Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 7, 2013

Are Christians Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Anti-gay violence is despicable and those who encourage it are to be deplored. The murder of an openly gay candidate for mayor in a Mississippi town has provoked some discussion about the source of such violence. That is a topic that deserves serious discussion. But there is a difference between sober soul-searching about instances of violence in our society and jumping to conclusions whose only possible purpose is to provoke a different sort of prejudice.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Rabbi Brad Hirschfield has done in the latest edition of his On Faith blog for the Washington Post. Hirschfeld, whose day job is serving as president of the non-denominational Jewish group CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, leads an on-line discussion that he begins by admitting he doesn’t know why Marco McMillian was killed or who or what could have incited the brutal crime or if, indeed, anyone one or any group had any role in doing so. But that doesn’t deter him from beginning his piece with the provocative title “What role does Christianity play in the murder of the openly gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi?” According to Hirschfeld, Christians are clearly guilty until proven innocent.

One doesn’t have to condone the awful crime of anti-gay violence or even oppose gay marriage to understand that the assumption that an entire faith—or any faith that does not approve of homosexuality—is somehow responsible for what happened to McMillian is itself prejudicial. Of course, Hirschfeld doesn’t come right out and say that himself. But by posing that question and steering the discussion in a way that puts Christianity on trial in this manner, what he has done is to incite bias against traditional beliefs that are in no way connected to violence against gays.

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Anti-gay violence is despicable and those who encourage it are to be deplored. The murder of an openly gay candidate for mayor in a Mississippi town has provoked some discussion about the source of such violence. That is a topic that deserves serious discussion. But there is a difference between sober soul-searching about instances of violence in our society and jumping to conclusions whose only possible purpose is to provoke a different sort of prejudice.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Rabbi Brad Hirschfield has done in the latest edition of his On Faith blog for the Washington Post. Hirschfeld, whose day job is serving as president of the non-denominational Jewish group CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, leads an on-line discussion that he begins by admitting he doesn’t know why Marco McMillian was killed or who or what could have incited the brutal crime or if, indeed, anyone one or any group had any role in doing so. But that doesn’t deter him from beginning his piece with the provocative title “What role does Christianity play in the murder of the openly gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi?” According to Hirschfeld, Christians are clearly guilty until proven innocent.

One doesn’t have to condone the awful crime of anti-gay violence or even oppose gay marriage to understand that the assumption that an entire faith—or any faith that does not approve of homosexuality—is somehow responsible for what happened to McMillian is itself prejudicial. Of course, Hirschfeld doesn’t come right out and say that himself. But by posing that question and steering the discussion in a way that puts Christianity on trial in this manner, what he has done is to incite bias against traditional beliefs that are in no way connected to violence against gays.

Hirschfield does try and have it both ways in his blog by claiming that he is not so much pushing the case for blaming Christians as just trying to sort out “the biggest and ugliest public issues.” But these are mere weasel words to evade his personal responsibility by skewing the discussion to put those who are not in favor of gay marriage on the defensive.

But he isn’t shy about saying that he has no problem with saying that he considers the concept of collective guilt “a VERY valuable way to think about things” since it forces groups to ponder their own role in crimes that are committed by members of their group or faith.

There are instances when groups, faiths or even whole peoples have good reason to ponder collective guilt. When their faith or national leadership preaches hate in the name of the entire group then those who are implicated in this matter have a duty to speak out or act against those who have made such pronouncements or committed such crimes. Examples of this sort of behavior aren’t hard to think of. Under Nazi leadership, Germans killed Jews in the name of the German people. Iran’s religious leaders and many others in positions of influence throughout the Arab and Muslim world preach hatred of Jews in the name of all Muslims. Not all Germans killed Jews and not all Muslims believe their faith should be interpreted to condone violence. But all have an obligation to disassociate themselves and their nationality and faith from hate. The same rule would apply to Jews if most rabbis promoted hate in that same manner.

But except in the case of small outlier extremist sects, there is no plausible case to be made that any mainstream branch of Christianity does preach hatred of gays, let alone violence against them. There is, after all, a big difference between not approving of something and endorsing violence against anyone who is associated with it. While in response to one reader’s damning of “the church” Hirschfeld calls into question collective guilt against all Christians or churches, what he has done here is to set up an argument in which the premise of the discussion is one in which normative Biblically-based faiths are put on trial for the act of someone who may know little or nothing of their doctrines or practices.

The gradual demise of anti-gay prejudices in American society is a positive trend that should be applauded. But equality for gays or even approval of gay marriage ought not to come at the price of encouraging prejudice against faiths—Christian and non-Christian alike—that do not approve of homosexuality. And that is the direction that Hirschfield seems to be encouraging here.

What is so offensive about the column is not just his role in legitimizing bashing Christianity. The sheer dishonesty of his pose of objectivity and openness to all views is equally repulsive.

Hirschfeld can’t have it both ways. He can’t structure a public discussion about Christian guilt for a crime and endorse collective guilt while also claiming that he is nonjudgmental about faiths that won’t endorse gay marriage.

In other periods of history various branches of Christianity condoned and practiced discrimination and even violence against those who differed from their beliefs. But in popular American culture it seems that Christians are the one group that can be denigrated or labeled prejudicially with complete impunity. It is nothing less than a disgrace that the head of a group that has tried to speak in the name of Jewish unity and interfaith comity should play a role in this disgusting trend.

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Kerry’s “Courage” Award Debacle

Yesterday, Samuel Tadros reported in the Weekly Standard that John Kerry was handling his transition to running the State Department about as adroitly as one would imagine. He had an idea, and Foggy Bottom sent out a press release excitedly announcing that First Lady Michelle Obama was going to enthusiastically partake in this idea. The State Department would confer Women of Courage awards on several worthy recipients. Unfortunately, one of them happened to have a bad habit, apparently, of proclaiming viciously anti-Semitic hate speech on Twitter and was pretty happy, according to her timeline, about the September 11 terror attacks. Tadros wrote:

On July 18 of last year, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed a suicide bombing attack, Ibrahim jubilantly tweeted: “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.”

Ibrahim frequently uses Twitter to air her anti-Semitic views. Last August 4, commenting on demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, she described the ruling Al Saud family as “dirtier than the Jews.” Seventeen days later she tweeted in reference to Adolf Hitler: “I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler.”

Ibrahim holds other repellent views as well. As a mob was attacking the United States embassy in Cairo on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, pulling down the American flag and raising the flag of Al Qaeda, Ibrahim wrote on twitter: “Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning.” Possibly fearing the consequences of her tweet, she deleted it a couple of hours later, but not before a screen shot was saved by an Egyptian activist.

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Yesterday, Samuel Tadros reported in the Weekly Standard that John Kerry was handling his transition to running the State Department about as adroitly as one would imagine. He had an idea, and Foggy Bottom sent out a press release excitedly announcing that First Lady Michelle Obama was going to enthusiastically partake in this idea. The State Department would confer Women of Courage awards on several worthy recipients. Unfortunately, one of them happened to have a bad habit, apparently, of proclaiming viciously anti-Semitic hate speech on Twitter and was pretty happy, according to her timeline, about the September 11 terror attacks. Tadros wrote:

On July 18 of last year, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed a suicide bombing attack, Ibrahim jubilantly tweeted: “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.”

Ibrahim frequently uses Twitter to air her anti-Semitic views. Last August 4, commenting on demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, she described the ruling Al Saud family as “dirtier than the Jews.” Seventeen days later she tweeted in reference to Adolf Hitler: “I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler.”

Ibrahim holds other repellent views as well. As a mob was attacking the United States embassy in Cairo on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, pulling down the American flag and raising the flag of Al Qaeda, Ibrahim wrote on twitter: “Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning.” Possibly fearing the consequences of her tweet, she deleted it a couple of hours later, but not before a screen shot was saved by an Egyptian activist.

Tadros’s report stirred up appropriately negative reaction and Ibrahim tried to save her award by claiming her account was hacked. But the offending tweets were sent at very different times, left undeleted, never acknowledged before as fake, and didn’t appear terribly out of character for Ibrahim. The State Department announced it believed Ibrahim’s story about the tweets being fake. Since this was incredibly insulting to the intelligence of everyone the State Department thought would buy that excuse, people went about working to debunk that claim too.

At the Times of Israel, Arieh Kovler looked into the coding of the tweets and showed that the offending tweets were sent from the same platform as Ibrahim’s other tweets. Additionally, the tweets were sent from a phone application, and Kovler explained why it’s extremely unlikely a hacker would use a phone instead of a computer. It’s not definitive proof Ibrahim lied about being hacked, Kovler admitted. But the preponderance of evidence is difficult to ignore.

Tadros’s story now seems to have helped the State Department avoid a much more embarrassing spectacle were this all to come out after Ibrahim was scheduled to receive the award from the first lady and secretary of state tomorrow: McClatchy journalist Hannah Allam reported they will “defer” the award. Presumably the others will still receive their Women of Courage awards, but this incident will likely dim their excitement. After all, the fact that the State Department is conferring this honor on them doesn’t seem to mean the State Department actually knows anything about them.

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Dinner Diplomacy Shows GOP Strength

Ever since the November election, the conventional wisdom of the political world has been that the Republican Party has made itself irrelevant. President Obama seemed to agree with this point of view and has acted as if his re-election meant that the opposition should just shut up. That attempt to bully the GOP into inaction–if not silence–seemed to be working well during the fiscal cliff crisis when the president forced the House Republican caucus to give in on tax increases. However, the notion that the presidential election was a signal for the GOP to abandon its principles and simply knuckle under to the White House’s demands is not holding up as well as it was only a few weeks ago.

The president’s hard line on taxes helped ensure that the sequester budget cuts would go into effect. He was sure that a public backlash against the GOP would soon force them to their knees. To that end, he and members of the Cabinet launched a campaign not only claiming the cuts would grievously affect the lives of ordinary Americans but also blaming an idea that was hatched in the White House on Republicans. Yet with the Democrats’ statements looking like a case of crying wolf, the pressure that was supposedly going to bring Republicans to their knees is proving to be a figment of the imagination of both Obama and his media cheerleaders. The GOP is standing its ground and it is the president’s polling numbers rather than theirs that are sinking.

It is in that context that the president’s latest tactic for dealing with Republicans needs to be understood. Last night’s dinner with a dozen Republican senators at a fancy Washington venue and today’s lunch with Representative Paul Ryan suggest the White House is waving the white flag on its assumption that it can bulldoze Congress. After more than four years, the president is finally learning that if he wants to get something done, relying on demagoguery alone is a formula for failure.

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Ever since the November election, the conventional wisdom of the political world has been that the Republican Party has made itself irrelevant. President Obama seemed to agree with this point of view and has acted as if his re-election meant that the opposition should just shut up. That attempt to bully the GOP into inaction–if not silence–seemed to be working well during the fiscal cliff crisis when the president forced the House Republican caucus to give in on tax increases. However, the notion that the presidential election was a signal for the GOP to abandon its principles and simply knuckle under to the White House’s demands is not holding up as well as it was only a few weeks ago.

The president’s hard line on taxes helped ensure that the sequester budget cuts would go into effect. He was sure that a public backlash against the GOP would soon force them to their knees. To that end, he and members of the Cabinet launched a campaign not only claiming the cuts would grievously affect the lives of ordinary Americans but also blaming an idea that was hatched in the White House on Republicans. Yet with the Democrats’ statements looking like a case of crying wolf, the pressure that was supposedly going to bring Republicans to their knees is proving to be a figment of the imagination of both Obama and his media cheerleaders. The GOP is standing its ground and it is the president’s polling numbers rather than theirs that are sinking.

It is in that context that the president’s latest tactic for dealing with Republicans needs to be understood. Last night’s dinner with a dozen Republican senators at a fancy Washington venue and today’s lunch with Representative Paul Ryan suggest the White House is waving the white flag on its assumption that it can bulldoze Congress. After more than four years, the president is finally learning that if he wants to get something done, relying on demagoguery alone is a formula for failure.

No one should mistake this long put-off outreach to the other side of the aisle as a sign that the correlation of forces in Washington does not favor the president and the Democrats. Control of both the White House and the Senate gives them the preponderance of power and responsibility. But just as it is impossible for Republicans to govern the country from the House of Representatives, so, too, is it impossible for President Obama to act as if he can merely give orders to his opponents. But the shift in White House tactics shows that the GOP isn’t nearly as weak or powerless as many have assumed it to be.

It’s not clear that any amount of haute cuisine consumed at the same table by both Democrats and Republicans will ensure compromise on the sequester, let alone a grand bargain on the tax reform. But whether or not these Republicans succumb to the president’s dubious charms it is still a healthy sign for both sides of this standoff to understand that they must work with each other. Much of the media has promoted the idea that it is only the Republicans who are motivated by ideology. But the president’s liberal beliefs about soaking the rich and expanding government power are just as much of a factor as any of the Tea Party’s principles. The two sides may never bridge the gap between their positions, but if the president has stopped pretending that he needn’t negotiate in good faith then perhaps we are taking a step toward ending the dysfunctional dispute that has brought Washington to a standstill.

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New GOP Stars Rekindle an Old Conservative Debate

Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.

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Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.

But the fact that Paul is not his father is very important to the debate. As Paul demonstrated yesterday, he is well informed on foreign affairs and he is not afraid to speak his mind. And while his father, Ron Paul, could easily be dismissed as out of the mainstream, a crank, and even a conspiracy theorist, Rand Paul cannot be so dismissed. And that means the foreign policy debate is no longer conservative vs. not conservative; it is going to be a robust debate within the conservative movement between two traditional spheres of thought.

The idea that America plays an indispensable role in the world with an active foreign policy and unabashed effort to support freedom and fair play, and is willing to sacrifice on behalf of our allies, is a conservative idea. Protecting the free market at home has long required the protection of the global free market, and defending American democracy has long required a willingness to recognize and fend off threats to our way of life from a full range of sources. As Irving Kristol wrote in 1976, “In foreign policy, neoconservatism believes that American democracy is not likely to survive for long in a world that is overwhelmingly hostile to American values, if only because our transactions (economic and diplomatic) with other nations are bound eventually to have a profound impact on our own domestic economic and political system.”

It’s also partly what was behind the famous “Lafayette, we are here!” declaration when General Pershing’s troops first arrived in France in the First World War. We recognize that our freedom came with the help of allies to our cause, and we can be counted on to remember that when the chips are down for our friends and allies.

It was easy for those of us who disagree with Paul’s outlook on executive authority in wartime, America’s muscular foreign policy, and the general prosecution of the war on terror to defend our position against the elder Paul; not so with Paul the younger. When you drop the conspiracy theories, the tendency to blame America first, and the military isolationism, what’s left is an outlook with roots in the American conservative tradition as well. After World War II, when America decided it was necessary to construct the modern national security state, it did so amidst a debate on the right. Those who supported the new national security apparatus argued that the free world, especially the U.S., invited threats and challenges by drawing down after each war and retrenching from the world stage. We could be taken by surprise and caught unprepared.

That may be so, responded those more skeptical of increased federal power, but this is the same argument that led to the New Deal. We were told the federal government must have far-reaching powers in place before a crisis actually occurs. Yet a bureaucracy that owes its existence to a certain mission will always seek out elements of that mission even when they are illusory. Thus, the federal government has been encroaching on American economic freedom ever since the New Deal because the bureaucracy it created must justify its continued existence by feeding on perceived threats to American economic stability. Isn’t that, they asked, in effect what is being argued here in favor of creating broad wartime powers that will extend into peacetime and may seek out threats where they don’t actually exist?

That is the question at the essence of Rand Paul’s foreign policy worldview. And it must be answered effectively by a new generation of conservative voices who have the attention of the grassroots and the base where older members of the party do not. Paul’s perspective would leave America less able to protect itself at home and abroad. But he can argue that position eloquently for 13 consecutive hours with the conservative movement cheering him on. Paul’s question may have been directed at the president and the attorney general, but it also likely drew the battle lines in the ensuing competition to lead the GOP.

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Iran’s North Korean Example

The United Nations responded today to North Korea’s threats to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes on both the United States and South Korea with a new round of even harsher sanctions on Pyongyang. But it is not likely that these latest measures will have much impact on an already isolated communist regime that has no compunction about starving or imprisoning as many of its own people as it deems necessary. Their nuclear threats may turn out to be empty bluster, but whether they intend to further destabilize the region or not there is little the U.S. or the U.N. can do about it.

One shouldn’t minimize the danger that a nuclear North Korea poses to the shaky peace that has held for nearly 60 years along the 38th parallel as well as to the rest of the Far East. There is no telling what this maniacal government will do, and the expectation in some quarters that the accession of Kim Jong-un to power after the death of his father would calm things down has proven to be mistaken. Kim’s latest gambit seems aimed at testing South Korea’s new leader Park Geunhye, and there is always ground for concern that the North’s provocations could set in motion a train of events with unforeseen consequences.

But there is a lesson here that goes beyond our justified concerns about the Korean peninsula. North Korea can defy the world with impunity because it flouted every diplomatic agreement it signed about its nuclear program and wound up with a bomb that forever changed the strategic equation between it and the U.S. The progress of Pyongyang’s Iranian ally toward the same goal and the willingness of the West to engage in exactly the same sort of diplomatic minuet puts the world’s current dilemma in Korea in a sobering light.

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The United Nations responded today to North Korea’s threats to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes on both the United States and South Korea with a new round of even harsher sanctions on Pyongyang. But it is not likely that these latest measures will have much impact on an already isolated communist regime that has no compunction about starving or imprisoning as many of its own people as it deems necessary. Their nuclear threats may turn out to be empty bluster, but whether they intend to further destabilize the region or not there is little the U.S. or the U.N. can do about it.

One shouldn’t minimize the danger that a nuclear North Korea poses to the shaky peace that has held for nearly 60 years along the 38th parallel as well as to the rest of the Far East. There is no telling what this maniacal government will do, and the expectation in some quarters that the accession of Kim Jong-un to power after the death of his father would calm things down has proven to be mistaken. Kim’s latest gambit seems aimed at testing South Korea’s new leader Park Geunhye, and there is always ground for concern that the North’s provocations could set in motion a train of events with unforeseen consequences.

But there is a lesson here that goes beyond our justified concerns about the Korean peninsula. North Korea can defy the world with impunity because it flouted every diplomatic agreement it signed about its nuclear program and wound up with a bomb that forever changed the strategic equation between it and the U.S. The progress of Pyongyang’s Iranian ally toward the same goal and the willingness of the West to engage in exactly the same sort of diplomatic minuet puts the world’s current dilemma in Korea in a sobering light.

Like the Iranians are doing now, North Korea also engaged in a diplomatic process prior to their going nuclear. Several times they agreed to only use their nuclear plant for peaceful purposes and in exchange for those promises were rewarded by the West. But they reneged on every promise and were eventually able to announce the achievement of their nuclear goal, leaving the U.S. with no plausible method for rectifying the situation. All Washington can do about it now is to help pass U.N. resolutions that don’t impress the North Koreans. Meanwhile, South Koreans and others in the region are left to wonder whether Kim will ever make good on his threats.

The diplomatic situation with Iran is just as bleak as the one that was previously conducted with the North Koreans. The Iranians know they have time on their side, and though their economy is much larger and more dependant on foreign trade, they, too, have discovered that it can survive even a program of tough sanctions imposed from abroad. And if the Obama administration ever does make good on its promise to stop the ayatollahs from gaining nuclear capability, the Iranians also know theirs is a bigger country that would provide a difficult military challenge to any nation that sought to take out their nuclear facilities.

The North Koreans did have one advantage that the Iranians do not possess. The 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War and the heavily armed standoff along the borders between the two Koreas may have made any resort to force to stop the North from going nuclear difficult if not impossible. But there is no such predicament to stop the U.S. from a strike on Iran as a last resort to prevent it from going nuclear.

What President Obama needs to be thinking about today as he ponders the implication of Kim’s threats is just how much more dangerous the world would be if North Korea’s ally Iran also had the bomb. It may be that the help North Korea is selling the Iranians may render timetables about Tehran’s progress moot. But whether or not that is true, the West must understand that its current dilemma is a product of the feckless nuclear diplomacy it conducted with Pyongyang under the Clinton and Bush administrations.

More time wasted with dead end diplomacy that only serves Iran’s purposes only gets the world that much closer to the day when there will be two nuclear rogue regimes rather than just one. The longer a decision about using force against Iran is put off, the more likely it will be that North Korea won’t be the only nation making nuclear threats against the U.S. in the not so distant future.

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Waging an “Anti-Segregation” Crusade on the Palestinians’ Backs

Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

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Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.

Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.

This week, Israel finally took a first step toward solving this problem: It instituted bus service direct to central Israel from the Eyal crossing near Qalqilyah, to serve workers from that PA-controlled city and its suburbs. And as the Israeli daily Haaretz reluctantly reported–even as its editorialist denounced this “racist segregation”–most Palestinians are thrilled: “Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand.” As one worker explained, the new buses will save him NIS 250 a month, more than a full day’s wages.

Moreover, as Israel’s Transportation Ministry pointed out, Palestinians who prefer to ride the old buses can still do so. De facto, because West Bank Jews and Palestinians don’t live in the same towns, most Palestinians will find the new buses more convenient, whereas Jews will prefer the old ones. But calling it “segregation” to have different buses serving Qalqilyah and Ariel makes about as much sense as saying that America has segregated bus lines because New Yorkers and Chicagoans ride different buses to get to Washington.

The real question, however, is why it took so long to provide this service. A major part of the answer, as with everything in Israel, is bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. But equally important is that the international response to the new bus service was utterly predictable–which constitutes a powerful disincentive to launching it. If every Israeli attempt to offer better service to Palestinians is going to spark cries of “segregation” and “apartheid,” Israel has an obvious interest in refraining from such attempts.

In short, the people who suffer most from the world’s knee-jerk reflex of denouncing every Israeli action are often the Palestinians themselves. But that doesn’t bother their self-proclaimed supporters; they couldn’t care less if Palestinian laborers continue to suffer from inconvenient, overpriced transportation. All that matters to them is denouncing Israel–even if it’s for the crime of providing better bus service.

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Rand Paul’s Moment of Glory

After nearly 13 hours of the first real filibuster in many years, Rand Paul yielded the floor of the U.S. Senate last night shortly before 1 a.m. to tumultuous applause. I don’t share the Kentucky senator’s concerns about the “perpetual war” that al-Qaeda is waging against the West or the use of drones in that conflict. Nor do I believe that the rule of law is at risk in the unwillingness of the attorney general to rule out a hypothetical instance when it might be prudent to use a drone against a U.S. citizen on American soil–though it is difficult to imagine a scenario where that might be legal or necessary. Though I’m deeply sympathetic to the worries that he and other Republicans have about the unchecked expansion of government power, I think the obligation of the executive branch to defend the homeland means it must be granted far greater latitude than Paul is comfortable with.

But along with millions of others who followed the filibuster throughout the day and into the night, I had to admire Paul’s determination as well as the principled manner with which he conducted himself. During his long moment on our national stage, he set an example for other politicians and taught us again that there is still space in our public square for the sort of high-minded approach to public policy that we once associated with the Senate. It was no surprise that throughout the day many other Republicans, and even Democrat Ron Wyden, joined Paul on the floor giving his voice a rest (even if he could not sit down) and allowing them to share a bit of his glory. Paul probably will not succeed in getting the administration to budge on the issue of drones or stop the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A., whose nomination Paul was filibustering. But over the course of those 13 hours he made it clear that he is no longer just a libertarian outlier with a fringe following like his extremist father. Whether you like him or not, there’s no escaping the conclusion that he is a Republican star of the first magnitude who will be a first-tier contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

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After nearly 13 hours of the first real filibuster in many years, Rand Paul yielded the floor of the U.S. Senate last night shortly before 1 a.m. to tumultuous applause. I don’t share the Kentucky senator’s concerns about the “perpetual war” that al-Qaeda is waging against the West or the use of drones in that conflict. Nor do I believe that the rule of law is at risk in the unwillingness of the attorney general to rule out a hypothetical instance when it might be prudent to use a drone against a U.S. citizen on American soil–though it is difficult to imagine a scenario where that might be legal or necessary. Though I’m deeply sympathetic to the worries that he and other Republicans have about the unchecked expansion of government power, I think the obligation of the executive branch to defend the homeland means it must be granted far greater latitude than Paul is comfortable with.

But along with millions of others who followed the filibuster throughout the day and into the night, I had to admire Paul’s determination as well as the principled manner with which he conducted himself. During his long moment on our national stage, he set an example for other politicians and taught us again that there is still space in our public square for the sort of high-minded approach to public policy that we once associated with the Senate. It was no surprise that throughout the day many other Republicans, and even Democrat Ron Wyden, joined Paul on the floor giving his voice a rest (even if he could not sit down) and allowing them to share a bit of his glory. Paul probably will not succeed in getting the administration to budge on the issue of drones or stop the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A., whose nomination Paul was filibustering. But over the course of those 13 hours he made it clear that he is no longer just a libertarian outlier with a fringe following like his extremist father. Whether you like him or not, there’s no escaping the conclusion that he is a Republican star of the first magnitude who will be a first-tier contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Paul deserves enormous credit for having the courage to pull off such a stunt in an era where real filibusters of the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” style are anachronisms. It took audacity to seize the floor and hold it, albeit with some help from a few friends, and to make his point about drones and the Constitution the focus of the Capitol’s attention. Though his real goal was not so much to derail Brennan’s nomination as to use it as pretext to highlight this issue, Paul was right in the sense that it was entirely appropriate for the Senate to avoid a rush to confirmation of a candidate whose views on any number of security issues are questionable. Watching Paul’s stand with admiration, I could only think how much I wished his colleagues had possessed the guts to do the same thing when Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense was up for debate. Hagel, whose qualifications and out-of-the-mainstream views made him far less suitable for high office than Brennan, truly should have been filibustered and it’s a shame that no senator had the intestinal fortitude to do it then.

The point here is that no one who witnessed Rand Paul’s performance will soon forget the articulate and intelligent manner with which he conducted his filibuster (there was no reading of the U.S. Constitution as in “Mr. Smith,” even if Paul’s ally Ted Cruz did quote inspiring passages from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and recited William Barrett Travis’s last letter from the Alamo). In a sea of congressional mediocrity he stood out as someone who might have fit in nicely with the legendary giants of the Senate of an earlier era. Even those of us who have grave concerns with his approach to foreign policy and think his point about drone attacks may needlessly feed paranoia about the potential for constitutional abuses had to admire him yesterday. After this, no one should underestimate his chances of leading the Republican Party in the future.

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