Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 28, 2013

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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Slice of Gazan Life: Baker Bombers

In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.

The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.

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In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.

The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.

The conceit of the piece is to show how plucky Palestinians have adapted to onerous Israeli measures that have prevented people in Gaza from consuming nabulsia, a variant of the kenafeh dessert popular in Nablus. This is a special hardship for those West Bankers whose terrorist activities have led to actions that stranded them in Gaza. So for the apparently not inconsiderable number of homesick bomb builders and snipers stuck in the strip, the two ex-prisoners’ bakery is a godsend.

Were the point of the article to show us how these terrorists have changed their ways and traded murder for pastry, it might have been a tale of redemption. But there is nothing of the sort in the piece. Instead, we are left with the impression that the two dessert-makers are merely biding their time selling nabulsia simply because their main occupation—trying to kill Jews—has been taken away from them by being deposited in Gaza.

As the Times notes toward the bottom of the piece:

For Mr. Abu Turki and Mr. Salah, the kenafeh business represents a kind of re-entry into normal society.

Mr. Abu Turki was convicted by Israel and sentenced to 15 years for conspiracy to murder, stone-throwing, planting a bomb and membership in an illegal organization — the military wing of Hamas — according to an Israel Prison Service list of those released under the Shalit deal.

Mr. Salah, another Hamas member, was sentenced to 22 years for conspiracy to murder, planting a bomb and shooting at people. They were among about 160 released prisoners to be exiled to Gaza.

But nowhere in the piece is there any sign of remorse about their murderous activities or a decision to try something else. The only line in the piece that alludes to their current politics is the comment of one that Gaza is “an open air prison.”

But if those living there resent the fact that they no longer have free access to jobs in Israel or travel to the West Bank, they can thank Abu Turki, Salah and their Hamas overlords for that. The border is closed except for humanitarian cases that receive medical care in Israeli hospitals specifically because Hamas has waged war on the Jewish state, launching terror attacks intended to kidnap, kill and maim people. Also unmentioned in the article is the fact that the Islamist tyranny there has continued to use the strip as a launching pad for rocket fire at Israeli towns and villages.

Peace will be possible when Palestinians give up their dream of destroying Israel—a goal that is integral to Hamas ideology—and concentrate on more productive activities. But so long as Hamas rules Gaza—and seeks to extend their hold to the West Bank—that won’t be possible. Hope will come the day we read stories like this in the Times in which ex-terrorists renounce their past rather than merely grouse about its consequences. The taste of nabulsia can’t wipe away Hamas’s record of terror or the consciences of two bakers with blood on their hands. 

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The Stunning Public Shift on Same-Sex Marriage

The velocity of change in public attitudes on same-sex marriage–from being unimaginable not long ago to being fairly commonplace today and probably dominant tomorrow–is extraordinary, even unprecedented.

One obvious indicator of that is public opinion polls; another is the number of elected officials who are reversing their past position on gay marriage. We’re now at the point where embracing federalism–letting states rather than the Supreme Court decide the issue–defines the most reliably conservative position. Republicans who support same-sex marriage, from former Vice President Richard Cheney to Senator Rob Portman, (thankfully) aren’t in danger of excommunication. In fact, I know of almost no critic of gay marriage who relishes talking about the issue. 

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The velocity of change in public attitudes on same-sex marriage–from being unimaginable not long ago to being fairly commonplace today and probably dominant tomorrow–is extraordinary, even unprecedented.

One obvious indicator of that is public opinion polls; another is the number of elected officials who are reversing their past position on gay marriage. We’re now at the point where embracing federalism–letting states rather than the Supreme Court decide the issue–defines the most reliably conservative position. Republicans who support same-sex marriage, from former Vice President Richard Cheney to Senator Rob Portman, (thankfully) aren’t in danger of excommunication. In fact, I know of almost no critic of gay marriage who relishes talking about the issue. 

What explains this seismic shift? Books will be written examining this question. My own sense, more impressionistic than based on careful research, is that several factors are responsible for it. Changing mores is part of it, as is marriage having been delinked from certain past teleological assumptions. So are family members and friendships with people who have come out as gay. Much of it is generational, with huge majorities of young people supportive of gay marriage. And it’s undeniably true, I think, that the arguments advanced by people like Jonathan Rauch and Andrew Sullivan have carried the day, at least if you judge winning by persuading people to agree with your point of view.

I also believe that a central explanation for what we’re witnessing–and one related to the ingenuity and power of the Sullivan and Rauch arguments–is that they helped reposition the gay rights movement from libertine to conservative, from gays being a threat to our social order and institutions to wanting to be a respected part of them. They didn’t want to uproot marriage, they wanted to share in its blessings.

Once that shift occurred–once many Americans believed that the gay movement was de-radicalized and domesticated–much of the opposition to gay marriage began to dissipate. Not all at once, of course, and many Americans still oppose same sex marriage. (Ron Brownstein argues that that for the near future, “the nation appears locked onto a trajectory in which almost all reliably blue states will establish gay marriage (or civil unions) and possibly not a single reliably red state will follow.”) But because of the generational differences when it comes to gay marriage, there is little doubt where this issue is headed, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.  

There will still be important issues to sort through, including how religious institutions and people of faith who oppose same sex marriage are treated. For example, will orthodox Christian churches and educational institutions, if deemed to be bigoted based on their opposition to gay marriage or homosexual conduct, eventually be treated in law like racist organizations? Will mainstream evangelical colleges one day be dealt with in the same way we did Bob Jones University? (In the early 1980s Bob Jones University lost its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating.) That may not happen. But if it were to occur, the debate could quickly shift in a different direction, from being seen by many as a celebration of individual rights to one that is viewed as an attack on religious liberty. 

For now, though, what has occurred is a stunning social shift, quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

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The Court, Marriage, and Federal Power

After two days of hearings on cases relating to the legality of measures opposing gay marriage, it is not possible to discern what will happen when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its rulings. The puzzling and illogical decision on ObamaCare last year should inhibit court watchers from attempting to extrapolate votes from the exchanges between the justices and the attorneys arguing the cases. And given the not inconsiderable number of options that the court has before it when it finally issues rulings about California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the result could be just as confusing and inconclusive as the arguments that have been aired this week. That makes it as unlikely that the court will act to impose a right to gay marriage on the entire country as it is that it would attempt to prohibit it in those states where legislatures have enshrined it in law as a right.

But if, as gay marriage proponents seem to think, the tide of public opinion has irrevocably shifted on the issue from where it was in 1996 when Congress overwhelmingly passed and Bill Clinton signed DOMA, or even when the voters of California endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting state recognition of gay marriage, then it is possible that the court will listen to the polls and do on this issue what it did 40 years ago on abortion with Roe v. Wade. Irrespective of where one comes down on gay marriage, that would not be good for the country.

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After two days of hearings on cases relating to the legality of measures opposing gay marriage, it is not possible to discern what will happen when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its rulings. The puzzling and illogical decision on ObamaCare last year should inhibit court watchers from attempting to extrapolate votes from the exchanges between the justices and the attorneys arguing the cases. And given the not inconsiderable number of options that the court has before it when it finally issues rulings about California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the result could be just as confusing and inconclusive as the arguments that have been aired this week. That makes it as unlikely that the court will act to impose a right to gay marriage on the entire country as it is that it would attempt to prohibit it in those states where legislatures have enshrined it in law as a right.

But if, as gay marriage proponents seem to think, the tide of public opinion has irrevocably shifted on the issue from where it was in 1996 when Congress overwhelmingly passed and Bill Clinton signed DOMA, or even when the voters of California endorsed a constitutional amendment prohibiting state recognition of gay marriage, then it is possible that the court will listen to the polls and do on this issue what it did 40 years ago on abortion with Roe v. Wade. Irrespective of where one comes down on gay marriage, that would not be good for the country.

Let’s first acknowledge that the culture war about homosexuality has been convincingly won by gays. Twenty years ago the already widespread acceptance of openly gay figures in pop culture had not transferred to the political sphere. Indeed, as recently as 2008, a staunch liberal like Barack Obama had to swear his opposition to gay marriage in order to be considered a mainstream political figure. But that is no longer the case. While national attitudes are still far from unanimous, anyone who would argue that the trend toward its acceptance is not accelerating to the point where opponents are becoming a beleaguered minority has not been paying attention. While defenders of traditional marriage can still put forward coherent arguments about the assault on the institution, appeals to the basic libertarian instincts of most Americans are winning the day for the pro-gay marriage point of view. Nor do the claims that gays marrying would materially damage straight marriages seem to have much traction. A political environment in which most people see the issue as one of equal rights for all citizens, as opposed to one about the distortion of the meaning of an institution to suit the whims of a minority, is not one that is sustainable for gay marriage opponents.

That is exactly why the courts can and should defer to the legislative process to sort out this issue.

It may be that the argument put forward that denying gay marriage is a violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection guarantees is accepted by most Americans. If the high court were to unilaterally rewrite the meaning of the Constitution in that way, it might please not only the media and the pop culture world but perhaps a majority of the country. But such a broad stroke would create other problems that are best avoided.

While seemingly harmless, the rush to codify gay marriage as a constitutional right contains within it the possibility of creating a genuine danger of discrimination against religious faiths that oppose the idea. Catholic institutions (already under assault from federal mandates on reproductive issues) as well as Orthodox Jews, the Greek Orthodox and a host of evangelical Protestant denominations could be put in the awkward position of not just being labeled as bigots but as possible law breakers because of their beliefs due to new requirements to recognize and grant benefits due to spouses. If there is to be a right of gay marriage it must be enacted with stipulations that exempt religious institutions as well as clergy from any repercussions from a refusal to go along with the new consensus. That is the sort of sensible compromise that is far more likely to be brought about by the legislative process than a top-down court ruling.

Gay marriage advocates argue in reply that civil rights cannot be subject to the majority vote but rather must be protected by the law regardless of the whims of the mob, as the founding fathers would have understood the issue. They point to the struggle for racial equality in this country in which the courts played a necessary role in both protecting liberty and in prodding the legislatures and public opinion to catch up with what was right. But however much this issue is represented as one that can only be understood as a question of equality, the creation of a new right via the redefinition of an institution is not quite the same thing as righting the wrongs of slavery. The pro-gay marriage side must understand that it is asking the federal government to go into uncharted waters in that respect, as well as by taking this issue away from local institutions that have always governed interactions between the state and married couples.

Change is best achieved when it is accomplished via the democratic process and with respect for the rights of individual states to sort these things out according to the beliefs of its citizens.

If gay marriage advocates are confident, as they probably should be, that time and public opinion are on their side, then they should concentrate their efforts on winning their battle in the legislatures. That is something they have been doing with increasing success in recent years. Were the court to short-circuit that struggle it would set off a new and bitter struggle over the issue that would distort our politics and roil the culture for years and perhaps decades to come.

While the temptation to enact an all-or-nothing proposition in response to the baffling choices before it may entice some of the justices, they should listen to the voices of caution and avoid such a solution. That might mean punting on the California case, in which it can be argued that Prop 8’s supporters don’t have the standing to argue against its invalidation by state courts, as well as by striking down DOMA as a wrongful federal interference with a state matter.

That would disappoint conservatives who hope the court might save the country from the drive to enshrine gay marriage in various states. But in these cases, as in so many other issues, the greater wisdom always rests in restraining the power of the federal government to impose its will on the states and the people. If America is truly “evolving”—as liberals would have it—toward acceptance of gay marriage, then let it do so by the democratic process and not by a court eager to stay ahead of or get out of the way of public opinion.

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Democrats Still Spinning Their Wheels on Gun Control

Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:

“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”

But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.

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Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:

“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”

But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.

The Associated Press reports that since persuading voters and their elected representatives of the wisdom and utility of liberal gun legislation has favored conservatives and constitutionalists, President Obama and Bloomberg are going to try other methods: scare tactics, raw appeals to emotion through the president’s exploitation of the grief of families of Newtown victims, and lots and lots of money.

Democrats who represent pro-Second Amendment states are pushing back, however. The beauty of America’s cultural diversity is that many Americans live in states where they don’t have to ask their government’s permission to retrieve a soda or sandwich from their refrigerator, as New York’s Pop Czar would prefer. Those same voters often don’t like various other constitutional protections infringed upon, and their elected representatives know this. The AP notes that North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor are two prominent examples:

“I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans,” Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.

Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable – not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.

There’s that phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of Democrats: “will face voters.” Democrats keep forgetting about that part. The AP even does its part to try and help, as the press so often does, by mentioning that increased federal background checks for gun buyers would constitute “the remaining primary proposal pushed by Obama and many Democrats since 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

The juxtaposition there is interesting, because the increased background checks–some of which are eminently sensible, unlike the random attempted gun ban–would not seem to have prevented the Newtown tragedy. But this is not really the point, as evidenced by the president’s strategy of attempting to establish his moral superiority instead of productively partaking in crafting meaningful legislation. And it is also nothing new. This hews closely to the habit of the president and his party, whether it be global warming legislation that his own government administrators admit won’t curb global warming; universal health insurance legislation that the Congressional Budget Office admits will likely kick millions of Americans off their existing plans and will incentivize those who tend not to buy insurance to continue not buying insurance; or “consumer protection” financial legislation that reinforces the federal government’s penchant for bailouts and solidifies the concept of “too big to fail” as federal policy underwritten by taxpayer money.

Voters are already wary of policies they see as violating their constitutional freedoms. They will only be more so as the Obama administration continues to push legislation that perpetuates, rather than solves, the problems it’s designed to address.

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Netanyahu Apology Short-Sighted

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dampen optimism regarding the restoration of Turkey-Israel ties following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara. Make no mistake, the apology is a disaster. Not only will it not lead to a revival of Israel-Turkey ties, but it will—in the long run—make them worse. Netanyahu has affirmed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy. Wishful thinking—be it Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza or Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon—does not bring peace so long as enemies believe that terrorism or, in Erdoğan’s case, its facilitation and his support, has paid dividends.

Erdoğan is a deeply ideological man who, at his core, does not believe Israel should exist. It is a mistake for Turkey-watchers to dismiss Erdoğan’s rants, most recently his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, as merely posturing for his central Anatolian base. Projection is perhaps the most corrosive mistake in which any analyst can engage. Incitement is not simply a strategy; sometimes, it truly is heartfelt. Just as with Yasir Arafat. And Khaled Meshaal. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mohammad Khatami. And Kim Jong-un.

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Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dampen optimism regarding the restoration of Turkey-Israel ties following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara. Make no mistake, the apology is a disaster. Not only will it not lead to a revival of Israel-Turkey ties, but it will—in the long run—make them worse. Netanyahu has affirmed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy. Wishful thinking—be it Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza or Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon—does not bring peace so long as enemies believe that terrorism or, in Erdoğan’s case, its facilitation and his support, has paid dividends.

Erdoğan is a deeply ideological man who, at his core, does not believe Israel should exist. It is a mistake for Turkey-watchers to dismiss Erdoğan’s rants, most recently his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, as merely posturing for his central Anatolian base. Projection is perhaps the most corrosive mistake in which any analyst can engage. Incitement is not simply a strategy; sometimes, it truly is heartfelt. Just as with Yasir Arafat. And Khaled Meshaal. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mohammad Khatami. And Kim Jong-un.

Erdoğan’s temper-tantrums may make him look like a buffoon in Western eyes, but he is a man deeply consumed by a sense of grievance. This is why he has sued political cartoonists for little more sin than depicting him as a cat tangled in a ball of string. Stacked courts ensure he wins his cases, and bolster his sense of righteousness. Every time he engages in brinkmanship, he finds himself rewarded.

What’s next in Turkey-Israel relations? Certainly not rapprochement. By paying compensation to the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, Netanyahu is effectively funding terrorists. The Mavi Marmara had one purpose: supplying Hamas. After all, the health of Gazans is generally better than that of Turks. The Turkish press is arguing that the lifting of the Gaza blockade—irrespective of Hamas’ actions—is now looming.

What’s Erdoğan’s next step? He has announced that he will soon go to Gaza during which trip he will renew his calls for lifting the blockade and enjoy Hamas treating him like a conquering hero. Already, the Palestinian Authority is nervous over how Erdoğan might bolster its terrorist brethren. Make no mistake: It’s not just Obama to blame for what comes next. Netanyahu could always have said no.

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When the Crisis Comes, Will the Navy Be Ready?

I have just returned from three weeks both at Norfolk and crossing the Atlantic while teaching aboard a couple U.S. naval vessels. Concern over sequestration, not surprisingly, is looming large among the sailors and marines I met on-board.

Most of the sailors had friends and colleagues on the deferred USS Harry S. Truman deployment, cancelled with only about a day’s notice back in February. Anger at the Navy was palpable, as almost everyone believed that the Pentagon had been using the Truman’s crew to play a political game. There were numerous stories not only about how sailors had let the leases expire on apartments and sold cars and sent children to live with relatives, but also about how many had literally given away the family dog ahead of the expected nine-month deployment. The cost of sequestration isn’t simply human, however.

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I have just returned from three weeks both at Norfolk and crossing the Atlantic while teaching aboard a couple U.S. naval vessels. Concern over sequestration, not surprisingly, is looming large among the sailors and marines I met on-board.

Most of the sailors had friends and colleagues on the deferred USS Harry S. Truman deployment, cancelled with only about a day’s notice back in February. Anger at the Navy was palpable, as almost everyone believed that the Pentagon had been using the Truman’s crew to play a political game. There were numerous stories not only about how sailors had let the leases expire on apartments and sold cars and sent children to live with relatives, but also about how many had literally given away the family dog ahead of the expected nine-month deployment. The cost of sequestration isn’t simply human, however.

The vessel I was on had been delayed repeatedly by repairs and was not in top condition. U.S. Marines putting themselves in harm’s way deserve better than open sewage pipes in their restrooms, or dysfunctional drink machines in the mess. Nor should they have to worry about water rationing because of water plant shutdowns, closing the gym, showers, and draining water from the sinks. The impact sequestration will have on the Navy, some senior officers warned in the mess, will be felt most not this year but in the very near future. Deferred maintenance—some ships funded at only 15 percent, if not less—mean effectively that those ships will be lost: the cost of fixing chronic problems will only increase. Worse, however, is the risk that those ships whose operations are funded will be run into the ground without the budget for maintenance to prevent catastrophic failures.

Congressmen posturing as supportive of the Navy are only making matters worse by constraining them. When the Navy seeks to scrap or sell some ships, congressmen afraid of declining ship numbers mandate that the Navy must keep them instead, but do not provide the money for their basic upkeep or function, making the overall strains worse.

North Korea is already testing the United States, and Iran’s leadership is also overconfident. The danger is not that the United States will become embroiled in a proactive war, but rather that our adversaries’ miscalculations could involve us in a reactive one. Let us hope that the commander-in-chief and Congress do not assume that the Navy will be ready or that the United States will always be able to project its power. Aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships are maintenance heavy and take constant investment. At the best of times, perhaps half of them were ready at any time. In five years, I doubt one-quarter of them will be.

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