Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 15, 2013

Was a Palestinian Athlete Slandered?

Those who picked up the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday may have been shocked to learn of what the paper seemed to describe as a prejudiced attack on one of the newest members of the National Football League’s New York Jets. According to a feature written by Ben Shpigel, who covers the Jets for the paper, Oday Aboushi, an offensive tackle, and a native of Brooklyn who played at the University of Virginia who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft this spring, was the victim of what the headline described as “aspersions.” The Times claimed an article published in Frontpagemagazine.com had unfairly tarred him as someone with “terrorist ties” because of his attendance at a “cultural networking event.” A piece on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion site went further and described the article as a “hatchet job” published by “Islamophobes.”

The Anti-Defamation League didn’t go that far, but it did back up Aboushi and said nothing in his background justified the implications of the article, which it described as being full of “hyperbole and exaggeration.” A Yahoo.com article that had noted the charges against Aboushi was taken down and its author apologized, as did an MLB.com employee who had tweeted about it. A few days after Frontpage first published the piece, it appeared that Aboushi had actually benefited from the attack as not just the leading monitor of anti-Semitism but his employers were speaking out about his dilemma, a not insignificant boost for a player who, like any other lower draft choice seen as a project, has very little job security.

But now that the dust has begun to clear with Aboushi emerging as a poster child for tolerance, a fair reading of the original broadside aimed at him as well as those seeking to defend the athlete shows that the truth isn’t that simple. There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist and he has now endorsed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But those rushing to silence his critics need to acknowledge that some of the opinions he has endorsed go a little farther than merely, as the ADL claims, expressing pride in his Palestinian identity.

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Those who picked up the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday may have been shocked to learn of what the paper seemed to describe as a prejudiced attack on one of the newest members of the National Football League’s New York Jets. According to a feature written by Ben Shpigel, who covers the Jets for the paper, Oday Aboushi, an offensive tackle, and a native of Brooklyn who played at the University of Virginia who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft this spring, was the victim of what the headline described as “aspersions.” The Times claimed an article published in Frontpagemagazine.com had unfairly tarred him as someone with “terrorist ties” because of his attendance at a “cultural networking event.” A piece on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion site went further and described the article as a “hatchet job” published by “Islamophobes.”

The Anti-Defamation League didn’t go that far, but it did back up Aboushi and said nothing in his background justified the implications of the article, which it described as being full of “hyperbole and exaggeration.” A Yahoo.com article that had noted the charges against Aboushi was taken down and its author apologized, as did an MLB.com employee who had tweeted about it. A few days after Frontpage first published the piece, it appeared that Aboushi had actually benefited from the attack as not just the leading monitor of anti-Semitism but his employers were speaking out about his dilemma, a not insignificant boost for a player who, like any other lower draft choice seen as a project, has very little job security.

But now that the dust has begun to clear with Aboushi emerging as a poster child for tolerance, a fair reading of the original broadside aimed at him as well as those seeking to defend the athlete shows that the truth isn’t that simple. There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist and he has now endorsed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But those rushing to silence his critics need to acknowledge that some of the opinions he has endorsed go a little farther than merely, as the ADL claims, expressing pride in his Palestinian identity.

Let’s specify that there is no reason for anyone, let alone a pro-Israel site, to trash anyone merely on the basis of his origin or his political opinion. The Frontpage article is something of a grab bag of charges and not all of it justifies its lede sentence that claimed “his radical behavior since being drafted … could get him sent home early.” The inclusion in the piece of mentions of what one of his relatives had posted on her Facebook page, as well as the characterization of a meeting of the El Bireh Society in a manner as to give the impression that it was an al-Qaeda convention, was over the top.

But it was not an “aspersion” or racist for Frontpage or any website to take note of Aboushi’s political opinions. Frontpage founder David Horowitz is not an Islamophobe nor is it Islamophobic to point out, as Frontpage often does, the hate and anti-Semitism that is spewed from official Palestinian media and those leftists who sympathize with Israel’s enemies.

Like anyone else in the NFL or any other pro league, Aboushi needs to understand that everything he does or says will be publicized and subject to intense scrutiny. If Aboushi is going to tweet in support of a fundraiser for a group that has been called a front for Hamas, that’s fair game for critics. So is his mention of the “Nakba”—the Palestinian way of referring to the birth of the State of Israel as a “disaster” as well as his posting of a photo criticizing the settling of Jews in Jerusalem.

As for his speaking at the El Bireh Society Convention, Aboushi’s defenders may be right that it might have more in common with the sort of landsmanshaft groups that Jewish immigrants to this country started to remember their associations with their old homes in Europe than with a terrorist organization. If, as the ADL insists, the group has long been dormant since its unsavory origins, that makes his appearance there appear in a different light. There is no proof Aboushi said anything bad and there is nothing wrong with Aboushi, whose family comes from that Palestinian Arab village, showing pride in his background. But it should also be noted that, as Frontpage pointed out, many of those in attendance may have been radicals and inflammatory material about the meeting may have been posted on Facebook.

Subsequent to the Frontpage piece being published, Aboushi said the following: “As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I hope that both sides make peace and live in prosperity.” That’s good to hear, and if he wishes to avoid being placed in the middle of Middle East politics, he should leave it at that. Little good comes from injecting politics into sports, whether by the athletes or their fans that either cheer or deride the players’ opinions. Nothing Aboushi did makes him a terrorist, but there’s little doubt he sympathizes with Israel’s enemies.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to play in the NFL or that a campaign to oust him would be justified. But neither is it prejudice for friends of Israel to note his opinions. Both Aboushi and his defenders need to calm down. If he’s going to stick in the NFL—the league whose players like to say the letters stand for “not for long”—he’s going to have to learn not only to stay out of controversies but that everything he says or tweets is fodder for the press. Aboushi may not be a terrorist but, contrary to the Times and others bashing Frontpage, neither is he much of a victim.

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Questions Build As Snowden Retreats

Edward Snowden may have been acting independently when he downloaded and leaked information about the NSA’s surveillance programs, but the moment he became a fugitive abroad he became dependent on the generosity of his various hosts and, to a lesser extent, the media. He now seems to be alienating both.

Of course, he’d already begun to wear out his welcome in Moscow when he was offered asylum by Vladimir Putin if Snowden would agree to keep his mouth shut. Snowden, at the time fielding offers from warmer climates, spurned Russia’s open hand. He then went crawling back to Putin for asylum when it became clear that leaving Russia would be more complicated than it seemed, but the condition still applies and he’s wavering. Now the press is growing visibly tired of Snowden’s world-traveling ego trip.

The New York Times carries a story today on how Russia is using Snowden for propaganda value, and offers a pristine demonstration of passive-aggressive journalism. First, the Times explains that Russian lawmakers are attempting to make the case that Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance and cooperation with communication firms proves that Russia must have more control over electronic communication:

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Edward Snowden may have been acting independently when he downloaded and leaked information about the NSA’s surveillance programs, but the moment he became a fugitive abroad he became dependent on the generosity of his various hosts and, to a lesser extent, the media. He now seems to be alienating both.

Of course, he’d already begun to wear out his welcome in Moscow when he was offered asylum by Vladimir Putin if Snowden would agree to keep his mouth shut. Snowden, at the time fielding offers from warmer climates, spurned Russia’s open hand. He then went crawling back to Putin for asylum when it became clear that leaving Russia would be more complicated than it seemed, but the condition still applies and he’s wavering. Now the press is growing visibly tired of Snowden’s world-traveling ego trip.

The New York Times carries a story today on how Russia is using Snowden for propaganda value, and offers a pristine demonstration of passive-aggressive journalism. First, the Times explains that Russian lawmakers are attempting to make the case that Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance and cooperation with communication firms proves that Russia must have more control over electronic communication:

Two members of Russia’s Parliament have cited Mr. Snowden’s leaks about N.S.A. spying as arguments to compel global Internet companies like Google and Microsoft to comply more closely with Russian rules on personal data storage.

These rules, rights groups say, might help safeguard personal data but also would open a back door for Russian law enforcement into services like Gmail.

“We need to quickly put these huge transnational companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook under national controls,” Ruslan Gattarov, a member of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, or Federation Council, said in an interview. “This is the lesson Snowden taught us.”

But then the Times hits Snowden with a not-so-subtle dig at his naïveté:

American information technology companies operating in Russia routinely face demands from law enforcement to reveal user data, and have less recourse than in the United States to resist in the courts.

The Russian reaction may surprise Mr. Snowden most of all. In an interview with The Guardian, he said he unveiled details of N.S.A. surveillance because “I don’t want to live in a world where there is no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

In other words, he maybe should have expected this. Indeed, self-described “whistleblowers” in American who flee the U.S. with reams of data supposedly proving the U.S. to be some sort of evildoer–human rights abuser, surveillance state, etc.–immediately discover they have landed themselves in something of a quandary: it is highly unlikely they will find asylum in a country that doesn’t undermine the nobility of their quest.

Snowden is a perfect example. As the Times begins its story today: “Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, fled the United States saying he did not want to live in a surveillance state.” And to where did the brilliant young Mr. Snowden flee? China. And then Putin’s Russia. And from Russia, he tried getting to Ecuador. And then Venezuela. You get the picture.

Of course we can ask where else he might have gone. Europe? Where British and French domestic spying are legendary and without the oversight the U.S. applies? Where exactly do you go if you want to leave the United States for freer lands? You go where Snowden went, which is quite literally nowhere: he has been holed up in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport for weeks now, living in sovereign limbo.

This is not to dismiss as automatically illegitimate Snowden’s complaints about the NSA. It’s merely to point out that Snowden was the one who left the U.S. because he didn’t want to live in a surveillance state, and Snowden is the one right now begging to live in a surveillance state. He may have some fair concerns about American policy, but he isn’t exactly bursting with credibility.

In addition, his credibility is suffering further because his independence is being called into question. Last week, when Snowden called a meeting with “human rights” officials at the airport, the journalist Joshua Foust noticed that he was accompanied by a woman who runs public relations for the FSB, Russia’s domestic security apparatus. Foust continued:

As a rule, when a cleared intelligence employee seeks refuge in another country running a hostile intelligence service while carrying gigabytes of top secret documents, that isn’t the behavior of a whistleblower. That is the behavior of a defector. The involvement of known FSB operatives at his asylum acceptance – and the suddenly warm treatment of HRW and Transparency International after months of government harassment – suggests this was a textbook intelligence operation, and not a brave plea for asylum from political persecution.

Foust isn’t alone. Today the Moscow Times has a long article asking many related questions. Why, for example, had the Federal Migration Service not received a request for asylum from Snowden? Who is helping Snowden live for nearly a month in the transit zone? Who helped Snowden organize a meeting with those human rights groups? Who is communicating on his behalf? The article quotes one human rights activist saying: “I did not understand what the meaning of the meeting was … It was very clear that the meeting was more like a news conference, albeit with no journalists present.”

If journalists who are sympathetic to reforming the NSA are nonetheless openly speculating that Snowden is acting like a foreign spy, not a whistleblower, it is clear Snowden’s behavior is not doing him any favors. It’s wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest Snowden should demonstrate some transparency, but it’s not clear he would appreciate the irony.

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A GOP Senate? Don’t Bet Against It.

There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

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There has been a lot of triumphalism heard lately on the left—and even from some on the right—about Republicans allowing extremists to hijack their party and thereby dooming them to permanent minority status. The GOP has its problems and may ultimately rue the decision of so many House conservatives to put their heads in the sand about immigration and the impact their stand will have on Hispanics. But that controversy won’t stop them from taking the Senate next year if they manage to put together a slate of electable candidates in the midterm elections. The decision of Brian Schweitzer, the former governor of Montana, to pass on a Senate run is a body blow to Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat being vacated by Max Baucus in 2014. But what really ought to worry them is the fact that their party’s lucky charm in 2012 is officially labeling their chances of holding onto control of the Senate as less than likely. New York Times blogger and liberal pundit Nate Silver writes today to handicap the race for the Senate, and what he has to say should send a chill down the spines of Democrats:

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year’s elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Considering that Silver’s prognostications proved to be perfect in the 2012 presidential election, that’s the sort of prediction that might leave some Democrats wondering about the wisdom of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option” that diminishes the power of the minority in the Senate.

As Silver breaks down the 2014 Senate races, it’s clear that Democrats are in trouble. Democrats will (after they win back the seat they lost in New Jersey when Frank Lautenberg died this October) be defending 21 seats next year while Republicans will only have 14 seats. That’s already a disadvantage, but that becomes even worse when you realize that none of those GOP incumbents face anything close to a formidable challenge. On the other hand, three of those Democratic seats are rated by Silver as either safe or likely GOP pickups: Montana (Baucus), West Virginia and South Dakota (where Jay Rockefeller and Tim Johnson are retiring). Add those three to the existing total of 45 Republican seats (again, discounting the New Jersey seat temporarily held by Jeffrey Chiesa) and you bring the GOP total to 48.

Silver also rates three other Democrats, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor as tossups at best in their reelection efforts. Throw in Alaska’s Mark Begich, who currently leads his potential opponents in the polls but must still cope with the difficulty of running in a deep red state, and you have an easy path for the GOP to 50, 51 or even 52 seats. Silver goes further to postulate that if 2014 turns out to be a good year for Republicans, a not unreasonable scenario for a midterm election during the sixth year of a Democratic president’s administration, the total of GOP pickups could go as high as nine as states like Michigan and Iowa, where incumbents are retiring, might fall prey to a downward trend for President Obama’s party.

The point here is that Democrats have almost no chance of picking up any seats in 2014 and a good chance of losing some. The question is how many, and Silver rightly points out that total will be defined as much by Republican primary voters as it is by the economy or any other issue or external factor.

The most obvious example of this may be in Alaska, a state that Democrats have no business winning except if they are faced with a GOP nominee who is terribly unpopular, as is the case with 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller or former Governor Sarah Palin. But it could also make the difference in more than half a dozen states where opportunities exist in 2014. If Republicans wind up putting forward implausible figures such as Christine O’Donnell or Sharron Angle (whose nominations transformed winnable GOP pickups into easy Democratic wins in 2010) or candidates who make astoundingly stupid gaffes like Todd Akin (who gift-wrapped Claire McCaskill’s reelection in a year where few thought she had a chance of surviving), then they’ll wind up tilting Silver’s evaluations back in the direction of the Democrats.

It’s true that seemingly safe establishment candidates can also fail, as was the case last year when drab GOP nominees wound up being dragged down in a Democratic year. But if, as was the case in 2010, Republicans are on the upswing next year as Americans grow tired of President Obama, ObamaCare and the assorted scandals attached to the administration, the need to avoid nominating politicians who are easily marginalized will be greater than ever.

For all of their problems, divisions and flaws, Republicans are in position to be in sole control of Congress in January 2015. That should chasten Democrats who foolishly think the 2012 results will be endlessly repeated in future elections and grass roots Republicans who should remember that it was their folly that has kept Harry Reid in the majority leader’s seat.

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Get Obama to Focus on Iran? Good Luck.

After months in which the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons has been pushed to the back burner even on foreign-policy issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting an uphill battle in his effort to get the Obama administration to pay attention to the threat. But Netanyahu is doing his best to ratchet up pressure on Obama to treat the issue seriously after a period in which it appeared as if the administration had almost entirely forgotten about it. That was the point of his appearance yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation program, during the course of which he reminded viewers that all he is asking is for the president to do what he has been saying he would do ever since 2008: stop Iran. But with time running out until Iran achieves its nuclear ambition and with the United States showing no sign that it is prepared to act, Netanyahu has very little choice but to speak up and hope for the best.

The problem isn’t getting the United States to validate his concerns with words. President Obama’s rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear program has always been largely exemplary. The challenge has always been translating those words into action, and that has always been lacking. While many in the United States have attempted to portray Netanyahu as an alarmist on the issue, his concerns are looking even more valid recently as the United States has effectively decided to punt on Iran, creating a timetable that gives the ayatollahs another year to stall while their nuclear program gets closer to completion. With a “senior administration official” telling journalists last Friday that Washington thinks there may be an opening for more talks with Iran that could lead to the lifting of some sanctions on the regime, a degree of panic on the part of Israelis and others worried about the West giving Tehran a pass appears to be warranted.

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After months in which the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons has been pushed to the back burner even on foreign-policy issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting an uphill battle in his effort to get the Obama administration to pay attention to the threat. But Netanyahu is doing his best to ratchet up pressure on Obama to treat the issue seriously after a period in which it appeared as if the administration had almost entirely forgotten about it. That was the point of his appearance yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation program, during the course of which he reminded viewers that all he is asking is for the president to do what he has been saying he would do ever since 2008: stop Iran. But with time running out until Iran achieves its nuclear ambition and with the United States showing no sign that it is prepared to act, Netanyahu has very little choice but to speak up and hope for the best.

The problem isn’t getting the United States to validate his concerns with words. President Obama’s rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear program has always been largely exemplary. The challenge has always been translating those words into action, and that has always been lacking. While many in the United States have attempted to portray Netanyahu as an alarmist on the issue, his concerns are looking even more valid recently as the United States has effectively decided to punt on Iran, creating a timetable that gives the ayatollahs another year to stall while their nuclear program gets closer to completion. With a “senior administration official” telling journalists last Friday that Washington thinks there may be an opening for more talks with Iran that could lead to the lifting of some sanctions on the regime, a degree of panic on the part of Israelis and others worried about the West giving Tehran a pass appears to be warranted.

It should be remembered that President Obama squandered most of his first term in office on a foolish attempt to “engage” with Iran and on efforts to create an international coalition to support watered-down sanctions on the regime. He has begun his second term determined to repeat this pattern by reviving the P5+1 talks that failed as they did every previous time. They’ve capped this dilatory record by now seizing on the election of Hassan Rowhani, a supposed moderate, as president of Iran, as yet another chance to pry open a mythical window of diplomatic opportunity even as they publicly acknowledge that the ayatollahs have been manufacturing and exploiting these initiatives for years to enable them to run out the clock on their nuclear timetable.

This is especially troubling because the United States seems particularly distracted from Iran in recent months. Secretary of State John Kerry has been obsessed with reviving Middle East peace negotiations that no one but he thinks has a prayer of success. The administration has also been busy blundering its way through crises over the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (in whose survival Obama appeared to be invested) and standing by helplessly while Iran and its Hezbollah allies appear to be succeeding in keeping the Assad dictatorship in power. These events and the false hope about Iran’s supposedly moderate president have caused the United States to lower its voice and to basically go on vacation when it comes to Iran. The expectation is now that the West will wait until Rowhani is sworn in next month and then allow the Iranians to prevaricate for more months while a new diplomatic process is allowed to waste time and then inevitably fail.

Netanyahu’s efforts aren’t so much to raise awareness about a threat that Obama has already acknowledged as they are to point out that another year of waiting and talking is the moral equivalent of a decision to ultimately tolerate a nuclear Iran. We don’t know exactly how close the Iranians are, but as they move more of their stockpile of enriched uranium into hardened mountainside bunkers and develop alternate plutonium programs, the options for using force—something that even Obama has refused to rule out as a last resort—are becoming less viable. Unless he can produce diplomatic progress soon—something about as likely to happen as a new flowering of democracy and human rights in that Islamist tyranny—the president won’t be able to pretend that he hasn’t already effectively chosen to contain a nuclear Iran rather than prevent it. 

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Poland Bans Kosher Slaughter

Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

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Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

In any country, such a decision would be strongly protested; in Poland, the weight of history gives objections to the ban an added urgency. During last year’s debate over the supreme court ruling, Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, opined that “[T]he outrageous atmosphere in the Polish media surrounding shechitah reminds me precisely of the similar situation in Poland and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.” This time around, the historical analogies are no less visible.

Kadlick again voiced his warning about the patterns of the last century repeating themselves, adding that “populism, superstition and political interests won out.” Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid an official visit to Poland just last month, was equally sharp in its condemnation. Decrying the “rude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry asserted that the Sejm‘s decision “seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland.”

Reacting to the Israeli statement, Poland’s centrist prime minister, Donald Tusk, sounded almost wounded. “Especially the historical context is, to put it mildly, off target and is not applicable to the situation,” he said. Isn’t it? One of the reasons why Jews are especially sensitive to legal measures against ritual slaughter, as Tusk surely knows, is that the Nazis banned it in Germany only three months after they came to power in 1933. And like many of today’s animal rights activists, the Nazis depicted the methods of shechita as a gruesome, needless celebration of animal suffering.

Even so, the historical parallels don’t overlap completely. The two main Polish political parties that opposed the government bill are not, as might reasonably be expected, populated by snarling right-wing skinheads. One of them, the Democratic Left Party, or SLD, was co-founded by Alexander Kwasniewski, who served as Poland’s president from 1995-2005. Throughout his time in office, Kwasniewski was feted by Jewish groups, particularly in the United States, for his strong stand against anti-Semitism; after leaving office, he was one of the backers of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization that is unlikely to share the SLD’s revulsion for shechita.

The other party, the Palikot Movement (named for its founder, Janusz Palikot), is variously described as liberal, even libertarian. The party’s support for gay civil unions and the legalization of soft drugs are noteworthy in a country that remains socially conservative and devoutly Catholic. Yet one of Palikot’s leaders, Andrzej Rozenek, sounded like a traditional anti-Semite when he declared that “there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money”–the implication being that what really worries Jewish defenders of shechita is the loss of a $400 million dollar regional market for kosher goods produced in Poland.

Poland is not the first country to ban shechita–European states from Norway to Switzerland have also prohibited its practice–but its historic position as the cradle of the Holocaust means that extra scrutiny of any legal measures against Jewish rituals is inevitable. Preventing shechita in a country where, as Rabbi Shudrich noted, hunting remains legal, renders the concerns about cruelty to animals laughable. It also opens Poland up to an accusation last leveled against Germany, where an effort to ban circumcision was recently defeated: namely, that for all of its Jewish museums and memorials to the Holocaust, the country finds the task of being nice to dead Jews far more appealing than guaranteeing the rights of living ones.

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The Media’s Irresponsible Reaction to the Zimmerman Verdict

Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

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Monday’s New York Times editorial on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is a sorry piece of work.

The editorial board says that the case is all about race: “ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.”

I have no reason to doubt that most black men in America have a true story to tell about being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing. But the story of race in America has never cast Hispanics like George Zimmerman in a leading role. And we still don’t know what happened that night. My guess is that the stories to which the Times refers foreclose the possibility that the storyteller knocked down the unjustly suspicious person and slammed his head repeatedly into the concrete. Yet the prosecutors never came close to discrediting that part of Zimmerman’s story, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second degree murder or manslaughter.

From the beginning, politicians have attempted to turn State of Florida v. Zimmerman into an advertisement. The Times has now joined in. The case proves that it was “sanguine” of the Supreme Court to say that things have changed dramatically in America since 1965. Shelby v. Holder may be open to criticism, but is the Times really on record as proposing that race relations have not changed dramatically since 1965? And are they really on record proposing George Zimmerman as an exemplar of Southern white racism?

The Times, like the rest of us, does not know much about George Zimmerman. But the editorial board feels free to discount the testimony of neighbors and its own story on the FBI’s “wide-ranging investigation,” which “found a man not prone to violence or prejudice and who moved easily between racial and ethnic groups — a ‘decent guy,’ ‘a good human being.’” Never mind all that. What is “most frightening is that there are many people with guns who are like George Zimmerman” (my emphasis). And of course, the “Justice Department is right to continue its investigation into whether George Zimmerman may still be prosecuted under federal civil rights laws.”

And like many commentators, the Times insists on treating the case as an indictment of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, even though the defense did not invoke it during the trial. To repeat, the prosecution was never able to cast serious doubt on Zimmerman’s contention that, at the time of the shooting, he was pinned to the ground and had had his head slammed into the ground repeatedly. Under such circumstances, there is no state in the union in which there is a “duty to retreat.”

The prosecution was more successful casting doubt on Zimmerman’s denial that he set out to follow Martin that night. But even if it could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman followed Martin, the rest of the story, in which Martin becomes the aggressor, breaks Zimmerman’s nose, bashes his head into the concrete, and reaches for Zimmerman’s gun, would be sufficient to make out a case for self-defense not just in Florida but in any state.

That is not to say that Zimmerman’s story is true, that every jury would have acquitted Zimmerman, that it is as hard to prove self-defense in Florida as it is elsewhere, or that Zimmerman bears no responsibility for Martin’s death. But it is disingenuous to make State of Florida v. Zimmerman a commentary on recent Supreme Court decisions or on gun control. The Times even says that what may well have been a case of justified self-defense “should be as troubling as . . . mass killings” like Columbine and Sandy Hook. While I understand that day-to-day killings and policies to prevent them deserve as much or more attention than rare mass murders receive, the Times has no way of knowing whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that Zimmerman was armed.

Now that the case is over, Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, compares Martin’s case to that of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist deliberately shot in the back outside his home by a member of a White Citizen’s Council. While no one expects the Martin family to accept George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it is up to observers like the New York Times editorial board to attend to the cases that the defense and prosecution put on, to take account of how little we know about what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and to resist the urge to turn the living or the dead into cartoon heroes and villains in a story about civil rights.

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Is Obama Committed to Assad’s Defeat?

Last month President Obama seemingly put aside two years of hesitancy and indecision over what to do about Syria. He announced that, in response to Bashar Assad’s violation of the “red line” over the use of chemical weapons, he would be sending weapons to the Syrian opposition. But the president’s lack of comfort with this decision–announced by a lowly White House spokesman while the president was off attending to more important matters–was palpable and it has continued to affect the speed and force with which his executive decision is being implemented.

The New York Times reports that the weapons deliveries–limited to light weapons–still have not arrived and will not for weeks to come, at best. Nor has the training of the rebels in their use started. As the Times notes: “The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels.”

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Last month President Obama seemingly put aside two years of hesitancy and indecision over what to do about Syria. He announced that, in response to Bashar Assad’s violation of the “red line” over the use of chemical weapons, he would be sending weapons to the Syrian opposition. But the president’s lack of comfort with this decision–announced by a lowly White House spokesman while the president was off attending to more important matters–was palpable and it has continued to affect the speed and force with which his executive decision is being implemented.

The New York Times reports that the weapons deliveries–limited to light weapons–still have not arrived and will not for weeks to come, at best. Nor has the training of the rebels in their use started. As the Times notes: “The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels.”

The current excuse for inaction is the fear that the weapons could fall “into the wrong hands.” But the “wrong hands”–that is, the jihadists–are already well armed; a few more deliveries of weapons aren’t going to make much of a difference to them, but it could be huge for the more moderate rebel factions.

Concerns about legalisms have also slowed the administration’s aid program. The Wall Street Journal reports how a group of administration lawyers has used concerns about international law to stymie plans to ship weapons. Would this be the same international law, one wonders, that Hezbollah and Tehran and Moscow violate on a recurring basis to arm Bashar Assad to carry out horrific human rights violations?

Apparently administration lawyers have tied themselves up into knots worrying about Bashar Assad retaliating against the U.S. for weapons shipments–yet somehow the Reagan administration managed to undertake much larger weapons shipments to the Afghan mujahideen, who were fighting an enemy far more powerful than the Syrian state. One suspects that the difference between then and now is that President Reagan was personally committed to fighting the Soviet Union. Obama, by contrast, is, as usual, paralyzed by indecision. He is willing to make heavily hedged statements calling for Assad’s removal but he is not willing to follow up with decisive action. Thus the bloodletting in Syria drags on, and the Assad regime continues to regain lost ground with the aid of Hezbollah and Iranian operatives, while the U.S. and our allies increasingly lose out.

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The Real Reason Reid Wants to Go Nuclear

For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

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For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

“The changes we’re making are very, very minimal. What we’re doing is saying: ‘Look American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?’” Reid said. “If you want to look at nominations, you know what the Founding Fathers said: ‘Simple majority.’ That’s what we need to do.”

Reid is set to deploy the “nuclear option” — which would allow 51 senators to change the Senate rules instead of the 67 that are normally required. Triggering it would dislodge several stalled Obama nominees, and it would allow senators to approve executive branch nominees — not judicial nominees or legislation — by a simple majority.

If Cabinet nominees are already getting through just fine, and the proposed changes won’t help judicial nominees or legislation get around the filibuster and receive an up-or-down vote, we can ask why Reid wants the changes enough to “go nuclear.” We can also ask Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell why he opposes such changes so staunchly. One answer is that the nomination changes apply to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, the latter of which President Obama staffed up by making appointments the courts have found to be unconstitutional, and Republicans want to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.

But the more important answer has to do with a fundamental difference in how the two parties wish to govern–and contrary to what you may hear from the media, it reveals McConnell’s GOP to have far more respect for Congress and the legislative process than Reid’s Democrats.

I wrote about this last month, pointing readers to law professor Jonathan Turley’s column in the Washington Post about the “rise of the fourth branch,” the administrative state that has increasingly usurped Congress’s lawmaking authority without replicating the accountability or (relative) transparency. This is the crux of Turley’s argument:

For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical.

The recent scandals at the IRS and EPA, in which a government bureaucracy, egged on by powerful Democrats, absorbed the establishment’s liberal bias so thoroughly as to be actively targeting conservatives, prove both the efficacy and the inherent corruption in this worldview. Democrats understand that if they control the bureaucracy they can install “legislators” who remain anonymous, unelected, and unaccountable. Reid can be voted out of office, but the IRS cannot.

Where once the energetic and youthful liberal grass roots at least had an anti-authoritarian suspicion of government power and abuse, today the liberal movement is united in its belief that government must expand–and keep expanding. When liberal intellectuals swoon over China’s authoritarian rule, it isn’t because they are enamored of Chinese Communism but because the consolidation of power into a ruling elite is, to these intellectuals, an unfortunate means to a desirable end. Sacrificing a bit of freedom and democracy isn’t optimal to the professional left, but otherwise they’d have to pass up an opportunity to impose their dubious and unpopular environmentalist activism on the country.

And the same goes for financial regulation and public-union backslapping. That’s why Reid is willing to “go nuclear” not over judicial nominees or legislation but bureaucratic agencies. Reid isn’t defending the Congress’s traditional role by speeding up votes; he’s changing rules on the fly to further weaken Congress while striking another blow against transparency and democratic accountability. What he hopes is that Americans won’t realize what’s at stake before it’s too late.

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Back to Full-Time Racial Incitement

One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

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One of the remarkable elements of the coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial is the way things have come full circle in the last month. Prior to the televised legal proceedings, there was only one narrative about the case that came through in most of the mainstream media: George Zimmerman, a racist bully, shot down an innocent black teenager in cold blood who came to symbolize every young member of a minority group. But once the country started to watch the trial as ratings-obsessed cable networks prioritized the case above all other news stories, a different story began to impinge on that simple morality tale of good and evil.

Televised trials sensationalize the judicial system and turn lawyers, judges and other assorted courthouse kibitzers into the legal equivalent of sports talk radio. But the one thing that we must acknowledge about the broadcasting of the proceedings is that it made it clear that this was a complicated case that bore little resemblance to the invective and cant about it that was so common among those who spoke about it in the mainstream press prior to the trial. Thus, when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges against him, no one who actually watched much of the trial could have been surprised. Though no one other than Zimmerman knows for sure what happened, the evidence seemed to support his claim of self-defense and established clear reasonable doubt about any of the prosecution’s accusations.

Yet now that the trial is over, much of the media seems to have reverted to its previous pattern of treating Zimmerman’s racism and guilt as givens. In much of the mainstream media today, but especially on MSNBC, the verdict has been treated as a green light not only for recriminations about the verdict but an excuse for an all-out, nonstop stream of racial incitement. Where last week it seemed most Americans were rightly trying to assess the virtues of the two sides’ arguments in a hard-fought case, today many liberals among the chattering classes in the media, pop culture and politics have regressed to stereotypes and mindless assumptions that tell us more about their own prejudices than about the supposedly racist state of American justice.

It must be re-stated that the death of Martin was a tragedy. Zimmerman is no hero for having killed an unarmed youth, even if the truth about Martin (that was not heard in court) is that he was not a choir boy. Even though the evidence made a not-guilty verdict inevitable, his behavior was at best questionable and at worst irresponsible. But the problem here was always that the facts of what was a confusing case, in which a Hispanic man who had been beat up killed his assailant in what both police and prosecutors saw as a case of self-defense, simply didn’t fit into the narrative about racism that so many on the left insisted must be the only possible way to interpret the incident.

Yet now that they are freed from the necessity of having to react to the defense’s case and the almost comical weakness of the prosecution’s argument, the liberal media has thrown off all constraints and reverted to the narrative about racial profiling and a martyred victim.

Today on MSNBC, numerous commentators have insisted that the prosecution pulled its punches instead of actually doing all in its power to convict Zimmerman even to the point of tricks in which they sought to withhold evidence. The jury is now denounced as an “all-white” southern panel that is no different from those of the Jim Crow past that tilted the justice system against blacks. Worst of all, professional racial hucksters like MSNBC’s Al Sharpton have been unleashed to treat weeks of evidence and argument about the truth of the accusations against Zimmerman as if they never happened and to gin up protests that will do nothing but enhance the profile of “activists” such as himself. Since the only verdict the left would have accepted is a guilty one, the failure of the prosecution, the behavior of the judge and the judgment of the jury are now being treated as an extension of American’s history of racism. The result is a wave of incitement about race that is painting the same country that just reelected an African-American to the presidency as if it were the segregated and intolerant nation of a century ago.

This is slander, but if much of the media (especially MSNBC, a network that faces a lawsuit for editing of the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call that made him appear a racist and whose in-house token conservative Joe Scarborough called Zimmerman a “murderer”) really thinks the problem with the trial is that there wasn’t enough race baiting, it is a sign we are in for a new wave of hateful and dangerous invective streaming forth from these outlets that could have incalculable costs.

The reaction of most of the public to the case in the past few weeks while the trial was being televised was testimony to a new maturity about the discussion of race. 

The viewers understood that the tragic death of Martin was the product of a complex set of circumstances and not a morality play. Yet what some in the liberal media—and virtually everyone blathering on MSNBC today—are desperate to do is to ignore the evidence and try to transform it into a discussion of white supremacy or their politicized efforts to ban guns or amend laws that enable people to defend themselves against assailants.

Should President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder heed these voices of incitement and plunge the country into more months or even years of racial arguments by pursuing a foolish effort to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations, the big loser isn’t so much the man who was acquitted on Saturday night as it is the country. America has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow and made too much progress to allow the likes of Sharpton and the rest of the MSNBC crew to emphasize and exploit racial divisions in order to advance their own radical political agenda at the expense of building understanding between groups and individuals.

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Is Obama Trying to Start Israel-Syria War?

Is the Obama administration trying to start a war between Israel and Syria? Because intentionally or not, it’s certainly doing its darnedest to provoke one.

This weekend, three anonymous American officials told CNN that Israel was behind an explosion in the Syrian port of Latakia on July 5. The explosion, they said, resulted from an airstrike targeting Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles. If this report is true, this is the second time U.S. officials have blown Israel’s cover in Syria: They also told the media that a mysterious explosion in Syria this April was Israel’s work, even as Israel was scrupulously keeping mum–just as it did about the Latakia incident.

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Is the Obama administration trying to start a war between Israel and Syria? Because intentionally or not, it’s certainly doing its darnedest to provoke one.

This weekend, three anonymous American officials told CNN that Israel was behind an explosion in the Syrian port of Latakia on July 5. The explosion, they said, resulted from an airstrike targeting Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles. If this report is true, this is the second time U.S. officials have blown Israel’s cover in Syria: They also told the media that a mysterious explosion in Syria this April was Israel’s work, even as Israel was scrupulously keeping mum–just as it did about the Latakia incident.

This isn’t a minor issue, as anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows: In a region where preserving face is considered crucial, publicly humiliating Syrian President Bashar Assad is the surest way to make him feel he has no choice but to respond, even though war with Israel is the last thing he needs while embroiled in a civil war at home.

This truth was amply demonstrated in April, after three airstrikes attributed to Israel hit Syria within a few weeks. After the first two, Israel kept mum while Assad blamed the rebels; face was preserved, and everyone was happy. But then, the Obama administration told the media that Israel was behind the second strike–and when the third strike hit two days later, Assad could no longer ignore it: He vociferously threatened retaliation should Israel dare strike again.

The Latakia attack also initially adhered to Israel’s time-tested method for avoiding retaliation: Israel kept mum, Assad blamed the rebels, face was preserved, and everyone was happy. But the Obama administration apparently couldn’t stand it–and a week later, it once again leaked claims of Israeli responsibility to the media.

At best, this means the administration simply didn’t understand the potential consequences, demonstrating an appalling ignorance of Middle East realities. A worse possibility is that it deliberately placed its own political advantage above the safety of Israeli citizens: Facing increasing criticism for its inaction in Syria, but reluctant to significantly increase its own involvement and unable even to secure congressional approval for the limited steps it has approved, perhaps it hoped revealing that at least an American ally was doing something would ease the political heat–even at the cost of provoking a Syrian retaliation that claims Israeli lives.

The worst possibility of all, however, is that the administration knows exactly what it’s doing, and is deliberately trying to spark an Israeli-Syrian war as a way out of its own dilemma: It wants Assad gone, but doesn’t want to do the work itself. Starting an Israeli-Syrian war would force Israel to destroy Assad’s air force, thereby greatly increasing the chances of a rebel victory.

Whatever the truth, these leaks damage American as well as Israeli interests, because one of Washington’s consistent demands of its ally is that Israel not surprise it with military action. Hitherto, Israel has honored that request: Though it doesn’t seek America’s permission for action it deems essential, it does scrupulously provide advance notice. But if Obama administration officials can’t be trusted to keep their mouths shut, Israel will have to rethink this policy: It can’t risk getting embroiled in a war with Syria just to ease Obama’s political problems.

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Where Is Silent Cal When We Need Him?

As Roger L. Simon points out, among the big losers in the George Zimmerman trial is Barack Obama. He injected utterly gratuitous emotion into the affair at an early point by saying that had he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin. This, in turn, empowered race baiters like Al Sharpton to stir up trouble and turn a fairly routine homicide case into a national circus. The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local police chief and district attorney, who thought Zimmerman’s actions had been justified, had to be fired in order to obtain an indictment that should never have been brought in the first case. Fortunately, the jury did its duty and thus, as one of the defense attorneys said, a tragedy was not turned into a travesty.

Obama has a history of shooting his mouth off and getting himself—and often a lot of other people—into trouble. When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into an altercation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, policeman, the president, ignorant of the facts, said that the policeman had “acted stupidly.” It turned out that the policeman had acted strictly by the book and it was Gates who had acted stupidly.

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As Roger L. Simon points out, among the big losers in the George Zimmerman trial is Barack Obama. He injected utterly gratuitous emotion into the affair at an early point by saying that had he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon Martin. This, in turn, empowered race baiters like Al Sharpton to stir up trouble and turn a fairly routine homicide case into a national circus. The case against Zimmerman was so weak that the local police chief and district attorney, who thought Zimmerman’s actions had been justified, had to be fired in order to obtain an indictment that should never have been brought in the first case. Fortunately, the jury did its duty and thus, as one of the defense attorneys said, a tragedy was not turned into a travesty.

Obama has a history of shooting his mouth off and getting himself—and often a lot of other people—into trouble. When Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into an altercation with a Cambridge, Massachusetts, policeman, the president, ignorant of the facts, said that the policeman had “acted stupidly.” It turned out that the policeman had acted strictly by the book and it was Gates who had acted stupidly.

Now it is being reported, by the New York Times no less–and on the front page–that an off-hand remark by the president has severely complicated military sexual assault cases. Obama said that those who commit sexual assault in the military should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Few people, I imagine, would disagree with that. But Obama is not just an individual expressing an opinion at a cocktail party. He is president of the United States and thus commander in chief of the armed forces. Every word he says in public is reported. As the Times explains:

In at least a dozen sexual assault cases since the president’s remarks at the White House in May, judges and defense lawyers have said that Mr. Obama’s words as commander in chief amounted to “unlawful command influence,” tainting trials as a result. Military law experts said that those cases were only the beginning and that the president’s remarks were certain to complicate almost all prosecutions for sexual assault.

“Unlawful command influence” refers to actions of commanders that could be interpreted by jurors as an attempt to influence a court-martial, in effect ordering a specific outcome. Mr. Obama, as commander in chief of the armed forces, is considered the most powerful person to wield such influence.

Perhaps the 44th president should do himself—and the country—a favor by taking a few minutes to go stand in front of the White House portrait of the 30th president, and absorb some of Calvin Coolidge’s wisdom regarding the value of silence.

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Expansive Intelligence Is Not Enough

Edward Snowden’s leaks continue to dribble out, keeping the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor in the news. First, China feigned surprise at U.S. espionage even though their cyber-espionage and hacking knows no parallel, and then European leaders huffed indignant, even though their own intelligence services do much the same thing. Most recently, Latin American leaders are outraged at revelations that the United States sought to intercept their communications.

For Americans, the scandal should not be how expansive NSA surveillance is overseas (warrantless surveillance on Americans is another issue), but rather why—if the NSA is as good as the hyped leaks suggest it is—U.S. intelligence has been so bad. Snowden’s leaks suggest that the NSA has penetrated communications so deeply as to be almost omniscient. While that conclusion is likely exaggerated, the degree of American foreknowledge of both allies’ and adversaries’ communications raise questions about why U.S. policymakers haven’t been able to capitalize on that information.

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Edward Snowden’s leaks continue to dribble out, keeping the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor in the news. First, China feigned surprise at U.S. espionage even though their cyber-espionage and hacking knows no parallel, and then European leaders huffed indignant, even though their own intelligence services do much the same thing. Most recently, Latin American leaders are outraged at revelations that the United States sought to intercept their communications.

For Americans, the scandal should not be how expansive NSA surveillance is overseas (warrantless surveillance on Americans is another issue), but rather why—if the NSA is as good as the hyped leaks suggest it is—U.S. intelligence has been so bad. Snowden’s leaks suggest that the NSA has penetrated communications so deeply as to be almost omniscient. While that conclusion is likely exaggerated, the degree of American foreknowledge of both allies’ and adversaries’ communications raise questions about why U.S. policymakers haven’t been able to capitalize on that information.

Alas, having an overwhelming information advantage does not translate into quality intelligence. Take the FBI: Years after 9/11, it still took weeks to translate intercepts from critical languages. Between 2006 and 2008, the FBI failed to review 31 percent of the electronic files it collected, nor did it review 25 percent—representing 1.2 million hours—of audio intercepts.

Intercepts can help those seeking to hunt, capture, or kill an individual target, but they seldom are more valuable than newspapers or public statements when it comes to an adversary’s policy. Nor does signals intelligence and other intercepts substitute completely for human intelligence, a capability which the United States seems to have let slide over the decades. Regardless, no amount of signals intelligence enabled the U.S. government to predict the Arab Spring, nor the Egyptian Army’s countercoup. The best intelligence analysts are often those who read the open-source press rather than those who are attracted to the top-level intelligence likes moths to a flame. Context matters. Newspapers and traditional political reporting often give more insight than those reading transcripts of phone calls or a subject’s emails.

Compartmentalization also matters. Despite the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, federal agencies are still just as bad as they were before about sharing information that could help avert tragedies or advance American interests. National security advisors today are more trusted political sounding boards than bureaucrats capable of coordinating the U.S. national-security apparatus.

Nor is flawless intelligence enough to advance U.S. interests absent a coherent U.S. grand strategy. For a generation, if not more, the United States has been reacting to events rather than trying to determine them. Managing diplomatic relations is like cycling in place; it does not advance U.S. interests.

Damage control from Snowden’s leaks will consume years, if not decades, but it is also long past time for U.S. officials to consider why, since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been so unsuccessful in both defining and fulfilling its goals.

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Feds Should Stay Out of Zimmerman Case

The “not guilty” verdict handed down on Saturday night in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida may not have ended the case that has fascinated the cable news stations and engendered furious discussions about race in America. While the relatively quick decision by the jury seems not to have provoked the widespread and violent civil disturbances that many doomsayers predicted should Zimmerman not be convicted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, it has inspired a second round of political interference in the case from Washington. Just as political pressure from the highest office in the land as well as the threats of the Department of Justice to involve itself in the matter led the State of Florida to overturn the sensible decision of local police and prosecutors not to prosecute Zimmerman, the jury’s decision to reject the charges has prompted another threat of federal intervention.

Today, as much of the country determined to make their peace with a decision that brought a conclusion to what can only be fairly described as a tragedy, once again the Department of Justice is threatening to roil the waters anew. While the president issued an extraordinary statement urging the country to accept the jury’s verdict—a strange statement made necessary by the president’s unfortunate comments last year in which he seemed to heighten the pressure on authorities to prosecute by claiming that Martin might have been his son—the DOJ issued the following comments:

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” a department spokesman said.

While it is to be hoped this statement is a pro forma pronouncement intended merely to signal the president’s supporters that he shares their umbrage at the verdict, it is still a shocking and unjustified threat that ought to be withdrawn immediately.

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The “not guilty” verdict handed down on Saturday night in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida may not have ended the case that has fascinated the cable news stations and engendered furious discussions about race in America. While the relatively quick decision by the jury seems not to have provoked the widespread and violent civil disturbances that many doomsayers predicted should Zimmerman not be convicted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, it has inspired a second round of political interference in the case from Washington. Just as political pressure from the highest office in the land as well as the threats of the Department of Justice to involve itself in the matter led the State of Florida to overturn the sensible decision of local police and prosecutors not to prosecute Zimmerman, the jury’s decision to reject the charges has prompted another threat of federal intervention.

Today, as much of the country determined to make their peace with a decision that brought a conclusion to what can only be fairly described as a tragedy, once again the Department of Justice is threatening to roil the waters anew. While the president issued an extraordinary statement urging the country to accept the jury’s verdict—a strange statement made necessary by the president’s unfortunate comments last year in which he seemed to heighten the pressure on authorities to prosecute by claiming that Martin might have been his son—the DOJ issued the following comments:

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” a department spokesman said.

While it is to be hoped this statement is a pro forma pronouncement intended merely to signal the president’s supporters that he shares their umbrage at the verdict, it is still a shocking and unjustified threat that ought to be withdrawn immediately.

There is no doubt that what happened that night in February 2012 as a result of the scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin was a tragedy. The jury seems to have accepted that what Zimmerman did was a matter of self-defense. But the death of a 17-year-old boy under such circumstances should grieve us all even if there was insufficient proof that Zimmerman’s actions were illegal and much reason to believe that he might well have had reason to believe he was in danger during the fight.

Given the lack of evidence and the quick manner with which the jury dispatched their duties after such a lengthy trial, the decision by the authorities to overrule the original decision not to prosecute what appeared to be a matter of self-defense seems to be spectacularly ill judged. In retrospect, the decision was clearly a matter of political pressure rather than based on the merits.

But any decision to pursue the matter as a civil rights violation in which the federal government will attempt to retry the case is outrageous.

Since a local prosecution in which the government failed in a spectacular manner to establish that what happened was murder, what possible hope can the DOJ have that a federal trial, in which they would be faced with an even higher burden of proof, would yield a different result?

The one good thing about the trial, whose televised sessions seemed to transfix the country and pre-empt almost all other news during the last few weeks, was that both sides seemed to agree the incident was not driven by race. Zimmerman is Hispanic and there is no evidence that what he did was motivated by racial sentiments even if he may have shown poor judgment as a neighborhood watch volunteer. But the only possible reason for the Obama administration’s decision to consider another effort to prosecute Zimmerman is an attempt to retry the case as a matter of race.

This is unfortunate for two reasons.

The slender prosecution case that failed to convict Zimmerman was weak enough. But if the government decides to retry the case in this manner it will be so transparently political in nature as to make it border on misconduct more than bad judgment.

Moreover, to force the nation to undergo yet another round of recriminations over this case with the added pain of racial overtones that would be caused by the civil rights charge would go beyond irresponsibility. It would be a blatant instance of race baiting that would give the lie to the president’s attempt to walk back his own intervention.

Americans are right to deplore Martin’s death no matter what the circumstances—the truth of which is something that no living person other than Zimmerman can know with certitude—and are free to disagree with the verdict if they like. But if the administration chooses to fan the flames of racial resentment like this it will have undone any little good that might have come from this awful event. Another prosecution is unlikely to prevail. But if it is undertaken, it may well do as much or more to worsen race relations than anything George Zimmerman might have done.

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