Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 3, 2013

Waiting for the Gosnell Verdict

The wait for the verdict in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell went on today as a jury continued to weigh the multitude of charges that the Philadelphia abortionist faces for butchering women and their babies. The case has gotten more attention in the mainstream media in recent weeks after conservative columnists lambasted it for ignoring a gruesome story that remains an embarrassment to the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. But it’s still unclear whether the country has even started to fully assimilate what these crimes mean about the state of health care for poor women in this country. Nor are many of us asking the big question that hangs over the Gosnell proceedings: how much of an aberration are the instances of infanticide that the testimony against the defendants revealed?

But there is one thing we know for sure. If Gosnell’s attorneys manage to convince a jury not to convict him, you can forget about any expectations that this case will lead to more scrutiny of clinics where late-term abortions are being conducted.

Abortion rights defenders are right to say that the charge that Gosnell’s crimes, which include the murder of infants born alive after botched abortions, should not be imputed to anyone else in what is a large sector of the health care industry. But the problem in Philadelphia is that due to a politically-motivated decision by a pro-choice Republican governor a decade ago, inspections of such clinics were shelved lest they be interpreted as an attempt to make abortions less available. But if a jury is persuaded that the Gosnell prosecution is about race or an attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade, the impulse in the media as well as among a political class that largely wishes to avoid entanglement in this issue will be to forget about it, allowing any other Gosnells out there to go on killing babies and mistreating their patients with impunity.

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The wait for the verdict in the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell went on today as a jury continued to weigh the multitude of charges that the Philadelphia abortionist faces for butchering women and their babies. The case has gotten more attention in the mainstream media in recent weeks after conservative columnists lambasted it for ignoring a gruesome story that remains an embarrassment to the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. But it’s still unclear whether the country has even started to fully assimilate what these crimes mean about the state of health care for poor women in this country. Nor are many of us asking the big question that hangs over the Gosnell proceedings: how much of an aberration are the instances of infanticide that the testimony against the defendants revealed?

But there is one thing we know for sure. If Gosnell’s attorneys manage to convince a jury not to convict him, you can forget about any expectations that this case will lead to more scrutiny of clinics where late-term abortions are being conducted.

Abortion rights defenders are right to say that the charge that Gosnell’s crimes, which include the murder of infants born alive after botched abortions, should not be imputed to anyone else in what is a large sector of the health care industry. But the problem in Philadelphia is that due to a politically-motivated decision by a pro-choice Republican governor a decade ago, inspections of such clinics were shelved lest they be interpreted as an attempt to make abortions less available. But if a jury is persuaded that the Gosnell prosecution is about race or an attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade, the impulse in the media as well as among a political class that largely wishes to avoid entanglement in this issue will be to forget about it, allowing any other Gosnells out there to go on killing babies and mistreating their patients with impunity.

Even if, as even most objective observers insist, what happened at one clinic in West Philadelphia is unimaginable at Planned Parenthood clinics, this trial ought to cause Americans to begin thinking about whether a politically-motivated lack of concern has created an opening for other Gosnells. One of the most powerful arguments for legalized abortion was always the certainty that whether or not they were allowed under the law, such procedures would continue to be performed. But what we have learned from the Gosnell case is that the horrors of back-alley abortions didn’t end when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe.

Even more troubling is the talk we’ve heard recently from Planned Parenthood in which it was made clear that a) some in the group think giving medical care to infants born alive after abortions was optional and b) the horror stories emanating from the Gosnell office were not considered sufficiently shocking by local Planned Parenthood officials to report them to the authorities. If such reactions are possible, then it is far from unreasonable to conclude that a culture of indifference to human life, even when it has emerged from womb, may be operating on the margins of our health care system.

Let us pray that that whatever it is that happens to Kermit Gosnell, the gut-wrenching facts of this case are sufficiently publicized to cause enough Americans to do some soul-searching about what this trial says about the state of ethics and respect for human dignity in our country today.

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The “Moderate” Muslim Brotherhood and the Jews

Middle East analyst Tom Gross brings to my attention this news snippet from Qatar:

The Egyptian Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected figures in Sunni Islam, refused to attend the inter-faith dialogue conference that opened in Doha last week on the grounds that Jewish representatives had been invited. “I decided not to participate so I wouldn’t sit at the same platform alongside Jews,” Qaradawi told the “Al-Arab” daily of Qatar.

Al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte, has become one of the most famous clerics in the Sunni world because of his gig as the main religion go-to guy for Al Jazeera. For many in the West, he is amoderate,” and indeed was once welcomed into the United Kingdom on those grounds, despite his infamous endorsement of suicide attacks in the wake of 9/11.

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Middle East analyst Tom Gross brings to my attention this news snippet from Qatar:

The Egyptian Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected figures in Sunni Islam, refused to attend the inter-faith dialogue conference that opened in Doha last week on the grounds that Jewish representatives had been invited. “I decided not to participate so I wouldn’t sit at the same platform alongside Jews,” Qaradawi told the “Al-Arab” daily of Qatar.

Al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte, has become one of the most famous clerics in the Sunni world because of his gig as the main religion go-to guy for Al Jazeera. For many in the West, he is amoderate,” and indeed was once welcomed into the United Kingdom on those grounds, despite his infamous endorsement of suicide attacks in the wake of 9/11.

Some analysts insist on describing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the core grievance in the Middle East. Anything else is tangential, the thinking goes, until diplomats can force Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians and perhaps other Arabs in order to bring peace. Once the grievance is addressed, the reason for terrorism and Islamic radicalism will fade away.

For many in the region, however, the problem is not Israel but rather the existence of non-Muslims and especially Jews in the region and beyond. In October 2002, for example, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah quipped, “If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” Qaradawi’s refusal to participate in an interfaith discussion in an Arab country if Jews were present is yet one more exhibit of the core problem in the region: Islamist intolerance and not only the silence of the United States in confronting it, but the willingness of U.S. diplomats to look away in order to avoid creating an obstacle to a dialogue which—despite their wildest ambitions—will never bear fruit.

It will take a generation or more to have any impact, but until the United States puts educational reform and combating religious incitement front and center of its policy in the region, any other diplomacy is just wasted effort and ineffective against a growing tidal wave of intolerance and hate.

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A Massachusetts Race Worth Paying Attention To

A good deal of the attention on electoral politics this week focused on Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s strong debate performance against former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. In a congressional seat that has been Republican for three decades, Busch is leading by nine points less than a week before the special election (May 7). And no wonder; Sanford is a person of flawed moral character and bad judgment. (The first time Sanford’s son was introduced to the woman who broke up his parent’s marriage was on a stage after Sanford’s primary victory, where Sanford appeared with his sons and his mistress-turned-fiancee. That alone very nearly qualifies as grounds to vote against Sanford.)

But something else occurred this week that is notable, but has gotten significantly less attention. The Republican Party of Massachusetts nominated Gabriel Gomez to challenge Democratic Representative Ed Markey in a Senate race to replace John Kerry. (The election will be on June 25.) 

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A good deal of the attention on electoral politics this week focused on Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s strong debate performance against former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. In a congressional seat that has been Republican for three decades, Busch is leading by nine points less than a week before the special election (May 7). And no wonder; Sanford is a person of flawed moral character and bad judgment. (The first time Sanford’s son was introduced to the woman who broke up his parent’s marriage was on a stage after Sanford’s primary victory, where Sanford appeared with his sons and his mistress-turned-fiancee. That alone very nearly qualifies as grounds to vote against Sanford.)

But something else occurred this week that is notable, but has gotten significantly less attention. The Republican Party of Massachusetts nominated Gabriel Gomez to challenge Democratic Representative Ed Markey in a Senate race to replace John Kerry. (The election will be on June 25.) 

Gabriel Gomez is relatively young (47), Hispanic, moderate, and a former Navy SEAL and successful businessman. Ed Markey is someone who was elected to Congress in 1976, has no significant legislative achievements he can claim credit for, and is nearly a generation older than Gomez. “He’s liberal, he’s uninspiring, he’s boring, he’s completely unaccomplished,” GOP consultant Ryan Williams told National Review’s Katrina Trinko. Two separate polls have Gomez trailing Markey by four and six points respectively, with higher favorability ratings than Markey.

Representative Markey has significant advantages, from money to running in a deeply blue state, and he’s still the favorite. But it’s an off-year election, which generally favors Republicans, and anger at Washington is very high among voters in every state. Ed Markey hasn’t faced a challenging race since the mid-1990s. This time it’s different. And we saw in 2010 that Massachusetts is capable of surprises. This race is worth paying attention to. 

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Can Rubio Survive the Right’s Onslaught?

It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.

NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.

This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.

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It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.

NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.

This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed on the issue published today, Rubio has made it clear he has no intention of letting the bill’s opponents seize the issue of border security. He may well have to insist, as Hugh Hewitt advises him today at Townhall.com, on the building of a fence between the United States and Mexico in order to convince conservatives that the U.S. can regain control of its border.

But as much as Rubio has rightly resolved to use the legislative process to toughen up the bill, he also seems to have caught onto the basic dynamic of the immigration debate:

Of course, there are those who will never support immigration reform no matter what changes we make. Even if we address every concern they raise, they will likely come up with new ones. They have a long list of complaints but typically never offer a solution of their own.

Enhanced border security measures will convince some reluctant conservatives to back the bill. But if, as Hewitt suggests, the issue becomes the moral equivalent of the debate over the Panama Canal in the 1970s, it could sink Rubio’s presidential hopes.

Turning the Canal over to the government of Panama was both logical and good policy, but it rubbed many patriotic conservatives the wrong way in the same way that some today feel any bill that would allow illegals to eventually become citizens is unthinkable. Supporters of the Canal transfer—including NR founder William F. Buckley—had all the arguments on their side, but opponents like Ronald Reagan had emotion on theirs. The memory of that debate—which did not affect the eventual disposition of the Canal but which did help make Reagan’s 1980 nomination a bit more inevitable—ought to scare Rubio.

But those who think Rubio will be road kill as an anti-reform push KO’s the bill in the House may be underestimating him and the intelligence of many GOP House members. If President Obama and the liberals avoid the temptation to insert their poison pill amendments into the legislation in the hope of retaining the issue in order to keep scaring Hispanics about Republicans, there is every chance it can still pass. The alternative to this bill is, as Rubio states, not an enforcement-only measure that would build a fence and punish the illegals but the maintenance of the status quo that is the real “amnesty” proposal available to the country. Such an outcome would hurt Republicans for a generation as well as ensure that none of the goals that rule-of-law conservatives would like to establish on the immigration issue are met.

The maelstrom surrounding the immigration bill is beginning to look more like a new chapter in Profiles in Courage than the purely a cynical attempt on Rubio’s part to assimilate into the Republican Party and get elected president that many conservatives have assumed it to be. The outcome of the struggle and its effect on his reputation is far from certain. But if he stays positive and manages to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms in the legislation—which is the key test that will determine whether it will pass—Rubio may emerge from this battle stronger than he was before it started.

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Good Old Joe and Hillary’s Front Porch

The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

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The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

As the Post reminds us, the vice president has been an unexpected success in office. While most political observers had come to rightly view him as a poster child for term limits and a gasbag who had flopped miserably in two attempts to win the presidency, it was precisely his conviviality and decades of experience in Washington that made him an essential aide to President Obama. With the cerebral and ice-cold commander-in-chief unwilling or unable to deign to bargain, let alone banter, with members of Congress, it has fallen to Biden to be the prime minister of this administration. It is no exaggeration to say that without him, the slim roster of the president’s legislative achievements would be a great deal slimmer.

But the avuncular “good old Joe,” who can cut a deal with former Senate colleagues, rouse the rabble at Democratic rallies (often by engaging in outrageous hyperbole such as his classic warning to a black audience in Virginia that Republicans were planning to “put y’all back in chains”) and weep on cue when meeting family members of victims of mass shootings, is no match for Clinton in 2016.

The main takeaway from the talk about Biden or any of the lesser Democratic possibilities for 2016 is that Clinton’s continuing absence from the fray is only making her stronger. The more we talk about other Democrats, the more we realize that none of them are positioned to compete with her increasingly untouchable position as the person whose main qualification to be president will be her gender.

That’s the genius of a Clinton strategy that centers on the candidate keeping quiet for as long as possible. Without her in the picture, the discussion about other candidates will remain more about Clinton than her rivals. As long as she is not engaging in the back and forth of political discourse during which her less than perfect temperament and conventional liberal beliefs would hamper her, as they did in 2008, she can sweep the field and persuade all serious opposition to evaporate.

If anything, all this should convince Clinton to keep under wraps these next two years. Other than sallying forth for lucrative speaking engagements, her advisors should be telling her to stay at home–at least until the fall of 2015 if not later. The longer she keeps Democrats waiting, the easier it will be for her to recreate what is essentially a 19th-century presidential campaign dynamic in which the party will beg her to be its nominee, rather than the other way around. There is no more certain template for a Clinton presidential nomination than for her to stay on her front porch and let the nation come to her. Absent ill health or some factor about which we currently know nothing, I think the chances of her not running are minimal. How could anyone as ambitious as Hillary resist a race that will be more of a queen’s coronation than a presidential nomination contest?

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Morsi’s Egypt and the Lessons of History

As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

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As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

There have been calls from both right and left to simply let tyrannical Islamist governments fail on their own, and thus naturally ebb away from the scene. The problem with this advice is that, as Iran and Hamas have shown, it’s actually quite difficult for those living under the thumb of Islamist tyranny to get rid of such governments once they have consolidated power whether they successfully govern their country or not. The case of Hamas is instructive since they are an offshoot of the same movement that now governs their Egyptian neighbors, and not only did Hamas end elections in Gaza after taking power but their strength has also been at the root of Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to hold elections in the West Bank. Tyranny can be contagious, even after its harmfulness is exposed.

We certainly have limited influence on such events, but there’s no reason not to use what influence we have here, especially with regard to foreign aid. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, already clear about his anti-Semitism and consolidation of power, is now jailing his critics. That’s why, as the Carnegie Endowment’s Thomas Carothers and Nathan Brown write today in the Washington Post, the U.S. policy of “respecting” Egypt’s new Islamist rulers has outlived any justification. It’s also, they note acidly, not actually respectful of Islamists:

Putting this message into practice will require much sharper, clearer public responses by the White House and State Department to violations of basic democratic and rule-of-law norms. It will mean an end to justifying the Brotherhood’s negative political steps. And the United States should indicate that the possibility of new aid is not isolated from domestic Egyptian political realities.

This tougher line should not be coupled with an embrace of the opposition. U.S. policy should be based on firm support of core democratic principles, not on playing favorites.

Recalibrating the current policy line will require careful nuance. It has to be clear that the United States is not turning against the Brotherhood but is siding more decisively with democracy. The Obama administration must also make it well known to all that it adamantly opposes any military intervention in Egypt’s politics. The United States is understandably sensitive about being accused of an anti-Islamist stance in an Arab world roiling with Islamist activism. Yet showing that Washington is serious about democratic standards with new Islamist actors in power is ultimately a greater sign of respect for them than excusing their shortcomings and lowering our expectations.

This is an argument that has been made repeatedly in the context of the left’s refusal to hold Palestinians accountable for building state institutions and renouncing terrorism, and it applies here as well. Treating the Abbas or Morsi governments as if they are incapable of upholding basic moral standards is supremely condescending, what is often referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations.  

And even tacit approval of such behavior won’t exist in a vacuum. It will signal to aspiring dictators–whether Islamist or not–that it doesn’t matter how they seize power or wield it once in office. If the American government is too consumed by a fear of insulting the oppressors to stick up for the oppressed, the world will get more of both.

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It’s Unanimous! The Association for Asian-American Studies and BDS

Academics don’t agree about much, but the members of the Association for Asian American Studies agree, at least, that a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions” is warranted. That is what they resolved, not by a mere majority vote, but unanimously, on April 20, the last day of the Association’s national meeting.

Reportedly, only 10 percent of the members were present for the vote. So when I learned of the resolution, I assumed that we would soon hear from professors of Asian American Studies, enraged, or at least perplexed, that the AAAS had become the first U.S. academic organization to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. But although one can find almost anything on the Web, you will not find even one professor of Asian American Studies who has respectfully disagreed with, let alone denounced, this move. The Asian American Studies professor who diverges publicly from the party line is that rare a beast.

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Academics don’t agree about much, but the members of the Association for Asian American Studies agree, at least, that a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions” is warranted. That is what they resolved, not by a mere majority vote, but unanimously, on April 20, the last day of the Association’s national meeting.

Reportedly, only 10 percent of the members were present for the vote. So when I learned of the resolution, I assumed that we would soon hear from professors of Asian American Studies, enraged, or at least perplexed, that the AAAS had become the first U.S. academic organization to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. But although one can find almost anything on the Web, you will not find even one professor of Asian American Studies who has respectfully disagreed with, let alone denounced, this move. The Asian American Studies professor who diverges publicly from the party line is that rare a beast.

So evidently no one in Asian American Studies thinks it odd that an organization ostensibly devoted to the study of Asian-American communities has an official line on the Israeli-Arab conflict. The resolution’s drafters propose that the organization has jurisdiction over the conflict, which is, after all, taking place in West Asia. Some professors may be enchanted by this imperialistic suggestion. But all of them?

Nor does anyone in Asian American Studies see fit to deny that, in the resolution’s words, “the Association for Asian American Studies seeks to advance a critique of U.S. empire, opposing US military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.” While that view is certainly not unheard of in the academy, I believe that Asian American Studies is the first discipline to hold it unanimously.

No scholar in Asian American Studies has bothered to correct the drafters, who, when they quote “the United Nations” on the crimes of Israel, are actually quoting Richard Falk, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967. Falk has been in the news recently for observing, after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, that the “American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” Back in 2011 he was in the news for writing about the “apparent cover-up” of the real story behind September 11 and the “eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events.” Either the drafters are content to keep such company or they momentarily forgot, in all the excitement about striking a blow against colonialism, that scholars are supposed to check their sources.

Susan Rice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, has criticized Falk’s “one-sided and politicized approach to his work for the UN, including his failure to condemn deliberate human rights abuses by Hamas.” The AAAS had a still wider range of picks than Falk had in deciding whom to condemn for human rights abuses. But like Falk the AAAS has eyes only for Israel. No one in Asian American Studies has thought to call this a shame.

Asian American Studies was born at San Francisco State in the late 1960s, one result of a massive strike organized by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front. Jean Wu, a senior lecturer at Tufts University and co-editor of a 2010 critical reader in Asian American Studies, says in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the field is still defined in important ways by “antiracist social justice work.” “Asian America,” she explains, “is a political concept and Asian American studies is a site in which dominant narratives and current structural inequities can be revealed, interrogated, engaged, and challenged.”  It is no surprise, then, that the AAAS takes political stands. What is surprising is that not a single person in the tolerably well-populated, interdisciplinary field of Asian American Studies has objected to this extreme stand on a controversial issue falling outside the organization’s purview. While many have lamented the lack of intellectual diversity in fields that claim to stand for diversity, I am not sure they have ever witnessed such a rare example of groupthink.

Asian American Studies programs exist at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, including Cornell, Columbia, Stanford, UW-Madison, and the University of Pennsylvania. Is anyone going to say anything?

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The Dow at 15,000

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 15,000 this morning, the first time it has crossed that benchmark. Even if it backs off and closes below that level, this is a remarkable recovery from its Great Recession low in March 2009, when it hit 6,626. In the last four years the Dow has risen 123 percent.

How do we square such a bull market with the anemic recovery I noted earlier today and the long period of sub-par growth that Pete Wehner referred to? To be sure, the stock market is a leading indicator, recovering sooner than the economy as a whole, whereas unemployment is a lagging indicator. But it takes more than that to explain things.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 15,000 this morning, the first time it has crossed that benchmark. Even if it backs off and closes below that level, this is a remarkable recovery from its Great Recession low in March 2009, when it hit 6,626. In the last four years the Dow has risen 123 percent.

How do we square such a bull market with the anemic recovery I noted earlier today and the long period of sub-par growth that Pete Wehner referred to? To be sure, the stock market is a leading indicator, recovering sooner than the economy as a whole, whereas unemployment is a lagging indicator. But it takes more than that to explain things.

A major part of the reason, I think, is the fact that there is a lot of cash–corporate, pension fund, and personal–sitting on the sidelines right now. The uncertainties regarding Europe, ObamaCare, Syria, etc., are making companies reluctant to put that capital into expansion.

But the usual places to invest cash, such as treasuries or CD’s, are paying practically nothing right now, with the Fed keeping interest rates at records lows. Even ten-year treasuries are paying a dismal 1.72 percent, treasury bills, which mature in less than a year, far less than that. So the only game in town is the stock market and money has been pouring into Wall Street, sending the markets up and that, of course, becomes self-re-enforcing.

Will it last? That depends on the outcome of the various uncertainties.

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The Internet Battle over Israel-Palestine

Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN. 

This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:

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Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN. 

This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:

Apparently Facebook no longer lists my town of ‘Neve Daniel’ as ‘Israel’, but rather as a city in ‘Palestine.’ Truthfully, this type of geographical blundering isn’t a particularly new development. In fact, I remember a time when I could ‘choose’ to tag my location either ‘Neve Daniel, Israel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ Since 2010, Bing Maps have powered Facebook’s Places and locations. Frankly I don’t hold much stock in Bing Maps. A simple search in Bing could not even find Neve Daniel at all, in any country. I don’t know the back end of these programs, or how they work or fail to work. I can say that I successfully tagged the location on a photo, as I’ve done many times, as ‘Neve Daniel, Israel.’ Though what I saw, depending on where I was viewing it, was either only ‘Neve Daniel’ or ‘Neve Daniel, West Bank.’ What other people saw, and what they rushed to tell me and send me screen shots of, was ‘Neve Daniel, Palestine.’

Apple, a company which has enough cash on hand to “acquire Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo… [or] buy every office building and retail space in New York, according to city estimates,” has also weighed in, as the Jewish Week reported last fall:

Apple’s new operating system, iOS6, does not show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel although every other country on the map has its capital listed. Further, when iPhone users go to the built-in World Clock app that is included in iOS6 they will see that Jerusalem is the only city to be listed without an affiliated country. Some users of the new operating system also noticed an inability to locate Jerusalem hotels using Apple Maps, while finding hotels in other Israeli cities like Tel Aviv was possible.

Despite an absolute lack of resolution of the conflict, Google, Apple and Facebook seem content to move forward with company-wide recognition of a state that does not yet exist. While this seems like a minor issue in the scope of the entire conflict, it is a significant one. The Internet is increasingly becoming a major battleground in 21st-century warfare. As tension begins to rise in the region, Israel and its allies should be concerned that the those behind the controls at the Internet’s three biggest companies, which have gained an incredible amount of strategic value in recent conflicts, have already picked the winners and losers. 

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Hagel Whitewashes Iran

When Chuck Hagel chaired the Atlantic Council, the group bent over backwards to exculpate Iran. That was a “twofer” for Hagel, because it fit not only with his ideological predilections, but also pleased donors like the Ploughshares Fund, which has dedicated itself to diminishing concern regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Now that he’s at the helm of the Defense Department, he’s back at it again. Last evening, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s Pentagon inexplicably changed previous conclusions to argue that Iran’s military doctrine was predominantly defensive in nature:

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When Chuck Hagel chaired the Atlantic Council, the group bent over backwards to exculpate Iran. That was a “twofer” for Hagel, because it fit not only with his ideological predilections, but also pleased donors like the Ploughshares Fund, which has dedicated itself to diminishing concern regarding Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Now that he’s at the helm of the Defense Department, he’s back at it again. Last evening, Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Free Beacon that Hagel’s Pentagon inexplicably changed previous conclusions to argue that Iran’s military doctrine was predominantly defensive in nature:

However, the report to Congress for the first time states Iran’s military doctrine is “defensive,” a significant shift reflecting the more soft line policy views toward the theocratic state held by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The public portion of the first report to Congress under Hagel also was sharply curtailed this year from the four-page, unclassified assessment released in April 2012, to five paragraphs for the latest unclassified executive summary of the report dated January 2013.

This is a glaring example of politicization of intelligence. Perhaps the Obama administration believes that with a wave of its magic wand, it can will away decades of Iranian doctrine and evidence.

Enshrined in both the Iranian constitution and the founding statute of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the notion that a raison d’être of the Islamic Republic is revolutionary export. Article 3 of the constitution, for example, declares the goals of the regime to be both “the expansion and strengthening of Islamic brotherhood and public cooperation among all the people” and “unsparing support to the oppressed of the world,” while Article 154 calls for support of the just struggles of the oppressed against the arrogant in every corner of the globe.” As my former colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out, on July 25, 1981, the IRGC publication Payam-e Enghelab defined “the principle of jihad” as one of the two main tasks of the Guards, the other being defending the supreme leader’s government.

The Iranian leadership figuratively drives around Tehran with bumper stickers on their cars reading “WWKD” (What Would Khomeini Do?). Back in 2008, a debate erupted inside the Islamic Republic regarding the meaning of export of revolution. In a May 3, 2008, speech, Khatami suggested that Iranian officials should understand the concept in terms of soft power. “What did the Imam [Khomeini] want, and what was his purpose of exporting the revolution? Did he wish us to export revolution by means of gunpowder or groups sabotaging other countries?” Khatami asked, before suggesting Khomeini “meant to establish a role model here, which means people should see that in this society, the economy, science, and dignity of man are respected.”

Khatami’s notion sounded good, despite the tacit admission that the regime was sponsoring insurgency in other countries. The response is where it gets interesting. Ayatollah Shahroudi, one of the most important confidants of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, responded by declaring to a group of Guardsmen that they were “the hope of Islamic national and Islamic liberation movements.” Hardliners demanded that Khatami be arrested. Those same hardliners reign supreme today.

In recent months, the Iranians have moved to establish logistical basing rights for their ships in Sudan and perhaps Eritrea. Its use of proxies does not suggest a defensive posture, but rather shows that the Iranian regime wishes to act offensively but maintain plausible deniability. Nor does repeated incitement to genocide coupled with a suspicious drive toward nuclear weapons capability suggest a defensive goal.

Last week, I departed the USS Nimitz, which is currently heading toward the Persian Gulf to provide relief to the USS John C. Stennis, a ship I had the pleasure of spending a couple weeks on last year. On both ships, the sailors spoke of how aggressive Iranian guardsmen can be in international waters.

The change in the Pentagon’s report is truly suspicious. Perhaps it is time for Hagel to answer such questions about why it occurred. Let us hope that should Congress ask such questions, Hagel will better prepared and more articulate than at his confirmation hearing.

No one should get their hopes up, however. Let us hope that Hagel’s decision to twist intelligence does not end up in a situation like Benghazi, where politics trumped situational reality leading to the unnecessary deaths of American personnel.

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The Jobs Report

According to the jobs report released this morning, the recovery continues to dawdle along, confirming its status as the worst recovery since the Great Depression.

There were 165,000 jobs created last month, and the unemployment rate dropped another tenth of a percent, to 7.5 percent. That’s down four-tenths of a percent since January. But, again, much of the drop in unemployment has not come about through job growth but through workers dropping out of the labor force. The participation rate, the percentage of the population holding jobs, remained unchanged over last month, at 63.3 percent, but that’s down from 63.6 percent in January. It has been dropping steadily throughout the so-called recovery.

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According to the jobs report released this morning, the recovery continues to dawdle along, confirming its status as the worst recovery since the Great Depression.

There were 165,000 jobs created last month, and the unemployment rate dropped another tenth of a percent, to 7.5 percent. That’s down four-tenths of a percent since January. But, again, much of the drop in unemployment has not come about through job growth but through workers dropping out of the labor force. The participation rate, the percentage of the population holding jobs, remained unchanged over last month, at 63.3 percent, but that’s down from 63.6 percent in January. It has been dropping steadily throughout the so-called recovery.

The jobless rate among teenagers (24.1 percent), blacks (13.2) and Hispanics, (9.0) remains dismal. So does the number of people working part-time for lack of a full-time job, which increased by 278,000 to 7.9 million.

All in all, a status quo report where the status is pretty lousy.

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Obama Fatigue

These are not good days for Barack Obama.

His second term agenda has broken down. The Democratic-controlled Senate did not pass even a single part of his gun-control agenda. His effort to use sequestration to batter Republicans has backfired. His budget was sent up to Capitol Hill two months late–and was immediately dismissed. If immigration reform passes, it will be because Democrats kept the president on the sideline, fully aware that his presence in negotiations with Republicans would only make success more unlikely.

In his press conference earlier this week, Mr. Obama was forced to plead that he is still relevant. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” he said. (“At this point” is a curious and revealing formulation.)

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These are not good days for Barack Obama.

His second term agenda has broken down. The Democratic-controlled Senate did not pass even a single part of his gun-control agenda. His effort to use sequestration to batter Republicans has backfired. His budget was sent up to Capitol Hill two months late–and was immediately dismissed. If immigration reform passes, it will be because Democrats kept the president on the sideline, fully aware that his presence in negotiations with Republicans would only make success more unlikely.

In his press conference earlier this week, Mr. Obama was forced to plead that he is still relevant. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” he said. (“At this point” is a curious and revealing formulation.)

The economy continues to stagger. Jeff Cox, a CNBC senior writer, earlier this week wrote, “In terms of actual growth, this is … the worst economy in 83 years. GDP growth is in the midst of its longest sub-3 percent annual growth rate since 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression.”

The president’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is as unpopular as it’s ever been, with only 35 percent approving of it in the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Democratic Senator Max Baucus has referred to ObamaCare as a coming “train wreck”–and in a debate earlier this week, Politico reports, “South Carolina’s Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a favorite of the Democratic left, couldn’t get away from the law fast enough, calling ObamaCare ‘extremely problematic.’”

Overseas, in Syria, the president looks feckless, having drawn a “red line” last year that was crossed this year–and it appears no serious consequences will follow. This will have an enormously damaging effect on American credibility, alarming our allies and emboldening our adversaries. Media reports indicate the president is now thinking of arming Syrian rebels, having declined to do so when it could have strengthened moderate elements within the opposition. According to the Wall Street Journal, two administration officials who once favored arming rebels–director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey–both voiced increased skepticism about doing so because of the growing influence of Islamist groups in rebel ranks.

Ryan Crocker, whom Max Boot rightly calls the best diplomat of his generation, has written that recent events in Iraq “are reminiscent of those that led to virtual civil war in 2006 and resulted in the need for a surge in U.S. troop levels, a new strategy and very heavy fighting.”

One of Barack Obama’s undeniable political gifts is his ability to defy political gravity. He’s shown an ability, unmatched in my lifetime, to distance himself from his own failures. But at some point, reality has a way of intervening. One can sense, I think, that the country–large parts of it, anyway–is growing weary of a man so self-righteous and yet without any results to show for it. The compulsive finger-pointing and hyper-partisanship has become a tired act. People are becoming increasingly disenchanted with America, and America’s president, resembling a cork caught in the current, at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. And they will tire, too, of the mounting human cost of President Obama’s failures.

It’s taken longer than it should have. But Obama Fatigue has begun. 

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Democracy is Not an Obstacle to Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.

This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:

Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.

[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”

But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.

This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:

Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.

[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”

But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.

It should be conceded that Livni is correct when she points out that the only thing necessary for any Israeli government to legally implement any measure is to get a bare one-vote majority in the Knesset. But she should learn from her nation’s experiences in the last 20 years when such razor-thin margins were used to implement the most far-reaching changes in security policy.

Israelis well remember that the late Yitzhak Rabin secured the passage of the Oslo II agreement with the Palestinians in 1995 by bribing members of the opposition to cross the aisle and back it by offering them offices and other perks. Ariel Sharon promised his Likud Party that he would submit his plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza to a party vote and then ignored the result when it went against him. In each of these cases, the use of tricks that were intended to thwart the will of the people undermined the legitimacy of the cause they bolstered.

It is true that if a peace agreement were to be submitted to a vote, that would raise the possibility that Israel’s voters would reject it. But if a deal was truly in Israel’s best interests, what exactly are advocates of a two-state solution worried about?

While foreign leaders have often lectured the Jewish state about the need for it to take risks for peace, Israelis know that is exactly what they have been doing for 20 years since the first Oslo Accord was signed and paying heavily for it in blood. But it is a truism that any time the Palestinians show any signs of actually wanting peace, they know there is a solid majority of Israeli voters that will back efforts to make it a reality. That was why the original Oslo deal was greeted euphorically by so many in the country. If the parties that staked their political future on peace have collapsed, it is solely because the Palestinians exposed those hopes as a cruel hoax that was a prelude to a war of terror. But were Mahmoud Abbas to go to Jerusalem, as Anwar Sadat did, and declare himself ready to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, give up on the dream of its destruction and negotiate borders, it’s likely that the old pro-Oslo majority would be resurrected.

More to the point, if Israel is expected to give up territory and uproot at least some of the communities it has planted in the West Bank on land that is integral to Jewish history, the path to such an outcome must not be the result of parliamentary tricks. The only way to get the majority of Israelis to make such a painful sacrifice is by giving every one of them a choice via the ballot. Livni, who apparently still hopes to one day sit in Netanyahu’s seat, should have more respect for the voters whom she wishes to lead.

Of course, so long as the Palestinians are divided between the Islamists of Hamas, who are open about their commitment to violence and Israel’s destruction, and the so-called moderates of Fatah, who talk of peace but do everything to foment hatred and avoid peace talks, this discussion is purely theoretical.

Those who wish to ignore the reality of Palestinian rejectionism often say that the preservation of Israeli democracy requires the nation to divest itself of the West Bank. But even if that is so, that cause cannot be secured by undemocratic means. If the sea change in Palestinian culture that would enable a peace deal ever does occur, the agreement that would stem from that development must be submitted to the Israeli people for approval in an unambiguous manner. Those who oppose this idea cannot do so without forfeiting their right to lecture the Israelis about democracy.

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