Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 4, 2011

Muslim Anti-Semitism Is Not Israel’s Fault

It’s Israel’s fault:

Growing global anti-Semitism is linked to Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, the American ambassador to Belgium told stunned Jewish conference attendants in Brussels earlier this week…. [Howard] Gutman told participants he was apologizing in advance if his words are not to their liking. He then proceeded to make controversial statements about his views on Muslim anti-Semitism, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday. A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Gutman said. He also argued that an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.

In no particular order:

(1) As a sheer historical matter, of course, he’s demonstrably wrong.

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It’s Israel’s fault:

Growing global anti-Semitism is linked to Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, the American ambassador to Belgium told stunned Jewish conference attendants in Brussels earlier this week…. [Howard] Gutman told participants he was apologizing in advance if his words are not to their liking. He then proceeded to make controversial statements about his views on Muslim anti-Semitism, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday. A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Gutman said. He also argued that an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.

In no particular order:

(1) As a sheer historical matter, of course, he’s demonstrably wrong.

Muslim anti-Semitism stretches back centuries. Just last week we passed the 70th anniversary of the meeting between the Mufti of Jerusalem and Hitler, where the two of them conspired to wipe out European and Middle East Jewry. The Mufti, citing Muslim dogma and history, committed to helping the Nazis fulfill their genocidal ambitions. A few decades later, then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was explaining to Congress why the U.S. was withholding war planes from Israel while selling them to Saudi Arabia, and he explained that Muslim states “have felt for a long time – it goes back centuries – a very particular animosity toward the Jews because they credited the assassination of Mohammed to a Jew.”

It could be Dulles just didn’t realize that Muslim anti-Semitism had only existed for a couple of decades, and that the Mufti just didn’t know he was supposed to wait for the creation of Israel to become anti-Semitic. Although given how Muslim anti-Semitism is eschatological, and involves precise roles for Jews during the end-times and reserves an explicit place for them in hell, it’s more likely he hated Jews for religious reasons and that Gutman is making things up.

(2) The Obama administration is going to have to get creative about walking this one back. It’s gracious that Gutman told attendees in advance they wouldn’t like what he was about to say, but rhetorically and argumentatively it makes things more complicated. Usually when the White House tries to walk back its anti-Israel gaffes, officials roll their eyes and insist the controversy is just being manufactured to smear Obama. It’s going to be hard to claim Gutman’s words weren’t meant to be controversial, inasmuch as he began his speech by noting he was about to say something controversial.

(3) It’s also going to be hard for the administration to say Gutman’s views do not reflect Obama’s broader approach to Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Quite the opposite, they fit perfectly into the linkage dogma embraced by Obama and the foreign policy left, where pathologies in the Arab world are the result rather than the cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Pseudo-sophisticated experts insisted for years that Sunnis wouldn’t mobilize against Iran because of Israel, a myth that was debunked by Wikileaks. They emphasized the idea that the Israeli-Arab conflict prevented Arab democratization, something the Arab Spring disproved. And now apparently centuries-old and world-wide Islamic anti-Semitism is the result of a sliver of a state fighting for its existence on the Eastern Mediterranean.

(4) These outbursts are becoming something of a capital T “Thing” for Obama donors, of which Gutman – having raised more than $500,000 for the president and the Democratic Party – is one. George Soros also expressed the view on multiple occasions. One more time and it becomes a trend! Soros’s 2003 statements, by the by, went viral on hate sites like Stormfront, conspiracy hubs like AboveTopSecret, and progressive forums like Democratic Underground. Gutman’s statements will undoubtedly do the same, this time with the imprimatur of an Obama-appointed U.S. official.

(5) Just for completion’s sake, it’s worth noting that even if Gutman wasn’t simply inventing history, the idea of Israeli concessions as a salve for Muslim anti-Semitism is backwards. Islamists put theological priority on humiliating and extracting concessions from Jews, such that vaunted “confidence-building measures” are more likely to fuel rather than dampen Muslim anti-Semitism. Scholar Richard Landes keeps an entire archive on the phenomenon, and you can see here and here and here for some recent examples. There might be other reasons to coerce Israel into making security and territorial concessions to Arab entities. But decreasing Muslim hatred for Jews can’t honestly be described as one of them.

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An Administration Ready to Blame Israel for Everything … Including Anti-Semitism

The ground is fast sinking beneath the feet of President Obama’s Jewish defenders. While the president is trying to raise money from Jewish donors by patting himself on the back as Israel’s greatest friend in the White House, the Secretary of Defense has now made it clear that he sees the Jewish state as responsible for the isolation it faces. Equally as egregious is the fact that Howard Gutman, Obama’s ambassador to Belgium, told an audience this week he thinks Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians is responsible for the creation of a new kind of anti-Semitism that he believes is understandable on some level.

Panetta’s speech on Friday at the Brooking Institution in Washington and Gutman’s comments to a conference held by the European Jewish Union were obviously not coordinated, but they combine to give us a clear view of the distorted mindset of administration officials. This is an administration that sees Israel as a source of trouble, not an ally. Combined with the sorry history of three years of Obama’s picking fights with Jerusalem, the positions of both Panetta and Gutman give the lie to the notion this is an administration friends of Israel can trust.

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The ground is fast sinking beneath the feet of President Obama’s Jewish defenders. While the president is trying to raise money from Jewish donors by patting himself on the back as Israel’s greatest friend in the White House, the Secretary of Defense has now made it clear that he sees the Jewish state as responsible for the isolation it faces. Equally as egregious is the fact that Howard Gutman, Obama’s ambassador to Belgium, told an audience this week he thinks Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians is responsible for the creation of a new kind of anti-Semitism that he believes is understandable on some level.

Panetta’s speech on Friday at the Brooking Institution in Washington and Gutman’s comments to a conference held by the European Jewish Union were obviously not coordinated, but they combine to give us a clear view of the distorted mindset of administration officials. This is an administration that sees Israel as a source of trouble, not an ally. Combined with the sorry history of three years of Obama’s picking fights with Jerusalem, the positions of both Panetta and Gutman give the lie to the notion this is an administration friends of Israel can trust.

That the secretary of defense would choose to blast Israel in this manner just as Obama is starting to crank up his re-election campaign speaks to the cognitive dissonance many Jewish Democrats are experiencing. For Panetta to claim Israel is responsible for its own isolation just as Obama boasted of his friendship for the Jewish state shows either a lack of coordination between the Pentagon and the White House or a desire on the president’s part to signal the Arab world he is prepared to put the screws to the Israelis as soon as the election is concluded.

As for Panetta’s assertions, while sandwiched between some of the usual boilerplate rhetoric about supporting the alliance, they made it clear that Washington views the hardening of anti-Israel positions on the part of Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority as Israel’s fault. Even more, he made it plain that the administration’s belief is this rising tide of anti-Israel hate can only be dealt with by a new round of concessions on Israel’s part to the Palestinians.

Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt is now endangered by the victory of Islamists. Their former ally Turkey is now aligning itself with Hamas terrorists. The Palestinian Authority is about to conclude a unity pact with Hamas that will end its experiment with good government and expand the reach of the Gaza-based terrorists. These events are not the fault of Israel, but are the result of the embrace of Islamism and extremism by a Muslim world that seems to be sinking into the abyss of extremism.

But the administration looks at this and says it is the fault of the Israelis who have spent the last 18 years trying to make peace, to no avail. Rather than drawing conclusions from the Palestinians’ rejection of peace and the bloodthirsty hatred for Jews at the heart of the siege of the Jewish state, Panetta believes the time is ripe for Israel to weaken its defenses and hand over more territory that may become another safe haven for terrorists, as Gaza has proved to be.

The secretary’s remarks were a not-so-subtle hint that pressuring Israel is still Obama’s priority. That key officials of this administration could hold onto a belief in a peace process even the so-called moderates of the Palestinian Authority have rejected speaks volumes not so much about their naïveté as it does the grip of ideology on their thinking.

As for Gutman’s remarks, they speak not so much to policy as to the thinking behind it. Contrary to his poorly reasoned formulation, hatred for Israel and Zionism is just a modern variant of traditional Jew-hatred, and not a different belief system that can be rationalized. Anyone who would deny Israel the same right to existence and self-defense they would grant any other country is a bigot. Palestinian suffering is real, but the hatred for the Jews and Israel in the Arab and Islamic world has little to do with policy and everything to do with prejudice.

That an American diplomat would stoop so low as to rationalize that hatred is a disgrace. While the White House sought to distance itself from Gutman’s remarks, his views give those of us who have wondered about the source of the animus for Israel in this administration new insights about the advice Obama has been getting.

Taken together, these two speeches paint a portrait of a government that is at its heart hostile to the Jewish state. Only a blind partisan would think such an administration could be trusted to deal fairly with Israel once the constraints of Obama’s re-election efforts are removed.

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Cain Farce’s Conclusion Proves the System Can Sometimes Work

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign came to an unceremonious conclusion yesterday, leaving some of his last-ditch supporters blaming the media for his demise. Defiant and bombastic to the end, he exited denying the accusations of personal misbehavior that had sunk him while claiming politics is a “dirty game.”

But the conclusion to his attempt to win the White House actually illustrated that for all of its seeming irrationality and foolishness, the process by which we elect presidents isn’t so crazy after all. Cain’s inability to survive the scrutiny that must accompany such lofty ambitions proves that at least in this instance, the system worked.

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Herman Cain’s presidential campaign came to an unceremonious conclusion yesterday, leaving some of his last-ditch supporters blaming the media for his demise. Defiant and bombastic to the end, he exited denying the accusations of personal misbehavior that had sunk him while claiming politics is a “dirty game.”

But the conclusion to his attempt to win the White House actually illustrated that for all of its seeming irrationality and foolishness, the process by which we elect presidents isn’t so crazy after all. Cain’s inability to survive the scrutiny that must accompany such lofty ambitions proves that at least in this instance, the system worked.

In the coming days, his former rivals who understandably hope to win the votes of some of his supporters will extravagantly praise Cain. But let’s not be fooled by the talk of Cain’s “courage” and “boldness” or the idea there was something praiseworthy about having a person with no experience in government parachute into the Oval Office.

That a man who was so bereft of knowledge of important issues and clearly lacking the ability to defend his poorly thought out positions was treated as a serious contender even for a few weeks must be considered an impressive achievement. But it is a consoling thought that, at least in this instance, the manner in which we choose presidential nominees is sufficiently rigorous that a Herman Cain could not make it to the Iowa caucuses before being revealed as an unsavory character who did not deserve the attention we showered upon him the last six months.

The most interesting thing about Cain was not his personal foibles, his simplistic tax plan or even his astounding ignorance of foreign policy that grew to comical proportions as the campaign went on. Rather, it was his arrogance. While it must be conceded that anyone who even thinks of running for the presidency must be possessed of a very healthy ego, it takes a special kind of arrogance to think yourself ready for the White House even though you know nothing about a host of important issues and are carrying around personal baggage bound to be revealed.

His rise was the result of a long summer and fall of debates during which his unflappable charm was highlighted. It was also testimony to the contempt in which most voters hold career politicians these days that they were momentarily seduced by the idea a businessman could run the country better than one of them. Of course, as most of us learned when his long tenure at the National Restaurant Association became newsworthy, he spent as much time as a Washington lobbyist as he did as an entrepreneur. But the mere fact that he had never held elective office was treated as a virtue rather than a defect.

But there are reasons why only those who have tried and succeeded at politics are generally considered worthy of consideration for the presidency. One is that as much as Republicans rightly value the private sector over the public, experience in running a government of some kind is not the same thing as operating a business. Another is that running for office is good training for the rigors of the presidency. It also provides a rough and often imperfect vetting process.

In an earlier era, someone like Cain would not have been treated as a serious candidate for the presidency for even a moment, because the political parties vetted candidates themselves. We need not mourn the death of the proverbial smoke-filled room in which party bosses played kingmakers to understand such doings were likely to filter out a buffoon like Cain. The weakness of contemporary party structures means this role must now be played by the media. That is a problematic formulation that often gives too much power to journalists who are often biased and as capable of being seduced by a public relations phenomenon as anyone else. The failure of the press to air Barack Obama’s flaws, which though different from Cain’s were just as glaring, is an example of how this system can spectacularly fail.

But rather than blame the media for Cain’s fall, we should be congratulating it. It says something not very flattering about Republicans that so many of them were so desperate for a fresh conservative face they actually thought it was not insane to hand the reins of power to a person who was a foreign policy ignoramus and who didn’t know the difference between “pro-life” and “choice” when it came to abortion.

His collapse was the result of a combination of factors, but it is a small victory for rationality that by the time Cain withdrew, most Republicans understood it was impossible to envision him as a commander-in-chief. While Herman Cain is surely not the last unqualified person to have a chance to win the presidency, let us at least be thankful this farce is now concluded.

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