Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 2013

What Obamacare Isn’t

If you would like to know what insurance really is, and why Obamacare (and much private “medical insurance”) is not insurance at all, but an economic and humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, you cannot do better than Megan McArdle’s delightfully jargon-free article in The Daily Beast.

Insurance began in the 17th century when merchants wanted to protect themselves against the loss of a ship and its cargo. By paying a small amount upfront, they each protected themselves against the loss of a huge amount. This is called risk pooling, one of the truly great economic ideas. By spreading risk, it made it much easier to assume risk, and assuming risk is one of the prime drivers of an economy.

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If you would like to know what insurance really is, and why Obamacare (and much private “medical insurance”) is not insurance at all, but an economic and humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, you cannot do better than Megan McArdle’s delightfully jargon-free article in The Daily Beast.

Insurance began in the 17th century when merchants wanted to protect themselves against the loss of a ship and its cargo. By paying a small amount upfront, they each protected themselves against the loss of a huge amount. This is called risk pooling, one of the truly great economic ideas. By spreading risk, it made it much easier to assume risk, and assuming risk is one of the prime drivers of an economy.

Thus insurance, properly understood, is meant to protect against a catastrophic loss that would be financially ruinous, such as a lost ship. It didn’t pay for a parted topsail halyard. And that’s why if your grandson throws a baseball through a living room window, you call the guy who fixes windows, not the insurance company. It’s when the roof blows off in a storm that you call the insurance company.

But most medical insurance covers everything from hangnails to heart transplants. Have a sniffle? Your insurance company pays the doctor’s bill. This not insurance at all, it’s a prepayment plan.

Megan McArdle likens it to “grocery insurance”:

If you expect to buy $10,000 worth of groceries next year, [the insurance company] will not charge you less than that for a “grocery policy.”  And if we all drive up the costs of grocery insurance by consuming more, the insurer can do one of two things: raise everyone’s “insurance premiums” to cover a filet mignon budget, or create a list of “approved groceries” that it will cover, and start hassling anyone who tries to file an excessively expensive claim.

Sound familiar?

This is why Obamacare cannot and will not work: it flies in the face of economic reality and human nature. As Milton Friedman explained, “nobody spends someone else’s money as carefully as they spend their own.” So if the doctor is “free,” people will go to the doctor more often. If it’s not coming out of their pocket, they’ll opt for the filet mignon test rather than the Hamburger Helper test.

As the costs rise, political opposition to tax increases and bureaucratic inability to control costs will force the alternative, rationing of health care. Sorry, Grandma, but you’re too old to be treated for that disease. But don’t worry, we’ll make you comfortable.

The greatest tragedy is that it is all so avoidable.

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Easter in Palestine Means Blaming Israel, Not Muslims, for Christian Woes

Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

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Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

In a perfect world, Christians and Muslims from the West Bank would have free access to Jerusalem. Indeed, that was largely the case before the terrorist war launched by the Palestinian Authority in 2000 when not just worshipers but tens of thousands of Arab workers flocked to Israel to earn a living. The chief price of that wholly unnecessary conflict was paid in the blood of over 1,000 Israelis and many more Arabs who died as a result of a conscious decision of the Palestinian Authority to answer Israeli peace offers, including statehood, with violence.

Without the construction of a security fence, many more might still lose their lives. Yet CNN followed the lead of Palestinian propagandists in portraying its function as primarily a means for harassing innocent travelers and, on Easter, Christians who want to walk along the route that is thought to be that of Jesus.

Yet, as the broadcast throws in as a throwaway line, Israel has granted 95 percent of all requests by West Bank Christians to enter Jerusalem. This is consistent with the fact that the only period in its history in which all faiths have had free access to all of the holy sites has been in the years since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule. That’s a fact that is curiously absent from the discussions in the media of Christians in the Middle East.

But as bad as that might be, it is not as great an omission as the complete disinterest on the part of the media in the most serious problem facing Palestinian Christians: the rise of an aggressive Muslim movement that has forced increasing numbers of them to leave the region.

While it is understood, though rarely reported, that Christians are now unwelcome in Hamas-run Gaza, the same is becoming true in areas of the Fatah-ruled West Bank, including the city of Nablus. Christian strongholds like Bethlehem have seen a dramatic population shift.

As is the case throughout the Middle East where an aggressive Islam has targeted all religious minorities—such as the Christian Copts of Egypt who are laboring under the burden of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood—Palestinian Christians are realizing that their future in a Palestine run by Fatah or Hamas is not one in which they will be allowed to flourish.

Yet Palestinian Christians don’t speak much about their woes at the hands of Arab Muslims and instead do their best to be as loud as possible in their complaints about Israel. Doing so gives them some legitimacy within Palestinian society, and foreign reporters who don’t understand what lies behind this dynamic follow along without asking pertinent questions.

There is something vaguely pathetic about the futile efforts of Palestinian Christians to prove their worth to their neighbors by being among the most outspoken enemies of the Jews, but it won’t alter the facts about what is really happening to them. Israel remains a haven of religious freedom while the areas under Palestinian control continue to sink in a morass of Islamist intolerance. But don’t expect CNN or most other media outlets to report that when blaming Israel for Christian problems remains a holiday tradition.

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Turkey on Flag Burning: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and to this day occupies one-third of the island nation. Northern Cyprus remains the only occupied territory in Europe. Nor is Northern Cyprus simply disputed. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza—which were not a recognized part of an independent country when controlled by Egypt, Jordan, or Israel—northern Cyprus was and remains as much occupied by Turkey as Kuwait was by Iraq.  

It is not surprising, therefore, that passions remain high in Cyprus, especially as the 40thanniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation approaches. After reports surfaced that Cypriots snatched a Turkish flag waved at a rally and burned it, Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış demanded an explanation and investigation. “Of course, burning the flag is not their place. We expect the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to give a very clear reaction to those who burned the flag,” Bağış reportedly said. Hürriyet Daily News continued, “Bağış indicated that protection of the Turkish flag’s honor must be an issue also for Greek Cypriots….”

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In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and to this day occupies one-third of the island nation. Northern Cyprus remains the only occupied territory in Europe. Nor is Northern Cyprus simply disputed. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza—which were not a recognized part of an independent country when controlled by Egypt, Jordan, or Israel—northern Cyprus was and remains as much occupied by Turkey as Kuwait was by Iraq.  

It is not surprising, therefore, that passions remain high in Cyprus, especially as the 40thanniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation approaches. After reports surfaced that Cypriots snatched a Turkish flag waved at a rally and burned it, Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış demanded an explanation and investigation. “Of course, burning the flag is not their place. We expect the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to give a very clear reaction to those who burned the flag,” Bağış reportedly said. Hürriyet Daily News continued, “Bağış indicated that protection of the Turkish flag’s honor must be an issue also for Greek Cypriots….”

What nonsense. Against the backdrop of the incitement in which Bağış’s partisans frequently engage, Turkish protestors regularly burn American flags. See, for example, new stories here, here, and here. While the flag burning is of course offensive—as is the fact that some of the Turkish protestors were doing so in outrage over Osama bin Laden’s death—no American official would dream of demanding investigations or seeking to punish the perpetrators. Bağış is known throughout both Turkey and Europe as a bit of a blowhard, but his comments should remind Europeans just how unready Turkey is for the European Union. When it comes to respect of free speech, even Russia has a better claim to meeting European criteria.

As for Cyprus, even Bağış should recognize that it has far bigger concerns right now than genuflecting to an occupying army.

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Time to Correct Dysfunctional Navy Procurement

Pentagon bloat frustrates both Congress and ordinary taxpayers. Many on the left perceive of the Pentagon as a cash cow whose budget they can divert in order to fund ever more expensive entitlement programs. That strategy may delay a final reckoning about systemic economic issues, but it comes at a significant national security price.

Because of high seas and stormy weather, I had a bit of a Gilligan’s Island experience and was stranded for three days last week on a ship to which I was to lecture for only around four hours. Over subsequent days, I got to spend a good amount of time with the commanding officer, the executive officer, officers, and crew. While that ship appeared to be in better condition than most, there were problems with its electronics and computers. Indeed, stepping onto almost any U.S. ship is to step back in time when it comes to computers. Most computers are old and decrepit. If sailors and riders are lucky, they will handle at least Windows 98. Internet is spotty at best: It can take over an hour to send an email because of bandwidth issues, and even Google or Wikipedia can be difficult to access. It is one thing to complain about slow Internet access, but the sad fact is that slow computing is the symptom of a larger problem.

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Pentagon bloat frustrates both Congress and ordinary taxpayers. Many on the left perceive of the Pentagon as a cash cow whose budget they can divert in order to fund ever more expensive entitlement programs. That strategy may delay a final reckoning about systemic economic issues, but it comes at a significant national security price.

Because of high seas and stormy weather, I had a bit of a Gilligan’s Island experience and was stranded for three days last week on a ship to which I was to lecture for only around four hours. Over subsequent days, I got to spend a good amount of time with the commanding officer, the executive officer, officers, and crew. While that ship appeared to be in better condition than most, there were problems with its electronics and computers. Indeed, stepping onto almost any U.S. ship is to step back in time when it comes to computers. Most computers are old and decrepit. If sailors and riders are lucky, they will handle at least Windows 98. Internet is spotty at best: It can take over an hour to send an email because of bandwidth issues, and even Google or Wikipedia can be difficult to access. It is one thing to complain about slow Internet access, but the sad fact is that slow computing is the symptom of a larger problem.

Officers were ready with an explanation about why it is that pretty much every ship lags behind. When the Navy decides to order a ship, it essentially pre-pays because the budget is set at the start. Ships can take years to construct. Construction on the USS Gerald Ford, our country’s next aircraft carrier, began in 2005. When the ship is launched in 2015, its computers will already be a decade out of date. Technology certainly has advanced in the interim. When the Pentagon looks at the ship and decides it needs current capability rather than the capacity of yesteryear, it can cost tens of millions of dollars—if not hundreds of millions of dollars—to retrofit and redesign the original plans. It is not uncommon, therefore, for the Navy to be faced with a choice between a ship which is becoming obsolete almost as soon as it is launched, or one that will have exceeded its budget by 50-100 percent.

If there is a workaround, it is in contracting which mandates contemporary standards upon launching. It would be up to shipbuilding companies to gauge needs ahead of time rather than plan for the past. Such a change would require a new way of doing business in Pentagon acquisitions. Let us hope that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel can find a way, because the cost of facing China or any other rising powers with a substandard fleet in this era of declining budgets will ultimately have an even higher cost.

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Twitter Crackdown Exposes Saudi Fear

Various news outlets are reporting that Saudi Arabia is seeking to end anonymity for twitter users. At first glance, the Saudi move appears to be just one more example of American information companies knuckling under to pressure from wealthy, autocratic countries. That Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal holds a substantial stake in Twitter underlines how taking Saudi money (as both companies and many universities such as Harvard and Georgetown do) always comes with strings attached.

The Saudi move against Twitter has deeper roots, however. While American and European human rights activists have for more than two years rallied for justice and reform in Bahrain—Bahraini flags flew over the Occupy DC camp—and Bahrain is certainly in need of reform, the situation not only for Shi’ites but also for Sunnis in Saudi Arabia is worse.

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Various news outlets are reporting that Saudi Arabia is seeking to end anonymity for twitter users. At first glance, the Saudi move appears to be just one more example of American information companies knuckling under to pressure from wealthy, autocratic countries. That Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal holds a substantial stake in Twitter underlines how taking Saudi money (as both companies and many universities such as Harvard and Georgetown do) always comes with strings attached.

The Saudi move against Twitter has deeper roots, however. While American and European human rights activists have for more than two years rallied for justice and reform in Bahrain—Bahraini flags flew over the Occupy DC camp—and Bahrain is certainly in need of reform, the situation not only for Shi’ites but also for Sunnis in Saudi Arabia is worse.

The Saudi move comes against the backdrop of debates about political reform and popular Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah—who has more than 2.5 million followers on Twitter—mocking government attempts to crackdown on Twitter. Al-Awdah may have broken with Usama Bin Laden, but no longer being an al-Qaeda sympathizer is a pretty low bar by which to describe reformism. Al-Awdah may be a reformer in the Saudi context, but no one should conflate reform with liberalism.

Nevertheless, Al-Awdah has become increasingly strident in his calls for political change in Saudi Arabia. According to the Open Source Center, he warned on March 16 that the Saudi people “will not remain silent.” Ten days later, he followed up by suggesting that should the Saudi government ignore calls for reform, “the only solution would be to go out into the square and counter argument with argument.”

I speculated six months ago that Saudi Arabia could be next. The autocratic kingdom is strictly off-limits to most Western journalists. Those who get in seldom move outside Riyadh or Jeddah. But if a riot breaks out in the Saudi hinterland and no one is around to cover it, that does not mean that all is well. It will be interesting to see if Saudi Arabia manages to constrain Twitter. Cutting communications, however, is a poor substitute for true reform. And the royal family is kidding itself if it believes it can remain aloof from political modernity forever.

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Where Is Turkey’s Apology?

Whether or not it was wise, we can debate. But it’s hard not to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey as the diplomatic equivalent of a battered spouse apologizing to the batterer.

Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, tried to ameliorate the bitter taste left by the apology. “As we always said: only true friends apologize to each other,” he tweeted. So, is Turkey a true friend, then? After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month called Zionism “a crime against humanity.” Apologists suggested that Erdoğan’s slander was based on the Turkish understanding of Zionism, and should be seen in that context. Mustafa Akyol, for example, wrote, “Erdoğan is a very Turkish politician. He, in other words, thinks and speaks in very local terms, not international ones. Therefore when he speaks of ‘Zionism,’ what he has in mind is what most Turks have in mind, rather than what Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu and Kerry have in theirs.” By such logic, of course, any and all incitement is permissible. Ahmadinejad, after all, is just a product of his society. That Erdoğan has systematically moved to crush any editor or journalist that did not parrot his world view has only augmented Turkey’s hatred. Nevertheless, if Turkey is a true friend, as Namik Tan suggests, then perhaps it is time for Erdoğan to apologize for his remarks.

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Whether or not it was wise, we can debate. But it’s hard not to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey as the diplomatic equivalent of a battered spouse apologizing to the batterer.

Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, tried to ameliorate the bitter taste left by the apology. “As we always said: only true friends apologize to each other,” he tweeted. So, is Turkey a true friend, then? After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month called Zionism “a crime against humanity.” Apologists suggested that Erdoğan’s slander was based on the Turkish understanding of Zionism, and should be seen in that context. Mustafa Akyol, for example, wrote, “Erdoğan is a very Turkish politician. He, in other words, thinks and speaks in very local terms, not international ones. Therefore when he speaks of ‘Zionism,’ what he has in mind is what most Turks have in mind, rather than what Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu and Kerry have in theirs.” By such logic, of course, any and all incitement is permissible. Ahmadinejad, after all, is just a product of his society. That Erdoğan has systematically moved to crush any editor or journalist that did not parrot his world view has only augmented Turkey’s hatred. Nevertheless, if Turkey is a true friend, as Namik Tan suggests, then perhaps it is time for Erdoğan to apologize for his remarks.

That is only the beginning, however. After the Bulgarian Foreign Minister questioned Turkey’s position on the Mavi Marmara incident, a senior aide to notoriously caustic Erdoğan ally Egemen Bağış suggested the reason why the Bulgarian official had taken such a position was because he had Jewish roots. Would an apology from Mr. Bağış be too much to ask? Perhaps Ahmet Kavas, Namik Tan’s colleague as ambassador, should apologize to France, the United States, and all the victims of 9/11 for embracing al-Qaeda and denying it is a terrorist entity? Of course, no apologies will be forthcoming. That probably reflects the fact that diplomatic smoke-and-mirrors aside, Turkey simply isn’t a good friend.

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The Political Implications of the Increase in Life Expectancy

The new, April, issue of National Geographic has maps of life expectancy for each county in the United States for 1989 and for 2009. (Apparently the digital version allows you to click on any particular county and get the local information, once you shell out $19.95 for a digital subscription.)

The story emphasizes the fact that life expectancy for men has increased more than it has for women over these 20 years and suggests that this may be due to inadequate treatment for women with high blood pressure and cholesterol. But it seems to me (though I am no epidemiologist) that that discrepancy might be due to the fact that women live longer than men and thus have less upside potential.

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The new, April, issue of National Geographic has maps of life expectancy for each county in the United States for 1989 and for 2009. (Apparently the digital version allows you to click on any particular county and get the local information, once you shell out $19.95 for a digital subscription.)

The story emphasizes the fact that life expectancy for men has increased more than it has for women over these 20 years and suggests that this may be due to inadequate treatment for women with high blood pressure and cholesterol. But it seems to me (though I am no epidemiologist) that that discrepancy might be due to the fact that women live longer than men and thus have less upside potential.

To me, the most startling fact in this data dump is just how fast life expectancy has increased for both sexes: 4.6 years for men and 2.7 years for women. That’s a 6.4 percent increase for men and a 3.4 percent increase for women in just two decades.

There was a similar leap in life expectancy in the early 20th century, but that increase was due to much lower infant and childhood mortality thanks to vaccines against such child-killers as whooping cough and diphtheria and the mandated pasteurization of milk, which eliminated the horrendous number of infant deaths caused by impure milk.

This latter-day increase comes at the end of life. Partly it is due to medicine’s greatly increased ability to cure or manage such killers as pneumonia, heart disease, and cancer. Partly it is due to a greatly improved environment, especially in cities and factories. And partly it is due to improved life styles, with more exercise and less fat, alcohol and tobacco.

There is no reason to think that this increase in life expectancy will abate any time soon. Indeed, it may accelerate. And that has tremendous public-policy implications with regard to Social Security, Medicare, etc. And as the percentage of old people increases in the population, their political clout will increase with it.

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Perfect Example of Why New York Is the “Least Free” State

In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

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In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

Even liberals are uncomfortable with the plan, though not exactly for all the right reasons. Frank Mauro of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute told the AP “You are kind of flying blind on this” and said “[the credit] flies in the face of sound tax policy, good labor market practice, or common sense.” Mauro’s concerns with the credit center on the fact that it will only benefit seasonal workers under the age of 20, which could displace older workers with students. These are valid criticisms of the plan, but they don’t even scratch the surface of what is most problematic about the very idea of redistributing the wealth of some to the paychecks of others.

What Mauro and others quoted in the AP story don’t say, but what is painfully obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of human history, is that what the New York State legislature is proposing is socialism, pure and simple. Students making less than $9 an hour will now have part of their salaries at fast-food restaurants and department stores paid by New York’s taxpayers. The wealth of hardworking New Yorkers will be redistributed to lower paid high school and college students frying burgers at their first jobs. While those crafting this legislation may be thinking that they’re just gouging the “fat-cats” paying taxes in the more wealthy parts of the state like New York City, they will also be siphoning off the salaries of hardworking New Yorkers in the rural areas north of Westchester county. As wealth distribution goes, this is especially uninspiring, as money will be taken from the salaries of mothers and fathers in Rochester and deposited into paychecks of teenagers working at H&M on 34th Street. 

Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate’s Republican conference, called this plan part of a larger budgetary compromise. State Republicans, not to mention Democrats, making agreements like these is the reason why the Mercatus Center has deemed New York State the least free state in the union. If these lawmakers find themselves wondering why they have fewer taxpayers to gouge in coming years, they will have no one to blame but themselves. The outward migration of New Yorkers to more hospitable economic climates was already underway and closed-door decisions like these will only fuel the trend further.

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Time to Redefine Public Education

After decades of struggling to stifle any hope of giving children and their parents a chance to escape from failing schools, liberals are starting to fear their task is inevitably doomed to failure. The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court earlier this week to uphold the constitutionality of the state’s vouchers program that gives low- and middle-income families the right to use state money to attend private schools is a landmark in the long battle for school choice. While this is just one victory in a single state, combined with other developments elsewhere it may not only be the beginning of the erosion of the government education monopoly but a change in the way we define the term public education.

The Indiana case is significant not just because of its size (over 9,000 students took advantage of it this year) but because it challenges the notion that the only proper way for the state to educate children is via the public schools system. As even the New York Times noted in a front-page feature published yesterday, the growing number of efforts to offer families a choice that heretofore was only available to the wealthy is based on the idea that private and religious schools are just as valid a form of public education as those run by the state. More to the point, with so many public schools failing their students, the ideological resistance to vouchers is dooming large numbers of children, especially minorities in urban areas, to a future with no hope of a better life. While choice opponents still hold the upper hand in most states, what is happening in Indiana is bound to have an impact on the rest of the country.

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After decades of struggling to stifle any hope of giving children and their parents a chance to escape from failing schools, liberals are starting to fear their task is inevitably doomed to failure. The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court earlier this week to uphold the constitutionality of the state’s vouchers program that gives low- and middle-income families the right to use state money to attend private schools is a landmark in the long battle for school choice. While this is just one victory in a single state, combined with other developments elsewhere it may not only be the beginning of the erosion of the government education monopoly but a change in the way we define the term public education.

The Indiana case is significant not just because of its size (over 9,000 students took advantage of it this year) but because it challenges the notion that the only proper way for the state to educate children is via the public schools system. As even the New York Times noted in a front-page feature published yesterday, the growing number of efforts to offer families a choice that heretofore was only available to the wealthy is based on the idea that private and religious schools are just as valid a form of public education as those run by the state. More to the point, with so many public schools failing their students, the ideological resistance to vouchers is dooming large numbers of children, especially minorities in urban areas, to a future with no hope of a better life. While choice opponents still hold the upper hand in most states, what is happening in Indiana is bound to have an impact on the rest of the country.

While there have been other vouchers experiments, the Indiana program is the largest and most generous such program since it is the most broad-based such experiment. As the Indianapolis Star reports:

A family of four that earns less than $42,000 annually can receive up to 90 percent of the state aid for a child’s public school education. Families of four making $42,000 to $62,000 can receive 50 percent of the state aid amount.

The key to understanding this concept is that it is not a gift from the state to private or parochial schools but merely a re-allocation of the funding that would ordinarily follow the student wherever he or she might go in the public system. In Indiana the purpose of the money devoted to education is now regarded as geared to the welfare of each individual child rather than to government institutions and their bureaucracies. Instead of the state deciding where all of the money should go, now poor and middle-class families are empowered to make decisions for their children.

The teachers’ unions and the rest of the state education establishment that oppose school choice tell us that this drains money from public schools and will hurt children. But the well-funded legal and political struggle they have been waging to squelch every attempt to provide choice is defending is their education monopoly, not the best interests of those interred in schools that don’t give kids a chance.

Far from destroying public schools, the availability of private and other options, such as charters, provide the system with the competition that is the only way to incentivize their improvement. Without that, the bureaucracy will continue to process kids more than educate them, as is the case in all too many places around the country where the families with the means to choose other options have fled the public system.

While charters are often highly successful, they remain under the purview of the public schools bureaucracy that has more to gain from their failure than success. That’s why any real education reform program must open up the gates for underprivileged kids to attend private and religious schools that are forced to succeed without the government backing that often means failure is not punished.

Choice opponents also claim there is no proof vouchers can succeed in improving achievement, but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy since almost every previous experiment has been so limited and often cut off by liberal politicians before they had a chance to succeed.

An excellent example of this was seen in Washington D.C. where Congress established a limited school choice program that offered a small number of poor kids a chance to attend private schools that were previously restricted to the capital’s elite. But after Democrats took back control of both the White House and Congress in 2008, the experiment was ended. That meant that in the future the poor urban African-American kids no longer could hope to attend Sidwell Friends, the private school where President Obama sends his two daughters.

The hypocrisy of Obama and other limousine liberals who are prepared to condemn the children of the poor to attend disastrous public schools they would never dream of sending their children to is breathtaking. But it is exactly that attitude that is at the heart of this issue.

The question for Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions is the same it has been for years. For all of the lip service such liberals pay to the welfare of the poor and the need for education to break the cycle of poverty, they refuse to take the one step that actually offers a path to a better life for these kids. They do so because they regard the sanctity of the public education monopoly to be a higher priority than the needs of ordinary Americans.

The question for them is the same that they are quick to pose to their opponents on other equal access issues. Are they prepared to acknowledge that the children of the poor are made in God’s image the same as their own? Are they really willing to sacrifice another generation of the poor on the altar of the failed god of public schools merely in order to prop up an education bureaucracy and unions that are their political allies?

More and more Americans are starting to realize that if the object of public education is to give children a chance, they must widen their horizons and start letting the flow of taxpayer dollars to the schools follow the kids rather than the bureaucrats and the unions. What happened this week in Indiana could be the moment when the tide began to turn in favor of education rather than liberal ideology.

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Ashley Judd and the Will Rogers Democrats

As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

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As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

Some Democrats started encouraging Judd to run for the Senate from Kentucky. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat is up in 2014, and liberals think he’s more vulnerable than in past cycles. Following their old Will Rogers instincts, some Democrats saw an entertaining way to blow their chances by nominating a classic Hollywood liberal instead of a conservative Democrat. McConnell’s campaign was giddy at the prospect.

At some point the story went from being “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if Ashley Judd ran for Senate” to “Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate” and the Dean Democrats panicked. They called in party elders to do something, and party elders called in Bill Clinton to run Judd’s budding campaign off the road, which Clinton gladly did. It soon became clear why Democrats feared nominating Judd. “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell,” Judd said about the race last month.

Then on Wednesday came the moment national Democrats were waiting for: ABC News reported that Judd announced—“in a series of tweets,” naturally—that they could rest easy:

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate…. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!

Judd’s decision not to run—which, it seems from the ABC report, was made for her by Bill Clinton—represents the new Democratic Party, in which discipline is enforced from the top along with a willingness to completely get in line and have party leaders make the decisions. (Witness my earlier post about Democrats who voted for Obamacare expressing shock and disbelief at discovering over the course of three years what was actually in the bill.)

Democrats don’t even seem to want a primary fight for the 2016 presidential nomination, preparing instead to pave the way for Hillary Clinton, wife of the previous Democratic president and secretary of state in the current Democratic president’s first term. The other plausible challenger for the nomination is the current vice president.

Republicans, on the other hand, tried to nominate anyone but the next in line last time and have no next in line for 2016 unless Paul Ryan runs. And as far as congressional races are concerned, Republicans are the minority in the Senate in large part because the so-called establishment is unable to pick and choose its candidates around the country, ending up with Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and the like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, these days the lack of establishment money and support is more likely than not to win you the nomination; call yourself a “Tea Party” candidate and watch the primary votes roll in.

That phenomenon of course often yields far better candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz. It connects the party agenda with the zeitgeist of the grassroots, and thus makes a candidate’s principles more valuable than his campaign war chest. (This concept is unimaginable to Democrats, as is the idea that political principles can have any intrinsic value beyond their immediate utility in any given election cycle.)

The post-Dean era Democrats have neither the benefits nor the drawbacks of such a state. For 2014, that means no Ashley Judd.

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Another “Mug Him Again” Moment

Last year when liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed, the New York Post editorial page used it to recall one of the late Ed Koch’s favorite anecdotes:

Back when he was first running for mayor, Ed Koch used to tell of the time he told some senior citizens about a judge he knew who’d been mugged.

The judge, said Koch, told a group that “this mugging will not influence any of my decisions from the bench” — whereupon a woman yelled, “Mug him again!”

While the Post was roundly criticized in some quarters for insensitivity, the lesson was apt. Those who can’t learn from their encounters with violent criminals lack credibility when they render judgment on dealing with related issues.

This anecdote came to mind when reading of the encounter of leftist Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz–who was in Aubagne, France to pick up an award at a film festival for his film Rock the Casbah–had with a gang of Arab toughs. Though his movie is a cinematic attack on Israeli policies and a bouquet thrown in the direction of the Palestinians, the Arabs proved to be uninterested in his politics and instead subjected him to the same treatment they have accorded to many another Jew: he was badly beaten.

But like the judge in the Ed Koch story, Horowitz won’t let it influence him. When he regained consciousness, he refused to press charges against his attackers. Nor did he draw any conclusions about the intent of the mob that beat him up.

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Last year when liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed, the New York Post editorial page used it to recall one of the late Ed Koch’s favorite anecdotes:

Back when he was first running for mayor, Ed Koch used to tell of the time he told some senior citizens about a judge he knew who’d been mugged.

The judge, said Koch, told a group that “this mugging will not influence any of my decisions from the bench” — whereupon a woman yelled, “Mug him again!”

While the Post was roundly criticized in some quarters for insensitivity, the lesson was apt. Those who can’t learn from their encounters with violent criminals lack credibility when they render judgment on dealing with related issues.

This anecdote came to mind when reading of the encounter of leftist Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz–who was in Aubagne, France to pick up an award at a film festival for his film Rock the Casbah–had with a gang of Arab toughs. Though his movie is a cinematic attack on Israeli policies and a bouquet thrown in the direction of the Palestinians, the Arabs proved to be uninterested in his politics and instead subjected him to the same treatment they have accorded to many another Jew: he was badly beaten.

But like the judge in the Ed Koch story, Horowitz won’t let it influence him. When he regained consciousness, he refused to press charges against his attackers. Nor did he draw any conclusions about the intent of the mob that beat him up.

As Ruthie Blum aptly noted in her column in Israel Hayom, as awful as this incident was, it is also the sort of thing that it is hard not to laugh at. As she writes, one of the drawbacks about being an Israeli Israel-basher is that it doesn’t earn you much applause or even a hearing from European or Arab opponents of the country:

This is not the only example of Israelis with impeccable left-wing credentials being shunned by their like-minded counterparts abroad. Academic boycotts of Israeli professors also point to this pathetic phenomenon. Like the art world, academia is a sector that can be relied upon to side with its country’s detractors. Yet, this does not guarantee immunity for even the most pro-Palestinian Israeli lecturers. …

What this goes to show, for the millionth time, is that ill will and stupidity are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the Israeli radicals are foolish for assuming that their ideology makes them any less Jewish in the eyes of the enemy.

Israeli left-wingers may answer that their critiques of their country are meant to improve it rather than to aid the efforts of those who seek its destruction. But the incident in Aubagne ought to be another wake-up moment about the nature of the conflict. When Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein for shooting missiles at Israel during the Gulf War, some on the left said the experience would change their view of their neighbors. Others said the same thing when Palestinian suicide bombers indiscriminately slaughtered Jewish men, women and children and were treated as heroes by their people during the second intifada.

The point here is not to assert that all Arabs are bad or that Israel can do no wrong, but that it is important to understand that the core of the conflict is the hatred and intolerance of Jews. After decades of failed attempts by Israel to make peace that have been answered with murder and terror, anyone who won’t own up to this reality may need to get mugged again.

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Beyond Repeal: If Obamacare Survives, It Must Be Fixed

This National Journal piece, titled “The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’,” has come in for a fair amount of mocking on the right. The “secret plan” turns out to be the GOP leadership’s very public, well-known, high-profile desire to … vote to repeal Obamacare. Just last week the GOP put up yet another (failed) amendment to repeal the health care reform law.

If the Republican Party is trying to keep its plan to repeal Obamacare a secret, it isn’t succeeding. The political press has been unable to conceal its annoyance at the GOP’s stubborn fight to rid the country of an unpopular law. Conservatives are, appropriately, unfazed by the president’s palace guard in the media doing their best to dictate the policy agenda. The left says the fight is over, and Obamacare is here to stay. But if that’s true, they’re only half right: if Obamacare is here to stay, the fight is only beginning. The law is so shoddy and onerous that it is going to take sustained effort for lawmakers to fix the worst parts of the bill just to make it workable. Obamacare is unsustainable as-is.

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This National Journal piece, titled “The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’,” has come in for a fair amount of mocking on the right. The “secret plan” turns out to be the GOP leadership’s very public, well-known, high-profile desire to … vote to repeal Obamacare. Just last week the GOP put up yet another (failed) amendment to repeal the health care reform law.

If the Republican Party is trying to keep its plan to repeal Obamacare a secret, it isn’t succeeding. The political press has been unable to conceal its annoyance at the GOP’s stubborn fight to rid the country of an unpopular law. Conservatives are, appropriately, unfazed by the president’s palace guard in the media doing their best to dictate the policy agenda. The left says the fight is over, and Obamacare is here to stay. But if that’s true, they’re only half right: if Obamacare is here to stay, the fight is only beginning. The law is so shoddy and onerous that it is going to take sustained effort for lawmakers to fix the worst parts of the bill just to make it workable. Obamacare is unsustainable as-is.

It won’t lower insurance costs. It also won’t achieve universal coverage. It is designed to kick millions of Americans off insurance plans they are satisfied with and they can afford. It will depress wages and full-time employment. It forces religious institutions to violate their faith by removing the separation of church and state and defining Catholic practice outside the bounds of law in the age of Obamacare. It is, in almost every way, a colossal failure of governance and reveals as fiction the left’s self-identification as an intellectual, fact-driven political movement.

But it also has to be fixed. Conservatives will not be satisfied for the law to stand as a monument to liberalism’s inability to govern, because the American people rightly have no interest in being Democrats’ lab rats. That’s why the GOP keeps trying to repeal the law, but it’s also why, absent repeal, the fight over Obamacare will continue for years to come. It creates too many problems to be left alone. As Shikha Dalmia writes at the Washington Examiner:

The Iraq War cost $1 trillion and produced a quagmire abroad. Obamacare will cost $1 trillion and will create a quagmire at home. Americans need an exit strategy.

I don’t endorse the comparison of any domestic policy law to the horrors of war, but Dalmia’s framing of the issue is more useful than the simplistic repeal/don’t repeal argument the two sides have conducted for three years now. Republicans lost an opportunity to repeal the law when they failed to take the Senate and White House in November. They will, however, have the support of some Democrats to help alleviate the burden Obamacare has forced onto the American public.

One example is the law’s medical device tax, which will hurt medical innovation and cost jobs. The Senate passed a nonbinding, symbolic expression of repeal this past week with 79 votes in favor of getting rid of the excise tax. Obamacare’s discriminatory contraception mandate was, according to Democrats, “un-American,” “a bad decision,” “a violation of conscience rights,” among other critiques of the policy.

Those are only some of the battles in Obamacare’s future, since those parts of the law are so obviously harmful that even Democrats—now that they’ve found out what was in the law they voted for—would support eliminating them. But the rest of the bill is more complex. Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy penned an op-ed last month explaining how to use Obamacare to fix Obamacare—in part by utilizing the insurance exchanges to open the system up to more traditional market pressures. Such ideas require an acceptance that Obamacare won’t be repealed. But their support among politicians, and not just think-tankers, also indicates that conservatives are getting serious about health care reform in a way they weren’t before Obamacare captured the debate.

It’s a shame it took the Obamacare monstrosity to focus congressional Republicans’ attention on health care. But it’s encouraging that the debate over repeal is the beginning, not the end, of the political class’s efforts to correct the Obama administration’s mistakes.

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Don’t Insult the King of Palestine

Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

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Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

The consensus in Israel dating back to Yitzhak Rabin has always been that it didn’t matter how beastly the Palestinian Authority was so long as it kept terrorists in line. Rabin famously defended the wisdom of putting Arafat in power by saying that he could fight terror “without a Supreme Court, without B’Tselem, and without bleeding heart liberals.” But unfortunately, Rabin’s prediction that the lack of Palestinian democracy would enhance Israel’s security was a colossal miscalculation. If anything, the lack of transparency only made it easier for Arafat to quietly subsidize terror by factions of his own Fatah Party even if he was also hoping to suppress his Hamas rivals.

Ariel Sharon also had little interest in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority toward its own people. He mocked Natan Sharansky for insisting that Israel’s security depended on the creation of a stable, democratic partner and that true peace would never happen until the PA stopped being a kleptocracy run by unaccountable tyrants.

As it turned out, Rabin and Sharon were both wrong and Sharansky’s predictions were proven prophetic; not only has the PA been a source of terror but its lack of legitimacy has undermined any hope that it could be a bulwark against the Islamists of Hamas.

It is true that Israel relies on the PA to keep the West Bank from being the terror base that Gaza has become under Hamas rule. But so long as it is looked upon by the Palestinian people with contempt and fear it will not have the ability to keep a peace agreement with Israel even if its leaders had the courage or the wisdom to sign one.

Highlighting the tyrannical nature of the PA—something once again made clear by Abbas’s unwillingness to allow even the mildest criticism of his rule—isn’t merely a matter of showing the contrast between democratic Israel and its antagonists. So long as Abbas—who is currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the PA—presides over a government of this nature any hope that he can be trusted to keep the peace is science fiction. Peace with such a king of Palestine would not be worth the paper it was printed on even were he willing to sign on the dotted line.

When Palestinians are ready to treat each other with dignity and respect, it will be possible to imagine that they will do the same to their Jewish neighbors. Until then, more talk about the PA being a partner for peace is pious hogwash.

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Will Somalia Backslide Again?

That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.

Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.

Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.

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That may seem like a silly question to those whose memory of Somalia stopped with Black Hawk Down and piracy, but over the past year there has been some real progress in the east African country which has become synonymous with state failure.

Somalia has made surprising progress. Mogadishu Airport is open to real airlines, piracy is on the decline thanks to a robust international military presence and, in January 2013, the U.S. re-established formal relations with the Somali government for the first time in decades.

Responsibility for progress on the ground in Somalia rests not with international diplomats, but with AMISOM, an African Union military mission manned by Kenyans, Ugandans, Djibouti, and Burundi. Sometimes, military force matters far more than the best intentions of diplomats and UN debates.

For years, southern Somalia was a no go-area. Several years ago, I had arranged a trip to Mogadishu (a trip that, because of some subsequent events on the ground, never came off). Planning the trip, however, was eye-opening. I spoke with former intelligence officials, Somali businessmen, and assorted Somalia-watchers. I was urged by them to fly into a former Italian airfield north of Somalia accessible by various privately-owned Somali airlines which operate out of Dubai. Whatever I did, they said, don’t try to enter Somalia from Kenya because southern Somalia was the most dangerous region and had become, essentially, a stronghold for Islamist terrorists.

Southern Somalia is home to Kismayo, a port city which acts as the commercial capital of the country. By controlling the port, the terrorist group Ash-Shabaab was able to survive financially. After all, not every militant is a true believer: Many are in it for the patronage. For years, the assumption was that because of Kismayo’s economic importance, Ash-Shabaab and other terrorists would fight to the death in order to maintain their stranglehold over the city. Diplomats dawdled for years about whether AMISOM forces should enter, and what the diplomatic ramifications would be. But last September, AMISOM went in and Ash-Shabaab fled. Local officials—not necessarily subordinate to Mogadishu authorities–resumed their control of the city. One wonders what death might have been prevented had diplomats not been so reticent and blessed the move months earlier.

Now, all the gains not only in Kismayo but across the region appear in jeopardy. Earlier this month, the UN lifted the decades-long arms embargo on Somalia. Doing so allowed the UN to pretend to be relevant, and to confirm progress on the ground. The logic for the UN move was to strengthen the Somali army and central government control. The reality has been the opposite: Corruption is rife throughout Somalia and the lifting of the arms embargo has flooded the black market.  Now, it seems extremists are making a comeback in Kismayo as political deadlock between the Somali central government and local clans in Kismayo exacerbate the problem.

Ash-Shabaab may not be as much of an al-Qaeda affiliate as it claims, but that’s neither here nor there. It is an Islamist extremist group and readily engages in terrorism. It is responsible for thousands of deaths, some in the most brutal fashion. It is not enough to claim victory; such affiliates and terrorist groups have to be hunted into oblivion. That certainly does not mean U.S. intervention is needed. AMISOM is doing the job. The key for the White House is to make sure that nothing is allowed to get in their way. While AMISOM’s formation and activities are blessed by the UN, that should not mean that Ban Ki-moon and his legions of ill-intentioned meddlers should interfere with success. If they do, any progress will be quickly lost. It already is in Kismayo.

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Who’s Got the Edge in 2014?

Ever since the November election, Democrats have been talking big about 2014. The odds are always against the party that controls the White House in a midterm, but after President Obama’s smashing victory and the surprising Democrat gains, especially in the Senate, optimism about the next Congressional election has reigned in the White House as well as liberal opinion columns.

But the decision of yet another incumbent Senate Democrat in a red state to forgo a shot at re-election earlier this week ought to put something of a chill on liberal triumphalism. While, as the 2012 election illustrated, all assumptions about who has the edge in a battle for control of Congress are bound to be upset by developments that neither pundits nor party leaders can foresee, the odds against the Democrats next year are getting longer, not shorter.

South Dakota’s Tim Johnson was the fifth Democrat to announce he would be leaving the Senate at the end of 2014 and immediately put his seat in play. He joins Carl Levin, Frank Lautenberg, Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller among those exiting the arena. Of the five, only Lautenberg’s seat could be said to be safe for the Democrats. Neither of the two Republicans not running for re-election—Saxby Chambliss and Mike Johanns—is leaving their seats in jeopardy for their party. When you add these changes to the existing lineup in which Democrats will be defending 21 seats next year (including a number of red state seats whose incumbents were the beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s 2008 coat tails) as opposed to the GOP’s 14, it’s much easier to chart a path to a Republican-controlled Senate in 2014 than it is to imagine another big year for the Democrats.

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Ever since the November election, Democrats have been talking big about 2014. The odds are always against the party that controls the White House in a midterm, but after President Obama’s smashing victory and the surprising Democrat gains, especially in the Senate, optimism about the next Congressional election has reigned in the White House as well as liberal opinion columns.

But the decision of yet another incumbent Senate Democrat in a red state to forgo a shot at re-election earlier this week ought to put something of a chill on liberal triumphalism. While, as the 2012 election illustrated, all assumptions about who has the edge in a battle for control of Congress are bound to be upset by developments that neither pundits nor party leaders can foresee, the odds against the Democrats next year are getting longer, not shorter.

South Dakota’s Tim Johnson was the fifth Democrat to announce he would be leaving the Senate at the end of 2014 and immediately put his seat in play. He joins Carl Levin, Frank Lautenberg, Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller among those exiting the arena. Of the five, only Lautenberg’s seat could be said to be safe for the Democrats. Neither of the two Republicans not running for re-election—Saxby Chambliss and Mike Johanns—is leaving their seats in jeopardy for their party. When you add these changes to the existing lineup in which Democrats will be defending 21 seats next year (including a number of red state seats whose incumbents were the beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s 2008 coat tails) as opposed to the GOP’s 14, it’s much easier to chart a path to a Republican-controlled Senate in 2014 than it is to imagine another big year for the Democrats.

The argument for a Democrat opportunity this year is based on a continuation of the same trends that have helped Obama in 2008 and 2012. They are counting larger numbers of minorities making up the electorate than in the past as the demographic picture of the country changes to help Democrats.

Moreover, the president and his media cheerleaders are genuinely convinced that more than demography is at work to help Democrats. They believe GOP stands on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, as well as their opposition to raising taxes, gives them a near permanent advantage that will be impossible for their opponents to overcome. But as even liberal poll guru Nate Silver noted last week, the president’s supposedly permanent edge on economic issues over a Tea Party-controlled GOP evaporated before the onset of spring.

The president does seem more focused on helping his party in the midterms than he was in the prelude to 2010. But his absence from the ballot that year was the determining factor in understanding the difference between the results in 2010 as opposed to those in 2008 and 2012. Without the much larger turnout associated with a presidential election—especially one in which a magnetic and hugely popular candidate like Obama is driving interest—Democrats are facing odds that favor their opponents.

Just as no one could have predicted the Tea Party revolt that galvanized the country in 2010, we don’t know what factors will sketch the narrative of the next federal election. But liberal assumptions that they can look forward to another cakewalk in 2014 because of the advantages they held in January or February 2013 is the sort of mistake that often leads to partisan debacles such as the one they experienced at the last midterm.

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Obama’s Appeal to Emotion Versus Reason

President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:

“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.

Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.

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President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:

“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.

Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.

The president and other gun control advocates are right when they criticize those opponents who frame gun rights in absolute terms. The Second Amendment does not prohibit the regulation of guns or even the banning of some sorts of weapons. But to concede that point does not mean that every proposed restriction makes sense or, more to the point, would prevent another Newtown or even lower gun violence in general. Indeed, in their more candid moments, President Obama and Vice President Biden have conceded that this is true.

Many Americans reflexively support any restriction on guns just as some are knee-jerk opponents of even the most reasonable ideas about regulating them. But the more such issues are discussed, the more apparent it becomes to thinking voters that banning certain types of rifles that look like military weapons or even requiring more background checks to complete a legal gun sale is not likely to stop an insane person from committing a massacre. Nor is there much reason to believe such laws will stop criminals from gaining access to illegal weapons.

Seen in that light, the rationale for more gun control boils down to either a general desire to restrict gun rights (a sentiment that is more prevalent among liberals than the president and those who agree with him like to admit) or a desire for a gesture to show our frustration with a problem that transcends theoretical Second Amendment debates.

While a majority of Americans and perhaps even a majority of Congress can agree to more background checks, the notion that more emotional appeals are what the country needs when discussing guns belies the fact that advocates are bereft of better reasoned arguments.

A purely cold-blooded mode of public advocacy has its drawbacks. We ought to care deeply about the issues of the day and there is nothing wrong with sometimes expressing our views with passion. But there is a difference between a passion for the public good and waving the bloody shirt of Newtown or any other tragedy.

The founders of our republic espoused representative democracy and a system of checks and balances specifically because they rightly feared a government that was governed by the emotional whims of the mob. They understood that mobs—whether they consist of 18th century street toughs or 21st century viewers who are easily influenced by inflammatory images—do not reason. They emote. And what results from such emotions is likely to be the opposite of good public policy.

All of which means that the more gun control advocates feel compelled to show disturbing videos of grieving parents, the weaker their case must be. It’s not that we’ve forgotten Newtown, but that more of us have come to understand that we ought not allow our sadness over this tragedy to be exploited by political operatives who are interested in furthering an ideological agenda rather than saving lives.

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Qatar’s Apartheid Fund

As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

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As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Abbas hailed Qatar’s announcement that it would establish a special fund for Jerusalem with a $1 billion budget to support the Arab residents of the city and foil Israel’s attempts to “judaize” east Jerusalem.

This has been a Palestinian complaint for some time. Under Israeli control, both Jews and non-Jews are permitted to live throughout Jerusalem. Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan invaded and captured the city, Jews were not permitted to enter Jordanian territory. When Israel regained the Jewish capital, the apartheid policies were of course lifted and worshipers of any religion could live in the city and visit their respective holy sites.

The preferred Palestinian policy is one in which Arabs are permitted to live in any part of Jerusalem but Jews are forbidden from living in certain parts of the city. The State of Israel, obviously, rejects this. It isn’t quite clear how the Qatari apartheid fund is supposed to work. It can’t control housing policy in Israeli territory, but Qatari money is quite often put to violent purposes, so this is sure to raise alarm. On Monday, Haaretz had previewed the conference:

Speaking from his capital city, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani will reportedly commit a large sum of money to the cause and call on Arab states – especially in the Persian Gulf – to chip in. The fund will be managed by an Islamic investment bank and is expected to attract around $1 billion.

Palestinian Authority officials are skeptical, noting the Arab League has made and broken generous promises in the past, including one to provide their government with a financial safety net.

“We hope this time the decisions will be implemented in full,” a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

It is my great hope that one day Palestinian officials will be embarrassed to make these comments to newspapers, and it says something about the West’s bigotry of low expectations toward the Palestinians that it doesn’t express any outrage at the talk of apartheid funds as soon as President Obama leaves the region.

Complaints about “Judaizing” anything reflect the mindset of people with no interest in living in peace with their Jewish neighbors–they, in fact, would like there to be no Jewish neighbors at all. It also offers a good indication of the intentions of the current Palestinian leadership were they to get their own fully sovereign state. And this “Judenrein” mindset inculcates a predilection toward separatism and xenophobia in Palestinian youth. It’s the sort of thing Hillary Clinton used to call child abuse when she was running for Senate in New York. Perhaps we’ll hear such forthright language if and when Clinton runs for president and reclaims the kind of moral leadership anathema to Foggy Bottom.

It also has broader consequences. In his Tablet column today, Michael Moynihan writes of Danish journalist Martin Krasnik’s experiment in which he walked through his town in Denmark wearing a yarmulke. It did not go very well, and he received all manner of threats. Krasnik is a political liberal, but he and other Danes are expressing both sorrow and fear at the anti-Semitism “imported from the Middle East,” especially in more heavily Palestinian neighborhoods and schools. It seems Palestinians, taking a cue from their nominal political leader Abbas, do not constrain their opposition to “Judaization” to Jerusalem or even the Palestinian territories. Abbas feeds and encourages hatred of Jews to such an extent that Palestinians seem resistant to living in peace with Jews anywhere in the world.

And Qatar hopes to encourage this mindset to the tune of $1 billion.

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The Gay Marriage Debate

I certainly agree with Peter Wehner and Jonathan Tobin that the sudden shift in public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage is quite remarkable and surely portends that in another generation, same-sex marriage will be about as controversial as votes for women. That is, as long as the court doesn’t hand down another Roe v. Wade and take the issue out of the political arena where issues such as this are properly settled.

Let me add just one thing regarding the main conservative reasoning for upholding DOMA. As the Wall Street Journal editorial today sympathetically put it:

Mr. Clement responded to Justice Kennedy that Doma merely defined marriage for the purposes of federal law, such as Social Security benefits. After the Hawaii supreme court had legalized gay marriage and upset the traditional definition, Congress in 1996 naturally adopted a uniform rule for federal benefits but allowed the states to debate and adapt to changing social mores.

This is nonsense.

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I certainly agree with Peter Wehner and Jonathan Tobin that the sudden shift in public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage is quite remarkable and surely portends that in another generation, same-sex marriage will be about as controversial as votes for women. That is, as long as the court doesn’t hand down another Roe v. Wade and take the issue out of the political arena where issues such as this are properly settled.

Let me add just one thing regarding the main conservative reasoning for upholding DOMA. As the Wall Street Journal editorial today sympathetically put it:

Mr. Clement responded to Justice Kennedy that Doma merely defined marriage for the purposes of federal law, such as Social Security benefits. After the Hawaii supreme court had legalized gay marriage and upset the traditional definition, Congress in 1996 naturally adopted a uniform rule for federal benefits but allowed the states to debate and adapt to changing social mores.

This is nonsense.

State marriage laws have always diverged, and significantly so in some cases. For instance, 19 states and Washington D.C. allow first-cousin marriages, 25 states forbid them, and six states allow them with restrictions (usually with reference to the age and/or fertility of the partners). The federal government had no problem with these divergences before 1995. For over 200 years, if you were legally married in the eyes of the state where you lived, then you were legally married as far as the federal government was concerned, no questions asked.

Then the Hawaii Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and Washington politicians all of a sudden “naturally” rushed to adopt a “uniform rule for federal benefits.” It was, of course, uniform in only one way: the marriage partners had to be of opposite sexes. And the law that “merely” set a uniform rule for federal benefits isn’t called the Uniform Rule for Federal Benefits Act, it’s called the Defense of Marriage Act.

Lawyers are paid to win the argument, not find the truth, of course. But if you buy Mr. Clement’s argument here, I have a really handsome bridge over the East River I’d like to sell you.

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Should Bibi Have Said No to Turkey Talk?

Much of the commentary about President Obama’s brokering of a supposed reconciliation between Israel and Turkey has broken down into two categories: those extolling the president’s supposed diplomatic magic and those who have castigated Prime Minister Netanyahu for going along with the charade. I tried to pour some cold water on the former on Sunday when I wrote that Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s hasty backtracking on the agreement as well as the entire character of his Islamist government rendered the exercise pointless. Michael Rubin, who knows far more about Turkey than almost anybody you can think of who comments about it in the American press, is right to point out how dangerous Erdoğan is and the malevolent nature of his regime.

But I think it’s a mistake to portray Netanyahu’s decision to accede to Obama’s desire for the call as something that will materially harm Israel’s security, as some on the right have asserted. The apology over the Mavi Marmara incident is being portrayed in some quarters as a dangerous dereliction of duty on Netanyahu’s part that potentially opens up Israel’s armed forces to future legal attacks, as well as a sign that the prime minister is acquiescing to banana republic status with respect to the United States. While I share the cynicism about Turkey’s goals and Obama’s naïveté, Netanyahu doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s taking on this issue.

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Much of the commentary about President Obama’s brokering of a supposed reconciliation between Israel and Turkey has broken down into two categories: those extolling the president’s supposed diplomatic magic and those who have castigated Prime Minister Netanyahu for going along with the charade. I tried to pour some cold water on the former on Sunday when I wrote that Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s hasty backtracking on the agreement as well as the entire character of his Islamist government rendered the exercise pointless. Michael Rubin, who knows far more about Turkey than almost anybody you can think of who comments about it in the American press, is right to point out how dangerous Erdoğan is and the malevolent nature of his regime.

But I think it’s a mistake to portray Netanyahu’s decision to accede to Obama’s desire for the call as something that will materially harm Israel’s security, as some on the right have asserted. The apology over the Mavi Marmara incident is being portrayed in some quarters as a dangerous dereliction of duty on Netanyahu’s part that potentially opens up Israel’s armed forces to future legal attacks, as well as a sign that the prime minister is acquiescing to banana republic status with respect to the United States. While I share the cynicism about Turkey’s goals and Obama’s naïveté, Netanyahu doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s taking on this issue.

As much as I share the sentiments of those who would prefer that Israel tell Erdoğan to stuff it, Netanyahu’s decision was not a craven collapse or merely the function of unconscionable pressure by Obama.

Israel had, after all, made several previous attempts to put the Mavi Marmara dust-up in the past. It’s not clear that the “apology” delivered last week went any further than previous expressions of Israeli regret. Nor was there anything new about offers to compensate families of those Turks killed when Israeli soldiers boarded the ship.

It bears repeating that Israel was in the right in defending the blockade of Gaza and that the Turkish supporters of Hamas who, with the connivance of their government, were staging this provocation were doing nothing to help the people of Gaza or advance the cause of peace. But that does not mean that Netanyahu was wrong to admit that the operation was “botched” or that his government was sorry that civilians, no matter how wrongheaded or malevolent their motives might have been, were killed. When Netanyahu ordered the seizure of the ship he did not intend for any of its passengers or crew to be killed, even if they did violently resist. There is a difference between asserting that Israel had every right to stop the ship and saying that the seizure went as planned, since it obviously did not.

The fears that this admission will open up Israel to lawsuits in international courts or undermine its right of self-defense are similarly mistaken. Israel was already under siege in such forums and Netanyahu’s limited measure won’t advance or retard any efforts to turn it into a pariah.

Nor did the phone call transform Netanyahu from a thorn in Obama’s side to the status of a client state lickspittle, as some of his critics would have it.

The phone call took place in the context of a state visit in which Obama went farther than any of his predecessors in making the case for Zionism and Jewish rights. As much as it is difficult for some of his critics to admit it, after years of acting as if he cared nothing for Israel, it was Obama who gave ground last week, not Netanyahu.

Obama virtually endorsed Netanyahu’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and, in a major shift in U.S. policy from that of the previous four years, peace negotiations must come with no preconditions. No less a conservative critic of Obama than scholar Daniel Pipes noted that this “broke new ground and cannot be readily undone.” While many who have rightly assailed the president for his policies toward Israel during his first term focused on his foolish embrace of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his call for Israeli youth to pressure their government to make peace, those empty words pale in significance when compared to Obama’s other comments while in Israel.

If, in exchange for these unexpected and important concessions on Obama’s part, Netanyahu had to suffer through a phone call with the likes of Erdoğan, that seems a paltry price to pay.

This sort of thing grates on the sensibilities of some Israelis who resent their nation’s dependence on the United States. Such feelings are understandable, but if some on the right think the country would really be better off on its own, they need to get their heads examined. As much as Israel prides itself on its right to defend itself by itself—an important phrase that was also echoed by Obama last week—that ability is based in no small measure by the strategic alliance with the United States.

Netanyahu has already demonstrated that he is not so intimidated by the need for U.S. support as to allow Obama to force him to give way on issues that were matters of principle or security. Contrary to the claims of some of its critics, Israel has the right to say no to Washington and has done so several times in the past.

But a leader has to be able to distinguish between those requests by its ally that ought to be rejected as dangerous and those which, however misguided, should be accepted for the sake of goodwill. Though I don’t disagree with the concerns being expressed about Turkey—whose efforts to bolster Hamas and to force a unity government on Abbas will undermine the already remote chances for peace—and think Obama deserves to be critiqued for his inexplicable friendship with the Turkish leader, I can’t agree with those who think Netanyahu made a mistake in going along on the Erdoğan call.

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How British Justice Failed Ronnie Fraser

On Monday night, as Jews around the world sat down for the first seder of the Passover holiday, anti-Zionists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere held a very different celebration to mark the comprehensive dismissal of a discrimination case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish math teacher, to an employment tribunal in London.

As I reported back in November, Fraser’s courageous battle against anti-Semitism in the labor union to which he belongs, the University and College Union (UCU), propelled him into a courtroom showdown with the advocates of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members. A series of ugly episodes–among them the posting of a claim, on a private listserv run by the UCU, that millions of dollars from the failed Lehman Brothers’ bank were transferred to Israel, as well as the address given by a leading South African anti-Semite, Bongani Masuku, to a UCU conference–convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.

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On Monday night, as Jews around the world sat down for the first seder of the Passover holiday, anti-Zionists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere held a very different celebration to mark the comprehensive dismissal of a discrimination case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish math teacher, to an employment tribunal in London.

As I reported back in November, Fraser’s courageous battle against anti-Semitism in the labor union to which he belongs, the University and College Union (UCU), propelled him into a courtroom showdown with the advocates of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members. A series of ugly episodes–among them the posting of a claim, on a private listserv run by the UCU, that millions of dollars from the failed Lehman Brothers’ bank were transferred to Israel, as well as the address given by a leading South African anti-Semite, Bongani Masuku, to a UCU conference–convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.

The tribunal’s judges, however, didn’t agree, issuing what London’s Jewish Chronicle described as a “blistering rejection” of the entire case. As the news spread, anti-Semites on the far left and extreme right crowed that the verdict was a “crushing defeat” for the “Israel lobby” (in the words of the Electronic Intifada) and the just deserts of a “whiny Jew” (in the inimitable phrase of the neo-Nazi bulletin board, Stormfront). The miniscule Jewish anti-Zionist organization Jews for Justice for Palestinians dutifully lined up behind this chorus, declaring that Fraser’s “mission” to prove himself a “victim” had failed.

Why did the Fraser case collapse in such spectacular fashion? In part, the problems were technical and procedural; several passages in the verdict argued that the UCU’s officers were not themselves responsible for the specific instances of anti-Semitism Fraser’s complaints highlighted, while another lazily bemoaned the “gargantuan scale” of the case, asserting that it was wrong of Julius and Fraser to abuse the “limited resources” of the “hard-pressed public service” that is a British employment tribunal. The verdict also contained extraordinary personal attacks on the integrity of Fraser’s witnesses, among them Jewish communal leader Jeremy Newmark and Labor Party parliamentarian John Mann, and even insinuated that the plain-speaking Fraser was unwittingly being used as a vassal by the articulate and florid Julius!

Ultimately, though, highly partisan political considerations decided the outcome. After dismissing all 10 of Fraser’s complaints as an “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litiginous means,” the honorable judges then leveled some acutely politicized accusations of their own. Fraser and his supporters were accused of showing a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.” Their broader conclusion, that it “would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated,” is clearly designed to discourage other potential plaintiffs from pursuing complaints against the UCU.

Most disturbing of all is paragraph 150 of the verdict, which will doubtless become shorthand for one of the most insidious attempts to redefine anti-Semitism ever devised. After accepting that British law does protect “Jewishness” as a characteristic of individuals, the judges went on to say that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic.”

This excerpt of the verdict should not be understood as protecting the rights of anti-Zionists to free speech. It is, rather, about protecting anti-Zionists from accusations of anti-Semitism by arguing that anti-Zionism is, by definition, not anti-Semitic.

Of course, elsewhere in the verdict, opposition to Zionism is conflated with “criticism of Israel,” which has the neat effect of making Fraser and those who think like him–as Julius pointed out, a clear majority of Jews–appear radically intolerant. But when the core themes of anti-Zionism are unmasked–the denial, uniquely to the Jews, of the right of self-determination, the portrayal of Israel as a racist, and therefore illegitimate, state, the presentation of the Palestinians as victims of a second Holocaust, and the use of the term “Zionist” as a codeword for “Jew”–we move far beyond the domain of permissible policy criticism into open defamation.

More fundamentally, the verdict denies Jews the right to determine those elements that comprise their identity and leaves the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism to (often hostile) non-Jews. (As I argued in a February 2012 COMMENTARY essay, that has been the case ever since the term was first coined in the 1870s.) As Fraser himself noted in a statement emailed after the verdict was delivered, “[F]or the court to say that, as Jews, we do not have an attachment to Israel is disappointing, considering we have been yearning for Israel for 2000 years and it has been in our prayers all that time.” Fraser added that the verdict “highlighted the need for Anglo-Jewry to urgently adopt and publicize its own definition of antisemitism.” 

The lesson of the Fraser debacle is simply this: a single employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has created a precedent which will be invoked by every Jew-baiter around the globe; namely, that when Jews raise the question of anti-Semitism in the context of visceral hostility toward Israel, they do so in bad faith. That such a bigoted principle can be established in a democracy famed for its enlightened judicial methods is, perhaps, the most shocking realization of all.

So, yes, Ronnie Fraser was defeated. But so too was British justice and fair play.

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