Last week I discussed the potential impact of Senator Rand Paul’s growing influence on the Republican Party. That prompted an exchange with the senator that we subsequently published. The senator has now written again to correct the record on one point. We’re happy to let him do so.
Last week, I responded to Mr. Tobin’s article, and I am grateful to COMMENTARY for allowing this exchange on their pages. I think it is important people realize disagreements on some particular policy points, like foreign aid, is not a disagreement on our relationship with our ally Israel. In fact, it hurts the pro-Israel cause to state otherwise.
During his response to my letter, Mr. Tobin brings up one glaring and obvious error that I simply must correct. I did not “skip” the address to Congress by Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was trapped on the Senate floor by Harry Reid. You see, all week I had been leading a filibuster in defense of the Fourth Amendment and against certain onerous provisions of the Patriot Act. At that moment, I was attempting to force a vote on my amendment to protect gun owners, as provisions of the Patriot Act have harsh Second Amendment problems that Republican supporters try to hide.
The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.
Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:
I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.
In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.
Reuters is reporting that the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson is not only redoubling its commitment to work in the Islamic Republic, but may also be providing technology which the Iranian regime uses to crackdown on dissidents:
While Ericsson argues in the internal document that telecommunications are a “basic humanitarian service,” Iranian human rights groups say Iran’s regime has used the country’s mobile-phone networks to track and monitor dissidents.
An effort to win Iranian cash while limiting reputation risk may be one reason why Ericsson sought to keep its work secret:
The sensitivity of Ericsson’s work in Iran is made clear in a letter written by an executive of the company. On January 19, an Ericsson vice president wrote to MTN Group, a South African company that holds a 49 percent stake in MTN Irancell. In a letter marked confidential, the executive stated that Ericsson undertakes “to not take actions that could unnecessarily bring any extra press scrutiny and that could potentially destabilize the working arrangements in Iran,” according to a copy reviewed by Reuters.
IsraellyCool reports on a video of pro-Palestinian activists protesting Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense at Hebrew University in Jerusalem today. The denunciations of the Zionist war machine seemed to be going smoothly–until Jerusalem’s air raid sirens were triggered by an incoming Hamas rocket. You can probably guess what happened next:
Aussie Dave writes at the link above: “I guess they won’t be boycotting Israeli bomb shelters any time soon.”
President Obama has taken a good deal of flack over the past few years over his cozy relationships with some undesirable heads of state. There’s the famous picture of him smiling and shaking hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, bowing to the the Saudi King, whispering on a hot mic to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about needing more “flexibility” on missile defense until his election. Unfortunately for Americans and our foreign policy, the mistakes don’t end there. In his first trip abroad since his reelection, the president is, unfortunately, continuing that tradition.
During Obama’s trip through Asia, the president touched down in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a one-day visit in order to attend an ASEAN summit. While he was there, the president entered closed-door meetings with the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen. The meeting was reportedly quite tense, and the president chided Hun Sen for his abysmal record on human rights and press freedom. The meeting was private, but given the Cambodian government’s bluster before the meeting, it’s doubtful the story from the Obama White House will jive with the anything from Cambodian sources.
As Jonathan wrote earlier, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s reputation among Republicans in his home state has begun to diverge from his reputation among Republicans elsewhere. Nationally, Republicans are bitter about Christie’s embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which also happened to be in the last week of the presidential election campaign. But there is another popular New Jersey politician who is also perceived differently at home than on a national level: Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Whether it’s pursuing unpopular policies by having the courts, rather than voters, on his side, or grumblings that Booker’s hyperactive Twitter feed is a strategy to cover for the fact that he spends as much as one in every five days out of his state, Booker’s rock-star status among national media occasionally obscures his less sainted image in Newark. Like Christie, that has a lot to do with the difficulty of impressing a national constituency and a local one at the same time. Unlike Christie, however, in Booker’s case it reveals a politician who sometimes seems more interested in national stardom than local governance.
Last month I wrote about the letter signed by the leaders of a number of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the country asking Congress to cut off military aid to the state of Israel. The letter, which repeated various canards about Israel committing war crimes against the Palestinians, represented a new low point in the campaign of liberal Christian clerics to isolate and to strip Israel of its ability to defend its citizens against attacks by Palestinian terror groups. This initiative is the culmination of years of agitation by left-wing critics of Israel to use these churches as a platform from which they can undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance and demonize the Jewish state. It made a mockery of decades of work by Jewish groups to form interfaith alliances with liberal groups. Indeed, it should be the effective death knell of cooperation on any issue or project between mainstream Jewish groups and the churches that signed on to this demand.
The letter earned the churches a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League as well as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. But the controversy doesn’t end there. Reverend Peter Makari, an official of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and the leader of the church group that organized the letter, was not satisfied with merely appealing to Congress. He has now taken his campaign to the public. But in doing so, he has betrayed the sinister motive that is underneath the seemingly high-minded rhetoric that the churches employ. As the blog of the media watchdog CAMERA reports, Makari gave an interview to the American Free Press, a virulently anti-Semitic publication that has engaged in Holocaust denial. Though Israel’s critics insist that it is wrong to associate anti-Zionists with anti-Semitism, Makari illustrated that in this case, it is a distinction without a difference.
The U.S. blocked a one-sided UN Security Council statement today that called for an Israeli cease-fire but ignored rocket attacks from Hamas. In response, Russia will reportedly propose a similar resolution to the entire council body — which needs nine votes to pass, but can be vetoed by the U.S. — later today:
Russia said on Monday that if the 15-member council could not agree on a statement then it would put a resolution – a stronger move by the council than a statement – to a vote later on Tuesday to call for an end to the violence and show support for regional and international efforts to broker peace.
A resolution is passed when it receives nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent council members – Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France. Some diplomats said a vote on the Russian resolution would likely be tight and could force a veto by the United States.
The Security Council is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which U.N. diplomats say is due to U.S. determination to protect its close ally Israel. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes on Gaza but took no action.
Over my career, I’ve tended to resist press bashing. Part of the reason for that may be that there are plenty of journalists whose work I respect and whom I’ve come to admire. But I must say that the way the press as an institution covered the 2012 presidential election was in many respects depressing—and in some respects its biases have rarely been more fully on display.
There are a dozen examples I could cite, but let me simply focus on one: The September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. We witnessed a massive failure at three different stages. The first is that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and others asked for additional protection because of their fears of terrorist attacks. Those requests were denied—and Mr. Stevens became the first American ambassador to be murdered in more than 30 years, along with three others. The second failure was not assisting former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty when they were under attack (both were killed). The third failure was that the administration misled the American people about the causes of the attack long after it was clear to many people that their narrative was false.
Yet with a few honorable exceptions—Fox News being the most conspicuous—the press has shown no real appetite for this story. It’s not that it hasn’t been covered; it’s that the coverage has lacked anything like the intensity and passion that you would have seen had this occurred during the presidency of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. I have the advantage of having worked in the Reagan administration during Iran-contra and the Bush White House during the Patrick Fitzgerald leak investigation—and there is simply no comparison when it comes to how the press treated these stories. The juxtaposition with the Fitzgerald investigation is particularly damning to the media. Journalists were obsessed by that story, which turned out to be much ado about nothing—Mr. Fitzgerald decided early on there were no grounds to prosecute Richard Armitage for the leak of Valerie Plame’s name—and obsessed in particular with destroying the life of the very good man who was the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories (thankfully they failed in their effort to knee-cap Karl Rove).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East. The outgoing chief diplomat arrives just as a cease-fire may be about to take hold, even though rockets continued to hit Israeli cities today. But whether she seeks to take credit for the halt to the fighting or not, her arrival is bound to set off a wave of speculation about what price the Obama administration is about to try to exact from Israel for its diplomatic support in the past week.
The administration has been steadfast in its rhetorical backing of Israel’s right to self-defense against the storm of Hamas rockets that have been aimed at the country’s cities, towns and villages. But right now what may count most will be what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been saying to the leaders of Egypt and Turkey as they sought to get Hamas’s allies to persuade the Islamist rulers of Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel. If the U.S. has privately signaled support for concessions to Hamas or even hinted at eventual recognition of the Gaza regime, that could be the opening for another bout of administration pressure on Israel in Obama’s second term. If so, then the president’s kind words about Israel in the past few days will have come at a high price indeed.
CBS reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence removed references to terrorism from the CIA talking points before distribution:
CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack – with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes. …
However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information — the reference to al Qaeda — in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers. …
The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimately did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were compiled the day before.
Brennan says her source wouldn’t confirm who in the agency suggested the final edits which were signed off on by all intelligence agencies.
First, the CIA answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, so the whole notion that the CIA “agreed” to the changes is moot. They “agreed” to the changes because they were told to by the ODNI. Second, Clapper is clearly sprinting from this — the responsibility for the changes is pinned vaguely on the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” without much mention of him. The article actually leaves open the possibility that somebody else within the ODNI changed the talking points without running the changes by Clapper first, as if that’s believable.
There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:
LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.
NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…
LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.
NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that.
LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?
NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?
In the last couple of days, Max has ably fended off criticism of missile defense–a commonsense and effective tool in homeland security. He closes his second post on the subject with a question: “Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?”
Yes, it is, and it makes opposition to missile defense from the left quite strange for another reason. Those who want Israel to continue making territorial concessions to the Palestinians–after every single previous such concession brought terrorism and rockets–have much riding on the success of Israel’s missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome. It is absurd to believe that after what keeps happening in Gaza, Israel will allow the same to happen in the West Bank–where missiles can be launched a couple of miles from Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem and would also have a better shot at hitting Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The former would be a physical assault on Israel’s capital as well as a conceptual assault on Judaism and Jewish history only the world’s basest anti-Semites could stomach, and the latter would bring Israel’s economy to a standstill.
Who would have ever thought it? Underneath it all, the tough-guy governor and former prosecutor who doesn’t scruple at angrily lecturing teachers, parents, taxpayers, reporters and anyone else who dares to question his policies or motives is a sensitive soul who is as needy of love and understanding as a guest on “Oprah.” After years in the public eye spent flipping off his detractors and daring them to try and do something about it, Chris Christie now needs a hug.
That’s the upshot of an unintentionally hilarious analysis published today in the New York Times, in which we are told the New Jersey governor is “deeply misunderstood and wounded” by the lingering hostility he continues to face from Republicans who think he threw Mitt Romney under the bus in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he went out of his way to embrace and endorse President Obama. The accusations that Christie lost the election for the Republicans are preposterous since Romney’s problems were bigger than the hurricane. But it is hardly surprising that Christie doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. As he demonstrated during the Republican National Convention and the subsequent presidential campaign, in Chris Christie’s world, it’s all about Chris. The governor’s tolerance for any other frame of reference is nonexistent. What is so telling about the subsequent controversy is not the resentment of many Republicans around the nation, but Christie being hurt by it.
As President Obama reaches out to progressive activists to get their temperature on budget compromises, Politico reports that the Democratic Party may have an even more difficult time unifying their members around a deal than the GOP:
Yet getting a deal that raises tax rates for the wealthy may not be so easy for the party, and not just because of inevitable GOP resistance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have to find 60 votes to extend just the middle-income tax rates — far from a given when a swath of the Senate’s moderate Democrats are up for reelection in 2014.
Reid and the White House will also need to navigate a hardening Democratic divide on entitlements. Progressives don’t want any deep cuts that Republicans will insist on for a deal. But a Third Way poll of 800 Obama voters set for release Tuesday found that efforts to fix Medicare and Social Security enjoy broader support than liberals suggest.
Even if Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were to risk his job by backing a tax-rate increase, there are Democrats who think a $250,000 income threshold is too low. So finding 218 House members to pass a bill that would extend the lower tax brackets isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Want Boehner to raise taxes? Republicans privately say the entitlement changes would have to be unimaginably sweeping.
I don’t believe Hamas began its recent escalation with Israel on orders from Tehran (as I explain here). But I can see why many people do: Intentionally or not, Hamas has undeniably given its former Iranian paymasters and their Syrian client a great boon.
As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Hamas-Israel war has diverted attention from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. Even more shocking, however, is the way it has diverted attention from the ongoing–and far more massive–bloodletting in Syria.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia took the throne on August 1, 2005 upon the death of his older brother and predecessor, King Fahd. Abdullah was a sprightly 81 when he took the throne, or so it must seem in hindsight. Now 88 years old, King Abdullah just had “successful” back surgery, or so the strictly controlled Saudi press is reporting.
Twitter, however, is abuzz with reports that the King has Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The reports, as the Open Source Center points out, are coming from @mujtahidd, who has more than 750,000 followers and whose previous tweets suggest close and informed access to the royal family. As in any autocratic, opaque society, rumors often substitute for news, though this one seems more solid than most.