place.

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Friedman Still Behind the Times on Palestinian Politics

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman made a rare concession to reality today when he wrote in his column that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to voice fears about the outcome of the Arab Spring earlier this year. In another astonishing divergence from his blame-Israel-at-all costs, he even noted that Israel’s refusal to cede more territory to the Palestinians at a time when they are fatally divided between Fatah and Hamas is “understandable” because, as Netanyahu noted in a speech to the Knesset yesterday, the Arab world is moving “backward” and turning into an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave.” Giving up more land now is senseless: “We can’t know who will end up with any piece of territory we give up.”

But later on in the piece, Friedman reverted to form by saying the best way for Israel to avert the Arab drift to radicalism was to further empower moderates such as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But as we noted here more than a week ago, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has already conceded that Fayyad will be dumped when Fatah and Hamas conclude their unity pact. The fact that Fayyad’s time has already come and gone is apparently beneath the notice of one of the fixtures on the Times op-ed page.

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The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman made a rare concession to reality today when he wrote in his column that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to voice fears about the outcome of the Arab Spring earlier this year. In another astonishing divergence from his blame-Israel-at-all costs, he even noted that Israel’s refusal to cede more territory to the Palestinians at a time when they are fatally divided between Fatah and Hamas is “understandable” because, as Netanyahu noted in a speech to the Knesset yesterday, the Arab world is moving “backward” and turning into an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave.” Giving up more land now is senseless: “We can’t know who will end up with any piece of territory we give up.”

But later on in the piece, Friedman reverted to form by saying the best way for Israel to avert the Arab drift to radicalism was to further empower moderates such as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But as we noted here more than a week ago, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has already conceded that Fayyad will be dumped when Fatah and Hamas conclude their unity pact. The fact that Fayyad’s time has already come and gone is apparently beneath the notice of one of the fixtures on the Times op-ed page.

In fact, Netanyahu and his predecessors have done all they can to help Fayyad during the last several years, as has the United States. Despite the Palestinians’ clear violations of the Oslo Accords by going to the UN, Israel even handed over tax funds this week to Fayyad, as Friedman demanded. But the problem with a thesis that sees “Fayyadism” as the answer to Israel’s problems is that despite all the aid he has gotten, he still has no political traction with his own people.

Fayyad did much during his time in power at the PA to help his people and lay the groundwork for a rational economy. But, contrary to Friedman, his failure has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with a Palestinian political culture that still prizes violence over good governance. Israel would like the moderates to succeed but, as in Egypt, where Islamists appear to have the advantage over liberals, Palestinians don’t seem to have much use for a policy of coexistence. The irrational hatred for Jews and Israel that is on the rise in Egypt may turn out to be an indication that genuine democracy there may not be in the offing. The same dynamic is in place for the Palestinians. After all, even during Fayyad’s term in office, the official Palestinian media has been a font of hate and delegitimization of Israel.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis would love to divest themselves of much of the West Bank. But they rightly refuse to repeat the experience of Gaza, where an Israeli withdrawal led to the creation of a Hamas state that serves as a safe haven for terrorism. Israel can’t create a two-state solution and peace on its own. When Palestinians are willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, they will find, as was the case in 2000, 2001 and 2008 when Israel offered them statehood, that they can have independence and peace. Rather than blaming Israel for Fayyad’s failure, Friedman and his friends in the Obama administration ought to be advocating for a sea change in Palestinian politics that will make peace possible.

Just as Friedman is right to note that, despite criticism from Israelis, there was nothing Obama could have done to preserve Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, so, too, is it foolish to blame Israel for the fate of Fayyad or the growing strength of Hamas. Nothing Obama says or does will keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power if they have the backing of the majority of Egyptians. He needs to recognize that Israel is just as powerless to change the minds of the Palestinians. The rise of Islamism is a function of the demons of the Arab world, not the fault of Israel or the West.

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New Developments on the Syria Front

Some new developments on the Syria front—none good for Bashar al-Assad’s longevity. First, Turkey unveiled new sanctions against Syria “including a freeze on Syrian assets in Turkey and a ban on transactions with the Syrian central bank.” Second, the Turks are beginning to talk seriously about armed intervention to create “humanitarian corridors” or otherwise alleviate the suffering caused by Assad’s regime—which would also have the effect of empowering the Free Syrian
Army which is fighting to bring it down.

Jeff White, a sober and serious 34-year veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has a good backgrounder on the Free Syrian Army. His conclusions are worth heeding:

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Some new developments on the Syria front—none good for Bashar al-Assad’s longevity. First, Turkey unveiled new sanctions against Syria “including a freeze on Syrian assets in Turkey and a ban on transactions with the Syrian central bank.” Second, the Turks are beginning to talk seriously about armed intervention to create “humanitarian corridors” or otherwise alleviate the suffering caused by Assad’s regime—which would also have the effect of empowering the Free Syrian
Army which is fighting to bring it down.

Jeff White, a sober and serious 34-year veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has a good backgrounder on the Free Syrian Army. His conclusions are worth heeding:

Because the FSA is an increasingly important player that will likely influence the outcome of events in Syria, the United States and its partners should make contact with its members and learn as much as possible about the group. Questions concerning its nature, its potential as an armed force, and the role of Islamists can be resolved through such contact as well as intelligence work. If the results are positive, then the FSA should be assisted wherever outside aid would be both possible and effective. Arms, advice, training, and money could be provided through clandestine channels, if nothing else. These modest steps could help provide the Syrian people with a means of self-defense, give the United  States additional influence on the situation, and put further pressure on the regime and its forces, perhaps hastening the conflict’s end.

Sounds like good advice to me—although it will hardly be music to Assad’s ears.

 

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Pawlenty Looks Back On “Obamneycare”

Though the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination still has a ways to go, it’s safe to say Tim Pawlenty’s “Obamneycare” moment will be one of the lasting images of the campaign. Presented with the opportunity to hit Mitt Romney with the term he coined just prior to the second debate, Pawlenty declined–even when prompted–and was left looking weak.

In Politico’s just-released e-book on the first part of the 2012 GOP race, Mike Allen and Evan Thomas let Pawlenty clarify the moment in his own words. In a word, the explanation seems to be “overcoaching.” Pawlenty, ever the sports fan, uses golf terminology like “swing thought” to describe his inner-monologue:

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Though the contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination still has a ways to go, it’s safe to say Tim Pawlenty’s “Obamneycare” moment will be one of the lasting images of the campaign. Presented with the opportunity to hit Mitt Romney with the term he coined just prior to the second debate, Pawlenty declined–even when prompted–and was left looking weak.

In Politico’s just-released e-book on the first part of the 2012 GOP race, Mike Allen and Evan Thomas let Pawlenty clarify the moment in his own words. In a word, the explanation seems to be “overcoaching.” Pawlenty, ever the sports fan, uses golf terminology like “swing thought” to describe his inner-monologue:

The consultants say, if you get a question from the screen, you’ve got to answer the person on the screen because otherwise it’s disrespectful of the citizen. So whatever her name is gets up on the screen and says, I have a health care question. So my first swing thought is, I’ve got to answer the screen. So I say to the woman, Betty or Nancy or whatever your name is, that’s a great question about health care, and I’m doing that [answering by talking about Obamacare], and John King doesn’t want to hear any of that. He wants to hear me whack Romney. So he interrupts me the first time and says, Well, what about this thing you said about Romney and what you called “Obamneycare”?

And then I start to whale on Obama because my second swing thought is, After you do the screen, no matter what question you get, you’ve got to whale on Obama because the base loves that, and they like nothing better than when you criticize Obama and then pivot to whatever point you’re going to make. So I’m thinking, Screen, whale Obama, nick Mitt. So this is my three-point swing thought, so I’m through swing thought one on the screen, and King’s interrupted me. When I’m into swing thought two about Obama, he doesn’t want to hear that, either. He wants me to nick Mitt, and I’m fully prepared to do it, and we get into this awkward, I’m trying to say something, he trying to get me to get to the point. At that point I’m focused on Obama, and I thought it was a legitimate point to whale on Obama, but I decided to stay with that and not finish it with Mitt.

The authors indicate, however, that it may just have been Pawlenty’s inability to fully internalize the coaching he was getting. Part of that, they write, manifested itself in Pawlenty’s newfound habit of “shouting to show anger he didn’t really feel.” This gets back to the question of “authenticity”–something that also plagued Pawlenty’s brief campaign.

Allen and Thomas add that Pawlenty always seemed interested in slipping away from the campaign trail to the hotel sports bar to see if there were any hockey games on television. Voters tend to be drawn to candidates they can relate to on some level, but there might be such a thing as “too normal” to run for president.

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Literary Apes Anonymous

Now that his plagiarized spy thriller Assassin of Secrets has been yanked from the bookstores and turned into pulp, Quentin Rowan has gone public with his “confession” in 2,500 words at The Fix. As befits someone known for plagiarism, Rowan apes Rousseau’s Confessions in dwelling on incidents of humiliation and shame.

Rowan also takes a thoroughly unoriginal approach to ducking responsibility. He equates his literary offenses with alcoholism. Call it the Disease Theory of Plagiarism:

Why did I do it? I think the truth goes back to the late ’90s, when I was newly sober (counting days, actually) in a small, mid-western liberal arts college with an astonishing library. That’s where I became a word thief: skimming through collected issues of old magazines like the Transatlantic Review and New World Writing and Eugene Jolas’ Transition, bound in crimson hardcover. I was 20 years old, and trying to write a short story for the first or second time when I came upon a paragraph I liked from a short story by B. S. Johnson called “What did you say the Name of the Place was?” It was so easy to do, as easy as picking up a drink, if you think about it. The lifted paragraph perfectly fit my narrative. And it temporarily assuaged the awful feeling I had in my head that I was no good as a writer. In retrospect, maybe that’s when I transferred my obsession from drinking and drugs to plagiarism. My addiction didn’t disappear; it simply morphed into something else.

The trouble with this theory is that alcoholism is a choice, and so is plagiarism. Long ago Rowan chose not to be an author, but a plagiarist — not to discover his own exact words, but to kidnap others’. This is pretty much how Martial used the word when he introduced it to the literate world in the first century of the Common Era:

Commendo tibi, Quintiane, nostros —
nostros dicere si tamen libellos
possum, quos recitat tuus poeta:
si de seruitio graui queruntur,
adsertor uenias satisque praestes,
et, cum se dominum uocabit ille,
dicas esse meos manuque missos.
Hoc si terque quaterque clamitaris,
inpones plagiario pudorem.

In my own meager translation of epigram 1.52:

To you, sir, I commend my books —
If they’re still mine now that you took
My phrases out of slavery,
Under your guidance, to roam free.
Their author, though? In the book lists,
Sir, you’re down as their plagiarist.

Rowan sighs that he “probably deserved” to be called all the names he was called — meaning, of course, that he did not deserve the names at all — before ending with a plea for understanding. He is not “morally weak,” you understand. He is simply powerless over his compulsion to plagiarize. That is, he is eager to blame his “disease,” a hobgoblin that exists only to absorb run-off responsibility. In his next essay for The Fix, Rowan will announce the formation of a 12-step program for recovering plagiarists. He will call it Literary Apes Anonymous.

His confession will not be enough to resurrect Rowan’s literary career, though. Plagiarists don’t have literary careers. Perhaps it will be enough to launch one.

Now that his plagiarized spy thriller Assassin of Secrets has been yanked from the bookstores and turned into pulp, Quentin Rowan has gone public with his “confession” in 2,500 words at The Fix. As befits someone known for plagiarism, Rowan apes Rousseau’s Confessions in dwelling on incidents of humiliation and shame.

Rowan also takes a thoroughly unoriginal approach to ducking responsibility. He equates his literary offenses with alcoholism. Call it the Disease Theory of Plagiarism:

Why did I do it? I think the truth goes back to the late ’90s, when I was newly sober (counting days, actually) in a small, mid-western liberal arts college with an astonishing library. That’s where I became a word thief: skimming through collected issues of old magazines like the Transatlantic Review and New World Writing and Eugene Jolas’ Transition, bound in crimson hardcover. I was 20 years old, and trying to write a short story for the first or second time when I came upon a paragraph I liked from a short story by B. S. Johnson called “What did you say the Name of the Place was?” It was so easy to do, as easy as picking up a drink, if you think about it. The lifted paragraph perfectly fit my narrative. And it temporarily assuaged the awful feeling I had in my head that I was no good as a writer. In retrospect, maybe that’s when I transferred my obsession from drinking and drugs to plagiarism. My addiction didn’t disappear; it simply morphed into something else.

The trouble with this theory is that alcoholism is a choice, and so is plagiarism. Long ago Rowan chose not to be an author, but a plagiarist — not to discover his own exact words, but to kidnap others’. This is pretty much how Martial used the word when he introduced it to the literate world in the first century of the Common Era:

Commendo tibi, Quintiane, nostros —
nostros dicere si tamen libellos
possum, quos recitat tuus poeta:
si de seruitio graui queruntur,
adsertor uenias satisque praestes,
et, cum se dominum uocabit ille,
dicas esse meos manuque missos.
Hoc si terque quaterque clamitaris,
inpones plagiario pudorem.

In my own meager translation of epigram 1.52:

To you, sir, I commend my books —
If they’re still mine now that you took
My phrases out of slavery,
Under your guidance, to roam free.
Their author, though? In the book lists,
Sir, you’re down as their plagiarist.

Rowan sighs that he “probably deserved” to be called all the names he was called — meaning, of course, that he did not deserve the names at all — before ending with a plea for understanding. He is not “morally weak,” you understand. He is simply powerless over his compulsion to plagiarize. That is, he is eager to blame his “disease,” a hobgoblin that exists only to absorb run-off responsibility. In his next essay for The Fix, Rowan will announce the formation of a 12-step program for recovering plagiarists. He will call it Literary Apes Anonymous.

His confession will not be enough to resurrect Rowan’s literary career, though. Plagiarists don’t have literary careers. Perhaps it will be enough to launch one.

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Re: Israel Ad Campaign Targets Expats

I’d like to respectfully disagree with Jonathan’s post yesterday on the Israeli government ad campaign directed at expatriate Israelis living in the United States. Anything that might unnecessarily distance American and Israeli Jews is certainly unwise just now, when the temptation to imagine that they might save themselves from the hatred directed at the Jewish state by disassociating themselves from it is one so many American Jews find hard to resist. But to be pricked by the current ads is to be overly sensitive to their potential implications.

The ad most in question focuses powerfully on Yom Hazikaron and the inability of an American (potentially) Jewish boyfriend to begin to understand its
significance, and the probability that he never will. Not knowing the date, he mistakes a yahrzeit candle set on a table and his Israeli girlfriend’s unwillingness to go to a party as an indication of a romantic evening, not the somber affair she has in mind. Her participation in the memorial is through a website which, being all in Hebrew, he does not understand, even when it dawns on him that something more significant than a date-night is afoot.

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I’d like to respectfully disagree with Jonathan’s post yesterday on the Israeli government ad campaign directed at expatriate Israelis living in the United States. Anything that might unnecessarily distance American and Israeli Jews is certainly unwise just now, when the temptation to imagine that they might save themselves from the hatred directed at the Jewish state by disassociating themselves from it is one so many American Jews find hard to resist. But to be pricked by the current ads is to be overly sensitive to their potential implications.

The ad most in question focuses powerfully on Yom Hazikaron and the inability of an American (potentially) Jewish boyfriend to begin to understand its
significance, and the probability that he never will. Not knowing the date, he mistakes a yahrzeit candle set on a table and his Israeli girlfriend’s unwillingness to go to a party as an indication of a romantic evening, not the somber affair she has in mind. Her participation in the memorial is through a website which, being all in Hebrew, he does not understand, even when it dawns on him that something more significant than a date-night is afoot.

While melodramatic, there is not much in this scenario that rings false to me. Few are the American Jews who are aware when Yom Hazikaron passes on the calendar, and few as well are those who can identify even the simple Hebrew word yizkor (remember). More probably can successfully identify a yahrzeit candle but rarely use them and in seeing one would be likely to mistake its significance.

More to the point, the power of Yom Hazikaron to Israelis is one we American Jews should be able to find the humility to recognize we cannot fully appreciate. For us and our family members, military service and its attending dangers is a choice, not an obligation. Even the laudable examples of those young American Jews who choose to serve in the IDF do so for a much shorter period of time than their Israeli cousins. There are of course cases where those soldiers die, and there is no overstating the sacrifice they and all lone soldiers make.

Still, we who choose not to live in Israel and bear for ourselves and our families, forever, the shared burden of manning with our lives the gates of Jewish independence cannot know what Yom Hazikaron truly feels like for those for who do. Unlike us, they also all probably are themselves – or know someone else who is – touched by the terrible sacrifice that burden can impose.

This is a powerful ember for Israeli culture and patriotism. Faced with another national cultural need to maintain Jewish immigration and the reality of a significant population of expats whose reintegration into Israeli society is far easier than the absorption of those Jews born and raised in the diaspora, it seems far too much to ask that Israelis not use this ember.

There is more to say besides about the deep cultural differences between American and Israeli Jews, the lingering inability of American Jews to accept that the Land of Israel and the Jewish state it holds are the rightful center of the Jewish world, and the fact that very few of the American Jews who might be offended by the ad campaign will ever be even aware of it.

A core truth remains: if it is among the obligations of the Jews of Israel to fight and die for the continuance of the Zionist dream, it is among the obligations of the Jews of the diaspora to accept that it is a burden whose reality we cannot fully grasp.

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Gingrich Poll Surge is for Real

It may not last, but there’s no denying Newt Gingrich’s surge is for real. A bevy of newly released surveys all show the same thing: the former Speaker of the House’s ratings have zoomed in the last month, with him surpassing Mitt Romney in key states. Among the most impressive results was the Florida Times-Union’s survey that showed Gingrich being the choice of 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters with Romney a distant second with 17 percent. Other polls show Gingrich leading in Iowa, South Carolina and Louisiana with Romney ahead in California. While California is far bigger than the states Gingrich is leading in, it is also a late voting state that will do Romney little good if he loses the more crucial early primaries and caucuses.

Romney’s backers may take comfort in the fact that other candidates have shot to the top in the polls only to come tumbling down as press scrutiny revealed their weaknesses. But Gingrich’s surge is better timed, since we are only weeks away from the start of voting. Though Gingrich’s record provides opposition researchers with a mother lode of material, it’s not clear if conservatives will be willing to abandon the last available “not Romney” candidate, even if he is to the left of the former Massachusetts governor on a number of issues and loaded down with baggage that will be manna from heaven for the Obama campaign in the general election.

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It may not last, but there’s no denying Newt Gingrich’s surge is for real. A bevy of newly released surveys all show the same thing: the former Speaker of the House’s ratings have zoomed in the last month, with him surpassing Mitt Romney in key states. Among the most impressive results was the Florida Times-Union’s survey that showed Gingrich being the choice of 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters with Romney a distant second with 17 percent. Other polls show Gingrich leading in Iowa, South Carolina and Louisiana with Romney ahead in California. While California is far bigger than the states Gingrich is leading in, it is also a late voting state that will do Romney little good if he loses the more crucial early primaries and caucuses.

Romney’s backers may take comfort in the fact that other candidates have shot to the top in the polls only to come tumbling down as press scrutiny revealed their weaknesses. But Gingrich’s surge is better timed, since we are only weeks away from the start of voting. Though Gingrich’s record provides opposition researchers with a mother lode of material, it’s not clear if conservatives will be willing to abandon the last available “not Romney” candidate, even if he is to the left of the former Massachusetts governor on a number of issues and loaded down with baggage that will be manna from heaven for the Obama campaign in the general election.

This is all very worrisome for Romney and his supporters, especially since a new Gallup poll shows Romney at what was described as a new low in “positive intensity” (the number of respondents with strongly favorable views of a candidate minus those with strongly unfavorable views). In that poll he trails Gingrich 20-9 in positive intensity.

This is clearly Gingrich’s moment, but even with a GOP electorate that may be desperate for an alternative to Romney, it’s far from clear he can sustain this momentum, especially if the press starts to focus on his record. Romney is still within striking distance in Iowa and has a solid, if shrinking lead in New Hampshire. But if we assume, as many observers do, that Gingrich will benefit from the collapse of Herman Cain, he’s entering the homestretch in Iowa in a very strong position. If Republicans don’t care about Gingrich’s past and he continues to avoid the sort of unforced errors that were formerly second nature to him, the once utterly implausible notion of him becoming the nominee will become a very real possibility.

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Allen West Calls Cain a Distraction

Both Herman Cain and his senior adviser Mark Block are adamant Cain is staying in the race, but yesterday’s National Review report that he’s reassessing his candidacy has given some Republicans a chance to nudge him toward the exit.

The most prominent and damaging voice to gently hint that Cain should hang it up? Rep. Allen West. The previous allegations against Cain were dismissed by some conservatives as evidence of liberal racism. But West didn’t seem to buy into that on WMAL this morning:

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Both Herman Cain and his senior adviser Mark Block are adamant Cain is staying in the race, but yesterday’s National Review report that he’s reassessing his candidacy has given some Republicans a chance to nudge him toward the exit.

The most prominent and damaging voice to gently hint that Cain should hang it up? Rep. Allen West. The previous allegations against Cain were dismissed by some conservatives as evidence of liberal racism. But West didn’t seem to buy into that on WMAL this morning:

“Beyond reassessing his campaign, he probably needs to understand that he is a distracter for what’s going on right now and we should move on,” West told WMAL’s radio show “Morning Majority.”

West, a Tea Party favorite, indicated Cain is already out of the running and the GOP nomination field has come down to “a two-man race.”

The other Republican candidates are staying pretty quiet on the subject, except for Jon Huntsman, who called the “bimbo eruption” a distraction from the “real issues.”

On Sean Hannity last night, Karl Rove indicated that this was probably curtains for Cain:

“And, you know, when you have 61 texts and emails — some of them at early hours and late hours — it just doesn’t on the surface of it look good,” he said to Fox News’ Sean Hannity Tuesday night. “And I suspect what he’s asking himself is: Am I the guy who could win the nomination and help put the country in the right place by defeating Barack Obama or am I not?”

If Cain ends up dropping out, the implications could be both good and bad for Newt Gingrich. While polls suggest that Gingrich would pick up the lion’s share of Cain’s supporters, Cain’s scandals have sucked up a lot of the media attention so far. Without him in the race, Gingrich will come under increasing scrutiny – both from the media, and from Republicans who want to make sure he gets fully vetted.

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Why the LAPD Wore Hazmat Suits to the “Occupation”

The Occupy L.A. and Occupy Philly campsites were both cleared out of protesters by police early this morning. But what remains in the parks is even more sickening. This is what two months of “Occupation” did to the once-scenic City Hall Park in L.A.:

The once-lush lawns are now patches of dirt strewn with tons of debris, including clothing, tents, bedding shoes, trash and two months of human flotsam. Under a tree is a guitar, a bullhorn, CDs and a black bandana.

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The Occupy L.A. and Occupy Philly campsites were both cleared out of protesters by police early this morning. But what remains in the parks is even more sickening. This is what two months of “Occupation” did to the once-scenic City Hall Park in L.A.:

The once-lush lawns are now patches of dirt strewn with tons of debris, including clothing, tents, bedding shoes, trash and two months of human flotsam. Under a tree is a guitar, a bullhorn, CDs and a black bandana.

Plywood panels erected to protect statues were sprayed with graffiti, including the words, “It smells like change.”

Early Wednesday, it smelled like pee.

Police officers in white hazardous materials suits prowled the park for personal belongs so they can be stored for retrieval by protesters. Skip loaders were to be used to scoop up the mess.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said much of the debris is contaminated with urine and feces, and there are concerns about bacteria.

AP is reporting that police think it will take weeks to restore the park. In Los Angeles, the police presence was roughly 1,400 cops for 500 activists – which sounds like a pretty skewed ratio, until you think about how much work the eviction actually entailed. In addition to the mass arrests (news reports say 200) police also had to secure the area for public health reasons. According to Reuters, activists had been storing human waste at the site “for unknown reasons” – and there were rumors that protesters could potentially use this as a weapon against police.

The evictions in L.A. and Philadelphia follow on the heels of similar evictions in New York and Oakland. The movement is quickly losing its home base campsites in major cities, but the Occupiers are moving on. Salon reports that the next major project will be “Occupy Our Homes,” an anti-foreclosure movement that will disrupt bank auctions and fight evictions. According to Salon, the Occupy Our Homes website is registered to a former SEIU official, another example of unions attempting to steer the Occupy movement in a more action-oriented direction.

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Gingrich Was No Lobbyist, Just a Washington Influence Peddler

In the years between his stepping down as Speaker of the House and running for the presidency, Newt Gingrich became a wealthy man. While no one I am aware of has alleged that he did anything illegal or even improper in amassing his fortune, as a feature in today’s New York Times makes clear, his attempt to portray his Center for Health Transformation as a think tank rather than a lobbying firm is somewhat disingenuous.

Gingrich was not registered as a lobbyist, and his work on behalf of the Center’s “members” — companies that paid up to $200,000 to belong to the group in exchange for access to Gingrich and for his help in promoting their efforts — did not conform to the legal definition of lobbying in that he did not specifically write bills or advocate on behalf of legislation that would benefit his clients. But as the article makes clear, much of what he did do appears to be indistinguishable from the sort of tasks lobbyists routinely perform. Though Gingrich claims he never took money to support an idea that he didn’t otherwise support, a close look at his activities leads to the conclusion that what he did was, if not lobbying, then a form of influence peddling that undermines his claims of being an outsider in Washington or a visionary historian/consultant.

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In the years between his stepping down as Speaker of the House and running for the presidency, Newt Gingrich became a wealthy man. While no one I am aware of has alleged that he did anything illegal or even improper in amassing his fortune, as a feature in today’s New York Times makes clear, his attempt to portray his Center for Health Transformation as a think tank rather than a lobbying firm is somewhat disingenuous.

Gingrich was not registered as a lobbyist, and his work on behalf of the Center’s “members” — companies that paid up to $200,000 to belong to the group in exchange for access to Gingrich and for his help in promoting their efforts — did not conform to the legal definition of lobbying in that he did not specifically write bills or advocate on behalf of legislation that would benefit his clients. But as the article makes clear, much of what he did do appears to be indistinguishable from the sort of tasks lobbyists routinely perform. Though Gingrich claims he never took money to support an idea that he didn’t otherwise support, a close look at his activities leads to the conclusion that what he did was, if not lobbying, then a form of influence peddling that undermines his claims of being an outsider in Washington or a visionary historian/consultant.

It should be understood that despite the taint of illegitimacy that clings to the word lobbyist, there is really nothing wrong with what they do. Every citizen has a right to petition the government and seek to persuade legislators to do things that will benefit causes, groups or individuals. By banding together to create lobbying groups, both citizens and companies are able to make their voices heard. Lobbyists and less easily defined players like Gingrich and his Center make money by parlaying their expertise and access to official Washington that makes this process easier.

But the ability of some to pay for the services offered by Gingrich does tend to rub voters the wrong way. Moreover, Gingrich’s current pose as a critic of the Washington establishment doesn’t jive with the way in which he peddled access to the high and mighty in exchange for extravagant fees.

As the Times writes:

Mr. Gingrich’s ability to reach leaders like Mrs. Clinton was a selling point for the Center. A PowerPoint presentation for prospective members advertised its “contacts at the highest levels” of federal and state government. Paying $200,000 a year for the top-tier membership, it said, “increases your channels of input to decision makers” and grants “access to top transformational leadership across industry and government.”

Again, there’s nothing illegal about any of this, but it doesn’t really sound like a think tank, does it?

Scrutiny of Gingrich’s prosperous business is not a matter of muckraking or trying to create a scandal where none exists. But it does make it clear that the onetime Washington outsider who was seen as a bomb-throwing troublemaker by the Republican congressional leadership during his early years in Congress decades ago cashed in the same way many other ex-politicians have done once they left office. While Gingrich may say his goal now is to transform Washington, he spent a decade profiting as a run-of-the-mill D.C. insider who could help game the system for a price. Which means the only thing he’s guilty of is hypocrisy.

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Can Clinton Undo Damage in Burma?

“Historic” diplomatic engagements generally come with the greatest of expectations. Such is the atmosphere surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Burma today. It is a test not only of Clinton’s preparation and authority, but of the Obama administration’s attempts to play catch-up in Asia.

The administration of George W. Bush was consistent and sensible in building or strengthening alliances with allies in the region like India and South Korea–nations given the cold shoulder initially by Obama, thus weakening our ability to play a more constructive and balanced role in the region–and of stepping up efforts to halt the spread of nuclear technology there. So the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia is welcome. Indeed, there is evidence the administration is being more honest about its previous failures:

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“Historic” diplomatic engagements generally come with the greatest of expectations. Such is the atmosphere surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Burma today. It is a test not only of Clinton’s preparation and authority, but of the Obama administration’s attempts to play catch-up in Asia.

The administration of George W. Bush was consistent and sensible in building or strengthening alliances with allies in the region like India and South Korea–nations given the cold shoulder initially by Obama, thus weakening our ability to play a more constructive and balanced role in the region–and of stepping up efforts to halt the spread of nuclear technology there. So the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia is welcome. Indeed, there is evidence the administration is being more honest about its previous failures:

Administration officials said Mrs. Clinton first wanted to see whether Mr. Thein Sein’s government was prepared to take his own steps. Officials remain wary, disappointed that the government has not freed more of the 1,600 political prisoners still being held and that Mr. Thein Sein recently denied the existence of any of them. The senior administration official also noted that the administration’s initial efforts to engage Myanmar’s leaders in 2009 were “abysmal failures.”

That would be an accurate description. The fallout from Senator Jim Webb’s disastrous 2009 trip to Burma on behalf of the administration was severe. Webb met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest, and immediately held a press conference to claim Suu Kyi supported lifting some sanctions on the junta running Burma. Suu Kyi was forced to correct the record, pointing out that she had not discussed the matter with Webb.

Other democracy activists in Burma dismissed Webb’s stunt as “ignorant” and “damaging to our democracy movement.” Additionally, following the visit, the Burmese regime stepped up its attacks on ethnic minorities, aggravating the refugee crisis there and in bordering states.

Webb’s visit was a self-evident failure, but it’s a good sign that the administration can admit this. Clinton’s trip is more of a carrot-and-stick approach: she is both rewarding improved behavior of new Burmese President U Thein Sein while demanding the release of the regime’s approximately 1,600 political prisoners and full transparency on Burma’s apparent nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Joshua Kurlantzick lays out four markers by which Clinton’s engagement should be measured: the freeing of all political prisoners, obtaining better access to Burmese military leaders, expanding engagement and communication to the entire country, and getting the story straight on the Burma-North Korea relationship.

The trip is not receiving unanimous approval. “Secretary Clinton’s visit represents a monumental overture to an outlaw regime whose D.N.A. remains fundamentally brutal,” objected Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ros-Lehtinen’s skepticism is prudent; the Burmese thaw is attracting comparisons to Mikhail Gorbachev’s institution of perestroika and glasnost in the waning years of the Soviet Union, but such comparisons are as yet unearned. If Clinton is successful, however, it may finally bury the Obama administration’s initial fetish for toothless, supplicatory diplomacy that has been rightly discredited and which caused so much damage in Burma the last time around.

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When a Kindle Goes Bad

While on a Thanksgiving trip to California, my Kindle decided to go blooey. More technically, the device’s screen was permanently burned with one of those goofy literary images that come up when the Kindle goes to “sleep.” Now Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head and upper torso block most of the text I’d like to read. Because of travel and its preparations, I hadn’t turned the device on for three or four whole days. My bad!

The question of what happens to electronic texts when the hardware goes bad or becomes obsolete has worried me before. Now that it has happened I find myself in a quandary. I’m no fan of the Kindle. To navigate around in a book you must click-click-click through multiple screens. (In a paper-and-binding book, you can flip to where you want to go in about one-tenth the time.) The print on the screen is unattractive, and if the earliest research is to be trusted, the human mind does not process and save information from a screen nearly as efficiently or durably as information from a page.

As I’ve suggested before, the Kindle may appeal largely to older readers for whom it solves long-standing problems (how to take along a stack of books on vacation, for example). Younger readers, with a different experience of reading, may not find them as tempting. From this angle, the evidence offered by John Podhoretz in his editorial in the November issue of COMMENTARY (on a 2010 cruise sponsored by the magazine, he found that “people over the age of 50 were reading” predominately on Kindles and iPads) may not be as “stunning” as he thinks.

Now that my Kindle is useless, I must either (a) purchase a new device that I am not thrilled with, before I was ready to upgrade, or (b) discard the rather substantial investment that I have made in electronic texts by giving up on the Kindle, either by purchasing a different kind of e-reader or waiting for something better. I still believe that the technology must and will eventually reconceive literary text. Right now physical text, designed for a printed page, is simply (and awkwardly) migrated onto an electronic screen, a platform for which it was not designed.

These are the sorts of bad choices that cause a slow bubble of consumer resentment. One more reason to remain skeptical about the future of the Kindle.

While on a Thanksgiving trip to California, my Kindle decided to go blooey. More technically, the device’s screen was permanently burned with one of those goofy literary images that come up when the Kindle goes to “sleep.” Now Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head and upper torso block most of the text I’d like to read. Because of travel and its preparations, I hadn’t turned the device on for three or four whole days. My bad!

The question of what happens to electronic texts when the hardware goes bad or becomes obsolete has worried me before. Now that it has happened I find myself in a quandary. I’m no fan of the Kindle. To navigate around in a book you must click-click-click through multiple screens. (In a paper-and-binding book, you can flip to where you want to go in about one-tenth the time.) The print on the screen is unattractive, and if the earliest research is to be trusted, the human mind does not process and save information from a screen nearly as efficiently or durably as information from a page.

As I’ve suggested before, the Kindle may appeal largely to older readers for whom it solves long-standing problems (how to take along a stack of books on vacation, for example). Younger readers, with a different experience of reading, may not find them as tempting. From this angle, the evidence offered by John Podhoretz in his editorial in the November issue of COMMENTARY (on a 2010 cruise sponsored by the magazine, he found that “people over the age of 50 were reading” predominately on Kindles and iPads) may not be as “stunning” as he thinks.

Now that my Kindle is useless, I must either (a) purchase a new device that I am not thrilled with, before I was ready to upgrade, or (b) discard the rather substantial investment that I have made in electronic texts by giving up on the Kindle, either by purchasing a different kind of e-reader or waiting for something better. I still believe that the technology must and will eventually reconceive literary text. Right now physical text, designed for a printed page, is simply (and awkwardly) migrated onto an electronic screen, a platform for which it was not designed.

These are the sorts of bad choices that cause a slow bubble of consumer resentment. One more reason to remain skeptical about the future of the Kindle.

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Is Medicare Nominee the “Anti-Berwick”?

Unlike the last controversial Medicare and Medicaid head Donald Berwick, Obama’s new pick to run the programs isn’t getting a lot of opposition from congressional Republicans. In the clearest sign that nominee Marilyn Tavenner will likely have a smooth confirmation process in the Senate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor actually praised her yesterday:

“I would hope to be able to support her,” Cantor said. “Obviously, I’m not in the Senate, so I don’t have that vote, but I do think she is qualified. Obviously, she’ll be working for a president with an agenda that’s quite different from mine.”

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Unlike the last controversial Medicare and Medicaid head Donald Berwick, Obama’s new pick to run the programs isn’t getting a lot of opposition from congressional Republicans. In the clearest sign that nominee Marilyn Tavenner will likely have a smooth confirmation process in the Senate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor actually praised her yesterday:

“I would hope to be able to support her,” Cantor said. “Obviously, I’m not in the Senate, so I don’t have that vote, but I do think she is qualified. Obviously, she’ll be working for a president with an agenda that’s quite different from mine.”

Many stakeholders already thought Tavenner might be able to win Senate confirmation, based largely on the fact that Senate Republicans did not immediately attack her. Support from Cantor, one of Congress’ leading conservative voices, will likely bolster her prospects.

While Cantor doesn’t have a vote, he is the most high-profile conservative voice to support Tavenner so far. The reason may be that Tavenner has a reputation as the “anti-Berwick” – former colleagues describe her as a pragmatic consensus-builder, who works across partisan lines. HealthLeaders Media reports:

“She is not going to be a bomb thrower. She is not going to be tossing political hand grenades,” says Virginia State Sen. Edd (CQ) Houck, D-Fredericksburg.

Although she served under a Democratic governor, Houck says Tavenner worked well with Republicans in the Virginia Senate. “Marilyn was agile and sensitive to the partisan differences. She was politically astute,” he says.

It sounds like Republicans won this battle, and Tavenner will get an easy confirmation in Congress. Obama stood by Berwick for a long time, despite the Medicare chief’s supportive comments about health care rationing, but in the end the president had to go with a choice that was low-key and nonpolitical.

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Iceland Recognizes State of Palestine and “Right of Return”

In an effort to woo the uncommitted, pro-Palestinian advocates frequently insist that one can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israel. In theory, that seems self-evident. But in practice, it’s often false. Just consider the parliament of Iceland, which on Tuesday became the first Western parliament to officially call for Israel’s eradication.

I’m sure many of the parliamentarians who voted for the resolution didn’t realize that was what they were doing; they just thought they were voting to become the first Western country to recognize a State of Palestine in the 1967 lines. Indeed, the resolution even urged Israel and “Palestine” to sign a peace agreement for “mutual recognition.”

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In an effort to woo the uncommitted, pro-Palestinian advocates frequently insist that one can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israel. In theory, that seems self-evident. But in practice, it’s often false. Just consider the parliament of Iceland, which on Tuesday became the first Western parliament to officially call for Israel’s eradication.

I’m sure many of the parliamentarians who voted for the resolution didn’t realize that was what they were doing; they just thought they were voting to become the first Western country to recognize a State of Palestine in the 1967 lines. Indeed, the resolution even urged Israel and “Palestine” to sign a peace agreement for “mutual recognition.”

Except, it also affirmed “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes.”

In other words, the resolution declared that it isn’t enough for the Palestinians to have one state; they ought to have two: one in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and another in pre-1967 Israel, which would be converted from a Jewish-majority to a Palestinian-majority state by flooding it with some five million descendants of the 1948 refugees. That, after all, is how Palestinians interpret the “right of return,” and having accepted the Palestinian position on every other issue – from where the border should lie to whether or not peace with Israel must precede statehood –there’s no reason to think the resolution didn’t intend to adopt the Palestinian position on this issue as well. Indeed, that’s the literal meaning of the phrase “return to their former homes”; diplomats seeking to square the circle of the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” and the Israeli insistence on not committing national suicide usually use some variant like “a right of return to the Palestinian state.”

And that’s the basic problem: There is no way to be both “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israel” as long as the Palestinians insist, as they have throughout 18 years of negotiations, that no solution to the conflict is acceptable if it doesn’t include eradicating the Jewish state via the “right of return.” There is no way to be both “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israel” as long as 77 percent of Palestinians think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists” and 66 percent of Palestinians see statehood as a mere stepping-stone to Israel’s ultimate eradication. As long as one side seeks to eradicate the other, the parties’ goals are fundamentally incompatible. And it’s only by shutting their eyes to the true nature of the Palestinians’ demands that well-meaning Westerners can delude themselves that it’s possible to avoid choosing sides.

Iceland’s decision would be bad enough even without the “right of return”; it prejudices the outcome of negotiations and approves the establishment of a Palestinian state at war with Israel. With it, however, it’s beyond the pale, and American Jews and their congressional allies must make this clear.

But it’s also time to drop the fiction that one can be “pro-Palestinian” without being “anti-Israel.” As long as the Palestinians’ list of nonnegotiable demands includes destroying the Jewish state, anyone who backs their positions is indeed anti-Israel.

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Another Blow to the “License Raj”

The economic revolution in India continued this week, when the cabinet voted to allow in big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

This is a major change, as Indian retail has long been dominated by an endless number of mom-and-pop stores. Indeed India has one of the highest densities of stores to people in the world, with one store for about every ten people. With each store doing only a tiny business, economies of scale are impossible and prices are high. The distribution network behind these stores is primitive, inefficient, and causes much spoilage, which again assures high prices.

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The economic revolution in India continued this week, when the cabinet voted to allow in big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

This is a major change, as Indian retail has long been dominated by an endless number of mom-and-pop stores. Indeed India has one of the highest densities of stores to people in the world, with one store for about every ten people. With each store doing only a tiny business, economies of scale are impossible and prices are high. The distribution network behind these stores is primitive, inefficient, and causes much spoilage, which again assures high prices.

There are, of course, restrictions. Foreign firms will need domestic partners who will have 49 percent ownership and the stores can be located only in cities with a population of at least 1 million. But India has an astonishing 51 cities with more than a million people (the U.S. has nine). Assuming the reform comes to fruition, it will raise the standard of living for nearly everyone, with lower prices and better goods. With people in the large cities benefiting, political pressure from voters in smaller cities will soon open them up as well.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the father of Indian independence, but he was also the father of Indian economic stagnation with his admiration of the Soviet planned economy. While he didn’t impose tyranny, he did develop what came to be called the “license raj,” in which a businessman could hardly hang a picture in his office without a license to do so. As many as 80 agencies had to sign off before a firm could begin to produce a product, and the state decided how much could be produced, where the capital would come from, what price it would be sold for. The invitation to corruption was vast and frequently accepted. Only in about 1990, with the Indian economy in deep trouble, did the license raj begin to collapse and the Indian economy begin to grow. Its dismantlement still has a way to go, but this is a very big step in the right direction.

Now, if only New York City would follow India’s example and allow its citizens to enjoy lower prices, more choice, and higher quality, it might aspire to first-world status as well.

 

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“The Jew-Hatred of Fools”

Jeffrey Goldberg published a worthwhile column yesterday for Bloomberg View that details some of the recent expressions of virulent Jew-hatred produced in the last year’s agitations in Arab countries. His inability to engage more deeply, however, with the forces currently revealing themselves in places like Tahrir Square, and his casual castigation of Jew-hatred as the “socialism of fools” robs the column of a more important impact.

Goldberg’s frame for the article is that hatred of Jews is inimical to the spirit of the Arab protests, which are driven by an “idealism” that “can’t be denied” since “the people of the Middle East are finally awakening to liberty.” Freedom we should all certainly wish to the region of the world (minus, perhaps, China) that remains least open to its charms. But there simply is no guarantee that the hatred for the tyrants Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, and Ben Ali that has brought so many to the streets in the past year is twinned essentially to a belief in democracy. For we must also ask for whom the new freedoms are intended and to whom power will now fall.

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Jeffrey Goldberg published a worthwhile column yesterday for Bloomberg View that details some of the recent expressions of virulent Jew-hatred produced in the last year’s agitations in Arab countries. His inability to engage more deeply, however, with the forces currently revealing themselves in places like Tahrir Square, and his casual castigation of Jew-hatred as the “socialism of fools” robs the column of a more important impact.

Goldberg’s frame for the article is that hatred of Jews is inimical to the spirit of the Arab protests, which are driven by an “idealism” that “can’t be denied” since “the people of the Middle East are finally awakening to liberty.” Freedom we should all certainly wish to the region of the world (minus, perhaps, China) that remains least open to its charms. But there simply is no guarantee that the hatred for the tyrants Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, and Ben Ali that has brought so many to the streets in the past year is twinned essentially to a belief in democracy. For we must also ask for whom the new freedoms are intended and to whom power will now fall.

There are those, now marching to the front of the columns, whose belief in liberty, whatever pretty things they may have to say to the Western press, stops short for unbelievers. Capable and thorough as it was in the space of a single column, and filled with no less than seven specific and alarming examples of wild anti-Jewish expressions by significant revolutionary voices from Tunis to Damascus, Goldberg’s Jew-hatred hit list didn’t include the “kill all Jews” rally recently held in a prestigious Cairo mosque by the Muslim Brotherhood, the same political organization that soon enough may hold the reigns of power in the most populous and significant of all Arab states.

In her masterly book If I Am Not For Myself, Ruth Wisse offers a penetrating analysis of the thinking of August Bebel, the German socialist credited with coining the “socialism of fools” line. She writes:

“Bebel’s resolution on anti-Semitism makes no objection to it on moral grounds, since he is no less eager than anti-Semites to foment revolution… [His] emphasis on the error rather than the immorality of anti-Semitism implicitly acknowledges that the movements of the Right and Left are otherwise politically related in their means, while the failure to defend Jews for their own sake implies that Jewishness is of no independent value.”

Goldberg decries Jew-hatred for “dehumanizing Jews,” so he saves himself from the worst implications of Bebel’s formulation. Yet the fundamental error remains. The passions of the revolution remain above reproach, the descent into Jew-hatred a byway from the shining path. But mass hatred, as Wisse also notes, needs an object less abstract than Arab social deterioration. Once the dictators are dragged through the streets, other objects of derision must be
found to fill their place. It is hard to be optimistic that, in the short-term at least, Arabs will find a more attractive target than their imagined Jewish enemy and the real Jewish state.

In short, expressions of hatred for Jews may not be the Arab revolution hijacked, but the Arab revolution expressed. Time to start getting used to that possibility.

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New Pet Cause for OWS Protesters Is CUNY Baruch Tuition Hike

Since cities across the country evicted Occupy Wall Street encampments in their parks, the movement is finding itself quickly off of the nightly news and the front pages. Searching for relevancy in a rapidly changing news cycle, the former Zuccotti Park campers have taken on a new cause.

Is it poverty in blighted neighborhoods? A coat drive for the city’s homeless? Protesting for affordable housing?

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Since cities across the country evicted Occupy Wall Street encampments in their parks, the movement is finding itself quickly off of the nightly news and the front pages. Searching for relevancy in a rapidly changing news cycle, the former Zuccotti Park campers have taken on a new cause.

Is it poverty in blighted neighborhoods? A coat drive for the city’s homeless? Protesting for affordable housing?

Occupy Wall Street has overlooked all of these possibilities to instead join with a handful of CUNY Baruch College students protesting a 31 percent tuition hike. Baruch, part of the public City University of New York system, is one of the most affordable schools in the country, where 70 percent of full-time students receive financial aid. A 31 percent tuition raise amounts to about $300, less than the cost of books in a semester for its students. While the average cost of college at public universities in the United States is $8,244 for in-state students, CUNY students pay $5,130 per year. That cost pales in comparison to private universities where students pay, on average, more than $28,000 a year.

Despite being the most ethnically diverse campus in the nation, most of the protests surrounding the tuition hikes have looked like a sea of white. Is this protest being planned by actual students or just bored former Zuccotti Park residents?

Even in local papers, coverage of the Baruch protests has been sparse. Many in the Occupy movement attribute this to a media conspiracy, but most New York City residents see the occupiers for what they are: spoiled rich white kids looking for their next social justice fix, not even very good at picking out their pet cause anymore. The occupiers have shut down one of the most affordable education options for adults in the city. More than 40 percent of CUNY’s students work part-time or more, yet their classes, which have already been paid for, have been canceled two days in a row by a large group of young white people with enough disposable income to allow them to camp out jobless for more than two months.

Considering Occupy Wall Street claims to speak for 99 percent of Americans, they have quite an interesting way of showing it. Just in New York, they have attempted to shut down the subway system and have successfully closed an affordable public university — not exactly where the Michael Bloombergs and George Soroses of the city spend their time.

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