Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 7, 2013

Laura Ingraham and Me (Round Two)

Laura Ingraham and I had some differences over a number of political matters that made their way into print (see here and here). Laura asked me to appear on her program, which I did this morning. You can listen to our conversation here.

We discussed my post on Phyllis Schlafly, Laura’s response to it, immigration, the Iraq war, and the Bush legacy. I should say that Laura was a very gracious and fair-minded host–and while our differences on some issues remain, I appreciated her generosity of spirit in having me on, and in how she conducted the interview. And whether one agrees with Laura or with me on the issues we discussed, I think you’ll agree with my assessment of her.

Laura Ingraham and I had some differences over a number of political matters that made their way into print (see here and here). Laura asked me to appear on her program, which I did this morning. You can listen to our conversation here.

We discussed my post on Phyllis Schlafly, Laura’s response to it, immigration, the Iraq war, and the Bush legacy. I should say that Laura was a very gracious and fair-minded host–and while our differences on some issues remain, I appreciated her generosity of spirit in having me on, and in how she conducted the interview. And whether one agrees with Laura or with me on the issues we discussed, I think you’ll agree with my assessment of her.

Read Less

Obama Can’t Be Trusted with Power

I agree with Jonathan’s post both in terms of substance and the media response to the NSA/surveillance stories. 

On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.

My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.

That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.

Read More

I agree with Jonathan’s post both in terms of substance and the media response to the NSA/surveillance stories. 

On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.

My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.

That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.

I would include as evidence to support my assertion the president’s routine slander of his opponents, his serially misleading statements (including flat-out falsehoods about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate), the IRS scandal and the public signals the president sent to that agency over the years, the unprecedented targeting of journalists by the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s nasty little habit of misleading Congress, Mr. Obama’s unusually dishonest campaign against Mitt Romney, and his overall contempt for the rule of law. He just doesn’t think that rules should apply to him, that he is above all that. Those who see themselves as world-historical figures tend to do that.  

I also agree with Jonathan that “no one should be under any illusion about whether they [those at the New York Times] will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.” That is true of many other liberals in the press as well. The degree to which a substantial number of the elite media are in the tank for President Obama varies–but that they are in the tank is unquestionable.

With all that said, however, I do believe that the controversy over the National Security Agencies and its surveillance techniques could politically damage the president and his party, at least in this respect. This issue–unlike the IRS/DOJ/Benghazi scandals that are engulfing the administration–has ignited a revolt among some of Mr. Obama’s core supporters. They are downright angry at the president for what they (rightly) consider to be a betrayal of his previous promises. And anytime a president is dealing with an issue that is fracturing his base without winning over swing voters, it’s not good for him.

This doesn’t mean that in an election liberals would vote for Republicans. But it might well mean that their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party will be dampened, that fundraising falls off, and that the willingness to work for Democratic candidates is reduced. And in a mid-term election, those things matter.

We’re still a long way off from the 2014 mid-term election, of course. But the last four weeks or so have been damaging ones for the president, in ways that could be durable. Certain impressions–having to do with incompetence, hypocrisy, dissembling and contempt for the rule of law–are beginning to harden. That can’t be good for Mr. Obama or his party. And just think; we’re only a little over four months into the president’s second term.

It can get worse. And my guess is it will.

Read Less

Palestinians Have Suffered … at the Hands of Their Leaders

Sometimes a great truth can be found even in a compendium of lies. That’s the upshot of the latest rant against Israel from a Palestinian leader. The leader in question is Jibril Rajoub, who currently serves as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, though prior to assuming that post this senior official of the Fatah Party was an Arafat advisor and a terrorist who was imprisoned for throwing a hand grenade at an Israeli bus. Rather than concentrating on trying to get Palestinian kids to turn to sports as a preferable outlet to violence, Rajoub has been outspoken about his commitment to conflict with Israel recently and was quoted as having said that Palestinians suffered “three times as much” as Israelis as a result of the 1972 Munich massacre.

There is something egregious about a Palestinian Olympic official attempting to rationalize or even downplay the significance of an event in which terrorists under the command of Arafat and Fatah (albeit operating under the false flag of “Black September” which was merely a front for the PLO) murdered 11 Israeli athletes. But as wrong as Rajoub is about so much else, he’s right that the Palestinians have suffered more as a result of these events even if he doesn’t quite understand what the source of the suffering really was.

When he spoke of Palestinian suffering, Rajoub was referring to the Israeli efforts to kill all those involved in that bloody terror attack. But the real suffering was the ultimate impact on the Palestinian people of that crime and the thousands more like it committed in the name of Palestinian nationalism. By embracing terror, the Palestinians have doomed themselves to decades of war and hardship that might have been entirely avoided had they decided to devote themselves to reconciliation and coexistence. Rather than focus on the supposed misdeeds of the evil Israelis, as Rajoub would have his people and those that wish them well do, Palestinians would do well to finally realize that the ones who have been inflicting suffering on them are their own violent and corrupt leadership.

Read More

Sometimes a great truth can be found even in a compendium of lies. That’s the upshot of the latest rant against Israel from a Palestinian leader. The leader in question is Jibril Rajoub, who currently serves as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, though prior to assuming that post this senior official of the Fatah Party was an Arafat advisor and a terrorist who was imprisoned for throwing a hand grenade at an Israeli bus. Rather than concentrating on trying to get Palestinian kids to turn to sports as a preferable outlet to violence, Rajoub has been outspoken about his commitment to conflict with Israel recently and was quoted as having said that Palestinians suffered “three times as much” as Israelis as a result of the 1972 Munich massacre.

There is something egregious about a Palestinian Olympic official attempting to rationalize or even downplay the significance of an event in which terrorists under the command of Arafat and Fatah (albeit operating under the false flag of “Black September” which was merely a front for the PLO) murdered 11 Israeli athletes. But as wrong as Rajoub is about so much else, he’s right that the Palestinians have suffered more as a result of these events even if he doesn’t quite understand what the source of the suffering really was.

When he spoke of Palestinian suffering, Rajoub was referring to the Israeli efforts to kill all those involved in that bloody terror attack. But the real suffering was the ultimate impact on the Palestinian people of that crime and the thousands more like it committed in the name of Palestinian nationalism. By embracing terror, the Palestinians have doomed themselves to decades of war and hardship that might have been entirely avoided had they decided to devote themselves to reconciliation and coexistence. Rather than focus on the supposed misdeeds of the evil Israelis, as Rajoub would have his people and those that wish them well do, Palestinians would do well to finally realize that the ones who have been inflicting suffering on them are their own violent and corrupt leadership.

Rajoub’s checkered career has included some time spent trying to cultivate the affection of Israeli and American Jewish left-wingers via the Geneva Initiative, of which he was one of the signers. But in the last year, he has been among the most outspoken Palestinians when it comes to attempts to demonize Israel. As the Times of Israel reports:

Rajoub, former director of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, told a conference in October 2012 that “Jews are Satans, and Zionists the sons of dogs.”

In an interview with the Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen on May 1, he said that, for Fatah, “resistance to Israel remains on our agenda.

“I mean resistance in all of its forms,” he elaborated. “At this stage, we believe that popular resistance — with all that it entails — is effective and costly to the other side [Israel],” Rajoub said in the hour-long interview, which was highlighted by the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch.

“If you ask me as a Palestinian,” he continued, “I say — our battle is with the Israeli occupation. Our main enemy, not [just] as Palestinians but as Arabs and Muslims, is Israel and the Israeli occupation.”

These sorts of statements are in keeping with the general tone of Palestinian politics in which vilification of Israel and support for conflict is always in fashion. But Rajoub’s reference to Munich is an opportunity to address just how badly those who act on such sentiments have damaged the Palestinians.

Violence against Jews and rejection of Israel has been the key element of Palestinian nationalism throughout its history. But imagine what the outcome would have been if instead of concentrating on trying to kill Jews, be they Olympic athletes or the children slaughtered by suicide bombers during the second intifada, Palestinians had focused their efforts on peaceful development, refugee resettlement or peaceful outreach. Untold suffering, death and destruction would have been avoided on both sides. And there’s little doubt the Palestinians would have achieved an independent state long ago.

Israelis have suffered from Arab terror such as the Munich massacre. But it is probably true that as awful as that pain has been, the Palestinians have been the much big losers in the exchange. It’s a pity that Rajoub can’t realize that. It’s even more of a pity that the people he supposedly represents haven’t come to the same conclusion and ousted their corrupt and violent Fatah and Hamas leaders in exchange for leaders who wish to end their suffering rather than prolong it in the name of an endless unwinnable war against Israel.

Read Less

Liberal Obama Critics Pull Their Punches

Many of President Obama’s liberal supporters are angry today as they contemplate just how badly they were fooled by Democratic campaign rhetoric in both 2008 and 2012. Left-wingers who thought they were electing someone who would scale back or completely dismantle the measures put in place to defend the country against terror by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are hard pressed to explain or rationalize the Olympic-scale hypocrisy of the administration after the latest revelations about data collection from Verizon phone subscribers. I agree with our Max Boot who thinks the PRISM program is justified and necessary, even if I sympathize with those who wonder how we can trust the same government that lied about Benghazi, had the IRS target conservatives and spied on working journalists not to abuse this power.

But for liberals, facing up to the fact that Obama has continued Bush’s policies and even gone further than his predecessor on drone attacks and information collection is a tough pill to swallow. So it was hardly surprising that the president would receive a stiff rebuke from the New York Times editorial page, even if its writers tend to be among his biggest cheerleaders. On Thursday afternoon, the Times posted an editorial that said the following:

The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.

The Times was right about the president’s credibility, even if he lost it long before this episode. But just as that editorial was being relayed around the nation as a significant rebuke from Obama’s base, the Times decided to qualify their condemnation and, as Politico reports, changed the piece to soften the blow. The words, “on this issue” were added to the text of the editorial online and then in print without explanation to the readers. This leads one to wonder whether the Obama cheer squad at the paper decided it had to qualify their attack because too many of the president’s critics on a whole raft of issues were quoting their piece as proof of the collapse of his support.

Read More

Many of President Obama’s liberal supporters are angry today as they contemplate just how badly they were fooled by Democratic campaign rhetoric in both 2008 and 2012. Left-wingers who thought they were electing someone who would scale back or completely dismantle the measures put in place to defend the country against terror by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are hard pressed to explain or rationalize the Olympic-scale hypocrisy of the administration after the latest revelations about data collection from Verizon phone subscribers. I agree with our Max Boot who thinks the PRISM program is justified and necessary, even if I sympathize with those who wonder how we can trust the same government that lied about Benghazi, had the IRS target conservatives and spied on working journalists not to abuse this power.

But for liberals, facing up to the fact that Obama has continued Bush’s policies and even gone further than his predecessor on drone attacks and information collection is a tough pill to swallow. So it was hardly surprising that the president would receive a stiff rebuke from the New York Times editorial page, even if its writers tend to be among his biggest cheerleaders. On Thursday afternoon, the Times posted an editorial that said the following:

The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.

The Times was right about the president’s credibility, even if he lost it long before this episode. But just as that editorial was being relayed around the nation as a significant rebuke from Obama’s base, the Times decided to qualify their condemnation and, as Politico reports, changed the piece to soften the blow. The words, “on this issue” were added to the text of the editorial online and then in print without explanation to the readers. This leads one to wonder whether the Obama cheer squad at the paper decided it had to qualify their attack because too many of the president’s critics on a whole raft of issues were quoting their piece as proof of the collapse of his support.

When asked about the change by Politico, the Times made it clear they thought it was no big deal:

“The change was for clarity’s sake,” Andrew Rosenthal, the Times editorial page editor, told POLITICO on Friday morning. “It was clear from the context of the editorial that the issue of credibility related to this subject and the final edit of the piece strengthened that point.”

That may be so. All publications are always working to hone their work as long as possible and to correct any possible errors or misunderstandings. But what’s at play here is the corner into which Obama has backed his most ardent supporters.

The Times and many on the left may not like the fact that Obama’s rhetoric turned out to be just so much blown smoke, as today he is being dubbed “George W. Obama” or having his administration being referred to as Bush’s fourth term. But they are very skittish about doing anything that might give comfort to Republicans who have been quicker to realize that the emperor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t been wearing clothes long before the PRISM leak was published.

Many in the mainstream liberal media may be upset about the president’s performance on issues like the Benghazi lies, the IRS scandal, the spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. But those who think liberal outlets will hold him accountable need to remember that however much the media may care about some of these issues or others on which the president has disappointed them, there is a limit as to how far they will go in pursuing that disagreement. The old “no enemies on the left” dynamic in which the political war with conservatives is always prioritized over anything else will always cause newspapers like the Times to pull its punches when it comes to an issue that could hurt Barack Obama.

The Times deserves some credit for consistency on this particular issue since it disagreed with both Bush and Obama. But no one should be under any illusion about whether they will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.

Read Less

Obama’s Strategy Deficit

In September 2012 at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry stepped up to the microphone to mock President Obama’s Republican opponent. “Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV,” pronounced Kerry. The joke was unintentionally funny if only because the primary foreign-policy criticism of Romney from the Obama/Biden ticket was that the GOP nominee was stuck in a Cold War “mind warp”; as Rocky IV appeared in 1985, the same could apparently be said of the Obama campaign’s pop culture references.

Nonetheless, the laugh last would come not from Kerry but at his expense, and that of his boss. Last month Kerry went hat-in-hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin to beg for mercy from Russia’s ongoing diplomatic humiliation of the Obama administration, especially on Syria. Putin kept Kerry waiting for three hours, refused to even feign interest in what Kerry had to say, and then ignored the issue afterwards. Since then he has helped Bashar al-Assad’s forces turn the tide in their favor, and today suggested Russia would be happy to station forces on the Golan Heights, since Western countries were slinking away from their peacekeeping responsibilities in unceremonious retreat.

Read More

In September 2012 at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry stepped up to the microphone to mock President Obama’s Republican opponent. “Mitt Romney talks like he’s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV,” pronounced Kerry. The joke was unintentionally funny if only because the primary foreign-policy criticism of Romney from the Obama/Biden ticket was that the GOP nominee was stuck in a Cold War “mind warp”; as Rocky IV appeared in 1985, the same could apparently be said of the Obama campaign’s pop culture references.

Nonetheless, the laugh last would come not from Kerry but at his expense, and that of his boss. Last month Kerry went hat-in-hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin to beg for mercy from Russia’s ongoing diplomatic humiliation of the Obama administration, especially on Syria. Putin kept Kerry waiting for three hours, refused to even feign interest in what Kerry had to say, and then ignored the issue afterwards. Since then he has helped Bashar al-Assad’s forces turn the tide in their favor, and today suggested Russia would be happy to station forces on the Golan Heights, since Western countries were slinking away from their peacekeeping responsibilities in unceremonious retreat.

But the Cold War references of Obama, Biden, and Kerry actually help illuminate the mistakes this administration has made. They have only defined geopolitics according to what isn’t, rather than taking the logical next step and also defining what is. Russia is a case in point. No, Putin is not trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union nor seeking to perfectly emulate Stalin. But so what? American strategy cannot stop there–yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration, with its failed “reset” and Kerry’s groveling, has done.

This isn’t about what Putin is not, because that only gets you so far. What matters is what Putin is actually doing. It’s ironic, in a sense, because by using the Soviet Union as its yardstick, it is the Obama administration that is actually living in the past. This has been an issue not just for Obama but for his ideological associates. The Arab Spring has left the realist approach to the Middle East in ruins. In response, realists have been reduced to reciting balance-of-power platitudes and other clichés, with no detail or strategic adjustment.

A good example of this is Robert Kaplan’s column yesterday about the need for Obama to behave like Richard Nixon (a proposition that is poorly timed, to say the least, considering the current wave of Obama scandals). Kaplan wants the U.S. to look at the world “through Putin’s eyes”–a helpful suggestion. But that would mean ditching talk of human rights and using Russia to balance out China’s influence. Here is Kaplan’s advice:

Nixon would understand Russia’s geopolitical insecurities and partially assuage them, in order to gain some leverage over China, just as four decades ago he had moved closer to China in order to gain some leverage over Russia. Were the United States to give Russia more leeway in the Caucasus and Central Asia — rather than trying to compete with Russia in those regions — Russia might find ingenious ways to make China more nervous along its land borders. And that, in turn, would make China somewhat less able to devote so much of its energy to projecting power in the Pacific Basin, where it threatens American allies.

Notice the vagueness? If the U.S. stopped telling Russia what to do, Russia, in turn, “might find ingenious ways” to balance China. No word on what those “ingenious ways” might be, or even if they would actually come to fruition. Just wish upon a star, and you might wake up to a whole new world. That’s not strategy, and it ignores the “leeway” the Obama administration has already given Putin. This is an idea that has been tried and failed–indeed, it is currently failing as we speak.

Though he doesn’t mention Kaplan, Charles Krauthammer’s latest column can be read as a response to this type of thinking. Krauthammer rejects the idea that realism consists only of asking nicely. He writes:

In 1958, President Eisenhower — venerated by today’s fashionable “realists” for his strategic restraint — landed Marines in Lebanon to protect the pro-American government from threats from Syria and Egypt.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Russia threatened to send troops on behalf of the Egyptian army. President Nixon threatened a U.S. counteraction, reinforced the Sixth Fleet and raised the U.S. worldwide military alert level to DEFCON 3. Russia stood down.

That doesn’t mean putting American troops on the ground is always the answer either–Krauthammer specifically rejects sending American troops into Syria today. But diplomacy is about sending a message. When there was a vacuum earlier in the conflict, the Obama administration declined to influence just what would take its place. Obama then set “red lines” from which he would back away once crossed.

The Obama administration has been sending the message that it doesn’t mean what it says. And no politician more thoroughly embodies this tendency for waffling and bluffing and general confusion than John Kerry. Hiring Kerry to be secretary of state reinforced this message, and sending Kerry to Moscow does the same. Three days after Kerry got rolled in Moscow, he waived restrictions on military aid to Egypt that would force Mohamed Morsi’s regime to take steps toward democracy in order to receive the aid. Morsi followed that by further cracking down on democracy and human rights. The message was received loud and clear.

Administration officials are fond of categorizing Obama’s policy failures as communication failures. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth.

Read Less

The Jobs Report

There is little news in this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 175,000 jobs created in May, but the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 7.6 percent. (The BLS euphemistically called the unemployment rate “essentially unchanged.” I doubt they would have used that phrase had it gone down a notch.)

The number of unemployed, 11.8 million, stayed the same, as did the number of long-term unemployed (over 27 weeks), at 4.4 million. The unemployment rate for teenagers (24.5 percent) and blacks (13.5) remained dismal. The rate for blacks actually went up, from 13.2 percent.

Read More

There is little news in this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 175,000 jobs created in May, but the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 7.6 percent. (The BLS euphemistically called the unemployment rate “essentially unchanged.” I doubt they would have used that phrase had it gone down a notch.)

The number of unemployed, 11.8 million, stayed the same, as did the number of long-term unemployed (over 27 weeks), at 4.4 million. The unemployment rate for teenagers (24.5 percent) and blacks (13.5) remained dismal. The rate for blacks actually went up, from 13.2 percent.

The statistics also show, starkly, the importance of education, or at least education credentials. For people over 25 with less than a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 11.1 percent. For those with a high school diploma but no more, it’s 7.4 percent. With some college, it’s 6.5 percent. For those with a college degree, it’s only 3.8 percent.

In all, President Obama continues to preside over the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. As James Pethokoukis tweeted this morning, the Obama administration promised in January 2009 that, if the stimulus passed, the unemployment rate today would be just above five percent.

Read Less

A Surprising Pro-Israel Strategy in Europe

Pro-Israel activists in Norway, where anti-Israel sentiment is rampant, assuredly don’t have it easy. So it was fascinating to read David Weinberg’s account of the issue they’ve found most successful in making Israel’s case–which, surprisingly, is one American activists generally ignore: the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Norwegian activist Odd Myrland terms this tale, which most Norwegians have never heard, a “knockout punch” that “evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel.” As Weinberg explained, it reframes the conversation: Instead of being about Palestinian rights versus Israeli security–a nonstarter with many Westerners, for whom rights easily trump security–it “becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.”

Read More

Pro-Israel activists in Norway, where anti-Israel sentiment is rampant, assuredly don’t have it easy. So it was fascinating to read David Weinberg’s account of the issue they’ve found most successful in making Israel’s case–which, surprisingly, is one American activists generally ignore: the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Norwegian activist Odd Myrland terms this tale, which most Norwegians have never heard, a “knockout punch” that “evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel.” As Weinberg explained, it reframes the conversation: Instead of being about Palestinian rights versus Israeli security–a nonstarter with many Westerners, for whom rights easily trump security–it “becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.”

At first glance, this seems bizarre. After all, what does Israel’s absorption of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands have to do with the issues anti-Israel activists usually target: “the occupation” and the settlements? But a clue emerges from an unrelated interview with Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a British-born Muslim who practices extensively in Arab lands.

Ahmed, who made her first visit to Israel last month, noted that throughout the Muslim world, she hears nonstop that “because of Israel, the Palestinians were dispossessed from their property and land.” That, of course, is also what many Westerners hear.

But Ahmed, whose parents became refugees when the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan sent 10 to 12 million people fleeing in both directions (the Ahmeds fled to Pakistan), isn’t quite so sympathetic. Though she understands how wrenching refugeehood can be, she’s seen her own parents create new lives–and “I also see how people came to Israel, some of them barely surviving the Holocaust, to a land where they were not used to the climate and where they had no family, and yet somehow managed to build this extraordinary, complicated nation.”

While she never says it explicitly, the implication is clear: The Palestinians’ current plight is due less to Israel’s creation than to their own insistence on living in the past, and Arab countries’ insistence on keeping them there. Instead of building new lives for themselves as other refugees have done, they clung to the dream of eradicating Israel and “returning” to its territory–a dream that has precluded peace for 65 years now, and shows no sign of dying. In 2011, for instance, the PLO’s ambassador to Lebanon asserted that a Palestinian state would still deny citizenship to all Palestinian refugees, even those already living there, in order to preserve the demand for their “return” to Israel.

Moreover, as Weinberg noted, this issue shows Israel to be “a just and moral actor,” in sharp contrast to Arab states: While it absorbed the Jewish refugees and allowed them to build new lives, Arab states refused to absorb Palestinians: They denied them citizenship and kept them in squalid camps to preserve them as a weapon against Israel.

Finally, it sheds new light even on “the occupation.” Ahmed, for instance, considers it unjustified, but admitted there’s no obvious alternative: “How do you relinquish control when there’s a virulent Jihadist ideology and many Muslin leaders outside the region who say that not only shouldn’t Israel be recognized, but it shouldn’t be there at all?” That’s a problem too few Westerners are willing to acknowledge. Yet the refugee issue highlights this ongoing desire to eradicate Israel.

Disgracefully, Israel seems to have abandoned this issue: Nobody in the current government is continuing the work of former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who labored to bring it to global attention via everything from conferences to YouTube campaigns.

But American and European Jewish groups could step into the breach. Congress has already introduced bipartisan legislation to include the issue of the Jewish refugees in any Mideast peace effort, but most of the world remains ignorant of their existence. And as the Norway experience shows, that ignorance urgently needs to be rectified.

Read Less

Rachel Abrams, 1951-2013

Rachel Abrams, the legendary Bad Rachel of the Internet, was as tender a woman as she was the soul of toughness on her blog. Rachel died this morning at the age of 62 after a three-year battle against stomach cancer. She was an extraordinary artist and a writer of great power. She was my sister. The best tribute to her is her own work. Here, from 1988, is a short story she published in COMMENTARY called “School Days.”  Her memory will be for a blessing as her life was our blessing.

Rachel Abrams, the legendary Bad Rachel of the Internet, was as tender a woman as she was the soul of toughness on her blog. Rachel died this morning at the age of 62 after a three-year battle against stomach cancer. She was an extraordinary artist and a writer of great power. She was my sister. The best tribute to her is her own work. Here, from 1988, is a short story she published in COMMENTARY called “School Days.”  Her memory will be for a blessing as her life was our blessing.

Read Less

Do We Still Need a Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism?

Reading the remarks of Ira Forman, the State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to a Washington D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, I was seized by one heretical thought that was quickly followed by another. Are there any real benefits to be gained from the existence of this position? And does the special envoy help to clarify or obscure the reasons behind the persistence of anti-Semitism in our own time?

The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The act was authored by the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor whose horror at the global upsurge in anti-Semitic beliefs and violence that accompanied the outbreak, in 2000, of the second Palestinian intifada led him to campaign for a dedicated State Department official to stay on top of the problem.

Bush was receptive because he regarded the fight against anti-Semitism as an essential component of promoting the values of liberty around the world. Announcing the act’s passage, Bush declared that “extending freedom also means confronting the evil of anti-Semitism.”

Read More

Reading the remarks of Ira Forman, the State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to a Washington D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, I was seized by one heretical thought that was quickly followed by another. Are there any real benefits to be gained from the existence of this position? And does the special envoy help to clarify or obscure the reasons behind the persistence of anti-Semitism in our own time?

The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The act was authored by the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor whose horror at the global upsurge in anti-Semitic beliefs and violence that accompanied the outbreak, in 2000, of the second Palestinian intifada led him to campaign for a dedicated State Department official to stay on top of the problem.

Bush was receptive because he regarded the fight against anti-Semitism as an essential component of promoting the values of liberty around the world. Announcing the act’s passage, Bush declared that “extending freedom also means confronting the evil of anti-Semitism.”

The first special envoy, Gregg Rickman, did an admirable job of setting the tone, particularly in explaining the intimate connections between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. That cannot have been an easy task, especially as Rickman’s main interlocutors were European diplomats, most of whom shudder at the idea that distaste for Israel can be motivated by distaste for Jews. When Rickman left government following President Obama’s election in 2008, the post remained vacant for more than a year before Hannah Rosenthal, a former Clinton administration official, was appointed.

With Rosenthal’s arrival, there was a notable shift in emphasis: whereas the Bush administration framed the fight against anti-Semitism as integral to the broader struggle for political liberty, under Obama it was repositioned as one of several components of a tolerance agenda. The excessive attention Rosenthal gave to prejudice against Muslims provoked her predecessor, Rickman, into advocating that she be rebranded as the “special envoy to monitor Islamophobia,” in order that “someone else who cares more about the fate and welfare of Jews” be appointed in her stead. 

It’s too early to predict whether Forman will attract the same controversy that Rosenthal did. Given his previous role as CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, expectations that he will stick his neck out on an issue that adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to the administration’s Middle East policies will be low to begin with. Nonetheless, several clues to his approach can be found in his Washington speech.

In broad terms, Forman made the right noises. His account of recent anti-Semitic outrages ­­from Hungary to Iran was certainly accurate, if pedestrian. But what was absent was any understanding of what makes anti-Semitism unique.

Charles Maurras, a notorious French anti-Semite of the 19th century, once observed that the great strength of Jew-hatred is that it “enables everything to be arranged, smoothed over, and simplified.” This, in turn, helps explain why anti-Semitism finds fertile ground in such culturally diverse locations as Venezuela and Egypt, as well as why it wins adherents on both left and right. Burying this distinctiveness in the name of a multi-ethnic coalition that regards all prejudices as equally toxic, as Rosenthal surely did during her time as special envoy, necessarily blunts an effective response.

A related criticism is that too much of the Special Envoy’s time is spent on commemorating past atrocities against Jews, at the expense of current problems.

In his speech to the AJC, Forman urged his audience “not to think that the picture is all bleak. There has been good news as well as bad.” However, the “good” news he related was exclusively concerned with Holocaust commemoration in Europe and the United States. What that ignores, of course, is the painful truth that it is much easier for a country like Belgium to commit itself to educating school kids about the Holocaust than it is to clamp down on the various Islamist groups agitating against Jews within its own borders.

A related passage of Forman’s speech was even more striking. He described a recent visit to Auschwitz with an unnamed “Palestinian imam” who left the extermination camp carrying the following conclusion:

Because the people here in Europe, with what they have faced in the past, they have overcome the discrimination, all the terrible things. And now they live with peace…with safety. This means we can, in the Holy Land, do the same thing. We can overcome our conflict, our wars, our people who were killed, and we can talk together to reach a peace.”

There is nothing wrong with talking about peace. But is gushing over the invocation of the Holocaust in a Palestinian appeal for peace in the “Holy Land” what a special envoy on anti-Semitism should be doing? Wouldn’t it be preferable to highlight the manner in which the hardwired anti-Semitism of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood both confounds the peace process and contributes to the insecurity of Diaspora Jewish communities? And if we are going to educate about the Holocaust, shouldn’t the stress be on how the mass genocide of the Jews was the culmination of centuries of anti-Semitism, rather than an abstract illustration of the inhumanity which human beings are capable of? Finally, isn’t the Holocaust the best illustration of just how exposed and vulnerable Jews are when they don’t have their own state?

It may be that articulating these arguments would push the special envoy into politically and diplomatically difficult terrain. If that’s the case, then arguably we’d better off if his position didn’t exist in the first place.

Read Less