Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2011

Foreign Policy Magazine’s Contemptible Attack on Netanyahu

The editors of Foreign Policy magazine would do well to read Evelyn’s post (and the Haaretz article linked therein), because this year’s installment of the magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list is a bit of a farce. The list is always intended to be provocative, but this year’s reads like a parody of itself.

Clocking in together at No. 28 are the renowned intellectual giants we call Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but who are known around the Middle East as Arafat’s understudy and an unpopular failed reformer. Israel, which is not only an inspiration to actual Arab thinkers and reformers, as Evelyn noted, but which also produces, as it did again this year, Nobel laureates aplenty, also appears on the list. But it’s all the way at No. 63, and the spot belongs to former Mossad director Meir Dagan. He earned his placement for, as the article announces, “being the last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu.” Where to begin?

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The editors of Foreign Policy magazine would do well to read Evelyn’s post (and the Haaretz article linked therein), because this year’s installment of the magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list is a bit of a farce. The list is always intended to be provocative, but this year’s reads like a parody of itself.

Clocking in together at No. 28 are the renowned intellectual giants we call Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but who are known around the Middle East as Arafat’s understudy and an unpopular failed reformer. Israel, which is not only an inspiration to actual Arab thinkers and reformers, as Evelyn noted, but which also produces, as it did again this year, Nobel laureates aplenty, also appears on the list. But it’s all the way at No. 63, and the spot belongs to former Mossad director Meir Dagan. He earned his placement for, as the article announces, “being the last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu.” Where to begin?

We can start with Netanyahu, a democratically elected premier of a free country who is spoken about in Foreign Policy as if he were Hugo Chavez. There’s no need to repeat, yet again, just how misguided the media’s caricature of Netanyahu is, but between investment in the West Bank, removal of road blocks, willingness to agree to unprecedented settlement freezes, and willingness to negotiate without preconditions, he’s certainly done far more for the peace process than Abbas. But Dagan as the “last man in Israel to stand up to Benjamin Netanyahu”? Did FP mistakenly publish an article it was holding for its April Fools’ issue?

Though I don’t often recommend this, FP’s editors might want to pick up Haaretz, which is daily “standing up” to Bibi. They can sit in on a session of the Knesset, to watch Israeli legislators say much worse things to Bibi’s face than Foreign Policy does on a regular basis. They can, apparently, just ask President Obama or Nicolas Sarkozy how they feel about Netanyahu, and they will witness some more of the same. They can check in with any of the Israeli human rights organizations, which travel around the world begging for donor cash so they can afford to continue “standing up” to Israel’s prime minister.

They can watch Israel’s television news programs… you get the point. The world, all day every day, is filled with brave men and women, fresh from their morning diet of the New York Times and Guardian editorial pages, “standing up” to Bibi. And by the way, as anyone who has ever followed politics well understands, Meir Dagan is a capable, intelligent public servant who is playing politics no more and no less than the authors of our own 2007 National Intelligence Estimates were when they tried to structure the report in order to influence American policy toward Iran. That doesn’t mean Dagan is wrong (as the NIE authors clearly were). But let’s try to keep our heads out of the clouds on this one.

Additionally, the editors failed to mention Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article on Iran, in which he expressed the view that Obama (who holds the No. 11 spot on the list) takes the Iranian nuclear program just as seriously as the Netanyahu government does, and is also willing to use force to stop it. Shouldn’t someone, in the opinion of FP’s editors, be standing up to the president on this?

As for Fayyad, the verdict on his reforms came in more than a year ago: they failed in miserable fashion. Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Center went to the West Bank and asked himself the following question: Are the Palestinians any closer to a state thanks to Fayyad’s reforms? “Unfortunately not,” he wrote. “In fact, they are farther.”

One more notable aspect of the list: the “thinkers” on the list were asked, “America or China?” Most of the Arab revolutionaries participating in the Arab Spring chose America. Fayyad politely declined to choose.

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Arab Protests About Jerusalem Renovation Reveal the Real Obstacle to Peace

Those Middle East observers who prefer to focus on Israel’s actions or inactions as the only source of tension in the region generally ignore the greatest obstacle to peace or even coexistence: the deep and abiding hatred for Jews that has become entrenched in Arab political culture. No better example of the utter irrationality of that culture and its obsessive nature exists than how the news of the renovation of a ramp leading to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount has become the subject of intense controversy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that plans to demolish a temporary structure that allowed access to the Temple Mount would be indefinitely postponed due to the threats of violence not only from Palestinians but also from Egypt and Jordan. As with the case of previous efforts to either modernize or create better access for this historic and sacred area, any actions by Israel have been regarded by denizens of the so-called “Arab street” as a conspiratorial plot to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount or otherwise offend Muslim sensibilities. The fact that even an anti-Israel institution like UNESCO — which has routinely denounced archeological digs in the city by Israelis — regards the ramp demolition as in no way compromising Muslim rights or shrines is meaningless to Israel’s Arab foes. While frustrating for Israel, these threats ought to clearly illustrate to the world the irrational aspect of Arab and Islamic critique of Israel. The resentment the Temple Mount project has generated is rooted in a belief that Jews have no right to be in Jerusalem. It has nothing to do with anything Netanyahu or his government might do.

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Those Middle East observers who prefer to focus on Israel’s actions or inactions as the only source of tension in the region generally ignore the greatest obstacle to peace or even coexistence: the deep and abiding hatred for Jews that has become entrenched in Arab political culture. No better example of the utter irrationality of that culture and its obsessive nature exists than how the news of the renovation of a ramp leading to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount has become the subject of intense controversy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that plans to demolish a temporary structure that allowed access to the Temple Mount would be indefinitely postponed due to the threats of violence not only from Palestinians but also from Egypt and Jordan. As with the case of previous efforts to either modernize or create better access for this historic and sacred area, any actions by Israel have been regarded by denizens of the so-called “Arab street” as a conspiratorial plot to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount or otherwise offend Muslim sensibilities. The fact that even an anti-Israel institution like UNESCO — which has routinely denounced archeological digs in the city by Israelis — regards the ramp demolition as in no way compromising Muslim rights or shrines is meaningless to Israel’s Arab foes. While frustrating for Israel, these threats ought to clearly illustrate to the world the irrational aspect of Arab and Islamic critique of Israel. The resentment the Temple Mount project has generated is rooted in a belief that Jews have no right to be in Jerusalem. It has nothing to do with anything Netanyahu or his government might do.

Renovation of the ramp, which is a temporary structure put up in 2003 after an earthquake and a severe winter storm caused the old access ramp to collapse, in no way harms the mosques on the Temple Mount or interferes with Muslim rights to worship there. Indeed, the carrying on about anything Israel does with the adjoining Western Wall or the tunnels leading to it have never been about any harm to Arabs or Muslims. After all, in an act of magnanimity that has never been equaled in the annals of war, Israel handed over control of the Temple Mount — which is the most sacred spot in Judaism — to the Muslim Wakf almost immediately after the city was unified in 1967. For the first time in history, one of the contestants for control of the city did not destroy the shrines of other faiths or convert them to other uses as Christian and Muslim conquerors had done. But Israel got no credit for Moshe Dayan’s attempt to appease Islamic sensibilities. In the decades since this gesture, the Wakf has redoubled its efforts to foment violence. Even more to the point, it has conducted excavations on the historic site that resulted in the trashing of antiquities.

The only period when all religions were allowed free access to their holy sites in the city’s history has been the last 44 years of Jewish sovereignty. Yet Muslims still react to any Jewish presence in the Old City much as they did in 1929 when extremists fomented rumors of a Jewish plot to destroy the Temple Mount mosques that resulted in riots that took the lives of many Jews, including the massacre of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron.

It speaks volumes about the way Israel remains the boogeyman of Islamic culture that even in the midst of the convulsions that have racked Egypt in recent weeks, demonstrators in Tahir Square found time to obsess about a harmless ramp renovation project in Jerusalem. Though seemingly a minor affair when compared to the great conflicts over territory and the struggle for democracy, the threats over the ramp allow us to see the deep-seated nature of anti-Israel bias.

If there is to be any hope for peace between Israel and its neighbors it will have to wait until there is a sea change in the political culture of a Muslim world still stuck in their irrational hatred for the Jews.

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Frank’s Retirement Bad Sign for Democrats

Barney Frank just gave an assortment of reasons for his decision to end his 30-year congressional career: his concerns about redistricting, a feeling that he could be more effective outside of politics, a sudden desire to finish his long- abandoned Harvard Ph.D thesis. It’s true that Frank’s reelection campaign would be a challenge, since redistricting would strip him of some of his most liberal constituents. As he mentioned, it will also be difficult for him to campaign in new areas. Frank only won his last race by 11 percent – which suggested the 2012 one could be a toss-up:

Frank’s 2010 campaign manager, Kevin Sowyrda, said a key factor in the congressman’s decision was that the newly drawn up congressional districts strip away New Bedford from Frank. The South Coast, heavily Democratic, pro-union fishing city has long been a prime power base for Frank, but his new district now includes several more moderate suburban towns, such as Walpole, rather than New Bedford.

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Barney Frank just gave an assortment of reasons for his decision to end his 30-year congressional career: his concerns about redistricting, a feeling that he could be more effective outside of politics, a sudden desire to finish his long- abandoned Harvard Ph.D thesis. It’s true that Frank’s reelection campaign would be a challenge, since redistricting would strip him of some of his most liberal constituents. As he mentioned, it will also be difficult for him to campaign in new areas. Frank only won his last race by 11 percent – which suggested the 2012 one could be a toss-up:

Frank’s 2010 campaign manager, Kevin Sowyrda, said a key factor in the congressman’s decision was that the newly drawn up congressional districts strip away New Bedford from Frank. The South Coast, heavily Democratic, pro-union fishing city has long been a prime power base for Frank, but his new district now includes several more moderate suburban towns, such as Walpole, rather than New Bedford.

But is that really the only reason? The race might have been a close one. But would Frank, who would have been in line for head of the Financial Services Committee if the Democrats won back the House, really have walked away from reelection if he thought his party had a chance at regaining the House majority? It seems unlikely. Few people expect the Democrats will win the House in 2012, but they’d undoubtedly have a better shot with Frank running in that seat instead of an unknown candidate.

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Stop Harboring Illusions About Pakistan

The only thing surprising about the latest blow-up between the U.S. and Pakistan is that anyone is surprised about it. It seems that Pakistani soldiers fired on U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the Afghan side of the border. The U.S. forces called in air strikes which reportedly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has responded furiously by closing—temporarily one assumes—the supply line from Karachi that carries roughly 40 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also curtailed cooperation in the wider war against al-Qaeda, announcing it will kick the CIA out of an airfield that has been used to support drone strikes. In short, instead of cracking down on their own soldiers who are firing on ostensible “allies,” the Pakistani generals are attacking those very “allies” for doing what any other military force in the world would do when fired upon—i.e. return fire.

The use of quotes for the word “allies” should signal how skeptical I am that the Pakistani generals really are our allies. As I have been arguing for a while, the Pakistani military (which effectively controls the state’s security policy) is more our enemy than our friend. The military’s apparent objective—reinstituting Taliban (or possibly Haqqani) rule in Afghanistan—cannot be squared with our objective, which is the institutionalization of representative democracy and the creation of a durable pro-Western state. There are, to be sure, some areas of overlap—neither the Pakistani army nor the U.S. government would like to see the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) take power in Islamabad. But then even enemies such as the U.S. and Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China could occasionally cooperate against mutual foes. The same is true with Pakistan—as long as we do not harbor any illusions about the transactional nature of the relationship and do not expect more from our “ally” than it will give.

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The only thing surprising about the latest blow-up between the U.S. and Pakistan is that anyone is surprised about it. It seems that Pakistani soldiers fired on U.S. and Afghan forces operating on the Afghan side of the border. The U.S. forces called in air strikes which reportedly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has responded furiously by closing—temporarily one assumes—the supply line from Karachi that carries roughly 40 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also curtailed cooperation in the wider war against al-Qaeda, announcing it will kick the CIA out of an airfield that has been used to support drone strikes. In short, instead of cracking down on their own soldiers who are firing on ostensible “allies,” the Pakistani generals are attacking those very “allies” for doing what any other military force in the world would do when fired upon—i.e. return fire.

The use of quotes for the word “allies” should signal how skeptical I am that the Pakistani generals really are our allies. As I have been arguing for a while, the Pakistani military (which effectively controls the state’s security policy) is more our enemy than our friend. The military’s apparent objective—reinstituting Taliban (or possibly Haqqani) rule in Afghanistan—cannot be squared with our objective, which is the institutionalization of representative democracy and the creation of a durable pro-Western state. There are, to be sure, some areas of overlap—neither the Pakistani army nor the U.S. government would like to see the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) take power in Islamabad. But then even enemies such as the U.S. and Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China could occasionally cooperate against mutual foes. The same is true with Pakistan—as long as we do not harbor any illusions about the transactional nature of the relationship and do not expect more from our “ally” than it will give.

Yet, we have been operating with illusions about Pakistan for years. Even after Admiral Mike Mullen blew the whistle on the close relationship between the Pakistani army and the Haqqani Network—one of the world’s worst terrorist groups, which is directly responsible for killing Americans in Afghanistan—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton journeyed to Islamabad to seek Pakistan’s help in brokering a peace deal in Afghanistan. This is like asking the arsonist to put out the fire. It’s not going to happen unless you place overwhelming pressure on the arsonist, and that’s something we haven’t done to date. We have been treating Pakistan as a wayward friend which can be brought about with some tough love—rather than grasping that Pakistan is actually an inveterate enemy which can occasionally be coerced into doing our bidding.

There are no easy answers in our difficult relationship with Pakistan, but as a start, we should at least grasp the situation accurately and cease to be surprised when this purported “ally” operates in the most hostile fashion.

 

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Leaked Emails Raise Questions About NYT’s ClimateGate Coverage

A new batch of stolen emails from the East Anglia climate research center was released last week. Anthony Watts and JunkScience are doing some of the best up-to-the-minute blog coverage, and if you feel like digging through the 5,000+ emails, EcoWho has compiled them into a handy search engine.

The most striking take-away from the emails is how obsessed the climatologists seemed to be with media coverage – almost as if they were public relations associates as opposed to scientists. The extent of cooperation between the climate researchers and some friendly news outlets is also fascinating. (David Rose has an excellent article exploring the connections between East Anglia and the BBC.)

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A new batch of stolen emails from the East Anglia climate research center was released last week. Anthony Watts and JunkScience are doing some of the best up-to-the-minute blog coverage, and if you feel like digging through the 5,000+ emails, EcoWho has compiled them into a handy search engine.

The most striking take-away from the emails is how obsessed the climatologists seemed to be with media coverage – almost as if they were public relations associates as opposed to scientists. The extent of cooperation between the climate researchers and some friendly news outlets is also fascinating. (David Rose has an excellent article exploring the connections between East Anglia and the BBC.)

One New York Times writer, Andy Revkin, pops up numerous times in the emails. During the time the conversations took place, Revkin was a supposedly objective reporter on the environmental beat for the Times. He became an opinion blogger for the paper after leaving the news section at the end of 2009, which seems to be a better fit after reading some of his emails.

In one 2006 exchange between Revkin and the scientists, the reporter makes his disdain for Sen. James Inhofe – and “a big chunk” of the American public – clear, while promoting his book on the Arctic:

[Sen. Inhofe] still speaks to and for a big chunk of America — people whose understanding of science and engagement with such issues is so slight that they happily sit in pre-conceived positions. [T]hat might be one reason he doesn’t like [my] book, which is devoid of easily-attacked spin and scare tactics and lets the science point the way itself. [I]‘m just trying to be sure that folks like all of you take an extra couple seconds to use Inhofe against himself and forward the blog/book link to a few people who might not be aware of this book — the first on Arctic and global climate change for all readers 10 and up — and of Inhofe’s moves.

At the time, Inhofe had been critical of Revkin’s book, which promoted the theory of human-caused climate change, and said it undermined his objectivity as a reporter. Revkin responded to the senator publicly, though in a much less condescending manner. But the snideness in this private email isn’t nearly as bad as the fact that Revkin – at the time, an allegedly objective, neutral environmental reporter for the New York Times – seemed to be asking his highly ideological sources to back him up in this fight against Inhofe and other skeptics.

In another email, Revkin and climate scientist Michael Schlesinger appear to muse about how much better the world would be if only Al Gore had won the 2000 election.

“[H]ad the 5-to-4 ‘hanging-chad’ decision of the U.S. Supreme Court swung the other way, the U.S. would have confronted the challenges of human-induced climate change these past 6 years, rather than deny and avoid them,” Schlessinger wrote to Revkin in the 2007 email. “And, we would not now be mired in Iraq.”

“[A] very very very poignant and true point, [M]ichael,” responded Revkin. “[I] have a song called “a very fine line” that explores all those facets of life like that.” (In addition to his journalistic talents, Revkin is also a musician.)

In other emails, Revkin is dismissive of climate change skeptics, people who probably should have been an integral part of his beat. “[W]hat’s amusing, in a way, is how the ‘skeptics’ jump on a cold patch as evidence of global cooling but attack enviros for highlighting warming trends,” he wrote in February 2008.

In another message, he informed the scientists:

Because the ‘Average Joe’ out there is only hearing radio soundbites about the sun turning off, or cable-news coverage or some stray TV image of snow in Baghdad (and particularly with a big ‘skeptics conference’ coming next week), I think it’s important to do a story putting a cold stretch in context against the evidence for the long-term warming trajectory from greenhouse forcing. Would need input from you by end of Thursday ideally.

Revkin’s view of climate change skeptics at the time couldn’t be clearer: he thought they were uneducated morons, and took it as his mission to enlighten them with the facts as determined by himself and his fellow global warming advocates. Revkin speaks even more candidly about how he views his “job” in a 2007 email to NASA scientist Jim Hansen and others (emphasis added):

[A] key take-home point, please, is that this story was written mainly for the benefit of the 10s of millions of disengaged or doubtful or simply under-educated Americans out there for whom it is NEWS that the only discourse now is among folks who believe human-forced climate change is a huge problem. (as Jim Hansen said in my story, exclamation point included!)

the ‘hotter’ voices are doing their job well. i’m doing mine.

Which may explain why the scientists seem to view Revkin as more of an ally than a reporter in some of the emails among themselves. “I’ll let all of you know if there are any other reasonable interview requests from folks we trust (e.g. Andy Revkin, etc.),” wrote climate scientist David Thompson to his colleague Phil Jones in one message.

Some may argue that it’s unfair to criticize Revkin for his private comments, and point out that none of these emails on its own could be characterized as an egregious ethical lapse. Maybe. But combined, they point to a pattern. There’s also this: Revkin was the same Times reporter who refused to publish the first trove of ClimateGate emails in 2009, claiming they were off-limits because they were “private” conversations (a standard the paper evidently hasn’t applied to other leaked documents). He also dismissed the scandal as meritless.

As one of the leading national environmental reporters, Revkin had a huge amount of influence over whether the ClimateGate controversy went anywhere. He ended up doing all he could to snuff it out. Should the fact that he wasn’t just involved in the emails, but also seemed to portray himself as an ideological ally to the scientists, raise ethical questions about the Times’ coverage of the first ClimateGate? I’d say so. And maybe Revkin’s departure from the news section one month after the emails leaked in 2009 means that, internally, the Times thought so as well.

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Editorials Do Not a President Make

As we wrote yesterday, the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich for president was good news for the former’s speaker’s campaign but said even more about the animus that hard line conservatives (such as the paper’s publisher Joseph W. McQuaid), have for Mitt Romney. It also changed the conversation about Gingrich from the debate about his controversial endorsement of a complicated scheme of amnesty for illegal immigrants to speculation about whether or not his growing support means Romney’s frontrunner status is in jeopardy.

McQuaid’s vow to hammer Romney on a regular basis in the pages of his paper until the New Hampshire primary is no empty threat. But aside from the signal the front-page editorial sent about antipathy for the former Massachusetts governor, it’s worth asking just how important any endorsement or editorial from a print newspaper is these days. Though the Union Leader’s positions on the candidates are an important element of the history of that first-in-the-nation primary, we need to remember the journalistic landscape has changed enormously even in the four years since McQuaid backed John McCain. Though Gingrich is right to be pleased, the Union Leader’s impact on the race will probably turn out to be minimal.

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As we wrote yesterday, the Union Leader’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich for president was good news for the former’s speaker’s campaign but said even more about the animus that hard line conservatives (such as the paper’s publisher Joseph W. McQuaid), have for Mitt Romney. It also changed the conversation about Gingrich from the debate about his controversial endorsement of a complicated scheme of amnesty for illegal immigrants to speculation about whether or not his growing support means Romney’s frontrunner status is in jeopardy.

McQuaid’s vow to hammer Romney on a regular basis in the pages of his paper until the New Hampshire primary is no empty threat. But aside from the signal the front-page editorial sent about antipathy for the former Massachusetts governor, it’s worth asking just how important any endorsement or editorial from a print newspaper is these days. Though the Union Leader’s positions on the candidates are an important element of the history of that first-in-the-nation primary, we need to remember the journalistic landscape has changed enormously even in the four years since McQuaid backed John McCain. Though Gingrich is right to be pleased, the Union Leader’s impact on the race will probably turn out to be minimal.

First, let’s remember that although the paper got a good deal of the credit for giving McCain a crucial leg up on his way to both a victory in New Hampshire and the nomination in 2008, the Union Leader has backed more losers than winners in GOP primaries. The only candidates it backed who actually won the nomination were McCain and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Anyone who thinks it can hand anyone the New Hampshire Republican primary, let alone the GOP nomination, should ask Presidents John Ashbrook (1972 over incumbent President Richard Nixon), Pete Dupont (1988), Pat Buchanan (1992 and 1996) and Steve Forbes (2000) about it. Though it is considered a bellwether of conservative opinion, it was never, even at the height of the importance of print journalism, the decisive or even primary factor in any election result.

Even more important, it needs to be understood that the importance of daily newspaper endorsements is greatly diminished in the age of the Internet. Just as the national broadcast media used to be a function of only three networks, each publishing market was once the sole domain of the mighty daily newspapers that dominated their regions often without much competition. Online journalism with its multiplicity of outlets and opinions has made a daily like the Union Leader just one voice among many competing for readers and influence. Even in the four years since 2008, the importance of blogs and online publications has been greatly enhanced. That is especially true of politics. That makes the Union Leader’s claim of unique influence over New Hampshire conservatives a bit overblown, as readers there are just as likely to be reading other non-local online outlets as they are to be hanging on every word published by McQuaid.

Though the daily pounding Romney takes from the Union Leader will be an irritant to his campaign, it can’t transform Gingrich into a credible presidential contender if the voters decide it is time for his bubble to burst. We can expect it to claim the lion’s share of the credit if Gingrich does well in New Hampshire and ultimately upsets Romney, but it’s more likely than not its endorsement will wind up as much of a footnote to political history as many of its other losing bets.

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A Light Unto the Nations

One of the most popular motifs among the anti-Israel crowd these days is that “the only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all: It’s an “apartheid state,” a “democracy for Jews only,” or at the very least, a state that’s constantly passing “anti-democratic” laws. So it’s worth considering what people who actually live in undemocratic states think of this claim. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz opened one of his reports from Cairo last Friday as follows:

“We want a democracy like in Israel.” I heard this sentence twice in January, once in a shopping center in Tunis and a second time on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo. When I tell people that neither of the men who said this to me were aware of my being a reporter for an Israeli newspaper, I am usually greeted with disbelief.

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One of the most popular motifs among the anti-Israel crowd these days is that “the only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all: It’s an “apartheid state,” a “democracy for Jews only,” or at the very least, a state that’s constantly passing “anti-democratic” laws. So it’s worth considering what people who actually live in undemocratic states think of this claim. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz opened one of his reports from Cairo last Friday as follows:

“We want a democracy like in Israel.” I heard this sentence twice in January, once in a shopping center in Tunis and a second time on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo. When I tell people that neither of the men who said this to me were aware of my being a reporter for an Israeli newspaper, I am usually greeted with disbelief.

As Pfeffer noted, it may seem “strange at first that Arab demonstrators are using the hated Zionist entity as their democratic ideal, rather than say Sweden or
Holland,” but that’s a natural side effect of the Arab media’s obsession with Israel: Because the Arab media reports constantly on Israel, Arab demonstrators
know more about the Zionist enemy than they do about other democracies.

And while most of what they broadcast is soldiers shooting at Palestinians, over the last few years they have also seen the Katsav and Olmert trials [of an ex-president and an ex-prime minister], generals and ministers being hauled in front of civilian commissions of inquiry following military failures, and the wave of social protest on Rothschild Boulevard last summer…

Arabs see a state where a president and prime minister are held to account for their crimes and failures, and hundreds of thousands can take to the streets calling for their removal without fearing they will not return home alive. And while the Arab broadcasters do not work in Israel totally unhindered … their offices have not been shut down and their employees targeted and attacked in the way they have been in just about every Arab country.

Liberal American Jews often voice profound discomfort and disappointment with Israel, and one of their most common complaints, as a fellow immigrant to Israel once told me in explaining her decision to return to America, is that Israel was supposed to be “a light unto the nations,” and it isn’t.

Certainly, Israel isn’t perfect; no state is. Like most Israelis, I could fill reams with all the flaws I’d like to see corrected. But it’s easy to get so focused on the flaws that you miss the big picture: Israel is a shining beacon of democracy in a region where democracy is otherwise unknown, an example so powerful that even citizens of countries where Israel is overwhelmingly hated cite it as the model of what they would like their own countries to become.

If that isn’t being “a light unto the nations,” I don’t know what is.

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DNC Attacks Romney as Flip-Flopper

The video ad was created by the DNC, but it could just as easily have been put together by Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Freedomworks, or any of Mitt Romney’s other opponents on the right. It’s not really a general election attack, but one designed to wound Romney in the primaries, and potentially help buoy a less electable Republican candidate to the nomination:

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The video ad was created by the DNC, but it could just as easily have been put together by Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Freedomworks, or any of Mitt Romney’s other opponents on the right. It’s not really a general election attack, but one designed to wound Romney in the primaries, and potentially help buoy a less electable Republican candidate to the nomination:

Mike Allen calls the ad “brutal,” and he’s right. But I wonder how Republicans will react to seeing a lot of their own arguments against Romney coming out of the DNC’s mouth? Will the attack be just as effective? Or will it cause some conservatives to want to jump to Romney’s defense? After all, some of the “flip-flop” instances that the DNC mentions – i.e. the idea he knowingly hired illegal immigrants – are just downright unfair.

The ad will reportedly be airing in six battleground states. But the DNC is also holding viewing events in key GOP primary states, including New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida. And they’ve created a website, called MittVMitt.com, to reach out to voters online. If the DNC wants to go all-out with this attack, now is the time to do it. Once the general election rolls around, attacking any GOP candidate as a flip-flopper will be risky, since Obama has plenty of his own unfulfilled promises and inconsistencies from his 2008 campaign.

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B’Tselem to Share Award with Terrorist

If there was ever a moment that captured the moral rot at the core of the human rights community, surely it is this new development: the Danish PL Foundation has awarded its annual human rights prize jointly to the Israeli group B’Tselem and to the Palestinian group Al Haq.

The award will be presented in Copenhagen a few days from now, but only Jessica Montell, the head of B’Tselem, will be on hand to receive it. The head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, cannot fly to Europe, or in fact anywhere — because he is banned from travel by both Israel and Jordan owing to his extensive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an infamous Palestinian terrorist group.

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If there was ever a moment that captured the moral rot at the core of the human rights community, surely it is this new development: the Danish PL Foundation has awarded its annual human rights prize jointly to the Israeli group B’Tselem and to the Palestinian group Al Haq.

The award will be presented in Copenhagen a few days from now, but only Jessica Montell, the head of B’Tselem, will be on hand to receive it. The head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, cannot fly to Europe, or in fact anywhere — because he is banned from travel by both Israel and Jordan owing to his extensive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an infamous Palestinian terrorist group.

Remarkably, Montell will accept the award, and so proud is she to be sharing a prize with a terrorist that B’Tselem sent out a press release announcing it.

Al Haq, for its part, barely pretends to be interested in human rights. It advances spurious war crimes allegations against the Jewish state, promotes the worst kinds of anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) activism, such as the Russell Tribunal and the Durban Conference, is deeply involved in the BDS and lawfare movements, and seeks the indictment of Israeli officials in European courts — goals, of course, often shared by Montell and B’Tselem.

The willingness of Montell to share an award with a terrorist is but a small window into the perverse world of the “human rights” community in Israel. The Palestinian groups specialize not in promoting peace and tolerance, but in attacking the legitimacy of Zionism and tarnishing Israel’s image in the world. Greatly enamored of international prosecutions of Israelis, I cannot recall a single instance in which one of the groups recommended the same treatment for a Palestinian. Tellingly, none of them takes a prominent stand against Palestinian terrorism or defends the human rights of Israelis not to be victims of attacks — and in the case of Al Haq, terrorism is in fact endorsed as legitimate “resistance.”

And they are joined, sadly, by groups such as B’Tselem, which call themselves Israeli, but cannot seem to find any actual Israelis willing to support them. They thus depend for their livelihood on donations from foreign governments and foundations. It is a profitable arrangement for everyone involved: the Europeans get a fig leaf of Israeli cover for the advancement of an anti-Israel agenda, and radicals such as Montell enjoy prominence they would never achieve without their careers being underwritten by foreign benefactors.

It is this state of affairs that the Knesset sought to begin addressing through recently-proposed NGO legislation. No other democracy would tolerate the flourishing of a foreign-funded political war against its legitimacy from within its own borders, and while the new bills have their shortcomings — and some do not deserve passage in their present form — the reasons they have been proposed are legitimate and serious. The Washington Post editorial page, normally a sober source of commentary on Israel, editorialized against these anti-NGO bills last week, specifically citing B’Tselem as an example of a foreign-funded group that only has Israel’s best interests at heart. The editorialists at the Post would do well to pay closer attention. Something has gone horribly wrong when the head of a human rights organization is proud to share a prize with a leader of a terrorist group.

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The Gathering Storm

Last week was full of bad financial news coming out of Europe.

* Belgium’s debt was downgraded from AA+ to AA with a negative outlook.

* Italy had to pay 6.5 percent to sell six-month bills and 7.8 percent on two-year notes.

* Germany–with the best credit in Europe–was able to sell only 3.6 billion euros in ten-year bonds out of 6 billion euro’s worth offered. German interest rates shot up afterwards from 1.98 percent to 2.09.

* Britain’s Foreign Office is preparing contingency plans for aiding British subjects abroad if the euro collapses and riots erupt.

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Last week was full of bad financial news coming out of Europe.

* Belgium’s debt was downgraded from AA+ to AA with a negative outlook.

* Italy had to pay 6.5 percent to sell six-month bills and 7.8 percent on two-year notes.

* Germany–with the best credit in Europe–was able to sell only 3.6 billion euros in ten-year bonds out of 6 billion euro’s worth offered. German interest rates shot up afterwards from 1.98 percent to 2.09.

* Britain’s Foreign Office is preparing contingency plans for aiding British subjects abroad if the euro collapses and riots erupt.

In response, European stock markets tanked and Wall Street had its worst Thanksgiving week since 1932–not exactly a banner year for the stock market–and the Dow has given back the lion’s share of its October gains.

If there is much more of this, we could have another global financial panic on our hands only three years since the last one. That would be devastating. As Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal points out, the key is Germany. Germany has by far the largest economy in Europe and is indispensable to any bail-out plan. But, deeply scared by the hyperinflation of 1923 that wiped out the financial assets of the middle class, it has long been the best-behaved of all the major powers when it comes to fiscal matters and has been talking tough about the current crisis. However, as Jenkins points out, there are signs it is quietly preparing to change its tune:

Europe today is militarily toothless as well as compulsively compliant. Wait for it: When it’s everybody against the Germans over money-printing, the Germans will not merely cave but bustle officiously to the front of the parade for money-printing.

A month ago, as far as the eye could see, Germany was to be the last good credit in Europe, able to bail out all the others. Well, that illusion has liquidated itself in a hurry. Investors sent a message at Berlin’s Wednesday bond sale, sitting on their hands for $3 billion being offered. The message: Markets are getting ready to punish Germany for the sin of its neighbors’ overborrowing, unless Germany allows the sin of money-printing to paper over those sins in the short term.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks. We are a long way from being out of the woods that the world economy entered in 2008.

 

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Left’s Critique of West Bank Settlers Doesn’t Stop at the Green Line

The standard critique of Israel’s settlement movement from the Zionist left has been to point out that attempting to assert sovereignty over the West Bank could lead to an Arab majority. The argument is that this would enable the Palestinians to succeed in wiping out the Jewish state using demography rather than invasion or terror. It’s a point of view many Israelis share, but the Palestinian refusal to make peace has continued to frustrate the wishes of most Jews for a two-state solution. But the dislike of the settlers goes a lot deeper than mere demographic arguments. As Gershom Gorenberg’s piece in the New York Times “Sunday Review” today illustrates, the passion to buttress the Jewish presence in any part of the country, whether on the wrong side of the Green Line or not, is what is really bugging the left.

Gorenberg, a veteran Israeli journalist whose animus for the settlers and Israel’s government have made him a regular presence in liberal American publications, takes his familiar attacks on the right to new levels in a piece in which he claims efforts to ensure there is a Jewish majority in the Israeli city of Acre as well as the Galilee are no more defensible than the settlers’ attempts to establish Israeli beachheads in the West Bank. For Gorenberg, the push to ensure that parts of pre-June 1967 Israel will not be lost to the Arabs is also “racist.” Indeed, he worries that even if a two-state solution forces some of the Jews currently living in the West Bank to relocate inside the Green Line, they will take their Zionist fervor with them–leading to conflicts that will replicate the “price tag” attacks on Arabs that leftists see as the inevitable product of settler ideology. This distorted argument not only turns liberal Israeli arguments upside down, it also betrays the mixed feelings some on the left seem to have for Zionism.

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The standard critique of Israel’s settlement movement from the Zionist left has been to point out that attempting to assert sovereignty over the West Bank could lead to an Arab majority. The argument is that this would enable the Palestinians to succeed in wiping out the Jewish state using demography rather than invasion or terror. It’s a point of view many Israelis share, but the Palestinian refusal to make peace has continued to frustrate the wishes of most Jews for a two-state solution. But the dislike of the settlers goes a lot deeper than mere demographic arguments. As Gershom Gorenberg’s piece in the New York Times “Sunday Review” today illustrates, the passion to buttress the Jewish presence in any part of the country, whether on the wrong side of the Green Line or not, is what is really bugging the left.

Gorenberg, a veteran Israeli journalist whose animus for the settlers and Israel’s government have made him a regular presence in liberal American publications, takes his familiar attacks on the right to new levels in a piece in which he claims efforts to ensure there is a Jewish majority in the Israeli city of Acre as well as the Galilee are no more defensible than the settlers’ attempts to establish Israeli beachheads in the West Bank. For Gorenberg, the push to ensure that parts of pre-June 1967 Israel will not be lost to the Arabs is also “racist.” Indeed, he worries that even if a two-state solution forces some of the Jews currently living in the West Bank to relocate inside the Green Line, they will take their Zionist fervor with them–leading to conflicts that will replicate the “price tag” attacks on Arabs that leftists see as the inevitable product of settler ideology. This distorted argument not only turns liberal Israeli arguments upside down, it also betrays the mixed feelings some on the left seem to have for Zionism.

As with many accounts of events on the West Bank that treat the rare outbreaks of Jewish violence against Arabs as the only story worth reporting, Gorenberg’s attempt to paint all settlers with the brush of the “price tag” crimes is both factually incorrect as well as unfair. Anti-Jewish violence in the West Bank is a daily occurrence that liberal journalists either choose to ignore or rationalize as justified, because they see the presence of Israelis in the territories as inherently illegitimate. The same mindset has led the press to treat a regrettable case of arson against a mosque inside Israel as a harbinger of pogroms against Arab citizens. As with the West Bank, far more numerous incidents — especially in the Galilee — in which Israeli Arabs have targeted Jews are treated as either unimportant or just ignored.

Rather than the malevolent attitudes of West Bank settlers infecting ordinary Israelis, as Gorenberg fears, what has actually happened in the last 18 years since the Oslo Accords empowered Fatah terrorists in the territories is that Israeli Arabs have become radicalized. The political culture of the people who now dub themselves Palestinians with Israeli citizenship has become a reflection of the hatred and rejectionism that characterizes the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Gorenberg’s disgust for attempts to reinforce Jewish numbers in the Galilee also contradicts a basic tenant of the Israeli left. For decades, even those who agreed Jews ought to have the right to live in the West Bank because it is the heart of the historic Jewish homeland argued that it made more sense to put more Jewish resources into the battle to maintain a Jewish majority in the Galilee and the Negev. If such efforts are now to be treated as being as illegitimate as the campaign to restore Jewish life to Judea and Samaria, it is difficult to see how Gorenberg imagines Israel can retain a Jewish majority.

This reflects the cognitive dissonance on the left. Though writers like Gorenberg claim to support the idea of a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority, the anti-Zionist logic that brands the Jewish presence in the West Bank as racist colonialism can just as easily be applied to any spot inside the Green Line. Israel’s enemies view Tel Aviv as being as much an illegal settlement as the most remote hilltop encampment of right-wing Jewish extremists. The fact that Gorenberg views Jewish community-building in Acre and the Galilee with the same disgust as West Bank settlements illustrates all too clearly just how out of touch he is with both reality and the views of Israel’s moderate Zionist majority.

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Winds of Change in the Levant

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati says he will resign his post if the parliament doesn’t agree to fund the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating and prosecuting the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah is undoubtedly furious. When the United Nations indicted four of its members for that spectacular act of terrorism in the capital (the bomb that killed Hariri weighed more than 2,000 pounds and changed the direction of that country’s history), it brought down the elected government and replaced Hariri’s son Saad with Mikati. Yet its very own hand-picked replacement refuses to comply with the one task he was ordered to carry out.

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Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati says he will resign his post if the parliament doesn’t agree to fund the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating and prosecuting the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah is undoubtedly furious. When the United Nations indicted four of its members for that spectacular act of terrorism in the capital (the bomb that killed Hariri weighed more than 2,000 pounds and changed the direction of that country’s history), it brought down the elected government and replaced Hariri’s son Saad with Mikati. Yet its very own hand-picked replacement refuses to comply with the one task he was ordered to carry out.

Furious as Hezbollah must be, it probably isn’t surprised. Earlier this year, Wikileaks published a leaked diplomatic cable that quoted Mikati describing Hezbollah as “cancerous” and wishing to see its state-within-a-state destroyed.

Syria, Iran and Hezbollah don’t have as many genuine allies in Lebanon’s government as it appears. A large number of Lebanon’s elite only works with them and for them because they have guns jammed into their backs. The years-long murder and intimidation campaign against Lebanese elected officials and journalists during and after the 2005 Cedar Revolution yielded results.

But that partially bogus alliance-under-duress is slowly unraveling now that the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad appears to be circling the drain. God only knows what the political map of the Eastern Mediterranean will look like this time next year, but it’s not remotely likely to look the same as it has.

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Union Leader Endorsement Anoints Gingrich as the Right’s “Not Romney”

It is arguable whether any editorial stand by a print newspaper counts for all that much anymore. But if any endorsement can be said to be meaningful, then it must be admitted the Union Leader’s stand on the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary is one. Which means the outlook for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign is looking a bit sunnier today after the front-page embrace of the former Speaker of the House by publisher Joseph W. McQuaid.

Though Gingrich and his backers will spin this endorsement as a tribute to his good qualities, you don’t have to read too far between the lines to see the newspaper’s decision speaks volumes about McQaid’s antipathy for Mitt Romney. Gingrich is, the paper concedes, “not the perfect candidate” and one with whom it clearly disagrees on a number of important issues. But as McQuaid wrote in a not very subtle reference to Romney, “We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.”

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It is arguable whether any editorial stand by a print newspaper counts for all that much anymore. But if any endorsement can be said to be meaningful, then it must be admitted the Union Leader’s stand on the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary is one. Which means the outlook for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign is looking a bit sunnier today after the front-page embrace of the former Speaker of the House by publisher Joseph W. McQuaid.

Though Gingrich and his backers will spin this endorsement as a tribute to his good qualities, you don’t have to read too far between the lines to see the newspaper’s decision speaks volumes about McQaid’s antipathy for Mitt Romney. Gingrich is, the paper concedes, “not the perfect candidate” and one with whom it clearly disagrees on a number of important issues. But as McQuaid wrote in a not very subtle reference to Romney, “We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.”

The Union Leader nod makes it clear that for many on the right, anyone, even an obviously flawed character like Gingrich, whose positions on the issues are wildly inconsistent and often, as with immigration, far to the left of most conservatives, is preferable to the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Though Gingrich has flipped and flopped on issues like immigration, the environment and health care at least as much as Romney has done on abortion, the animus felt by some right-wingers is so great that they obviously prefer any Republican with a pulse to the man polls say still has a commanding lead in the Granite State.

In the eyes of conservatives like McQuaid, Romney will always be a liberal RINO who only won the governor’s seat in Massachusetts by tilting to the left to accommodate that blue state’s voters. Just as conservatives of an earlier generation hated liberal GOP office-holders like Nelson Rockefeller with a passion that surpassed their dislike of Democrats, it now appears that Romney has assumed that role for some denizens of the contemporary right. And nothing Romney says or does appears likely to change this.

The Union Leader endorsement may not have much impact in Iowa, where Gingrich is currently leading, but its role in helping to pick winners in New Hampshire is part of the lore of the state’s political history. And given the paper’s willingness to keep hammering at Romney every day for the next few weeks, we’ll see whether their clout is as formidable as it has been in the past. Four years ago, despite Romney’s seeming advantage there, the paper’s backing of John McCain, another candidate clearly to the newspaper’s left, gave the Arizonan a boost that helped lead to a primary victory that set in motion the unlikely chain of events that led to his nomination. That’s no small irony considering many on the right believe Romney’s candidacy to be similar to that of the moderate McCain this time around.

The question for Republicans is not only whether this sort of grudge makes any sense but also whether it is a reasonable response to an election whose main focus will be the ability of the GOP to field a candidate capable of defeating Barack Obama.

In touting Gingrich, the paper speaks of his 1994 triumph when he led Republicans to victory in a midterm election that ended 40 years of Democratic rule and then passed the Contract With America. Gingrich deserves great credit for the achievement, but does anyone really think what happened 17 years ago — but not the far less happy record of the speaker during the rest of his short reign on Capitol Hill — is really going to resonate even with Republicans next fall?

Barack Obama spent last summer’s debate over the debt ceiling attempting to recreate Bill Clinton’s famous trouncing of Gingrich during the 1995 government shutdown crisis. Both current Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were too smart to allow themselves to be fitted for the Gingrich clown suit. But if Republicans listen to the Union Leader, next fall Obama won’t have to find a stand-in for Clinton’s whipping boy. Instead, he’ll be at the top of the Republican ticket ensuring a second term for the most liberal resident of the White House since Jimmy Carter.

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Michele Bachmann’s Misleading Claims

Michele Bachmann gave what is a transparently misleading interview on “Fox & Friends.”

To set the context: Representative Bachmann has been critical of Newt Gingrich’s statement, made at the most recent GOP debate, that while he favors deporting all recent unattached illegals, he doesn’t believe in deporting illegal immigrants who have been here for 25 years, have a family/community here, and have been law-abiding and tax-paying. They could get what the Krieble Foundation developed as a “red card” and be legal, but with no path to citizenship and no right to vote.

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Michele Bachmann gave what is a transparently misleading interview on “Fox & Friends.”

To set the context: Representative Bachmann has been critical of Newt Gingrich’s statement, made at the most recent GOP debate, that while he favors deporting all recent unattached illegals, he doesn’t believe in deporting illegal immigrants who have been here for 25 years, have a family/community here, and have been law-abiding and tax-paying. They could get what the Krieble Foundation developed as a “red card” and be legal, but with no path to citizenship and no right to vote.

When asked what exactly she would do facing a similar scenario, Bachmann dodged the question (twice, actually). She was then shown a clip of her answer in a September GOP debate in which she was asked what she would do with the 11 million illegal immigrants in America. Two months ago she said, “That’s right. And again, it is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place.”

When asked by the interview where the daylight is between Gingrich’s position and what she said in September, Bachmann scoffed, “There’s no commonality in those comments at all.” When pressed about what she meant, Bachmann said the question was about who should be deported first. “That’s what my understanding of the question was,” she said. Except that’s not what questioner Jose Diaz-Balart asked. Here’s the transcript of the debate, which includes this exchange:

DIAZ-BALART: Congresswoman, you said the fence — that you believe the fence is fundamental as an integral part of controlling the border. Let’s say that in 2012 or 2013, there’s a fence, the border is secure, gasoline is $2 a gallon. What do you do then with 11 million people, as the Speaker says, many of whom have U.S.-born children here? What do you do?

BACHMANN: Well, again, understand the context and the problem that we’re dealing with. In Mexico right now, we’re dealing with narco terrorists. This is a very serious problem. To not build a border or a fence on every part of that border would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do. One thing that the American people have said to me over and over again — and I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it’s very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.

DIAZ-BALART: A quick 30-second rebuttal on the specific question. The fence is built, the border is under control. What do you do with 11.5 million people who are here without documents and with U.S.- born children?

BACHMANN: Well, that’s right. And again, it is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place. But one thing that we do know, our immigration law worked beautifully back in the 1950s, up until the early 1960s, when people had to demonstrate that they had money in their pocket, they had no contagious diseases, they weren’t a felon. They had to agree to learn to speak the English language, they had to learn American history and the Constitution. And the one thing they had to promise is that they would not become a burden on the American taxpayer. That’s what we have to enforce.

DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.

As one can see, there was nothing about who should be deported first; the question was about what we should do with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants who are already in this country. Bachmann’s response was essentially the same as the one Newt Gingrich gave on Tuesday. Yet Bachmann, desperately in search of an issue to hurt Gingrich and help herself, now insists that Gingrich’s answer qualifies as amnesty.

When Bachmann made the (ludicrous) claim that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, one could perhaps excuse her comments on the basis of ignorance. That explanation isn’t nearly as plausible this time around. Her rendition of the September debate looks to be both false and disingenuous. Bachmann isn’t going to win the GOP nomination. She shouldn’t lose her integrity as well.

 

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Re: Failures in Israel Advocacy

Matthew’s critique of Israel’s latest PR fad is spot-on: No campaign can succeed without addressing the fundamental issue of the Jews’ “right to self-determination in their homeland.” But there’s one simple thing both Israel and Jewish organizations could do to improve the situation: stop appointing official representatives who actively promote the anti-Israel case. Consider two examples: former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, and Zoe Jick, New York regional director for the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Diaspora Activities.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in August, Shalev said Israel shared the blame for the Palestinians’ statehood application to the UN, inter alia because it put “new things on the table, like the requirement that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of Jewish people, which to my mind is superfluous.” If even Israel’s former UN ambassador deems this a “new” and “superfluous” condition that contributed to stymieing peace efforts, you can’t blame the general public for thinking so. Yet Shalev is wrong on both counts.

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Matthew’s critique of Israel’s latest PR fad is spot-on: No campaign can succeed without addressing the fundamental issue of the Jews’ “right to self-determination in their homeland.” But there’s one simple thing both Israel and Jewish organizations could do to improve the situation: stop appointing official representatives who actively promote the anti-Israel case. Consider two examples: former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, and Zoe Jick, New York regional director for the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Diaspora Activities.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in August, Shalev said Israel shared the blame for the Palestinians’ statehood application to the UN, inter alia because it put “new things on the table, like the requirement that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of Jewish people, which to my mind is superfluous.” If even Israel’s former UN ambassador deems this a “new” and “superfluous” condition that contributed to stymieing peace efforts, you can’t blame the general public for thinking so. Yet Shalev is wrong on both counts.

First, far from being a “new” condition invented by the Netanyahu government, this demand originated with the Olmert government – the very one she served. As leaked memos from the Palestinian negotiating team revealed in January, Olmert’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, repeatedly raised the issue of Israel as a Jewish state with her Palestinian interlocutors, though to no avail: They replied that while they couldn’t stop Israel from calling itself Jewish, the Palestinians would never recognize it as such.

Moreover, far from being a superfluous issue, the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is the core of the conflict: Until Palestinians are prepared to accept a Jewish state, as opposed to an “Israel” flooded by millions of Palestinian “refugees” to create a second Palestinian state, no solution is possible. But if even its former UN ambassador refuses to admit this, how can Israel possibly convince the general public of it?

Or take Jick, who was hired for a job that “entails designing and leading Zionist education seminars” despite her “personal doubts about Israel,” as she frankly acknowledged in a Jerusalem Post column in September. But no worries: She soon concluded that Zionism “does not entail defending Israel”; one can maintain “steadfast loyalty to Zionist ideology” while being “anti-Israel.” How? By focusing on the original Zionist vision of Israel as “a utopia.”

To be fair, Jick also offers an impassioned defense of Zionism as “the belief in the Jewish national movement,” which can’t be rejected without “rejecting the
history, heritage, and tradition that defines Jewish peoplehood,” and of the need to educate students “about Israel’s limitless potential and its raison d’etre” rather than rejecting “the ideology that gave us this miracle”–a state.

But if even someone who supports Zionism in the abstract isn’t willing to defend the actual Jewish state – if Jick can only tolerate the actual Israel’s existence by fantasizing about a “utopia” that no flesh-and-blood state can ever become – then how can one expect the general public, which lacks even an abstract commitment to Zionism, to tolerate the Jewish state’s existence at all?

And if neither Israel nor Jewish organizations can be bothered to find representatives willing to sell Israel’s case, how can they expect the world to buy it?

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Medicare Administrator Steps Down

It was pretty clear that controversial Medicare head Don Berwick wasn’t going to make it past the end of the year, after 42 Republican senators vowed to block his confirmation. On Wednesday, the Obama administration finally announced that Berwick will step down, a major scalp for Republicans in the health care battle, but one that will probably get lost in the Thanksgiving news blackout:

Obama nominated Berwick to the post but before Democrats scheduled a hearing, the president bypassed the Senate and appointed him to the post during recess last July, which allowed him to serve through the end of the year.

The soon-to-be former Medicare head was a favorite target for Republicans, who pointed to past quotes they say demonstrated his embrace of socialized medicine and rationing as a sure reason to oppose him.

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It was pretty clear that controversial Medicare head Don Berwick wasn’t going to make it past the end of the year, after 42 Republican senators vowed to block his confirmation. On Wednesday, the Obama administration finally announced that Berwick will step down, a major scalp for Republicans in the health care battle, but one that will probably get lost in the Thanksgiving news blackout:

Obama nominated Berwick to the post but before Democrats scheduled a hearing, the president bypassed the Senate and appointed him to the post during recess last July, which allowed him to serve through the end of the year.

The soon-to-be former Medicare head was a favorite target for Republicans, who pointed to past quotes they say demonstrated his embrace of socialized medicine and rationing as a sure reason to oppose him.

The White House has announced it will nominate Berwick’s deputy, Marilyn Tavenner as a replacement. The move actually comes as a surprise to many, who expected Obama to simply named Tavenner acting administrator in order to avoid a potential confirmation battle in the Senate:

“I can’t imagine a lot of support for her” among Senate Republicans, a Republican health lobbyist said. “That position always gets sucked into the controversy of the day — Part D, PPACA. That makes confirmation really hard.”

But Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, said the nomination strategy suggests the administration must “think she’s got a decent chance of going through.” Without some indication of support from Republicans, “this is not a good strategy,” he said.

It is an interesting move from the White House, and probably not one that will please Senate Democrats. But Obama’s been campaigning against Republicans in Congress and might hope that a high-profile confirmation battle will end up energizing his political base, especially if it revolves around his signature health care law. And after all, there’s no downside for the president. Even if Tavenner’s confirmation is blocked, he can still appoint her as acting administrator. It would be yet another instance of Obama provoking divisiveness for the sake of politics instead of focusing on governing.

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Battle Against Islamist Terrorism is Not Over; It is Changing Shape

The Washington Post has the umpteenth story today announcing the imminent demise of al-Qaeda. This one is more convincing than most because it focuses on the organization’s decline since the elimination of Osama bin Laden. The Post account declares that there are only two “high value” leaders remaining in al-Qaeda–Ayman al-Zawahiri and his No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi–and that according to U.S. intelligence officials, their “demise would mean the group’s defeat.”

The seeming certainty of this judgment is somewhat undermined down below where the article casually refers to “the organization’s estimated few hundred remaining followers in Pakistan.” Did al-Qaeda ever have more than a few hundred followers in Pakistan? And what is to say that some of those “followers” could not become leaders even if Zawahiri and Libi are eliminated? That concern is reason enough to maintain the pressure in Pakistan rather than moving the CIA’s drones to other battle fronts too soon.

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The Washington Post has the umpteenth story today announcing the imminent demise of al-Qaeda. This one is more convincing than most because it focuses on the organization’s decline since the elimination of Osama bin Laden. The Post account declares that there are only two “high value” leaders remaining in al-Qaeda–Ayman al-Zawahiri and his No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi–and that according to U.S. intelligence officials, their “demise would mean the group’s defeat.”

The seeming certainty of this judgment is somewhat undermined down below where the article casually refers to “the organization’s estimated few hundred remaining followers in Pakistan.” Did al-Qaeda ever have more than a few hundred followers in Pakistan? And what is to say that some of those “followers” could not become leaders even if Zawahiri and Libi are eliminated? That concern is reason enough to maintain the pressure in Pakistan rather than moving the CIA’s drones to other battle fronts too soon.

Even more reason to maintain resources in and around Pakistan (Afghanistan remains our most reliable regional base) is the fact that it is home to so many other terrorist organizations, such as the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar e Taiba, and the Haqqani Network, which are plotting to kill Americans and our allies: The Haqqanis have carried out numerous deadly attacks against Americans in Afghanistan while the Pakistani Taliban supported an attempted car-bombing in Times Square.

This points to a larger concern that I have voiced before and will reiterate now: Even if al-Qaeda can’t recover from bin Laden’s death, that hardly means the threat of Islamist extremism is over. There are numerous other groups ready to fill the vacuum left behind by al-Qaeda, and many of them–from the Haqqanis to Hamas and Hezbollah–are stronger than they have ever been. The Arab Spring is providing further opportunities for them (or their sympathizers ) to seize power in a chaotic climate. The battle against Islamist terrorism is far from over; it is merely changing shape.

The historical analogy which springs to mind is the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party’s Combat Organization, which was the main perpetrator of terrorism before and during the 1905 Revolution. It subsequently went into steep decline. Russian officials may have been tempted to declare victory in their own “war against terrorism” were it not for the fact that the SR Combat Organization were displaced by an even more malign group–the Bolsheviks.

 

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Detainee Negotiation is Test Case for Iraq

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the difficult negotiations going on between Iraqi and American authorities over the fate of Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative who is the last detainee still in U.S. custody in Iraq.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the U.S. military withdrawal from that country is that we are having to either free or turn over to the Iraqis hard-core terrorists who have long been held in U.S.-run detention facilities. The odds that the Iraqi government would find the gumption to hold a Shiite terrorist with close Iranian connections–someone like Daqduq–are slight, to say the least. It would take an exceedingly brave or foolish Iraqi judge to order Daqduq’s incarceration. The judge would likely be signing his own death warrant, and his family’s, and for no good reason: After he was killed, Daqduq would be released anyway.

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The Wall Street Journal reports today on the difficult negotiations going on between Iraqi and American authorities over the fate of Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah operative who is the last detainee still in U.S. custody in Iraq.

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the U.S. military withdrawal from that country is that we are having to either free or turn over to the Iraqis hard-core terrorists who have long been held in U.S.-run detention facilities. The odds that the Iraqi government would find the gumption to hold a Shiite terrorist with close Iranian connections–someone like Daqduq–are slight, to say the least. It would take an exceedingly brave or foolish Iraqi judge to order Daqduq’s incarceration. The judge would likely be signing his own death warrant, and his family’s, and for no good reason: After he was killed, Daqduq would be released anyway.

The only way to prevent him from returning to Iran and resuming his work as a terrorist would be to move him to the U.S. for detention and trial. Guantanamo Bay would seem a fitting destination, although the Obama administration apparently would prefer either a military tribunal or a federal trial on the mainland. Either option is certainly preferable to letting this killer run loose, notwithstanding the possibility that Iranian operatives would kidnap Americans to bargain for his release. Daqduq was allegedly the mastermind of a fiendishly clever 2007 raid in which Shiite extremists dressed as American security contractors raided Karbala’s provincial headquarters and murdered five American soldiers. He is among the baddest of the bad.

But removing him from Iraq requires, in theory at least, Iraqi approval. And that is difficult to get. This is an early test case of which way the new Iraq–free of any American troops–will lean. Alas the odds are that on this issue, at least, the Iraqis will most likely do Iran’s bidding. Unless Obama is willing to order his removal without Iraqi consent, there is a likelihood of more Americans dying at Daqduq’s hands.

 

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Failures of Trends in Israel Advocacy

A foolish op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times illustrates well the approaching failures of the latest trends in Israel advocacy.

“Pinkwashing” may be an unfamiliar term to most, but it’s been the hip new expression in anti-Israelist Western circles for years now. It refers to the efforts by the state of Israel and Israel advocacy organizations to promote Israel’s liberal treatment of its gay population, which is certainly the freest, by an extreme long shot, in its region and perhaps in the entire Western world, where even San Francisco may not be as welcoming to gays as Tel Aviv.

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A foolish op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times illustrates well the approaching failures of the latest trends in Israel advocacy.

“Pinkwashing” may be an unfamiliar term to most, but it’s been the hip new expression in anti-Israelist Western circles for years now. It refers to the efforts by the state of Israel and Israel advocacy organizations to promote Israel’s liberal treatment of its gay population, which is certainly the freest, by an extreme long shot, in its region and perhaps in the entire Western world, where even San Francisco may not be as welcoming to gays as Tel Aviv.

The attractiveness of this kind of argument is easy to see. Because Israel is seen most harshly in the West by the left, it is the “progressive” case for Israel that must be made. (Evangelicals and conservatives, presumably, will go on loving the Jewish state no matter how large or, shall we say, exuberant, the Tel Aviv gay pride parade becomes.) Since the left today reflexively voices its concern over gay rights, the thinking goes, highlight sexual freedom in Israel. A similar thought process is behind efforts to promote Israel’s environmentalist credentials. Nowhere in the world of Israel advocacy are these kinds of efforts more attractive than on the college campus, where defining oneself as a believer in gay rights and an environmentalist are two of the chief assumptions that govern intellectual life.

The Times pinkwashing op-ed reflects the related problems of this kind of advocacy. While it may have an important effect on the center of opinion, it will do nothing to dent the anti-Israelism of the intelligentsia. Most importantly, by eliding the fundamental question at the heart of the conflict, namely whether or not Jews have a right to self-determination in their homeland, advocacy on this score may win small victories but still find itself continuing to lose the war.

It also is, seen in a certain light, a specie of the traditional Jewish accommodationist political strategy. Rather than demanding acknowledgement of their rights on their own terms (as most peoples do), Jewish Israel advocacy, even when promoted by the state of Israel itself, continues to fall back on ways to make itself appealing to the governing proclivities of the day. Yesterday’s order was nationalism, so Leo Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, and their followers cast the Jewish national project in line with it. Today’s tendencies lean in other directions, so Jews find themselves pitching their arguments along those lines. All will find themselves forever flummoxed by the ferocity of anti-Jewish politics until they come to understand it is a hatred that cannot be appeased.

The alternative is a robust attack on those ideologues governed by a fundamental misunderstanding of the right to self-determination that underlies our present international order, driven by the conviction in thought, word, and deed that Jewish rights are not a topic up for debate.

We may of course still fail to diminish the potency of the West’s current anti-Israelist madness. At least in this way we would give ourselves a fighting chance.

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Social Cons Plot Against Romney in Iowa

As Mitt Romney ramps up his campaign in Iowa, a group of high-profile social conservatives are meeting on Monday to figure out how to prevent him from winning the state caucus, CNN reports. These social conservatives oppose Romney because of his flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage, but as CNN notes, his Mormonism obviously plays a role:

Many social conservatives and other religious leaders in the state have openly labeled the former Massachusetts governor as a “flip-flopper,” a criticism the campaign frequently beats back, while others have seen Romney’s Mormon faith as an issue. And many of them have openly hoped for someone to emerge as a viable alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

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As Mitt Romney ramps up his campaign in Iowa, a group of high-profile social conservatives are meeting on Monday to figure out how to prevent him from winning the state caucus, CNN reports. These social conservatives oppose Romney because of his flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage, but as CNN notes, his Mormonism obviously plays a role:

Many social conservatives and other religious leaders in the state have openly labeled the former Massachusetts governor as a “flip-flopper,” a criticism the campaign frequently beats back, while others have seen Romney’s Mormon faith as an issue. And many of them have openly hoped for someone to emerge as a viable alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

I’d venture to guess that Romney’s religion is one of the main issues driving this. Especially when these are the other candidates the group is considering endorsing:

The effort is said to still be in the discussion phase. Participants were said to have narrowed their focus down to four candidates: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Admittedly, Bachmann and Santorum are flawless social conservatives. But Newt Gingrich? He may have the right position on abortion and gay marriage, but his personal life has been far from squeaky clean. And Perry’s taken some conflicting positions on gay marriage and angered values voters with his support for the dreaded HPV vaccine.

Why are Gingrich’s and Perry’s missteps so easily forgiven, but Romney’s aren’t? As Jonathan wrote last week, hatred of Mormons is one of the last acceptable bigotries in America. If the point of Monday’s meeting is for social conservatives to choose a candidate who is unblemished on their issues, then they should at least be consistent about it and endorse someone like Bachmann or Santorum. But if Romney’s faith is the main issue, then the larger conservative movement in Iowa shouldn’t entertain that kind of intolerance.

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