Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 17, 2013

Can Israel Solve Africa’s Economic Woes?

One of the leading talking points of Israel-bashers these days is the treatment of African economic migrants who have illegally crossed into the Jewish state. Nearly 60,000 of these people who are for the most part from the Sudan or Eritrea and have no ties to the country or claim on its people have made their way to Israel in the last several years. In a nation of only seven million people living in a country the size of New Jersey, that’s the equivalent of about 2.7 million illegal immigrants showing up in the Garden State. As such, a group of this size arriving uninvited present a huge problem for any nation, even one whose entire identity is based on immigration, as is Israel’s.

But instead of sympathy or perhaps a helping hand from an international community that surely bears more responsibility for the plight of people from the Horn of Africa than Israel, its struggles to deal with this insoluble problem have become yet another club with which anti-Zionists seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is hypocrisy of the first order and the inordinate attention given these Africans by the Western media—such as the article published today by the New York Times—in a world where tens of millions of refugees and economic migrants are to be found, once again illustrates the double standard by which Israel is judged on any conceivable issue.

It is to be conceded that not everyone in Israel has behaved appropriately toward the migrants. Anger, insults, and threats from people in neighborhoods where illegals have concentrated, as well as from a few rabble-rousing politicians, hasn’t helped the country’s reputation. The plight of people stuck in limbo without legal status where they are and nowhere else to go should arouse the sympathy of any decent person. But the notion that it is somehow Israel’s responsibility to cope with the impact of economic distress in the Horn of Africa is not a defensible or reasonable position to take.

Were that many people to show up in virtually any country in the world, especially all the other countries of the Middle East which are ruled by various kinds of tyrants, it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the kind of treatment they would get. But in democratic Israel where Jewish religious values about welcoming the stranger are part of the culture, these African newcomers have been spared the sort of abuse they would have gotten anywhere else in the region. Indeed that, and the fact that Israel has a booming First World economy, is the only reason why so many have tried to sneak into Israel to find work. Were they just a few, they might well have been allowed to stay. But once the number reached the tens of thousands, with many working illegally and with some committing crimes, that wasn’t an option. Since deportation back to their home countries would likely result in dire consequences for the migrants and no one else wants them, Israel is stuck with them until someone can come up with a solution.

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One of the leading talking points of Israel-bashers these days is the treatment of African economic migrants who have illegally crossed into the Jewish state. Nearly 60,000 of these people who are for the most part from the Sudan or Eritrea and have no ties to the country or claim on its people have made their way to Israel in the last several years. In a nation of only seven million people living in a country the size of New Jersey, that’s the equivalent of about 2.7 million illegal immigrants showing up in the Garden State. As such, a group of this size arriving uninvited present a huge problem for any nation, even one whose entire identity is based on immigration, as is Israel’s.

But instead of sympathy or perhaps a helping hand from an international community that surely bears more responsibility for the plight of people from the Horn of Africa than Israel, its struggles to deal with this insoluble problem have become yet another club with which anti-Zionists seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is hypocrisy of the first order and the inordinate attention given these Africans by the Western media—such as the article published today by the New York Times—in a world where tens of millions of refugees and economic migrants are to be found, once again illustrates the double standard by which Israel is judged on any conceivable issue.

It is to be conceded that not everyone in Israel has behaved appropriately toward the migrants. Anger, insults, and threats from people in neighborhoods where illegals have concentrated, as well as from a few rabble-rousing politicians, hasn’t helped the country’s reputation. The plight of people stuck in limbo without legal status where they are and nowhere else to go should arouse the sympathy of any decent person. But the notion that it is somehow Israel’s responsibility to cope with the impact of economic distress in the Horn of Africa is not a defensible or reasonable position to take.

Were that many people to show up in virtually any country in the world, especially all the other countries of the Middle East which are ruled by various kinds of tyrants, it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the kind of treatment they would get. But in democratic Israel where Jewish religious values about welcoming the stranger are part of the culture, these African newcomers have been spared the sort of abuse they would have gotten anywhere else in the region. Indeed that, and the fact that Israel has a booming First World economy, is the only reason why so many have tried to sneak into Israel to find work. Were they just a few, they might well have been allowed to stay. But once the number reached the tens of thousands, with many working illegally and with some committing crimes, that wasn’t an option. Since deportation back to their home countries would likely result in dire consequences for the migrants and no one else wants them, Israel is stuck with them until someone can come up with a solution.

For Israel-haters, the scattered sentiments of some Israelis in South Tel Aviv neighborhoods that found themselves hosting thousands of desperate illegals and suffering the normal increase in crime as a result is proof that racism is normative behavior in the state. But anyone who knows anything about Israel’s history knows that this is bunk. Israel absorbed tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the last 30 years. Though their absorption has not been seamless or without incident, they are now part of the fabric of the country, serve in the army, and even in the Knesset.

But under what distorted sense of morality is Israel held to be particularly at fault for treating people who cross its borders illegally as having committed a criminal act and therefore subject to detention? Even if you are deeply sympathetic to the migrants, as many Israelis are, is there a sovereign nation in the world that does not feel entitled to control its borders, especially when those frontiers also need to be defended against terrorists and hostile powers? Do those who protest Israel’s treatment of these people, in which many are kept in open detainment centers think that other democracies, such as the United States, would treat such people any better? Under those circumstances how can any reasonable person criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to defend his country’s borders and to enforce its laws.

Many of the migrants claim they are seeking political asylum rather than just jobs, but this is patently untrue of most of them, as their behavior has suggested. If Westerners would like to help them, they are free to welcome them into their own countries. Failing that, Israel deserves either some constructive help, such as an international diplomatic initiative that would force Sudan and Eritrea to guarantee their safety upon their return home, or be allowed to deal with the situation as best they can. Until they do either of those things or come up with a solution that doesn’t involve Israel being forced to accept economic refugees as legal immigrants in a manner that no other nation on the planet would ever consider, Western critics should pipe down.

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The EU Offers Israel a Raw Deal

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

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“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney’s CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren’t saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

And so it is with the EU’s latest fit of magnanimity, at least with regard to Israel. That’s because the EU has been slowly, but unmistakably, seeking to punish Israel financially for the EU’s policy disagreements with the Israeli government. I wrote about this over the summer, when the EU released new guidelines intended to restrict grant access to Jews who lived in the West Bank or a large part of Jerusalem, the Jews’ eternal capital. The EU had not instituted a full-fledged trade boycott, to be sure. But it’s not clear if that was because EU officials oppose such a morally repugnant policy or because the denial of grants was a way to hurt Jewish Israelis without also damaging European economies. It was no less discriminatory, in other words; just unprincipled.

The EU’s behavior also gives tacit approval to more bigoted forms of boycotts on a continent with rising anti-Semitism. So when the EU says it can offer a major infusion of financial aid to Israel if it signs on the dotted line, it is not only proclaiming its belief that Israel can be bought but also to some degree offsetting the damage it is already trying to do to Israel’s economy. Perhaps in Brussels an offer of unprecedented financial aid is indistinguishable from a shakedown, but Israeli officials can tell the difference.

With regard to aid to the Palestinians, it might end up being more expensive for the EU than officials expect. The Oslo era saw Yitzhak Rabin sign a deal with Yasser Arafat, followed by Benjamin Netanyahu doing the same, followed by Ehud Barak making a generous offer to Arafat, followed by Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, followed by Ehud Olmert offering Mahmoud Abbas the store, followed by Netanyahu accepting in principle the two-state solution and suggesting even that dividing Jerusalem would be on the table, and then willing to release terrorist murderers just to begin negotiations.

In other words, if you want a peace deal, talk to Ramallah; Jerusalem’s door is always open. So financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is a start–or, rather, a continuation, since they already receive such aid (which Israel fully supports). But all those years of rejection and/or violence in return for Israeli offers of peace should tell the Eurocrats something about the ability to induce the Palestinians to make peace. Each Palestinian rejection was followed by an eventual Israeli offer more generous than the last. The Palestinians have learned that all they have to do is keep saying no and eventually they’ll get whatever they want.

So the EU can offer generous financial aid. The Palestinians in all likelihood will reject the terms, but they won’t forget the EU offered them in the first place. The next time the EU wants to get involved, the offer will be sweeter, and after the Palestinians reject that one the next offer will be sweeter still. By that time, the EU’s financial action against Israel will have increased as well. The EU has begun rolling a snowball downhill. Good luck stopping it.

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Religious Liberty Triumphs Over OCare

The Obama administration’s effort to force religious organizations and employers to pay for services that violate their beliefs largely provided the basis for the presidential reelection campaign’s faux “war on women” talking point. As such, it must be considered a success as it turned a debate on the constitutionality of the ObamaCare mandate forcing all employers to pay for contraception and abortion drugs into one about the supposed indifference to the rights of women on the part of conservatives. But the legal battle over the fate of the Health and Human Services Department mandate in the courts is not going quite so well for the president. Yesterday, the administration received its sternest judicial rebuke yet as the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York granted a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the mandate against four nonprofits operated by the Catholic Diocese of New York. As the New York Times reports:

The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially supporting contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.

This is just one of the 88 cases that have been brought against the government by those rightly citing the mandate as a violation of their constitutional rights. But this is the first time the plaintiffs have received a permanent injunction that prevents the government from either enforcing the provision or levying crippling fines against violators. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually settle this question. But until that happens lower courts still have the ability to bring down financial ruin upon dissenters against the mandate. Though liberals have attempted to spin this issue as one in which church-run agencies (in this case, two high schools and two health-care systems) or private employers are imposing their beliefs on their employees, in fact it is the government that is forcing believers and faith-based institutions to violate their beliefs. The victory in Brooklyn, like other triumphs for the mandate critics in other courts, is one more indication that the legal tide may be turning against a liberal effort to prioritize a vision of national health care over the First Amendment.

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The Obama administration’s effort to force religious organizations and employers to pay for services that violate their beliefs largely provided the basis for the presidential reelection campaign’s faux “war on women” talking point. As such, it must be considered a success as it turned a debate on the constitutionality of the ObamaCare mandate forcing all employers to pay for contraception and abortion drugs into one about the supposed indifference to the rights of women on the part of conservatives. But the legal battle over the fate of the Health and Human Services Department mandate in the courts is not going quite so well for the president. Yesterday, the administration received its sternest judicial rebuke yet as the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York granted a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the mandate against four nonprofits operated by the Catholic Diocese of New York. As the New York Times reports:

The ruling, by Brian M. Cogan of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, found that forcing the groups to authorize a third party to provide contraceptive care still violated their religious beliefs even if they were not financially supporting contraception. Churches are already exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptive care.

This is just one of the 88 cases that have been brought against the government by those rightly citing the mandate as a violation of their constitutional rights. But this is the first time the plaintiffs have received a permanent injunction that prevents the government from either enforcing the provision or levying crippling fines against violators. The U.S. Supreme Court will eventually settle this question. But until that happens lower courts still have the ability to bring down financial ruin upon dissenters against the mandate. Though liberals have attempted to spin this issue as one in which church-run agencies (in this case, two high schools and two health-care systems) or private employers are imposing their beliefs on their employees, in fact it is the government that is forcing believers and faith-based institutions to violate their beliefs. The victory in Brooklyn, like other triumphs for the mandate critics in other courts, is one more indication that the legal tide may be turning against a liberal effort to prioritize a vision of national health care over the First Amendment.

It bears repeating that one needn’t share the Catholic beliefs about contraception or abortion put forward by the church or other believers (such as the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of stores that will have their appeal of the mandate heard by the Supreme Court) to realize that what is at stake in these cases is nothing less than the future of religious freedom in this country.

Neither the church nor private businesses are preventing their employees from using contraception or having abortions. What they are doing is saying is that a law that forces them to pay for such services despite their religious principles against doing so is patently unconstitutional. Only in the legal universe of ObamaCare, which puts forward the dubious notion that not only do Americans have the right to use contraception or abortion but also that everyone is entitled to have their employers pay for it regardless of their religious principles, is this controversial. The notion that the refusal of religious believers to subsidize behavior that offends their faith is a form of discrimination against women is a legal absurdity. As the Diocese correctly noted in a statement:

“The court has correctly cut through the artificial construct which essentially made faith-based organizations other than churches and other houses of worship second-class citizens with second-class First Amendment protections,” Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement.

The point here is that a definition of religious liberty in which faith has no place in the public square is one that is inconsistent with the Constitution as well as with the principles of a free society. Religious freedom is not just the right to pray at home or in church, synagogue, or mosque but the ability to live one’s faith in public. While the Obama administration’s effort to provide universal health-care coverage may be well-intentioned, the fact that it views its mandates as superseding the First Amendment rights of citizens is an ominous indication of what happens when government gives itself such powers.

The injunction granted in Brooklyn is but one skirmish in what has been a long legal war. But it is encouraging to see that in this case, as in others, there are judges who still value freedom more than a belief in the power of big government to impose its values on the people.

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New Hampshire Won’t Be Easy for Brown

After months of speculation, it looks like Scott Brown is finally pulling up stakes and moving to New Hampshire. Once the former senator announced that he would forgo a run for governor of Massachusetts, the smart money has been on Brown leaving the Bay State and heading north. With Senator Jeanne Shaheen up for reelection in 2014, the prospect of Brown unseating the Democratic incumbent has Republican fundraisers salivating. But before he can take on Shaheen, Brown has a very important obstacle to overcome: a conservative-leaning Republican Party in the Granite State that may not be as enthusiastic about the GOP star as his fans in Washington.

Not even high popularity ratings were enough to reelect Brown last year after he shot to fame in 2011 by winning a special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Deep-blue Massachusetts may have a soft spot for moderate Republicans like Brown and men like Mitt Romney and William Weld, who have won the governorship. But Brown’s decisive defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren last year made it clear that a change of address was the only way he was going back to the Senate. But now that a New Hampshire Senate campaign is becoming more likely, Brown and his many fans in the GOP are coming to grips with the same problem faced by Romney once he left liberal Massachusetts and sought the approval of Republicans elsewhere. New Hampshire may be part of the Boston television market and most of its citizens may root for the Red Sox, but its Republican Party is a lot more conservative than the one in Massachusetts. That means the pro-choice and anti-gun candidate who had cross-party appeal in Massachusetts must now convince Republicans who view such stands with disgust that he speaks for them.

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After months of speculation, it looks like Scott Brown is finally pulling up stakes and moving to New Hampshire. Once the former senator announced that he would forgo a run for governor of Massachusetts, the smart money has been on Brown leaving the Bay State and heading north. With Senator Jeanne Shaheen up for reelection in 2014, the prospect of Brown unseating the Democratic incumbent has Republican fundraisers salivating. But before he can take on Shaheen, Brown has a very important obstacle to overcome: a conservative-leaning Republican Party in the Granite State that may not be as enthusiastic about the GOP star as his fans in Washington.

Not even high popularity ratings were enough to reelect Brown last year after he shot to fame in 2011 by winning a special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Deep-blue Massachusetts may have a soft spot for moderate Republicans like Brown and men like Mitt Romney and William Weld, who have won the governorship. But Brown’s decisive defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren last year made it clear that a change of address was the only way he was going back to the Senate. But now that a New Hampshire Senate campaign is becoming more likely, Brown and his many fans in the GOP are coming to grips with the same problem faced by Romney once he left liberal Massachusetts and sought the approval of Republicans elsewhere. New Hampshire may be part of the Boston television market and most of its citizens may root for the Red Sox, but its Republican Party is a lot more conservative than the one in Massachusetts. That means the pro-choice and anti-gun candidate who had cross-party appeal in Massachusetts must now convince Republicans who view such stands with disgust that he speaks for them.

Brown’s dilemma is the same as many other Republicans who have come to grief in primaries in the last few years, as grass roots conservatives and Tea Party activists have mobilized in support of more conservative Senate candidates. Seemingly sure Republican wins turned into agonizing losses in Delaware and Nevada in 2010 as Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle knocked off more electable candidates in primaries. That wasn’t a factor in Brown’s 2011 and 2012 campaigns for the Senate but in New Hampshire, a state where Republicans have traditionally taken their cues from the conservative editorial page of the Manchester-based Union Leader, Brown seems more like a dread example of a mainstream moderate than the ObamaCare-bashing Tea Party favorite that he was in Massachusetts. His stands on abortion and guns could prove to be a serious impediment to gaining Republican support in New Hampshire.

Of course, those issues aren’t the only problems Brown faces. Owning a vacation home in New Hampshire for many years won’t be enough to convince some voters that he isn’t a carpetbagger driven to their state only by political opportunism. Moreover, as some political pundits have noted, Brown’s move has been more of a whim than a long-term plan. Earlier this year he was flirting with a presidential candidacy by hanging out in Iowa. And so far his campaign in New Hampshire is more a matter of celebrity freelancing than an effort being driven by a clearly thought-out strategic plan.

But that said, Brown’s celebrity as well as his charisma make him a clear favorite in any GOP primary. Former Senator Bob Smith, who has been toying with a return to New Hampshire, wouldn’t present a viable alternative and the other possibilities are unknowns. But conservative unknowns have a way of knocking off GOP celebrities who are moderates. Especially moderates who deviate from consensus conservative positions like abortion and guns. He should also realize that while ObamaCare may make Shaheen vulnerable, she is no Martha Coakley. Even if he wins his party’s nomination, he’ll have the fight of his life on his hands to unseat her.

New Hampshire seems like the solution to Brown’s political problems, but winning a Senate seat there will be a lot harder than just changing the address on his driver’s license.

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The Competing Efforts to “Fix” ObamaCare

Last month, Dave Weigel unearthed a nearly forgotten quote from then-Senator Barack Obama in an interview with the New Yorker: “There’s an old saying in politics: when your opponent’s in trouble, just get out of the way … in political terms, I don’t think that Democrats are obligated to solve Iraq for the Administration.” Weigel was writing in the context of the deterioration of questions asked to aspiring presidents on Meet the Press, and the host at the time, Tim Russert, had used this quote in his first question to Obama.

The question was whether or not there is a “nonpolitical”–i.e. moral–obligation, if not a political one. It’s worth noting that Obama answered in the affirmative, and offered this:

And so what I’ve been saying of late on the campaign trail is that, given the rapidly deteriorating situation down there, it is incumbent upon all the leadership in Washington to execute a serious change of course in Iraq, and I think that involves a phased—the beginnings of a phased withdrawal that would put more of the onus on the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to make a decision about what kind of Iraq they want, and also to engage the regional powers—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria—to say, “You can’t sit on the sidelines. You have a stake in a stabilized Iraq.”

Obama’s only “idea” (to use that word loosely) to save Iraq was to abandon it. He didn’t want to help the Republicans fix the security mess there, and he didn’t want the Republicans to help the Iraqis fix the security mess in their own country. He wanted to leave and hand it off to Iran. Keep this in mind as you read Byron York’s article on the Democrats’ latest ObamaCare strategy:

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Last month, Dave Weigel unearthed a nearly forgotten quote from then-Senator Barack Obama in an interview with the New Yorker: “There’s an old saying in politics: when your opponent’s in trouble, just get out of the way … in political terms, I don’t think that Democrats are obligated to solve Iraq for the Administration.” Weigel was writing in the context of the deterioration of questions asked to aspiring presidents on Meet the Press, and the host at the time, Tim Russert, had used this quote in his first question to Obama.

The question was whether or not there is a “nonpolitical”–i.e. moral–obligation, if not a political one. It’s worth noting that Obama answered in the affirmative, and offered this:

And so what I’ve been saying of late on the campaign trail is that, given the rapidly deteriorating situation down there, it is incumbent upon all the leadership in Washington to execute a serious change of course in Iraq, and I think that involves a phased—the beginnings of a phased withdrawal that would put more of the onus on the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to make a decision about what kind of Iraq they want, and also to engage the regional powers—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria—to say, “You can’t sit on the sidelines. You have a stake in a stabilized Iraq.”

Obama’s only “idea” (to use that word loosely) to save Iraq was to abandon it. He didn’t want to help the Republicans fix the security mess there, and he didn’t want the Republicans to help the Iraqis fix the security mess in their own country. He wanted to leave and hand it off to Iran. Keep this in mind as you read Byron York’s article on the Democrats’ latest ObamaCare strategy:

The national health care scheme they designed is so complex and has already embedded itself so deeply in the health care system, they argue, that it can never be repealed. The only course now is for lawmakers of both parties to “fix” Obamacare’s problems.

The argument will be heard more and more as the burdens imposed by Obamacare — cancelled policies, higher premiums, higher deductibles, narrower doctor networks, restricted choices of prescription drugs and more — become a reality for millions of Americans. The situation could become even more politically charged if, as many experts expect, the burdens that have so far beset those in the individual insurance market spread to the small-group market and ultimately to the larger universe of all people who receive coverage through their jobs.

In such a scenario, Democrats will ratchet up their demands that Republicans join them in “fixing” the law. They will condemn Republicans who declare Obamacare beyond repair and decline to go along. And at the same time, Democrats will steadfastly refuse to back down in their full support of the law they — and they alone — passed that is causing all the trouble. The blame, they will argue, lies with the GOP.

York writes that it just might work because “In a weird irony, the more serious the problems of Obamacare become, the less likely some Republicans are to demand repeal.” Perhaps, but there’s another way of looking at this. Conservatives are already highly resistant to this because that has been the concern all along–that the disastrous law will have seeped so far into the bureaucratic gears that by the time it became obvious just how damaging ObamaCare was it would be too late to rid the country of it.

That was the mindset behind the government shutdown, which was a last-ditch effort to stop ObamaCare from leaving the gate. Yet it didn’t quite happen that way. Most people who understood health care knew the law was poorly designed, but the extent of the failure and ineptitude from the Obama administration still surprised most of them–and it certainly surprised the public, who naively took Obama at his word and woke up to the reality of the president’s many false promises.

That meant that the administration chose to delay some aspects of the law of their own accord, and the ones they couldn’t delay were so incompetently administered that broad acceptance of the law as the new normal was still in question. It is precisely because ObamaCare is still somehow not quite a sure thing that Democrats must insist that it is. And what better way for Democrats to redirect voter anger about ObamaCare than to have a surge in Republicans suddenly putting their names on it.

Bizarrely, this creates a perverse incentive for Democrats to impede efforts to radically alter the law because doing so would undermine their attempts to get the GOP to own the more problematic elements of it, and it would cast doubt on their claim that ObamaCare is too deeply embedded in the system to be removed. Therein lies the reason Democrats are fighting an uphill battle–not impossible, but against the odds–to get Republican support for their “fixes”: what they will propose won’t really solve the problems at all.

Republicans certainly feel some responsibility to try and lift the burden of ObamaCare off the shoulders of the people. And Democrats will continue to obstruct this effort at every turn.

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Compromise, Moderation, and the American Constitution

Those interested in a cogent defense of the budget agreement that passed the House late last week, and which sparked a storm of criticism from some on the right, should listen to this interview by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  

Among other things, Ryan addresses the charge that the problem with the deal is that it raises spending now in exchange for future (and imaginary) cuts later. Chairman Ryan points out that this deal would result in a change in law now–and that unless a future Congress passes a new law, the entitlement savings it calls for will actually exceed the $85 billion figure often cited. (The reason that is quite unlikely is explained here.)

The reaction to the deal, from some quarters at least, also highlighted what I view as a problematic mindset among some on the right. We saw it manifest itself during the budget shutdown in October, when several GOP Senators refused to “abandon their infatuation with glorious martyrdom,” in the words of Michael Medved and John Podhoretz in their excellent essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY. The result was injurious to both the GOP and the conservative cause. But no matter; they had passed the purity test. 

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Those interested in a cogent defense of the budget agreement that passed the House late last week, and which sparked a storm of criticism from some on the right, should listen to this interview by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  

Among other things, Ryan addresses the charge that the problem with the deal is that it raises spending now in exchange for future (and imaginary) cuts later. Chairman Ryan points out that this deal would result in a change in law now–and that unless a future Congress passes a new law, the entitlement savings it calls for will actually exceed the $85 billion figure often cited. (The reason that is quite unlikely is explained here.)

The reaction to the deal, from some quarters at least, also highlighted what I view as a problematic mindset among some on the right. We saw it manifest itself during the budget shutdown in October, when several GOP Senators refused to “abandon their infatuation with glorious martyrdom,” in the words of Michael Medved and John Podhoretz in their excellent essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY. The result was injurious to both the GOP and the conservative cause. But no matter; they had passed the purity test. 

Then there are those who fancy themselves as “constitutional conservatives” who view efforts at compromise as per se evidence of lack of principles. Virtually every time they invoke the word “compromise,” it is a pejorative. This strikes me as somewhat puzzling for “constitutional conservatives.” In the past I’ve cited a lovely passage in Miracle at Philadelphia in which Catherine Drinker Bowen writes, “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove.”

The Constitution was the result of a whole series of accommodations. There was even a deal struck that came to be known as the Great Compromise, by which every state was to have two members in the United States Senate, offsetting proportional representation in the House. Without the Great Compromise, Bowen writes, “it is hard to see how the Federal Convention could have proceeded further.” Which means the Constitution that some on the right say they revere would never have seen the light of day.

Some modern conservatives have a similar disdain for the word “moderation,” the spirit and temperament that allows for compromise. But if one reads The Federalist Papers–universally regarded as the best commentary on our Constitution and authored by two of the three most important founders (Madison and Hamilton)–one finds the word “moderation” used in a positive sense in almost every instance. In Federalist No. 37, for example, Madison refers to “that spirit of moderation” that is essential in understanding which public measures are in the public good, while in Federalist No. 85 Hamilton writes, “These judicious reflections contain a lesson of moderation to all sincere lovers of the Union.”

Now for the necessary caveats: Compromise and moderation can, in particular circumstances, set back the cause of liberty and the public good. It’s impossible to know whether a compromise is wise without knowing the details of any given deal. And we certainly need people in politics who insist not simply on compromise but also take steps toward certain ideals. Most of us gravitate toward one end of the continuum at the expense of the other.

In any event, my main point is that today–especially among those who claim fidelity to the Constitution and its authors and architects–the idea of compromise and moderation is held in contempt. The problem is that this attitude is at odds with the Constitution and the Federalist founders. To position conservatism as for all intents and purposes hostile to compromise and moderation is, I think, an act of philosophical and historical disfigurement, and unwise politically.

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How Obama Is Losing Egypt to Russia

President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks. Those results represent the general disgust about an administration that broke its word on ObamaCare and was too incompetent to build a website that works to sell health insurance. But the consensus among most pundits is that although his domestic policies are viewed negatively, most Americans don’t have much of a problem with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Given the lack of interest in foreign issues it’s difficult to judge whether the president’s weak nuclear deal with Iran is really seen as a positive development or whether they like the way he punted on the crisis in Syria. The only thing we know for sure is that a war-weary public is glad when the use of force is avoided even if they might be leery about handing a victory to Vladimir Putin in Syria or trusting the hate-spewing ayatollahs of Iran to keep their word about their nuclear weapons program.

But as much as the president’s efforts to pull back from the Middle East may resonate with those Americans who are sick of conflict, a policy of retreat is not one that stands up to much scrutiny. Thus, although the public understandably cares a lot less about the administration’s policy on Egypt than it does about ObamaCare, the news yesterday about the conclusion of an arms deal between that country and Russia ought to dismay even the most casual observer of foreign policy. The issue isn’t so much whether the Egyptian military will be buying planes and other equipment from Moscow so much as what the accord represents: a staggering reversal for U.S. influence in the Middle East and a signal victory for a Russian dictator who is trying to resurrect the old Soviet and tsarist empires while making mischief for America.

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President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks. Those results represent the general disgust about an administration that broke its word on ObamaCare and was too incompetent to build a website that works to sell health insurance. But the consensus among most pundits is that although his domestic policies are viewed negatively, most Americans don’t have much of a problem with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Given the lack of interest in foreign issues it’s difficult to judge whether the president’s weak nuclear deal with Iran is really seen as a positive development or whether they like the way he punted on the crisis in Syria. The only thing we know for sure is that a war-weary public is glad when the use of force is avoided even if they might be leery about handing a victory to Vladimir Putin in Syria or trusting the hate-spewing ayatollahs of Iran to keep their word about their nuclear weapons program.

But as much as the president’s efforts to pull back from the Middle East may resonate with those Americans who are sick of conflict, a policy of retreat is not one that stands up to much scrutiny. Thus, although the public understandably cares a lot less about the administration’s policy on Egypt than it does about ObamaCare, the news yesterday about the conclusion of an arms deal between that country and Russia ought to dismay even the most casual observer of foreign policy. The issue isn’t so much whether the Egyptian military will be buying planes and other equipment from Moscow so much as what the accord represents: a staggering reversal for U.S. influence in the Middle East and a signal victory for a Russian dictator who is trying to resurrect the old Soviet and tsarist empires while making mischief for America.

It was a little more than 40 years ago that Anwar Sadat kicked Soviet advisers out of Egypt. After decades of depending on Moscow for arms in order to pursue Egypt’s conflict with Israel, Sadat decide that he would be better off throwing in his lot with the United States. After the Nixon administration and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ensured that the Yom Kippur War ended with Egypt not suffering a humiliating defeat, what followed was a gradual shift away from war that led to Sadat’s historic trip to Israel and ultimately the peace treaty with Israel. In exchange for peace, Egypt not only got every inch of the Sinai that had been lost as a result of the aggression it committed in 1967 but also a guarantee of U.S. aid that has stood for more than 30 years. The alliance with Egypt was not only a building block for Middle East peace upon which further attempts to resolve the Arab and Muslim war on Israel were based. It was also the rock upon which American efforts to stabilize the region rested.

Though there were always good reasons to worry about the future of the repressive regime of Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, the alternatives to him were always far worse, both for the U.S. and the Egyptian people. That basic truth was reaffirmed in the last three years after President Obama, who had downgraded efforts to democratize Egypt first undertaken by President George W. Bush, helped push Mubarak out of power in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. While the Egyptian military was an unattractive option, the possibility of the country falling into the hands of the Islamist opposition was appalling. Yet that is precisely the outcome the administration seemed to push Egypt toward during this period as it threatened the military with an aid cutoff if they interfered with the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to consolidate power in the wake of their election victory.

Once the Brotherhood assumed control in Egypt, the U.S. did not seek to exert its leverage to force the Islamists to pull back on their attempt to transform Egypt in their own image. When, after a year of misrule and tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for the Brotherhood’s ouster this past summer, the U.S. again sought to stop the military from acting–but this time the generals ignored the president’s warnings and put an end to the Islamist government. Since then the U.S. has done little to mend fences with the military and demonstrated little understanding of the fact that Egypt had become a zero-sum game in which the only choices were the Brotherhood or the military. With the administration announcing a partial aid cutoff to the new government, what followed next was entirely predictable. Cairo turned to Moscow for help and for the first time since 1973 Russia has a foothold in the Arab world’s most populous nation as well as the one that, with the Suez Canal, holds its most strategic position.

It is true that Putin’s Russia doesn’t pose the same kind of threat to the West as the Soviet Union. But Putin’s efforts to regain influence in the Middle East, first via the preservation of the bloody Assad regime in Syria and now by elbowing the U.S. out of Egypt, is deeply troubling.

Some Americans, including libertarians who are intent on withdrawing from the war on Islamist terrorism, may see nothing wrong with abandoning the Middle East to Russia. But a Middle East where Russia has at least an equal say with the United States is one in which moderate Arab regimes as well as Israel will feel far less secure. Since Putin’s only goal is to discomfit the United States and to expand Russia’s influence, the result will give Iran, which is also celebrating the victory of Assad, confidence to continue its own brand of mischief making in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, and with the Palestinians, especially if it resumes its alliance with Hamas. As I wrote back in October, an Obama administration policy that effectively discards Egypt is a victory for Russia as well as a blow to stability and peace.

But what is most infuriating about these developments is that none of it had to happen if the Obama administration had not mishandled relations with Egypt so badly. Though the hand it was dealt was by no means a good one, it is in the process of losing an asset that the U.S. had been able to count on for decades. The price of this incompetence will be felt by U.S. policymakers as well as the people of the region for years to come. 

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NSA, Metadata, and the Constitution

If any evidence were needed that judicial activism is not merely a problem of the left, look at what a couple of conservative judicial activists pulled off yesterday in a case involving one of our most important national security safeguards–the NSA’s monitoring of terrorist communications.

Larry Klayman is a professional plaintiff who has filed too many cases to count. (He has even gone to court against the organization he founded and then left, Judicial Watch.) He first came to public attention pursuing various far-fetched allegations against the Clintons; more recently he has been pursuing the conspiratorial “birther” claim that President Obama should be thrown out of office because he supposedly wasn’t born in this country. He has also been quoted as saying that conservatives should demand “that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman’s latest cause is the NSA’s collection of “metadata” which has been irresponsibly revealed by Edward Snowden. This is the NSA program that collects information on which telephone numbers are in contact with each other so that links among terrorist plotters can be detected. Mind you, the NSA can’t actually listen in to the content of these communications without a court order. It can only search for patterns so that if an al-Qaeda mastermind abroad calls someone in the United States, that phone number can be tagged for further investigation. This is considerably less intrusive than the use of surveillance cameras in public places by organizations such as the New York Police Department or Macy’s which can monitor individuals’ movements–and, more to the point, it’s a lot less intrusive than the kind of data that big companies such as Amazon and Google compile on their customers, which includes their Internet browsing habits.

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If any evidence were needed that judicial activism is not merely a problem of the left, look at what a couple of conservative judicial activists pulled off yesterday in a case involving one of our most important national security safeguards–the NSA’s monitoring of terrorist communications.

Larry Klayman is a professional plaintiff who has filed too many cases to count. (He has even gone to court against the organization he founded and then left, Judicial Watch.) He first came to public attention pursuing various far-fetched allegations against the Clintons; more recently he has been pursuing the conspiratorial “birther” claim that President Obama should be thrown out of office because he supposedly wasn’t born in this country. He has also been quoted as saying that conservatives should demand “that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Klayman’s latest cause is the NSA’s collection of “metadata” which has been irresponsibly revealed by Edward Snowden. This is the NSA program that collects information on which telephone numbers are in contact with each other so that links among terrorist plotters can be detected. Mind you, the NSA can’t actually listen in to the content of these communications without a court order. It can only search for patterns so that if an al-Qaeda mastermind abroad calls someone in the United States, that phone number can be tagged for further investigation. This is considerably less intrusive than the use of surveillance cameras in public places by organizations such as the New York Police Department or Macy’s which can monitor individuals’ movements–and, more to the point, it’s a lot less intrusive than the kind of data that big companies such as Amazon and Google compile on their customers, which includes their Internet browsing habits.

Yet Klayman did not choose to sue the NYPD or Google–at least not that I know of. (Given his litigious nature–he doesn’t seem to have a job other than filing suits–such cases may well be pending.) He chose to sue the NSA over its collection of metadata, claiming that the NSA was infringing on his personal liberties by collecting his metadata–as if Larry Klayman were so important a personage that the NSA was actually going to devote time and resources to monitoring him.

Such suits are almost as common as spam emails and about as significant. The difference in this case is that a federal judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, chose to grant Klayman an injunction against the NSA. Sort of. Leon actually stayed his own injunction in a moment of self-awareness or perhaps self-protection–because if he hadn’t done so, an appeals court undoubtedly would have.

Leon must know that the odds of his ruling being upheld on review are slim to none. He claims that the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment with its “almost Orwellian” program and adds: “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval.”

In reality, the NSA program has been fully authorized by the USA Patriot Act and reviewed on a regular basis by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court whose members are picked by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has previously ruled (in Smith v. Maryland, a 1979 case) that individuals have no expectation of privacy in metadata, and judicial review is built into the process to make sure that the NSA abides by the rules. So is congressional review. The appropriate committees of Congress have been kept fully informed of what NSA has been up to, and members with oversight of intelligence activities have voiced support for these efforts. (See this Slate article for a list of supportive comments from members of the House and Senate.)

The practical significance of Leon’s ruling is apt to be slight. The future of the NSA programs is going to be decided above his pay grade–by the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court, not by a lone federal district judge. This will, however, no doubt fuel Klayman’s fund-raising (in typically bombastic fashion he is claiming this is the “biggest ruling in the history of government litigation”) and allow him to file ever more suits.

But while the legal significance of Leon’s order is not great, it is symbolic of how some libertarians of the right have joined with libertarians of the left to try to eviscerate some of the most effective defenses we have against terrorist attacks. So far the center has held–the president and leaders of Congress have recognized that the NSA’s programs are too important to become a partisan football. But with a presidential review group set to submit a call for greater restrictions on NSA activities, there is cause for concern that the center may not hold much longer. If so, the gain in our civil liberties will be slight to nonexistent (who aside from Larry Klayman stays up nights worrying about whether the NSA is collecting metadata on our calls?), while the harm to our national security will be palpable.

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De-Radicalization the Right Way

The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

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The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

A recent report in Reuters details how the program provides a moderate alternative by inserting those who can explain religion to both men and women, rather than simply requiring rote memorization and practice:

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects. “I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling-the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them – especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif. Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values.

The whole article is worth reading.

Having American taxpayers throw money at the problem of radicalization will achieve little, nor will working through organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which often do more to obfuscate the problem of radicalism rather than resolve it. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and observe the best practices which actually breed long-term success. For this, Morocco’s Mourchidat program seems to be the clear model for the region to replicate.

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Israel, Palestine, and Democracy

Democracy and demography have become the main arguments for creating a Jew-free Arab state in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s presence in the territories deprives Palestinians of their democratic rights, the argument goes, and if Israel does not give the Palestinians whatever territory they demand, it will have to choose between its democracy and its Jewishness.

The “democracy” argument has become the central justification of the diplomatic process, incessantly invoked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli peace envoy Tzipi Livni. What makes the democracy argument effective is that it plays on deep-seated Jewish sentiments. Israelis are a fundamentally liberal, democratic people who desperately do not wish to be put in the role of overlords.

The problem with the democracy argument is that it is entirely disconnected from reality. Israel does not rule the Palestinians. The status quo in no way impeaches Israel’s democratic identity.

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Democracy and demography have become the main arguments for creating a Jew-free Arab state in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s presence in the territories deprives Palestinians of their democratic rights, the argument goes, and if Israel does not give the Palestinians whatever territory they demand, it will have to choose between its democracy and its Jewishness.

The “democracy” argument has become the central justification of the diplomatic process, incessantly invoked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli peace envoy Tzipi Livni. What makes the democracy argument effective is that it plays on deep-seated Jewish sentiments. Israelis are a fundamentally liberal, democratic people who desperately do not wish to be put in the role of overlords.

The problem with the democracy argument is that it is entirely disconnected from reality. Israel does not rule the Palestinians. The status quo in no way impeaches Israel’s democratic identity.

It is true that the Palestinians are not represented in the Knesset. But Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria are similarly not represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Simply put, both the Palestinians and Israelis vote for the legislature that regulates them. That is democracy (though obviously it does not play out as well in the Palestinian political system).

The Palestinians have developed an independent, self-regulating government that controls their lives as well as their foreign policy. Indeed, they have accumulated all the trappings of independence and have recently been recognized as an independent state by the United Nations. They have diplomatic relations with almost as many nations as Israel does. They have their own security forces, central bank, top-level Internet domain name, and a foreign policy entirely uncontrolled by Israel.  

The Palestinians govern themselves. To anticipate the inevitable comparison, this is not an Israeli-puppet “Bantustan.” From their educational curriculum to their television content to their terrorist pensions, they implement their own policies by their own lights without any subservience to Israel. They pass their own legislation, such as the measure prohibiting real estate transactions with Jews on pain of death. If Israel truly “ruled over” the Palestinians, all these features of their lives would be quite different. Indeed, the Bantustans never won international recognition because they were puppets. “The State of Palestine” just got a nod from the General Assembly because it is not.

Whether the Palestinian self-government amounts to sovereignty is irrelevant and distinct from the question of whether Israel is denying them democracy. Indeed, Israel’s democratic credentials are far stronger than America’s, or Britain’s–the mother of Parliaments. Puerto Rico and other U.S. controlled “territories” do not participate in national elections (and this despite Puerto Rico’s vote last year to end its anomalous status). Nor do British possessions like Gibraltar and the Falklands. These areas have considerable self-rule, but all less than the Palestinians, in that their internal legislation can ultimately be cancelled by Washington or London. The Palestinians are the ultimate masters of their political future–it is they who choose Fatah or Hamas.

To be sure, Israeli security forces operate in the territories under Palestinian administration. But that has nothing to do with democracy; it is about security. Democracy does not give one political entity a right to harm others. And that is why American security forces conduct raids–assassinations, even–in countries around the world. While many object to America’s aggressive policies in these countries no one thinks it has anything to do with the democratic credentials of one side or another. Similarly, the Palestinian military operates throughout Israel–through rocket and missile strikes from Eilat to Ashdod. Yet no one suggests Palestinian military activities in Israel–which determine when there will be school in Beersheva and when not–mean that they have deprived Israel of democracy.

This is no longer a dispute about democracy; it is a dispute about territory. The Palestinians have their own government; now their demand is to increase the geographic scope of their legislative powers to “Area C,” where 100 percent of the Jewish settlers live, some 400,000 people, and only 50-75,000 Arabs. The Palestinians want their “no Jew” law to apply there as well.

Palestinian self-determination is one of the biggest developments that no one has noticed. It is important to recall where it came from. It was a result of the Oslo process, and the withdrawal from Gaza. This created space for truly independent Palestinian government to arise.

This has not been costless for Israel. It subjected Israel to an unprecedented campaign of terror–to its citizens incinerated in buses and cafes–coordinated by the Palestinian government during the Oslo war. It legitimized the Palestinians as full-fledged international leaders, vastly facilitating their diplomatic campaign against Israel. And it has made most of the territories a Jew-free zone.

Before Oslo it could truly have been said that Israel ruled the Palestinians. But that is over. However, that the “international community” still considers Israel as running the show for the Palestinians is an important warning that the reputational benefits for the Jewish state of peace agreements are fleeting and illusory.

Moreover, the Palestinians rejected full independence and statehood on three separate occasions in the past twenty years. If it is true that Israel still controls them, it is a control that they have chosen to perpetuate. As part of their strategy of winning by losing, they perpetuate their semi-independence to maximize their diplomatic leverage. But that is not Israeli domination; that is Palestinian tactics. Imagine if Israel in 1948 refused to declare independence until all its territorial claims were satisfied and all Arabs expelled, and was subsequently overrun by the Arab states. Imagine if Jewish leaders stuck to this position for decades. Would the Arabs be imposing their rule on the Jews, or would the Jews be imposing the Arab rule on themselves? That such a scenario is more than far-fetched only underlines the historic uniqueness of the Palestinian strategy.

Ironically, those who invoke the democracy argument are also those who say Israel must go along with the plans the U.S., Europe, and the “family of nations” have for it. But can Israel be a democracy if its borders, security, and the fate of its most holy places are determined by the opinions of foreign powers, against the inclinations of its elected government? Jeffrey Goldberg last week said Israel’s democratic status is threatened if it does not listen to the dictates of John Kerry, who was not even elected to lead America.

Ultimately, the democracy argument proves too much. If Israel truly must give the Palestinians an offer they will accept to “save its soul,” then the Palestinians can demand anything, and should get it, assuming even a micro-state or protectorate is better than an evil one. And this is why the democracy argument will impede a genuine negotiated resolution. If Israel needs Palestinian agreement to save itself, why should the Palestinians agree? If they can impose “non-democracy” on Israel, the longer they wait, the better deal they get.

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Afghan Army Gives Up District Without a Fight

I have long been critical of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, both because emphasis on development and the accompanying infusion of money sparks corrosive corruption, and also because the timeline President Obama announced in 2009 and an embrace of negotiations with the Taliban misreads the Afghan mindset. As I tell military audiences to whom I lecture, it’s important to remember that Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. Security of the family trumps fealty to any political force, and so Afghans won’t hesitate to switch sides in a way which to Americans would seem treasonous.

As transition approaches, it seems the State Department, Pentagon, and White House are infused with wishful thinking about how transition might go. If so, today’s events in southern Afghanistan should disabuse them of that notion. According to a tweet from Lt. Mustafa Kazemi, Afghan Army forces surrendered the Sangin district of Helmand without a fight, after being threatened by the Taliban. He elaborated, here.

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I have long been critical of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, both because emphasis on development and the accompanying infusion of money sparks corrosive corruption, and also because the timeline President Obama announced in 2009 and an embrace of negotiations with the Taliban misreads the Afghan mindset. As I tell military audiences to whom I lecture, it’s important to remember that Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. Security of the family trumps fealty to any political force, and so Afghans won’t hesitate to switch sides in a way which to Americans would seem treasonous.

As transition approaches, it seems the State Department, Pentagon, and White House are infused with wishful thinking about how transition might go. If so, today’s events in southern Afghanistan should disabuse them of that notion. According to a tweet from Lt. Mustafa Kazemi, Afghan Army forces surrendered the Sangin district of Helmand without a fight, after being threatened by the Taliban. He elaborated, here.

Momentum means everything in Afghanistan. PowerPoint planning doesn’t capture local psychology, no matter what ISAF commanders may believe. Afghans want to side with the strong horse, not the horse that, for domestic political reasons, wants to go home.

If accurate, today’s events foreshadow the post-transition crisis will hit Afghanistan far quicker than military and diplomatic planners expect.

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A Ludicrous Follow-Up to Last Night’s Mess (with Update)

The tempest in a teapot continues. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz has a post up about my bad night last night in which he says I said “students at Swarthmore College deserve to be spat upon.” This is false, and he should correct it. I was talking about the Swarthmore Hillel’s announcement it would host anti-Zionist as well as Zionist speakers. What I said was that if you advocate anti-Zionism you are calling for the destruction of the homeland of my family. You are free to do so, and I am free to revile you and spit upon you. Like I said, I had a bad night, and this bit of hysterical rhetoric was not my finest verbal improvisation. The clear sense of the Swarthmore Hillel story was that the anti-Zionist speakers Hillel would sponsor would be creatures like the author of the year’s most disgusting book, not “Swarthmore students”—all of whom should continue to walk the paths of their gorgeous arboretum campus, comforted in the knowledge they are safe and will remain dry.

UPDATE: Shalev tells me on Twitter that he has what I said on tape, which was that if Swarthmore Hillel hosts anti-Zionists “it will deserve to be condemned, it will deserve to be spat upon.” This actually makes my point even stronger—I did not, in fact, say that any person should be “spat upon,” only that the organization should be. Given that an organization cannot be spat upon, the flourish here, though admittedly stupid and in bad taste, was clearly and entirely rhetorical. Here is the totality of what I said, as transcribed by Shalev: 

“I believe that the notion that a Jewish organization should host a speaker or a group that explicitly defines itself as anti-Zionist, which is to say believes in the non-existence of the Jewish state, is a group that deserves to be considered not only anti-Israel but anti-Jewish and ultimately anti-Semitic, as the fundamental fact of Jewish existence in our time in part is the existence of the Jewish state. Wishing for its non-existence is like wishing for the forcible repatriation of 6 million people, 7 million people it’s a horror show, it’s an infamy, it’s a political outrage. And Swarthmore Hillel…is free to do so. And it will deserve to be condemned, it will deserve to be spat upon, it will deserve to have whatever monies have been contributed to it to be removed.”

I mentioned my family at a different point. So my bad. And his bad for saying I said people should be spat upon. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a word of what I said, though.

The tempest in a teapot continues. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz has a post up about my bad night last night in which he says I said “students at Swarthmore College deserve to be spat upon.” This is false, and he should correct it. I was talking about the Swarthmore Hillel’s announcement it would host anti-Zionist as well as Zionist speakers. What I said was that if you advocate anti-Zionism you are calling for the destruction of the homeland of my family. You are free to do so, and I am free to revile you and spit upon you. Like I said, I had a bad night, and this bit of hysterical rhetoric was not my finest verbal improvisation. The clear sense of the Swarthmore Hillel story was that the anti-Zionist speakers Hillel would sponsor would be creatures like the author of the year’s most disgusting book, not “Swarthmore students”—all of whom should continue to walk the paths of their gorgeous arboretum campus, comforted in the knowledge they are safe and will remain dry.

UPDATE: Shalev tells me on Twitter that he has what I said on tape, which was that if Swarthmore Hillel hosts anti-Zionists “it will deserve to be condemned, it will deserve to be spat upon.” This actually makes my point even stronger—I did not, in fact, say that any person should be “spat upon,” only that the organization should be. Given that an organization cannot be spat upon, the flourish here, though admittedly stupid and in bad taste, was clearly and entirely rhetorical. Here is the totality of what I said, as transcribed by Shalev: 

“I believe that the notion that a Jewish organization should host a speaker or a group that explicitly defines itself as anti-Zionist, which is to say believes in the non-existence of the Jewish state, is a group that deserves to be considered not only anti-Israel but anti-Jewish and ultimately anti-Semitic, as the fundamental fact of Jewish existence in our time in part is the existence of the Jewish state. Wishing for its non-existence is like wishing for the forcible repatriation of 6 million people, 7 million people it’s a horror show, it’s an infamy, it’s a political outrage. And Swarthmore Hillel…is free to do so. And it will deserve to be condemned, it will deserve to be spat upon, it will deserve to have whatever monies have been contributed to it to be removed.”

I mentioned my family at a different point. So my bad. And his bad for saying I said people should be spat upon. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a word of what I said, though.

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