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Posts For: December 15, 2013

Roger Waters’s Anti-Jewish Paranoia

If you want to get supporters of boycotts against Israel into high dudgeon just try observing, as Larry Summers has, that such boycotts are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” Summers has called the most recent boycott effort at the American Studies Association “abhorrent” because at the same time that it singles out Israel for condemnation “among all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses,” it ignores the “existential threat” Israel faces.

Nowadays, if you make such a charge you are likely to be greeted with the protest that the boycott movement’s “core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism” along with cries that you are trying to distract people from the main issue. Why then, is former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters a hero of that movement?

Supporters of the proposed American Studies Association academic boycott (about which more here) have hoisted up Waters’s letter of support for their cause like a trophy. But it is not only the American Studies Association but also the movement altogether that has hugged Waters hard.

Waters, who has played Turkey (post-Gezi) and Russia, has recently made news for writing a letter to fellow musicians asking them not to play Israel until it stops violating “international law and universal principles of human rights.” His description of Israel as an apartheid state won’t embarrass BDSers, who employ the same description, but what he had to say in recent interview should give them pause.

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If you want to get supporters of boycotts against Israel into high dudgeon just try observing, as Larry Summers has, that such boycotts are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” Summers has called the most recent boycott effort at the American Studies Association “abhorrent” because at the same time that it singles out Israel for condemnation “among all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses,” it ignores the “existential threat” Israel faces.

Nowadays, if you make such a charge you are likely to be greeted with the protest that the boycott movement’s “core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism” along with cries that you are trying to distract people from the main issue. Why then, is former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters a hero of that movement?

Supporters of the proposed American Studies Association academic boycott (about which more here) have hoisted up Waters’s letter of support for their cause like a trophy. But it is not only the American Studies Association but also the movement altogether that has hugged Waters hard.

Waters, who has played Turkey (post-Gezi) and Russia, has recently made news for writing a letter to fellow musicians asking them not to play Israel until it stops violating “international law and universal principles of human rights.” His description of Israel as an apartheid state won’t embarrass BDSers, who employ the same description, but what he had to say in recent interview should give them pause.

I don’t mean the mandatory comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany. While Waters may have shocked some people when he said that the “parallels [between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians] with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious,” this kind of vileness is par for the course in pro-boycott circles. I have this statement in mind:

The Jewish lobby is extraordinarily powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified…. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?”

Waters has not been adequately coached. In the BDS movement, you are supposed to refer to your targets as “Zionists” (because it is all right to view people who support Israel’s national project as proto-Nazis) or as “pro-Israel.” With that one “Jewish lobby,” the mask slipped. One does not have to think that Roger Waters dislikes Jews to think that his general way of thinking, along with the way of thinking of many of his comrades in arms, is infected with anti-Semitic mythology. To repeat: Roger Waters thinks that there is a powerful Jewish lobby in the music industry that may just be out to kill him.

Waters has not apologized for these remarks, and his fans in the pro-boycott community remain “comfortably numb” about Waters’s record. They continue to regard his support as a great blessing.

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Morocco Should Be the Model

It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

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It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

Morocco has consciously embraced religious moderation. Imams go through rigorous training and must continually renew their licenses. Those who promote intolerance or religious hatred quickly find themselves out of a job. While freedoms plunge throughout the region, Moroccans enjoy an increasingly free and vibrant press and readily engage in public demonstrations. During a trip to Rabat this past week, I saw separate demonstrations relating to unemployment and demands for the court to dismiss charges against a journalist who linked to a website hosting an al-Qaeda call for violent jihad. Moroccan police kept their distance from the demonstrators, and directed their attention instead to directing traffic around the demonstrators. Contrast that with Turkey, where the government’s response to a protest against the paving over of a park was to fire tens of thousands of tear gas canisters, beat scores of protestors, and kill at least four.

While Turkey embraces Hamas, Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran over that country’s attempts to promote radical religious interpretation. And rather than support religious extremists, Morocco has lent its expertise to promote constitutional checks and balances and women’s rights in countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. While the Turkish ambassador to Chad openly endorsed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when fighting erupted in Mali, Morocco continues to help Mali reconstruct itself and defeat all remnants of al-Qaeda.

Morocco increasingly also provides a model for justice. Just as in Turkey, serious human-rights abuses marked the 1970s, 1980s, and perhaps even 1990s in Morocco. In recent years, though, the two countries have again diverged. Morocco implemented a new, quite progressive constitution in 2011. Rather than sweep past abuses under the rug, the Moroccan state sponsored a truth and reconciliation committee in which citizens across the spectrum embraced, giving the Kingdom a chance at a fresh start. Not so in Turkey. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took over in 2003, he drew a sharp distinction between past and future, but used his power not to reconcile but rather to seek revenge against first real and perceived enemies, and increasingly against anyone who might develop an independent political base. While Moroccan press freedom and political space has increased over the years, Turkish press freedom has retracted to the point that Turkey now rests behind even Russia in watchdog rankings.

Neither Morocco nor Turkey is perfect, but trajectory is important. Morocco provides a path toward reconciliation and moderation, while Turkey’s political leadership has increasingly turned that country into a beacon for populism and hate. Generations of diplomats have become accustomed to thinking of Turkey as a partner and a model for the region. But autopilot should never be a substitute for wisdom. Increasingly, it is apparent that a moderate, more democratic future for the Middle East lies not in the Turkish model but rather the Moroccan one.

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‘Big Love’ Vindicated: Polygamy and Privacy

Once you blow up a societal consensus it cannot be easily reconstructed to protect only those practices or beliefs you like while still banning those you think ought to be kept beyond the pale. That’s the upshot of a case decided late on Friday in a Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah that essentially decriminalized polygamy. The case, Brown v. Buhman, which was brought by the stars of Sister Wives, a TLC cable channel reality show depicting the life of a man with four wives and 17 children, who challenged the Utah statute that not only prohibited marriage with more than one spouse but said it was illegal for a person to cohabit with someone who was not their legal spouse. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that struck down state laws that prohibited sodomy, Judge Clark Waddoups heeded the plaintiffs’ argument that said Utah’s law violated their right to privacy.

While gay marriage advocates have sought to distance themselves from anything that smacked of approval for polygamy, Waddoups’s ruling merely illustrates what follows from a legal trend in which longstanding definitions are thrown out. The inexorable logic of the end of traditional marriage laws leads us to legalized polygamy. Noting this doesn’t mean that the political and cultural avalanche that has marginalized opposition to gay marriage is wrong. But it should obligate those who have helped orchestrate this sea change and sought to denigrate their opponents as bigots to acknowledge that the end of prohibitions of other non-traditional forms of marriage follows inevitably from their triumph.

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Once you blow up a societal consensus it cannot be easily reconstructed to protect only those practices or beliefs you like while still banning those you think ought to be kept beyond the pale. That’s the upshot of a case decided late on Friday in a Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah that essentially decriminalized polygamy. The case, Brown v. Buhman, which was brought by the stars of Sister Wives, a TLC cable channel reality show depicting the life of a man with four wives and 17 children, who challenged the Utah statute that not only prohibited marriage with more than one spouse but said it was illegal for a person to cohabit with someone who was not their legal spouse. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that struck down state laws that prohibited sodomy, Judge Clark Waddoups heeded the plaintiffs’ argument that said Utah’s law violated their right to privacy.

While gay marriage advocates have sought to distance themselves from anything that smacked of approval for polygamy, Waddoups’s ruling merely illustrates what follows from a legal trend in which longstanding definitions are thrown out. The inexorable logic of the end of traditional marriage laws leads us to legalized polygamy. Noting this doesn’t mean that the political and cultural avalanche that has marginalized opposition to gay marriage is wrong. But it should obligate those who have helped orchestrate this sea change and sought to denigrate their opponents as bigots to acknowledge that the end of prohibitions of other non-traditional forms of marriage follows inevitably from their triumph.

It should be specified that the federal court decision doesn’t get us quite there yet. Utah’s polygamy law is still on the books, but hanging by a thread. As the Salt Lake Tribune explained:

Utah’s bigamy statute technically survived the ruling. However, Waddoups took a narrow interpretation of the words “marry” and “purports to marry,” meaning that bigamy remains illegal only in the literal sense — when someone fraudulently acquires multiple marriage licenses.

But by saying that the Utah law violated the plaintiffs’ right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as infringing on their right to privacy—the legal principle that served to take down state laws prohibiting contraception and homosexuality—Waddoups has merely taken the next logical step toward legalized polygamy that will, sooner or later, allow polygamists the same rights as other married people.

There are reasons to worry about this. As Stanley Kurtz wrote in the Weekly Standard back in 2006, there is an inherent contradiction between the patriarchal model of polygamy where the husband has authority over his various wives and democracy. Kurtz argued that the 1879 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Reynolds v. United States that supported the right of states to restrict polygamy not only protected traditional marriage but democratic norms. Prior to the Mormon Church’s renunciation of polygamy, Utah was for all intents and purposes a theocracy. In a society where husbands rule over families like ancient Eastern potentates, freedom isn’t likely to thrive.

According to Kurtz:

Marriage, as its ultramodern critics would like to say, is indeed about choosing one’s partner, and about freedom in a society that values freedom. But that’s not the only thing it is about. As the Supreme Court justices who unanimously decided Reynolds in 1878 understood, marriage is also about sustaining the conditions in which freedom can thrive. Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.

When Kurtz wrote his piece, the debate over polygamy was just starting to bubble up in no small part because of the premiere of the HBO series Big Love which ran from 2006 to 2011. The show contrasted the “good polygamy” of its protagonist Bill Hendrickson, an upwardly mobile Viagra-popping entrepreneur who just happened to have three highly attractive wives with the “bad polygamy” of the cult living in a remote compound dominated by an evil “prophet” and his son, a repressed homosexual. If one ignores the religious dimensions of the argument between the LDS church and fundamentalist Mormons that was part of the subtext, the series presented the choice of plural marriage as one that ought to be encompassed by the promise of American liberty.

Indeed, that’s the point made by Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley, who represented the plaintiffs in the Utah case. As the New York Times reports, Turley believes that the Utah case is about “privacy rather than polygamy” but also noted:

Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults. There is no spectrum of private consensual relations — there is just a right of privacy that protects all people so long as they do not harm others.

In 2006, Kurtz cited Turley’s writings in the wake of Lawrence as a sign that the country was heading toward “a final slide down the slippery slope.” He was right about that, at least as far as gay marriage and polygamy were concerned. But it remains to be seen whether his worries about the future of democracy are similarly prescient. Even in rural Utah, polygamy is something practiced by only a small minority. It is difficult to make the case that either the fictional Hendricksons or the reality stars of Sister Wives present much of a challenge to American democracy. Nor, as Turley rightly argued in court, is there any reason to cite abuses, especially of minors, by cults as unique to polygamy since incest, mistreatment of children, and welfare fraud can also be found in sectors of society that purport to support monogamy.

But liberals like Turley still refuse to acknowledge that Justice Antonin Scalia was right when he predicted in his dissent in Lawrence that the demise of sodomy laws would lead to the legalization of some things that advocates of gay rights wanted no part of. If we have “evolved” to the point where marriage by any two consenting adults of either sex should be recognized by the state, then there isn’t any logical or legal rationale for prohibiting the same privilege for any number of citizens cohabiting to claim the same right.

All that is needed is a little candor on this issue on the part of critics of the dwindling band of opponents of gay marriage. The floodgates have been opened, and if that makes some of us uncomfortable, especially those who understandably view polygamy as synonymous with the exploitation of women, then we should be honest enough to acknowledge that it is merely part of the price that had to be paid to give gays the same right to marry afforded to other citizens.

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Joint Plan of Action in Our Time

As we approach the one-month anniversary of the “historic” six-month “Joint Plan of Action,” the Plan remains all plan and no action. Not even the starting date has been set.

The plan for starting the Plan was to have experts decide what the Plan meant, and then convene the P5+1 and Iran to meet again to set the starting date. Before the expert meetings began this past week, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said she did not know how long the expert process would take, nor when a date for the follow-up P5+1 meeting would be scheduled. On Friday, after four days of expert meetings ended without an agreement, Ms. Harf was asked, “what’s the next step?” She responded as follows:

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As we approach the one-month anniversary of the “historic” six-month “Joint Plan of Action,” the Plan remains all plan and no action. Not even the starting date has been set.

The plan for starting the Plan was to have experts decide what the Plan meant, and then convene the P5+1 and Iran to meet again to set the starting date. Before the expert meetings began this past week, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said she did not know how long the expert process would take, nor when a date for the follow-up P5+1 meeting would be scheduled. On Friday, after four days of expert meetings ended without an agreement, Ms. Harf was asked, “what’s the next step?” She responded as follows:

[E]veryone will get together, I think, probably back in Vienna to continue the technical talks about implementation, and as soon as we can, be able to say this is the date, the six-month start, this is exactly the timeline for certain parts of implementation in terms of what the Iranians have to do, what we have to do, and lay out a real plan for how the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented. [Emphasis added.]

So there is not yet a “real plan” for implementing the Plan, much less a starting date. 

Then there was this colloquy, regarding the whirring of the Iranian centrifuges while all the planning for the Plan goes on:

QUESTION: I just have one other question. Do you know whether the Iranians are still enriching?

MS. HARF: As we speak?

QUESTION: As we speak, there is no deal. They could do –

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: I mean, and if they do, presumably that’s okay because there’s no deal.

MS. HARF: Well, let me check on what the status is today. I think whatever the answer is – and I just don’t know, but let me check – I think it underscores the importance of moving quickly to put in place the first step and move towards a comprehensive agreement, because obviously the goal is for them not to be able to make progress on their nuclear program, which this first step does.

I can answer the question for her: the centrifuges are whirring. They were whirring before the Plan; they have been whirring during the planning for the starting date of the Plan; they will keep whirring during the six-month period of the Plan (if the six months ever start); and they will keep whirring after the Plan ends, since the stated object of the Plan is not to stop them but to reach agreement on an “enrichment program.”

In other words, the Plan is to discuss for six months how the centrifuges will continue whirring after the six months. Unless, of course, more than six months is required: the Plan provides that the six-month period is “renewable by mutual consent,” so the six-month Plan may become a one-year plan.

The Plan provides that the Obama administration, “acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.” The administration has been frantic to stop Congress from considering new sanctions–even ones that would take effect only at the end of six months–because the Plan obligates President Obama to veto them (consistent with his respective role in the process), and a presidential veto would probably poll poorly. To convince a skeptical Congress, the administration sanctioned 19 new companies Thursday, issuing a press release saying it showed it would “relentlessly enforce” existing sanctions. As Jonathan Tobin noted earlier, Iran announced that the new designations constitute “new sanctions” that violate the yet-to-be-commenced Plan. 

So right now, there is not yet any real plan; nor a date set for a new meeting to announce the starting date of the Plan; nor any agreement on what constitutes “new sanctions” under it. The administration’s official slogan for its negotiations leading to the Plan was “no deal is better than a bad deal.” At this point, it appears to have achieved both. 

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