Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 23, 2012

The Stain of the Saints

Many newspapers in America gave front-page coverage to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the coming year (costing him his $7.5 million salary), former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and lost several high future draft picks.

The penalties were leveled in the aftermath of an investigation of the Saints’ illegal bounty program designed, in part, to injure opposing players from 2009 to 2011. It was the strongest punishment in league history.

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Many newspapers in America gave front-page coverage to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the coming year (costing him his $7.5 million salary), former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and lost several high future draft picks.

The penalties were leveled in the aftermath of an investigation of the Saints’ illegal bounty program designed, in part, to injure opposing players from 2009 to 2011. It was the strongest punishment in league history.

Drew Brees, the Pro Bowl quarterback of the Saints, said via Twitter, “I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for punishment.”

How about (for starters) lying to the NFL during its investigation and refusing to stop the program after the league had ordered it to do so. You could add to the list conduct that is disgraceful (paying a bounty to players whose hit causes another player to be taken off the field on a stretcher borders on malevolence). And protecting players from injury. And the integrity of the game. And sending a message that will prevent anything like this from every happening again.

It is precisely because football is an inherently violent game that clear boundaries need to be drawn and certain rules abided by. The New Orleans Saints, a franchise that a few years ago was the feel-good sports story of the year, has stained itself in ways that will be hard to recover from.

Roger Goodell, on the other hand, acted in an appropriate and impressive manner. He sent a powerful message, including a powerful moral message that will become a model for other profession sports leagues.

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Who’s the Real Conservative? Ask Toomey

Some will call it payback but to those who know and or have followed Pat Toomey’s political career closely, it’s just yet another instance of his logical mind following a question to its proper conclusion. Pennsylvania’s junior senator told a gathering of conservative activists today that questions about the conservatism of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney are unfounded. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected, he’ll govern as a conservative,” Toomey said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Coming on the heels of another virtual endorsement from one of the Senate’s other leading conservatives, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, the Toomey statement is strong ammunition for the Romney campaign, especially in the lead up to the Pennsylvania Primary on April 24.

It is a given that some observers will merely put down this statement as a belated reprisal for Rick Santorum’s infamous decision to back Arlen Specter against Toomey in a 2004 Senate primary race. But Toomey and Santorum put that dispute behind them long ago. The Toomey statement is actually far worse for Santorum than merely getting even for his role in keeping him out of the Senate eight years ago. Toomey, the former head of the Club for Growth, is as principled a conservative on fiscal issues as one can find in the Senate or anywhere else and his acceptance of Romney’s bona fides is a telling statement about what he thinks about both the frontrunner as well as the challenger.

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Some will call it payback but to those who know and or have followed Pat Toomey’s political career closely, it’s just yet another instance of his logical mind following a question to its proper conclusion. Pennsylvania’s junior senator told a gathering of conservative activists today that questions about the conservatism of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney are unfounded. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected, he’ll govern as a conservative,” Toomey said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. Coming on the heels of another virtual endorsement from one of the Senate’s other leading conservatives, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, the Toomey statement is strong ammunition for the Romney campaign, especially in the lead up to the Pennsylvania Primary on April 24.

It is a given that some observers will merely put down this statement as a belated reprisal for Rick Santorum’s infamous decision to back Arlen Specter against Toomey in a 2004 Senate primary race. But Toomey and Santorum put that dispute behind them long ago. The Toomey statement is actually far worse for Santorum than merely getting even for his role in keeping him out of the Senate eight years ago. Toomey, the former head of the Club for Growth, is as principled a conservative on fiscal issues as one can find in the Senate or anywhere else and his acceptance of Romney’s bona fides is a telling statement about what he thinks about both the frontrunner as well as the challenger.

Though Santorum has campaigned as the true conservative in the race as opposed to the “Massachusetts moderate,” there’s little doubt that Toomey has always been to his right when it came to government spending, entitlements and earmarks. Santorum spent his 12 years in the Senate working hard to bring home the federal bacon to the state Toomey has always disdained that sort of pork barrel politics even when he was representing the Allentown area in the House from 1998 to 2004. When Toomey says, as he did today that Romney stands for “the principles of limited government” that means something.

While I doubt that Toomey would take an active role in the primary or campaign for Romney (now that really would be payback), today’s statement will be a reminder to many Pennsylvania conservatives of all the things they don’t like about Santorum. It’s also why those who assume that Santorum would romp in his home state are probably exaggerating his appeal. While he is ahead in the polls and deserves to be favored, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he will win.

Even more to the point, Toomey and DeMint are signaling to movement conservatives and Tea Partiers around the nation that it is time for them to close ranks behind the inevitable Republican standard bearer. While Santorum will undoubtedly continue to nip at Romney’s heels at least until Pennsylvania votes, it’s one more sign that the race is coming to a conclusion.

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Obama’s Energy Tour a Political Disaster

President Obama’s energy tour was supposed to placate public anger over rising gas prices, and show voters that the White House is taking their concerns seriously. Instead, the tour only ended up highlighting Obama’s dismal energy record, and gave Republicans ample opportunity to make their case to the media.

The reason is that Americans have heard these promises from Obama before, and know better than to expect results.

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President Obama’s energy tour was supposed to placate public anger over rising gas prices, and show voters that the White House is taking their concerns seriously. Instead, the tour only ended up highlighting Obama’s dismal energy record, and gave Republicans ample opportunity to make their case to the media.

The reason is that Americans have heard these promises from Obama before, and know better than to expect results.

“We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” Obama said in a major address last March. But apparently he can, and he did, because his administration squirmed out of making a decision on the Keystone XL months ago when gas prices weren’t a major concern, and is now trying to pretend it loves nothing more than drilling domestic oil.

If there was any way Obama could back out of his decision to kill the Keystone XL, he probably would. But at this point there’s not much he can do, short of acknowledging that his excuse for delaying the pipeline decision for another year was essentially a political stunt. So he’s out on the campaign trail giving ostentatious displays of support for the southern leg of the pipeline, which doesn’t even need the administration’s approval to begin with.

The charade isn’t even working with members of the president’s own party:

“I think it’s the most idiotic political move I’ve ever seen,” said Cardoza, who supports the pipeline. The California Democrat said the president needs to make a decision one way or another and stick to it.

If he’s going to build it, “do it, take your lumps, be done with it,” he added.

Cardoza said the latest maneuver amounts to “highlighting a waffle.”

“They don’t build statues to wafflers,” he said.

And Obama hasn’t just succeeded in aggravating Keystone XL supporters. He’s also managed to anger the pipeline’s opponents as well:

National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger said the president had taken a “dangerous wrong turn on energy.”

“Rushing pipelines and drill rigs for rich oil executives will only delay the investments we need in renewable energy and create long-lasting damage to our waters and lands,” he said in a statement.

Obama thought he could walk the middle line on this issue by delaying the Keystone XL decision until after the election. Instead it looks like he might actually end up alienating both sides, which would be a pretty remarkable achievement.

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Jews of the Arab World Are Already Home

Do the descendants of Jews who fled the Arab and Muslim world in 1948 want to “go home?” That’s the odd question asked today by Foreign Policy magazine in introducing a photo essay featuring images of the remnants of Jewish life in places like Libya, Iraq and Iran. But while the photos are interesting, the idea that “the uncertain revolutions of the past year may present the best chance for long-exiled Jewish communities across the Middle East to return home” is probably the most bizarre as well as misleading statements published on the topic in some time. Not only are Jews not longing to return to the Arab world, the so-called Arab Spring has unleashed forces of Islamism that makes such an unlikely occurrence even less inviting for anyone foolish enough to believe that Jews are welcome there.

For decades one of the most appalling gaps in knowledge of the modern history of the Middle East is the way even supposedly educated people ignore the fact that what happened in 1948 was an exchange of populations. While hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled the area that would become the State of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Jews were fled, usually for fear of the lives, from Arab countries where Jews had lived for more than a millennium. The difference between the two sets of refugees is that while the Jews were resettled in Israel and the West, the Arabs were left refused homes elsewhere in the Middle East and kept in camps where they were told to wait until the Jewish state was destroyed.

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Do the descendants of Jews who fled the Arab and Muslim world in 1948 want to “go home?” That’s the odd question asked today by Foreign Policy magazine in introducing a photo essay featuring images of the remnants of Jewish life in places like Libya, Iraq and Iran. But while the photos are interesting, the idea that “the uncertain revolutions of the past year may present the best chance for long-exiled Jewish communities across the Middle East to return home” is probably the most bizarre as well as misleading statements published on the topic in some time. Not only are Jews not longing to return to the Arab world, the so-called Arab Spring has unleashed forces of Islamism that makes such an unlikely occurrence even less inviting for anyone foolish enough to believe that Jews are welcome there.

For decades one of the most appalling gaps in knowledge of the modern history of the Middle East is the way even supposedly educated people ignore the fact that what happened in 1948 was an exchange of populations. While hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled the area that would become the State of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Jews were fled, usually for fear of the lives, from Arab countries where Jews had lived for more than a millennium. The difference between the two sets of refugees is that while the Jews were resettled in Israel and the West, the Arabs were left refused homes elsewhere in the Middle East and kept in camps where they were told to wait until the Jewish state was destroyed.

The descendants of those Arab refugees, whose numbers we are amount to several millions, are still waiting and their demands for a “return” continues to serve as a standing impediment to the otherwise dim hopes for peace. Meanwhile the descendants of the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world have been successfully integrated into Israeli life. They rightly insist that any compensation to the descendants of the original Arab refugees should be matched by payments to the Jews for the property they left behind. These demands are routinely ignored, as is the entire narrative of Jewish dispossession.

Rather than the Arab Spring helping to create a situation where amends might be made for the Jews who were expelled from countries like Egypt, the rise of Islamist parties there has made the status of religious minorities even more uncertain. While Jews once thrived in the Muslim world, albeit under the intermittent threat of persecution and pogroms, the notion that Jews would be free to live there while expressing their identity is farcical.

In the first picture in the essay, the magazine notes the example of David Gerbi who returned to Libya after the fall of Qaddafi hoping to begin the reclaim a lost synagogue. But they fail to note that he was arrested and threaten with violence for doing so. In the next photo, they put forward the claim that Jews live freely in Iran and are not put out by the anti-Semitic invective that flows from its government. Here again, the caption fails to note that Iranian Jews are the subject of frequent persecution and are virtual hostages living under threat of punishment for speaking freely about their situation. The magazine’s portrayal is reminiscent of Roger Cohen’s infamous whitewash of Iran on this subject.

There are some bright spots Foreign Policy can actually point to. One is Iraq where Hebrew studies have been encouraged. But this is more the work of the long American presence in the country than any popular sentiment to welcome home those who were victimized by pogroms in the 1940s. In Iraqi Kurdistan, there is the chance for good relations with Israel and the Jews but that only demonstrates the Kurds’ determination to reject the Islamism that dominates Iran and some parties in Iraq.

However, the magazine altogether misses the one example of a successful Jewish community in the Arab world that predates the Arab spring: Tunisia where the Jews of Djerba have never left. Unfortunately, the rise of Islamist parties in post-authoritarian Tunisia makes their stay a bit more precarious.

But the main point to be understood here is that the Jews of the Arab world are already home. The vast majority of them returned to their people’s ancient homeland in Israel and have no intention of trading it for life as Dhimmi — tolerated minorities subject to persecution — in a Muslim world that is more dominated than ever by the forces of intolerance that were unleashed in last year’s revolutions.

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What Santorum’s Gaffe Says About Conservatives

Throughout the race, pundits have wondered whether a Mitt Romney nomination would keep the conservative base at home next November. Now they may have their answer. Conservatives don’t gloss over Romney’s flaws, and many cheer on his GOP opponents when they skewer his moderate positions. Rick Santorum has recently gone all out on the Romney-is-a-RINO theme, running ads comparing Romney to President Obama. But there is a line. And Santorum barreled right through it when he blurted out that America might as well stick with Obama instead of taking a risk on Romney yesterday.

Conservatives were outraged, and Santorum quickly attempted to backpedal.

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Throughout the race, pundits have wondered whether a Mitt Romney nomination would keep the conservative base at home next November. Now they may have their answer. Conservatives don’t gloss over Romney’s flaws, and many cheer on his GOP opponents when they skewer his moderate positions. Rick Santorum has recently gone all out on the Romney-is-a-RINO theme, running ads comparing Romney to President Obama. But there is a line. And Santorum barreled right through it when he blurted out that America might as well stick with Obama instead of taking a risk on Romney yesterday.

Conservatives were outraged, and Santorum quickly attempted to backpedal.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey, a Santorum supporter (and an excellent model for how a pundit can endorse a candidate and still provide fair and balanced election coverage), had this response to the controversy:

It seems that Senator Santorum has forgotten the purpose of the Republican primary.  It’s to choose the most successful candidate to beat Obama in the general election.  It isn’t to test a few candidates to see whether the goal of beating Obama is worth the bother.

And why do we need to beat Obama?  The economic policies of this administration have been an utter disaster.  The Senate won’t pass any budgets, not even the President’s, while he’s in the Oval Office.  Energy prices are going through the roof thanks to the massive regulatory hurdles his administration has created to production and refining, especially on federal lands.  An ObamaCare repeal will only happen if Obama is no longer President, assuming that the Supreme Court doesn’t throw the whole law out this summer. …

I will go to the caucuses tomorrow.  I expect Senator Santorum to have recovered his sense of reality and apologize for that statement by that time.  If not, I may end up arguing for another candidate when we meet to discuss the next phase at our Republican caucus.

Morrissey goes into further detail about what an Obama second term would mean for conservatives, but readers of Commentary get the picture. Not only did Santorum show a lack of discipline, as Jonathan pointed out earlier, he’s also driving conservatives to come out in defense of Romney – which doesn’t exactly help Santorum at this point.

The whole incident suggests that despite some of the grumbling from the right about Romney’s moderate record, conservatives have a clear sense of the stakes next November. Romney may not be ideal when compared to some of the Republican dream candidates, i.e. Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. But if the choice is between Romney and Obama, conservatives aren’t going to sit on the sidelines and let the president waltz breezily into a second term.

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J Street Evangelicals Use Conference To Push Anti-Semitic Tropes

As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

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As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

But there’s very little innocent here. Denying the connection between ancient and modern Jews is, according to conspiracy theory expert Bob Blaskiewicz, “a precursor to the type of rationalization of Christian Identity theology, that the ‘Jews’ are imposters claiming the Chosen People status properly owned by the white American Christian male.” It’s a scientifically disproven canard that anti-Semites have used for centuries to disinherit Jews theologically and politically.

At its most explicit, the theory holds that contemporary Jews are descendents of non-Semitic Khazars who converted to Judaism. The Anti-Defamation League has an extended backgrounder on how the claim has played out in modern anti-Semitic movements. You can find it in the wild on Holocaust-denying WWII revisionist sites, in the forums of Protocols-obsessed David Icke, and on one of the Internet’s most notorious conspiracy theory cesspools. Note how quickly the writers transition from the theory itself into how it undermines the legitimacy of the Jewish State.

Duss’s notion that “modern Israelis are [not] the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament” has entered the leftwing anti-Israel evangelical world via at least two routes. Among Christian Palestinians the Khazar theory has long been promoted by Mazin Qumsiyeh, who is heavily tied to the anti-Israel Arab Christian circuit. In the United States it was picked up by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, a particularly nasty organ of the Presbyterian Church USA, and inserted into booklets based on a 2008 book by Israeli professor Shlomo Sand. From Sand it hopped elsewhere in the evangelical world, until by 2010 you had Palestinian Lutheran minister Mitri Raheb declaring at an evangelical conference that he’s descended from King David while Netanyahu has no Jewish blood and “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”

Duss was a little ambiguous in his J Street speech, so no one knows whether he was specifically gesturing toward the Khazar theory and its political implications. It’s not impossible that Duss was just being metaphorical. Instead of intentionally using an anti-Semitic dog whistle to undermine American evangelical support for Israel, he would have been vaguely invoking a classically anti-Semitic trope to undermine American evangelical support of Israel.

Either way, by the standard J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami set when he condemned the imagery in Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech, even metaphorical anti-Semitism would still leave J Street deeply complicit.

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Time for Santorum to Chill

On Thursday GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Republicans should give President Obama another term if Santorum isn’t the GOP nominee. “You win by giving people a choice,” according to Santorum. “You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there.” Santorum added: “If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Whatever concerns conservatives have about Governor Romney, the idea that Obama would be (from a Republican perspective) a superior president is insane, for reasons that don’t need to be recited here. Bear in mind that Santorum enthusiastically endorsed Romney in 2008 — and Romney is no less conservative now than he was then. On the other hand, I suppose a conservative who argues that Obama would be better than Romney might also argue that Arlen Specter would be superior to Pat Toomey.

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On Thursday GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Republicans should give President Obama another term if Santorum isn’t the GOP nominee. “You win by giving people a choice,” according to Santorum. “You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there.” Santorum added: “If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Whatever concerns conservatives have about Governor Romney, the idea that Obama would be (from a Republican perspective) a superior president is insane, for reasons that don’t need to be recited here. Bear in mind that Santorum enthusiastically endorsed Romney in 2008 — and Romney is no less conservative now than he was then. On the other hand, I suppose a conservative who argues that Obama would be better than Romney might also argue that Arlen Specter would be superior to Pat Toomey.


What we’re seeing, I suspect, is a candidate who knows deep in his bones that he won’t win the nomination and as a result he’s lashing out. In doing so, Santorum isn’t doing himself any favors. It’s important that those in his campaign and who have standing in his life do all they can to prevent Santorum from becoming bitter, self-righteous, and self-destructive. Rick Santorum has run an impressive campaign in many respects; he’s done better than almost anyone imagined. And he’s certainly resuscitated his political career. But he risks undoing much of what he’s achieved with these intemperate attacks.

According to press accounts, during one of the debates, when Santorum grew frustrated, his wife Karen walked up to him during a commercial break and told him, “Chill.”

That was good counsel then and it’s good counsel now.

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End the Human Rights Parody at Geneva

The United Nations obsession with demonizing Israel was once again on display this week in Geneva where the world body’s Human Rights Council voted to investigate the impact of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Palestinians. This so-called fact-finding mission is yet another UN kangaroo court that is set up to demonize the Jewish state and to allow the Palestinians to vent their intolerance for Jews in the guise of displaying their victim status. Since the Council has already made it clear that it considers that Jews have no right to live anywhere in the territories and that Israeli policies that make Jewish communities there possible are illegal (an assertion that is palpably false even if it has become a mantra of international diplomacy), the mission is really an indictment rather than an investigation.

The Obama administration deserves credit for the fact that the United States was the only one of the 47 members of the Council to vote against the resolution, which was one of five anti-Israel measures passed in Geneva this week. But this latest proof of the institution’s moral bankruptcy requires a stronger response than the rhetorical shrug of the shoulders that it generated that from Washington. The Council, which prior to this latest session had already devoted 39 out of the 91 actions it has taken since it was reconstituted in 2006 to denunciations of democratic Israel, is a parody of a human rights organization. At a time when the group is either paying mere lip service or flat out ignoring real human rights tragedies, the decision to devote the UN’s resources to another platform for hatred against Israel makes it imperative that the United States withdraw immediately from the Council.

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The United Nations obsession with demonizing Israel was once again on display this week in Geneva where the world body’s Human Rights Council voted to investigate the impact of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Palestinians. This so-called fact-finding mission is yet another UN kangaroo court that is set up to demonize the Jewish state and to allow the Palestinians to vent their intolerance for Jews in the guise of displaying their victim status. Since the Council has already made it clear that it considers that Jews have no right to live anywhere in the territories and that Israeli policies that make Jewish communities there possible are illegal (an assertion that is palpably false even if it has become a mantra of international diplomacy), the mission is really an indictment rather than an investigation.

The Obama administration deserves credit for the fact that the United States was the only one of the 47 members of the Council to vote against the resolution, which was one of five anti-Israel measures passed in Geneva this week. But this latest proof of the institution’s moral bankruptcy requires a stronger response than the rhetorical shrug of the shoulders that it generated that from Washington. The Council, which prior to this latest session had already devoted 39 out of the 91 actions it has taken since it was reconstituted in 2006 to denunciations of democratic Israel, is a parody of a human rights organization. At a time when the group is either paying mere lip service or flat out ignoring real human rights tragedies, the decision to devote the UN’s resources to another platform for hatred against Israel makes it imperative that the United States withdraw immediately from the Council.

Of course, given the Obama administration’s blind faith in the value of the UN, that isn’t going to happen. But as this week’s spectacle in Geneva — which included the reception at the Council of a representative of the Hamas terrorist organization — the argument that the United States can moderate the vicious anti-Zionism that runs throughout the world body’s institutions is not credible.

Israel has rightly said that it will not cooperate with the Council inquisition. Some that will say that such a policy only exacerbates the UN’s bias. But the reason the Council, which is stacked with member states where human rights barely exist, gets away with its prejudicial policies is because the West tolerates such behavior.

When the Council, which replaced a previous UN entity that the United States helped pulls the plug on, was brought into being in 2006, advocates for participation said that the new group would not be a platform for anti-Israel incitement as was its predecessor. But those hopes were quickly dashed.

There are those who welcome this double standard by which Israel is scrutinized more harshly than tyrannical regimes because it somehow demonstrates respect for the state’s values. This is nonsensical on two counts.

First, the refusal of the UN to play the same judgmental role in countries like Syria, which is awash in the blood of protesters slain by the Assad regime; or China, where the New York Times drew attention today to the ongoing human rights tragedy in Tibet, where the occupying Chinese have not only repressed dissent but are now engaging in a form of cultural genocide in which the country’s language is being expunged from schools; is itself evidence of racist condescension.

Second, it should be understood clearly that any system of thought by which one people or one nation is treated differently than others is a form of prejudice. In the case of Israel, the singling out for condemnation of the one Jewish state in the world on trumped up charges is evidence of anti-Semitism, not high regard.

The longer the United States continues to play along with this charade of concern for human rights, the less chance there will be of ever cleansing the UN of its anti-Semitic character.

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Lessons of Presidential Persuasion: Be the Commander-In-Chief

I finally got around to reading Ezra Klein’s interesting take on what I consider to be a fascinating subject: the power of presidents to persuade the public. Klein’s piece, in the March 19 New Yorker, takes a dim view of the practical uses of presidential rhetoric, using mostly presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as case studies. Reagan, Klein notes, was considered to be a great communicator (or, as he is remembered, the Great Communicator), yet his approval ratings were average and many of his primary policy prescriptions never caught on with the public.

Overall, he writes, the same is true of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bush was unable to convince the country to accept social security reform, and Obama has been unable to sell additional fiscal stimulus and most notably his health care reform law, which remains broadly unpopular. The overestimation of the power of the bully pulpit, he finds, is more likely to harm a president’s domestic policy agenda than advance it. But I think the key word there is “domestic.” Switch the subject to foreign policy, and the power is somewhat restored.

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I finally got around to reading Ezra Klein’s interesting take on what I consider to be a fascinating subject: the power of presidents to persuade the public. Klein’s piece, in the March 19 New Yorker, takes a dim view of the practical uses of presidential rhetoric, using mostly presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as case studies. Reagan, Klein notes, was considered to be a great communicator (or, as he is remembered, the Great Communicator), yet his approval ratings were average and many of his primary policy prescriptions never caught on with the public.

Overall, he writes, the same is true of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bush was unable to convince the country to accept social security reform, and Obama has been unable to sell additional fiscal stimulus and most notably his health care reform law, which remains broadly unpopular. The overestimation of the power of the bully pulpit, he finds, is more likely to harm a president’s domestic policy agenda than advance it. But I think the key word there is “domestic.” Switch the subject to foreign policy, and the power is somewhat restored.

Bush may not have been able to sell Social Security reform, but it would be difficult to conjure a more memorable scene from Bush’s eight years in office than his speech atop the fire truck at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It was—and remains—both moving and inspiring to hear the president emerge brilliantly from the shell of his tendency toward the folksy, and sometimes awkward, when ad-libbing, at that scene. It all could have gone very differently, since the bullhorn he was using worked only intermittently, and the crowd began losing patience. Yet, as they shouted that they couldn’t hear him, Bush remained calm, steady, and delivered a fine moment when he responded, “I can hear you. I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

Reagan’s most famous line, obviously, was “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It is what he is remembered for as well—not just the words, but the sentiment, and the political risk involved. Very few conversations about Reagan center on what he said before or after his first-term tax deal with the Democrats. It’s fitting, because though presidential elections usually turn on the economy, the chief executive has more influence on foreign affairs. This is no different for Obama.

After Obama announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan in December 2009, polls showed a 9-percent jump in Americans who thought staying in Afghanistan was the right course of action, and a 6-percent drop in those who opposed the war. Americans favored the speech itself by a 23-point margin. And the president saw a 7-point jump in public approval of his handling of the war.

None of this is out of the ordinary. When I interviewed James Robbins about his book on Vietnam, This Time We Win, he argued that polls at the time showed Lyndon Johnson to have more support for the war effort—especially its escalation—than most people think in retrospect.

“According to opinion polls at the time taken directly after Tet and a few weeks after Tet, the American people wanted to escalate the war,” Robbins told me. “They understand that the enemy had suffered a terrible defeat, so there was an opportunity if we had taken concerted action to actually win this thing.” Even on college campuses, he said, more people identified as hawks than doves: “The notion that young people were long-haired dope smoking draft resisters in 1967-68 is not true. The ‘Forrest Gump’ view of history is wrong.”

If you expand the category to national security in general, Clinton gets a boost as well. This one is more difficult to measure than support for a war, but leading up the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton had been marginalized to such a degree by Newt Gingrich’s masterful ability to control the narrative that Clinton offered his much-mocked plea at a briefing: “The president is still relevant here.” The bombing happened the next day, and Clinton’s ability to project empathy and his portrayal of opposition to his presidency as right-wing anti-government excess partly to blame for any dark mood in which someone bombs a federal building completely changed the pace and tone of the coverage of his presidency.

Speeches delivered in the service of selling a tax increase or even solving a debt-ceiling showdown are often treated as the president taking his eye off the ball. The president as commander-in-chief, however, is a role for which voters consistently express their support.

I want to offer Klein one more note of optimism. He writes:

Back-room bargains and quiet negotiations do not, however, present an inspiring vision of the Presidency. And they fail, too. Boehner and Obama spent much of last summer sitting in a room together, but, ultimately, the Speaker didn’t make a private deal with the President for the same reason that Republican legislators don’t swoon over a public speech by him: he is the leader of the Democratic Party, and if he wins they lose. This suggests that, as the two parties become more sharply divided, it may become increasingly difficult for a President to govern—and there’s little that he can do about it.

I disagree. The details of the deal matter, not just the party lines about the dispute. There is no way the backroom negotiations Clinton conducted with Gingrich over social security reform could have been possible if we had prime ministers, instead of presidents. The president possesses political capital Congress doesn’t. History tells us there are effective ways to use that capital. One lesson: quiet action on domestic policy, visible and audible leadership on national security.

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Why is Leahy Blocking a Bill to Track Down Sex Offenders?

The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

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The media narrative for the past month has been that the GOP is waging a “war on women.” But one story that’s fallen through the cracks is the legislation proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions last spring to crack down on fugitive sex offenders. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in January, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is now reportedly blocking it from full Senate consideration. Big Government reports:

The Act was designed to grant the U.S. Marshals administrative subpoena power so that they could better investigate sex offenders who had not registered as required by law. The FBI already had similar authority for health care and child crime cases; the Secret Service already had similar authority for cases involving threats to officials. …

In January, the bill was reintroduced and passed through the Judiciary Committee. And now, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has put a hold on it, blocking it from full Senate consideration.

There’s no good excuse for such a hold. Administrative subpoena power is necessary because it is faster moving than traditional subpoena power; it is frequently used in emergency situations. And there is no greater emergency than tracking down sex offenders, who have the highest recidivism rate of any criminal subgroup.

You have to wonder what Leahy’s reasons are for holding up the bill, which is non-controversial, and would presumably have bipartisan support. Sex offenders have a high recidivism rate, and there should be universal interest in aiding efforts to track down convicted predators who are trying to dodge registration laws.

Democrats have recently been attacking the GOP for opposing new provisions in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The law typically has bipartisan support, but this year Democrats have made additions that would create loopholes for illegal immigrants and other measures that Republicans believe are unnecessary or irrelevant to the law’s purpose.

But the bill proposed by Sessions has crucial practical implications when it comes to preventing and prosecuting violence against women and children. This isn’t just a symbolic proposal, like some of the “poison pill” provisions Democrats added to the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization can be characterized as. Big Government writes:

Back in 2006, when considering the predecessor law to the Finding Fugitive Sex Offenders Act, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pointed to the tragedy of Dylan and Shasta Groene, who were abducted by Joseph Duncan, an unregistered sex offender; he killed Dylan, as well as the kids’ mother, stepfather, and teenage brother. “Joseph Duncan was essentially lost by three states,” Cantwell explained. “He moved from State to State to avoid capture. No one knew where he was nor even how to look for him.

Its cases like that which make Leahy’s hold on the bill seem incomprehensible. If there were any bills relevant to women, you would think this would be at the top of the list. Of course, it would also be difficult to claim the GOP is indifferent to anti-women violence if this bill was introduced on the Senate floor.

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Santorum’s Fatal Flaw

Rick Santorum was making a meal out of Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe yesterday when the former senator got a little carried away. Honing in on the idea that Romney was a political chameleon who didn’t provide a clear alternative to President Obama, Santorum didn’t just stick to his usual line that nominating a moderate would guarantee a loss for the Republicans in November. Instead, he went one step farther:

“If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Santorum may not have actually intended to say that re-electing Barack Obama is preferable to replacing him with Mitt Romney. But that’s the way it came out. And, for all of Romney’s well-known flaws, this sort of an overstatement illustrates one of Santorum’s: his penchant for going off message and saying things that will come back to haunt him. The candidate has always prided himself on being unscripted but along with the spontaneity comes a tendency to go on too long when answering a question. That often leads Santorum into uncharted territory. He doesn’t need a teleprompter. What he really needs is an internal editor.

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Rick Santorum was making a meal out of Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe yesterday when the former senator got a little carried away. Honing in on the idea that Romney was a political chameleon who didn’t provide a clear alternative to President Obama, Santorum didn’t just stick to his usual line that nominating a moderate would guarantee a loss for the Republicans in November. Instead, he went one step farther:

“If they’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”

Santorum may not have actually intended to say that re-electing Barack Obama is preferable to replacing him with Mitt Romney. But that’s the way it came out. And, for all of Romney’s well-known flaws, this sort of an overstatement illustrates one of Santorum’s: his penchant for going off message and saying things that will come back to haunt him. The candidate has always prided himself on being unscripted but along with the spontaneity comes a tendency to go on too long when answering a question. That often leads Santorum into uncharted territory. He doesn’t need a teleprompter. What he really needs is an internal editor.

This overstatement about Romney not being better than Obama isn’t going to cost him too many votes this weekend in Louisiana where he is heavily favored. But it is the reason why he has always found himself in unnecessary scrapes about tangential issues throughout his career. He may blame most of this on the press and there is some truth to this. But no journalist has ever put a gun to Santorum’s head and forced him to talk about contraception or pornography or to compare gay relationships to bestiality. Nor did anyone force him to write a book filled with such nuggets that were manna from heaven for Democratic opposition researchers during his landslide defeat for reelection to the Senate in 2006. He did it himself and usually without forethought merely because he chose to follow a question to its logical though impolitic conclusion.

In positioning himself as a bitter-end opponent of Romney, Santorum might think he can win some extra votes in the next few weeks as the primary campaign winds down to its inevitable conclusion. But if he doesn’t put a lid on such statements soon he will be doing himself some significant long-range damage. At some point this spring, Santorum will be forced to come to the conclusion that his presidential chances are lost and he will have to concede. That may be a bitter pill to him but if he wants to have a future in the Republican Party, he will need to do it. As I wrote earlier this week, Santorum’s remarkable primary run has re-established him as a national figure in the GOP. Should Romney lose this fall, he will immediately be seen as a major contender for 2016. But his chances in the future will be compromised if he spends the next few months sabotaging Romney.

Santorum has already walked back the comment and acknowledged that he will support the winner of the GOP nomination. But anyone who wonders why Santorum is falling short in this race and why he might not ever get to the top of the heap can look no further than his lack of verbal discipline. Unless and until Rick Santorum learns to watch what he says once he starts talking, he will never beat the Romneys of this world. For all of his passion and intelligence, the betting here is that he never will.

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Barack Obama, Trayvon Martin, and “All of Us”

This morning, the president of the United States overshadowed his own introduction of the new World Bank president by making remarks about the shocking case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17 year-old shot to death in a Florida town by a wannabe cop who claimed self-defense and was not charged with a crime. The Justice Department is looking at the case, a grand jury has been convened to consider the case, and the nation is in an uproar about the case—all signs that, with the exception of some extremists who crawl out of their repugnant redoubts, everybody is able to see the horror in a story like this and has a gut reaction that something profoundly wrong must have taken place here. The president said some moving words—”when I think about this boy, I think of my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon—and some not-so-moving things. Particularly this: “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means we examine the laws, the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”

Hey, wait a minute. What soul-searching exactly is it “all of us have to do” here? A black kid was shot by a Hispanic adult apparently besotted with law enforcement whose volunteer work for neighborhood watch had him calling the cops in his Orlando suburb nearly 50 times in a year to report on his suspicions. That adult lives in a state where a “Stand Your Ground” law does not require people to retreat in the face of a threat outside their homes. A police chief where he lives decided that owing to the Stand Your Ground law, he had no grounds on which to arrest George Zimmerman for the shooting death—who claims he was attacked by Martin—and let him go. This is a very, very, very specific case—involving a podunk PD, an evidently problematic individual who had been slightly empowered by a private watch system, and a teenage kid in a hoodie on his way to buy candy for his brother. It took place in a state where 19 million people live. The circumstances may not be duplicable. Ever. Even so, the leading officials in the state—its governor, Rick Scott, and its superstar young senator, Marco Rubio—have already said the Stand Your Ground law may need revision in the wake of the case. The response has been overwhelming, and all in one direction.

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This morning, the president of the United States overshadowed his own introduction of the new World Bank president by making remarks about the shocking case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17 year-old shot to death in a Florida town by a wannabe cop who claimed self-defense and was not charged with a crime. The Justice Department is looking at the case, a grand jury has been convened to consider the case, and the nation is in an uproar about the case—all signs that, with the exception of some extremists who crawl out of their repugnant redoubts, everybody is able to see the horror in a story like this and has a gut reaction that something profoundly wrong must have taken place here. The president said some moving words—”when I think about this boy, I think of my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon—and some not-so-moving things. Particularly this: “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means we examine the laws, the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”

Hey, wait a minute. What soul-searching exactly is it “all of us have to do” here? A black kid was shot by a Hispanic adult apparently besotted with law enforcement whose volunteer work for neighborhood watch had him calling the cops in his Orlando suburb nearly 50 times in a year to report on his suspicions. That adult lives in a state where a “Stand Your Ground” law does not require people to retreat in the face of a threat outside their homes. A police chief where he lives decided that owing to the Stand Your Ground law, he had no grounds on which to arrest George Zimmerman for the shooting death—who claims he was attacked by Martin—and let him go. This is a very, very, very specific case—involving a podunk PD, an evidently problematic individual who had been slightly empowered by a private watch system, and a teenage kid in a hoodie on his way to buy candy for his brother. It took place in a state where 19 million people live. The circumstances may not be duplicable. Ever. Even so, the leading officials in the state—its governor, Rick Scott, and its superstar young senator, Marco Rubio—have already said the Stand Your Ground law may need revision in the wake of the case. The response has been overwhelming, and all in one direction.

What President Obama here is doing is suggesting this is not enough that even his own Justice Department’s involvement is not enough—that there is some kind of collective guilt in the United States responsible for George Zimmerman pulling the trigger. One can presume that collective guilt involves, in the president’s mind, the unjust stigmatization of teenaged black youths that owes a debt to the historical legacy of racism and the workings of racism in the present day. Take this argument to its logical conclusion and George Zimmerman is some kind of monster of the American Racialist Id, not a man who did something apparently very wrong but a manifestation of all American hostility toward black people.

Sorry, but I’m not responsible for George Zimmerman, and neither is anybody else save George Zimmerman. I’m not even responsible for the Stewart, Fla., police chief, whom I neither hired nor put on leave. When the president says, “all of us have to do some soul searching,” you can bet he doesn’t for one second actually include himself in that “us.” What he means is “you.”

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Korans vs. People in Afghanistan

When an unhinged U.S. soldier gunned down 16 Afghan civilians – including women and children – in a pre-dawn massacre a couple of weeks ago, Americans immediately recoiled in horror and dismay. But to Afghans, this atrocity was far less outrageous than the accidental Koran burning at a U.S. military base a few weeks earlier. And while the Koran burning sparked violent protests in Afghanistan, the local response to the senseless murders was much more restrained.

The Associated Press reports on how religious leaders have justified the discrepancy:

When mullah Abdul Rahim Shah Ghaa thinks back to the day in February when a couple of Afghan employees at a U.S.-run detention center outside of Kabul yanked five partially burned Korans out of a trash incinerator, he shudders with anger and revulsion. “It is like a knife to my heart,” says the head of the provincial religious council. The March 11 slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales in Kandahar province, however, has left less of a scar. “Of course we condemn that act,” he says. “But it was only 16 people. Even if it were 1,000 people, it wouldn’t compare to harming one word of the Koran. If someone insults our holy book, it means that they insult our faith, our religion and everything that we have.”

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When an unhinged U.S. soldier gunned down 16 Afghan civilians – including women and children – in a pre-dawn massacre a couple of weeks ago, Americans immediately recoiled in horror and dismay. But to Afghans, this atrocity was far less outrageous than the accidental Koran burning at a U.S. military base a few weeks earlier. And while the Koran burning sparked violent protests in Afghanistan, the local response to the senseless murders was much more restrained.

The Associated Press reports on how religious leaders have justified the discrepancy:

When mullah Abdul Rahim Shah Ghaa thinks back to the day in February when a couple of Afghan employees at a U.S.-run detention center outside of Kabul yanked five partially burned Korans out of a trash incinerator, he shudders with anger and revulsion. “It is like a knife to my heart,” says the head of the provincial religious council. The March 11 slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales in Kandahar province, however, has left less of a scar. “Of course we condemn that act,” he says. “But it was only 16 people. Even if it were 1,000 people, it wouldn’t compare to harming one word of the Koran. If someone insults our holy book, it means that they insult our faith, our religion and everything that we have.”

It’s a disturbing concept, and almost the inverse of our culture, which views the protection of life and freedom of expression as our top values. There’s also the long Pashtun history of revenge-killings, which bizarrely may make the recent massacre somehow understandable in their eyes. And there are the politics. Because the Taliban kills people all the time, it’s really not able to rile up as much public anger on that issue. But the Korans are a different story:

Comparing reactions to the two atrocities is not just a question of the sacred vs. the profane, says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi. As with everything else in Afghanistan, politics plays a role. While she has no doubt that antigovernment elements and even opposition politicians sought to capitalize on both incidents, she believes that Afghans have become savvy to the political opportunities presented by yet another case of civilian deaths and have learned not to react. Bales may have murdered nine children in his rampage, she notes, but just a few days later an insurgent bomb planted in the road of a neighboring province killed nine more. “Why don’t we stand strongly against the Taliban when they massacre people?” she asks. “People are clever enough to understand that this is a political issue, and the Koran is not.”

So while the massacre may have contributed to the mess the U.S. military now finds itself in, the real provocation was always the Koran burning.

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J Street Failure Reflected at Conference

J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

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J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

Israelis were always skeptical of J Street, even as the group was embraced by the Obama White House as the President’s anti-Israel enabler. Israeli embassy officials declared that J Street was damaging Israel, was “a unique problem,” and was “fooling around” with Israeli lives. When J Street’s founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami publicly insisted upon Ambassador Oren’s presence at the group’s first conference he was rebuffed, leading Ben-Ami’s White House allies to attack Israel over the snub in Israeli media outlets (reports from the conference justified Israeli skepticism). Last year Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs flatly called J Street anti-Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t take meetings with the group’s delegations.

In the meantime J Street’s public campaigns – many implemented with tone-deafness and some with frankly shocking incompetence – eroded its Congressional support.

Its embrace of Richard Goldstone was followed by a fumbled cover-up. Its support of anti-Israel U.N. campaigns triggered a fistfight with Congressional allies. Its defense of anti-Semitic rhetoric is seeping in this weekend’s conference. Its coordination with pro-Iran lobbies has been unreal. Its stance on Cast Lead angered Israeli victims’ organizations..

J Street officials got caught misleading reporters on overseas Arab and Muslim funding and then launched a clumsy spin campaign. Then they got caught misleading other reporters about Soros funding and launched another clumsy spin campaign. When the group did its fundraising in public it was for yet another effort to pressure Obama into pressuring Israel.

On a smaller scale J Street launched campaigns to defend anti-Israel media campaigns and anti-Israel art and anti-Israel artists. Its PR flak defended Mary Robinson. It brought into the fold an apologist for the Muslim students who went after Ambassador Oren at UC Irvine. A J Street delegation held meetings with Palestinian diplomats in Ramallah on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day over Israeli objections and then Ben-Ami bragged about the trip in the Jerusalem Post. One of their board members met with Hamas.

Unsurprisingly the group has become toxic in Congress. Associating with J Street costs votes and chills relationships.

As a small example: last year some House Republicans threatened to defund the Palestinian Authority. The move was opposed with various degrees of publicity by Democrats, the White House, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street ostentatiously launched a three-month public campaign to push back, which culminated in 44 Democratic signatures on a letter. 44 is 10 fewer Democrats than J Street secured for far more controversial 2010 letter calling on Obama to pressure Israel on the Gaza siege, which J Street had to lobby for by proxy.

This time J Street was too weak to directly push on an open door in Congress. The White House and its political liaisons undoubtedly noted as much.

J Street and other anti-Israel Jewish groups will never totally collapse. They will always have a constituency, and that constituency will always pretend that they’re on the cusp of influencing the policy discussion. But everyone else seems to be tired of pretending that J Street is anything but a particularly elegant case study of how fringe progressive collapses under its own weight.

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