Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 27, 2013

The Wall Between Israel and the Diaspora

Perhaps there are some in Israel’s government that thought they were being clever this past weekend when Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett announced what he hailed as an interim solution for the conflict at Jerusalem’s Western Wall over the right of non-Orthodox women to hold prayer services at the site. Earlier this year Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed a far-reaching compromise that would vastly expand the plaza in order to provide a third and theoretically equal space at the Kotel for non-Orthodox services. That would reinforce the idea that the place is a national shrine for all Jews and not, as it has been in practice since it was liberated in 1967, an open-air Orthodox synagogue whose norms reflect the sensibilities of the Haredi world in which a group like the Women of the Wall protest group is seen as provocateurs rather than merely practicing another variant of Judaism. But it is highly unlikely that Sharansky’s ambitious plan will be realized anytime soon, if ever. Which means that those wishing to have egalitarian services will have to be satisfied with Bennett’s idea in which they will be shunted to a temporary platform that doesn’t even touch the Wall away from the main Plaza at the Robinson’s Arch archeological site.

Bennett says his plan is intended as a goodwill gesture toward the non-Orthodox (who make up approximately 90 percent of American Jewry, though an infinitesimal percentage of Israelis) on the eve of the High Holidays next week. Perhaps he’s sincere about that, but this latest chapter in the long-running battle over prayer at the Kotel illustrates once again that the Wall is more than a metaphor when it comes to Diaspora-Israel relations. Many, if not most Israelis, see the Women of the Wall in the way our Evelyn Gordon does in her September 2013 COMMENTARY article on the subject: as part of a splinter group that is attempting to make a left-wing political point undermining Israel’s image rather than seeking redress for a genuine grievance. Non-Orthodox Jews see the issue as one that highlights Israel’s lack of Jewish religious pluralism. Neither seems to understand the other side, let alone listen to each other. That’s why, contrary to Bennett’s expectations, and coming as it does on the eve of the one time of the year when the bulk of the non-Orthodox will be gathered in synagogues, what he has done will only deepen the long-simmering resentment among Reform and Conservative Jews about the non-recognition of their rabbis as well as the way the Women of the Wall are routinely treated. At a moment when the Netanyahu government needs to rally the support of these Jews on the peace process with the Palestinians and the looming conflict with Iran, this was an unforced error.

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Perhaps there are some in Israel’s government that thought they were being clever this past weekend when Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett announced what he hailed as an interim solution for the conflict at Jerusalem’s Western Wall over the right of non-Orthodox women to hold prayer services at the site. Earlier this year Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed a far-reaching compromise that would vastly expand the plaza in order to provide a third and theoretically equal space at the Kotel for non-Orthodox services. That would reinforce the idea that the place is a national shrine for all Jews and not, as it has been in practice since it was liberated in 1967, an open-air Orthodox synagogue whose norms reflect the sensibilities of the Haredi world in which a group like the Women of the Wall protest group is seen as provocateurs rather than merely practicing another variant of Judaism. But it is highly unlikely that Sharansky’s ambitious plan will be realized anytime soon, if ever. Which means that those wishing to have egalitarian services will have to be satisfied with Bennett’s idea in which they will be shunted to a temporary platform that doesn’t even touch the Wall away from the main Plaza at the Robinson’s Arch archeological site.

Bennett says his plan is intended as a goodwill gesture toward the non-Orthodox (who make up approximately 90 percent of American Jewry, though an infinitesimal percentage of Israelis) on the eve of the High Holidays next week. Perhaps he’s sincere about that, but this latest chapter in the long-running battle over prayer at the Kotel illustrates once again that the Wall is more than a metaphor when it comes to Diaspora-Israel relations. Many, if not most Israelis, see the Women of the Wall in the way our Evelyn Gordon does in her September 2013 COMMENTARY article on the subject: as part of a splinter group that is attempting to make a left-wing political point undermining Israel’s image rather than seeking redress for a genuine grievance. Non-Orthodox Jews see the issue as one that highlights Israel’s lack of Jewish religious pluralism. Neither seems to understand the other side, let alone listen to each other. That’s why, contrary to Bennett’s expectations, and coming as it does on the eve of the one time of the year when the bulk of the non-Orthodox will be gathered in synagogues, what he has done will only deepen the long-simmering resentment among Reform and Conservative Jews about the non-recognition of their rabbis as well as the way the Women of the Wall are routinely treated. At a moment when the Netanyahu government needs to rally the support of these Jews on the peace process with the Palestinians and the looming conflict with Iran, this was an unforced error.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most American Jews who are angry about this situation haven’t the slightest idea why most Israelis are so indifferent to their complaints about pluralism. It bears repeating that in a country in which there is no formal division between religion and state and rabbis are paid by the government, the question of who is a rabbi is a political issue. As such, so long as supporters of the various religious parties (of which Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi represents the views of the modern Orthodox and is least hostile to the sensibilities of most American Jews) are a major force in Israeli politics and hold the balance of power in their hands while those affiliated with non-Orthodox denominations are a fraction of a percent (it used to be said that they were outnumbered by Scientologists), the influence of the latter will be minimal. The majority of Israeli Jews have plenty of complaints about the Orthodox rabbinate and their monopoly on life cycle events, but what they want is civil marriage and divorce. Securing equal rights for the Conservative and Reform movements—which are both seen as foreign implants—is rather low on their priority list.

But Israelis are just as obtuse about the hard feelings of American Jews about pluralism and Women of the Wall. It may strike them as unreasonable for Americans to demand equality for movements that are marginal in Israeli society or to give the Women of the Wall the right to pray in the manner of Conservative and Reform Jews in the women’s section at the Kotel with Torah scrolls, prayer shawls, and singing out loud. But if they are serious about strengthening ties with the Diaspora, especially with the non-Orthodox, then they must treat these complaints seriously. Conservative and Reform Jews believe their denomination is no less valid and deserving of equal treatment under the law in the State of Israel as the Orthodox. When the Jerusalem police ignore the rulings of Israeli courts mandating the right of the Women of the Wall to pray as they like at the Kotel (while sometimes arresting or roughing up the women) or allow mobs orchestrated by the Haredim to keep them away from it at the time of their monthly services, they take it as a personal affront rather than viewing the incidents as the work of marginal troublemakers.

No matter where you come down on the justice of this dispute, there’s no doubt that what Bennett has done is a blunder as far as Israel-Diaspora relations are concerned, though it must be conceded that he has probably helped himself with religious Israeli voters, which is his main interest. Instead of throwing them a bone, as Bennett says he intended to do with this proposal, his idea that will shunt Conservative and Reform Jews out of sight of the main plaza will be viewed as tangible proof of the Israeli government’s disdain for the non-Orthodox. It would have been far better for the government to do nothing while they pondered how to implement Sharansky’s idea than to give Conservative and Reform rabbis an opening to blast the government in High Holiday services. Given that their own interests are at stake with the necessity to mobilize American Jewry against pressure on Jerusalem on the peace process and the nuclear threat from Iran, it shouldn’t have been too much to ask Israel’s Cabinet to avoid giving such offense in the week before Rosh Hashanah.

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Can Christie Be Christie and Win in 2016?

Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bolstered his regular-guy image by performing as a guest host on New York’s WFAN Sports Radio morning show. For those not conversant with the world of New York or sports radio, the FAN is the most influential and widely listened-to sports station in the nation’s biggest market, and that kind of free platform is the sort of thing all the money in the world can’t buy a politician looking to burnish his brand. This wasn’t his first appearance on “Boomer & Carton,” and once again Christie demonstrated that he’s not only an experienced showman but is someone who can speak credibly about sports (he sometimes calls in to sound off on the subject under the moniker of “Chris from Mendham”). During the course of four hours of non-stop palaver while subbing for vacationing former football star Boomer Esiason, Christie was his typical blunt and opinionated self, defending favorites like New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan and expressing disdain for the New York Yankees (he’s a Mets fan).

That’s all well and good, and he’s as entitled to his opinion on such burning topics as whether Jets fans are too hard on quarterback Mark Sanchez as anyone else. Moreover, his behavior on the show, like the YouTube videos of his encounters with the citizens of New Jersey on political topics, employed the same in-your-face style that endeared him to conservatives nationwide who loved watching him dress down liberals, union bosses, teachers, and anyone else who contradicted him (or at least they did until he hugged President Obama after Hurricane Sandy last fall). But with the growing likelihood that Christie will run for president after his almost certain reelection as governor this fall, the reaction to yesterday’s show makes me wonder whether Christie can go on being Christie once the long slog to 2016 really begins for him. While the Garden State and his fans think there’s nothing wrong with the governor routinely calling people “idiots” now, will that sort of off-hand nastiness be accepted from a presidential candidate?

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Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bolstered his regular-guy image by performing as a guest host on New York’s WFAN Sports Radio morning show. For those not conversant with the world of New York or sports radio, the FAN is the most influential and widely listened-to sports station in the nation’s biggest market, and that kind of free platform is the sort of thing all the money in the world can’t buy a politician looking to burnish his brand. This wasn’t his first appearance on “Boomer & Carton,” and once again Christie demonstrated that he’s not only an experienced showman but is someone who can speak credibly about sports (he sometimes calls in to sound off on the subject under the moniker of “Chris from Mendham”). During the course of four hours of non-stop palaver while subbing for vacationing former football star Boomer Esiason, Christie was his typical blunt and opinionated self, defending favorites like New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan and expressing disdain for the New York Yankees (he’s a Mets fan).

That’s all well and good, and he’s as entitled to his opinion on such burning topics as whether Jets fans are too hard on quarterback Mark Sanchez as anyone else. Moreover, his behavior on the show, like the YouTube videos of his encounters with the citizens of New Jersey on political topics, employed the same in-your-face style that endeared him to conservatives nationwide who loved watching him dress down liberals, union bosses, teachers, and anyone else who contradicted him (or at least they did until he hugged President Obama after Hurricane Sandy last fall). But with the growing likelihood that Christie will run for president after his almost certain reelection as governor this fall, the reaction to yesterday’s show makes me wonder whether Christie can go on being Christie once the long slog to 2016 really begins for him. While the Garden State and his fans think there’s nothing wrong with the governor routinely calling people “idiots” now, will that sort of off-hand nastiness be accepted from a presidential candidate?

The question is brought to mind by the reaction to one of Christie’s “idiot” riffs by New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica who objected to the governor characterizing the News’s Jets beat reporter Manish Mehta as “a complete idiot” as well as being “self-consumed” and “underpaid” for pressing Jets coach Ryan about some inexplicable blunders during a game this past weekend. Lupica, in the worst tradition of tabloid journalism, attempted to hype the comment into a full-blown feud between Christie and the paper in a column today that included a boxing style “tale of the tape,” contrasting the average sized and largely unknown reporter with the supersized famous Republican. The piece is itself best described as fairly idiotic, all the more so since Lupica, who sometimes does double duty for the News supplying liberal opinion columns for its news section, makes no secret of the fact that he has a political axe to grind against Christie.

But as foolish as all this might be, it does point out two flaws in Christie’s armor that might not play as well on the national stage as it does in the New York-metro area. In blasting the scribe, Christie was, after all, behaving the same way he often does on the stump: like a thin-skinned bully who shows little respect to not just opponents, but ordinary people who have the temerity to confront him or who displease him in some way. It may be all in fun when sports-talking on the FAN, but does anyone really think this sort of incident won’t be blown out of proportion if it happened in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or any other primary or caucus state?

Christie’s answer may be to say that the country will have to take him as he is. And there could be more value for him in not changing than in modifying his behavior to please voters outside of his home area who might regard it as insufferable. Indeed, it could well be that a toned-down Christie wouldn’t play as well as the real McCoy. But those who expect that he can go on calling people “idiots” all the way to the White House (a group that probably includes the governor) need to understand that the rules for national presidential politics are not the same as the ones by which we judge governors in Northeast states.

One of Christie’s biggest assets is his authenticity, and the contrast between him and the last GOP presidential candidate on that score couldn’t be greater. But once you start running for president, your statements get scrutinized in ways they’ve never been before. If he really wants to be president, he may discover that all the bluster in the world won’t be enough to undo the damage an ill-considered and insensitive remark causes.

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Will the Pottery Barn Rule Save Assad?

The same vague aloofness that has served Barack Obama well at various points in his political career does not make Jay Carney’s job any easier. The White House press secretary must field questions from the media to explain the president’s position on a host of issues almost daily. When the administration’s policy is hazy, secretive, or to be determined, as is often the case, Carney stammers through his press briefing with a defeated, resigned series of non-answers.

Such is the case with the apparently imminent military attack on Bashar al-Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war. After the West could no longer ignore the use of chemical weapons, the administration sent Secretary of State John Kerry out yesterday to make a statement that danced around the subject of a military response. He then took no questions and left. But the message came through clearly enough that it is now taken for granted that action will be taken.

Carney naturally took questions on the subject today, and when pressed for specifics, he gave an answer that became the focus of several news agencies’ write-ups of the briefing: “It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change.” The goal of the (presumed) strikes will not be to take out Bashar al-Assad.

The follow-up question, which elicited no further explanation, was: Why not? To elaborate: it is the opinion of the government of the United States that Assad should no longer be in control of the country, and the U.S. may now strike at Assad’s regime–but doesn’t want to depose him. That may sound incongruous, but the strange truth is that the president most likely does not want to take out Assad–and it’s not because Obama doesn’t actually want Assad out.

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The same vague aloofness that has served Barack Obama well at various points in his political career does not make Jay Carney’s job any easier. The White House press secretary must field questions from the media to explain the president’s position on a host of issues almost daily. When the administration’s policy is hazy, secretive, or to be determined, as is often the case, Carney stammers through his press briefing with a defeated, resigned series of non-answers.

Such is the case with the apparently imminent military attack on Bashar al-Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war. After the West could no longer ignore the use of chemical weapons, the administration sent Secretary of State John Kerry out yesterday to make a statement that danced around the subject of a military response. He then took no questions and left. But the message came through clearly enough that it is now taken for granted that action will be taken.

Carney naturally took questions on the subject today, and when pressed for specifics, he gave an answer that became the focus of several news agencies’ write-ups of the briefing: “It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change.” The goal of the (presumed) strikes will not be to take out Bashar al-Assad.

The follow-up question, which elicited no further explanation, was: Why not? To elaborate: it is the opinion of the government of the United States that Assad should no longer be in control of the country, and the U.S. may now strike at Assad’s regime–but doesn’t want to depose him. That may sound incongruous, but the strange truth is that the president most likely does not want to take out Assad–and it’s not because Obama doesn’t actually want Assad out.

The answer to that question has a lot to do with an interesting debate among commentators on the left about the lessons and legacy of the Iraq war. Matt Yglesias argued that a humanitarian intervention should be done through explicitly humanitarian (that is, non-military) means. Jonathan Chait responded that the left would do well to stop assuming every military intervention is Iraq all over again–what about the first Gulf war or the Balkans?

Yglesias questions the idea that the Libyan intervention succeeded, and Chait disagrees. But it’s Chait’s description of Libyan success that helps explain why President Obama may not want to be responsible for ending Assad’s rule directly. Here’s Chait:

The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians. Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened. But the narrow, humanitarian goal that drove the U.S. to act was unambiguously accomplished without the larger dangers of mission creep that foes warned against. It’s telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.

Chait isn’t arguing that the “bad things that have happened since” didn’t actually happen or aren’t really bad. He’s saying the mission had nothing to do with preventing the descent into violent anarchy and the destabilizing spread of Islamist violence that followed the intervention. Gaddafi’s dead. Mission accomplished.

But it’s not nearly so easy for a president to make that case. It can be simultaneously true that the narrowly defined mission in Libya succeeded and that what followed was disastrous. The reason it elicits comparisons to Iraq is because of Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn rule” regarding foreign intervention: “You break it, you own it.”

Western military action in Libya decapitated the Gaddafi regime, raising the specter of the Pottery Barn rule. It’s true that the administration made no promises to stay and nation-build there. But President Obama learned with the fatal attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi that he could not so easily walk away from Libya by simply saying that he held up his end of the bargain.

The Pottery Barn rule is why Iraq looms over the various humanitarian disasters created by the Arab Spring, tempting American intervention. And the “bad things that have happened since” Gaddafi’s toppling are why Libya is being raised as a cautionary tale for intervention in Syria. If Obama’s directed action takes out Assad, and that leaves a chaotic vacuum that results in more death, destruction, and the suffering of innocents, it won’t be so simple to respond to the ensuing outcry with a protestation that all he promised to do was send a message.

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Syrian War Crimes and Selective Moral Outrage

On his program last night, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, in speaking on the subject of strikes against Syria, said, “It’s got to be done quickly. Bang, boom. And then let the chips fall where they may. But no more dead kids breathing poison gas.” It appears the White House is considering the same strategy.

I happen to disagree with Mr. O’Reilly for reasons laid out by Max Boot and Eliot Cohen. Among the worst things to do in this situation would be a limited bombing of short duration which doesn’t alter the situation on the ground. It would be a transparently token gesture, done to balm our conscience (at least we did something) but achieving nothing useful or lasting. Indeed, the kind of strike O’Reilly has in mind–“bang, boom”–would probably elevate Bashar al-Assad’s reputation in much of the world (acting unbowed in the aftermath of an American military campaign) and make America appear weaker than we now do (if such a thing is even possible at this stage).

But I also want to pose some moral questions surrounding the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. Secretary Kerry refers to the use of chemical weapons as a “moral obscenity” that “defies any code of morality” and that has “shocked the conscience of the world.”

I share the horror that others do when it comes to the use of chemical weapons. But what I find somewhat puzzling is the bright, bold moral demarcation that is being made between the use of chemical weapons, which killed several hundred Syrians (including women and children), and a 30-month-old civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives (many of them women and children). 

How is it, from a moral standpoint, that the use of chemical weapons that kills several hundred people is a far greater “moral obscenity” than prosecuting a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people? Why didn’t the civil war “shock the conscience of the world,” since the body count is so much greater?

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On his program last night, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, in speaking on the subject of strikes against Syria, said, “It’s got to be done quickly. Bang, boom. And then let the chips fall where they may. But no more dead kids breathing poison gas.” It appears the White House is considering the same strategy.

I happen to disagree with Mr. O’Reilly for reasons laid out by Max Boot and Eliot Cohen. Among the worst things to do in this situation would be a limited bombing of short duration which doesn’t alter the situation on the ground. It would be a transparently token gesture, done to balm our conscience (at least we did something) but achieving nothing useful or lasting. Indeed, the kind of strike O’Reilly has in mind–“bang, boom”–would probably elevate Bashar al-Assad’s reputation in much of the world (acting unbowed in the aftermath of an American military campaign) and make America appear weaker than we now do (if such a thing is even possible at this stage).

But I also want to pose some moral questions surrounding the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. Secretary Kerry refers to the use of chemical weapons as a “moral obscenity” that “defies any code of morality” and that has “shocked the conscience of the world.”

I share the horror that others do when it comes to the use of chemical weapons. But what I find somewhat puzzling is the bright, bold moral demarcation that is being made between the use of chemical weapons, which killed several hundred Syrians (including women and children), and a 30-month-old civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives (many of them women and children). 

How is it, from a moral standpoint, that the use of chemical weapons that kills several hundred people is a far greater “moral obscenity” than prosecuting a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people? Why didn’t the civil war “shock the conscience of the world,” since the body count is so much greater?

The scale of death, then, matters. But so does something else. The Assad regime has long been guilty of war crimes. From the start of the conflict it targeted schools and hospitals. In cities like Houla, forces loyal to Assad went on systematic killing sprees, including targeting women and children. A U.N. representative reported that the victims in Houla included 49 children who were younger than 10. “The Syrian dictator is trying to restore a balance of fear, perhaps the most powerful weapon in the hands of tyrants throughout history,” according to this CNN report. “Killing children is supposed to intimidate the opposition.”

“It’s very hard for me to describe what I saw, the images were incredibly disturbing,” a Houla resident who hid in his home during a massacre told the Associated Press. “Women, children without heads, their brains or stomachs spilling out.”

So we’re dealing with a regime that routinely committed war crimes–indeed, that inflicted mass atrocities as a matter of policy. But these kinds of actions mostly escaped the attention of the world (as well as the attention of the president).

I’m not, by the way, using this argument as a pretext to get more involved in the Syrian conflict. It’s simply to argue that while I understand the abhorrence of using WMDs, the moral outrage we’re hearing over the atrocities in Syria strikes me as somewhat affected. Why now? The humanitarian slaughter was gruesome long before chemical weapons were used, and chemical weapons are no more a gruesome way to die than the other barbarous actions sanctioned by Assad. And if another 100,000 Syrians perished at the hands of the Assad regime, but without the use of chemical weapons, one suspects that not much would be said and the moral outrage meter would, for the most part, hardly register.

I understand that all of us are selective in focusing on the atrocities that most trouble our consciences. None of us are equipped to absorb the pain of this world. And I don’t blame Mr. O’Reilly or anyone else for feeling rage at what Bashar al-Assad has done in using chemical weapons. But my basic point still stands, I think. Why have Assad’s latest atrocities provoked such outrage and his previous ones such silence? Should we be more troubled by what happened last week–or by the war crimes that routinely occurred in all the weeks that came before? 

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Are You Sure There’s No Voter Fraud?

As I wrote earlier this month, the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to sue to stop Texas’s voter ID law has little to do with an attempt to prevent actual discrimination. The outcry from the administration on the voter ID issue as well as the manufactured outrage about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding but modifying the Voting Rights Act is predicated on the false idea that these measures are a new version of discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Given the night-and-day difference between the world of Jim Crow that drew Americans to the 1963 March on Washington and the America of 2013, this is an obvious effort to both revive flagging interest in civil-rights organizations and to brand President Obama’s critics as racists. But opponents of voter ID do have one seemingly rational argument: the problem that voter ID laws seek to solve—preserving the integrity of the vote—is imaginary. To that end, they have told us ad nauseum that voter fraud does not exist in the United States.

The assumption that voter fraud is nonexistent requires us to not only ignore most of American political history; it also obligates us to forget everything we know about human nature. Given that photo ID is now required for virtually every sort of transaction or service, most Americans rightly see it as a commonsense measure. But discussions about shady elections don’t require us to explore the distant past. Examples abound in our own day that place the desire to tighten up new rules that more or less allow anyone to show up on Election Day without proof of their identity or having previously registered, or to vote early or get an absentee ballot in a different context than Holder’s specious arguments about Jim Crow. One such comes from the bankrupt city of Detroit, where the August 6 primary is still unresolved due to the fact that more than 20,000 write-in votes are currently in dispute and may or may not be counted depending on the decisions of the courts. Fraud has not yet been proved and may not be directly related to false identity, but this latest instance of electoral hijinks illustrates what happens when results are called into question by shady practices.

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As I wrote earlier this month, the decision of Attorney General Eric Holder to sue to stop Texas’s voter ID law has little to do with an attempt to prevent actual discrimination. The outcry from the administration on the voter ID issue as well as the manufactured outrage about the Supreme Court’s decision upholding but modifying the Voting Rights Act is predicated on the false idea that these measures are a new version of discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Given the night-and-day difference between the world of Jim Crow that drew Americans to the 1963 March on Washington and the America of 2013, this is an obvious effort to both revive flagging interest in civil-rights organizations and to brand President Obama’s critics as racists. But opponents of voter ID do have one seemingly rational argument: the problem that voter ID laws seek to solve—preserving the integrity of the vote—is imaginary. To that end, they have told us ad nauseum that voter fraud does not exist in the United States.

The assumption that voter fraud is nonexistent requires us to not only ignore most of American political history; it also obligates us to forget everything we know about human nature. Given that photo ID is now required for virtually every sort of transaction or service, most Americans rightly see it as a commonsense measure. But discussions about shady elections don’t require us to explore the distant past. Examples abound in our own day that place the desire to tighten up new rules that more or less allow anyone to show up on Election Day without proof of their identity or having previously registered, or to vote early or get an absentee ballot in a different context than Holder’s specious arguments about Jim Crow. One such comes from the bankrupt city of Detroit, where the August 6 primary is still unresolved due to the fact that more than 20,000 write-in votes are currently in dispute and may or may not be counted depending on the decisions of the courts. Fraud has not yet been proved and may not be directly related to false identity, but this latest instance of electoral hijinks illustrates what happens when results are called into question by shady practices.

The struggle to be the top official in an insolvent city whose government has been taken over the state is not the most compelling political fight of the year. But regardless of the office’s value, those who voted deserve to have their ballots counted. Indeed, though few if any Americans are denied the right to vote today the way many were prevented from going to the polls under Jim Crow, a crooked election is, in effect, one that denies the franchise to everyone.

Regardless of whether those who showed up to cast write-ins did so legally or of the political motivations of those who threw those ballots out due to technicalities, the nationwide drive to police elections is based in fact, not prejudice. In an era when safeguards against fraud have been thrown out willy-nilly in order to make it easier to vote via early voting, liberal granting of absentee ballots, and same-day registration, it has become almost impossible to guarantee the integrity of the results. To think that politicians and parties do not try to take advantage of this situation is hopelessly naïve. Reforming this situation requires states to make sure that those who vote are who they say they are and that regulations that prevent safeguards from being put in place are re-written to ensure the integrity of the process.

No matter who gets the dubious honor of running Detroit, voters there have a right to know their votes are counted and not being cancelled out by fraud of any kind. The same is true in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and every other state that has attempted to deal with this mess. Instead of crying racism, those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that voting rights are protected should be seeking to uphold the obligation of the state to stop cheating. 

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Of Course America Spies on the UN

The American agency directed to collect foreign intelligence for the United States government is currently collecting foreign intelligence for the United States government. If that doesn’t sound like much of a bombshell, it’s because it isn’t. Or, conversely, it’s because you are just a government “tool,” as Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg would describe you. That duality of extremes is ever-present in the world of the transparency activists trying to take down American spy networks.

In the New York Times Magazine profile of Laura Poitras, the activist working with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the author describes Greenwald as being “hailed as either a fearless defender of individual rights or a nefarious traitor, depending on your perspective.” In the world of the Times–and certainly that of Greenwald, Poitras, and Snowden–there is no other choice, just as to the self-aggrandizing Ellsberg you either believe he is the hero in his own saga and that Snowden is the hero in his, or you are giving up on the battle to keep your inner totalitarian at bay.

Pollsters fall into this trap too. As I wrote in July, Quinnipiac polled respondents on the following question: “Do you regard Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who released information to the media about the phone scanning program, as more of a traitor, or more of a whistle-blower?” Traitor or hero, traitor or hero–lather, rinse, repeat. But the truth, as always, is more complicated than that: in fact, Snowden most likely qualifies as neither a whistle blower nor a traitor. And sometimes the truth is downright mundane, as in the item with which I led off this post. This “revelation,” that spies spy, comes to us via Poitras, writing in Der Spiegel:

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The American agency directed to collect foreign intelligence for the United States government is currently collecting foreign intelligence for the United States government. If that doesn’t sound like much of a bombshell, it’s because it isn’t. Or, conversely, it’s because you are just a government “tool,” as Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg would describe you. That duality of extremes is ever-present in the world of the transparency activists trying to take down American spy networks.

In the New York Times Magazine profile of Laura Poitras, the activist working with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the author describes Greenwald as being “hailed as either a fearless defender of individual rights or a nefarious traitor, depending on your perspective.” In the world of the Times–and certainly that of Greenwald, Poitras, and Snowden–there is no other choice, just as to the self-aggrandizing Ellsberg you either believe he is the hero in his own saga and that Snowden is the hero in his, or you are giving up on the battle to keep your inner totalitarian at bay.

Pollsters fall into this trap too. As I wrote in July, Quinnipiac polled respondents on the following question: “Do you regard Edward Snowden, the national security consultant who released information to the media about the phone scanning program, as more of a traitor, or more of a whistle-blower?” Traitor or hero, traitor or hero–lather, rinse, repeat. But the truth, as always, is more complicated than that: in fact, Snowden most likely qualifies as neither a whistle blower nor a traitor. And sometimes the truth is downright mundane, as in the item with which I led off this post. This “revelation,” that spies spy, comes to us via Poitras, writing in Der Spiegel:

The internal NSA documents correspond to instructions from the State Department, which then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed off on in July 2009. With the 29-page report called “Reporting and Collection Needs: The United Nations,” the State Department called on its diplomats to collect information on key players of the UN.

According to this document, the diplomats were asked to gather numbers for phones, mobiles, pagers and fax machines. They were called on to amass phone and email directories, credit card and frequent-flier customer numbers, duty rosters, passwords and even biometric data.

When SPIEGEL reported on the confidential cable back in 2010, the State Department tried to deflect the criticism by saying that it was merely helping out other agencies. In reality, though, as the NSA documents now clearly show, they served as the basis for various clandestine operations targeting the UN and other countries.

Experts on the UN have long suspected that the organization has become a hotbed of activity for various intelligence agencies. After leaving Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, former British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short admitted that in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 she had seen transcripts of conversations by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The article details Poitras’s claim that the U.S. conducts surveillance on the EU and the United Nations. The UN is a dictator’s playground through which Western interests are relentlessly targeted and undermined and genocidal maniacs the world over are shielded from the consequences of their murderous depravity. This is all done while furthering anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and weakening sanctions regimes. The UN does this largely from its perch on American territory and with the help of billions of dollars of American taxpayer money. Of course the U.S. collects intelligence there.

But to those who are instinctively suspicious of the American government, even basic practices of modern statecraft take on a nefarious frame. There’s an interesting nugget along these lines in the Times Magazine profile of Poitras, when the author relayed a question to Snowden about Poitras:

In response to a question about when he realized he could trust Poitras, he wrote: “We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid.”

Snowden was surprised to encounter someone more paranoid than he is. Together, these birds of a feather joined Greenwald.

There is another point worth making here. The American public has been fairly sensible throughout this NSA saga, uncomfortable with the sense that the NSA’s broad power has been abused (NSA employees spying on love interests would–and should–make most readers squirm) but unwilling to jettison the program. A poll late last month found, for example, that 70 percent thought the NSA data was being used for purposes other than combating terrorism, yet 50 percent still approved of the surveillance program.

Revelations about spying on the UN is unlikely to change that. Americans seem to be broadly comfortable with spy agencies conducting foreign surveillance. And they don’t tend to think too highly of the UN’s problem-solving capability. The idea that the U.S. spied on the UN’s nuclear watchdog, for example, will probably be encouraging to most Americans as the U.S. works to stop Iran and others (like Syria) from obtaining nuclear weapons. If Poitras, Snowden, and Greenwald want to turn public opinion against the American government, defending the UN’s sullied honor is probably not the best way to do so.

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Public Opinion, Obama, and Syria

How does a president who came into office decrying foreign interventions rooted in fear of weapons of mass destruction lead a war-weary country and a Congress that is more suspicious than ever of executive power into a complicated conflict in Syria? The answer is clear: Very carefully.

With reports swirling around the Internet predicting U.S. strikes on Syrian targets before the end of the week, it’s clear that the administration’s decision-making process has gone past the point where they were debating whether they would finally do something about Syria. After three years of talking about the Assad regime’s violations of human rights and the president predicting his fall, the use of chemical weapons last week was apparently the final straw. The White House knows that it must act lest the president’s talk of red lines become the epitaph for the failure of its approach to foreign policy. But with one poll showing that 60 percent of Americans think we should not intervene in Syria even if Assad is proven to have used chemical weapons, and with a considerable portion of both parties in Congress also showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the idea, a policy shift on the issue is going to be a tough sell for the administration.

But as problematic as this sounds, the comparisons being floated in some circles between Obama and Bush aren’t accurate. Barack Obama will not become a focus of anti-war protests over Syria for two reasons: one is that he is Obama and Democrats are always in a far stronger position to go to war than Republicans. The other is that it is probable that the Syrian strike will be a tactical rather than a strategic move. Even though a symbolic strike that leaves Assad untouched and the balance of power in Syria unchanged would be meaningless, Obama is probably still far more concerned about committing the country to another conflict than he is about Assad’s atrocities or the long-term costs of allowing this Iranian ally to survive.

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How does a president who came into office decrying foreign interventions rooted in fear of weapons of mass destruction lead a war-weary country and a Congress that is more suspicious than ever of executive power into a complicated conflict in Syria? The answer is clear: Very carefully.

With reports swirling around the Internet predicting U.S. strikes on Syrian targets before the end of the week, it’s clear that the administration’s decision-making process has gone past the point where they were debating whether they would finally do something about Syria. After three years of talking about the Assad regime’s violations of human rights and the president predicting his fall, the use of chemical weapons last week was apparently the final straw. The White House knows that it must act lest the president’s talk of red lines become the epitaph for the failure of its approach to foreign policy. But with one poll showing that 60 percent of Americans think we should not intervene in Syria even if Assad is proven to have used chemical weapons, and with a considerable portion of both parties in Congress also showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the idea, a policy shift on the issue is going to be a tough sell for the administration.

But as problematic as this sounds, the comparisons being floated in some circles between Obama and Bush aren’t accurate. Barack Obama will not become a focus of anti-war protests over Syria for two reasons: one is that he is Obama and Democrats are always in a far stronger position to go to war than Republicans. The other is that it is probable that the Syrian strike will be a tactical rather than a strategic move. Even though a symbolic strike that leaves Assad untouched and the balance of power in Syria unchanged would be meaningless, Obama is probably still far more concerned about committing the country to another conflict than he is about Assad’s atrocities or the long-term costs of allowing this Iranian ally to survive.

As a liberal Democrat, Obama has an advantage in this situation that no Republican or conservative would possess. Though his party has always had an isolationist left-wing faction, Democrats are, by and large, inclined to support wars or interventions initiated by their party that they would probably oppose if they had been the responsibility of a Republican. Since most Republicans are always ready to follow the flag and support just about any war, even those with little connection to U.S. national interests, that gives a Democratic president something close to carte blanche for starting wars that no Republican could ever claim. That means that no matter how badly things go for the U.S. in a putative Syrian entanglement, the chances of there being massive liberal street protests against the decision are virtually nil.

Since, as Elliott Abrams writes in the September issue of COMMENTARY, Obama came into the presidency with a constrained view of America’s role in the world and its right to defend its interests and values, it is particularly awkward for him to wake up nine months into his second term of office leading a foreign crusade against a tyrant employing weapons of mass destruction. But the juxtaposition isn’t merely ironic. It’s also why the American response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons is likely to be less decisive than it should be. Given the president’s fears of getting stuck in Syria, few believe his response, no matter how noisy or theatrical it may seem at first glance, will involve action that will alter the tide of war or push Assad out.

The Syrian civil war is a mess with bad guys on both sides of the conflict. A rebel victory that placed Damascus into the hands of allies of al-Qaeda would be disastrous. But, after predicting Assad’s fall and warning that his use of chemical weapons would generate consequences, Obama is in no position to throw up his hands and do nothing. Doing so would establish a precedent that the use of chemical weapons brings no consequences from the international community. Even more to the point, an Assad victory would not only show that a dictator could gas his own people with impunity, it would also be a strategic triumph for Iran and Hezbollah, which are heavily invested in the regime’s survival. As such, a failure to act now in Syria would more or less guarantee that Tehran would have no reason to take President Obama’s warning about their development of nuclear weapons seriously.

For all of the skepticism about involvement in Syria, President Obama may have more leeway than he thinks. Though many on the right will instinctively oppose anything he does and some on the left are always leery of foreign interventions, he has the political leeway he needs to do far more than merely lob a few missiles into Assad’s strongholds or knock down some empty buildings. The question today is whether he has the courage to use it. 

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The Left’s Ongoing Epistemological Closure

I recommend you listen to this relatively short but highly illuminating interview (courtesy of Mediaite) between radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and his guest, MSNBC’s Karen Finney.

Mr. Hewitt opened the segment by playing a clip of Ms. Finney comparing Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s rhetoric to the “paranoia” and “fear-stoking” of Joseph McCarthy. 

This is a lazy and stupid charge, one that is a frequent rhetorical tic on the left. But where Hewitt was so skillful was to bore in on Finney’s knowledge of history. He first asked her a general question, which is whether any Communists actually did infiltrate the American government. And then he pressed her on whether Alger Hiss was a Communist.

That’s when things get amusing. It’s not clear whether Ms. Finney is just ignorant or rigidly ideological, or both. In any event, she bobs and weaves and ducks the question. Hewitt, in a civil but persistent way, won’t let her off the hook. She says she won’t “go down a rabbit hole” with him and insists, “Hugh, I’m not doing this game with you!” Meanwhile Hewitt just keeps asking her to answer the question so they can go on.

Eventually Ms. Finney hangs up on him.

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I recommend you listen to this relatively short but highly illuminating interview (courtesy of Mediaite) between radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and his guest, MSNBC’s Karen Finney.

Mr. Hewitt opened the segment by playing a clip of Ms. Finney comparing Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s rhetoric to the “paranoia” and “fear-stoking” of Joseph McCarthy. 

This is a lazy and stupid charge, one that is a frequent rhetorical tic on the left. But where Hewitt was so skillful was to bore in on Finney’s knowledge of history. He first asked her a general question, which is whether any Communists actually did infiltrate the American government. And then he pressed her on whether Alger Hiss was a Communist.

That’s when things get amusing. It’s not clear whether Ms. Finney is just ignorant or rigidly ideological, or both. In any event, she bobs and weaves and ducks the question. Hewitt, in a civil but persistent way, won’t let her off the hook. She says she won’t “go down a rabbit hole” with him and insists, “Hugh, I’m not doing this game with you!” Meanwhile Hewitt just keeps asking her to answer the question so they can go on.

Eventually Ms. Finney hangs up on him.

So why call attention to this exchange? In part because it’s another chance to expose the political demonization that is so common among the left. Liberals don’t like Ted Cruz and so they turn him into a modern-day Joe McCarthy. Can references to Hitler be far behind? 

But more fundamentally, Ms. Finney embodies the epistemological closure that afflicts many liberals (though it needs to be said that it is not confined simply to liberals). The Hewitt-Finney exchange is a fantastic example of a person (Finney) who inhabits a mental world in which facts that are contrary to her philosophy are not only dismissed; they are not even entertained. They are not allowed to penetrate the ideological force field that she has been put in place.

Partisans like Finney are so afraid of a genuine engagement with different ideas that they grow angry–and eventually may even hang up–when calm reason and history are employed against them. And on those rare occasions when some on the left venture outside of their hermetically sealed world and engage an intelligent conservative, we see not just how closed-minded they have become but how ridiculous they appear.

 For more, listen to Hewitt v. Finney.

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Obama’s Three Options in Syria

A week truly is a lifetime in politics. Just a week ago–Tuesday, August 20–there was approximately zero chance that American airpower would be employed against the Assad regime in Syria. The following day, however, Assad’s henchmen employed chemical weapons to kill perhaps 1,000 people on the outskirts of Damascus. Now Secretary of State John Kerry is calling Assad’s actions a “moral obscenity” and vowing: “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Given such remarks by America’s top diplomat, it is little wonder that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Obama will soon authorize air strikes in Syria. The only question is what will be the scope and intent of American action. As I see it, there are essentially three options. Call them light, medium, and heavy.

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A week truly is a lifetime in politics. Just a week ago–Tuesday, August 20–there was approximately zero chance that American airpower would be employed against the Assad regime in Syria. The following day, however, Assad’s henchmen employed chemical weapons to kill perhaps 1,000 people on the outskirts of Damascus. Now Secretary of State John Kerry is calling Assad’s actions a “moral obscenity” and vowing: “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Given such remarks by America’s top diplomat, it is little wonder that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Obama will soon authorize air strikes in Syria. The only question is what will be the scope and intent of American action. As I see it, there are essentially three options. Call them light, medium, and heavy.

The light option is to employ cruise missiles fired by U.S. and allied warships and aircraft a safe distance from Syria’s shores to blow up a few chemical weapons stockpiles and other regime targets to signal the world’s displeasure with the use of chemicals–a weapon that has carried special opprobrium ever since the dark days of World War I. This would entail a few days of air strikes whose import would be largely symbolic–to “send a message” to Assad without actually trying to topple him or to get rid of all of his chemical weapons stockpiles. This option might even extend to trying to kill Assad himself, but with little likelihood of success–witness failed decapitation strikes on Saddam Hussein in 2003 and (arguably) on Muammar Gaddafi in 1986.

The medium option would to go after the chemical weapons stockpiles in a more concerted manner, employing not just airpower but also Special Operations Forces if necessary. The object of this exercise would be not only to reinforce the norm against chemical weapons use but also to ensure that Assad’s chemical weapons are never used again–either in Syria or, heaven help us, outside of it. This would largely obviate the danger of chemical weapons slipping out of Syria amid the chaos that grips the country, but it would increase the degree of difficulty and danger to U.S. forces because such a campaign could not be conducted safely from long range. Even to support limited Special Operations incursions, the Pentagon would likely demand massive conventional forces be mobilized in the vicinity of Syria to safeguard the commandos.

The heavy option would involve months of air strikes to enable rebel forces to topple the Assad regime. The obvious model here is Libya 2011, but this would also carry echoes of Kosovo 2009. In both cases U.S. airstrikes were potent because they were employed in conjunction with ground action by rebel forces.

History suggests that air strikes in isolation are likely to be indecisive. Witness Bill Clinton’s cruise missile attacks on al-Qaeda in 1998 in Sudan and Afghanistan and his Desert Fox bombing campaign of Iraq the same year. President George W. Bush later aptly summed up Clinton’s mistake when he said: “I’m not gonna fire a $2 million cruise missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt.” Of course, from Obama’s perspective, Bush made an even worse mistake–getting the U.S. embroiled in two costly wars on the ground. No one is suggesting, however, the introduction of U.S. ground forces in Syria beyond perhaps some commandos and CIA officers. Obama will be making a mistake if he is so leery of any greater U.S. involvement in the Middle East that he opts for the light option–a few symbolic air strikes that accomplish nothing beyond displaying American pique. This will not enhance American credibility. It will instead send a message of irresolution that predators around the world will sniff out all too clearly.

From a strategic if not political standpoint, I believe the real debate should be between the medium and heavy options. As someone who has been arguing for a U.S. no-fly zone and air strikes in Syria for almost two years, it might be expected that I would automatically opt for the heavy options. The problem is that in the intervening time, U.S. inaction has allowed the jihadists to become the strongest element within the opposition. U.S. action to topple Assad now, before we have properly armed and trained more moderate rebel forces, risks throwing the country into perpetual chaos or allowing jihadists to seize control of significant territory.

The medium option, on the other hand, would allow us to vastly reduce the risk of chemical weapons proliferation without toppling Assad quite yet. The problem is that this would be an option very hard to carry out–it would involve significant intelligence challenges to identify the location of Assad’s chemical weapons and it would involve significant risks for the insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces. Otherwise, if it relies on airpower alone, this option likely would be ineffective.

So in the end I still think a strategy aimed at regime change–employing American and allied airpower in conjunction with coordinated ground action by vetted and responsible elements of the Free Syrian Army–is the best American response. But I have a lot more qualms about this option now than I had in 2011 when the Syrian civil war was still young and the country had not yet become so polarized.

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Why the World Thinks Jewish Blood Is Cheap

While visiting Israel this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide grudgingly admitted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to Israeli-Palestinian talks “sounds increasingly credible.” As proof, he cited Israel’s release of 26 Palestinian murderers earlier this month. But he immediately downplayed the move’s significance: While it was a “first sign,” he said, it “wasn’t an especially big sacrifice.”

This echoes Norwegian and Swedish reactions two weeks ago after Israel’s ambassador to Sweden compared Israel’s feelings about freeing those killers to how Norwegians would feel about freeing Anders Breivik, whose 2011 shooting spree killed 69 Norwegians, mostly teenagers. Outraged Scandinavians lined up to denounce the comparison, asserting that while Breivik was a mass murderer, the Palestinians were freedom fighters. As Jonathan wrote at the time, the general sentiment seemed to be that killers of Norwegians deserve punishment, but killers of Israelis “should be released and honored.” And that seems to be Eide’s view as well: Releasing cold-blooded killers who murdered elderly Holocaust survivors or old men sitting on park benches isn’t “an especially big sacrifice,” certainly nothing like releasing Breivik would be.

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While visiting Israel this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide grudgingly admitted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to Israeli-Palestinian talks “sounds increasingly credible.” As proof, he cited Israel’s release of 26 Palestinian murderers earlier this month. But he immediately downplayed the move’s significance: While it was a “first sign,” he said, it “wasn’t an especially big sacrifice.”

This echoes Norwegian and Swedish reactions two weeks ago after Israel’s ambassador to Sweden compared Israel’s feelings about freeing those killers to how Norwegians would feel about freeing Anders Breivik, whose 2011 shooting spree killed 69 Norwegians, mostly teenagers. Outraged Scandinavians lined up to denounce the comparison, asserting that while Breivik was a mass murderer, the Palestinians were freedom fighters. As Jonathan wrote at the time, the general sentiment seemed to be that killers of Norwegians deserve punishment, but killers of Israelis “should be released and honored.” And that seems to be Eide’s view as well: Releasing cold-blooded killers who murdered elderly Holocaust survivors or old men sitting on park benches isn’t “an especially big sacrifice,” certainly nothing like releasing Breivik would be.

But while I agree with Jonathan that this double standard is anti-Semitic, I don’t think the Scandinavians are solely to blame. If much of the world has concluded that (Jewish) Israelis’ blood is cheap, and that their killers don’t deserve the same punishment as those who kill, say, Norwegians, a large share of the blame belongs to successive Israeli governments. For by repeatedly releasing Palestinian murderers under circumstances no other government would contemplate, Israeli governments have shown that they hold the blood of Israeli citizens cheaply. And if even Israel’s government doesn’t view murdering Israelis as a crime that deserves life imprisonment, why should anyone else?

I’m not talking here about lopsided exchanges like the 1,027 Palestinian terrorists Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Though I have consistently opposed such swaps on other grounds, they don’t treat Israeli life cheaply; on the contrary, they reflect just how far Israel will go to save even one life.

But the same doesn’t hold for other prisoner releases. In 2008, for instance, Israel traded five live terrorists–including a particularly vicious killer, Samir Kuntar, whose murders included smashing a 4-year-old’s skull against a rock with a rifle butt–for two dead bodies. What other country would treat the murder of its citizens so cheaply that it would release their killers in exchange for corpses?

Israel has also freed thousands of prisoners over the years as “goodwill gestures” toward the Palestinian Authority, and though most weren’t actually murderers, they generally were involved in anti-Israel terror. Other countries free terrorists only under formal peace agreements, not as mere “goodwill gestures” to facilitate talks; thus again, this teaches the world that Israeli governments don’t consider anti-Israel terror so terrible.

But the nadir was Netanyahu’s agreement to release 104 Palestinians, almost all of them vicious killers, in four stages (the 26 freed this month were the first), solely to get Palestinian negotiators to talk with their Israeli counterparts. What other country would free murderers who killed hundreds of its citizens just to bribe another party into talks whose sole aim is to give them the land and sovereignty they claim to want?

Norway assuredly wouldn’t release Breivik under such circumstances. And that’s precisely why Norwegians view any comparison of Breivik to Palestinian killers as ridiculous: If Israelis really considered the freed Palestinians’ crimes on a par with Breivik’s, they think, then Israel wouldn’t release them, either.

Thus while there are many reasons to oppose Netanyahu’s decision, this may be the weightiest of all: By freeing those killers, Israel has once again taught the world to view Jewish blood as cheap.

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