Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 5, 2012

Exits: Obama Voters May Back Walker

Various sources reporting Wisconsin exit poll results are pointing in a number of different conflicting directions. Drudge is saying that sources are reporting that the exits will show Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holding a five-point lead over his Democratic challenger in the recall. However, CNN’s polls are showing a 50-50 split. Lending credence to the idea of an edge for the GOP is the Washington Post, which reports that the exits paint a picture of an electorate that is remarkably similar to that of 2010 with conservatives outnumbering liberals 3-2 though moderates are still the largest group. However, CBS News is saying the poll shows President Obama has a 51-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among those voters, a result that ought to give some hope to Democrats.

However, the latter result may not offer much solace to the Wisconsin unions and Democrats who have sought to oust Walker. The left’s vendetta against Walker has alienated many moderate Democrats who rightly perceive the recall as a function of the anger of their party’s base and not good politics or policy. Though the recall may be seen as hurting the president’s re-election chances, it may be that Democrats who believe the entire exercise is inappropriate will be the main factor that will keep Walker in office.

Various sources reporting Wisconsin exit poll results are pointing in a number of different conflicting directions. Drudge is saying that sources are reporting that the exits will show Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holding a five-point lead over his Democratic challenger in the recall. However, CNN’s polls are showing a 50-50 split. Lending credence to the idea of an edge for the GOP is the Washington Post, which reports that the exits paint a picture of an electorate that is remarkably similar to that of 2010 with conservatives outnumbering liberals 3-2 though moderates are still the largest group. However, CBS News is saying the poll shows President Obama has a 51-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among those voters, a result that ought to give some hope to Democrats.

However, the latter result may not offer much solace to the Wisconsin unions and Democrats who have sought to oust Walker. The left’s vendetta against Walker has alienated many moderate Democrats who rightly perceive the recall as a function of the anger of their party’s base and not good politics or policy. Though the recall may be seen as hurting the president’s re-election chances, it may be that Democrats who believe the entire exercise is inappropriate will be the main factor that will keep Walker in office.

Read Less

Double Standards on Politicians in Pulpits

The fallout from the controversy about whether a Florida synagogue should have invited Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to give a speech at a Sabbath service continues to simmer. But while partisans are taking predictable stands on the issue, it’s distressing to see the way some officials at supposedly non-partisan Jewish organizations are advocating letting politicians use the sanctuary to promote political positions and are seemingly supporting the Democratic talking point that those who protested Wasserman Schultz’s appearance are “bullies.” As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee both take the position that there is nothing wrong with a synagogue letting a politician take over the bima during a service.

They have a point when they argue that the question of a religious institution’s tax-exempt status isn’t the issue. But while any organization with a 501©(3) status needs to be careful about partisanship, the issue here isn’t just taxes, it is fairness. Any synagogue, church, mosque or temple of any sort that gives a politician the moral authority that a speech from the pulpit during a worship service affords is taking sides in the election unless there is equal time provided to the other side. Just as troubling is the hypocrisy of Jewish groups seeking to support the effort by the Democrats to portray their critics as suppressing speech when they may have failed to speak up in the past to defend Republicans who played the same game as Wasserman Schultz.

Read More

The fallout from the controversy about whether a Florida synagogue should have invited Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to give a speech at a Sabbath service continues to simmer. But while partisans are taking predictable stands on the issue, it’s distressing to see the way some officials at supposedly non-partisan Jewish organizations are advocating letting politicians use the sanctuary to promote political positions and are seemingly supporting the Democratic talking point that those who protested Wasserman Schultz’s appearance are “bullies.” As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee both take the position that there is nothing wrong with a synagogue letting a politician take over the bima during a service.

They have a point when they argue that the question of a religious institution’s tax-exempt status isn’t the issue. But while any organization with a 501©(3) status needs to be careful about partisanship, the issue here isn’t just taxes, it is fairness. Any synagogue, church, mosque or temple of any sort that gives a politician the moral authority that a speech from the pulpit during a worship service affords is taking sides in the election unless there is equal time provided to the other side. Just as troubling is the hypocrisy of Jewish groups seeking to support the effort by the Democrats to portray their critics as suppressing speech when they may have failed to speak up in the past to defend Republicans who played the same game as Wasserman Schultz.

As JTA rightly recalls, four years ago, Democrats pitched a fit when Sarah Palin, then the Republican candidate for vice president, was invited to address a rally outside the United Nations protesting Iran’s nuclear program. Four years earlier the Jewish Policy Center, a think tank associated with the Republican Jewish Coalition, was lambasted for hosting a program at a synagogue that was seen as hostile to then Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Yet even there the analogy breaks down, as in neither of those cases was a candidate or even partisans allowed to take over a worship service as Wasserman Schultz sought to do.

Both Stern and Pelavin not unreasonably suggest that the way to handle the situation is to insist on equal time–meaning it would have been okay for Wasserman Schultz to appear at a Friday night service so long as a Republican was invited at the same time on another occasion. Perhaps had Miami’s Temple Israel scheduled a GOP speaker to come a week or two later, they might have avoided all the negative publicity they wound up getting. Yet the problem with opening the door to allowing services to become political rallies is that balance is rarely the result once synagogues start being manipulated by their most partisan members and their parties.

Even more to the point, allowing a religious event to become the venue for partisan politics is always asking for trouble. No one is saying, or ought to say, that synagogue buildings can’t be used for debates or forums in which politics is discussed. But there is a big difference between a Sunday morning bagel breakfast to which politicians are invited and what ought to be a purely religious event.

Far too often in this country we have seen inner city churches used as launching points for Democratic campaigns or evangelical churches employed for the same purpose by conservatives and Republicans. The willingness of some liberal Jews to use Reform institutions such as Miami’s Temple Israel in the same way is regrettable. Rather than being the rallying cry for those who wish to impose more partisan politics on helpless congregants, it should serve as a warning to all religious institutions to stay away from politicians while they are running for office and seeking to exploit them.

In the case of the Wasserman Schultz controversy it also ought to be remembered that those who protested her appearance were not the bullies. It was those congregants who attempted to turn a Friday night service into a Democratic rally who were the ones bullying the Republican members of the synagogue into a cowed silence. Their willingness to speak up and demand equal time for their side of the question was in the best traditions of American democracy. That Democrats who once moved heaven and earth to keep Palin from appearing at a secular rally against Iran now claim Wasserman Schultz should have the right to parachute into Torah services speaks volumes about the way partisanship can turn people into shameless hypocrites.

Read Less

What the Ayatollah Gets Right

A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on the Iranian success of “All My Joys,” the latest album by the Israeli singer Rita. Tucked into the article is a mention of another this past July by Fars, a news outfit affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that called the album Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to win over the Iranian people.

It’s easy to scoff at Iranian paranoia. But the Iranian regime is right to worry over the impact of a Western music album flourishing in its streets. That album might just be the most potent threat it faces.

As background, it is relatively not all that surprising that an Israeli singer would find listeners in Iran. Rita, whose long career has until recently been based on songs sung in Hebrew and English, was born in Iran and speaks fluent Persian, the language of “All My Joys.” According to the most recent numbers from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Rita is one of 50,000 Israeli Jews who were born in Iran, and one of 142,000 who can trace their roots back to the country, where a remnant today remains as witness to the once great Jewish community that flourished there for thousands of years.

Read More

A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on the Iranian success of “All My Joys,” the latest album by the Israeli singer Rita. Tucked into the article is a mention of another this past July by Fars, a news outfit affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that called the album Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to win over the Iranian people.

It’s easy to scoff at Iranian paranoia. But the Iranian regime is right to worry over the impact of a Western music album flourishing in its streets. That album might just be the most potent threat it faces.

As background, it is relatively not all that surprising that an Israeli singer would find listeners in Iran. Rita, whose long career has until recently been based on songs sung in Hebrew and English, was born in Iran and speaks fluent Persian, the language of “All My Joys.” According to the most recent numbers from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Rita is one of 50,000 Israeli Jews who were born in Iran, and one of 142,000 who can trace their roots back to the country, where a remnant today remains as witness to the once great Jewish community that flourished there for thousands of years.

While her singing is not an element of a secret plot directed against the purity of the Islamic Republic from Jerusalem, it is true that she represents something potently disruptive of the regime’s pieties. To put it gently, she is an attractive woman who knows how to use her appeal to make a show. Her freedom to do so for any of her fellow citizens who might care to listen and watch, all of them free from government meddling, may not be the most inspiring element of the freedoms Western society has come to stand for but is perhaps the most powerful one.

Rita’s existence – and the personal liberty it implies for both herself and her many Israeli fans – is the force most likely to permanently dislodge the Ayatollah’s grip over his country. For it is the yearning for a similar freedom that drew millions of Iranians into the streets three years ago, and that is driving some of them now to seek out her music. The Journal quotes a middle-aged woman from Tehran saying of Rita, “So what if she is from Israel?” That seems to me to precisely capture the spirit and power of freedom’s pull. For most, it is not written in the grand language of rights or protests, but in the simple desire to stand up and dance to a song you find appealing only because you do.

It is strange that all of this is not more readily granted in our debates, but that is itself a sign of materialism’s hold over many of our intellectuals. From whatever direction we debate, so lost have we become in the conviction that all of society’s outcomes are determined by who holds the ring or the factory keys that we have forgotten the primary power of culture, and the more immediate desires to think and feel as one chooses.

It would be foolish to imagine that one Israeli album song in Persian can end the possible need for an Israeli military action against Iran, or prevent a confrontation between our country and the Ayatollah. But we should remember the ultimate and powerful appeal of Israel’s culture and feel no shame in exporting it the world over.

Read Less

Food Prices Skyrocket in Iran

Iran’s Central Bank has released a chart which shows a tremendous rise in the price of most basic foodstuffs in Iran during the past year.

Persian, like Hebrew and Arabic, is read from right to left and so, from the right, the columns are:

Groups and Commodities / Unit / This Week (rials) / Percent Change over the Past Week / Percent Change Since the Same Week Last Year

Among the food groups on the right hand column: (1) dairy, (2) eggs, (3)rice, (4) grains, (5) fresh fruits, (6) fresh vegetables, (7) red meat, (8) chicken, (9) sugar, (10) tea, and (11) vegetable oil.

Read More

Iran’s Central Bank has released a chart which shows a tremendous rise in the price of most basic foodstuffs in Iran during the past year.

Persian, like Hebrew and Arabic, is read from right to left and so, from the right, the columns are:

Groups and Commodities / Unit / This Week (rials) / Percent Change over the Past Week / Percent Change Since the Same Week Last Year

Among the food groups on the right hand column: (1) dairy, (2) eggs, (3)rice, (4) grains, (5) fresh fruits, (6) fresh vegetables, (7) red meat, (8) chicken, (9) sugar, (10) tea, and (11) vegetable oil.

Without translating the whole chart, a few items should worry the regime. The price of chicken has skyrocketed 57.1 percent, and the price of red meat has increased 39 percent (though beef has increased 48.5 percent). Vegetarians will not be immune: The price of vegetables has, on average, increased 78.6 percent, and “leafy vegetables” have more than doubled in price. Only the price of potatoes has declined. Budget conscious Iranians—and most are nowadays—will be loading up on peaches, because that’s the only fruit which is now cheaper than it was a year ago. Few Iranian meals will be complete without rice, and that too is going to hit the pocketbook. And, as the baking of bread has shifted to state-owned factories putting many mom-and-pop bakeries out of business, Iranians–many of whom take their bread very seriously–complain about declining quality.

The increase in food prices has far less to do with sanctions than it does to basic regime mismanagement of the Iranian economy. Importantly, when the economic going gets tough in Iran, Iranians hold their government accountable and seem impervious to regime attempts to pin the blame on sanctions or outsiders. Iranians who travel to the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Turkey, and even Afghanistan see that even poor citizens of those countries have an easier time feeding their families. Ayatollah Khomeini used to quip that the Iranians wouldn’t have a revolution over the price of a watermelon, but as even the price of those have gone up 12 percent, the current regime should hope he was wrong.

Read Less

Dems Prepare Backup Plan in Wisconsin

Even if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker triumphs over Tom Barrett, a strong possibility based on the final polls, Wisconsin Democrats aren’t going to go down quietly. Politico reported this morning that state Democrats are already plotting to contest a Walker victory by demanding a recount, and now Barrett supporters appear to be laying the groundwork to blame their potential loss on Republican “dirty tricks.”

Salon reports on the unconfirmed assertions that Walker allies are trying to suppress Democratic voter turnout:

With both sides counting on dramatic turnout, Tom Barrett’s campaign is charging Scott Walker supporters with dirty tricks. In an e-mail sent to supporters last night, Barrett for Wisconsin Finance Director Mary Urbina-McCarthy wrote, “Reports coming into our call center have confirmed that Walker’s allies just launched a massive wave of voter suppression calls to recall petition signers.” According to Urbina-McCarthy, the message of the calls was: “If you signed the recall petition, your job is done and you don’t need to vote on Tuesday.”

Last night I talked to a Wisconsin voter who says she received just such a robo-call. Carol Gibbons told me she picked up the phone and heard a male voice saying “thank you for taking this call,” and that “if you signed the recall petition, you did not have to vote because that would be your vote.” …

Gibbons is a retired public employee and a staunch Walker opponent.

Not only are Democrats seizing on this to raise questions about election integrity, they’re also using it for last-minute fundraising, as Ann Althouse points out.

Read More

Even if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker triumphs over Tom Barrett, a strong possibility based on the final polls, Wisconsin Democrats aren’t going to go down quietly. Politico reported this morning that state Democrats are already plotting to contest a Walker victory by demanding a recount, and now Barrett supporters appear to be laying the groundwork to blame their potential loss on Republican “dirty tricks.”

Salon reports on the unconfirmed assertions that Walker allies are trying to suppress Democratic voter turnout:

With both sides counting on dramatic turnout, Tom Barrett’s campaign is charging Scott Walker supporters with dirty tricks. In an e-mail sent to supporters last night, Barrett for Wisconsin Finance Director Mary Urbina-McCarthy wrote, “Reports coming into our call center have confirmed that Walker’s allies just launched a massive wave of voter suppression calls to recall petition signers.” According to Urbina-McCarthy, the message of the calls was: “If you signed the recall petition, your job is done and you don’t need to vote on Tuesday.”

Last night I talked to a Wisconsin voter who says she received just such a robo-call. Carol Gibbons told me she picked up the phone and heard a male voice saying “thank you for taking this call,” and that “if you signed the recall petition, you did not have to vote because that would be your vote.” …

Gibbons is a retired public employee and a staunch Walker opponent.

Not only are Democrats seizing on this to raise questions about election integrity, they’re also using it for last-minute fundraising, as Ann Althouse points out.

And they are also petitioning the state Government Accountability Board to investigate the allegations:

Meanwhile, State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, sent a letter to Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy asking for an investigation into that alleged call and another that claimed the election was Wednesday.

“It is imperative that your agency uphold the law and criminally prosecute any person that is engaged in voter suppression and disenfranchisement tactics that violate the spirit and plain language of the laws of Wisconsin,” Taylor wrote.

So far, there’s nothing to substantiate the claims, outside of Salon’s account from a Barrett supporter. In fact, news reports and statements from the state Government Accountability Board indicate that voter turnout has been remarkably high today.

Read Less

Obama’s Team of Amateurs

Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

Read More

Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

The Bain attacks against Romney – which we were told would be the poison-tipped arrow in the Obama quiver – have been strikingly ineffective. So has the effort to portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.” Even their effort to make Seamus the Dog an issue in this campaign hasn’t worked. Some of Obama’s leading surrogates – including Mayor Cory Booker, Governor Deval Patrick, and former President Bill Clinton – are saying things that are helping, not hurting, Romney, to the point that they’re making cameo appearances in Romney ads.

The Obama administration is embroiled in a nasty and politically counterproductive fight with Catholic institutions. Obama’s campaign succeeded in bollixing up the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by releasing a tendentious video that made the president, and not the Navy SEALS who actually carried out the operation, to be the hero. Obama’s solicitor general, Donald Verrilli Jr., was widely panned even by liberals for his inept defense of the Affordable Care Act. (The Supreme Court will rule on its constitutionality later this month.) Nor will the president meet his initial goal of raising $1 billion for his campaign. In fact, he might (a) raise less than he did in 2008 ($750 million) and (b) end up being outspent by his opponent this time around.

In addition, the president’s formal kick off of his re-election campaign, held at Ohio State University, was met with a lot of empty seats. Vice President Joe Biden, in prematurely endorsing same-sex marriage, awkwardly forced the president to do the same thing three days later. The president’s ads have been almost uniformly unimpressive. Last Friday, when May’s weak jobs report was announced, the Obama campaign released an ad featuring Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour imploring viewers to join Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Obama and the president at a fundraiser in New York City later his month. “Sarah Jessica and I both have our own reasons for supporting President Obama, and we want to hear yours,” the British-born Wintour, who reportedly makes $2 million a year, says. “So please join us, but just don’t be late.” It was widely lampooned.

The Obama campaign, then – at least for now — is unfocused and ragged around the edges. David Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Jay Carney often seem unable to respond in a coherent fashion to the most predictable questions. Listening to them is sometimes cringe-inducing. Even Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has turned on Obama. “The president who started off with such dazzle now seems incapable of stimulating either the economy or the voters,” Dowd wrote on Sunday.

It’s a fair judgment, I think, to say that ineptness has characterized much of Obama’s presidency. It appears as if that quality has spilled over into his campaign. That may change between now and November 6. But for now, Democrats are experiencing a fearful symmetry of sorts.

Like I said, if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.

Read Less

Staving Off Sequestration

CNN’s Security Clearance blog raises a good question: Why isn’t the Pentagon planning for sequestration? On Jan. 1, 2013, the Defense Department could suffer more than $50 billion in cuts, the first part of $500 billion in cuts during ten years as a result of the Draconian sequestration process which is on autopilot. Yet the Pentagon has not released any budget documents to suggest that might wind up getting cut. Apparently the department has not even done such planning for internal purposes.

CNN explains the lack of planning as follows: “If you do have a list of items to cut, ‘you are showing that cuts are possible,’ and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.”

Read More

CNN’s Security Clearance blog raises a good question: Why isn’t the Pentagon planning for sequestration? On Jan. 1, 2013, the Defense Department could suffer more than $50 billion in cuts, the first part of $500 billion in cuts during ten years as a result of the Draconian sequestration process which is on autopilot. Yet the Pentagon has not released any budget documents to suggest that might wind up getting cut. Apparently the department has not even done such planning for internal purposes.

CNN explains the lack of planning as follows: “If you do have a list of items to cut, ‘you are showing that cuts are possible,’ and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.”

Perhaps. But if you do have a list of items that will be cut it would also be possible to mobilize support from various constituencies to keep those projects alive by staving off sequestration. That is, in essence, the famous Washington Monument strategy supposedly utilized by the U.S. Park Service to stave off budget cuts by threatening to close a major tourist attraction. Why can’t the Pentagon pursue its own version of this strategy by threatening to close production lines, ground aircraft, mothball ships, close bases, etc., to bring home to lawmakers the horrific consequences of letting sequestration go forward?

Read Less

What Happens When Fethullah Gülen Dies?

The reclusive Islamic philosopher Fethullah Gülen has been in the limelight recently. Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report on his movement’s growing network charter schools in the United States. While some describe Gülen as a modernist dedicated to peace and tolerance, others suspect darker motives about his outreach. There is evidence enough to support both viewpoints. There is absolutely no doubt that many of Gülen’s schools—especially in the developing world—offer the best available education. In recent months, however, the Turkish government sought to confiscate a book manuscript which alleged that Gülen’s followers had created cells within the Turkish police.  While I recognize the sincerity of many Gülen movement members, as I have explained to some followers who have asked me, I remain suspicious of any movement that shrouds itself in such secrecy and troubled by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which seem to permeate many of his news outlets, especially in Turkish.

As reports increase that Gülen is unwell—his aides often use his health to excuse his refusal to speak at any length to those invited to his compound—one question which remains unanswered both among Gülen’s admirers and his detractors is what happens when the aging movement’s leader dies? The movement’s website says the Gülen movement is not a Sufi tariqa. In most Sufi orders, the sheikh will nominate his successor, but if Gülen does not envision himself as a Sufi master then the tradition of naming the successor while still living is moot.

Read More

The reclusive Islamic philosopher Fethullah Gülen has been in the limelight recently. Last month, CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a report on his movement’s growing network charter schools in the United States. While some describe Gülen as a modernist dedicated to peace and tolerance, others suspect darker motives about his outreach. There is evidence enough to support both viewpoints. There is absolutely no doubt that many of Gülen’s schools—especially in the developing world—offer the best available education. In recent months, however, the Turkish government sought to confiscate a book manuscript which alleged that Gülen’s followers had created cells within the Turkish police.  While I recognize the sincerity of many Gülen movement members, as I have explained to some followers who have asked me, I remain suspicious of any movement that shrouds itself in such secrecy and troubled by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which seem to permeate many of his news outlets, especially in Turkish.

As reports increase that Gülen is unwell—his aides often use his health to excuse his refusal to speak at any length to those invited to his compound—one question which remains unanswered both among Gülen’s admirers and his detractors is what happens when the aging movement’s leader dies? The movement’s website says the Gülen movement is not a Sufi tariqa. In most Sufi orders, the sheikh will nominate his successor, but if Gülen does not envision himself as a Sufi master then the tradition of naming the successor while still living is moot.

There is no denying Gülen’s political influence and his empire could be worth billions of dollars. Yet succession over his interests remains unclear. Perhaps it is time for Gülen to name the person or people who will inherit his empire. Only then will the direction of the Gülenists become clear.

Read Less

What Six Days Achieved

Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

Read More

Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

The belief that the Arabs can ultimately win the Six-Day War by waiting patiently until they outnumber the Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is based on the assumption that the status quo is untenable and must inevitably be replaced by either a two-state solution or the transformation of Israel into an Arab majority country. But that idea that Israel must choose now between the two is mistaken.

Goldberg is right that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no wish to rule over millions of Palestinians. But the roadblock to peace that would create a two-state solution has never been the settlements. It has been, as Goldberg acknowledges, the Palestinians’ rejection of peace offers that would have given them independence in most of the territories in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and their refusal to even restart negotiations. In the absence of a sea change in Palestinian political culture that would allow them to live in peace alongside a Jewish state, peace is impossible.

As unpleasant as the status quo is for Israel, it is preferable to a return to the situation of June 1967 when Israel was, despite its underdog status, no closer to universal popularity than it is today. The assumption that it must lead inevitably to a one-state solution is foolish simply because there is no mechanism by which Israel will ever allow itself to be voted out of existence by the Palestinians. Nor is it a given that such an Arab majority will ever exist. What Israel must and can do is what it has been doing for 45 years: waiting for the Arabs to come to their senses and give up a notion of Palestinian nationalism that is rooted in negation of Zionism. That was only made possible by military victory.

The achievements of 1967 are by no means impermanent even if it led to a situation in the West Bank that is not optimal. In the wake of that war, Israel got the strategic depth as well as the confidence to survive even while it was besieged by hostile neighbors while the world looked on with indifference.

The victory won in those days also altered the relationship between Israel and the United States. It set in motion a process that has forged a strategic alliance between the two countries that is now a permanent fact in the Middle East that no amount of Arab or Muslim hatred or European hostility can erase.

What was at stake in those six days wasn’t a matter of perceptions or demography but simple survival as Arab armies massed to attempt to reverse the verdict of the 1948-49 War of Independence. What followed was a changed and often problematic new world but one that ensured Israel would not be erased, as many feared it would in the weeks before the shooting started. In winning the war with what seemed to be miraculous speed, the conflict wasn’t ended, but it was changed to one that could be managed from a position of Israeli strength.

Part of the problem with grasping this reality is the difficulty of recalling not only how dire Israel’s strategic situation was on June 5, 1967, but also how precarious its hold on the world’s sympathy was then. Jewish Ideas Daily is performing a valuable service to the public with a week-long attempt to provide perspective on the war’s anniversary, with daily summaries for both the prelude to the war and each day that provide insights on the situation then as well as subsequent evaluation. For those who have forgotten as well as those who assume that victory was inevitable or can be erased, it provides a good starting point.

Read Less

The American Commitment in Afghanistan

There seems to be a popular notion in Washington that it will be possible to dramatically reduce, or even remove, the conventional U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, while maintaining a substantial diplomatic-intelligence-Special Operations contingent to buttress the Afghan security forces and target high-level terrorists. How has that idea worked out in Iraq after the U.S. military withdrawal? Not so well.

We already know the U.S. embassy is having to dramatically scale back its ambitious plans for 16,000 or so personnel (mainly contractors but including a couple of thousand career employees) to take some of the slack from the U.S. military mission which ended at the beginning of this year. Now the CIA is following suit, withdrawing some 60 percent of the personnel from its giant station in Iraq even though numerous threats—from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Iranian agents—remain very much alive. Here is how the Wall Street Journal, which broke this news, explains the U.S. shift:

Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

“There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.”

But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official….

“Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.

Read More

There seems to be a popular notion in Washington that it will be possible to dramatically reduce, or even remove, the conventional U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, while maintaining a substantial diplomatic-intelligence-Special Operations contingent to buttress the Afghan security forces and target high-level terrorists. How has that idea worked out in Iraq after the U.S. military withdrawal? Not so well.

We already know the U.S. embassy is having to dramatically scale back its ambitious plans for 16,000 or so personnel (mainly contractors but including a couple of thousand career employees) to take some of the slack from the U.S. military mission which ended at the beginning of this year. Now the CIA is following suit, withdrawing some 60 percent of the personnel from its giant station in Iraq even though numerous threats—from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Iranian agents—remain very much alive. Here is how the Wall Street Journal, which broke this news, explains the U.S. shift:

Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

“There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.”

But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official….

“Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.

In other words, if the larger U.S. conventional military mission is pared down to zero or close to zero, there is scant possibility of leaving behind a robust Special Operations-intelligence-and diplomatic presence—and our ability to do harm to our enemies greatly declines. That is the lesson of Iraq, and it is a lesson that policymakers should keep in mind as they mull over the future of the American commitment in Afghanistan.

Read Less

Nyet to Russian Proposal on Cyberwar

Of all the dumb foreign policy ideas out there, it’s hard to beat the Russian proposal for arms control in cyberspace. The subject came up again in this article about Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kapersky, who discovered the Flame virus directed at the Iranian nuclear program and is widely suspected of links to Russia’s intelligence services. He wants an international treaty banning all computer warfare. Which sounds as if it would be about as useful as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war in general.

The problem with such noble intentions, of course, is that they lack enforcement authority. That is especially the case in the cyber domain where it is hard to trace hacker attacks to governments. Russia, for one, was widely suspected of being behind computer attacks on Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. But Moscow denied all responsibility, and no conclusive evidence was ever released to dispute its claim.

Read More

Of all the dumb foreign policy ideas out there, it’s hard to beat the Russian proposal for arms control in cyberspace. The subject came up again in this article about Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kapersky, who discovered the Flame virus directed at the Iranian nuclear program and is widely suspected of links to Russia’s intelligence services. He wants an international treaty banning all computer warfare. Which sounds as if it would be about as useful as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war in general.

The problem with such noble intentions, of course, is that they lack enforcement authority. That is especially the case in the cyber domain where it is hard to trace hacker attacks to governments. Russia, for one, was widely suspected of being behind computer attacks on Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. But Moscow denied all responsibility, and no conclusive evidence was ever released to dispute its claim.

If cyberwarfare were actually banned by international treaty, it is likely that the U.S. and other Western democracies would observe the prohibition, but highly improbable, to put it mildly, to imagine that Russia, China, North Korea, Iran or other illiberal states would go along. Under those circumstances, agreeing to ban cyberwar would amount to unilateral disarmament.

Much the same idea afflicts the campaign for “nuclear zero.” If we should have learned anything from the 20th century it is that high-minded treaties don’t keep the peace; strong democracies do. Just as the U.S. became strong in conventional military terms, so now we must establish our strength in cyberspace so as to create deterrence against Russia, China, and other states that might seek to attack our computer networks.

Read Less

What May Be Won in Wisconsin

Today’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall is being touted as the second most important election to be held this year. While the gap between this race and the one that will determine who will take the presidential oath next January in terms of the consequences for the country is enormous, the pundits are actually not engaging in hype when they speak of the impact of the recall in these terms. The outcome will be treated as a harbinger, one way or the other, of the November election, and given the ability of the press to promote self-fulfilling prophecies that may turn out to be true. But before we get too caught up in the purely partisan consequences of Wisconsin, it should be pointed out that the real impact of this contest relates to the issue that started this tussle: the fight to curb the power of state worker unions.

Scott Walker is not facing a recall just because Wisconsin Democrats want another crack at defeating him after his 2010 victory. Walker became the man with the bull’s eye on his back because he took his campaign promises seriously and set out to do something that would fundamentally alter the imbalance in the relationship between the unions and the state. If Walker survives the union’s attempt to exact revenge for his successful clipping of their wings, then it will be a model for other governors and states to follow. That’s something that could halt the national trend by which states and municipalities have allowed exorbitant contracts and benefits to push them all to the brink of bankruptcy.

Read More

Today’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall is being touted as the second most important election to be held this year. While the gap between this race and the one that will determine who will take the presidential oath next January in terms of the consequences for the country is enormous, the pundits are actually not engaging in hype when they speak of the impact of the recall in these terms. The outcome will be treated as a harbinger, one way or the other, of the November election, and given the ability of the press to promote self-fulfilling prophecies that may turn out to be true. But before we get too caught up in the purely partisan consequences of Wisconsin, it should be pointed out that the real impact of this contest relates to the issue that started this tussle: the fight to curb the power of state worker unions.

Scott Walker is not facing a recall just because Wisconsin Democrats want another crack at defeating him after his 2010 victory. Walker became the man with the bull’s eye on his back because he took his campaign promises seriously and set out to do something that would fundamentally alter the imbalance in the relationship between the unions and the state. If Walker survives the union’s attempt to exact revenge for his successful clipping of their wings, then it will be a model for other governors and states to follow. That’s something that could halt the national trend by which states and municipalities have allowed exorbitant contracts and benefits to push them all to the brink of bankruptcy.

In terms of its impact on government budgets, the rise of public sector unionism is one of the most significant chapters in modern American political history. Coinciding with the enormous growth in government during the course of the 20th century, state worker unions won their right to employ collective bargaining tactics in the heyday of the New Deal-era Democratic political coalition and have since ruthlessly used them to expand wages and benefits to rates that have long since eclipsed those of the private sector. Free from the restraints of the market that brought some private industry unions back to earth and equipped with the power to bring vital government services to a standstill through strikes and slowdowns, state worker unions spent the last several decades on an unprecedented winning streak. Though many tried, few governors or mayors had the guts or the political juice to stand up to the unions. Even conservatives often bought peace and political safety by paying off the powerful leaders of the unions with lucrative deals that sacrificed the fiscal future.

It is this impossible situation that has brought not just the federal government but virtually every state and city to the edge of ruin in recent years. And it is the public’s revulsion against the taxes and spending required to sustain these contracts that engineered the Tea Party revolution of 2010 that brought Republicans like Walker to office. But Walker wasn’t satisfied with merely pledging to bring a halt to union giveaways. What he did was to promote and pass laws that altered the skewed playing field that had given the unions so much leverage against the state. At his behest, the Republican-controlled legislature passed laws that took away some collective bargaining rights from unions and also ended their ability to automatically deduct dues from state workers rather than having those funds come to them voluntarily. The result of these reforms is that the unions won’t be able to hold up Walker or his successors. Without the threat of union blackmail, Wisconsin now has a chance to put its fiscal house in order.

That’s why we should not worry so much about whether a Walker win will hurt President Obama’s chances of re-election (though it will) and ponder just how much the political landscape in states all around the country will be altered by his example. The defeat of the recall may mean that other governors now in office and still others who may be elected this year will gain the courage to stand up to their unions and pass similar reforms. By contrast, if Walker is defeated, you can bet no politician will repeat his courageous stand in the foreseeable future. If the stakes are high tonight it is because it is that outcome — one that will directly affect every state’s ability to balance its budget — that is hanging in the balance with the recall results.

Read Less

Must Liberalism Exclude Judaism?

J.J. Goldberg’s Forward column today is bound to give the Israeli Absorption Ministry a measure of satisfaction. In late 2011, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s office released a series of videos depicting American Jews as overly secularized, bereft of a religious Jewish identity, and having essentially surrendered any Jewish connection in the name of total assimilation. The ads were offensive and obtuse–any country with Tel Aviv within its borders has some nerve lecturing foreigners about embracing secularism–and were roundly condemned and pulled off the air.

But Goldberg’s column this morning is the boldest defense of the thesis of those ads–albeit unintentionally and too late for the ad campaign. Ostensibly, the column is about the supposed “silencing” of Jewish voices by the Jewish right, as demonstrated by the recent cancellation of a speech by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a Florida synagogue. Leave aside the fact that the real reason the ill-conceived speech was called off was because shul members were told no Republican voices would be permitted to speak as well. (An actual silencing, by which Goldberg isn’t bothered.) And leave aside the incongruity of Goldberg touting the Jewish communities’ “national struggles for tolerance” while in the same column dismissing non-liberal Jews as a “noisy minority” that should not be catered to. The most telling line in the piece is when Goldberg says that integrating non-leftist concerns into the community, thereby diluting the social action efforts of America’s Jews, presents us with the following threat:

We are in danger of becoming, in classic Seinfeld fashion, a religion about nothing.

Read More

J.J. Goldberg’s Forward column today is bound to give the Israeli Absorption Ministry a measure of satisfaction. In late 2011, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s office released a series of videos depicting American Jews as overly secularized, bereft of a religious Jewish identity, and having essentially surrendered any Jewish connection in the name of total assimilation. The ads were offensive and obtuse–any country with Tel Aviv within its borders has some nerve lecturing foreigners about embracing secularism–and were roundly condemned and pulled off the air.

But Goldberg’s column this morning is the boldest defense of the thesis of those ads–albeit unintentionally and too late for the ad campaign. Ostensibly, the column is about the supposed “silencing” of Jewish voices by the Jewish right, as demonstrated by the recent cancellation of a speech by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a Florida synagogue. Leave aside the fact that the real reason the ill-conceived speech was called off was because shul members were told no Republican voices would be permitted to speak as well. (An actual silencing, by which Goldberg isn’t bothered.) And leave aside the incongruity of Goldberg touting the Jewish communities’ “national struggles for tolerance” while in the same column dismissing non-liberal Jews as a “noisy minority” that should not be catered to. The most telling line in the piece is when Goldberg says that integrating non-leftist concerns into the community, thereby diluting the social action efforts of America’s Jews, presents us with the following threat:

We are in danger of becoming, in classic Seinfeld fashion, a religion about nothing.

Ironies abound. Judaism’s increasingly “noisy minorities” consist of politically conservative Jews and Orthodox Jews, though there is a fair amount of overlap. So in Goldberg’s telling, integrating observant Jews into the conversation will risk American Judaism being “about nothing.”

Religion, while communal, has a personal element to it, and in a free country it is certainly up to each person how he chooses to practice (or not practice). But the idea that traditional Judaism would destroy American Judaism is a shockingly poisonous concept, as is the implication that those who observe Judaism’s laws and traditions and those who have gravitated toward political movements and parties that respect those traditions–instead of, for example, those who write columns attacking them–haven’t the same right to be heard.

Read Less

Choosing Hatred Over Clean Water

If you want to understand the real reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable for decades, one fact suffices: Palestinian leaders and activists would rather deprive their entire population of fresh water than allow an Israeli company to land a contract.

And if that assertion seems far-fetched, just consider what befell UNICEF last week when it sought to move forward with plans to build a desalination plant in Gaza.

Read More

If you want to understand the real reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable for decades, one fact suffices: Palestinian leaders and activists would rather deprive their entire population of fresh water than allow an Israeli company to land a contract.

And if that assertion seems far-fetched, just consider what befell UNICEF last week when it sought to move forward with plans to build a desalination plant in Gaza.

According to both the UN and the Palestinians themselves, Gaza has a desperate shortage of pure drinking water. An official report issued by the Palestinian Water Authority last year stated that 90 percent of Gaza’s water supply is polluted, posing a serious threat to the health of Palestinian residents. A report issued the previous year by the UN Environment Program put the figure at 95 percent. Thus, if ever a place was in desperate need of a desalination plant, it’s Gaza. So UNICEF decided to step into the breach.

The agency’s policy, as its spokeswoman subsequently explained in an effort to justify its behavior, is always to buy from Palestinians if a qualified Palestinian vendor exists. Unfortunately, Palestinian companies don’t make desalination plants. But a world leader in the field happens to sit conveniently just over the border from Gaza, so UNICEF innocently thought the best solution, in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness, would be to invite bids from Israeli firms.

At that point, all hell broke loose. Gaza’s elected Hamas government announced that no Israeli would be allowed to set foot in Gaza. The Palestinian Contractors Union condemned UNICEF, announced a boycott of the agency and warned fellow Palestinians against cooperating with Israeli bidders. Other Palestinian groups threatened to stage protests against UNICEF and shut down its offices.

In other words, the Hamas government, the contractors union and other Palestinian civil-society groups all decided that letting their fellow Palestinians continue to drink polluted water was better than allowing an Israeli firm to win the contract. They would rather do without the plant than give any business to Israelis.

UNICEF hasn’t actually awarded the contract yet, so it may back down and buy the plant elsewhere. Having it built by a company based farther away would probably take longer and cost more, but the Palestinians don’t care: They’ve already made it clear that depriving Israeli firms of business takes precedence over clean drinking water for their people, and as for cost, the international community is picking up the tab anyway.

But regardless of what happens to this particular project, the lesson is clear: Faced with a choice between promoting their people’s welfare and harming Israel, both the elected Palestinian government and civil-society leaders unhesitatingly chose the latter. And until Palestinians reverse this order of priorities, peace will continue to be impossible.

Read Less