Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 12, 2013

Confronting the End of European Jewry

Last year the U.S. State Department noted that a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was sweeping through Europe. It was a significant acknowledgement of a critical problem. But as serious as this warning was, the dilemma of European Jewry remains a marginal issue that only gains sporadic attention when there is an egregious crime or a move to ban Jewish religious practices in a specific country. As much as the murder of four Jews in a shooting spree in Toulouse by an Islamist terrorist or the attempts to ban circumcision or kosher slaughter makes headlines, the revival of Jew hatred on the European continent is not so much the function of egregious incidents as it is a historic process that is leading to what seems like an inevitable conclusion. In is in this context that Michel Gurfinkiel’s essay “You Only Live Twice” on the subject in this month’s edition of Mosaic magazine must be seen as an important contribution to Jewish historiography. After decades of celebrating the unexpected revival of European Jewry after the Holocaust that created new vibrant communities where desolation had existed in 1945, we have now reached the moment when the cycle of hatred has turned around again. In a brilliant tour de force of historical perspective, Gurfinkiel reminds us that the virus of Jew hatred has not merely revived but threatens to write what may be the final chapter in the long saga of European Jewry.

Gurfunkiel puts the steady drip of depressing stories about anti-Semitism in context. But it is important because it dares to draw conclusions about the problem that many sober European commentators refuse to approach. Instead of merely lamenting a sad trend, he demands that Jews draw the proper conclusions from events. That is something growing numbers of European Jews are doing, as many are immigrating to Israel. But his conclusion should send a chill down the spines of not only Jews but also all civilized persons who might otherwise be inclined to take a less alarmist view of events:

A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.

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Last year the U.S. State Department noted that a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” was sweeping through Europe. It was a significant acknowledgement of a critical problem. But as serious as this warning was, the dilemma of European Jewry remains a marginal issue that only gains sporadic attention when there is an egregious crime or a move to ban Jewish religious practices in a specific country. As much as the murder of four Jews in a shooting spree in Toulouse by an Islamist terrorist or the attempts to ban circumcision or kosher slaughter makes headlines, the revival of Jew hatred on the European continent is not so much the function of egregious incidents as it is a historic process that is leading to what seems like an inevitable conclusion. In is in this context that Michel Gurfinkiel’s essay “You Only Live Twice” on the subject in this month’s edition of Mosaic magazine must be seen as an important contribution to Jewish historiography. After decades of celebrating the unexpected revival of European Jewry after the Holocaust that created new vibrant communities where desolation had existed in 1945, we have now reached the moment when the cycle of hatred has turned around again. In a brilliant tour de force of historical perspective, Gurfinkiel reminds us that the virus of Jew hatred has not merely revived but threatens to write what may be the final chapter in the long saga of European Jewry.

Gurfunkiel puts the steady drip of depressing stories about anti-Semitism in context. But it is important because it dares to draw conclusions about the problem that many sober European commentators refuse to approach. Instead of merely lamenting a sad trend, he demands that Jews draw the proper conclusions from events. That is something growing numbers of European Jews are doing, as many are immigrating to Israel. But his conclusion should send a chill down the spines of not only Jews but also all civilized persons who might otherwise be inclined to take a less alarmist view of events:

A mitigating view of today’s situation might have it that, at the very least, divine providence did beneficently afford to about two million European Jews a brief golden age, a true rebirth, which in turn brought fresh luster to European civilization as well as encouragement and inspiration to millions of their fellow Jews around the world, most especially in the Jewish state. True enough; but what is no less certain is that the end of European Jewry, a millennia-old civilization and a crowning achievement of the human spirit, will deliver a lasting blow to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. That it will also render a shattering judgment on the so-called European idea, exposed as a deadly travesty for anyone with eyes to see, is cold comfort indeed.

The desire to avoid drawing such a stark conclusion about the problem is natural and it is based in no small measure, as Gurfinkiel notes, on the fact that European Jewry “looks healthy and secure.” The postwar revival of Jewish life in France and even Germany has created substantial communities and a population that is invested in the future of these countries. They have enjoyed a golden age that created a superficial similarity to the strength and security of American Jewry. But the comparisons no longer make sense. With anti-Semitism raging on the left and the right and with the unprecedented growth in the population of Muslim immigrants in Europe (especially in France), you don’t need to be an alarmist to understand that “catastrophe may lie ahead.”

What Gurfinkiel sees as the “seeds of a new anti-Semitism” were sown in France by Charles de Gaulle who repudiated his country’s alliance with Israel after the Six-Day War and embarked on a campaign of delegitimization of the Jewish state that did not exclude frankly anti-Semitic utterances. But while de Gaulle deserves a large amount of the blame, the problem was bigger than the enormous ego of that hero of the Second World War. Post-war European intellectuals were weaned on a belief that imperialism was the original sin of European civilization and wrongly categorized Zionism as part of the colonial endeavor rather than as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. While Europe enjoyed a brief period of philo-Semitism as part of the reaction to the Holocaust, the movement seeking to brand as illegitimate the expression of Jewish identity simmered under the surface. Just as Muslim anti-Semitism “has been intimately connected with classic European anti-Semitism for more than a century” and freely borrows from the Hitlerian playbook, as the historian notes, “the two brands share a common language, and each sees in the other a mirror image of itself.” The comeback of Jew hatred in Europe is inextricably tied to its rise in the Muslim and Arab world.

The problem is that the “new” anti-Semitism that focuses on Israel is merely a variation on the old themes that once ravaged the European continent. Perhaps the most important insight in an essay full of them is Gurfinkiel’s pointing out that whereas in the aftermath of the Enlightenment European Jews thought they could gain equality and acceptance by jettisoning their specific Jewish identity and faith, so, too, do some now think they can escape the anti-Semitic tide by distancing themselves from Israel.

For the most part, in France and throughout Western Europe, that price was fully and willingly paid. Generations of Jews eagerly pledged their allegiance to the ideals of democracy, patriotism, and religious tolerance, pouring their prodigious talents and energies into making Europe a better place. Over the centuries, in fair weather, the bargain held; in foul, the price would be successively raised, the conditions of acceptance revised, the bargain hedged, until at last the offer was finally, brutally, rescinded in wholesale massacre.

Now, busily building monuments and museums, Europe ostentatiously engages in celebrating and mourning its lost dead Jews of yesterday, whose murder it variously perpetrated, abetted, or (with exceptions) found it could put up with. Meanwhile, it encourages and underwrites the withering of Jewish life today. Once again, Jews are accepted on condition: that they separate themselves from their brethren in Israel and join the official European consensus in demonizing the Jewish state; that they learn to accommodate the reality that so many ethnic Europeans hate them and wish them ill, and that Islamists on European soil seek their extinction; and that in the interest of justifying their continued claim to European citizenship, they accept Europe’s proscription of some of the most basic practices of their faith.

To the dead Jews of yesterday, everything; to the living Jews of today, little and littler.

This juxtaposition of affection for the dead and indifference or hostility to the living is a common theme in much of the world after 1945, but especially so in France and Europe. As in the past, those who think they can escape hate by turning their back on their own people may someday discover that they have given up much in exchange for little or nothing. Though some may hope that it is not too late for the tide of anti-Semitism to be reversed, it is difficult to argue with Gurfinkiel’s conclusion. Even more to the point, it is a powerful argument for even greater support for a Jewish state that provides the only fitting memorial to the Holocaust and the only effective answer to anti-Semitic hate.

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Rohrbacher Is Hurting the Intellectual Credibility of Conservatism

Representative Dana Rohrbacher’s offense isn’t on par with what his colleague Blake Farenthold said, but it was problematic in its own right.

Mr. Rohrbacker told his constituents that global warming is a “total fraud” that is part of a wider liberal conspiracy. “That’s what their game plan is,” Rohrbacher said. “It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is simply that strategy in spades.”

I’ve written before on the matter of climate change (see here and here), so there’s no need to once again rehearse in detail my arguments. I’m fully aware of some of the radical elements that exist within the environmentalist movement. Still, the argument that global warming is a “total fraud” is simply wrong–and the implication that all climate scientists (and others) who believe in global warming are either part of a gigantic liberal conspiracy or useful idiots is ludicrous. 

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Representative Dana Rohrbacher’s offense isn’t on par with what his colleague Blake Farenthold said, but it was problematic in its own right.

Mr. Rohrbacker told his constituents that global warming is a “total fraud” that is part of a wider liberal conspiracy. “That’s what their game plan is,” Rohrbacher said. “It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is simply that strategy in spades.”

I’ve written before on the matter of climate change (see here and here), so there’s no need to once again rehearse in detail my arguments. I’m fully aware of some of the radical elements that exist within the environmentalist movement. Still, the argument that global warming is a “total fraud” is simply wrong–and the implication that all climate scientists (and others) who believe in global warming are either part of a gigantic liberal conspiracy or useful idiots is ludicrous. 

We know that the concentration in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide has increased markedly during the past 150 years, that humans have been responsible for a significant increase in atmospheric CO2 over the past two centuries, and that as a result, the earth has gotten warmer.

At the same time, there’s a good deal of uncertainty based on future climate projections and what needs to be done. As the conservative Jim Manzi has pointed out, pumping out more CO2 triggers an incredibly complicated set of feedback effects, one we don’t fully understand. And the fact that over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar has puzzled intellectually honest climate scientists. Earth may be less sensitive to CO2 emissions than previously believed.

As we move forward, let’s hope the discussion about climate change is not dominated by ideologues on either side. The discussion should be calm, reasonable, and empirical. We can do without the mocking arrogance that characterizes both extremes. And there’s no need for climate change to be a weapon in the culture wars.

As for conservatives, they can write intelligently on climate change. Or they can sound like Dana Rohrbacher. For the sake of the intellectual credibility of conservatism, I hope we see more of the former and less of the latter.

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Rouhani’s Cabinet Isn’t “Moderate” Either

When new leaders want to appear moderate in the Middle East, there are generally three ways to do so: table the hate speech, surround themselves with a balanced cabinet, and show a history of restraint on matters of interstate violence. (Note: These rules do not apply if you are Benjamin Netanyahu, who has followed them carefully and is still described in more extreme terms than his Palestinian counterpart by the media.)

So it remains a mystery why the Western press thinks anyone will fall for the idea that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. As Jonathan has noted, Rouhani has not tabled the hate speech, even since his election. As Sohrab Ahmari pointed out, Rouhani spent part of the 1990s on a government committee that oversaw the assassination of enemies of the state, so he cannot pretend he has a history of peaceful conduct. And now he has put quite the cabinet together, the latest controversial addition to which has a fairly notorious incident on his resume.

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When new leaders want to appear moderate in the Middle East, there are generally three ways to do so: table the hate speech, surround themselves with a balanced cabinet, and show a history of restraint on matters of interstate violence. (Note: These rules do not apply if you are Benjamin Netanyahu, who has followed them carefully and is still described in more extreme terms than his Palestinian counterpart by the media.)

So it remains a mystery why the Western press thinks anyone will fall for the idea that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. As Jonathan has noted, Rouhani has not tabled the hate speech, even since his election. As Sohrab Ahmari pointed out, Rouhani spent part of the 1990s on a government committee that oversaw the assassination of enemies of the state, so he cannot pretend he has a history of peaceful conduct. And now he has put quite the cabinet together, the latest controversial addition to which has a fairly notorious incident on his resume.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Rouhani has selected Hossein Dehghan as his defense minister. Dehghan “was implicated in the 1983 bombing that killed 241 American servicemen in Lebanon, according to an Israeli intelligence official.” That official is retired IDF Brig. Gen. Shimon Shapira, who is now with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Over the weekend, Shapira explained the background:

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Dehghan was sent to Lebanon. He served as commander of the training corps of the Revolutionary Guard, first in Syria and soon after in Lebanon. This role made him responsible for building up the military force of Hizbullah, which also was established at that time. After most of the Revolutionary Guard force returned from Lebanon to Iran, and the force’s commander, Ahmad Motevasselian, was kidnapped along with three other Iranians in the summer of 1982 by the Christian militia – the Lebanese Forces, Ahmad Kanani was appointed commander of the Revolutionary Guard force in Lebanon.

About a year later Hossein Dehghan replaced Kanani in that position. One of his first goals was to set up a central command for the Iranian force, which at that time was scattered among small towns and villages in the Baalbek region. At the beginning of September 1983, Hizbullah, with the help of the Revolutionary Guard headed by Dehghan, took over the Sheikh Abdullah barracks, which was seized in the course of a procession led by three Hizbullah sheikhs: Abbas Mussawi, Subhi Tufayli, and Muhammad Yazbek. It had been the main base of the Lebanese army in the Beqaa Valley and now became the Imam Ali barracks, the main headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard.

It was from this headquarters that Iran controlled Hizbullah’s military force and planned, along with Hizbullah, the terror attacks on the Beirut-based Multinational Force and against IDF forces in Lebanon. The attacks were carried out by the Islamic Jihad organization, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, which was actually a special operational arm that acted under the joint direction of Tehran and Hizbullah until it was dismantled in 1992.

That does not appear to be an exception to the rest of the cabinet. As Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains, in selecting his cabinet Rouhani hasn’t exactly emboldened the reformers:

Rouhani chose his cabinet nominees under pressure, but not from the quarter the Kayhan editor warned against. Rather than reflecting the wishes of the Green Movement, Khatami-era reformists or Rafsanjani’s network, some of the new president’s nominees were imposed upon him by even more powerful quarters:  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani (Judiciary head), Ali Larijani (Speaker of the Majles) and the former’s brother, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Ali Teyyebnia, economy and finance minister, is a selection of the Supreme Leader, and so was Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s new intelligence minister. Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi, Rouhani’s health minister, and Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli, the next interior minister, were imposed by the Larijani brothers. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, justice minister, is a selection of Sadeq Larijani, but also the Supreme Leader. Hossein Dehqan, defense minister, is the IRGC’s man in the cabinet, and Ja’far Mili Monfared, science minister, is believed to be closer to the Larijanis than to the reformist camp.

Now, it can be argued that Rouhani can’t really prove his moderate credentials without full control of his appointments. After all, the point Alfoneh is making is that Rouhani’s most important deputies were preselected. And further, the subtext of Alfoneh’s post is that Rouhani would never be viewed as being in charge of his appointments no matter who he picks. If he appointed reformists, he would be viewed as being the puppet of the reformists. Instead, his cabinet is a reformist’s nightmare–but no one believes he acted independently.

But that is really the point that Rouhani’s skeptics have been making from the beginning. The “give Rouhani a chance” chorus tried to argue that the doubters were being ungenerous in reading the election of the more moderate candidate as a farce set up by Khamenei and his fellow backseat drivers. Now that Rouhani’s cabinet is conforming to the expectations of his Western critics, expect his boosters in the press to begin making a version of the very same argument about a powerless stooge and a meaningless election.

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The Steve King Freak Show Rolls On

Opponents of immigration reform got a reminder yesterday of their biggest liability as the House of Representatives prepares to deal with the issue after the August recess: themselves. Rep. Steve King may have gotten a stern rebuke from the Republican leadership of the House after his rant about young illegal immigrants being drug smugglers (with “calves the size of canteloupes”) and not hard-working students, but he is undeterred and enjoying the celebrity that comes from being willing to say outrageous things that smarter politicians would avoid because they undermine his case. That’s what led NBC to draft King to be the voice of opposition to current proposals for immigration reform on Meet the Press yesterday.

While I don’t agree with those who believe the bill passed by the Senate won’t help fix border security or that it will worsen the country’s economic problems, you can’t help but sympathize with the people who have put forward reasonable arguments on the issue who find themselves playing second fiddle to a loose cannon like King. If NBC wanted a serious debate about immigration, there are lots of people on that side of the issue they could have chosen who wouldn’t have turned the discussion into a food fight that only gave him another opportunity to embarrass his cause and allow opponents—including Republican supporters of immigration reform like Anna Navarro—to skewer him and by extension all those who agree with him. You can put that choice down to media bias, but this is one that conservatives who have thrown in with King, and others in the grass roots who have embraced his position as well as those who put forward “cultural concerns” about immigration, have brought on themselves. While William Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote last month that the current discussion about immigration had avoided the prejudicial tone about Hispanics that had characterized much of the arguments against reform articulated in 2006 and 2007, King is ensuring that they are being proved wrong on that point. And in doing so, he is both discrediting the opposition to reform and raising the stakes for Republicans who think they have nothing to lose by ensuring that Congress won’t pass any bill this year.

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Opponents of immigration reform got a reminder yesterday of their biggest liability as the House of Representatives prepares to deal with the issue after the August recess: themselves. Rep. Steve King may have gotten a stern rebuke from the Republican leadership of the House after his rant about young illegal immigrants being drug smugglers (with “calves the size of canteloupes”) and not hard-working students, but he is undeterred and enjoying the celebrity that comes from being willing to say outrageous things that smarter politicians would avoid because they undermine his case. That’s what led NBC to draft King to be the voice of opposition to current proposals for immigration reform on Meet the Press yesterday.

While I don’t agree with those who believe the bill passed by the Senate won’t help fix border security or that it will worsen the country’s economic problems, you can’t help but sympathize with the people who have put forward reasonable arguments on the issue who find themselves playing second fiddle to a loose cannon like King. If NBC wanted a serious debate about immigration, there are lots of people on that side of the issue they could have chosen who wouldn’t have turned the discussion into a food fight that only gave him another opportunity to embarrass his cause and allow opponents—including Republican supporters of immigration reform like Anna Navarro—to skewer him and by extension all those who agree with him. You can put that choice down to media bias, but this is one that conservatives who have thrown in with King, and others in the grass roots who have embraced his position as well as those who put forward “cultural concerns” about immigration, have brought on themselves. While William Kristol and Rich Lowry wrote last month that the current discussion about immigration had avoided the prejudicial tone about Hispanics that had characterized much of the arguments against reform articulated in 2006 and 2007, King is ensuring that they are being proved wrong on that point. And in doing so, he is both discrediting the opposition to reform and raising the stakes for Republicans who think they have nothing to lose by ensuring that Congress won’t pass any bill this year.

It is true that King is something of an outlier even among Tea Partiers, but the problem here is not so much that he is willing to say foolish things and try to debate the issue of where young illegals are more likely to be drug smugglers than valedictorians. It is that he is giving voice to a groundswell of anti-immigrant hysteria that has always bubbled on the margins of the public square. The more the mainstream media treats him as the spokesman for opposition to any bill that would seek to deal rationally with the dilemma 11 million illegals pose to the country, the more the debate on the issue gets diverted from rational discourse.

By not bringing any immigration bill to the floor before the recess, Speaker Boehner has taken some of the steam out of the antis who had hoped to hijack town hall meetings with vacationing members of Congress this month. But so long as King is braying away on the networks, the issue remains a hot one. While it’s far from clear that King is helping to undermine the determination of House Republicans to thwart reform, he is giving his foes an opponent who is fast becoming the poster child for anti-Hispanic bias.

Though conservatives may not like the Senate bill and have qualms about the variations on it that are being put forward in separate bills rather than one big one in the House, King’s freak show is reminding them that the costs of being seen to enable his veto of reform exposes them to the sort of scrutiny that won’t help in 2014 even in most solidly Republican House districts. The best thing King can do for his cause is to shut up. But since there is little chance of that happening, pro-immigration forces can only hope he keeps talking.

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Obama Derangement Syndrome

August is a time for members of Congress to return to their districts to connect with the voters they represent–and, in some cases, to make fools of themselves.

Take Texas Representative Blake Farenthold, who was asked a question about President Obama’s birth certificate. Rather than dismissing the question as total nonsense, Mr. Farenthold indulged his conspiracy-minded constituent, telling her, “I think, unfortunately, the horse is already out of the barn on this, on the whole birth certificate issue.” He bemoaned the fact that the window has shut on the ability of the legislative branch to do anything about it. “The original Congress — when his eligibility came up — should’ve looked into it and they didn’t,” Mr. Farenthold said. “I’m not sure how we fix it.”

The Texas representative then went on to say this:

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August is a time for members of Congress to return to their districts to connect with the voters they represent–and, in some cases, to make fools of themselves.

Take Texas Representative Blake Farenthold, who was asked a question about President Obama’s birth certificate. Rather than dismissing the question as total nonsense, Mr. Farenthold indulged his conspiracy-minded constituent, telling her, “I think, unfortunately, the horse is already out of the barn on this, on the whole birth certificate issue.” He bemoaned the fact that the window has shut on the ability of the legislative branch to do anything about it. “The original Congress — when his eligibility came up — should’ve looked into it and they didn’t,” Mr. Farenthold said. “I’m not sure how we fix it.”

The Texas representative then went on to say this:

You tie it into a question I get a lot. If everyone’s so unhappy with the president’s done, why don’t you impeach him? I’ll give you a real frank answer about that. If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted.

Now I have no idea if Mr. Farenthold believes this or is simply afraid to challenge the kooky theories of a constituent. In either case, this exchange is (for Republicans at least) depressing. The assertion that it is “unfortunate” that the whole birth certificate issue is “out of the barn” and therefore nothing can be done about it is the observation of a fevered mind. And to assert that “you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives” to impeach President Obama is to pitch one’s tent in the middle of Fantasy Island.

I understand that congressmen say stupid things from time to time. And I understand that Mr. Farenthold is an obscure back-bencher who doesn’t speak for most of his colleagues. Still, the fact that a member of the House of Representatives would treat lunatic theories as serious is a problem. It does reflect poorly not only on Farenthold but the party he represents. And what he said is damaging, since it will confirm in the minds of rational people that at least among some of its elected representatives, the Republican Party is comprised of conspiratorial nuts.

When I worked in the Bush White House, I saw countless examples of Bush Derangement Syndrome among Democrats and liberals. I would have hoped that when Barack Obama took the oath of office, Republicans and conservative lawmakers wouldn’t suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome. But it turns out that irrational hate and fear–and giving voice to cockeyed conspiracy theories–is a bi-partisan affliction.

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Meet the Terrorists: No Good Will in Sight

Israel’s decision to release terrorist prisoners to entice the Palestinian Authority to show up for the peace talks convened by Secretary of State John Kerry is being described in international circles as a “good will” gesture. But if Kerry thought the controversial by Prime Minister Netanyahu would actually engender good will toward Israel on the part of the Palestinians or help Israelis think better of the Palestinians, he is learning just how wrong he was. Indeed, it is doubtful that anything that Kerry could have asked Netanyahu to do could have done more to make peace seem less likely.

The decision had already been the subject of bitter debate on both sides last month, but today’s announcement of the first round of releases has revived the argument. The details of the crimes committed by these Palestinians are painful to read. But just as painful for Israelis is the way they are being lauded as “freedom fighters” by the same Palestinian Authority that they are told is the Jewish state’s peace partner. That the PA is also saying that none of these killers will be deported or at least sent into relative isolation in Gaza is also chilling. The Palestinian reaction to their release is conclusive evidence that the culture of violence that makes such terrorist acts acceptable has not sufficiently been altered in order to make peace possible.

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Israel’s decision to release terrorist prisoners to entice the Palestinian Authority to show up for the peace talks convened by Secretary of State John Kerry is being described in international circles as a “good will” gesture. But if Kerry thought the controversial by Prime Minister Netanyahu would actually engender good will toward Israel on the part of the Palestinians or help Israelis think better of the Palestinians, he is learning just how wrong he was. Indeed, it is doubtful that anything that Kerry could have asked Netanyahu to do could have done more to make peace seem less likely.

The decision had already been the subject of bitter debate on both sides last month, but today’s announcement of the first round of releases has revived the argument. The details of the crimes committed by these Palestinians are painful to read. But just as painful for Israelis is the way they are being lauded as “freedom fighters” by the same Palestinian Authority that they are told is the Jewish state’s peace partner. That the PA is also saying that none of these killers will be deported or at least sent into relative isolation in Gaza is also chilling. The Palestinian reaction to their release is conclusive evidence that the culture of violence that makes such terrorist acts acceptable has not sufficiently been altered in order to make peace possible.

The prime minister’s decision has been slammed in some quarters because of the belief that he had a choice between releasing prisoners and enacting a building freeze in Jerusalem and the West Bank when Kerry forced him to assist the re-starting of the talks. His choice, if indeed there really was such a choice, is defensible on the grounds that making concessions on territory would have made negotiations pointless. But whether he was right or wrong to pick this option, the details about the released prisoners will not convince many Israelis that there is much hope for the talks. Here, thanks to the Times of Israel, is a brief compendium of the lucky Palestinian prisoners:

The list included 17 names of prisoners who had murdered Israelis, including Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia of Fatah, who murdered Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg in a Petah Tikvah construction site in 1994.

A plasterer by trade, Rotenberg was attacked by Abu Musa and an accomplice at a construction site where all three men worked in March 1994. He sustained repeated blows to the neck with axes. His wounds induced a coma, and he died two days after the attack. He was survived by his brother and sister, who were also survivors of Sobibor, and by a wife and two children. Rotenberg was 67 when he died.

Rotenberg wasn’t the oldest victim of the prisoners who made it onto the list Sunday. Fatah member Ra’ai Ibrahim Salam Ali was jailed in 1994 for the murder of 79-year-old Moris Eisenstatt. Eisenstatt was killed with ax blows to the head while he sat on a public Kfar Saba bench reading a book.

Another prisoner, Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mugdad, also of Fatah, was imprisoned in 1993 for killing 72-year-old Sirens Hotel security guard Israel Tenenbaum by beating him in the head with a steel rod. …

Two of the prisoners, Abu Satta Ahmad Sa’id Aladdin and Abu Sita Talab Mahmad Ayman, were imprisoned in 1994 for the murder of David Dadi and Haim Weizman. After killing Dadi and Weizman as they slept in Weizman’s apartment, the attackers cut off their ears as proof of the killing.

Abdel Aal Sa’id Ouda Yusef was imprisoned in 1994 to a 22-year sentence for several grenade attacks, and for his part as an accomplice in the murder of Ian Sean Feinberg and the murder of Sami Ramadan. Feinberg, a 30-year-old father of three, was a proponent of Palestinian economic development. He was killed by gunmen who stormed a business meeting in Gaza City which he attended in April 1993.

Also on the list was Kour Matwah Hamad Faiz of Fatah, imprisoned in 1985 after he was convicted of killing Menahem Dadon and Salomon Abukasis in 1983 and planning to murder then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Another two prisoners to be released, Fatah members Sualha Fazah Ahmed Husseini and Sualha Bad Almajed Mahmed Mahmed, were imprisoned for a stabbing attack on a crowded Ramat Gan bus, on the 66 line, in 1990. The two, together with a third accomplice, stabbed wildly at passengers, killing 24-year-old Baruch Heizler and wounding three young women.

Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was imprisoned in 1993 for helping to orchestrate the murder of 51-year-old Simcha Levi, a woman who made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers to work in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. In March 1993, three of the women laborers were disguised male attackers, who beat and stabbed her to death.

Maslah Abdullah Salama Salma, a Hamas member likely to be sent to the Gaza Strip after his release, was imprisoned in 1993 for the brutal murder of Petah Tikvah convenience store owner Reuven David. Abdallah, together with an accomplice, entered David’s convenience store on May 20, 1991.

The remaining prisoners, in the order listed by the Prisons Service:

Na’anish Na’if Abdal Jafer Samir, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Binyamin Meisner.

Arsheed A’Hameed Yusef Yusef, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Nadal Rabu Ja’ab, Adnan Ajad Dib, Mufid Cana’an, Tawafiq Jaradat and Ibrahim Sa’id Ziwad.

Al-Haaj Othman Amar Mustafa, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Steven Rosenfeld.

Maklad Mahmoud Zaid Salah, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Yeshayahu Deutsch.

Barbach Faiz Rajab Madhat, imprisoned in 1994 for the murder of Moshe Beker.

Nashabat Jaabar Yusef Mahmed, imprisoned in 1990 for serving as an accessory to the murder of Amnon Pomerantz.

Mortja Hasin Ghanam Samir, imprisoned in 1993 for the abduction, torture and murder of Samir Alsilawi, Khaled Malka, Nasser Aqila, Ali al Zaabot.

Faraj Saleh al-Rimahi, imprisoned in 1992 for the murder of Avraham Kinstler.

Mansour Omar Abdel Hafiz Asmat, imprisoned in 1993 as an accessory to the murder of Hayim Mizrahi.

Asarka Mahmad Ahmad Khaled, imprisoned in 1991 for the murder of Annie Ley.

Jandiya Yusef Radwan Nahad, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Zalman Shlein.

Hamdiya Mahmoud Awed Muhammed, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Zalman Shlein.

Abdel Nabi A-Wahab Gamal Jamil, imprisoned in 1992 for the murder of Shmuel Gersh.

Ziwad Muhammed Taher Taher, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Avraham Cohen.

Sabih Abed Hamed Borhan, imprisoned in 2001 for the murder of Jamil Muhammad Naim Sabih, Aisha Abdullah Haradin.

The release of these killers is re-opening old wounds among their survivors and friends as well as leading other Israelis to believe Netanyahu has betrayed them. But whatever one may think of the prime minister’s decision, the shameless manner by which the PA seeks to honor terrorists and the importance it placed on the issue undermines any hopes for peace. Their freedom will only encourage and legitimate the next round of Palestinian attacks when their intransigence causes the peace talks to fail. If any good will, either on the part of Palestinians or Israelis, has been gained by the gesture, it is not readily apparent.

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The Ridiculous Ruling Against the NYPD

Today Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled against the NYPD’s legal and effective “stop and frisk” program, erroneously finding elements of it unconstitutional. It was nice of her to wait until after the case to release her decision, since it’s doubtful she waited until the end of the trial to construct it. Indeed Scheindlin’s decision, which will put the lives of New York City’s minorities at great risk, was no surprise. She made it clear from the beginning she was going to rule against the NYPD, and her decision to grant the plaintiffs’ request that the trial be jury-free ensured she would have total control over the outcome.

Her lack of remorse in sacrificing the safety of minorities to pursue her activist crusade against the police was only part of the inanity of her decision. In the New York Times’s write-up of the case this morning, the paper–which has been an outspoken opponent of protecting heavily minority neighborhoods in the city–provides a revealing look into Scheindlin’s mindset. First, the Times notes that stop-and-frisk occurrences “soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline.” I eagerly await the moment the Times makes the connection between the drop in the crime rate and stop and frisk (hint: the latter results in the former). Later, the Times summarizes one of Scheindlin’s objections to the practice:

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Today Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled against the NYPD’s legal and effective “stop and frisk” program, erroneously finding elements of it unconstitutional. It was nice of her to wait until after the case to release her decision, since it’s doubtful she waited until the end of the trial to construct it. Indeed Scheindlin’s decision, which will put the lives of New York City’s minorities at great risk, was no surprise. She made it clear from the beginning she was going to rule against the NYPD, and her decision to grant the plaintiffs’ request that the trial be jury-free ensured she would have total control over the outcome.

Her lack of remorse in sacrificing the safety of minorities to pursue her activist crusade against the police was only part of the inanity of her decision. In the New York Times’s write-up of the case this morning, the paper–which has been an outspoken opponent of protecting heavily minority neighborhoods in the city–provides a revealing look into Scheindlin’s mindset. First, the Times notes that stop-and-frisk occurrences “soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline.” I eagerly await the moment the Times makes the connection between the drop in the crime rate and stop and frisk (hint: the latter results in the former). Later, the Times summarizes one of Scheindlin’s objections to the practice:

She noted that about 88 percent of the stops result in the police letting the person go without an arrest or ticket, a percentage so high, she said, that it suggests there was not a credible suspicion to suspect the person of criminality in the first place.

Thus we are now aware that Scheindlin has no idea what she’s talking about–not to mention the fact that her reasoning would suggest the officers would be less suspicious if they made more arrests during the stops. Though all this might tempt readers to skip the text of Scheindlin’s actual written decision, I can assure that anyone who makes the effort will be duly rewarded. For example, in one of the most revealing passages of the text, Scheindlin writes the following, in her introduction:

It is important that this Opinion be read synergistically. Each section of the Opinion is only a piece of the overall picture. Some will quarrel with the findings in one section or another. But, when read as a whole, with an understanding of the interplay between each section, I hope that this Opinion will bring more clarity and less disagreement to this complex and sensitive issue.

In other words, if you simply read the words of her decision, even without legal training you will be shocked by the incompetence. Each section will likely be wrong on the merits, and thus cast doubt on her conclusion. But if you read it “synergistically” it will make sense. This is the Magic Eye book of judicial decisions: if you stare at the page just the right way, its hidden meaning will appear. Of course, the moment you stop staring cross-eyed or change the lighting, it will revert back to its previous form, in which it deceptively appears to be a 200-page humorless New York Times editorial.

The truth is, the best way to understand this trial is to read an early-August piece in the New York Times headlined “More Complaints Than Proposed Solutions at Trial Over Police Searches.” Scheindlin doesn’t argue that stop and frisk is illegal; what she doesn’t like is the frequency with which this legal tactic is utilized. So the story details how the NYPD might reform the practice once she rules against the department. Here is how the story opens:

The judge overseeing the trial examining the constitutionality of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices had a novel idea for how to reduce illegal police stops.  

“What did you think of a body-worn camera?” the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, asked the lawyers assembled before her. It was the last question the judge asked during the trial, which ran from March to May.

“I’m intrigued by it,” she explained, observing how helpful it would be if police officers recorded what transpired during stops, which are frustratingly difficult to reconstruct in the courtroom months or years after the fact.

The topic of body cameras seemed to come out of nowhere; the technology had been mentioned in passing by one witness, but none of the lawyers had suggested that it be employed.

This scene, in which a federal judge is essentially spending the trial talking to herself out loud as lawyers and reporters watch in puzzled amazement, is sadly a pretty accurate description of the trial overall. The same story later notes that “as the trial ended, it seemed that Judge Scheindlin was casting about for ideas on how she might fix the problem.”

It’s a problem she was seeking to create, and she had no earthly idea how the city was going to clean up the mess she was about to make of public safety. Notice a steady line of reasoning through her thought process. She doesn’t like the number of stops being made by the police without additional arrests, which would seem to make any constitutional objection to stop and frisk even more acute. But not to Scheindlin. And she thinks the sheer number of stops erodes the dignity of the civilians involved, so her suggestion for how to alleviate this is… to have the police secretly videotape the stops!

That is, Scheindlin seems to intuitively understand that her anti-NYPD ruling will create problems that can best be solved by more heavyhanded policing. It is a ringing endorsement, paradoxically, of the incredible work the NYPD has done in reducing crime and returning dignity to the streets of New York. That Scheindlin can so blithely attempt to sweep away those gains probably sounds silly. But that is not Scheindlin’s fault. If you aren’t looking at this “synergistically,” you really only have yourself to blame.

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Another Sign Middle East Talks Are Fake

Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

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Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

As I wrote yesterday, the notion that Israel building in those areas that both sides know would remain part of the Jewish state is at all controversial is rooted in the notion that there really isn’t anything to negotiate about. If you consider, as do the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders, that every inch of the West Bank and those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 are stolen property and that Jews have no right to be there under any circumstances, then the negotiations are merely about Israeli surrender, not compromise. But since Israel rightly regards its rights there as rooted in international law and history and as valid as those of the Palestinians, compromise is what is needed to make peace. Israeli building in Jerusalem or the settlement blocs is no more an obstacle to peace than the homes Palestinians are building in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the new settlement north of Ramallah that was featured in yesterday’s New York Times.

Optimists continue to hope that Kerry’s desperate gambit will pay off because Israel is so afraid of the explosion in terrorism that may result from yet another failure in the talks (much like the experience after the Camp David summit of 2000) that Netanyahu will fold on territorial issues, as he did on the prisoner release. If the day ever arrives when the leadership of the Palestinians—which is now divided between the moderates who don’t want to make peace and extremists who will never consider it—ever chooses to accept Israel’s legitimacy and agree to end the conflict now and forever while giving up the right of return, Netanyahu will face a difficult dilemma which could potentially tear his government apart. But since the PA remains more intent on preserving its maximalist legacy with bogus settlement protests, it’s doubtful that the fears of Netanyahu’s right-wing critics that he will give in to pressure will be realized. If the process were not so fake, we would be hearing about dissent among Palestinians as they contemplated Abbas making compromises rather than protests about building in Jerusalem. 

Until that happens, we’re stuck watching the same movie as the Palestinians continue to find new reasons to avoid peace and the world moves on to deal with the real issues destabilizing the Middle East in Egypt and Syria. Staying awake until the inevitable conclusion of Kerry’s drama won’t be easy.

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Delaying Justice in Benghazi

President Obama has been getting unwarranted criticism for over-reacting to a terrorist threat by closing U.S. embassies across the Middle East last week (all but the embassy in Yemen have since reopened). Actually, if leaks are accurate about how the NSA intercepted a conference call among senior al-Qaeda leaders, the administration acted prudently to disrupt their plot. The administration also is right to step up drone strikes in Yemen to try to further degrade al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate organization that was allegedly going to carry out the attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East.

I’m more worried not about administration over-reaction but about its under-reaction to the last successful attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission–the one in Benghazi almost a year ago, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and several of his colleagues. Justice still has not been done because of the administration’s puzzling insistence–lost amid all the controversy over the talking points about whether it was a terrorist attack or not–to treat this as a criminal offense, not what it was: an act of war. The New York Times reports today, buried deep in a long story:

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President Obama has been getting unwarranted criticism for over-reacting to a terrorist threat by closing U.S. embassies across the Middle East last week (all but the embassy in Yemen have since reopened). Actually, if leaks are accurate about how the NSA intercepted a conference call among senior al-Qaeda leaders, the administration acted prudently to disrupt their plot. The administration also is right to step up drone strikes in Yemen to try to further degrade al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate organization that was allegedly going to carry out the attack on U.S. interests in the Middle East.

I’m more worried not about administration over-reaction but about its under-reaction to the last successful attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission–the one in Benghazi almost a year ago, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador and several of his colleagues. Justice still has not been done because of the administration’s puzzling insistence–lost amid all the controversy over the talking points about whether it was a terrorist attack or not–to treat this as a criminal offense, not what it was: an act of war. The New York Times reports today, buried deep in a long story:

Investigators have made only halting progress on the case, leading some F.B.I. agents in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to voice frustration that there have been no arrests so far, the officials said. Capturing the suspects will most likely require significant negotiations between the State Department and the Libyan government over who will conduct any raids and where the suspects will be tried. The military’s Joint Special Operations Command has drafted plans to capture or kill the suspects, but for now that option has been set aside, Pentagon officials said.

This is repeating the same mistake the Reagan administration made after the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and that the Clinton administration and Bush administrations made after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. There are always arguments for inaction, some of which look compelling at the time. But failing to retaliate effectively for attacks on U.S. targets overseas inevitably comes back to haunt us because it sends a message of American weakness. It is well past time for the administration to unleash JSOC to capture or kill the men responsible for killing an American ambassador and destroying an American diplomatic post.

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