Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 20, 2012

Why Rand Paul Didn’t Attend the Speech

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.

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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.

On the day of the speech, I was forced to be at my desk on the Senate floor all day, or lose my filibuster and chance of forcing these votes. I literally was on the floor all day, for 8 hours straight. I was only able to use the bathroom through the help of another senator who guarded the floor while I left for 5 minutes.

Senator Rand Paul, Washington, D.C.

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Liberals and False Charges of Anti-Semitism

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.

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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.

Let’s get one thing cleared up. The idea that it is anti-Semitic for a Jew or non-Jew to note that some Jewish-owned publications have a history of being uncomfortable with Jewish subjects and especially Israel is simply absurd. The history of the New York Times on this subject is well documented. To assert that Murdoch’s tweet, ill-considered as it was, was evidence of either latent or overt anti-Semitism is the worst kind of slur and is exactly the sort of thing that would send Beinart over the edge if a right-winger said it about someone on the left.

Beinart also says that it is “nuts” for anyone to speak of the New York Times as being consistently critical of Israel. It is true that the Times supports Israel’s right to exist. But it has spent the last few decades blaming it for all the problems of the Middle East and blasting its measures of self-defense. Not all of its reporting is biased, but enough of it has been tilted against Israel to make it clear that most of what it presents as news, especially on its front page, amount to nothing more than thinly veiled op-eds. Its opinion pages are also disproportionately skewed against pro-Israel voices.

Since Beinart is himself a consistent critic of Israel, it’s little wonder that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with this, but to claim that those who disagree are crazy says more about his own bias than that of anyone else. As I wrote, Murdoch would have done better to have avoided mentioning the Jewish owners of publications like the Times since the phrase is problematic and it’s far from clear that the current generation in charge there even considers themselves to be Jews.

But the real issue here isn’t whether or not the Times is biased against Israel. It’s whether it’s OK to label political opponents of the left, like Murdoch, as anti-Semitic even though he has a long record of philo-Semitism and support for Israel.

The reason why some conservatives have pushed back against this smear is not so much for Murdoch’s sake — the media mogul can take care of himself — but because the goal of the Jewish left is to brand all conservatives as closet Jew-haters. Doing so appeals to many Jews since it confirms their liberal political prejudices as well as conjures up memories of the past when the right in this country really was anti-Semitic while in our own day, and contrary to Beinart’s false moral equivalence, it is the left that is the natural home for many anti-Zionists and Jew-haters.

One should be careful about labeling people anti-Semites. There is a difference between someone who is merely critical of Israel like Beinart and, for example, liberal church groups that seek to promote BDS measures or to cut off military aid to the Jewish state and make common ground with open Jew-haters to promote this cause. Unfortunately that is a distinction that liberals like Beinart are prepared to ignore in order to score bogus political points against easy targets like Murdoch.

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Are European Firms Aiding Iran?

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.

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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.

As to MTN, Danielle Pletka explains why that name should ring a bell.

European efforts to do business in Iran risk sacrificing long-term gain for short-term profit. That companies like Ericsson and, according to Iranian protestors, Nokia have provided technology that Iranians say enable the regime to snoop on dissidents and their communications shows a troubling direction in practical European policy. Attempts to help—sometimes illegally—the regime bypass sanctions provides enough encouragement to the regime to doubt Western resolve. The Iranian belief that the West is all bark and no bite risks spurring the Iranians on to conflict.

Sanctions will not do the trick to discourage such action. Never mind: Both Congress and the White House have a bully pulpit to name and shame these firms, no matter what Russia and China might say at the United Nations, and regardless of how European governments may complain. It’s time to put Europe on notice: Hot air about human rights is meaningless when leading European firms enable the worst elements in the Iranian regime. And when European firms choose the regime over the people, they should never be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy.

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Jerusalem Bomb Sirens Scatter Pro-Palestinian Rally

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.”

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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.”

Friday was the first time a rocket fired from Gaza managed to reach the outskirts of Jerusalem. The rocket that set off the sirens today was aimed at Jerusalem, and hit the West Bank. Needless to say, it is easier to object to Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas’s weapons stockpile when you aren’t living under siege from hundreds of these missiles on a daily basis, as Israelis closer to the Gaza border are. If these protesters have any capacity for self-reflection, maybe they can take a lesson from that.

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Obama’s Gift to Cambodia’s Thuggish Leader

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.

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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.

While Western-owned and operated publications in Cambodia are reporting on the president’s tough talk in English, it’s unlikely that the average Cambodian will ever know the American side of what took place between their prime minister and the American president. The only reports of the meeting that Cambodians are likely to be exposed to are the images of the rest of the visit, where Obama is seen shaking hands with Hun Sen while wearing Western attire or bowing in greeting to the prime minister’s wife while he looks on jovially. In Hun Sen’s (almost certain to be rigged) run for reelection next year, these images will certainly be put on billboards throughout the largely agrarian nation where poverty is prevalent and press freedom is becoming practically non-existent.

Obama’s efforts to pressure Hun Sen came with the promise of a closer relationship in an effort to draw the nation away from its large and powerful benefactor, China. Thus far it’s clear those efforts have failed and will continue to fail, with Cambodia siding with China in a dispute over access to the South China Sea, an increasingly problematic issue in the region. While Cambodia has never before held much power on the world stage (with the exception of the Vietnam War), thanks to its role in ASEAN that is quickly changing, as the New York Times reported today:

It was the second time in four months that China appears to have influenced Cambodia, a beneficiary of Chinese development and military aid, to put forward its case. In July, the association failed to issue a communiqué at the end of its conference of foreign ministers after Cambodia refused to allow any mention of the South China Sea.

The only thing that President Obama seems to have accomplished in Cambodia vis-a-vis his meeting with Hun Sen is giving the authoritarian leader an even stronger stranglehold on an office that he’s held longer than any other leader on the entire continent of Asia. 

After the fall of another long-ruling tyrant, Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, Hun Sen was asked if he was nervous about being overthrown himself. He responded, “I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.” This is the kind of ruler Hun Sen is, and this is who President Obama just lent even more legitimacy to. 

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Cory Booker and the Problem with Social Media-Savvy Politicking

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.

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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.

Booker’s Twitter feed isn’t the only reason for his national fame. He’s a good-humored, well spoken politician willing to tackle persistent, endemic problems and break from the city’s corrupt past. His mastery of social media has also been evidence of a City Hall with a new dedication to responsiveness and good governance.

But it also often descends into gimmickry and hectoring, as it did yesterday. As New York magazine reports:

Cory Booker’s interactions with the denizens of Twitter started out pretty typically on Sunday. First, he told a man whose transgender friends are nervous about moving to Newark that he’d be happy to give them a call, and by the evening he was offering to help a student staying up all night to write a report about him. However, things grew more contentious when he tweeted a bit of ancient Greek wisdom, courtesy of Plutarch: “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Booker was accused of plotting to redistribute wealth and told “nutrition is not a responsibility of the government.” Since simply debating the merits of providing food assistance to impoverished Americans doesn’t fit into Booker’s ridiculously hands-on approach to governing, by the end of the night he’d challenged the Twitter user to a contest in which they’d both try to live off of food stamps for a week.

A challenge to live off of food stamps for a week seems like a great way to gain attention for a cause–until you realize that there’s nothing Booker is really advocating here except more government involvement, this time because the mayor doesn’t believe kids are eating a wholesome breakfast before school. Is he trying to show that you can’t live comfortably on food stamps? I would think that’s a no-brainer; is the purpose of food stamps to give recipients a middle-class living standard?

Is it Booker’s contention that more wealth redistribution is necessary for parents to feed their children healthier food? How does Booker know what parents spend their money on now, and how does he know how they’ll reallocate it if they get a bit more of it?

An energetic, responsive government is supposed to be the attractive alternative to Michael Bloomberg’s nanny state governance next door. At this point, both big-city mayors are advocating for liberal policies and aggressive and invasive paternalism, but the difference is that Bloomberg isn’t hounding his citizens on Twitter, shaming them for daring to dispute the wisdom of a meddlesome government with designs on more of the private sector’s cash.

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Church Leader Shows Where Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Merge

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.

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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 Simon Wiesenthal Center describes AFP in this manner:

American Free Press (AFP) is regarded as the successor to the now defunct Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight. Willis Carto, one of America’s most notorious racists, is a founder of both. Carto is also the founder of the Holocaust-denying Institute For Historical Review. Some of the books that have been offered for sale by the AFP include The Judas Goats: The Enemy Within (details governmental infiltration of the American nationalist movement at the behest of “the alien force of international political Zionism”), The Conspiracy of the Six-Pointed Star, El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, and March of the Titans: A History of the White Race. The AFP site includes this quote in one of their essays: “Israel…is contributing to the unification and activation of the colored world for war against the colonial and other outsiders.”

The interview, which can be listened to here, can only be described as friendly and one in which the AFP and the church official are reading from the same hymnal. In it Makari, following the lead of his interviewer, seeks not only to demonize Israel but to delegitimize the efforts of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups as well as Jewish organizations that called them to account for their slanders of Israel.

The point here goes beyond the misleading arguments put forward by the letter. The intent there was to demonize Israeli self-defense and to set up a mechanism by which the Jewish state can be deprived of the means by which it defends itself. These are dangerous arguments, especially in the current context of the Hamas missile offensive in which millions of Israelis are being terrorized and threatened.

But by seeking to make common cause with a stronghold of Jew-hatred, Makari is outing himself, the church that employs him, and all the groups that signed on to his effort.

This is a point at which the leadership of these churches ought to rethink their willingness to be co-opted by anti-Israel activists. They now find themselves in bed with anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers.

As I wrote last month, the decision of these churches–the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns–to attack Israel does not reflect the views of most of the rank and file members of these denominations or of most of the pastors of these congregations.

However, by allowing their good names to be associated with efforts to isolate and boycott Israel and now to join forces with vicious anti-Semites, these churches and their members have been compromised to the point where no Jewish group or, indeed, any decent person, should have anything to do with them.

Repairing this terrible problem will require a thorough change on the part of all of these churches and a determination not to allow their institutions to be part of an anti-Israel campaign. But the first step toward such a change must come with the firing of Makari by the United Church of Christ. Until that happens, the church must understand that it will be thought of as a partner of anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

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Report: Russia Pushes UN Gaza Resolution

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.

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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.

The U.S. will veto, but if it gets enough votes it will still be a diplomatic blow to Israel. Russia, China, Pakistan, Morocco and Azerbaijan are pretty much givens, and even if they can’t get to nine, the vote would be close. Of course, if the rumored cease-fire takes hold, the resolution threat will disappear. That’s probably yet another reason why the U.S. is hoping for an early agreement today from Israel. 

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The Media’s Benghazi Scandal

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).

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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).

In the Benghazi story, we have four dead Americans. A lack of security that borders on criminal negligence. No apparent effort was made to save the lives of Messrs. Woods and Doherty, despite their pleas. The Obama administration, including the president, gave false and misleading accounts of what happened despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And the person who was wrongly accused of inciting the attacks by making a crude YouTube video is now in prison. Yet the press has, for the most part, treated this story with ambivalence and reluctance. A reliable barometer of the views of the elite media is Tom Friedman of the New York Times, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday, “To me, Libya is not a scandal, it’s a tragedy.” 

Here’s the thing, though. If the exact same incidents had occurred in the exact same order, and if it had happened during the watch of a conservative president, it would be a treated as a scandal. An epic one, in fact. The coverage, starting on September 12 and starting with Mr. Friedman’s newspaper, would have been nonstop, ferociously negative, and the pressure put on the president and his administration would have been crushing. Jon Stewart, the moral conscience of an increasing number of journalists, wouldn’t have let this story die. 

Yet President Obama avoided all of that. Indeed, it was Mitt Romney who incurred the special wrath of reporters for his criticism of a statement made by the American embassy in Egypt after the building was stormed by an angry mob (a criticism, by that way, that the Obama administration agreed with a few hours after Mr. Romney made it). Most reporters—again, with a few impressive exceptions—treated the Benghazi story with nonchalance. 

For some journalists, it’s fairly clear as to why: they had a rooting interest in Mr. Obama winning and they carried a deep dislike, even contempt, for Governor Romney. But for many others I think the explanation is more subtle and in some respects more problematic. They appear to be completely blind to their biases and double standards. If you gave them sodium pentothal, they would say they were being objective. Self-examination, it turns out, is harder than self-justification. And of course being surrounded with people who share and reinforce your presuppositions and worldview doesn’t help matters. (A model for today’s reporters is Richard Harwood, a Washington Post reporter who called his editor in Washington, Ben Bradlee, and asked to be taken off the 1968 Robert Kennedy campaign on the day of the California primary because he sensed he was, in the words of RFK biographer Evan Thomas, losing his “newsman’s reserve and … his objectivity.”) 

In general, journalists receive critiques like this with indignation. They enjoy holding up public officials, but not themselves, to intense scrutiny. They insist that their personal biases never bleed into their story selection or coverage. But the outstanding ones and the honest ones would admit, though perhaps only to themselves, that the double standard is real and troubling, that it’s injurious to their profession, and that things really do need to change. Perhaps because they still know why they got into journalism in the first place—not for advocacy but to report the news in a relatively even-handed manner, to “speak truth to power,” regardless of the political views of those in power, and to pursue stories in a way that is fair and unafraid. 

Today such an attitude sounds almost quaint. 

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What Price Will Obama Make Israel Pay?

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.

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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.

Though Egypt and Turkey are attempting to position themselves as sponsors of any new peace on the ground in Gaza, their role in helping to foment the violence is clear. It is doubtful that without the strong diplomatic support they have gotten from the Islamist governments of both countries Hamas would have chosen to pick a fight with Israel at this time. Throughout the fighting, Egypt and Turkey have done their best to demonize Israel. Though Israel is the victim here, those two countries have treated the Israelis as the aggressors and egged on the true aggressor: Hamas. However, if the Obama administration has gotten Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi or the president’s good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to persuade Hamas to stand down, it is reasonable to suppose that they have gotten something in exchange from Washington.

It is equally reasonable to speculate that what they got was a promise that Obama would return to the policy of pressure on Israel that he employed throughout most of his first term until he was forced to terminate it amid his election-year Jewish charm offensive.

This is exactly what many of Israel’s liberal critics have been clamoring for as the missiles rained down on Israeli cities this past week. Far from being conducive to reviving interest in a two-state solution, any concessions to Hamas, Turkey or Egypt will do exactly the opposite. If that is indeed what is in the president’s mind, he is taking American foreign policy down a dead end that will only lead to more bloodshed in the future.

Hamas went to war in no small measure to bolster their standing among Palestinians at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah leadership. With Arabs in the West Bank now publicly clamoring for their own Hamas missile launching teams, they have achieved that objective. The notion that Hamas can be co-opted into supporting a new round of peace talks is completely divorced from reality. Hamas has no interest in peace and its ideology is unalterably opposed to any two-state solution, no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn in such a scheme. The PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are paralyzed and unable to even negotiate, let alone sign such an agreement as they have proved these last four years since the last Israeli offer of a state was rejected. The reason for this is that they know that any deviation from a position demanding the “right of return” or other positions that are synonymous with the end of Israel as a Jewish state will mean even more Palestinians will ditch them for Hamas. The fact that the PA never took advantage of any of Obama’s diplomatic gifts to them in the last four years should have clued the president in on their lack of interest in a deal.

Most Israelis, even those who would happily give up the settlements, understand this and realize any further concessions on territory will bring more terror, not peace. Though the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has done well in the last week, it would be rapidly overwhelmed were the shooting coming from the West Bank rather than the remote Gaza strip. Until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will mean that a group loses rather than gains popularity by trying to kill Jews, peace just isn’t in the offing–no matter what the Israelis put on the table.

More pressure on Israel to give up territory won’t bring about a two-state solution, but it will encourage the Islamists who already run an independent Palestinian state in all but name to dig in their heels and try new provocations. That will mean more dead Israelis and Palestinians, not the progress toward peace that the U.S. says it wants.

Nor should Israel be influenced by an Obama promise related to the Iranian nuclear threat. Though it often is made to seem as if it is only an Israeli issue, a nuclear Iran is just as much of a threat to American influence in the region as it is to Israeli security. If President Obama is to keep his promise never to allow Iran to get such a weapon, it should not be bought again by Israeli concessions.

The United States is right to push for a cease-fire in Gaza. But they should not try to extract a price for it from Israel that will set the stage for another round of fighting when Hamas decides that it is again in their interests to turn up the heat. The president should have learned from his first-term mistakes that pressure on Israel only encourages Palestinian violence, not peace.

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CBS: DNI Changed Talking Points

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.

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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.

It’s not the first time Clapper has tried to distance himself from his own office, either; back in September, DNI spokesperson Shawn Turner issued a statement in September about the “changing assessment” on Benghazi, and it was noted at the time that this statement did not come from Clapper himself.

This quote in the CBS article, from Turner, also raises more questions:

“The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level — which Rice, as a member of President Obama’s cabinet, would have been privy to.

So President Obama, Rice, Clapper and others were aware this was a terrorist attack “from the very beginning.” Why wouldn’t they acknowledge this publicly for nearly two weeks? What’s more, Turner’s comment contradicts that same DNI statement he issued on Sept. 28:

In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. …

As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa’ida.

CBS reports the White House wasn’t aware of the talking point changes, but is that believable? There were signs in the past that the DNI position was being politicized and micro-managed by the Obama White House, an atmosphere that eventually led to Dennis Blair’s resignation. Shortly after the failed Christmas Day bombing, Blair seemed to hint at the political pressure publicly during a House Intelligence Committee hearing. “I just can’t control all of the politics,” he told the committee. “The political dimension of what can be [and what] ought to be a national security issue has been quite high…I don’t think it’s been very particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside in terms of us trying to get the right job done to protect the United States.”

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Turkey’s Dangerous Game in Gaza

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?

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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 end, irritated by Lee’s persistence, Nuland conceded as follows: “We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment.”

When the Syrian government last week condemned “the heinous atrocities committed by the enemy Israeli army against the Arab Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” there were howls of grim laughter. But when Erdogan says much the same, there is an embarrassed silence. “If we ignore what Erdogan says about Israel,” the logic here suggests, “perhaps we can persuade ourselves that he didn’t actually say anything at all.”

What Erdogan said, in fact, sounded suspiciously like a call for jihad against Israel. Addressing an Islamic conference in Istanbul, he labeled Israel as a “terrorist” state. He continued: “Israel is committing ethnic cleansing by ignoring peace in this region and violating international law. It is occupying the Palestinian territory step by step.” And then came the kicker: “Sooner or later, Israel will answer for the blood it has shed so far.”

Why, then, is Turkey being treated differently? In large part, it’s because Western policymakers have a habit of ignoring inflammatory rhetoric when it comes from states that are regarded as allies. Turkey is a member of NATO; it continues to seek full membership of the European Union; and for the last century or so, its government has been informed by an uncompromisingly secular set of values. One speech doesn’t change any of that.

Except, of course, that it’s not just one speech. Under Erdogan’s rule, the long-established alliance between Turkey and Israel has crumbled. It was the Turkish Islamist Foundation, the IHH, that organized the flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in May 2010, during which Israeli naval commandoes attempting a peaceful landing on one of the ships were set upon with iron bars and knives. Earlier this month, a Turkish court began the trial, in absentia, of four senior IDF officers–Generals Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin and Avishai Lev, and Admiral Eliezer Marom–for, among other indictments, “inciting murder through cruelty or torture.”

In that same period, Turkey has arguably become Hamas’s most important ally, insofar as few other Muslim states enjoy as much political clout in the west. In September 2011, as Erdogan embarked on a tour of Arab countries, his portrait hung alongside hundreds of Turkish flags deployed throughout the Gaza Strip. And this week, Erdogan announced that he plans to send his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Gaza. As one Turkish outlet reported, this decision followed Erdogan’s public criticism of the Arab League “for not taking effective steps in the face of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians.”

There are those who argue that Turkey’s hostile stance toward Israel, far from boosting its leadership ambitions in the Islamic world, marginalizes it instead. Writing in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the Israel academic Ehud Toledano observed:

Beyond statements of harsh condemnation against Israel and enthusiastic support for Hamas, Erdogan and Davutoglu can do practically nothing…Without the diplomatic capability to talk to Jerusalem, and having lost all trust within Israeli political circles, the Turkish prime minister can only sit in Cairo and watch how President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt mediates a cease-fire and negotiates a long-term arrangement between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian guarantees, to boot. You need to talk to both sides if you want to be able to do that – Morsi, a president from the Muslim Brotherhood no less, can; Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, cannot.

There is another interpretation, however. Firstly, that Turkey now believes that leading political and diplomatic resistance to Israel is a better fit for its neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Secondly, that Turkish leaders have been persuaded that combative rhetoric will fuel Western anxieties about the country’s radicalization, and that consequently the Americans and the Europeans will become more amenable toward Ankara than they already are.

If that is indeed Turkey’s game, we should not be playing along. Reporters attending Nuland’s next State Department briefing might, therefore, want to seek additional clarification.

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Why Everyone Should Root for Iron Dome

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.

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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.

Under such circumstances, Israel can only be expected cede territory if its citizens feel secure in doing so. A similar discussion has taken place around the chain-link fence Israel has been constructing to keep terrorists out–a step made necessary by the Arafatization of the Palestinian polity and the Palestinian strategy of instigating suicide bombing campaigns.

Yes, some dispute the “path” of the fence, arguing its placement. But isn’t the chain-link fence, which is meant to keep terrorists out, an incredibly peaceful and humane solution to the problem? Of course it is. But even if many on the left are unconcerned with Israel’s security, shouldn’t they support such nonviolent security measures as a tactical matter to encourage Israel to withdraw from territory the Palestinians want for a possible future state? After all, arguments that Israel cannot take even purely defensive measures to safeguard its people should not be taken seriously.

None of this is to say that missile defense will solve the conflict. It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel. The end of terrorism would bring peace. Until then, Israeli security is paramount. The lesson from Gaza is that complete withdrawal did not bring security for Israel. If the Palestinians really want a two-state solution, they should prove the same wouldn’t be true in the West Bank.

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In Christie’s World, It’s All About Chris

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.

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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.

Let’s specify that Christie may well have been completely sincere in his actions during the hurricane and that he felt genuine gratitude to the president for his response to the crisis, even if in retrospect the performance of FEMA during Sandy may not have been much more effective than it was during the Katrina disaster in 2005. He may have been “just doing his job,” but his shock at the reaction of Republicans who thought he overdid his thank you to Obama was hardly surprising given the context of a heated campaign.

I don’t think Christie was consciously undermining Romney, but I do believe his nod to the president was not unconnected to the needs of his own re-election campaign. He may or may not run for president in 2016, but he needs to win re-election in blue New Jersey next year, and giving Obama that much love didn’t hurt his standing among voters in the Garden State.

That is just common-sense politics and, as was the case with Mitt Romney’s experience in Massachusetts, the things a Republican who wants to be elected governor of a Democrat-dominated state must do and say are not going to be the same things he will say when running for president. But it says a lot about Christie that he is so bewildered by the fact that conservatives around the country are not happy with him right now.

Those same conservatives cheered Christie as they watched the YouTube videos where he brusquely trashed his opponents and dismissed their point of view. But now they are getting a taste of the same treatment from him and understanding the sense of entitlement that pervades his public persona. He is a politician who is not inclined to try to view the world from any one else’s perspective.

By the same token, that same character trait is responsible for Christie’s own lack of understanding of why so many Republicans are mad at him. Expecting to be cheered at the recent annual Republican Governor’s Conference in Las Vegas, he wound up getting the cold shoulder from many in the party. But rather than trying to understand their feelings, Christie is not backing down. That some in his camp feel the need to whine about it to the New York Times, of all papers, tells us a lot about how self-involved the governor and his entourage come across.

Christie has bigger problems than the grudge many Republicans are holding against him. He has a state that still must deal with the impact of the hurricane and a re-election race in which he may have to face off against a tough opponent like Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But if he survives that test and decides to run for president, as most people expect him to do, he may have to find a way to reach out to those Republicans he has offended. Unless his personality changes in the next few years, that’s not going to be easy.

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Democrats Divided on Averting Fiscal Cliff

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.

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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.

This may be the best position liberal Democrats will be in for a long time. Not only do they believe they have a tax-raising mandate from the presidential election, they also know that Republicans have a decent chance to take back the Senate in 2014. That could make the more strident among them less willing to compromise. And some liberals, like Paul Krugman, argue that Democrats may have more leverage if they just go over the fiscal cliff, allowing tax rates to rise across the board. On this, they risk overreaching, like they did on health care. As Politico notes, public support for reforming entitlements is higher than liberal Democrats acknowledge, putting Senate Democrats up for reelection (many of them in swing states or Republican-leaning states) at odds with liberal Democrats in the House.

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Anyone Still Remember Syria?

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.

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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.

On Monday, for instance, the lead headline in the New York Times’s overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, screamed “Heavy civilian toll from Israeli strikes.” This “heavy toll” consisted of one airstrike on Sunday that killed 11 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and brought the total death toll since the fighting began to “more than 50 people, many of them civilians.”

That same day, the paper relegated Syria to the bottom of page 4. The headline read “Syria criticizes 3 countries for recognizing opposition”; civilian casualties weren’t mentioned at all. Yet according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that weekend (the IHT doesn’t publish on Sunday) saw at least 129 Syrians killed, 47 on Saturday and 82 on Sunday, including 69 civilians. In other words, more civilians were killed in Syria that weekend alone than the total number of fatalities, both combatant and noncombatant, since the latest Hamas-Israel war began. But in the overseas edition of America’s self-proclaimed paper of record, they didn’t even rate a mention. Nor is the coverage less warped in other media outlets.

The total death toll in the Syrian conflict is nearing 40,000, the majority of them civilians. An eye-popping 400,000 refugees have fled into other countries. Anywhere from 1.2 million to 2.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, most living in appalling conditions that will only worsen as winter progresses. By any standard, it’s a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Yet 11 Palestinians slain by Israel are enough to completely erase it from the media map. Syrian lives, it seems, are cheap in the eyes of the international media: Each Palestinian killed by Israel is worth more ink than 4,000 slain Syrians.

Syria’s erasure from the diplomatic map has been equally complete. A flood of high-level visitors, including the UN secretary general, the French foreign minister and the Turkish prime minister, has descended on Jerusalem and/or Cairo in recent days to demand that Israel on no account launch a ground operation. Has anyone noticed any senior diplomat trying to do anything about the Syrian slaughter lately?

Syrians, of course, aren’t the only ones victimized by the international obsession over Palestinian casualties. As Alan Dershowitz eloquently explained, the foremost victims may be Palestinians themselves: As long as Hamas knows that every dead Palestinian will result in international opprobrium for Israel and diplomatic gains for itself, it has every incentive both to continue lobbing rockets at Israel, thereby sparking the retaliation that causes these civilian casualties, and to maximize such casualties by using its own civilian population as human shields.

But the Palestinians made their own bed: They elected Hamas. Syrians just had the bad luck to be caught in the fallout.

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Is the Saudi King Dying?

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.

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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.

Crown Prince Salman is in charge meanwhile back home, but at 76 years old he’s not a beacon of stability. When it comes to Middle Eastern stability, when it rains, it pours.

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