Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 3, 2012

NYTimes Gives Solace to Virtual Lynch Mob

On December 29, Egyptian security forces descended on the offices of Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seizing both work and personal computers, and detaining staff members in their respective buildings. The State Department, for its part, said it was “deeply concerned,” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, to reiterate the condemnation.

Both NDI and IRI are funded by congressional grants administered through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI does not receive money from the Republican Party, nor does NDI receive money from the Democratic Party. They are not like European political party foundations, in that they do not serve as arms of any political party. Because U.S. taxpayer money supports both organizations, they cooperate closely and do not compete. Sometimes they work exclusively in one country or another while in other places like Egypt where they both make sure they work on separate, complementary projects rather than competing projects. NDI and IRI staff are also impressive. They are far better in general than their State Department counterparts at breaking out of the bubble to get a sense of what is going on at ground level. They certainly deliver more bang for the taxpayer buck than do USAID or the State Department.

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On December 29, Egyptian security forces descended on the offices of Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seizing both work and personal computers, and detaining staff members in their respective buildings. The State Department, for its part, said it was “deeply concerned,” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, to reiterate the condemnation.

Both NDI and IRI are funded by congressional grants administered through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI does not receive money from the Republican Party, nor does NDI receive money from the Democratic Party. They are not like European political party foundations, in that they do not serve as arms of any political party. Because U.S. taxpayer money supports both organizations, they cooperate closely and do not compete. Sometimes they work exclusively in one country or another while in other places like Egypt where they both make sure they work on separate, complementary projects rather than competing projects. NDI and IRI staff are also impressive. They are far better in general than their State Department counterparts at breaking out of the bubble to get a sense of what is going on at ground level. They certainly deliver more bang for the taxpayer buck than do USAID or the State Department.

The New York Times has, along with other elite newspapers, covered the raids in generally a straight-forward fashion. In an editorial, the New York Times called IRI and NDI, “well known and respected.” How times have changed. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times published a series of hit pieces about IRI. While Democrats play a pro forma role at NDI, and Republicans do likewise at IRI, the New York Times sought to weave reality into a far more sinister, error-ridden conspiracy. Because he wanted to target John McCain, Times reporter Mike McIntire used IRI–an organization he knew very little about—as a foil, raising protests not only in the democracy community, but also overseas–among those whom IRI has long assisted.

That the New York Times would come to IRI’s defense against the Egyptian outrage, yet seek to tar and feather the organization in the context of a U.S. political campaign in which it had no involvement, shows the Gray Lady’s blatant politicization. The New York Times’ 2008 attack was not so different in spirit than Tantawi’s 2011 assault. The only difference was that Tantawi controls his own thugs, while  Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. could only give intellectual solace to a virtual lynch mob.

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Disgraceful Comments About Santorum

Allahpundit has a post  linking to some comments by the liberal commentator Alan Colmes. In a discussion with National Review’s Rich Lowry about the political rise of Rick Santorum, Colmes refers to some of the “crazy things [Santorum has] said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child is real.”

The comments by Colmes are not only disgraceful; ridiculing a family for how they handled the death of their child is something you would expect to hear from a sickened mind. Rich expresses genuine and appropriate outrage at Colmes, who comes across as a particularly snide and mean-spirited liberal.

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Allahpundit has a post  linking to some comments by the liberal commentator Alan Colmes. In a discussion with National Review’s Rich Lowry about the political rise of Rick Santorum, Colmes refers to some of the “crazy things [Santorum has] said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child is real.”

The comments by Colmes are not only disgraceful; ridiculing a family for how they handled the death of their child is something you would expect to hear from a sickened mind. Rich expresses genuine and appropriate outrage at Colmes, who comes across as a particularly snide and mean-spirited liberal.

Allahpundit links to an interview with Santorum from several months ago, in which Santorum, during a poignant conversation with CNN’s Piers Morgan, explains why the Santorum family did what it did. One does not have to agree with the course of action the Santorum family followed to know that referring to what they did as “crazy” is unusually ugly. Even for Alan Colmes.

Update: Alan Colmes tweeted that he spoke to Rick and Karen Santorum and they graciously accepted his apology.

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ADL, AJC Rebuke CAP for “Hateful” Anti-Israel Comments

The controversy over Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers has dragged on for what seems like an eternity in blog-time. When the story first broke, Newt Gingrich was still a GOP frontrunner, the battle over the payroll tax cut was still suspenseful, and Ben Smith was still at Politico. I only say all this to emphasize how absurdly long it took the AJC and ADL to weigh in on the issue:

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League weighed in last week on the mushrooming anti-Israel scandal surrounding a group of bloggers working for the U.S. think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told the Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”

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The controversy over Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers has dragged on for what seems like an eternity in blog-time. When the story first broke, Newt Gingrich was still a GOP frontrunner, the battle over the payroll tax cut was still suspenseful, and Ben Smith was still at Politico. I only say all this to emphasize how absurdly long it took the AJC and ADL to weigh in on the issue:

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League weighed in last week on the mushrooming anti-Israel scandal surrounding a group of bloggers working for the U.S. think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told the Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”

The ADL, for its part, told the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal it considered two specific comments from CAP bloggers to be anti-Semitic, including the “Israel Firster” remarks and claims the Israel lobby had pushed the U.S. into the Iraq war.

So now that the ADL – considered by many media outlets to be the final word in all things anti-Semitism – has criticized the think tank, where does this leave the CAP-linked Truman National Security Project?

If you remember way back in late December, the Truman Project broke its association with former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, claiming he crossed the line by calling statements made by CAP bloggers anti-Semitic. Implying that Block’s accusations were false, the Truman Project wrote that his statements were akin to a “character attack” against the CAP writers. Bill Kristol weighed in on the controversy in a scathing post last month:

Block is a pro-Israel Clinton-type liberal (who in fact served in the Clinton administration). The Truman Project says that it seeks to advance a ”strong progressive national security policy,” and claims to represent mainstream liberal and Democratic foreign policy thinking. Doesn’t the expulsion of Block suggest that it is now impossible to be unapologetically pro-Israel—and publicly hostile to those who are anti-Israel—and remain a member in good standing of the liberal and Democratic foreign policy establishment?

I asked the Truman Project today whether it believed the ADL and AJC were also wrong for calling the comments from CAP bloggers anti-Semitic. The center’s spokesperson, Dave Solimini, declined to answer the question directly:

I think our position has been very clear on this. Josh was removed from our community because he was unable to differentiate between an honest debate and damaging personal attacks. There is real anti-Semitism in the world and we cannot debase the term by using it for everyone who disagrees with us on Israel policy. We are a community of trust, and his actions have caused too many to fear discussion within our community.

Okay – so in other words, the Truman Project doesn’t believe that the comments from CAP bloggers about dual-loyalty and “Israel-Firsters” rise to the level of “real” anti-Semitism? I posed this question to Solimini and received another non-response:

Thanks for getting back to me; I’m sure this is a trying story to cover with so much flying around.  Frankly, we consider the matter of Josh’s behavior closed. If you need a quote from us, the language to use is what I sent at first. Anything more would be your words, not ours, and I would suggest against it. As I said, we consider the issue of Josh’s behavior closed.

Ah. So we can confirm that the Truman Project believes there is real anti-Semitism in the world, but that this is very different from legitimate disagreements on Israel policy. Unfortunately, the first part of that means depressingly little if the organization can’t explain the difference between the two. When I pressed Solimini to simply explain which comments from CAP bloggers the Truman Project believed were falsely labeled “anti-Semitic” by Josh Block, he declined.

“The decision to remove Josh from our community was made without any input from CAP, and it was made because of Josh’s behavior, not his views on policy,” wrote Solimini.

So there you have it. The Truman Project cut ties with Block for behavior it will not explain. It refuses to say whether it believes dual-loyalty charges constitute “real” anti-Semitism. And it’s standing by its position that the remarks from CAP bloggers were merely “disagree[ments] on Israel policy,” even after the offensive comments have been condemned by the three leading American Jewish organizations. It makes you wonder, what would President Truman think?

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Is Santa the Canary in the Coal Mine?

In 2010, a Turkish tourism company announced it would promote Turkey as the original home of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ birthplace in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya became a staple of Turkey’s tourism campaign.

If Santa Claus is the canary in the coal mine, then religious – and cultural tolerance – in Turkey may soon be a thing of the past. Süleyman Yeniçeri, a mufti in Turkey’s northwestern district of Keşan, has launched his own little jihad against ol’ Saint Nick:

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In 2010, a Turkish tourism company announced it would promote Turkey as the original home of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ birthplace in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya became a staple of Turkey’s tourism campaign.

If Santa Claus is the canary in the coal mine, then religious – and cultural tolerance – in Turkey may soon be a thing of the past. Süleyman Yeniçeri, a mufti in Turkey’s northwestern district of Keşan, has launched his own little jihad against ol’ Saint Nick:

“Santa Claus enters homes through chimneys and windows, but he would have entered homes through the door if he was a decent person. We enter homes through doors. The Quran tells us to enter homes through doors. Why would he enter through the chimney?”

Santa Claus is not alone on Yeniçeri’s hit list. If he had his way, New Year’s celebrations would also be a thing of the past:

“Celebrating an event that originated from Christianity means striving to become like them. Why would we ever want to live like them? Do they want to become like us… If one wants to have fun because others do, we need to look into the notion of entertainment. One becomes a sinner if entertainment involves drinking wine and alcohol.”

Now, I certainly don’t put Christmas decorations up at my house, but I have to admit I enjoy seeing them. I do recognize that most of the cartoon characters surrounding Christmas—be they Santa, Rudolph, or Frosty—don’t mean me any harm, nor do I believe that others expressing their religion is an attack on my own faith. Indeed, for 14 years I attended a Christian school, but found little hostility there to Jews, Muslims, or adherents of other religions.

It would be easy to dismiss Yeniçeri as a crackpot—every country certainly has its share—but it would be wrong to casually wave Yeniçeri off. After all, another prominent Turk once declared, “I am against the [Western] New Year’s celebrations.” That man, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is now prime minister.

Turkey is changing. The war against religious tolerance in Turkey today parallels that in Iran three decades ago and, when the attacks on Christian priests and synagogues are considered, has been only slightly less violent than what is now ongoing in Egypt. A Turkish model indeed.

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