Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 12, 2011

Prudence, the Charioteer of the Virtues

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin sought out the opinion of people to analyze the meaning and importance of character in politics. Her postings on what she calls the “character primary” can be found here, here and here.

When asked what aspects of character are most essential in political leaders, I mentioned qualities like courage, perseverance, loyalty and fidelity to principles all matter. But different circumstances may demand different attributes. And if I had to settle on one quality above the others, it would be prudence, which encompasses practical wisdom, insight, and knowledge. Prudence is, Aquinas wrote, “right reason in action.” In its classical understanding, prudence embraces moral purposes, though always with an eye toward what is achievable in the world as it is. It plays a vital role in terms of guiding and regulating all the other virtues. For example, courage in the pursuit of a foolish policy can lead to a catastrophe. For these reasons, prudence is, in my estimation, the charioteer of the virtues.

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The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin sought out the opinion of people to analyze the meaning and importance of character in politics. Her postings on what she calls the “character primary” can be found here, here and here.

When asked what aspects of character are most essential in political leaders, I mentioned qualities like courage, perseverance, loyalty and fidelity to principles all matter. But different circumstances may demand different attributes. And if I had to settle on one quality above the others, it would be prudence, which encompasses practical wisdom, insight, and knowledge. Prudence is, Aquinas wrote, “right reason in action.” In its classical understanding, prudence embraces moral purposes, though always with an eye toward what is achievable in the world as it is. It plays a vital role in terms of guiding and regulating all the other virtues. For example, courage in the pursuit of a foolish policy can lead to a catastrophe. For these reasons, prudence is, in my estimation, the charioteer of the virtues.

The Lincoln biographer Allen Guelzo has pointed out that Lincoln insisted he “regarded prudence in all respects as one of the cardinal virtues,” and he hoped, as president, “it will appear that we have practiced prudence” in the management of public affairs.” Even in the midst of the Civil War, Guelzo says, Lincoln promised that the war would be carried forward “consistently with the prudence…which ought always to regulate the public service,” and without allowing it to degenerate “into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.””

Arguably we invest too much importance on the policy boxes candidates check (e.g., should we build a fence across the entire Southwest border or only across parts of it?) and too little importance on their public character, including their equanimity and sense of proportion, their capacity to adjust to shifting fortunes, foresight, and the discernment to choose among several competing (and persuasive) options.

No presidency unfolds exactly as the person taking office expects, and often events dramatically shift the landscape. Lincoln never imagined the Civil War would be as bloody and destructive as it was. FDR could never have anticipated Pearl Harbor and the Second World War. JFK couldn’t have known that the Soviet Union would begin deploying offensive missiles in Cuba. George W. Bush assumed his presidency would be dominated by domestic affairs, not by terrorism and war.

Presidents above all can say the twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn. When it does, it helps to have at the helm a chief executive in whom we can invest our trust, whose judgments rest on pillars that are (to cite Lincoln’s words once again) “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.”

 

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New Efrat Homes No Threat to Peace

Once again, the announcement of a small housing project by Israel is causing the United Nations to claim that such settlement building prejudices the peace process. But the overwrought statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on this subject was even more off the mark than most such condemnations of Israeli actions. The plan that set off alarms at the UN and other Israel critics is for the building of 40 homes in the town of Efrat in the Gush Etzion bloc just outside of Jerusalem.

The place where the homes are being built is a town that even many Palestinians have conceded would remain part of Israel in the event of a peace deal. If there are to be the “land swaps” that President Obama has said would be part of his demand for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, then there is no doubt that Efrat and Gush Etzion will be areas that are swapped. So how then would the addition of 40 new families or even 400 or 4,000 Jews to that settlement prevent a two-state solution in the event the Palestinians ever changed their minds and accepted one? More to the point, the history of Gush Etzion makes the effort by the Palestinians, and implicitly supported by the UN, to evict not only new settlers but also the existing inhabitations of Gush Etzion, particularly inappropriate.

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Once again, the announcement of a small housing project by Israel is causing the United Nations to claim that such settlement building prejudices the peace process. But the overwrought statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on this subject was even more off the mark than most such condemnations of Israeli actions. The plan that set off alarms at the UN and other Israel critics is for the building of 40 homes in the town of Efrat in the Gush Etzion bloc just outside of Jerusalem.

The place where the homes are being built is a town that even many Palestinians have conceded would remain part of Israel in the event of a peace deal. If there are to be the “land swaps” that President Obama has said would be part of his demand for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, then there is no doubt that Efrat and Gush Etzion will be areas that are swapped. So how then would the addition of 40 new families or even 400 or 4,000 Jews to that settlement prevent a two-state solution in the event the Palestinians ever changed their minds and accepted one? More to the point, the history of Gush Etzion makes the effort by the Palestinians, and implicitly supported by the UN, to evict not only new settlers but also the existing inhabitations of Gush Etzion, particularly inappropriate.

Perhaps someone at the UN should point out to the secretary general that the Gush Etzion bloc was not a Jewish settlement that was created on disputed territory after the 1967 war. Rather, it was a Jewish community that existed prior to 1948 that was overrun by the Arabs and its inhabitants massacred or evicted. The return of Jews to this Jerusalem suburb after June 1967 was greeted with jubilation throughout all of Israel. It was a sign — like the revival of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City —that the Arab efforts to eradicate the Jewish presence in the land would not stand.

But even if you ignore the history, the idea that building a few more houses (and adding a few more Jews to towns that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no intention of relinquishing under any circumstances) harms the peace process is absurd. Indeed, the new homes in Efrat are no more an obstacle to peace than the thousands of housing units now under construction in Arab neighborhoods in the Jerusalem area which are, for some reason, not deemed controversial.

Were the Palestinians the least bit interested in a two-state solution in which they would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state of Israel no matter where its borders were drawn, the presence of Jews in any of the settlements wouldn’t be an issue. They know very well that the majority of Israelis are prepared to sacrifice many of the settlements in exchange for real peace. They also know that if they want peace, they need to forget about a repeat of 1948 when the Gush bloc was wiped out. That is one spot on the map Israelis will never agree to give up.

Leaving aside the hypocrisy of the UN and the intransigence of the Palestinians, it should also be noted that a representative of Peace Now was quoted as criticizing the new homes in Efrat. Those wondering why the Israeli left has lost its influence over the Israeli public need only read that statement for evidence of just how out of touch that organization — and its American cheering section — are with Israeli public opinion.

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Re: Gingrich and the “Invented People”

Newt Gingrich has created a lot of waves by saying:

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”

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Newt Gingrich has created a lot of waves by saying:

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”

Is Newt right? As Jonathan Tobin noted, he is historically accurate. There was no widespread sense of Palestinian nationhood until the last few decades. In fact, there was such widespread apathy among the Palestinians that Yasser Arafat and the PLO initially had little luck in mobilizing a revolt against Israeli rule. Arabs in Israel proper have been largely peaceful to this day. Even in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there was no widespread uprising until the First Intifada in
1987. Until then, the Palestinian cause was largely championed by outsiders—either other Arabs or Palestinians in exile like Arafat (who was in all likelihood born in Egypt). Many, perhaps most “Palestinians” were willing to make accommodations with Israeli rule as they had previously made accommodations with Egyptians, Jordanians, Ottomans and other rulers.

But the fact that Palestinian identity is largely an invention and has not existed for all time hardly makes the Palestinians unique. All national identity is to some extent invented. Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the United States: all are artificial entities that had to be forged over time. The process of state formation in the last three was relatively recent—the U.S. did not come into existence until 1776 and was arguably not a truly unified nation until 1865; Italy and Germany were created at roughly the same time. Britain and France are older, but they still had to be forged out of regional identities—the process of turning “Burgundians” and “Normans” into Frenchmen took centuries.

For better or worse, however, national identity is fairly well entrenched in all those states now—as the European Union is now discovering in the case of Britain, in particular. So, too, the Palestinians have forged a national identity over the past few decades, in no small measure through the terrorism of the PLO, the PFLP, Hamas and other groups, which sparked a backlash from Israel and helped consolidate a Palestinian sense of grievance and hence identity.

There is little point at this stage, I would argue, in disputing whether the Palestinians are a “nation”; they think of themselves as a nation, so they have become one. Other states, including Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. under George W. Bush, have recognized the Palestinian claim to statehood, so the
point seems little more than academic.

The real issue now is not whether the Palestinians should have a state—there seems close to universal agreement on that score,  now—but at what pace and on what terms. Gingrich, along with most Americans, including his Republican rivals (full disclosure: I’m a Romney adviser), is not comfortable granting nationhood to regimes such as Hamas and even the Palestinian Authority which have not fully disavowed terrorism and have refused to fully embrace Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Israel is another fairly new state, albeit with ancient roots. If Palestinians have a claim to statehood, the Israeli case is incontestable.

To win even more Israeli concessions, the Palestinians must show they are fully committed to peace—and this they have not yet shown.

That is the crux of the matter. Gingrich is right in some academic sense but he is also, as a practical matter, arguing the wrong point. He should stick to the
real issue at hand: whether Israel should trade more land for ephemeral promises of “peace.”

 

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Ruling on Arizona Law Could Impact Race

The news that the United States Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of an Arizona law that sought to impose state penalties on illegal immigrants will do more than provide a resolution to the bitter debate that has been raging about the measure. Coming as it will during a presidential election year, the Court will help keep the issue on the front burner and has the potential to mobilize both anti-immigration voters as well as people angry about what they claim is the targeting of Hispanics.

But the decision will almost certainly not advance the debate about what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants who are believed to be already in the country. If the Court rules, as did the 9th Federal Circuit, that immigration is a federal issue and, not withstanding the disproportionate impact of illegals on Arizona, is not the business of an individual state, then it will effectively end all state efforts to force the government to crack down on illegals. Indeed, for all of the talk among Republicans about reviving the 10th Amendment and the right of states to deal with matters that are not specifically federal issues, it is difficult, if not impossible to claim that entry into the United States is not the business of Washington.

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The news that the United States Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of an Arizona law that sought to impose state penalties on illegal immigrants will do more than provide a resolution to the bitter debate that has been raging about the measure. Coming as it will during a presidential election year, the Court will help keep the issue on the front burner and has the potential to mobilize both anti-immigration voters as well as people angry about what they claim is the targeting of Hispanics.

But the decision will almost certainly not advance the debate about what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants who are believed to be already in the country. If the Court rules, as did the 9th Federal Circuit, that immigration is a federal issue and, not withstanding the disproportionate impact of illegals on Arizona, is not the business of an individual state, then it will effectively end all state efforts to force the government to crack down on illegals. Indeed, for all of the talk among Republicans about reviving the 10th Amendment and the right of states to deal with matters that are not specifically federal issues, it is difficult, if not impossible to claim that entry into the United States is not the business of Washington.

The Obama administration has a specific stake in this case. It has fought the enforcement of the Arizona law tooth and nail and helped bring this matter before the High Court. But winning the legal case won’t be the same thing as winning it in the court of public opinion. Though the Arizona law has been widely portrayed as the product of anti-Hispanic prejudice, support for measures that would crack down on illegals have widespread support, especially in border states. Indeed, anything that creates more awareness of the issue could have the effect of mobilizing both the Republican and Democratic bases next fall.

The case could also help Mitt Romney’s faltering campaign. Though conservatives have hammered Romney on the key issue of health care because of his Massachusetts law, immigration is one issue on which he has swung hard to the right. Indeed, Newt Gingrich’s support for a form of amnesty for illegals, in which local boards, modeled after the old draft boards, would rule on applications from those in the country without documentation, could yet come back to haunt him. On the other hand, should Gingrich win the Republican nomination, his more liberal stand on illegals could diminish Obama’s overwhelming advantage with Hispanic voters by making it harder to argue that Republicans are unsympathetic to immigrants.

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What is Obama Being Judged On?

In his interview on Sunday with President Obama, Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” said, “You’re being judged now on your performance. To which Obama snapped back, “No, no, no. I’m being judged against the ideal. And, you know, Joe Biden has a good expression. He says – ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.’”

This answer is quite telling, beginning with Obama’s compulsive need to refute an invented claim.

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In his interview on Sunday with President Obama, Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” said, “You’re being judged now on your performance. To which Obama snapped back, “No, no, no. I’m being judged against the ideal. And, you know, Joe Biden has a good expression. He says – ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.’”

This answer is quite telling, beginning with Obama’s compulsive need to refute an invented claim.

No one I know is judging Obama against a Platonic Ideal. They are simply judging him against his administration’s own words and promises (like unemployment would not exceed 8 percent if his stimulus package was passed, he would bend the health care cost curve down, and he would cut the deficit and the debt) and a reasonable expectation of what kind of economic growth and unemployment we could expect if the right policies had been put in place.

But what makes the president’s “no, no, no” denial particularly comical is that Obama once declared that generations from now we would look to his election as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” He would undo cynicism and doubt and “repair this world” (I would have settled for reducing unemployment and restoring prosperity, none of which Obama has done.) It was also the Obama campaign that encouraged a cult of personality unlike anything I have ever witnessed.

Think back, if you can, to the 2008 campaign. “We were the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said at stop after stop. He would begin the “next great chapter in the American story.” Hope and Change. Yes We Can. The Fierce Urgency of Now.

Today Obama’s words look foolish and vain. His promises lie in ashes and ruin. His presidency is a failure. And he has been reduced to complaining that he shouldn’t be judged against “the ideal.” The problem for Barack Obama is not that he fails when measured against the ideal; it’s that he fails even when judged against mediocrity.

 

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Romney Elevates Gingrich Before Iowa

With Newt Gingrich still polling at a strong lead in Iowa, the Romney campaign is scrambling to lower expectations ahead of the upcoming caucus:

Asked if the former House Speaker is the front-runner, Romney replied bluntly: “He is right now.”

Romney made it clear that he would rather lose than make incendiary charges about Gingrich that could help President Barack Obama in the general election. And the former Massachusetts governor said the nomination “is not going to be decided in just a couple of contests” and “could go for months and months.”

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With Newt Gingrich still polling at a strong lead in Iowa, the Romney campaign is scrambling to lower expectations ahead of the upcoming caucus:

Asked if the former House Speaker is the front-runner, Romney replied bluntly: “He is right now.”

Romney made it clear that he would rather lose than make incendiary charges about Gingrich that could help President Barack Obama in the general election. And the former Massachusetts governor said the nomination “is not going to be decided in just a couple of contests” and “could go for months and months.”

So the Romney campaign’s “inevitability” strategy is officially over. But could his preparation for a drawn-out primary be just as intimidating to the other candidates? Gingrich may be leading in the polls, but it’s hard to believe he’s prepared to fight Romney in every primary until June.

A drawn-out race would likely favor Romney over Gingrich, since Romney has spent more than a year building an operation to compete in each primary. His self-discipline will also be an advantage – except for the $10,000-bet comment, Romney’s had few slipups. Clearly the Romney campaign also expects that a long race would give Gingrich more time to say something controversial and torpedo his own campaign.

Romney’s self-diminishing comments could also be designed to pump up Gingrich, who has already been calling himself the “big-margin front-runner.” The Romney campaign may have good reason to believe that Gingrich’s confidence will end up backfiring. After all, the former Speaker hasn’t spent much time in Iowa or built a strong get-out-the-vote network there. Success in Iowa relies heavily on strong grassroots organization — without that, Gingrich may want to be careful about raising expectations.

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Rick Perry’s War on Reality

In an ad being run in Iowa, Texas Governor Rick Perry says, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t have to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion, and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

I have several thoughts about this, beginning with this one: To the degree that any person in this campaign has championed a “war” against religion, it is what Herman Cain advocated vis-à-vis Muslims – from saying he would deny them a spot in his Cabinet and on the federal bench to advocating a “loyalty proof.” So perhaps Governor Perry’s next ad can target Cain’s “war on religion.”

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In an ad being run in Iowa, Texas Governor Rick Perry says, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t have to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion, and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

I have several thoughts about this, beginning with this one: To the degree that any person in this campaign has championed a “war” against religion, it is what Herman Cain advocated vis-à-vis Muslims – from saying he would deny them a spot in his Cabinet and on the federal bench to advocating a “loyalty proof.” So perhaps Governor Perry’s next ad can target Cain’s “war on religion.”

This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are not problematic court rulings when it comes to religion in the public square or efforts to misrepresent our religious heritage. But as a Christian who attends church on a weekly basis, hosts a Bible study, reads the Scriptures, speaks openly about my faith (and even writes about it from time to time on this web site), and who can pray at any moment of the day or night, I would say this: Whatever is happening in America today, it cannot fairly be considered a “war” on Christianity.

In addition, I’d offer this slightly more theological observation: The main threat to Christianity in America is not that a “war” is being declared on it; it is that those of us who are Christian are too comfortable in this world, which the founder of Christianity said is not our true home.

As for Perry’s invocation of gays in the military: that is a prudential judgment having to do with military readiness. And many of our top military officers support allowing gays to serve in the military. To contrast gays serving in the military with kids not openly celebrating Christmas is a very unfortunate road to travel down. If Governor Perry, a self-proclaimed Christian, is really interested in channeling the cares and concerns of Jesus, he might consider saying a word about poverty and injustice, which seemed to have concerned Jesus even more than gays in the military.

Sometimes the worst advertisements for Christianity are its adherents. For more, see Rick Perry’s Iowa ad.

 

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Kristof’s Islamists and Our Hobgoblins

Last week, I wrote about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s astonishing whitewash of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in which he allowed members of the Islamist party that is on the threshold of taking power to portray themselves as innocent moderates. In Kristof’s version of reality, the Brotherhood, which is the home office of Islamism in the Arab world, is democratic, feminist and non-violent and would never dream of imposing its fundamentalist vision of society on Egypt or anywhere else. Kristof’s effort to make us think the Brotherhood is no threat to secular Egyptians, let alone Israel or the West, was in the New York Times’ tradition of Walter Duranty’s lies about Stalin, Herbert Matthews’ glorification of Fidel Castro and Roger Cohen’s apologia for Iran’s ayatollahs.

But Kristof wasn’t satisfied with merely one column about his dinner with Islamists. During the weekend, he came for seconds, this time to allow members of the Salafis–an even more extreme Islamist party than the Muslim Brotherhood–to also paint themselves as “moderates.” It was much the same as his first column, with the Times writer again concluding that we have nothing to fear and should place our trust in the wisdom of Egyptian voters who have given these two Islamist factions an overwhelming majority in parliament. But this says much more about the unwillingness of Kristof to confront the reality of Islamism than it does about his subjects.

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Last week, I wrote about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s astonishing whitewash of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in which he allowed members of the Islamist party that is on the threshold of taking power to portray themselves as innocent moderates. In Kristof’s version of reality, the Brotherhood, which is the home office of Islamism in the Arab world, is democratic, feminist and non-violent and would never dream of imposing its fundamentalist vision of society on Egypt or anywhere else. Kristof’s effort to make us think the Brotherhood is no threat to secular Egyptians, let alone Israel or the West, was in the New York Times’ tradition of Walter Duranty’s lies about Stalin, Herbert Matthews’ glorification of Fidel Castro and Roger Cohen’s apologia for Iran’s ayatollahs.

But Kristof wasn’t satisfied with merely one column about his dinner with Islamists. During the weekend, he came for seconds, this time to allow members of the Salafis–an even more extreme Islamist party than the Muslim Brotherhood–to also paint themselves as “moderates.” It was much the same as his first column, with the Times writer again concluding that we have nothing to fear and should place our trust in the wisdom of Egyptian voters who have given these two Islamist factions an overwhelming majority in parliament. But this says much more about the unwillingness of Kristof to confront the reality of Islamism than it does about his subjects.

One has to give credit to some of the Islamic activists who Kristof interviewed. They flawlessly played the famous journalist for a sucker. According to his account, the Salafis, whose extremism may scare even the Brotherhood, are harmless seekers of social justice who oppose corruption and don’t wish to break the peace with Israel, let alone infringe on the human and religious rights of Egyptians who don’t share their fervent brand of religion. As Kristof would have it, their talk of an Islamic state or the adoption of sharia or Muslim religious law by the state is no different from the appearance of the phrase “In God We Trust” on American coins. Tell that to the people of Gaza who live under the rule of the Brotherhood’s Hamas protégés.

But you don’t have to have won two Pulitzer Prizes, as Kristof has done, to know this is closer to satire than hard-nosed reporting. These Muslim parties have never made any secret of their intentions of creating an Islamist state. Nor is there a mystery about their attitudes toward Coptic Christians in Egypt, against whom they have inspired pogroms or Israel or Jews, who have been the object of anti-Semitic rabble-rousing by the Islamists in just the last month. At a Brotherhood rally in Cairo, speakers vowed to “kill all the Jews.”

For Kristof, this is nothing to get too worked up about. After all, he argues, Western fears about Arab nationalists in the 1950s and 1960s and Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser “proved overblown, and I think the same is true of anxieties about Islamic parties in Egypt today.”

In fact, fears about Nasser were not “overblown.” Nasser fomented wars throughout the Middle East, and his aggression set in motion the events that led to both the 1956 war between Israel and Egypt as well as the Six-Day War. If his nationalists did not succeed in making good on Nasser’s vow to destroy Israel or to create a pan-Arab state that would take control of the region, monopolize its resources and rout the West, it was not for lack of trying. His incompetence and the fractious, corrupt nature of the Egypt he ruled led to disaster.

By contrast, the Islamists who Kristof believes are just as harmless as Nasser have every intention of learning from his mistakes. Our fears, and those of Egypt’s religious minorities and its Israeli neighbors, is not the product of, as Kristof condescendingly insists, “our own mental hobgoblins,” but are the reasonable conclusions drawn by anyone who isn’t deaf, dumb or blind to what the Brotherhood, the Salafis and Hamas have been telling us about their plans for decades.

Sounding strangely like the most hopeful of neoconservatives, Kristof tell us to merely trust in the power of democracy to moderate these extremists. Though I believe democracy is the only answer for every country, regardless of their culture, it is simply untrue to claim, as he does, that “democracy is a step forward even when voters disappoint us.” Democracy is only a step forward when democrats are elected. When elections produce tyrants and totalitarians, as they have in Egypt and as they once did in Germany, the inevitable result is sorrow.

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Union Blasts OWS for Port Shutdown

In its continued quest for media attention, the fading Occupy Wall Street movement has moved on to shutting down ports along the West Coast. The movement claims it’s doing this in solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is currently feuding with a major grain exporter. But the union president isn’t exactly grateful for the “help” – in fact, he released a statement criticizing the OWS movement for “co-opting” the union’s fight:

As the Occupy movement, which began in September 2011, sweeps this country, there is a real danger that forces outside of the ILWU will attempt to adopt our struggle as their own. Support is one thing, organization from outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process and jeopardizes our over two-year struggle in Longview. …

Most recently, groups directly connected to the Occupy movement and other loosely affiliated social media groups have called for the shutdown of certain terminals and the West Coast ports. At the same time, these groups seek to link these shutdowns to the ILWU’s labor dispute with employer [grain exporter] EGT. None of this is sanctioned by the membership of the ILWU or informed by the local and International leadership. Simply put, there has been no communication with the leadership and no vote within the ILWU ranks on EGT associated Occupy actions.

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In its continued quest for media attention, the fading Occupy Wall Street movement has moved on to shutting down ports along the West Coast. The movement claims it’s doing this in solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is currently feuding with a major grain exporter. But the union president isn’t exactly grateful for the “help” – in fact, he released a statement criticizing the OWS movement for “co-opting” the union’s fight:

As the Occupy movement, which began in September 2011, sweeps this country, there is a real danger that forces outside of the ILWU will attempt to adopt our struggle as their own. Support is one thing, organization from outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process and jeopardizes our over two-year struggle in Longview. …

Most recently, groups directly connected to the Occupy movement and other loosely affiliated social media groups have called for the shutdown of certain terminals and the West Coast ports. At the same time, these groups seek to link these shutdowns to the ILWU’s labor dispute with employer [grain exporter] EGT. None of this is sanctioned by the membership of the ILWU or informed by the local and International leadership. Simply put, there has been no communication with the leadership and no vote within the ILWU ranks on EGT associated Occupy actions.

It sounds like the union is worried the shutdown could undermine the negotiating process. The port itself is also unhappy about the OWS demonstration, and has warned city residents that the protest will only end up hurting local workers:

The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they said could hurt the port’s standing among customers and cost local jobs.

“The port is going to do all that it can to keep operations going. Our businesses need to hear that. Our workers need to know that,” said Port of Oakland spokesman Isaac Kos-Read.

In its effort to attack “big corporations,” Occupy Wall Street may end up hurting the average employees. They can’t grasp that the port workers’ fates are tied up with the fate of the company. Less business means fewer jobs.

It’s one thing when an organized union with clear goals takes action against its employer. There’s plenty to criticize about labor unions, but you can’t deny that workers risk their jobs and livelihoods when they strike. The Occupiers, on the other hand, risk nothing. They’re not putting their jobs on the line, and they have no stated end goals that can be negotiated. This is disruption for disruption’s sake, and it benefits nobody.

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“Sin-Free” Egyptian Tourism?

In the Egyptian elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is winning about as many seats as most analysts expected, but with the totalitarian Salafists unexpectedly picking up an additional fourth or so of the vote, the Islamists are clocking in with a two-thirds majority. That doesn’t mean Egypt will degenerate into an Afghanistan on the Nile, but it likely won’t look much like Turkey does either.

“Tourists don’t need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt,” said Azza al-Jarf, a female candidate with the Muslim Brotherhood’s allegedly-but-not-really “moderate” Freedom and Justice Party. “They came to see the ancient civilization, not to drink alcohol…Tourism will be at its best under Freedom and Justice.”

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In the Egyptian elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is winning about as many seats as most analysts expected, but with the totalitarian Salafists unexpectedly picking up an additional fourth or so of the vote, the Islamists are clocking in with a two-thirds majority. That doesn’t mean Egypt will degenerate into an Afghanistan on the Nile, but it likely won’t look much like Turkey does either.

“Tourists don’t need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt,” said Azza al-Jarf, a female candidate with the Muslim Brotherhood’s allegedly-but-not-really “moderate” Freedom and Justice Party. “They came to see the ancient civilization, not to drink alcohol…Tourism will be at its best under Freedom and Justice.”

Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders say they want to leave tourism alone, so we’ll see how all this shakes out, but the Salafists, of course, want to go further and even impose gender segregation at holiday resorts that cater to foreigners.

I’ve been to Turkey a number of times. It’s hard to believe the president is an Islamist. Most Arab countries with secular leaders look and feel more Islamist than Turkey does with an Islamist government. Want to grab a drink in Istanbul? Go ahead. Decadent bars are literally everywhere. They aren’t there for tourists like they are in Jordan, they’re there for the locals. Pick a Turkish bar at random and you’re likely to be the only non-Turk inside who’s having a drink.

Want to wear a bikini to the beach? No problem. There are hardly fewer bikinis on the beach in Turkey than there are in Israel.

There are many things wrong with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but forcibly imposing theocratic rules on every human being who sets foot in his domain so far isn’t one of them.

We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about how the Muslim Brotherhood will supposedly follow the Turkish model of moderate Islamism if it comes to power, but I wouldn’t count on it. Egypt’s Islamists aren’t even in power yet and some of them are already talking about the imposition of theocratic rules on people who are neither Egyptian nor Muslim. Erdogan, by contrast, has been Turkey’s prime minister for almost nine years, and he hasn’t yet done this.

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Russian Opposition Gains Steam

The continuing saga of last week’s Russian elections had three important developments over the weekend–one expected, the other two coming as a bit of a surprise. The expected event was the protest rally in Moscow on Saturday that drew tens of thousands. (The Russian police say the crowd was at 20,000; organizers said it was 100,000.)

The rally was planned and approved ahead of time, though opposition activists are threatening more such rallies to protest the widespread election fraud of which Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, stands accused. But the other two developments suggest this vocal opposition to the Putin administration will continue.

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The continuing saga of last week’s Russian elections had three important developments over the weekend–one expected, the other two coming as a bit of a surprise. The expected event was the protest rally in Moscow on Saturday that drew tens of thousands. (The Russian police say the crowd was at 20,000; organizers said it was 100,000.)

The rally was planned and approved ahead of time, though opposition activists are threatening more such rallies to protest the widespread election fraud of which Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, stands accused. But the other two developments suggest this vocal opposition to the Putin administration will continue.

The first is that the Russian Orthodox Church spoke up on behalf of the protesters:

“It is evident that the secretive nature of certain elements of the electoral system concerns people, and there must be more public control over this system,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the most prominent spokesman for the church, in remarks to a widely followed Orthodox news website. “We must decide together how to do this through civilized public dialogue.”

The pronouncement by Father Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department of Church and Society Relations, was especially significant because he is often criticized as an apologist for the Kremlin. He has made several conservative statements in the past year, including a call for an Orthodox dress code in Russia, that have stirred controversy.

Father Chaplin told the New York Times last night that his church is willing to act as a representative of those who bring evidence of election tampering and will raise the issue with the administration. As the story notes, the church has a relationship with the government that has inspired criticism over the years. The church is known to be closer to outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev than to Putin, though it’s doubtful Putin’s planned return to the presidency next year has anything to do with the church’s decision to speak out. More than anything, it suggests the tide of public opinion has turned sharply against the administration.

Also this weekend, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced he will challenge Putin in next year’s presidential election. Prokhorov, who also owns the New Jersey Nets, was elected leader of the Pravoe Delo (“Right Cause”) party this past summer, promising to work long days and be honest with the electorate. “Strength is in the Truth,” went a popular campaign slogan for Pravoe Delo. But from the beginning, Prokhorov worked with the Kremlin not only on its election platform, but right down to the slate of candidates it would put up for election to the Duma. And in this was the genius. The party’s principles sounded an awful lot like other opposition parties–though ones without billionaire bankrollers. Pravoe Delo wasn’t an opposition party. It simply mimicked one in a much louder voice. Thus the Kremlin had the appearance of electoral competition from a bunch of would-be yes men.

True to form, when Prokhorov began to veer from the Kremlin’s personnel preferences, the ruling party’s chief ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, made his displeasure known and Prokhorov quit. He was furious: “To all followers who supported me, I call on you to quit this party bought by the Kremlin,” he told his party afterwards. Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center speculated that Prokhorov was inviting more trouble. “I don’t think he risks ending up in jail, but he’s still got business in Russia and he may find some obstacles,” Lipman told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Something that was smooth before could become difficult.”

This election bid will be the test, but Prokhorov is probably in a stronger position with regard to his safety now that the Russian Orthodox Church has defended the opposition. Prokhorov may not be in a stronger position politically, however, since he now has no party (and anyway Pravoe Delo received less than one percent of the vote last week). On the other hand, since he is the only fresh face in the election, he may be able to channel the support of the dissatisfied public. The question now will be whether Putin is able to subdue public anger at United Russia, or face an unexpectedly difficult path back to the presidency.

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DNC Chair: Unemployment Rate Hasn’t Increased Under Obama

To be fair to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her argument here isn’t as blatantly absurd and fallacious as it initially sounds. She doesn’t seem to be saying the unemployment rate hasn’t increased at all under Obama – that would be impossible to argue – just that numbers haven’t consistently gone up. After all, they dropped back down below 9 percent in November.

That claim is still faulty, because it doesn’t take into account the millions who have dropped out of the job market altogether since Obama took office. The dwindling pool of job-seekers has been the real source of the decreasing unemployment rate during the past few months, not anything the White House has done:

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To be fair to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her argument here isn’t as blatantly absurd and fallacious as it initially sounds. She doesn’t seem to be saying the unemployment rate hasn’t increased at all under Obama – that would be impossible to argue – just that numbers haven’t consistently gone up. After all, they dropped back down below 9 percent in November.

That claim is still faulty, because it doesn’t take into account the millions who have dropped out of the job market altogether since Obama took office. The dwindling pool of job-seekers has been the real source of the decreasing unemployment rate during the past few months, not anything the White House has done:

That said, Wasserman Schultz’s argument is incredibly misleading. Ed Morrissey rounds up the numbers:

  • Jobless rate in January 2009: 7.8%.  Jobless rate in November 2011: 8.6%.
  • Number of employed in January 2009, in thousands: 133,563.  In November 2011: 131,708
  • Civilian participation rate in January 2009: 65.7%.  In November 2011: 64.0%
  • Unemployment level in January 2009, in thousands: 11,984.  In November 2011: 13,303
  • Number of people not in labor force, January 2009, in thousands: 80,554.  In November 2011: 86,558

The White House’s messaging on job-creation has been all over the place recently. Back in the early fall, Obama was bashing Republicans in Congress for failing to tackle the unemployment problem by passing his critically necessary jobs bill. Now DSW is basically arguing that the unemployment situation really isn’t that bad, and it’s in the process of resolving itself anyway. No jobs bill necessary.

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Why Romney’s Not Closing the Deal

It’s been that kind of week for Mitt Romney. He put his foot firmly in his mouth by offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 with a flippancy that a less wealthy man might wager $10; the New York Times published a lengthy feature detailing the former Massachusetts governor’s somewhat schizophrenic approach to money. The piece, titled “Two Romneys: Wealthy Man, Thrifty Habits,” painted a portrait of a man of means who disdains the trappings of wealth and disliked spending money except when it came to acquiring expensive real estate. In one sense, it was a highly sympathetic profile of someone who was raised to believe in hard work and the value of a dollar but who was also oddly tone deaf to how his stingy ways can come across to others.

While this aspect of his character doesn’t tell us any more about what kind of a president he will be (though his dislike of spending certainly bodes well), this story may give us some insight into his difficulties as a candidate. For some reason, this well -spoken, handsome and highly accomplished individual just can’t get enough people to like him. The distrust a great many voters seem to have for Romney goes deeper than just health care and abortion–though those issues certainly have harmed his image among conservatives. His inability to connect with people or to understand why they view him with distrust is making it hard for this consummate businessman to close the deal with Republicans, even though his chief rival — Newt Gingrich – is as guilty of flip-flopping as he is. As Romney launches ads this week focusing on Gingrich’s personal flaws, it could be that his own less easily perceptible imperfections are having a greater impact on the GOP battle than the former Speaker’s dubious personal history.

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It’s been that kind of week for Mitt Romney. He put his foot firmly in his mouth by offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 with a flippancy that a less wealthy man might wager $10; the New York Times published a lengthy feature detailing the former Massachusetts governor’s somewhat schizophrenic approach to money. The piece, titled “Two Romneys: Wealthy Man, Thrifty Habits,” painted a portrait of a man of means who disdains the trappings of wealth and disliked spending money except when it came to acquiring expensive real estate. In one sense, it was a highly sympathetic profile of someone who was raised to believe in hard work and the value of a dollar but who was also oddly tone deaf to how his stingy ways can come across to others.

While this aspect of his character doesn’t tell us any more about what kind of a president he will be (though his dislike of spending certainly bodes well), this story may give us some insight into his difficulties as a candidate. For some reason, this well -spoken, handsome and highly accomplished individual just can’t get enough people to like him. The distrust a great many voters seem to have for Romney goes deeper than just health care and abortion–though those issues certainly have harmed his image among conservatives. His inability to connect with people or to understand why they view him with distrust is making it hard for this consummate businessman to close the deal with Republicans, even though his chief rival — Newt Gingrich – is as guilty of flip-flopping as he is. As Romney launches ads this week focusing on Gingrich’s personal flaws, it could be that his own less easily perceptible imperfections are having a greater impact on the GOP battle than the former Speaker’s dubious personal history.

Those writing off Romney this week after his first poor debate performance may be jumping the gun. Romney has the financial resources to weather a rocky patch and keep contesting primaries — especially in larger more moderate states — while accumulating enough delegates to stay in the fight. Gingrich’s weaknesses may yet sink him while Romney stays afloat. But the dislike of Romney, which as much as anything else has fueled the rise of Gingrich, can’t be dismissed as merely the result of Tea Party or religious conservative rigidity. The reason why the bet gaffe resonated was that it spoke to something in his character that strikes many in the public as insincere or indicative of his inability to understand the sensibilities of others.

That someone with as sterling a resume and a squeaky-clean personal life would be said to have a character problem doesn’t seem to make sense. Romney appears to be a man of unimpeachable character and great personal virtue. But there is also something in his manner that strikes all too many as false. Like one of his employees at Bain Capital who, according to the Times, said Romney told him he wished could have a Porsche too, when in fact, he could have had as many sports cars as he wanted, there is a disconnect there that troubles others and of which the candidate is strangely unaware. It may not be fair or completely explicable but it exists, and it’s far from clear there is much he can do about it.

Perhaps as the campaign goes on, Romney will loosen up more and allow the public to see more of his admirable qualities. But for now, political observers searching for an answer as to why the resistance to Romney is so intense must concede that this complex and talented figure may just have the type of personality that provokes an antipathy that cannot be overcome.

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Palestinians to Use UNESCO to Ban Jews From Tomb of the Patriarchs

The Palestinians were objectively unready to ascend to UNESCO. Palestinian schoolbooks, for instance, were checked by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) for compliance with UNESCO’s guidelines on “international standards on peace and tolerance.” Suffice to say that IMPACT-SE found fault with passages like “Muslim countries need urgently jihad and jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed lands and to get rid of the robbing Jews from the robbed lands in Palestine and in the Levant.”

But the Palestinians persisted and – because ostensibly objective international law is whatever anti-Israel partisans want it to be – they managed to easily join the UN body. Their tactical victory was described by the Associated Press under the meticulously objective headline “UNESCO Euphoria: Palestinians step up UN efforts/” It came over the objections of the U.S. and other Western countries, objections that were themselves described by Hezbollah as “racist” because Islamists long ago learned to couch their positions in soft multiculturalist language.

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The Palestinians were objectively unready to ascend to UNESCO. Palestinian schoolbooks, for instance, were checked by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) for compliance with UNESCO’s guidelines on “international standards on peace and tolerance.” Suffice to say that IMPACT-SE found fault with passages like “Muslim countries need urgently jihad and jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed lands and to get rid of the robbing Jews from the robbed lands in Palestine and in the Levant.”

But the Palestinians persisted and – because ostensibly objective international law is whatever anti-Israel partisans want it to be – they managed to easily join the UN body. Their tactical victory was described by the Associated Press under the meticulously objective headline “UNESCO Euphoria: Palestinians step up UN efforts/” It came over the objections of the U.S. and other Western countries, objections that were themselves described by Hezbollah as “racist” because Islamists long ago learned to couch their positions in soft multiculturalist language.

The actual vote count isn’t really important any more, but it’s worth noting that Czech theoretical physicist Lubos Motl was moved to suspend his cutting-edge string theory blogging so he could declare that “a majority of the educated, scientific, and cultural world has been against Palestine’s membership [but] this subtle fact cannot matter” because of the UN’s anti-Western majority. He also noted that “the Palestinians are optimizing the ways to radicalize and sacrifice their children for the cult of terror,” which is similarly tangential to the news below about the Tomb of the Patriarchs but is undeniably true.

Having overlooked the Palestinians’ pro-genocide textbooks, UNESCO spent the next few weeks complaining about Ha’aretz political cartoons and electing Syria to a human rights-related committee. That was a nice break from their usual and elaborate practice of conducting anti-Israel lawfare, but now they’re back in their wheelhouse:

There’s not much about the [Tomb of the Patriarchs] that’s in doubt, including what Palestinian officials aim to do with the property if they get control of it — stop Jews from praying there. The stated reason: The massive stone structure built atop the cave by King Herod, a Jew, and held for a time by Christian Crusaders, has since the 14th century been a Muslim house of worship. The Ibrahimi Mosque has minarets, rugs, washrooms for ablutions and anterooms lined with racks for storing shoes. “It’s a mosque!” says Khaled Osaily, the mayor of Hebron. “You don’t have to be an architect to see it! Will you allow me to pray in a synagogue or a church?”

There’s precedent for this move. Just last year UNESCO declared that Rachel’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site attested to by extra-Biblical references dating back to the 4th century AD, was now a mosque. Scholars believe that the tomb’s absence from pre-Crusade Muslim texts shows that it was unimportant to early Islam. but – like so much in the Holy Land – its importance to Jews seems to have sparked renewed veneration among Muslims.

Next up will be Jerusalem itself. During the summer, UNESCO made a halting gesture at the idea that Jews have some claim on the city. Hamas – which you’ll recall is very much not a UN member-state with the same rights and prerogatives and Israel – promptly and strongly objected, and then UNESCO rushed to take the whole thing back. Not a promising precedent.

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Romney Recalls His Austerity Years

Here’s Mitt Romney recalling his austerity years as a Mormon missionary in France–all two and a half of them:

“You’re not living high on the hog at that level,” he said. “A number of the apartments that I lived in when I was there didn’t have toilets – we had instead the little pads on the ground – OK, you know how that works, pull – there was a chain behind you with kind of a bucket, bucket affair. I had not experienced one of those in the United States.”

Romney said he and his fellow missionaries showered once a week at a facility where you could pay a few francs to bathe – “Or if we were got lucky, we actually bought a hose and would hold it there on the sink … and wash ourselves that way.”

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Here’s Mitt Romney recalling his austerity years as a Mormon missionary in France–all two and a half of them:

“You’re not living high on the hog at that level,” he said. “A number of the apartments that I lived in when I was there didn’t have toilets – we had instead the little pads on the ground – OK, you know how that works, pull – there was a chain behind you with kind of a bucket, bucket affair. I had not experienced one of those in the United States.”

Romney said he and his fellow missionaries showered once a week at a facility where you could pay a few francs to bathe – “Or if we were got lucky, we actually bought a hose and would hold it there on the sink … and wash ourselves that way.”

If this is Romney’s idea of damage control for his $10,000-bet gaffe, then he’s playing a losing game. There’s little he can say to convince the public he has personally experienced financial struggle. And talking about how broke he was during his two or three years in France as a teenager only makes him seem more out-of-touch.

So instead of trying to pretend he’s not outrageously rich (and always has been), Romney would do better to laugh this one off and move on. As Moe Lane writes, via the Morning Jolt:

The reason why the $10,000 thing resonates — and will keep resonating — against Romney is that it fits the negative stereotype of him. If Team Romney wishes to neutralize it, I suggest that they do what Team Perry did last month and embrace the gaffe. Because that’s why Rick Perry is still in the race: of all the people laughing at him about the Third Thing, his was the loudest.

Unlike the left, Republicans don’t hate rich people. They also admire passion and work ethic. If Romney had simply spent his life sponging off of his family’s money, then his $10,000 gaffe would be lethal. But nobody can deny he worked hard to build his own wealth. He should embrace that, not run from it.

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Gaza Media Manipulation

The International Solidarity Movement is one of those quirky peace-loving pro-Palestinian groups that also happens to support and provide succor to anti-Jewish mass murderers. The organization – which of course gets shady NGO fundingserved as a cover for the UK terrorists who infiltrated Tel Aviv and committed mass murder at Mike’s Place. It attempted to assist Palestinian terrorists who hid in the Church of the Nativity. Its members help organize and proudly participate in efforts to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

None of that is an accident. In 2002 the group’s founders, Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf, advocated “Palestinian resistance… both non-violent and violent.” They tsk tsk’d that “people will get killed and injured” but reassured their audience that at least the injured Palestinians “would be considered shaheed,” a word not coincidentally used in other contexts to celebrate suicide bombers. Arraf took pains two months ago to point out that she hasn’t changed her mind, and that she and the ISM “recognize the Palestinian right to use armed struggle.”

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The International Solidarity Movement is one of those quirky peace-loving pro-Palestinian groups that also happens to support and provide succor to anti-Jewish mass murderers. The organization – which of course gets shady NGO fundingserved as a cover for the UK terrorists who infiltrated Tel Aviv and committed mass murder at Mike’s Place. It attempted to assist Palestinian terrorists who hid in the Church of the Nativity. Its members help organize and proudly participate in efforts to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

None of that is an accident. In 2002 the group’s founders, Adam Shapiro and Huwaida Arraf, advocated “Palestinian resistance… both non-violent and violent.” They tsk tsk’d that “people will get killed and injured” but reassured their audience that at least the injured Palestinians “would be considered shaheed,” a word not coincidentally used in other contexts to celebrate suicide bombers. Arraf took pains two months ago to point out that she hasn’t changed her mind, and that she and the ISM “recognize the Palestinian right to use armed struggle.”

And now they’re seeking new human shields and propagandists for Hamas:

The International Solidarity Movement is appealing for activists to join our team in the besieged Gaza Strip. After being barred from Gaza in 2003 following the murders of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, ISM Gaza was reinstated in August 2008 when ISM and other volunteers traveled aboard the historic, siege-breaking voyage of the first Free Gaza Movement boat… ISM volunteers refused to leave when Israel began bombing Gaza in December 2008. During the devastating 23-day assault, activists accompanied ambulances and provided vital testimony to the international media.

That’s a strange boast to make, since you wouldn’t think that international media outlets would agree to turn the propaganda of pro-violence activists into news. Maybe the ISM is just mistaken.

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Center for American Progress Scrubs “Israel Firster” Accusations

Let’s give some credit to the Center for American Progress – after being accused of having an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slant last week, the think tank bluntly rejected the use of Jewish dual loyalty terms like “Israel Firster,” and the demonization of the Jewish state.

This is welcome news, not only because CAP acknowledged the noxious implications of the dual loyalty charge, but also because it drew a clear line in the sand that said this anti-Semitic canard isn’t acceptable in serious discourse, even on the political left.

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Let’s give some credit to the Center for American Progress – after being accused of having an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slant last week, the think tank bluntly rejected the use of Jewish dual loyalty terms like “Israel Firster,” and the demonization of the Jewish state.

This is welcome news, not only because CAP acknowledged the noxious implications of the dual loyalty charge, but also because it drew a clear line in the sand that said this anti-Semitic canard isn’t acceptable in serious discourse, even on the political left.

But if CAP’s going to condemn terms like “Israel Firster,” it can’t just ignore the fact that its own writers have smeared Israel supporters with that line in the past. These tweets from CAP writer Zaid Jilani’s Twitter feed were scrubbed from Twitter without explanation, after Ben Smith’s article was published last week:

@ZaidJilani: Israel Firsters fighting each other over whose position on the middle east conflict is more unreasonable

6 Dec via web

@ZaidJilani: Can hack Dem bloggers write less about how Obama isn’t hated by Israel Firsters and how he needs to be more hated by them?

14 Jul via web

@ZaidJilani: Waiting 4 hack pro-Dem blogger to use this: bit.ly/qT9eH2 2 sho Obama is still beloved by Israel-firsters and getting lots of their $$

13 Jul via web

Here’s why this is an issue: CAP has shifted from defending itself against charges of anti-Semitism, to attacking journalists like WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin for calling the content of some of its blogs anti-Semitic. Since it had writers making comments like the ones above, you can see why Rubin might have drawn this conclusion.

I reached out to Jilani, who backed away from the comments and said he wasn’t aware of the  long, ugly history of anti-Semitism behind the dual loyalty charge:

“When I tweeted that phrase, I was unaware of all the connotations it carried. Having since been made aware, I deleted the tweets to avoid offending any more people. I apologize deeply to those who saw the phrase in the timeline of my personal twitter account and was offended. Bigotry and anti-Semitism are against my values.”

Jilani made it clear that he was speaking for himself. But CAP might also be better off acknowledging the error, instead of attacking journalists like Rubin who called the think tank out for the comments.

Meanwhile, Media Matters Senior Fellow M.J. Rosenberg continues to regularly and gleefully accuse Israel supporters of being “Israel Firsters.” Rosenberg has the right to say what he wants, and Media Matters has the right to support him for it. But by doing so, Media Matters is also tacitly endorsing an ugly canard that other left-wing organizations, like CAP, rightly consider unfit for respectable discourse. Why should anyone take Media Matters seriously as a media watchdog group when its Senior Fellow spends much of his time spreading malicious and demonstrably false information about Jewish American journalists and Israel supporters?

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On Muslim Anti-Semitism, It’s Gutman Versus the Saudis

On one side is President Obama’s still-not-fired Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, who told a crowd of Europeans that Muslim anti-Semitism has geopolitical rather than religious roots. On the other side are Saudi high school textbooks just exposed in a new report from the watchdog group MEMRI:

A twelfth-grade Saudi textbook is teaching hatred of Jews and jihad to liberate Palestine, according to MEMRI… “Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it,” states Saudi textbook Studies from the Muslim World. The book says that the conflict will not end unless one side vanquishes the other, because “throughout Islamic history, the Jews have striven to destroy the [Islamic] religion and spread fitna [chaos] among the Muslims.” The book also repeats classic anti-Semitic lies that Jews have taken control of Western media and culture, exploited their home societies, and aligned themselves with Christians to destroy Islam.

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On one side is President Obama’s still-not-fired Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, who told a crowd of Europeans that Muslim anti-Semitism has geopolitical rather than religious roots. On the other side are Saudi high school textbooks just exposed in a new report from the watchdog group MEMRI:

A twelfth-grade Saudi textbook is teaching hatred of Jews and jihad to liberate Palestine, according to MEMRI… “Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it,” states Saudi textbook Studies from the Muslim World. The book says that the conflict will not end unless one side vanquishes the other, because “throughout Islamic history, the Jews have striven to destroy the [Islamic] religion and spread fitna [chaos] among the Muslims.” The book also repeats classic anti-Semitic lies that Jews have taken control of Western media and culture, exploited their home societies, and aligned themselves with Christians to destroy Islam.

Suffice to say these kinds of textbooks and teachings are found at quite literally every level of the Saudi educational system.

Now it could be the textbooks’ Muslim authors just don’t understand Islam as deeply as does Gutman, and so they misunderstand the nature and sources of religiously-grounded Muslim anti-Semitism. Still, just on the off-chance they know something about Islamist ideology that Gutman has overlooked, he might do well to get a couple of copies from the State Department. Hannah Rosenthal, State’s envoy for combating anti-Semitism, has been complaining fruitlessly about them, so Foggy Bottom probably has some spares lying around.

Interestingly, Rosenthal has expressed herself particularly frustrated by Arab leaders who tried to move discussions over anti-Semitism toward the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The most common response, she said, was avoidance and of a hoary variety: Talk about Jews almost inevitably led to grievances about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. “As soon as a conversation about religious tolerance becomes tense, they shut it down or they go to Israel-Palestine,” she told JTA in an exclusive interview.

So apparently we finally have the Obama State Department’s rules for rationalizing anti-Semitism by reference to Israel: objectionable in Saudi textbooks, but acceptable in speeches by sitting ambassadors bearing the imprimatur of the United States. This administration really is filled with nuance, isn’t it?

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