To listen to the arguments put forward by Harvard students to create what they call an “open Hillel,” their fight with the national Hillel group is about the right of young Jews to free association. The students say that rules mandating that the organization not partner with groups that support BDS—the anti-Zionist campaign that aims to boycott, disinvest and sanction the State of Israel—or host speakers that advocate such measures are unfair and limit their ability to have dialogue with Palestinians. To the thinking of the Progressive Jewish Alliance that is, according to the Forward, organizing the campaign against Hillel, such rules “stifle discourse” and discriminate against those who disagree with Israeli policies.
But this controversy isn’t about the deadening hand of a Jewish establishment determined, as leftists claim, to silence dissenters. Any Hillel branch that regards groups that are struggling to destroy Israel in this manner would in essence be declaring their neutrality not only about the continuation of the Zionist enterprise but that they can no longer be counted among those prepared to bear witness against the discriminatory ideology at the heart of the drive for BDS. Those who wage war on one people and deny the same rights they readily concede to any other group are advocating a form of bias. Such a bias when directed against Jews has a name: anti-Semitism.
While I favor a (difficult but achievable) path to legal status and citizenship for illegal immigrants in America, it also seems to me to be a good idea to build a fence/wall on the southern border, both for substantive and symbolic reasons. That is, I believe doing so would make crossing the border to America both more difficult (as it should be) and signal to undocumented workers that America is a sovereign nation that takes its sovereignty seriously.
Still, we need to bear in mind what the facts of the situation are when it comes to illegal immigration. And here Linda Chavez’s recent essay in COMMENTARY is helpful, including this:
According to the Hurriyet Daily News:
Security cameras were not recording at the moment of the blast due to a power outage in the area, according to claims. It is not clear whether or not the embassy building was the only building experiencing the outage, Hürriyet reported on its website. Officials from the company that is responsible for the the capital’s power are reportedly at the scene as well.
It is surprising–and a significant vulnerability–that security cameras would be dependent upon the local power supply, rather than an independent source. Benghazi revealed serious flaws which had developed in embassy and consulate security during the past four years and perhaps before. It seems, however, that Benghazi exposed only some of the complacency which has developed.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.
But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.
Evelyn Gordon rightly highlights the unique treatment Israel receives at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and she is right that Western governments should “insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end.”
For those who want to see just how skewed the UNHRC’s report is, this AIJAC analysis of the report should be a must read. The whole thing is worth a read, both as a Cliff’s Notes to the report itself, and a rebuttal to some of the more egregious statements and omissions.
Just a few highlights:
It hasn’t been a good week in economic news. Earlier this week we learned that the GDP contracted. John Steele Gordon wrote at the time: “The GDP shrank in the last quarter of 2012, declining a small 0.1 percent. While that is minimal, it is the first negative quarter since the second quarter of 2009 and a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth in the third quarter.” Today he wrote about the disappointing jobs numbers, which showed low growth and a slightly higher unemployment rate.
It’s interesting that this week, in light of all of this economic doom and gloom, that the Obama administration has decided to layoff its long-defunct Jobs Council, which was set to expire this week. Don’t worry about these layoffs, however, as the Council was composed of business and labor leaders–they all have day jobs to fall back on. The Council hasn’t met for over a year and served more as a photo opportunity than an actual working group–while photos were quick to emerge from the meetings, recommendations, reports and accomplishments never quite made it out. One member of the Council, Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini, didn’t exactly have much confidence in the president last year, as he publicly endorsed his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
This ought to have been a happy time for New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. The Democrat who was re-elected easily last November is succeeding John Kerry as chairman of the important Foreign Relations Committee. That should afford him the opportunity to continue to cement his role as a major player in the Senate. Given Menendez’s strong support for Israel and his willingness to stand up to the administration on issues like Iran sanctions, his elevation was seen as an improvement over Kerry even by many Republicans. But instead of basking in the glow of his rise to new prominence the senator is spending his time dodging the press and refusing to answer questions about his efforts to help the business of a wealthy donor and his alleged participation in sex parties with prostitutes that were hosted by his friend.
The story mixes the more mundane ethical questions about how far politicians are prepared to go to help their donors and the free stuff they get in return–including flights and vacations in the Dominican Republic that Menendez has already been hounded into paying for. But when the free stuff includes sex with underage prostitutes, as the Daily Caller has reported, then it becomes a toxic mix of good government concerns and tabloid sensationalism.
All this places Menendez in the soup and makes his otherwise charmed existence a living hell so long as the press is interested in pursuing the story. But, if there are no real consequences, either in terms of prosecution or political retribution for the senator, it is entirely possible that once the dust settles he will remain in his seat and continue on as if nothing had happened. If so, is this just a matter of political business as usual and a partisan press dredging up a salacious story to embarrass a public figure? That may be what Menendez and those spinning for him will tell us, but there is more here at stake than his fate. Though there are many examples of the public giving ethically challenged politicians a pass, that doesn’t mean we should tolerate this sort of behavior.
One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.
It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:
Well, another month, another mediocre jobs report. The economy added 157,000 jobs in January while the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 7.9 percent.
Those who have been unemployed long-term remained at a dismal 4.8 million and were 38.1 percent of all unemployed. There were 8 million people working part-time who would rather be working full-time. That number might well go up in the future as companies adjust their workforces to avoid Obamacare mandates requiring health insurance (or a fine) if there are more than 50 full-time employees.
Last week, I noted that Turkey may soon find itself on the Financial Action Task Force’s black list alongside Iran and North Korea because of its failure to take action against terrorist financing. Adam Marx, an avid reader of COMMENTARY and an informal student of Turkey, was kind enough to point out that a new law on Turkey’s books may not be enough, given Turkey’s recent trend not only to finance terrorists in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, but also to arm radical Islamists. If everyone—Chuck Hagel and Obama’s CIA pick John Brennan—agrees that Hamas and Mohamed Morsi represent the worst, most bigoted aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood, then there should no longer be any illusion regarding Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose political roots are in the same movement. Eric Trager’s essay asking why so many Western analysts got the Muslim Brotherhood wrong and addressing the myths which so many still grasp is a must read. But while there is a reckoning with regard to Egypt, Erdoğan and his Western supporters have gotten away with murder.
Greece, for example, last month intercepted a Turkish ship that apparently was part of an effort to arm either Libyan jihadists or, even worse, transit weaponry to al-Qaeda affiliates in northern Mali. Likewise, Yemeni authorities twice last month reportedly seized Turkish arms bound for al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen. Syrian Kurds regularly complain that Turkey is shipping weaponry to the al-Qaeda elements in Syria like the Nusra Front, because Erdoğan would rather have a radical Islamist entity on Turkey’s border than a secular Kurdish canton.
The UN Human Rights Council yesterday released a predictable report deeming Israeli settlements–including huge Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–a “war crime” and demanding the evacuation of all their hundreds of thousands of residents, thereby throwing every Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ever proposed out the window: All such plans envision Israel retaining parts of East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. The report would thus seem unhelpful to the “peace process” that Western governments so ardently support. But it’s arousing far less ire among these governments than Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process, under which every country’s human rights record is supposed to be scrutinized every four years. As U.S. ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe explained, “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”
Yet as Professor Anne Bayefsky pointed out, it’s immensely hypocritical to insist on universality of obligations without universality of rights. And in two important ways, Israel doesn’t enjoy the same rights at the HRC as every other country does. First, it’s the only country whose alleged human-rights abuses are a permanent agenda item: The council has one agenda item for Israel, and one for all the other 192 UN member states. Second, it’s the only country that isn’t a full member of any regional working group. Bayefsky therefore proposed a simple quid pro quo: Israel should promise to uphold the universality of the review process the moment the council upholds the universality of Israel’s rights as a member state.
I wanted to second Jonathan’s analysis of yesterday’s testimony by former Senator Chuck Hagel, who is hoping to become America’s 24th secretary of defense.
It may be that another nominee for a cabinet post has been more inept than Hagel was during his hearing–but if so, I can’t think of who it might be. Mr. Hagel showed himself to be in turn evasive, ignorant, unprincipled, baffled and dim-witted. And those were the high points.
Cities decline. St. Louis was the third largest city in the United States in 1900 and now it’s the 58th. Cities die. Detroit had the most well-to-do middle class in the United States in 1960 and is now a lunar landscape. New York could have been one of those cities. In the mid-1970s, it gave every indication of becoming one. It went broke. It was drenched in crime, its transportation system covered in graffiti, its police force stained by corruption, its education system a calamity, its parks more muddy than grassy. And in the summer of 1977, all the horror came together in a blackout in which looters caused what would today be more than $1 billion in damage in a matter of six or seven hours.
Along came Ed Koch, a reform-minded congressman from Greenwich Village, considered to stand on the left of the Democratic Party. In retrospect, his election and assumption of the mayoralty was nearly providential. In one respect, what he did for the city was reasonably simple—he made it clear to the business community, which was fleeing in droves, that he understood how important it was to the city’s present and future, and did what he could within the limits of the day to alter New York’s anti-capitalist climate.
But it was what he did intangibly that really made the difference for a suffering city. He personified its understanding of itself—brash, informal, cheerful, pugnacious, blowhardish, tough, optimistic, and convinced of its own greatness. He seemed to have a mystical sense of how his theatrics might actually help New Yorkers feel better about where they lived, at a time when New York had become a sitcom punchline for danger and dirt and decay. He was as angry as they were about the crime; he was as in love with its energy; he was as disgusted by the kids running wild; and he was as dismayed by the self-destruction of the poorest neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx, where he was born.
There’s an unfortunate tendency in Washington to navel-gaze. At the heart of Chuck Hagel’s conceit is that the failure to resolve the Iranian nuclear and terror challenge is because of mistakes in Washington rather than strategy in Tehran. Almost every president—Democrat and Republican—enters the Oval Office blaming his predecessors—rather than America’s adversaries—for the failure of diplomacy. While many American diplomats and politicians may assume the world is reacting to American actions, the dirty little secret that has become so painfully obvious in recent years is that it is the United States—and not our enemies—that has no coherent strategy. Call it “leading from behind” or call it incompetence, but the United States is more often in reactive mode than proactive mode.
Against this backdrop, some analysts asked me to speculate about how Iran develops and executes its strategy, and what aspects of Iranian policy development American officials often miss. It might be a long slog to read, but here’s my crack at the answer.
Jonathan Tobin has ably covered Chuck Hagel’s underwhelming performance here and here. Many of his supporters apparently were shocked at how poorly Hagel did under questioning; they should not have been. Senate Democrats may still band together to confirm Hagel, but the whole episode should be a wake-up call for the press not only regarding the former senator’s competence, but also about the motivations of many of his most vocal supporters.
During the Cold War, there were communists, anti-communists, and anti-anti-communists who were much less concerned about the reality of the Soviet Union than about stymying those who were opposed to Moscow. Likewise, in the aftermath of 9/11, there were terrorists, anti-terrorists and, within progressive circles, anti-anti-terrorists who were more consumed with Bush Derangement Syndrome than with Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. Their rhetoric was marked by sky-is-falling hyperbole regarding Gitmo, the Patriot Act, and Dick Cheney.