Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 23, 2013

A Lesson in Thrift

In yesterday’s Best of the Web Today the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto highlighted an amusing (and somewhat disturbing) example of liberals’ inability to recognize thrift as a virtue.

A nice example of subtle media bias is a headline that appears over an Associated Press story at the Seattle Times website (we think the headline is the Times’s): “Education Spending: Idaho Worst; Washington Below Average.” Here’s what the story says:

“A report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Idaho remains at the bottom of public education spending.

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In yesterday’s Best of the Web Today the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto highlighted an amusing (and somewhat disturbing) example of liberals’ inability to recognize thrift as a virtue.

A nice example of subtle media bias is a headline that appears over an Associated Press story at the Seattle Times website (we think the headline is the Times’s): “Education Spending: Idaho Worst; Washington Below Average.” Here’s what the story says:

“A report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Idaho remains at the bottom of public education spending.

The [Spokane, Wash.] Spokesman-Review reports that Idaho spent about $6,800 per student for the 2010-2011 school year. Only Utah spent less, at roughly $6,200 per student.”

The headline writer was wrong to use the superlative without preceding it by “Second” or “Next to.” But more important, he used the wrong adjective. Idaho’s spending was the second-lowest, which would make it the second-best from the standpoint of the taxpayer.

But, you may ask, what about the children? Unlike recipients of cash or cash-equivalent benefits like Social Security or food stamps, you can’t measure the benefit of schools in terms of dollars. And this study makes no effort to gauge the quality of education. It could be that Idaho’s school system gives taxpayers an unusually good value for the money.

Today Los Angeles’s CBS affiliate reported on just how irresponsible its mayor had been not with the city’s purse strings (which he has been) but also with his own personal finances:

With just over a month left in his second and final term, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will leave office in June reportedly without a place to live or a car of his own to drive, according to a report published Thursday.

Outside of a rental property in Moreno Valley which brings in about $600 a month, Stewart said that Villarigosa has no major assets despite having been paid over $1.6 million during his time as mayor. Public pension information for Villaraigosa was not available, L.A. Weekly reported.

It seems some liberals are just as irresponsible with their own money as they are with taxpayers’. While that’s of little comfort to residents of Villaraigosa’s city (and state, which is facing severe financial straits of its own), it’s at least good to know that he’ll be spending some of his time upon leaving office reflecting on the importance of thrift, perhaps not so much as a politician as an average citizen.

It’s rumored that Villaraigosa is eyeing Governor Jerry Brown’s seat in 2018. If he is, residents of California must be hoping that he will have taken this lesson of the consequences of out-of-control spending to heart.

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Democrats Take More Assertive Role in Immigration Reform

The coverage of the effort to reform the country’s massively inefficient and outdated immigration system has usually focused on where the controversy has been thus far: Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform vs. the Republicans in opposition to this particular legislative effort. But the coverage in recent days has shifted, reminding us that Democrats are part of the process too, and not simply along for the ride.

It’s easy to forget that, because the general assumption has been that since Democrats support immigration reform they’ll sign on to virtually any bill crafted by a bipartisan working group, confident that at least their most pressing concerns and priorities are addressed. It isn’t unlike the ease with which Democrats can usually get Republicans to support a robust projection of American power when there are national security threats to be addressed. But two stories from the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker and one from Politico illustrate the challenge of massive reform bills crafted by two ideologically distinct parties.

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The coverage of the effort to reform the country’s massively inefficient and outdated immigration system has usually focused on where the controversy has been thus far: Republican supporters of comprehensive immigration reform vs. the Republicans in opposition to this particular legislative effort. But the coverage in recent days has shifted, reminding us that Democrats are part of the process too, and not simply along for the ride.

It’s easy to forget that, because the general assumption has been that since Democrats support immigration reform they’ll sign on to virtually any bill crafted by a bipartisan working group, confident that at least their most pressing concerns and priorities are addressed. It isn’t unlike the ease with which Democrats can usually get Republicans to support a robust projection of American power when there are national security threats to be addressed. But two stories from the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker and one from Politico illustrate the challenge of massive reform bills crafted by two ideologically distinct parties.

The issues concern a House immigration compromise being written in parallel to the Senate version. The Politico article contained two relevant pieces of information, the first of which was that Republicans want the bill to explicitly outlaw publicly funded medical care being available to illegal immigrants who would be granted a path to citizenship but haven’t yet completed that path:

House Democratic leaders are uneasy with the idea of blocking undocumented immigrants from accessing publicly-subsidized care – such as health coverage if they have to be treated in an emergency room. That could have the effect of deporting the immigrants if they can’t afford those expenses, Democrats worry.

Republicans, however, are insisting that no public dollars – from federal to the local level – will fund the tab for health coverage for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Negotiators are looking at an end-of-the-week deadline to smooth out the differences on health care between the two sides.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded today that current law is sufficient, especially with regard to ObamaCare–which is where the GOP is worried most about the cost to taxpayers. (Politico quotes GOP Representative Raul Labrador saying that “What might be the story at the end of this year, at the end of this session, is that Obamacare killed immigration reform.”) It would be yet another unintended consequence of that terrible bill if it derailed immigration reform as well. The other nugget from Politico is a seemingly irreconcilable difference over guest worker visas.

And what is that guest-worker impasse? Drucker explains:

The White House, meanwhile, has been quietly pushing back against Republican attempts to increase the number of visas granted to low-skilled guest workers, who would be allowed into the U.S. under the immigration overhaul. Republican sources charge that the White House is acting on behalf of organized labor.

Republicans want more immigration, in other words, but–as Politico also pointed out–the unions don’t, and therefore neither does President Obama. This will sound familiar to those who have followed the immigration reform process for the better part of the last decade, during which Obama derailed immigration reform twice, once as a senator and once again during his first term as president. Although Obama says this time he really does want immigration reform, skeptics have history on their side and have been waiting for Obama to find and exploit the weak points of the bipartisan bill.

This morning, Drucker reported that the two sides are looking at abandoning the bipartisan House talks after tomorrow if no deal is reached, and speculated as to what the reform process would be left with if that happens:

Labrador also said that Democrats are “sadly mistaken” if they assume that killing a bipartisan House bill would force the chamber to take up the Senate version, which many House Republicans believe is flawed. Actually, the Idahoan said, sinking the House bipartisan effort would ensure that the House moves forward on legislation that is influenced primarily by conservatives and even tougher than what the chamber’s working group has developed thus far.

If that’s how both sides are actually approaching this, then the Democrats are being more realistic than Labrador is. Between the White House’s newly expressed skittishness and the conservative distaste for pushing any bureaucracy-expanding, comprehensive reform legislation, there is simply no way Democrats would sign on to a deal far to the right of where Labrador is now.

The Senate bill is likely to be somewhere in between where House Democrats are and where House Republicans are. As such, it’s a more logical compromise to fall back on. If Labrador pushes a bill radically different from the current compromise it won’t matter if it can pass the House, because it can’t pass the Senate. The virtue of the Senate bill is that it has been crafted with the need to pass the House in mind. That doesn’t automatically make it great legislation, but it will make it thus far the only piece of legislation to emerge with a fighting chance of becoming law.

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Rhetorical vs. Substantive Change in Obama’s Security Policy

With his address today at National Defense University, President Obama continued his pattern of trying to separate himself from the Bush administration—while largely carrying on, and even expanding, its legacy in the counter-terrorism fight.

Obama said, for example, that after he came into office, “we unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.” Umm, actually all of that happened in Bush’s second term.

He also took a swipe at the admittedly imperfect terminology favored by Bush (deliberately and understandably formulated to avoid any mention of our actual enemy—Islamist extremists), saying “we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ — but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” Actually, that’s exactly what GWOT meant when used by the Bush administration: “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle” terrorist networks. Even Obama’s closing line—“That’s who the American people are. Determined, and not to be messed with”—sounds as if it could easily have been delivered in a Texas twang.

But never mind: Better that Obama feign a change of course rather than actually undertake a change of course, because the course established by Bush and continued by Obama has kept us largely, although not entirely, safe since 9/11. Indeed, Obama’s welcome and robust defense of drone strikes (“our actions are effective… [and] legal”) also could have come from his predecessor’s mouth.

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With his address today at National Defense University, President Obama continued his pattern of trying to separate himself from the Bush administration—while largely carrying on, and even expanding, its legacy in the counter-terrorism fight.

Obama said, for example, that after he came into office, “we unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.” Umm, actually all of that happened in Bush’s second term.

He also took a swipe at the admittedly imperfect terminology favored by Bush (deliberately and understandably formulated to avoid any mention of our actual enemy—Islamist extremists), saying “we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ — but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” Actually, that’s exactly what GWOT meant when used by the Bush administration: “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle” terrorist networks. Even Obama’s closing line—“That’s who the American people are. Determined, and not to be messed with”—sounds as if it could easily have been delivered in a Texas twang.

But never mind: Better that Obama feign a change of course rather than actually undertake a change of course, because the course established by Bush and continued by Obama has kept us largely, although not entirely, safe since 9/11. Indeed, Obama’s welcome and robust defense of drone strikes (“our actions are effective… [and] legal”) also could have come from his predecessor’s mouth.

Obama was particularly effective and hard-nosed in explaining why he authorized the strike that killed an American citizen, Anwar Awlaki: “When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America … his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team.” Take that, Rand Paul.

There really was not much new in Obama’s speech; even his desire to close Guantanamo and transfer its detainees to prisons on the mainland has been often been expressed before—and is no closer to realization because of bipartisan opposition in Congress. He noted the difficulty of dealing with detainees who remain dangerous but cannot be convicted in a court of law—without offering any solution. All he said was: “I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” He also genuflected toward greater accountability for drone strikes but did not endorse any particular idea such as the creation of special courts; he simply said, “I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these — and other — options for increased oversight.”

There are some real changes associated with Obama’s speech, it seems, but, like much else in the war on terror, they remain classified, murky, and imperfectly understood by those of us who are not cleared to know the inner details. The Washington Post reports, for example, that Obama has issued a new directive limiting the use of drone strikes to targets that “pose a ‘continuing and imminent threat’ to the United States” and then only in instances where there is “near certainty” of no civilian casualties. His guidance apparently also includes a “preference” for the Department of Defense to play the lead role in drone strikes rather than the CIA. It’s not clear exactly what these changes portend, since, as Fred Kaplan has previously noted, the government’s definition of “imminent threat” is wide enough to include just about any al-Qaeda operative, whether he or she is actually about to attack the U.S. or not.

My own view is that drone strikes should not decrease while the threat from “al-Qaeda and Associated Movements” (to borrow the Obama administration’s parlance) remains as high as it is today—the threat coming no longer primarily from al-Qaeda Central but, as Obama noted, from its affiliates and from lone wolves inspired by its rhetoric. But at the same time, while I believe it is dangerous to reduce drone strikes, it is also misguided to believe that they can be the sum of our counter-terrorism efforts. We need to address, as Obama said, “the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia.” That doesn’t mean ending poverty, as his remarks implied, but rather effectively countering extremist propaganda and political organizing by helping moderate forces throughout the Muslim world to fight back. Unfortunately, this is an area where Obama, like Bush, has conspicuously fallen short.

Obama blandly noted that “unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria,” while conspicuously failing to note that it is his own administration’s lack of support for moderate forces—in the government of Libya and among the rebel factions of Syria—that has allowed extremists to come to the fore. Obama eloquently and rightly defended the need for foreign aid spending, but he announced no new steps to help embattled, pro-democratic forces in Libya or Syria.

Bush at least made rhetorical bows toward criticizing dictators and supporting democrats in the Middle East. Obama, in thrall to “realist” dogma, has been much less inclined to try to spread freedom abroad. Ironically, he seems to have adopted the “hard power” part of the Bush legacy while eschewing the emphasis on “soft power”—i.e., democracy promotion. That is his primary shortcoming—not, as the mainstream media narrative would have it, his support for supposedly excessive drone strikes but rather his failure to embed the drone strikes in a wider plan to promote better governance in the Middle East.

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Another Display of Israel’s Strategic Value

The ongoing debate about whether America should intervene in Syria highlights an important point about Israel’s unique value as a U.S. ally: It is the only American ally in the Middle East willing and able to serve American interests by projecting power independently, rather than waiting for American troops to ride to the rescue.

One of the most bizarre features of Syria’s ongoing civil war is the widespread assumption that outside intervention against the Assad regime will come from the U.S. or not at all. After all, the rebels’ main backers include two American allies with powerful militaries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has one of the region’s largest armies, significantly larger than Syria’s; moreover, as a NATO member, it’s equipped with state-of-the-art Western weaponry. Saudi Arabia has been a major purchaser of the best American weaponry for years, including fighter jets, missiles and airborne warning and control systems. Both have billed Assad’s departure as a major national interest. Yet never once have they suggested that their combined air forces could use Turkey’s bases to impose a no-fly zone over part of Syria; they take it for granted that if military intervention is to happen, America will have to do it. And so does Washington.

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The ongoing debate about whether America should intervene in Syria highlights an important point about Israel’s unique value as a U.S. ally: It is the only American ally in the Middle East willing and able to serve American interests by projecting power independently, rather than waiting for American troops to ride to the rescue.

One of the most bizarre features of Syria’s ongoing civil war is the widespread assumption that outside intervention against the Assad regime will come from the U.S. or not at all. After all, the rebels’ main backers include two American allies with powerful militaries, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has one of the region’s largest armies, significantly larger than Syria’s; moreover, as a NATO member, it’s equipped with state-of-the-art Western weaponry. Saudi Arabia has been a major purchaser of the best American weaponry for years, including fighter jets, missiles and airborne warning and control systems. Both have billed Assad’s departure as a major national interest. Yet never once have they suggested that their combined air forces could use Turkey’s bases to impose a no-fly zone over part of Syria; they take it for granted that if military intervention is to happen, America will have to do it. And so does Washington.

In contrast, Israel has always insisted on taking sole responsibility for its own defense, and is consequently both willing and able to take independent military action. And because its interests in the region often overlap with those of its American ally, such action often ends up serving American interests. That was true in the Cold War, when Israeli battles with the Soviet Union’s Arab proxies repeatedly proved the superiority of American over Soviet arms. It was true when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981: Had it not thereby stopped Saddam Hussein from acquiring nukes, an American-led coalition wouldn’t have been able to oust his forces from Kuwait a decade later. And it was true when Israel bombed Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007: Today, Americans are sleeping better because they don’t have to worry about al-Qaida-linked militias in Syria getting their hands on nuclear materiel.

Thanks to Israel, America never had to face a choice between taking military action against Syria or Iraq itself or letting a hostile dictator acquire nukes. But because its other Middle Eastern allies aren’t willing or able to act independently, it does face that kind of choice in Syria today: either take military action itself, or see its credibility in the region shredded by allowing Assad to survive despite President Barack Obama’s repeated statements that he must go–with the attendant risk that some of its regional allies will switch sides and align instead with Russia and Iran, who have proven their willingness to support their Syrian ally to the hilt. 

This understanding of Israel’s unique value was precisely what led to yesterday’s astounding 99-0 Senate vote on a resolution pledging American support for Israel if it is compelled to take independent military action against Iran’s nuclear program. The senators understand that despite Congress’ best efforts, sanctions may fail to halt Iran’s nuclear drive; that the Obama administration may ultimately prefer to avoid military action, even though a nuclear Iran would be disastrous for America’s interests in the region; and that none of the Arab countries that have vociferously lobbied Washington to attack Iran would ever do so themselves. But they know that Israel really might. And through this resolution, they were expressing their appreciation of the only Middle Eastern ally America has that is willing to act independently to advance shared regional interests.

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How to Deter China’s Industrial Espionage

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property—a clumsy name for a valuable undertaking—issued its findings on the threat posed by espionage against American industry, mostly in the cyber domain, and suggested steps to mitigate them. The entire report of the commission, chaired by retired Admiral Dennis Blair and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is worth reading.

It certainly underlines the size of the problem, estimating that annual losses from intellectual property theft top $300 billion and result in the loss (or more properly the failure to add) millions of jobs to the U.S. economy. It also squarely blames China as the main source of all this theft, accounting for 50-80 percent of the whole. “National industrial policy goals in China encourage IP theft,” the commission found, “and an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government entities are engaged in this practice.”

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It hasn’t gotten much attention, but this week the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property—a clumsy name for a valuable undertaking—issued its findings on the threat posed by espionage against American industry, mostly in the cyber domain, and suggested steps to mitigate them. The entire report of the commission, chaired by retired Admiral Dennis Blair and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is worth reading.

It certainly underlines the size of the problem, estimating that annual losses from intellectual property theft top $300 billion and result in the loss (or more properly the failure to add) millions of jobs to the U.S. economy. It also squarely blames China as the main source of all this theft, accounting for 50-80 percent of the whole. “National industrial policy goals in China encourage IP theft,” the commission found, “and an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government entities are engaged in this practice.”

What to do about this epidemic of industrial espionage? The commission offers some valuable suggestions, as summed up by Blair and Huntsman in a Washington Post op-ed: “denying products that contain stolen intellectual property access to the U.S. market; restricting use of the U.S. financial system to foreign companies that repeatedly steal intellectual property; and adding the correct, legal handling of intellectual property to the criteria for both investment in the United States under Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approval and for foreign companies that are listed on U.S. stock exchanges.”

Those are all valuable steps but what is really intriguing is a recommendation that the commission does not endorse at this time—but that it believes may be necessary in the future unless China mends its ways: letting companies counter-attack in the cyber domain against intellectual property thieves. Such attacks are illegal today—as is any hacking—but if it were legalized this “would raise the cost to IP thieves of their actions, potentially deterring them from undertaking these activities in the first place.” The committee didn’t endorse retaliation “because of the larger questions of collateral damage caused by computer attacks, the dangers of misuse of legal hacking authorities, and the potential for nondestructive countermeasures such as beaconing, tagging, and self-destructing that are currently in development to stymie hackers without the potential for destructive collateral damage.” It concludes: “Further work and research are necessary before moving ahead.”

These are all legitimate concerns, but given that imploring China to put a stop to its cyber-attacks has not worked, it is high time to deter such attacks by showing that the U.S. can strike back. This should not be a responsibility of industry. It is the U.S. government which is charged with the nation’s defense, and it is high time that the government—specifically the military’s cyber command—seriously consider retaliating in kind for Chinese attacks on our computer networks, both government and civilian. Only if Beijing knows that it will pay a heavy price will it stop its aggressive cyber-intrusions.

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An Absurd Attack on Birthright, Sheldon Adelson, and Jewish Identity

Several years ago, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office visited U.S. chapters of the Jewish Federations of North America to talk to American Jews about their relationship to Israel. In a press avail, I had asked him what was Israel’s single greatest need from Diaspora Jewry. His response, which is always the response to that question, was: them. That is, what Israel wanted most from American Jews was for American Jews to move to Israel. Aliyah is the lifeblood of the Jewish state, as Israeli officials commonly and persistently phrase it.

Immigration has been a great economic and cultural blessing to the State of Israel. And so has tourism from abroad, which generates billions a year in revenue, much of which helps pay the salaries of workers at the lower end of the economic spectrum who work in industries that depend on tourism to survive. American Jews’ engagement with and connection to Israel is thus vital to maintain, not only for economic reasons but also to ensure international support for Israel and push back against the Jewish state’s isolation.

All of which makes this op-ed in Haaretz among the most asinine, self-defeating columns in recent memory–an impressive feat, since the competition for such distinction in Haaretz alone is vigorous.

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Several years ago, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office visited U.S. chapters of the Jewish Federations of North America to talk to American Jews about their relationship to Israel. In a press avail, I had asked him what was Israel’s single greatest need from Diaspora Jewry. His response, which is always the response to that question, was: them. That is, what Israel wanted most from American Jews was for American Jews to move to Israel. Aliyah is the lifeblood of the Jewish state, as Israeli officials commonly and persistently phrase it.

Immigration has been a great economic and cultural blessing to the State of Israel. And so has tourism from abroad, which generates billions a year in revenue, much of which helps pay the salaries of workers at the lower end of the economic spectrum who work in industries that depend on tourism to survive. American Jews’ engagement with and connection to Israel is thus vital to maintain, not only for economic reasons but also to ensure international support for Israel and push back against the Jewish state’s isolation.

All of which makes this op-ed in Haaretz among the most asinine, self-defeating columns in recent memory–an impressive feat, since the competition for such distinction in Haaretz alone is vigorous.

There are few things that bother the Western press more than wealthy people and national or religious pride. So you can imagine the outrage when Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy Jewish philanthropist and funder of Birthright Israel, a program to provide trips to Israel for young Jews, met with Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid to request that Israel not slash funding for the program. Haaretz’s Itay Ziv fumes:

As the finance minister sees matters, there is nothing political about a decision to allocate NIS 150 million for a showcase project whose direct beneficiaries are citizens of a different country, most of them financially well-off. Even if the elderly had to pay a fee of NIS 35 per month for a caregiver to finance it — a measure that will bring millions of shekels into the state coffers — or cut back special aid to local authorities in the Druze and Circassian sectors by almost half, saving the state about NIS 30.6 million, or imposing any other cutback on the financially weak, minorities and others who cannot arrange a meeting with the finance minister any time they please to free up the tens of millions of shekels that the Birthright program needs so badly. For Lapid, it’s not political — even if it means giving a foreign billionaire who meddles in local politics on a daily basis anything he wants, no strings attached.

This is a pretty good example of how to get everything about a subject exactly wrong. As the Jewish Week reports, a recent survey of non-Orthodox Birthright alumni at least six years after the trip showed that participants are 42 percent more likely to feel “very much” connected to Israel and “Nearly 30 percent of participants have returned to Israel on subsequent trips, with 2 percent currently living there.” Birthright’s influence should not be oversold, but it’s pretty clear the program moves the needle in the right direction on virtually any issue of import to Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora.

Ziv’s opinion of the individual winners and losers on this issue also seems mistaken. Very often budgeting is viewed as a zero-sum game, but that’s a simplistic misunderstanding of the complex process of how each ministry and department’s allocations are earmarked each year. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that the employment benefits of Israeli immigration and tourism accrue to hotel workers, tour guides, food service workers, etc.

And Ziv may have access to information I don’t, but I’m not quite sure how he concludes that “most of” the program’s “direct beneficiaries” are “financially well-off.” I know many Birthright alumni (though I never went on the trip myself), none of whom is wealthy–nor did Birthright even inquire about such things when they applied. That does not appear to have changed; financial background is not included among the eligibility criteria. It also defies logic, since those who want to travel to Israel but cannot otherwise afford it would be naturally drawn to Birthright.

But it’s possible I’m giving too much credit to Ziv. At the end of his column, he declares Israel’s decision to continue funding Birthright to be “an act whose purpose is to take from the poor and give to a foreign billionaire”–something Ziv cannot possibly believe, since it is so obviously untrue. Lapid may be new to the Finance Ministry, but he clearly understands economics better than his loathsome critics in the leftist media.

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The Obama Scandals and Republicans

Republican lawmakers are receiving lots of advice–some from people sympathetic to the GOP, some less so–on the political dangers posed to them by the scandals engulfing the Obama administration.

It seems to me the proper approach is fairly obvious. Don’t get ahead of the facts. Don’t talk about impeachment or declare this or that scandal to be worse than Watergate (which placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy). Don’t allow opposition to President Obama to slip into hatred for him. Don’t come across as zealous partisans. And don’t become so obsessed by scandals that they set aside the hard and necessary work of recalibrating the GOP, which still faces significant problems in terms of its appeal to a changing electorate. Remember the words of Chekhov: “You don’t become a saint through other people’s sins.” 

At the same time, Republicans should of course pursue the scandals through the appropriate investigative channels, including congressional hearings. They have an obligation to do so in the name of the public interest. Those on the center-left and hard left who are urging Republicans to play down these scandals, in order to avoid a repeat of the Clinton-Lewinsky blowback, may have something other than the GOP’s interests in mind.

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Republican lawmakers are receiving lots of advice–some from people sympathetic to the GOP, some less so–on the political dangers posed to them by the scandals engulfing the Obama administration.

It seems to me the proper approach is fairly obvious. Don’t get ahead of the facts. Don’t talk about impeachment or declare this or that scandal to be worse than Watergate (which placed the president at the center of a criminal conspiracy). Don’t allow opposition to President Obama to slip into hatred for him. Don’t come across as zealous partisans. And don’t become so obsessed by scandals that they set aside the hard and necessary work of recalibrating the GOP, which still faces significant problems in terms of its appeal to a changing electorate. Remember the words of Chekhov: “You don’t become a saint through other people’s sins.” 

At the same time, Republicans should of course pursue the scandals through the appropriate investigative channels, including congressional hearings. They have an obligation to do so in the name of the public interest. Those on the center-left and hard left who are urging Republicans to play down these scandals, in order to avoid a repeat of the Clinton-Lewinsky blowback, may have something other than the GOP’s interests in mind.

Perhaps it’s worth restating the obvious: Scandals and criminal investigations always harm an administration. Ask yourself this question: Do you think that Bill Clinton and Democrats, in looking back at the 1990s, are glad that Lewinsky scandal occurred? Of course not. The same goes for Watergate, Iran-Contra and countless minor ones. Political scandals are not good for presidencies–and they are not good for the country. But if they occur, they need to be pursued.

Republican lawmakers should approach the unfolding scandals in a manner that is sober, measured, purposeful, and rhetorically restrained. Follow the facts. Connect that dots when necessary–and don’t be afraid to say when the dots don’t connect. Resist the temptation to twist facts to fit into a preferred narrative.

All of this is easier to understand in theory than it is to execute in practice. But if Republicans do so, they’ll serve themselves, and the nation, well.

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France’s Outrageous Double Standard on Hezbollah and Terrorism

For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move. 

Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.

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For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move. 

Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.

Indeed, until now, France has consistently billed Hezbollah as a legitimate political force that contributes to stability in the Levant. That was always nonsensical: Starting a war with your southern neighbor that devastates large swathes of your own country, as Hezbollah did in 2006, is not exactly stabilizing behavior. But apparently, in France’s view, fighting Israel does contribute to Middle East stability: It’s only because Hezbollah is now fighting Syrians instead that Paris suddenly sees the organization as a destabilizing force.

If other European countries think the same thing, they had the decency not to say it aloud. Germany, for instance, said it has reversed its longstanding opposition to blacklisting Hezbollah due to evidence that the organization was behind last summer’s terror attack in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, and had been collecting information in Cyprus in preparation for additional terror attacks against Israelis and Jews on European soil. I’m no fan of the German approach, which essentially says terrorism is fine as long as you keep it out of Europe, but there’s nothing anti-Semitic about it; it’s perfectly normal for Europeans to care more about attacks on European soil than they do about attacks in the Middle East.

France, in contrast, has just said it cares deeply about attacks in the Middle East–but only if they’re directed against (non-Israeli) Muslims. You want to kill Jews in the Middle East? Go right ahead, says France: We’ll even help you do it, by keeping you off the EU’s list of terrorist organizations and thereby ensuring that you can fund-raise freely on our territory. Just don’t make the mistake of turning your arms on Muslims instead.

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